Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Netitishi Day 9

October 4, 2014
Weather: between 15 and 8 degrees C, wind SW to SE 20-30 km/h, overcast with brief sunny periods
Ebird checklist:
56 species

October 4 began warm and calm, though the temperatures dropped as the day wore on and the wind picked up out of the southwest, swinging to southeast by afternoon. The day's highlight was found by Kory as he birded in the woods west of the cabin. With a mixed flock he picked out a Red-eyed Vireo and managed to snap a few photos. While Red-eyed Vireos are a very common woodland species throughout Ontario, most have usually departed the north by early September. Kory also found the first Winter Wren of the trip that day.

Red-eyed Vireo (photo by Kory Renaud)
Alan also fcound what was likely a very good bird while he was seawatching by himself. He got on a distant Sterna tern, though the views were too great to tell if it was a Common Tern or the more likely option of Arctic Tern.

Later in the morning Kory and I were birding in the opening just south of the shelter by the treeline when we heard the distinctive squeak of a Black-backed Woodpecker. A few moments later it appeared and flew directly right beside us, eventually landing in a nearby tree. I was pretty happy with the sighting as it was a long-overdue addition to my southern James Bay list.

Jeremy, Kory and I completed the daily afternoon trek along the coastline to the east in search of sparrows and other songbirds. The coastline is beautiful with its wide open spaces, sun-bleached driftwood, and variety of autumn colors of the plant life.

Good numbers of sparrows were foraging on the beach and in the grasses and it wasn't long until we came up with a total of 11 sparrow species, highlighted by a single Nelson's Sparrow.

Despite the poor seawatching conditions as a group we managed to see 56 species - the second highest daily total so far on the trip.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Netitishi Day 8

October 3, 2014
Weather: between 10 and 16 degrees C, wind SE 20-40 km/h (picking up at dusk), overcast with scattered showers
47 species
Ebird checklist:

You're not going to believe this - the wind was out of the southeast all day on October 3. Not only that, but it rained for a good part of the day, severely limiting the bird activity. I ended up sleeping in until 9:00 AM - bad form, I know - and making it down to the coast for 10:00 AM. I was surprised to see that it was high tide, as yesterday the tide had not really come in at all.

Likely due to a combination of boredom and getting rained on, Kory had taken it upon himself to construct a roof for the shelter to protect us from the elements as we kept an eye out over the bay. I took these photos a few days later during a lovely snowsquall.

After a few hours of seawatching our grand total for waterbirds included 7 Canada Geese ("local" birds on the mudflats), 10 Mallards, two flocks of Northern Pintails, and a Surf Scoter. When the rain finally abated, Kory and I walked the familiar route along the shoreline to the east. The warm temperatures and strong southeast winds over the past few days had given us hope that a new southern vagrant had arrived, to go with the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers we had already discovered in the previous days.

As were heading back to the shelter we startled a dove which flew into a nearby tree. The Mourning Dove caused a brief moment of excitement, though we would have preferred a White-winged Dove! While a common species through much of Ontario Mourning Doves are unexpected at Netitishi Point. This was only the second one I've seen here.

The other new bird for the trip was found by Alan as he sea-watched by himself later that morning - two Red-necked Grebes flying by at close range. This is another species that is only sporadically encountered along the southern James Bay coast.

While today was relatively non-eventful, slow days like these really help birders appreciate the good days. Or so I've been told! Personally I wouldn't mind a higher frequency of good days at Netitishi since it can be some of the best birding in the province when the weather co-operates.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Niagara to Oakville - December 5, 2014

Dave Szmyr and I both took Friday off from our respective jobs and met up for a fine day of birding. He was at my place in Aurora by 5:00 AM, and the early hour afforded easy driving through the GTA and Hamilton. It was shortly after seven when we arrived at a residential address along the Niagara Parkway, just south of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Eventually as dawn arrived the first few birds attended the feeders - mostly Northern Cardinals and Dark-eyed Juncos, but a few other species mixed in. A Bluebird and a handful of Pine Siskins flew overhead, while a Cooper's Hawk made a brief appearance. Eventually a small flock of House Sparrows arrived and I spotted the target bird sitting on the roof.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Niagara-on-the-Lake
The long-staying Eurasian Tree Sparrow fed with the group of House Sparrows a handful of times over the course of half an hour. As usual the group was quite skittish, and combined with the dull morning light it was difficult obtaining sharp photos that weren't too grainy. Even still, I has happy to finally take my first photos of this species, and Dave was thrilled to finally lay eyes on his 300th species for Ontario.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Niagara-on-the-Lake

