Thursday, 20 October 2016

Le Conte's Sparrow(s) in Mississauga

On Monday morning while dutifully birding Marie Curtis Park in Mississauga, Dave Pryor encountered a Le Conte's Sparrow skulking in the long grass. Dave had been checking this park daily as good numbers of sparrows and other songbirds often can be found there, and this was the second Ammodramus sparrow that Dave had found there in less than 10 days, after a Nelson's Sparrow that he found on October 8.

I am a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan and have been trying to attend as many postseason games as I can this year, so of course I had tickets to game 3 (Don't ask me how that game went). I had about half an hour of time to search for the Le Conte's prior to meeting up with Dan Riley for the game, but unfortunately it remained hidden during my brief vigil.

The following morning, it was reported that the sparrow was still present so I was determined to try again for it on my way home. Le Conte's Sparrow is a species that I have seen in each of the past five years, but normally my sightings are of birds on the breeding grounds in northern Ontario, as well as autumn migrants while on birding trips to the Thunder Bay area or to James Bay. My only previous sighting for southern Ontario was a bird that Dan Salisbury had discovered on I believe April 30, 2012 at Point Pelee.

Le Conte's Sparrow - Marie Curtis Park, Mississauga

Luckily the Le Conte's Sparrow was easily located as 20+ birders had it cornered in some long grass when I arrived at the stakeout. It was rather shy as they tend to be, but eventually provided excellent looks as it peered at all of us from within the grasses. Eventually I was able to photograph it, though not well as there were too many grasses in the way and the light wasn't ideal.

Le Conte's Sparrow - Marie Curtis Park, Mississauga (October 18, 2016)

The bird can be aged as an adult due to the brightness of its plumage; particularly, the bright orange supercilium and upper breast. Immature birds are much duller with muted colours and more extensive streaking on the underparts.

Le Conte's Sparrow - Marie Curtis Park, Mississauga (Ocotber 18, 2016)

It was brought to my attention in an email thread with Garth Riley, Reuven Martin and David Pryor that most of the photos of the bird from October 17 (the day that David Pryor found it) show an immature Le Conte's Sparrow, while most of the photos from October 18 show an adult bird (the one I photographed). 

Below are a few eBird checklists from October 17 with embedded photos of the immature bird. In particular, notice the extensive streaking on the upperparts (including the center of the upper breast), dull, pale yellow breast (compared to bright orange on the adult bird), and yellowish supercilium with some streaking through it (compared to solid orange supercilium on the adult) among other features. Due to the wet conditions, the bird appeared a lot darker than it would with dry feathers, but the differences are still quite noticeable.  

Below is a photo of an immature Le Conte's Sparrow that I snapped at the Abitibi Canyon, Cochrane District on September 25, 2014. Note how dull and plain this bird is, much like the immature Le Conte's Sparrow photographed in the eBird links above. Of course conditions were dry so it is not as dark as the immature Le Conte's Sparrow from Marie Curtis Park.

immature Le Conte's Sparrow  - Abitibi Canyon, Cochrane District (September 25, 2014)

Dave Pryor mentioned to me in an email that when he first saw the bird on October 17, he noticed how bright it was, but when he subsequently re-found it a short time later on October 17 it was duller, which he attributed to the rain and poor light. Dave speculated that perhaps both birds were present on October 17, but that it was impossible for him to say. 

At any rate, thanks Dave for finding such a great bird (or birds?) for southern Ontario that myself and many others were able to enjoy! Perhaps the most important takeaway is that Marie Curtis Park provides excellent meadow habitat that is utilized by a wide range of species, including Ammodramus sparrows. It is one of the few remaining places along this part of the north shore of Lake Ontario that provides good meadow habitat, an extremely important type that is frequently destroyed for more "aesthetically pleasing" land uses such as manicured grass. Hopefully this does not happen and Marie Curtis Park can continue to provide meadow to a wide range of migratory songbirds in the future. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Point Pelee weekend - Day 2

On Sunday morning, Laura and I were up fairly early and drove down to the tip. A strong southwest wind had continued overnight into the morning, and we were hoping that some interesting species would fly by. Southwest winds are often the most conducive for lake-watching at Point Pelee.

