Monday, 23 November 2015

October 6 - Thunder Bay to Rossport

Mission Island was my goal for October 6, potentially my last shot at Harris's Sparrow. I had never visited this place before and though there were no recent birding reports, visiting an area for the first time is always fun.

It was a perfect autumn day - cool in the morning, but sunny and calm with the temperatures picking up as the morning went on. Driving some of the roads, I encountered some of the usual suspects including Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, a half dozen sparrow species, the odd kinglet, Pine Siskins, and a range of other relatively common species. This buck was quite tame, feasting on some rotten apples that presumably someone had left out for it.

White-tailed Deer - Mission Island, Thunder Bay

White-tailed Deer - Mission Island, Thunder Bay

White-tailed Deer - Mission Island, Thunder Bay

Near the northeast corner of the island I got out of my car to stretch my legs and search for landbirds, and immediately came across several White-crowned Sparrows. Travelling with them was a single Harris's Sparrow! I was pretty surprised to actually find one here on my last day in Thunder Bay. This was my 13th sparrow species of the trip. As I had never photographed Harris's Sparrows before, I took the opportunity to grab a few shots as it perched in a nearby shrub.

Harris's Sparrow - Mission Island, Thunder Bay

Harris's Sparrow - Mission Island, Thunder Bay
Later in the morning I birded some areas to the west of Thunder Bay, coming across an Eastern Phoebe in the Slate River Valley but not much else of interest. I continued on to the east to begin the long drive back home. Since Silver Islet had been so productive a few days earlier I stopped in once again to check out the situation. This time the birding was considerably less active, with no sign of any of the late warblers or really anything else of interest. Sparrow numbers were much reduced as well.

View near Silver Islet

That evening I drove as far as Rossport before calling it a day. I camped out in the same spot that I had found a few evenings earlier in the trip, setting up my tent right along the beach.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Local birding in Niagara

I have been based out of Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) for the last month and a bit, and have been trying to get out here and there. Living in NOTL has some advantages over my previous place of residence, Aurora. For one, I can actually see quantities of birds without having to drive an hour or more, as both the shore of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River are just minutes away. Secondly, it is possible to do at least a little bit of birding most days, even with these wickedly short days that we are currently experiencing (and to think it will continue getting worse until December 22). If I can escape the office by 4:00 PM or so, it gives me enough time to check the mouth of the Niagara River before dusk.

I have been doing this regularly, usually 2-3 times a week. The main reason for this is to observe the flight of Bonaparte's Gulls that stream down the river to eventually roost on Lake Ontario for the night. This is a phenomenon that has been noted for many years, and two good publications are the following:

Kirk, D. A., G. Bellerby,  R.W. Brooks,  D.V.C. Weseloh and P.J. Ewins. 2008. Assessing seasonal variation in counts and movements of Bonaparte's Gulls Larus philadelphia on the Niagara River, Ontario. Waterbirds 31:193-202.

Bellerby, G., D.A. Kirk and D.V.C. Weseloh. 2000. Staging Little Gulls, (Larus minutus), on the Niagara River, Ontario: 1987-1996. Canadian Field-Naturalist 114(4): 584-590.

The flypast (as we call it) begins around an hour before sunset, more of less, and usually is at its peak right around sunset. Cloud cover and wind can have an impact on the numbers of birds, timing and duration of the event. Even once it is too dark to confidently view the gulls, groups are often still streaming past; undoubtedly many pass by once it is too dark to view them. I have counted between 1,500 and 10,200 Bonaparte's per evening, and between 0 and 4 Little Gulls with them. For a few weeks a fully hooded Bonaparte's Gull has been around, but I haven't seen it in about two weeks. The biggest highlight so far has been an adult Black-headed Gull that flew out with a tight group of Bonaparte's Gull shortly after sunset on November 9, my first of the year and only the third I've seen in Ontario. This is a species that has really dropped off in recent years; now there are often fewer than 5 annually in the province. I fully expect to see Black-headed Gull occasionally at the flypast if I do it regularly and in fact this might be the most fruitful way of observing a Black-headed Gull in Ontario, as uncommon as they are. Nowhere else is it possible to see high numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls every single day from October through to December/January, and from March through April. Of course I have my sights on even loftier goals - perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to get a Ross's Gull! It might be a while before that happens, but you never know unless you get out and look.