We checked a few other locations along the Niagara River, including Adam Beck and the overlook above Queenston. We birded the Fort Erie waterfront as well, making it as far west as Kraft Road.

Here there was a large group (250+) of Tundra Swans and a few hundred Canada Geese with no other goose species mixed in. Offshore was a large flock of Redhead, Greater Scaup, and two Canvasbacks. Some Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows were calling from some shrubs along the shoreline so I pished to try to attract them closer into view. One of the juncos that responded to the pishing stood out - it was overall somewhat pale with some light brown on its flanks and a sharply contrasting black hood. It was an adult male "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco and stuck out noticeably from the nearby local "Slate-colored" birds!  This  form of Dark-eyed Junco includes seven subspecies found throughout western North America. Dave and I went back for our cameras and saw the bird a few more times, but were unable to grab photos as the flock was moving quickly and mostly staying out of view.

This was the first Oregon Junco that either Dave or I had seen in Ontario. Perhaps a dozen or more are reported each year in southern Ontario, though some of these are females/immatures that can be very similar to some "Slate-colored" or "Cassiar" Juncos.

We checked a few more locations along the Niagara River before deciding to drive to Oakville for the last hour and a half before dusk. Sedgewick Park was our destination as all six species of warblers were still hanging on, almost a week into December.

We arrived and met up with Tyler Hoar who had quickly seen all six species in the minutes before our arrival. Despite the fading afternoon light we had no trouble finding all the warblers within about 15 minutes.

The Northern Parula was perhaps the "tamest" of all of them. When birds are struggling to survive in places they really shouldn't be, such as a Northern Parula in southern Ontario in December, the need to find food takes precedence over just about anything else. The risk of foraging right next to potential predators was worth it, if it meant finding food. The parula appeared to be quite successful catching little centipedes and spiders in the leaf litter along the chain link fence.

Northern Parula - Oakville

Northern Parula - Oakville

The other warblers also made short forays to the fence line or to the edge of the open sewage treatment plant. The Wilson's Warbler was the skulkiest of them all, preferring to move slowly through the undergrowth. Two Orange-crowned Warblers were present, as was a single Nashville Warbler. Sedgewick has now held the latter two species into early winter in each of the last three winters.

The Tennessee perched in the open for an extended period of time about half an hour before dusk. The low light made things difficult but I cranked my ISO and hoped for the best. Even at ISO 2000, a shutter speed of 1/50 was about the bust I could manage.

Tennessee Warbler - Oakville

Tennessee Warbler - Oakville

While the warblers are holding on for now, the clock is ticking and it is likely only a matter of time until they perish. While they are finding things to eat now, a good cold snap could put their fragile bodies over the edge. The Yellow-rumped Warblers stand the best chance of overwintering, followed by the Orange-crowned Warblers and maybe the Nashville, but the odds are certainly stacked against them. Most Northern Parulas, Wilson's Warblers and Tennessee Warblers are in Central and South America right now, not struggling to survive freezing temperatures each and every night..

We made one more stop before nightfall, going across the street to Coronation Park to look for a reported Brant, a species Dave had not seen yet this year. The bird was right where it was supposed to be, on the grass feeding with some Canada Geese.