Autumn colours at Point Pelee

Several other birders had already assembled at the tip when we arrived, anticipating the good waterbird flight. Hundreds of Bonaparte's and Ring-billed Gulls were milling around offshore, flying in the strong winds, along with a few duck species including Red-breasted Merganser and Ruddy Duck. Occasional Common Loons and Horned Grebes were also noted. Eventually, Marianne Balkwill discovered a jaeger and called out its location until the rest of us could find the bird through our scopes. We watched it for a few minutes as it lazily flew about, and came to the conclusion that it was a subadult light morph Pomarine Jaeger. A good bird for Point Pelee, and only the second "pom" I've had there.

Feeling a little restless after a couple of hours, Laura and I decided to join Steve and Lindsey on a walk up the West Beach footpath (hopefully to be named the Wormington footpath), and over to Sparrow Field. Despite the wind, sheltered areas in the park held quite a few birds and we worked through several flocks of sparrows and kinglets.

While we were in Sparrow Field, a large greenish-yellow butterfly floated on by - another Cloudless Sulphur! Fortunately it was a little more cooperative than the individual on Saturday and we were able to approach it closely for photos - an unusual event with this restless species that never seems to land for very long.

Steve photographing the Cloudless Sulphur - Point Pelee NP

Cloudless Sulphur - Point Pelee NP

We took our share of photos of the cooperative butterfly - certainly a highlight of the weekend! 

Cloudless Sulphur - Point Pelee NP

Cloudless Sulphur - Point Pelee NP
Laura and I still had a four hour drive ahead of us and so by noon we began making our way back to Niagara. Of course, I made a few pit stops on the way home including Hillman Marsh, Wheatley Harbour and Erieau. 

Arriving at Hillman I ran out to the shorebird cell and began scanning. The Hudsonian Godwit was still present among a few other shorebird species, but there was no sign of the Cattle Egret. I began scrutinizing the goose flock and was surprised to see the orange bill and white "front" of a Greater White-fronted Goose. One turned into two and then three and then many more as I continued scanning. I approached a bit closer to get an accurate count of the birds - 51! This was a record high count for the Point Pelee birding area. 

Other birders reported Greater White-fronted Geese in a variety of locations in Essex County, including 140 that flew past Dave Martin's house near Amherstburg. Others were reported at Harrow lagoons and Jack Miner's near Kingsville as well as a few other locations in southern Ontario from the Bruce Peninsula south to the Rondeau area. The number at Hillman Marsh built up during the day and 78 were reported by Paul Pratt that evening. Likely thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese touched down in the province in the course of two days. A low pressure system carrying rain, and strong southwest winds likely played a role in the appearance of the geese. 

Greater White-fronted Geese - Hillman Marsh CA

It was a great weekend in the Point Pelee birding area! Hopefully I will be able to return one or two more times before the end of the year as autumn birding at Point Pelee is some of the best in the province.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

An excellent weekend at Point Pelee - Day 1

Laura and I drove down to Point Pelee after finishing work on Friday, a location that I had not visited in far too long of a time. The main goal of the weekend for us was to meet up with many of Alan Wormington's closest friends and his family on the Saturday to share stories, reminisce, and celebrate his life.

Saturday morning dawned cool but sunny with a moderate southwest wind clipping along. A tip watch was in order given these conditions, and we assembled at the most southern point of mainland Canada along with a dozen or so others.

We had a nice walk through the woods from De Laurier to the cemetery, then afterwards gathered at Blue Heron picnic area to enjoy a feast that was generously prepared by Kory Renaud, Steve Pike, and Jeremy Bensette. While we were sitting there eating lunch, Steve yelled out "Cloudless Sulphur!" and we all turned to look as the large, greenish-yellow butterfly floated on by. It was a new Ontario butterfly for several of those present, including Bob Curry. Cloudless Sulphur does not show up every year in Ontario, but occasionally individuals do arrive in the southwest of the province, usually after and during strong southwest winds. Autumn is the best time to see this species and other southern immigrant butterfly species in the province.