Back on October 25 I traveled to the Port Burwell area to do some hawk-watching with Todd Hagedorn and Mark Dorriesfield. A Cattle Egret was reported near St. Anne's in Niagara Region so I made a little detour to check it out on my way home. I arrived right around dusk, but the egret was still where it was supposed to be, keeping an eye out for insects that the cow was kicking up. Cattle Egret does not breed in Ontario, but almost every October and November a few show up in the south of the province.

Cattle Egret - St. Anne's

Several weather systems have passed through southern Ontario in recent weeks, causing strong southwest winds on Lake Erie. Naturally Fort Erie is the place to be as, in theory, the rare species will end up coasting along until they end up at the source of the Niagara River. I have made it out to lake-watch on several occasions this autumn, with some days being more successful than others. The most productive was on October 29. Brandon Holden was already there when I arrived, and I was joined by Ken Burrell for the rest of the morning as well as Andrew Keaveney and David Pryor for a few hours. Unfortunately I could only stay for the morning, but we had some nice birds including one or more Red Phalarope, two Parasitic Jaegers, 19 species of waterfowl, lots of loons (both species observed) and four Red-necked Grebes (uncommon on Lake Erie). It really picked up in the afternoon after I left - check out Brandon's blog post about the day. November 1 was also a pretty good day, and in the few hours I watched I had a Black-legged Kittiwake and Parasitic Jaeger (but somehow missed the Sabine's Gull seen on the Buffalo side of the river!). The most recent wind "event", from November 12, had very strong winds but little to show for it. Again, check out Brandon's blog for the deets...I missed the weird leucistic cormorant, but did catch up with it the next day!

I have been periodically checking the Niagara River as well, though this is getting more difficult to do as the amount of daylight makes week days off limits. Gull numbers are finally starting to build a little though I haven't seen many white-winged gulls.I have seen a lot of Little Gulls however, and the first white-winged gulls of the season today with a handful of Kumlien`s Iceland Gulls. Today, while birding the river with the University of Guelph Wildlife Club, the best bird was a crisp juvenile Thayer's Gull that we watched for some time at the Adam Beck power plant.

This Ovenbird, seen from where we view the "roosting rocks" near Adam Beck on October 14 was rather late.

Ovenbird - near Adam Beck power plant, Niagara Region

Finally, I have hit up Port Weller a few times with mixed results. It is, however, a nice walk along the pier that juts out into Lake Ontario, slow birding or not! I haven't been carrying my camera or scope with me out here, but maybe I will occasionally now that duck and gull numbers are starting to build. And the place has a lot of potential. My best birds at Port Weller so far this autumn include a late Clay-colored Sparrow on October 22 and a Brant on November 3. There are very few songbirds at Port Weller at the moment, but perhaps cold weather later this autumn may cause a few to end up there.

That's all for now!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Recent birding updates from southern Ontario

I haven't posted a whole lot lately about the birding I have been doing in southern Ontario, apart from a post about two days in Essex County, visiting Point Pelee and area. The following are some of the sigh

On Sunday, November 8 I birded Point Pelee National Park with Jeremy Bensette for a few hours before beginning the long drive back to NOTL. It was a beautiful calm, sunny day without a cloud in the sky - pretty much on par with how the late autumn has been this year. I'm not complaining!

The temperatures slowly rose throughout the morning, which was enough to instigate a few butterflies to power up in the sun. A Common Painted Lady and this Eastern Comma were seen along the west beach footpath.