We finished the day with close to 70 species including some great winter birds.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Netitishi Day 7

October 2, 2014
Weather: 10 to 14 to 12 degrees C, wind ESE to S, 20-30 km/h, light overcast with occasional scattered showers
Ebird checklist:
48 species

This morning we awoke to warm temperatures and almost no wind, but we headed out to the coast anyways to see what was going on. While ducks were few and far between, a group of 3 Horned Grebes passed by together and eight Snow Geese flew south, high up over the bay. By mid-morning I was sitting at the coast with Jeremy and Kory watching the relatively few waterbirds going by. Behind me, some sparrows were chipping - just the usual White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows. As I was watching them a small gray bird flitted into some nearby alders. A quick look with the binoculars revealed it to be another Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I quickly got Kory on the bird before it flushed deeper into the thicket. Unfortunately I did not get any photos of this one!

Considering that the other gnatcatcher was only three days ago, and that many of the small flocks of songbirds seem to travel up and down the ridge, passing through the cabin area, it is likely that this could be the same bird involved.

While Jeremy and Alan decided to search for the gnatcatcher, I checked for it along the coastline to the west, while at the same time hoping to see what other birds may be around on such a calm day. Many sparrows were feeding in the grasses and on the beach in front of the treeline, and while relatively skittish, it did not take too long for a group to get accustomed to my presence and fly back out onto the open sand. Quite a few White-crowned Sparrows were around, joining the ranks of the American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. Some of the sparrow species, such as White-throated and Fox, tended to stick to the dark understorey of the spruces along the edge.

Fox Sparrow - Netitishi Point

Occasional groups of Boreal Chickadees passed through as well, remaining elusive at the top of the spruces. Some would venture out into the open, providing great looks of this somewhat shy species.

Boreal Chickadee - Netitishi Point

As the birding was excellent, I continued on past the point to follow the coastline to the west. This area is sheltered on days that are either calm or with southwest winds and birds can be found all along the stretch. After a while some shrubby willow/alder stands grow along the edge of the treeline, and they too can sometimes hold birds. As I passed by the second stand, another small gray bird suddenly appeared! It too flitted quickly, soon after I had identified it as a Blue-gray Gnatatcher. Luckily it did not go far and I was able to take a few distant record photos. I ended up seeing it about five times over the coast of half an hour or so as I foraged for insects in the branches.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point

While the first bird today may have been the same one seen on September 30, this second bird was new. While I was photographing this bird, Alan and Jeremy had just finished photographing the other one near the opening north of the cabins. Additionally, this bird stuck to the same small patch of bushes the whole time I was there, and was later seen by Kory in the same area. It certainly looked like a small "invasion" of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers may have arrived - small sample size and all! Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have an established period of vagrancy to the north in the autumn, and now there are six or seven records for the southern James Bay area of which most have been during September/October.

Eventually the gnatcatcher disappeared for a while and so I continued on down the coast to sift through more sparrows and maybe find another southern vagrant. While that did not happen, I did flush this Clay-colored Sparrow from some tall grasses. It ended up sitting tight in a tree along the edge of the grassy area, allowing decent, though somewhat distant views and photos. This bird is likely a local local - considering the relatively mild fall up to this point it is not surprising that some Clay-colored Sparrows could still be around.

Clay-colored Sparrow - Netitishi Point

A few other odds and ends were around today - Alan had an Orange-crowned Warbler near the camp, several Purple Finches were vocal in the spruces in the afternoon, and two Ruddy Turnstones flew by the shoreline, heading west.

That evening the temperature was still hovering around 12 degrees, the wind was warm out of the south, and some Mink Frogs and Spring Peepers called away from the wetland beside the cabins. The blackflies and mosquitoes were still biting, making it feel more like a late summer night than an October night.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Niagara pulls through....again!

The Niagara River has a long and storied history of excellent birds being found there time and time again. Many of the best birds seen along the river are found in autumn and early winter, as large numbers of gulls, ducks and other waterbirds congregate at the river due to the abundant food source in the river - shiners. The Niagara River of course is a world renowned gull watching location and it is possible to see up to 14 species of gulls there in a single day if the stars align just right. Last year, two fantastic birds turned up along the river, both ending up being new species for Ontario. These were of course the Brown Booby in October and Elegant Tern in November. 

The autumn of 2011 was another great one along the river, and at times it was possible to see Razorbill, Black Vultures, Fish Crows, Slaty-backed Gull, Franklin's Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake and California Gull all in one day. Some of the other notable rarities to turn up along the Niagara River in years past include Common Eider, Great Cormorant, Ivory Gull, Ross's Gull, Smew, etc.