In the afternoon, Laura and I headed to Hillman Marsh with several others including the 'Burg Birder in hopes of seeing a Cattle Egret and Hudsonian Godwit. The Cattle Egret had been found by Kit McCann on the Friday, while the godwit was discovered by Jeremy Hatt, Marianne Balkwill, Richard Carr and Rick Mayos earlier in the day.

Cattle Egret - Hillman Marsh CA

Luckily, both species were still present, and I was happy to add both to my Pelee list which now stands at 306. The last time that I added two new Pelee birds in one day was March 11, 2013 (Snow Goose, Iceland Gull).

Common Buckeye - Hillman Marsh CA

Eastern Gartersnake - Hillman Marsh CA

As we were leaving the shorebird cell, an interesting looking ratty crow flew over - unfortunately it didn't want to speak, but it looked small-ish with snappy wingbeats, and Laura and I joked that it was probably a Fish Crow. Besides, we hadn't seen an American Crow all day, so it must be a Fish Crow, right?

Laura and I next explored the Couture Dyke, not finding much other than hundreds of mosquitoes. We did located a few butterflies including some late Bronze Coppers.

Bronze Copper - Hillman Marsh CA

Bronze Copper - Hillman Marsh CA

We also spotted a shed skin from a watersnake that was close to four feet in length. The snake did not appear to have much of a pattern, leaving us to wonder if the owner of the shed showed characteristics of Lake Erie Watersnake, a subspecies mainly restricted to the islands in western Lake Erie. Occasionally individuals on the mainland, especially at Point Pelee, have resembled Lake Erie Watersnakes morphologically.

Kory Renaud texted me about half an hour later to let me know that he and Jeremy Hatt had located a crow at the parking lot for the shorebird cell, and it was indeed a Fish Crow. It was also missing some flight feathers so it must have been the bird that Laura and I watched. We returned to the cell to check it out and photograph it.

Fish Crow - Hillman Marsh CA

Unfortunately the Fish Crow did not seem to be doing too well. It was far too tame for its own good, letting us walk right up to it, and spent much of its time picking away at some sort of irritation (mites?) in its plumage and on its feet. Its somewhat wheezy breathing indicated that it may have a respiratory infection as well. This appears to be the same crow that was at the tip of Point Pelee about a week or two prior, as that bird was also missing several flight feathers and exhibited similar behaviour.

Fish Crow - Hillman Marsh CA

Fish Crow is a species generally found in coastal areas of the American southeast north to southern Maine, but their range does go up the Mississippi River to southern Illinois and Indiana, as well as cuts inland from the Atlantic coast to central Pennsylvania and New York. Formerly a very rare bird in Ontario, Fish Crow is now regular enough that it has since been removed from the Ontario Bird Records Committee list of species that require documentation for southern Ontario.

Fish Crow - Hillman Marsh CA

Fish Crow - Hillman Marsh CA

Part two will cover our finds from the Sunday.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Mid autumn birding

The period of time beginning roughly in late September and continuing on through most of October is one of my favorite times of the year, especially when it comes to looking for birds. Songbird migration is in full swing even though most of the warblers and vireos have already vacated the province in anticipation of the inevitable cold winds of November. Mid-autumn is dominated by sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and kinglets, but for those who look there are gems to be found with the songbird flocks including thrushes, some of the later warblers and occasional stragglers like Scarlet Tanager or various flycatchers. On top of that, this time of year is often peak jaeger migration time, and on bouts of suitable winds it is possible to see species like Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Sabine's Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake and other pelagic species along with all three species of jaegers. Shorebirds are still passing through in good numbers at this time of year, and the first gulls and ducks, harbingers of many more to come until early winter, have ascended upon southern Ontario. To top it all off, the weather can be absolutely gorgeous, providing strong motivation to get out the door and go birding.