Eastern Comma - Point Pelee National Park

A hawk flight was taking place, and among the highlights were 7 Red-shouldered Hawks which were very difficult to pick out at times in the clear blue skies. Jeremy and I were walking south along the west beach footpath when Jeremy spotted a Golden Eagle flying low over us. As we were photographing the bird, I noticed a second one glide low over the trees and fly nearly right over us. The two birds circled together, gaining altitude, and at times were close enough to photograph together in the same frame. This is one of my favorite Ontario raptors, one that is pretty uncommon in the south of the province apart from a few weeks in the autumn (and much less so in the spring). These individuals were our sixth and seventh sightings for the weekend.

Golden Eagle - Point Pelee National Park

Golden Eagles - Point Pelee National Park

I made a few stops on my drive back to NOTL, including at the Ridgetown sewage lagoons where around a thousand Canada Geese and hundreds of ducks were present. Mixed in were at least 13 Cackling Geese and 9 Snow Geese.

Canada and Cackling Geese - Ridgetown lagoons

Snow Geese - Ridgetown lagoons

Last weekend I headed to Toronto to hang out with Dan Riley, and on Saturday we birded from Oshawa westward to Oakville. Our main targets for the day were Cave Swallow and Franklin's Gull, as both species had been reported in southern Ontario and both would be new Ontario birds for Dan.  Unfortunately Franklin's Gulls remained elusive, despite there being a whole whack of this western species found on Lake Erie and points further east (such as 300+ at Cape May, New Jersey). None have been reported on the Ontario side of Lake Ontario yet.

In Oshawa the Glossy Ibis that Tyler Hoar had discovered was still accounted for on the far side of the marsh. Through the scope we were able to determine by the facial pattern that the bird was a Glossy, as opposed to the similar White-faced, but my phone-scoped photos are pretty much useless in that regard!

We were able to catch up with a Cave Swallow, one that Reuven Martin discovered earlier that morning off Lakeside Park in Mississauga. It was a life bird for him - congrats Reuven! We watched the swallow for quite some time hawking insects over the calm water, before it continued on over the pier to the west. Up to four were seen at nearby Arkendo Park in the afternoon.

Reuven also had a discovered a gray-morph Eastern Screech-Owl roosting in a cedar. While Eastern Screech-Owls are certainly common in most woodlands in southern Ontario, it is rare to have such good views of them; at eye-level, no less! We took some photos and then left after a few minutes, so as to not overly stress out the owl.

Eastern Screech-Owl - Lakeside Park, Mississauga

We also checked the scrubby areas around the nearby water treatment plant as it has historically been a good place to look for out-of-season warblers and other songbirds late into the autumn. Reuven had found a few good birds there recently, including a Blue-headed Vireo, Wilson's Warbler - and best of all - a very late Red-eyed Vireo. This has to be one of the latest ever Red-eyed Vireos to be seen in Ontario.

We caught up with both vireos, though only the Blue-headed Vireo was cooperative enough for photos. It had one bad eye; perhaps the reason why it was still in Ontario at this late date.

Blue-headed Vireo - Arkendo Park, Oakville

Blue-headed Vireo - Arkendo Park, Oakville

I'll make a post with some updates from Niagara Region shortly.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

October 5 - Sibley Peninsula to Thunder Bay

On October 5, I began the day by driving down the Sibley Peninsula through Sleeping Giant Provincial Park to the picturesque town of Silver Islet. Silver Islet is well known for the rare birds it has attracted over the years. This is partly due to its location at the very end of the peninsula, but also because the grassy fields and yards provide the only open, disturbed habitats around.

As I was approaching the town I came across a small flock of songbirds feeding on mountain-ash and whatever they could scrounge up along the roadside. American Robins dominated the flock, though kinglets, Purple Finches, White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos also were rather numerous. I was surprised to come across this Clay-colored Sparrow in the flock, a pretty late date for the species in Thunder Bay district.