This year we hadn't yet seen our annual late fall "mega" along the river - something that changed this morning.

While I was out in the field working yesterday morning I saw the Ontbirds birds by Craig Corcoran about the Eurasian Tree Sparrow that Brianne Corcoran had spotted at their bird feeders in front of their house along the Niagara Parkway south of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

What the heck would a Eurasian species be doing along the Niagara River, you may ask? Twelve Eurasian Tree-Sparrows were actually introduced into the vicinity around St. Louis, Missouri in the year 1870, and though they have never been as successful as  their relative (the ubiquitous House Sparrow) they have increased in number to around 15,000 birds, spreading out into nearby Illinois and Iowa. Because this species has become well established for many years they are considered "countable" by the American Ornithological Union (AOU). The same goes for other introduced species like Ring-necked Pheasant, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and even Mute Swan, House Sparrow and European Starling.  Here is an ebird map showing the North American range of Eurasian Tree Sparrow. The darker purple squares indicate higher relative abundance.

As you can see from the above map there have actually been a few sightings in Ontario in the past - including four prior to this year that have been accepted by the Ontario Bird Records Committee. However, few of these birds have lingered for more than a day (or a few hours) in one location.

1 in Eastnor Township, Bruce 16-18 Feb, 1994 (Russell Ferguson, Katherine Ferguson)
1 at Sturgeon Creek, Essex 20 May, 1999 (Paul D. Pratt)
1 at Leamington, Essex 24 Aug, 2003 (Jeanette B. Pepper)
1 at Port Burwell, Elgin 10 May, 2008 (Aaron Allensen)

This year at least two prior sightings have occurred. Alan Wormington found two at Terrace Bay, Thunder Bay on May 18, and one was banded at the tip of Long Point, Norfolk on 19 May.

At any rate, I was determined to finish my work for the day early and drive down to Niagara-on-the-lake before dark to look for the bird, as they are usually one day wonders. A good rule of thumb when chasing a rare bird is to get there the day it is found. So many times a rarity is seen until dusk but not relocated in subsequent days.

I finished up my surveys and hit the road by 1:15 PM, spurred on by a positive Ontbirds post by Barb Charlton that the bird was still attending the feeder.

I rolled in shortly after 3:00 PM to see about a dozen cars parked along the road in front of the house and a small group of birders standing around. It turns out that the sparrow hadn't been seen since early that afternoon, nor had the big flock of House Sparrows that it was associating with. There was some thought that the large amount of birders present may have prevented the sparrows from returning, but that is hard to determine of course. A group of 60 or so House Sparrows came in eventually (smaller than the 200 or so seen earlier), but the bird was not with them. Compared to the closely related House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree-Sparrow has a rufous/brown cap, black auriculars (ear), white surrounding the auriculars, and a white collar. It is also slightly smaller than House Sparrow with a slightly smaller bill.

I decided that I was going to stick it out until dusk since I had no other pressing plans that evening and dusk was before 5:00 PM, leaving me lots of time to get back home afterwards and still do a few hours of work.

Most birders cleared out around 4:20 PM as few birds were seen around the feeders and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow was MIA. I ended up being the last birder there, so I sat quietly in my car and kept an eye on the feeders. With fewer people around, more birds started coming in to the feeders- a pair of Pine Siskins, some Dark-eyed Juncos, a few Mourning Doves, and half a dozen Northern Cardinals.

I was actually on the phone with Jeremy Bensette when a sparrow-sized bird landed on the feeder. I was shocked to see it was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow! After a few quick expletives I hastily hung up on Jeremy and watched the bird. Surprisingly it was all by itself, not associating with any House Sparrows as it had earlier in the day. It only stayed on the feeder for about 20 seconds. I ended up spending the last ten seconds of the observation fumbling with my camera's autofocus and failing to get even a single photo off. No photos and a 10-second look are better than no looks at all though.