This past weekend I was able to spend a substantial amount of time birding, starting with a lake watch in Hamilton on Friday. Along with many of southern Ontario's finest birders, I scoped the west end of Lake Ontario and was not disappointed as the winds picked up throughout the morning. Highlights included a trio of Brant with a single Canada Goose, many distant jaegers with a few coming close enough to identify as Parasitic, a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger, and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. No sign of the shearwater sp. which had been reported on the previous two days. There was some evidence of duck migration as well including numerous scoters, and a few Peregrine Falcons also passed by. I had to leave by late morning to finish a report for work unfortunately and so missed Pomarine Jaeger and Sabine's Gull which were seen later by others. I finished the day by stopping by Tollgate Ponds and seeing the long-staying Whimbrel. It was the first time that I have observed that species in October.

Dan Riley came over on Friday night and on Saturday morning we made our way back to Van Wagner's as east winds were predicted to pick up as the day went on. We quickly stopped at the Grimsby lagoons on our way (they have been closed during the week for construction).

Downy Woodpecker - Hamilton

This was an excellent decision as quite a few songbirds had dropped into the lagoons overnight, chipping and zeeping and seeting from the dense shrubbery and herbaceous vegetation along the edges of the lagoons. Among numerous Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers we also found a group of Magnolias, an Orange-crowned and some Common Yellowthroats. Sparrows included three Lincoln's, and a singing Warbling Vireo was getting somewhat late. Despite the somewhat decent water levels few shorebirds were in - we counted one Dunlin along with the Least Sandpipers, Killdeer and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

The moderately strong winds had not yet materialized so we scrapped our plans of Van Wagner's, instead going for a long walk at nearby Confederation Park. We were anticipating good numbers of songbirds and were not disappointed. The entire park was crawling with birds! One lawn had around 40 Northern Flickers, while a large flock of 20+ Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also around. Hundreds of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows were in the undergrowth and we tallied eleven species of warblers. Some of the highlights from the walk included Brown Thrashers, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Orange-crowned Warblers. All in all, a really nice selection of birds!

Eastern Wood-Pewee - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Next, we continued walking to the Van Wagner's Ponds and as we were birding I received a notification about a Sedge Wren that Dave Don had found at the ponds. Unfortunately it remained hidden for us! I did stop to photograph this obliging Black-crowned Night-Heron. As you can see, it is adorned with a metal band around its tarsus and presumably a radio transmitter as well, of which only the antenna is visible.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Van Wagner's Ponds, Hamilton

Sunday was a full day of birding, this time with good friend Todd Hagedorn. Long Point was on the agenda and I was looking forward to my first visit to Norfolk County in over three years. The question was whether we would be able to weather the weather - bands of rain were supposed to pass through all day.

Luckily for us the birding and herping was quite good throughout the day, despite the occasional period of inclement weather. We randomly ran into members of the University of Guelph Wildlife Club and had a leisurely morning of birding with them that was highlighted by a few flocks of songbirds (including late-ish Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers) and even some herps! We helped this neonate Blanding's Turtle and Eastern Foxsnake back to the proper side of the fence that was supposed to keep them away from the roadside.

Blanding's Turtle

Eastern Foxsnake

Todd and I stopped at the viewing tower at Big Creek Wildlife Management Area, located along the causeway. While standing on the tower I scanned a few of the sparrows that were alongside the dyke and was surprised to see a little orange sparrow! It was a Nelson's Sparrow, and a life bird for Todd. Failing in my digiscoping attempts, I ran back to the car for the real camera and was luckily able to relocated the sparrow along with a second Nelson's Sparrow. These are the first eBird records of Nelson's Sparrow from Norfolk County away from the tip of Long Point where occasional migrants have been seen in the past.

Nelson's Sparrow - Big Creek WMA

Nelson's Sparrow - Big Creek WMA

Todd and I stopped at the Port Rowan lagoons, which a week earlier had hosted a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers. No dowitchers were in this time (a pair of Greater Yellowlegs being the only shorebirds) but again, songbirds stole the show. In the smartweed and other weeds along the edges of the lagoons we turned up quite a few warblers and sparrows, including an Orange-crowned Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and Wilson's Warbler. A late Green Heron was also working the pond edges while a Sora called, the first I've had in October.