Clay-colored Sparrow - Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

A few Ruffed Grouse were also easily seen, either flying across the road in front of my car, or foraging along the roadside. This male puffed out his ruff, a behavior more often associated with breeding displays, though it is much more dramatic then, with the tail fanned and the ruff fully exposed.

Ruffed Grouse - Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

The town of Silver Islet was hosting quite a few birds and I came up with eight other species of sparrows. I was fortunate to come across two late warblers - first a Tennessee, then later a Blackpoll. An Orange-crowned and a few flocks of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers providing a five warbler morning.

Silver Islet store

A Swainson's Thrush was also associating with the large, roaming flock of American Robins, but the Northern Mockingbird (rare in northern Ontario) that Reuven Martin had found earlier was nowhere to be seen. A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers worked over some of the dead trees in the town. Despite being a common species in forests throughout eastern North America, the Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive species, and one that I always enjoy encountering.

Pileated Woodpecker - Silver Islet

I eventually forced myself to leave the birds of Silver Islet as other places were beckoning. I had a quick stop for lunch at the side of the road near Pickerel Lake, which happened to be chock-full of waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe were new to my Thunder Bay District list, as was a Belted Kingfisher that rattled away from the far side of the water body.

I made few stops the rest of the day until I made it to Thunder Bay, the furthest west that I was planning on visiting on this trip. I decided that I would drop in at Chippewa; a reclaimed, former industrial area that included fields, woodlands and wetlands near Fort William First Nation.. The view was actually quite stunning, looking west to the south of Thunder Bay.

view to the west from Chippewa

I was really hoping to find a Harris's Sparrow here, as several had been reported in recent days. This species migrates primarily to the west of Thunder Bay, though a handful are seen every spring and autumn. It had been several years since I had laid eyes on one.

Unfortunately, no Harris's Sparrows materialized during my visit, but I did encounter another very late Tennessee Warbler. This one I even managed a very distant photo of as it flew - not award winning, but better than nothing I suppose.

Tennessee Warbler - Chippewa

A Peregrine Falcon flew overhead at one point, and I carefully scanned through the hundreds of ducks present in the lagoons. Redhead and American Wigeon formed the majority of the flock, while I saw my first Gadwall of the trip and quite a few American Coots. I finished my time at Chippewa with 46 bird species tallied - not a bad total given the date.

waterfowl at Chippewa

That night I grabbed a hotel in Thunder Bay for the night and was able to enjoy my first shower in four days! A welcome treat after spending three of the past four nights in the front seat of my car.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Cave Swallow and other birds at Point Pelee

For the past two days I have birded at Point Pelee with Jeremy Bensette, as well as various other birders at times including Ken Burrell, Jeremy Hatt, Kory Renaud and Kevin McLaughlin. The birding has actually been pretty good with several highlights.

Yesterday morning the waterbird flight was quite good on fairly strong WSW winds. Birding from the sheltered east side of the tip, we watched thousands of Red-breasted Mergansers and other ducks, as well as hundreds of Common Loons and Horned Grebes. Ken got on an Eared Grebe at one point, but it landed in the choppy waters before the rest of us could see it. Eared Grebes have seemingly become more common in recent years and individuals can occasionally be found with large groups of Horned Grebes in the autumn. We ended up with 13,300 Red-breasted Mergansers as a steady stream of them continued south along the east side of the tip all morning. At one point a large feeding frenzy of grebes, loons, and mergansers fed just offshore; always fun to watch. A few Dunlins flew by, as did about 830 Bonaparte's Gulls.

Ken Burrell, Jeremy Bensette and I walked around a fair bit in the afternoon, checking out Sparrow Field, Cactus Field, and the area around DeLaurier and Anders Footpath. Two Golden Eagles flew over us at a low altitude, providing some excitement. Jeremy happened to be carrying his camera and took some good photos of one. Here is a photo of the back of his camera:

Golden Eagle (original photo taken by Jeremy Bensette) - Point Pelee National Park

We had a few other migrating raptors (including some nice looks at Red-shouldered Hawks), flushed two American Woodcocks, and came across a late Eastern Phoebe. It was my first November phoebe in Ontario, though considering the unseasonably warm temperatures this year it was not too surprising.