Good luck to all those who look today! I just saw an update that it finally returned to the feeder, so no doubt many people have added it to their Ontario list. I'll be returning on the weekend for some Niagara River gulling so hopefully I can drop in and grab some photos. In the meantime, here is a link to some taken by Barb Charlton yesterday.

Good birding!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Netitishi Day 6

October 1, 2014
Weather: 5 to 17 to 12 degrees C, wind ESE to SW 10 -30 km/h, clear skies, light overcast at dusk
53 species
Ebird checklist:

In my notebook I began this day's entry with "A very slow day at Netitishi. The morning tide was low - seawatching was pointless"...a theme that would happen more frequently than I would have cared on this year's trip. As you can see from the weather information above, it was a warm day with moderate winds with a southerly component once again; the poor migration weather led to few waterbirds being seen. Nine ducks were seen today. No, not nine species - nine individual ducks.

It can be an strange feeling sitting out by the coast and scanning from the far left to the far right, covering quite a large swath of open water, and come up with exactly zero ducks. Sometimes, it can be a relief to spot a few distant Ring-billed Gulls to break up the monotony! It sure is much different than birding the lower Great Lakes, where no matter what, there are always birds going by - even if they are "just" Red-breasted Mergansers or Long-tailed Ducks. But the few really excellent migration days on James Bay certainly make up for the slow ones!

But enough about the negative - we did see a few interesting birds today including a very distant Short-eared Owl that was migrating from east to west over the bay, following a similar route that Rough-legged Hawks take; we also had 19 Roughies today. This was my second SEOW for Netitishi and our first for this trip.

The usual crew of Peregrine Falcons was out controlling songbird numbers today. Occasionally one would blast by in full chase mode. More frequently they were seen soaring and cruising by slowly, keeping an eye out for potential meals.

Peregrine Falcon - Netitishi Point

Speaking of songbirds, they were active on a sunny warm day like today. New for our trip was a Western Palm Warbler that was seen on occasion along the edge of spruces along the coastline. Too quick for photos, however! Sparrows were also around, though in relatively low numbers, and by the end of the day we had dug out ten species. Many of these sparrows were to the east around the point. We also heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming far to the east, our third "trip bird" of the day. The fourth trip bird ended up being a flock of nine Least Sandpipers (Alan only). We would see more later in the trip.

Alan scanning the shoreline

Dragonflies were out in full force on the first day of the new month. These solar powered arthropods seem to disappear within seconds of the sun going behind a cloud. I'll make a post detailing the dragonfly species of Netitishi at a later date.

By evening the winds were out of the southwest and a thin layer of clouds had obscured the fading sun. To close things out, here is a photo looking southwest from the cabins across the small wetland an hour or two before dusk.

wetland near Netitishi Point

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Netitishi Day 5

September 30, 2014
2 to 12 to 4 degrees C, wind light and variable, clear skies
55 species 
Ebird checklist:

The morning dawned cold and clear and a thin layer of frost covered everything. The winds were dead calm but the sun quickly warmed the landscape, melting the frost in the open areas. Seawatching at the coast was futile at best as nothing much was migrating due to the lack of a breeze. Only five species of ducks were seen, all in very low numbers. A strange sight first thing in the morning was a group of Common Ravens that eventually grew to 47 in number, all moving slowly east in one large flock along the shoreline. Usually just the local pair (and perhaps an additional bird or two) are tallied in a given day.

A walk behind the line of spruces as the sun warmed the landscape turned up several sparrows species and a somewhat photogenic Hairy Woodpecker. Jeremy and I had a brief look at a Hermit Thrush - though long enough for us to take quick record photos through the shrubs.

Hairy Woodpecker - Netitishi Point

Hermit Thrush - Netitishi Point
A morning walk to the "Warbler Corner" failed to turn up any of the desired warblers, though this Red Squirrel kept a close eye on me as it ripped apart cones.

Red Squirrel - Netitishi Point

By late morning the tide had completely receded and so I went for a walk by myself down the coast to the east to see what songbirds were active in the sunny calm weather. Among the highlights were good numbers of Fox Sparrows, a Savannah Sparrow, a Lincoln's Sparrow and a Rusty Blackbird. This Lapland Longspur foraged quietly along the tidal wrack.