We next stopped at the Jarvis lagoons before finishing at Townsend sewage lagoons. Jarvis was dead, though I did finally photograph my first Marsh Wren for Ontario - species photographed #353. They are pretty poor photos (tough to get a clean shot of Marsh Wrens this time of year!) so I will spare your eyes the sight.

Townsend was also slow, but we did add some new species for the day including American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, and Black-bellied Plover, finishing with around 90 species before we went our separate ways.

Rock Point Provincial Park

After saying good bye to Todd I drove over to Rock Point (it is kind of on my way back) to close out the day. More rain passed through during the drive, but as I pulled up with an hour of sunlight left, the sun actually broke through the clouds. I had an excellent hour and a half of birding as I followed a large mixed flock through the woods - awesome birding! The lighting conditions and frenetic foraging motions of the birds made it difficult to view and identify most individuals, but eventually I was able to pick out a few odds and ends including a late Blackburnian Warbler among 9 warblers species, and a late Spotted Sandpiper along the shoreline. As the sun set on another great weekend I took a few was a fantastic weekend during one of my favorite times of the year.

Rock Point Provincial Park

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Long lost photos

This week I have been going through and uploading all of my bird photos from Ontario into eBird. I have been making good progress and at this point I have uploaded all of my photos from 2009 through 2014, as well as a few others from 2015 and 2016. I have uploaded photos of 341 species taken in Ontario, meaning there are only 10 species that I have photographed whose likenesses haven't made it into eBird.

As I was going through these photos I found quite a few that I had not posted to the blog, usually because I never got around to going through those albums, purging all the poor photos, and editing some of what was left over. Since I do not have a ton of current material at the moment as I have been too often leaving the weight of my camera behind on recent excursions, I thought I would post a few of these photos which had been forgotten until now.

On April 21, 2014 I was doing some work in the Lindsay area during the morning, leaving my whole afternoon free. I decided to explore the nearby Carden Alvar, home of a number of grassland/alvar specialties including Upland Sandpiper, Clay-colored Sparrow, Sedge Wren and Loggerhead Shrike, among many other interesting species. While the bulk of the Upland Sandpipers had not yet arrived to set up their territories, I was able to tease one individual out of the alvar.

Upland Sandpiper - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Several newly arrived Loggerhead Shrikes also put in appearances, including this individual on the aptly named Shrike Road. Loggerhead Shrikes are an Endangered species in Ontario with only several small populations hanging on. Carden hosts the majority of the birds, though there are a number of pairs in the Napanee area and a few on the Bruce Peninsula as I understand. Due to the land use practices in the Carden area as well as work done by local conservation groups to buy up land, enough habitat remains for the shrikes at Carden for now, though the population is still quite low and certainly at risk. That being said, they are relatively easy to find by driving some of the roads within the area, and there are often a few pairs along the heavily-birded Wylie and Shrike Roads.

Loggerhead Shrike - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Loggerhead Shrike was actually a new addition to my "photographed in Ontario" list as I had completely forgotten about these photos! It is species #351, meaning that there are 28 species that I have yet to photograph which are on my Ontario list. Unfortunately several of these are code 6 rarities which I may never have another shot at including Pink-footed Goose, Black-tailed Gull, Elegant Tern, and Phainopepla, as well as a few code 5s such as Golden-crowned Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole, Razorbill and Great Cormorant. Fortunately there are still a few easy ones remaining including Marsh Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Waterthrush and Rock Pigeon (!), along with several other regular Ontario species such as Kirtland's Warbler, Black-headed Gull, Northern Gannet, Glossy Ibis, and Barrow's Goldeneye.

Loggerhead Shrike - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

After photographing the shrike, I noticed this Eastern Gartersnake attempting to gather some sort of warmth from the road on this relatively cool, gloomy late April day.