We also checked some fields near Hillman Marsh, finishing up at dusk at Wheatley harbour. At a field just north of Hillman some Killdeer and other shorebirds were gathering. We counted 238 Killdeer, 4 Dunlin and 1 White-rumped Sandpiper.

This morning, the lake watch was a little less exciting but Horned Grebe numbers were much higher. We were more interested in the large flocks of blackbirds heading south, along with various other songbirds. Purple Finch, American Pipit, Lapland Longspur, Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll were all tallied, some more common than others. About 100,000 blackbirds were observed with the majority being Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird. Quite the sight to see!

Raptors were also quite common, taking advantage of the moderate winds and clear skies. We ended up with 11 species of diurnal raptors including Golden Eagle, a dozen Red-shouldered Hawks and a light morph Rough-legged Hawk, the first of fall for several observers.

We had Cave Swallow on the mind as several individuals had recently been seen in New York on Lake Ontario. This southern species is not seen in Ontario every year, but certain weather conditions can line up to bring individuals northward in late October through November. Before leaving the park all of us except for Ken checked Sanctuary Pond at the north end of the park, as it has hosted Cave Swallows in the past.

Cave Swallow watch

As Jeremy Bensette was photographing American Crows a swallow appeared through his camera's lens. It ended up flying right over us and I called it out as a Cave Swallow. We had awesome looks at the individual, including seeing its pale throat, orange forehead, tawny rump and short square tail. Luckily Jeremy photographed it well before it continued on! A photo of his camera's display screen...

Cave Swallow (original photo taken by Jeremy Bensette) - Point Pelee National Park

Apart from a single individual at the tip of Long Point in 2013, this was the first Cave Swallow reported in Ontario since 2012. It was a new Ontario bird for both Kory and Jeremy, so high-fives all around! Ken came back to help us try to find more swallows, but unfortunately that would be the only one of the day for us.

Kory spotted an Orange-crowned Warbler, and we also had a Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper winging over the marsh, rounding out the interesting sightings. It was a great morning in the park!

This afternoon Jeremy and I drove to our favorite hawk-watching spot in Leamington to meet up with Jeremy Hatt and Chris Gaffan. The flight line was right overhead for the few hours we were there, and even though the winds were more westerly than northerly the hawks were still trying to power through. Two more Golden Eagles and another Rough-legged Hawk were the highlights here, while Red-tailed Hawks dominated the flight. We also were treated to a brief double-rainbow an hour before dusk.

rainbow - Leamington

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A wild goose chase

I was on my way to Point Pelee on Friday evening with plans to spend the weekend in one of my favorite birding locations, a place I hadn't been to in a number of weeks. That all changed, however, when news of the Pink-footed Goose near Casselman broke! Fortunately I received the email as I was approaching Woodstock - much better than the alternative of hearing about the bird as I rolled into Point Pelee. I guess my delayed start to the weekend was good for something.

I drove to my parents' place in Cambridge to spend the night (or rather, the first few hours of the night) and made plans with several others to attempt to chase the bird. The bird in question was consorting with a large group of Snow Geese, and the more eyes searching, the better. It was a weekend too conveniently, so dozens of birders would be on site to help find the bird.

Ken Burrell, Barb Charlton and I met along the highway at the dark-and-early time of 4:00 AM, making good time through Toronto and passing Kingston as the sun began to rise. At 7:57 the first Ontbirds post from Bruce DiLabio contained good news - the bird was back, in the same field where it had been seen and photographed by Jacques Bouvier the previous day. Excellent! We were only 50 minutes away and it was shaping up to be an easy twitch, with the bird teed up in someone's scope as we arrived.

Except that wasn't the case - the bird flew east with a group of Snow Geese about 10 minutes before we arrived. Very frustrating, especially as many of the birders on site were discussing how fantastic the looks were of the bird, describing it in detail. Ugh!