Lapland Lonspur - Netitishi Point

Lapland Lonspur - Netitishi Point

By the time I returned to the cabins it was close to 2:00 PM. The sun was relatively high in the sky, raising the temperature to a balmy 12 degrees - quite comfortable when there is no wind. Jeremy, Kory and I went on a water run to the creek to the west. The swiftly flowing watercourse was looking rather inviting and so I stripped down and jumped in. The ice-cold creek water was refreshing to say the least!

As we began the half kilometer walk back we birded along a ridge, hoping to find flocks of sparrows as they moved up and down the ridge or within the dogwoods. As Kory and I passed an open area, he stopped and immediately got his bins on a bird - a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher! The tiny songbird flit in the dogwoods, evidently on the hunt for flies. Jeremy came running and got on the bird as well before it ducked back into the thicket. Since I did not have any optics on me I hustled back to the camp.

Fifteen minutes later I returned with all our cameras and with Alan not far behind. The guys had lost the gnatcatcher but were back in the thicket looking. I parked myself at the original location where Kory had spotted the bird and within minutes it re-appeared!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point

Eventually the four of us convened around the bird as it continued on foraging, occasionally flashing the black and white tail that is diagnostic for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher when compared to the other three gnatcatcher species in North America. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, however is the only species on the Ontario list.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point

 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can be moderately common in willows, riparian areas and thickets; wherever suitable habitat occurs in southern Ontario. They are found in very low numbers north of Lake Ontario and can regularly be found north to Kawartha Lakes, Simcoe and Frontenac Counties. Vagrancy is common with this species and young birds in particular can be found far off course. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher has occurred about 20 times in northern Ontario including four previous times in the southern James Bay area.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Netitishi Point
We finished the day with a respectable 55 species - a good total considering the poor lake-watching weather. Up to this point in the trip we had tallied 97 species.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Netitishi Day 4

September 29, 2014
Weather: 8 to 12 degrees C, wind ESE to NE 20-30 km/h, overcast at dawn and clearing mid-morning
57 species
Ebird checklist:

September 29 was just a great day of birding the James Bay coast. Although the winds were not ideal (from the southeast for most of the day), an OK variety of waterbirds was observed nonetheless including our only Ring-necked Duck of the trip. The sun came out mid-morning and the mercury rose to a balmy 12 degrees Celsius. Good numbers of songbirds were around to keep us entertained during low tide and it was just a beautiful autumn day. 

The "best" bird of the morning was probably the Cackling Goose that Alan spotted with a flock of Canada Geese loafing on the flats to the west - a surprisingly scarce species for the area. Up to that point the birding had been very slow so I figured I would kill some time and go for a walk out onto the flats to get a better look and maybe some photos.  

Shorebirds are a constant feature of the southern James Bay mudflats this time of year. A small group of American Golden-Plovers and various other shorebirds tolerated my presence for a few minutes as I stopped to photograph them fifteen minutes into my walk towards the geese. 

It is interesting how my perspective on the timing of shorebird migration has changed since I've started going to Netitishi Point. Semipalmated Sandpipers, such as the individual below, generally vacate the province by early October. Yet at Netitishi it isn't uncommon to see them late into the year - last year we even had this species into November. Pectoral Sandpipers are another species that remains very common at Netitishi much later into the year than some would think! Every year we have seen numerous shorebird species much later into the year than what one would expect for even southern Ontario - Hudsonian Godwits, Least Sandpipers, and Sanderlings to name a few more. I guess it goes to show that as long as the habitat exists and the food remains plentiful, the birds will have no need to leave. The extensive mudflats of James Bay complete with an abundance of invertebrates (delicious!) are perfect for hungry, migrating shorebirds and individuals may often spend weeks at a time bulking up for the long southbound migration.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Netitishi Point

Pectoral Sandpiper - Netitishi Point

After 2 - 3 km of walking I finally was close enough to photograph the geese. They certainly looked a bit closer through the spotting scope...

The Cackling is the little guy on the right!