Eastern Gartersnake - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Switching gears now - after the excellent trip to the coast of James Bay that Kory Renaud, Jeremy Bensette, Alan Wormington and I went on in the autumn of 2014, Kory, Alan and I birded the Hearst to Cochrane stretch on October 11. We saw a few interesting birds that day including a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Kapuskasing landfill, a group of 8 Cackling Geese and 66 Pectoral Sandpipers at the Hearst lagoons, and an Eastern Meadowlark near Hearst, representing one of few (the only?) record(s) for Cochrane District. This Bald Eagle did not mind our presence at the Hearst landfill - it was more concerned with finding some delectable morsel to eat among the heaps of rotting garbage (what a magnificent creature). Fortunately none of the garbage is visible in these photos.

Bald Eagle - Hearst landfill (October 11, 2014)

Bald Eagle - Hearst landfill (October 11, 2014)

Sticking with the northern Ontario theme, the next photo is of one of my favorite mammals in the province. This dude was walking right down the middle of the highway that leads to Pickle Lake, so we stopped to admire and photograph it. Fortunately (for the porc) our presence was enough to force it to slowly shuffle off the dangerous road.

Porcupine - south of Pickle Lake (June 29, 2015)

Ontario is home to only one species of lizard, but fortunately, Five-lined Skinks are relatively common throughout their range in the Georgian Bay region of Ontario. They inhabit several locations in southwestern Ontario as well and can be particularly common in parts of Point Pelee National Park. Last summer Laura and I drove down to the Windsor area to participate on the Ojibway Prairie Bioblitz, also spending a day at Point Pelee National Park. Like most lizard species, Five-lined Skinks are oviparous, meaning that the young hatch from eggs, and along with Jeremy Bensette, we found a few Five-lined Skink nests inadvertently in our search for snakes and other herps.

Five-lined Skink and eggs - Point Pelee NP (July 17, 2015)

I'll finish this post with a photo of Sanctuary Pond at Point Pelee on a beautiful, calm May morning.

Sanctuary Pond, Point Pelee (May 2, 2015)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Alan Wormington – 1954 – 2016

On Saturday evening, Alan Wormington passed away while in hospice care in Leamington, Ontario. He had been dealing with the ravages of cancer for the past 30 months, but especially over the last six weeks or so. Alan Wormington was one of Canada’s and Ontario’s premier birders, and was widely considered by his peers as the most skilled birder of his generation. Alan’s knowledge of Ontario’s birds was enormous, and he was always on the “cutting edge” of the birding scene in Ontario – many would agree that he was the single most influential birder of his generation.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee sewage lagoons - September 24, 2014

Glenn Coady succinctly wrote about Alan’s influence as a field ornithologist, which I hope he doesn’t mind me posting here.

“Perhaps no one since Witmer Stone, a century ago at Cape May, has become so synonymous with the study of the birds of so crucial an area for their understanding and enjoyment, as has Alan Wormington at Point Pelee. As a field ornithologist, many of Alan’s achievements are the stuff of legend. He was the finder of seven species of birds were were new for the Ontario bird checklist: Lesser Nighthawk (1974), Royal Tern (1974), Fish Crow (1978), Cave Swallow (1989), Plumbeous Vireo (1997), Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater (2010) and Kelp Gull (2012) – the most by anyone since the days of William Edwin Saunders a century ago. In addition, he found the first nests for Ontario of Chuck-will’s-widow (1977) and Cinnamon Teal (1983).”

Alan Wormington (front row, left) with Roger Tory Peterson (front row, center) at Point Pelee NP, May 1978

Alan was an excellent photographer, documenting many of his rare finds in an age before digital photography. He was a founding member of the Ontario Bird Records Committee, serving more terms than anyone else, and doing more than anyone to ensure its success as a peer review for rare bird records for Ontario. Alan has written numerous articles about bird status and identification, compiled bird records in meticulous detail for the Point Pelee and Moosonee Birding Areas, and contributed with information for, and reviews of, countless manuscripts and articles. Alan always edited my articles that I wrote for the journal North American Birds. It was often a bit of a painful experience receiving his edits back as I knew that he would meticulously scour every detail of my report for every possible mistake. Alan’s attention to detail and desire for accuracy was exemplary.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee waterfront - September 29, 2012