Eventually big flocks of Snow Geese began filtering back towards the field, a big sod farm providing great feeding habitat for the thousands of geese. Some birders who had already seen the bird hopped in their vehicles to scout out the surrounding fields for the bird, while the rest of us remained glued to our scopes, scanning the birds. Undoubtedly the bird eventually returned with one of the big flocks of Snow Geese, but it was nearly impossible to scan them all before they dropped into the while mass of birds already present. While most of the Snow Geese here were white morph, about 5% of them were "blue" morph, including some juveniles which can somewhat resemble a Pink-footed Goose if the views are distant or if one is unfamiliar with the intricacies of their plumage.

Shortly after 11:00, Mark Gawn relocated the Pink-footed Goose in the same location it had been seen earlier in the morning. Ken, Barb and I raced over to where Mark's scope was trained on the bird immediately, but as we were pulling in to the spot, something caused the big flock of geese to get up and "shuffle the deck". By the time they had landed, there was no easily visible Pink-footed Goose hidden amongst all the Snow Geese. Missed it by seconds!

A similar situation happened an hour or so later, as Jeff Skevington found the bird from a different vantage point. Again, by the time we raced over to the spot, the geese had flown around, and the needle was lost again in the haystack.

The rest of the day was spent with Barb Charlton, Ken Burrell and Mike Burrell. Skeins of geese, some containing several thousand birds, kept flying in from all directions, effectively increasing the size of the haystack that contained the needle! All afternoon the bird hadn't been seen, but still several dozen birders were on site, carefully scanning through each and every bird.

At one point I picked out this strange looking goose, which was quickly determined to be a young Greater White-fronted Goose, a new plumage for some of us. A nice bird, but not THE bird!

Even without the Pink-footed Goose making an appearance, the spectacle of all the Snow Geese nearly made up for it. I wish I had taken some photos of the birds, as it was insane. When all the geese would take off and fly around a bit before landing again, it almost sounded like an apocalypse was coming. 100,000+ geese will do that.

Finally, close to 4:00 PM as the threat of darkness and a failed twitch started to creep into our minds, Barb spotted a very distant bird that was likely the Pink-footed Goose. But it disappeared behind a wall of geese soon after, completely obscuring it. Ken and Mike decided to go up the road to find a different vantage point, while Barb and I kept scanning for the bird. Two minutes later my phone rang - it was Ken and they were on the bird!! We raced over to the spot as Ken and Mike, along with Lev Frid and Amanda Guercio, stood atop some compost piles, glued to their scopes. Barb and I ran up the piles, and after 7 hours of scanning, finally definitely laid eyes on the bird. It was near the back of the field, perhaps 1.5 km away, but luckily haze wasn't a problem and we all enjoyed relatively unobscured views of the bird. The views were short, as not 5 minutes later the geese all got up and flew around again before landing. At this point we didn't really feel like scanning the birds once more, as 100,000 geese is a lot to look through, and we still had a long drive ahead of us.

Here is a photo of the happy crew, not long after viewing the Pink-footed Goose.

From left to right: Barb Charlton, Ken Burrell, Lev Frid, Amanda Guercio, Mike Burrell

What a great bird, and thanks to Jacques Bouvier who discovered it, many birders have been able to view it in subsequent days. Of course it hasn't been easy and many birders have left without seeing the bird, but the warm weather may entice it and its Snow Geese companions to stick around for another few weeks.

The Pink-footed Goose is the third species found in Ontario this year that will be new to the official checklist, provided that it is accepted by the OBRC. The other two were Little Egret and Eurasian Dotterel. What will be next?

Friday, 30 October 2015

Pink-footed Goose - new to Ontario

Earlier this evening, Brandon Holden sent an email to myself and several others with a link to a blog post by Jacques Bouvier, a local birder in Eastern Ontario. In the blog post was a picture of a Pink-footed Goose that he had photographed near the LaFleche landfill near Moose Creek, Ontario. This is partway between Ottawa and Cornwall.