Cackling (far right) and Canada Geese - Netitishi Point

The geese were somewhat skittish and the Cackling Goose eventually flushed, allowing me to grab some distant flight shots. After completing the fly around it -rejoined its compatriots on the mudflats.

Cackling Goose - Netitishi Point

We saw a few other interesting birds during the day. At one point Alan and I watched an interesting loon fly by heading east. Unfortunately, as is almost always the case at Netitishi, the loon was too distant to see well. It was probably a Pacific (they actually breed on the north coast of Ontario) but the views were inconclusive due to the distance. It would definitely be nice to finally get a good look at a Pac Loon at Netitishi - I feel like I'm due. 

A Horned Grebe also graced us with a flyby - another species that is uncommon along the south James Bay coast. 

I walked around looking for songbirds for a bit of time in the afternoon because the waterbird "flight" was pretty much non-existent. Kory had found a Nashville Warbler at one point along the north shore of the marsh near the cabins. We both went back to try to relocate it and came across the bird along with two Orange-crowned Warblers and one Yellow-rumped Warbler. And "Warbler Corner" was dubbed.

Kory and I also were entertained by a vocal A. Three-toed Woodpecker. It flew right past us - awesome but brief views of a normally tough to see species

When "taking care of business" in the woods you are always under the watchful eyes of several spastic Red Squirrels....
Red Squirrel - Netitishi Point

And finally, here's a photo of a female White-winged Crossbill. The chattering calls of a roving flock of this species was almost always evident from the tops of the spruces near the cabins. This species occasionally "irrupts" into southern Ontario during some winters but is scarce at best most years. Nice to get reacquainted with this species....

female White-winged Crossbill - Netitishi Point

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Point Pelee - November 8 and 9

November 8, 2014

I awoke to the sound of wind blowing in the trees before dawn. It was straight out of the southwest, one of the best winds for seeing birds at Point Pelee.

Blake Mann and Kevin McLaughlin were already manning scopes on the east side of the tip where it was noticeably less windy. Alan Wormington, Jeremy Hatt, Steve Pike and Lindsay Allison soon arrived. Red-breasted Mergansers were the most numerous species (as expected) and both Horned Grebes and Common Loon continually flew by as well. I ended up staying at the tip with Jeremy and Blake till nearly 1:00 PM since the birding was so good. Some highlights:

-3 Red-throated loons
-11 Long-tailed Ducks (I've never seen more than 2 in one day at Pelee before)
-1 Eared Grebe (flying south with two Horned Grebes)
-1 Red-necked Grebe (only my 3rd for the Pelee circle!)
-1 Purple Sandpiper (spotted by Jeremy as it cruised south along the east side of the tip)
-1 Little Gull (adult spotted by Blake)
-various random ducks (one Northern Pintail, one Ring-necked Duck, three scoter species, etc)

Not a bad morning at all! Cue some terrible record shots of the Red-necked Grebe and Little Gull...

Little Gull - Point Pelee National Park

Red-necked (2nd from left) and Horned Grebes - Point Pelee National Park

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful other than some delicious Taco Tony's in Leamington with Steve, Lindsay and Jeremy! I did get out for a few hours after lunch but its tough this time of year when the sun sets by 5:00 PM. The weirdest bird was an adult Little Gull flying over some tilled fields with a group of 30 Bonaparte's Gulls north of the park. Not a species I usually associated with the "Onion Fields".

November 9, 2014

On my final morning the temperature was a bit warmer, the winds a touch lighter, and the sunrise significantly more vibrant. Not a bad view out of my hotel room (a.k.a. my car's window). I used a cheap HDR program for my iPhone and I think it over saturated the colors a little bit.

I met up with Ken Burrell at the Point Pelee tip as he had the morning to kill in the park due to the ferry service canceling his boat to Pelee Island. Steve Pike eventually arrived on the scene and Kevin McLaughlin was also present; his last day in the Pelee circle after birding here for the past week. A formidable crew of birders!