While Alan was most well known for his birding knowledge and skill, his understanding of the status and distribution of Ontario butterflies was unequaled as well. Alan's was chiefly interested in butterflies growing up, but immediately caught the birding bug after identifying a White-eyed Vireo in Hamilton one spring. His interest in butterflies, however, remained strong through his life; he found several new species of butterflies for the province, as well as countless firsts for Point Pelee. One of Alan's books that he was working on is the "The Rare Butterflies of Ontario" - hopefully its publication will come to fruition in the coming years.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee - September 29, 2013

Unlike many of his peers who have known Alan for decades, I only first met him in 2009. I distinctly remember the first time seeing him in person. I was a nineteen year old herper who had only been interested in birds for the past year or so, and I was visiting Point Pelee for my first time. Even as a new birder, I was well aware of Alan Wormington, as his name would frequently pop up on the Ontbirds archives from previous years or in conversations with other birders, and I certainly got the sense that this man was a legend in the Ontario birding scene. One morning on my inaugural Point Pelee visit, I was birding along the northeast corner of the Woodland Nature Trail. It was a beautiful and calm morning in the park and I was having fun identifying all the warblers and other songbirds I was seeing. Two other birders walked up the trail towards me, and I realized that Alan Wormington was one of them, accompanied by a friend whom I later found out was Henrietta O’Neill. I kept birding as they approached and I noticed a small songbird pop up deep within the dogwoods - it was a waterthrush, most likely a northern. Alan and Henrietta stopped and asked if I had seen anything, and I blurted out that there was a Worm-eating Warbler in the dogwoods, fully meaning to say waterthrush. Alan turned to look before I clarified that I meant to say waterthrush, but the damage had been done. After a quick look he continued on while I felt a bit red from shame! Alan had no recollection of this story when I told him about it last week, no doubt at the time he probably thought that I was just another newbie birder, confusing my waterthrushes with my worm-eating warblers.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 22, 2012

In the years since, I have become very good friends with Alan. We have birded together often at Point Pelee, but some of my fondest memories of Alan come from the trips that we took to the southern coast of James Bay during autumn rarity-hunting expeditions.

From left to right: Jeremy Bensette, Josh Vandermeulen, Kory Renaud and Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - September 26, 2014

All told, we went on five expeditions to his beloved “Moosonee (Southern James Bay) Birding Area”. These trips were fantastic, often filled with rarities, many of which Alan of course spotted. Three of these trips were to Netitishi Point where we birded and sea-watched along the southern coast of James for two weeks straight, and two of these trips were just Alan and I. I have many great memories of these trips - tracking down the wayward Western Kingbird that flitted by us at dusk on our last day at Netitishi in 2012; spotting my first Ontario Northern Fulmar, the record breaking bird of my Ontario big year, alongside Alan; chatting about life and birds beside the campfire during the cold, crisp evenings; watching Alan have his glove stolen by the camp Red Fox, which was later found in the woods, missing a few fingers; straining through our scopes for hours on end during the really good days when thousands of birds migrated by as we struggled to keep track of the numbers.

Alan Wormington determining the wind direction at Netitishi Point - October 26, 2012

Sitting beside Alan on the coast of James Bay as he identified distant ducks and waterbirds while they were still specks on the horizon, I always felt extra motivated to spend long hours staring through the scope, working on my identification skills. I know that I am just one of many birders who strove to be better after watching Alan work his craft.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 26, 2013

Alan was a pioneer when it came to birding in northern Ontario. He was fascinated with the birding on James Bay and the north shore of Lake Superior, with his main interest lying in the possibilities of finding rare birds. He would return home from these jaunts to the north with reports of numerous rarities each time - often accompanied by good photos. This photograph below features Mark Jennings, Bob Curry and Alan, taken in 1977 when Alan was 23 years old. It was a self-portrait of the guys from their trip to White Top (Ship Sands Island), located at the mouth of the Moose River near Moosonee. Alan told me several stories from these trips; the most memorable of these was a trip that Alan and I believe Bruce DiLabio went on to Moosonee, his first ever trip to the James Bay coast. The teenagers showed up in Moosonee with woefully inadequate equipment and hailed a boat ride out to Ship Sands Island. There was a strong tide combined with a north wind one night, and the guys awoke with water running through the tent. Luckily some native guys were also on the island and rescued them, by taking them in their boat to higher ground!