The blog post in question can be viewed here:

This is a first record for Ontario, though a long overdue one. Pink-footed Goose is a European species that has become more common in eastern North America in recent years. Extremely rare in North America until the late 1990s, there are now multiple sightings each year in eastern North America. Some have been seen quite close to the Ontario border, but this is the first from Ontario soil.

Needless to say there will be a lot of birders scouring the geese flocks in Eastern Ontario tomorrow, hoping that the bird is still around!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Interesting kingbird in Hamilton

On October 25, Gordo and Tammy Laidlaw were walking at Princess Point in Hamilton when they discovered and photographed an unusual flycatcher. Initially they thought it was an Eastern Kingbird and that evening photos were posted to the Facebook group "Ontario Birds". This created quite a bit of discussion as in some photos the bird looked like a Fork-tailed Flycatcher. It was extremely worn, missing its tertials and having some broken feathers, complicating the identification.

The bird was not seen on October 26, but this morning (October 27) Daniel and Garth Riley relocated the bird near the area where it was first observed. Several birders were able to see and photograph it, myself included. I've posted some photos here for the benefit of those who may not be subscribed to the Facebook group "Ontario Birds".

I am not about to write an extensive piece on its identification right now, but after today's encounter I am leaning towards a very worn, young Eastern Kingbird. Additional commentary may appear at a later date! Eastern Kingbirds generally vacate the province by early September, with occasional individuals trickling by until the end of September and occasionally into October. It is quite unusual for an Eastern Kingbird to still be present in Ontario on October 27, though there have been some later records. The ID is very much up for debate, and some well-respected and credible birders in Ontario and North America have weighed in thinking it is a Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

For those wondering, the bird was seen to roost near the pedestrian bridge crossing Chedoke Creek at Princess Point in Hamilton this evening, after being seen throughout the day. The bird was very weak and may be on death's door. I am sure that the upcoming weather in the next few days will be very hard on it, and I would be quite surprised if it makes it through. At times it was even attempting to eat berries.

Without further ado, here are some photos that I took today of the bird.

This photo, taken by Richard Poort, is the only decent photo that I've seen which shows the underwing pattern of the bird. I took one as well, but it is not much more than a blur.

photo taken by Richard Poort

Barb Charlton took this photo yesterday afternoon, which shows well the white tips to each of the rectrices (tail feathers). In my mind, this is a feature that should not be present on Fork-tailed Flycatcher, but I have no field experience with young Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and there are very few photos online. Could this just be an artifact of the extensive feather wear on the bird?

photo taken by Barb Charlton

A very interesting bird, and commentary is always welcome!

October 4 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove

My first stop on October 4 was the picturesque town of Rossport. The temperatures through the night had dipped down to the freezing mark, but the sun quickly burned away the light frost, making the morning quite comfortable.

shoreline near Marathon

My best bird in Rossport was a Sedge Wren that I discovered in the marsh near the causeway to Nicol Island. I certainly wasn't expecting this species, given the location and date! Sedge Wren breeds in northwestern Ontario but is uncommon along the north shore. The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas shows no breeding evidence east of Thunder Bay in northern Ontario, with the exception of two squares on James Bay and one square near Matheson.This individual was probably a migrant that had been pushed off course, and the lack of cold temperatures had allowed it to persist into early October before migrating. I had never found a Sedge Wren during fall migration before so it was exciting for me.

A Common Yellowthroat and a Wilson's Snipe were also in the marsh, and a nice variety of other birds were seen (Lapland Longspurs, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrush, Rusty Blackbirds, Red-necked Grebes in the harbour, etc). I paused to photograph this confiding Ruby-crowned Kinglet as well.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Marathon

I continued west, making a few brief stops at Pays Plat and a lookout over Nipigon Bay. Not much was happening in Nipigon and I continued down to Red Rock.