Certainly the highlight of the morning was an unexpected adult Pacific Loon that magically appeared in my scope as I was scanning a close group of Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Loons that were feeding heavily on a school of fish. The Pacific Loon was still in mostly alternate plumage with bold white spots on the back and a silvery nape that really stuck out. It lacked the black throat of a bird fully in breeding plumage, however.

Eventually Steve, Ken and Kevin all got on the bird as it quickly made its way north with the mergansers, diving frequently, until it was out of sight. This was a gratifying find but not completely surprising, given that loons were streaming by all morning.  It sure seems like it has been a "banner year" for Pacific Loons in southern Ontario this autumn. Personally I have seen five individuals - three at Lake Simcoe and now two at Point Pelee (plus another one at Pelee earlier this spring). There have been a few other Pacific Loons reported elsewhere in the province as well. Most years see three to five records throughout the south of the province - this year has had close to 10!

Other highlights during our morning lakewatch included two more Eared Grebes that were both spotted by Ken - one was flying south with some Horned Grebes, and another appeared in the merganser and loon feeding frenzy as we were trying to relocate the Pacific Loon. We also saw several Red-throated Loons, 81 Tundra Swans in several flocks, 18 duck species including a Canvasback, all three mergansers and scoters, and 3 Long-tailed Ducks. A "small crow" flew by a couple of times first thing in the morning. It stayed clear from the big flock of American Crows that roamed up and down the peninsula and certainly seemed Fish Crow-y. Unfortunately it didn't feel like speaking which would have cleared up its identity!

I headed home shortly after. It had been another excellent weekend of birding in the Point Pelee area with good friends!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tilbury to Pelee - November 7

This past weekend I made the long familiar drive back down to the Pelee area for a few days of solid birding. With southwest winds forecasted for Saturday and Sunday I was hoping that the lake-watching would be excellent!

A big highlight on the Friday was seeing the Cattle Egret that Brandon had first reported at the Tilbury lagoons a few weeks ago. It had remained on and off in the area in the weeks since, and at one point was briefly joined by three others! 

I had almost circled the lagoons when I finally spotted it hunched down behind some plants at the water's edge, taking shelter from the wind. Strangely, it flew towards me and landed on the dyke only ten feet from my car...

At one point I walked down to the water's edge so that I could try my hand at eye-level photos as the bird foraged for grasshoppers (rather successfully!) on the berm only a few meters from me. Needless to say it was one of the few instances where I removed the teleconverter from my need for the magnification...

Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons

Cattle Egrets are "native" to southern Europe and tropical Africa and Asia, though they began a rapid expansion across much of the globe in the late 1800's. The first confirmed breeding record in North America was from Florida in 1953. They quickly spread throughout North America and for a time in the 1970s it seemed like they would soon be a regular Ontario species....Despite a few breeding records, that was not to be and Cattle Egrets remain a rare species in the province. Every spring and fall, however, there are multiple Cattle Egrets seen in the province.

This was only the 3rd Cattle Egret I had seen in the province, and my first for Essex County. For some reason I don't see too many of them!
Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons

My favorite photo of the bunch! It was extremely difficult getting a clean shot without a ton of vegetation in the way.

Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons

It was extremely efficient at hunting grasshoppers and grabbed about five big ones in less than a minute. It also didn't seem to mind me hanging out with it...I think it would make a good pet.

Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons

A check of Wheatley harbour turned up a number of Horned Grebes but not the Eared. For some reason I didn't look at my photos closely enough and I mistakenly thought this was the Eared.

Horned Grebe - Wheatley Harbour

A nice looking Horned Grebe...

Horned Grebe - Wheatley Harbour

A final highlight on Friday was spending over an hour to sift through the massive flock of ducks on the east side of the tip. The lighting was on my back, the winds had died down and the ducks were mostly milling about (as opposed to frequently diving) making identification easier. There were over 15,000 present making it very tough picking out that "needle in a haystack" such as an eider, Harlequin Duck, or something crazier. Needless to say I did not see any of the above species, though it was nice to have prolonged close-up views of three scoter species as well as some locally uncommon Long-tailed Ducks. Greater Scaup outnumbered the Lesser Scaup slightly.

ducks - Point Pelee National Park

That's all I've got for the Friday!