left to right: Mark Jennings, Bob Curry, and Alan Wormington at White Top (Ship Sands Island), James Bay - August, 1977

One particular example of Alan's tireless passion and skill in birding occurred on my first trip with Alan – a six day trip to Moosonee and back with Mark Jennings and Alan in late September, 2012. After a busy morning of birding around Moosonee, we were relaxing on a picnic bench and watching several Rough-legged Hawks flying over. Alan spotted a distant Buteo coming closer, and immediately began to show interest in it. I was kind of baffled when watching the hawk – it certainly appeared to be a Red-tailed Hawk but it exhibited a plumage I wasn’t familiar with. While I was still struggling to put a name to it, Alan proclaimed how he thought it was a Harlan’s Hawk, and we both took some photos of the bird circling over. Of course the photos show an adult Harlan’s Hawk, a bird that wasn’t even on my radar, but one that Alan was intimately familiar with in the odd chance that he would someday come across one.

Alan Wormington (left) with Mark Jennings at Moosonee - September 28, 2012

Another example from that same trip occurred several days later once we were back on the Highway 11 corridor. After concluding a busy day of birding all of the towns, sewage lagoons and landfills in this stretch, we continued to the east as the sun began to set. Alan was driving, going his customary 20-30 km/h over the speed limit while Mark and I stared out the windows  and tried not to fall asleep. I must confess that I was not paying much attention – it had been a long day and I was on my phone, reading up and seeing photos of a Mew Gull that had been found in Sault Ste. Marie, a bird which we would be trying for the following day. As we flew down the highway, Alan yellow out “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!” and hit the brakes. I caught a glimpse of a long-tailed looking bird on the wire as we streaked past. He turned the car around and backtracked – sure enough, a young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was perched on the power line in the fading evening light. His preparedness and dedication to his craft was readily apparent to those of us who were fortunate to have birded with Alan.

Alan Wormington and Kory Renaud at Netitishi Point - September 26, 2014 

Alan wasn't all business all the time - he had a quirky sense of humour which frequently surfaced when he was among friends. There is one story in particular I wanted to mention.

In late December, 2012, I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia to spend the holidays with Laura and her family. While a few days remained before the end of 2012, my Ontario big year was essentially over as I would not be returning back to the province until the calendar flipped over to January. I was checking my email one afternoon when I saw the Ontbirds post that had just come in. "Northern Lapwing at Hillman Marsh" it read, and of course Alan was the author. My heart sank as I read the details. Alan had discovered this bird with a flock of 40 or so Killdeer that were still lingering at the southwestern corner of Hillman Marsh, where the mud was still visible due to lowered water levels. Several Northern Lapwings had been seen recently on the east coast of North America, and it was a species that has long been our radar as a new addition to our province's avifauna, no doubt a species that Alan was well prepared for. He mentioned in the Ontbirds post that he had returned back to his house to get the word out and to grab his camera, and that he would be returning to Hillman Marsh shortly.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 27, 2013
I checked Ontbirds, eBird, and the various Facebook groups throughout the evening, anxiously waiting for an update on the bird. Laura and her family did their best to dispel my glum mood, but it was of no use.

Strangely, there were no follow up Ontbirds posts, and nothing was on eBird for Hillman Marsh, despite several hours of light remaining when Alan originally posted. It then dawned on me. I quickly checked the original Ontbirds email - under the "Recipient" field, only my name was listed, and I quickly clued in that this was a fake Ontbirds post from Alan, the first one of several I would receive over the years. He really had me going for the better part of a day!

Alan Wormington at Moosonee sewage lagoons - September 26, 2012

I am honored to have known Alan and learned from him over the past six years. Alan was a generous and loyal friend to those who knew him throughout his life. His passing leaves a huge hole in the birding and butterflying communities, and he will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by many.