In Red Rock, the theme of few birds continued and it was very difficult to find songbirds in the open areas around town. I did add a few new trip birds here, including Hooded Merganser and American Coot, as well as my first American Black Ducks, Greater Scaups and Northern Harrier for Thunder Bay District.

I briefly checked the Hurkett Docks, then continued around to Hurkett Cove Conservation Area. At this point I was really ready for a good walk, so I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening here, exploring the waterfront and some trails. It was a nice break from sitting in my car, even if the potential for finding rare birds was less with this strategy then with driving around and checking all the open areas.

On the road in, I came across an Eastern Gartersnake in a sunny spot.

Eastern Gartersnake - Hurkett Cove CA

Eastern Gartersnake - Hurkett Cove CA

A good variety of ducks were offshore including a flock of Redhead with singles of Ring-necked Duck and both scaup species mixed in. A small group of Bonaparte's Gulls alternated between resting on the water with the ducks and winging around, while a Bald Eagle made a close pass. I found several flocks of chickadees/nuthatches/kinglets/creepers (with a few Boreal Chickadees mixed in), as well as some warblers and sparrows, including my first Fox Sparrows of the trip. These were sparrow species # 11 of the trip, with more species to come later (stay tuned...)

I found a secluded spot to set up camp for the night, this time sleeping in my car once again as rain was forecast overnight. The next day I was going to check out part of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Silver Islet, continuing on to Thunder Bay in the afternoon.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Recent rare bird news

After a relatively slow autumn, things have been picking up in southern Ontario with rare birds. Here are a brief summary of some of the more notable species to be reported in the last few days:

Ash-throated Flycatcher: Glenn Coady found this southwestern species in Ajax on Wednesday evening, though unfortunately it was a one-day wonder as it was not reported the next day by any credible observers, despite dozens of people out looking for it. Flycatchers can be finicky this way, and Ash-throated Flycatchers, while nearly annual in recent years, are usually a one-day wonder. There are still only 12 accepted records for Ontario. I still need this one for Ontario, as do many other birders!

Townsend's Solitaire: David Pryor found one at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto on October 19, which was quite cooperative for all the birders who came to look for it that day. Unfortunately, it too continued on and was not seen the next day. Just now, Brett Fried texted me a photo of a Townsend's Solitaire from the tip of Long Point, where he has been staying for the last few days. Speaking of Long Point...

Northern Gannet and White-winged Dove: Two more unusual birds, one from the east, and one from the southwest, have been seen at the tip of Long Point recently. If only I was down there right now....

Cattle Egret: Several reports of Cattle Egrets came in from the Long Point area recently. One flew by the tip on October 16, another passed Old Cut on October 17, and other one was seen near Port Rowan October 17-18. I'm not sure how many individuals were involved. Cattle Egrets, while rare in Ontario, usually show up at some point in late October in very small numbers.

Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons (November 7)

Black-headed Gull: Tyler Hoar found one at the Durham side of Lake Simcoe on Wednesday. This bird has become quite scarce in the province in recent years with usually less than 5 reported annually.

Late songbirds: This October has been quite mild, playing a role in the large number of songbirds that are still being reported in the province. Close to 20 warbler species have been seen in the last week! Other species that are normally far south of here, such as both cuckoos, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Veery, and Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows have been seen in recent days.

Shorebirds: The large number of White-rumped Sandpipers that arrived in early October are still hanging around in many areas. Mike Burrell wrote a great piece about this phenomenon, which you should check out! Some "late" shorebirds still being seen include a Short-billed Dowitcher at Richmond in eastern Ontario, and Willie the Willet at Blenheim lagoons (which may be the same bird that I found back on September 4.).

Willet - Blenheim lagoons (September 4, 2015)

This is just a small sample of some of the interesting birds that have been seen recently. With some unsettled weather arriving next week, as well as possibly the remnants from Hurricane Patricia, there could be a lot of unusual species around. Get out there and keep checking your local patches! I know I will be, here in Niagara-on-the-Lake.