It's been pouring all day today, putting a damper on our fieldwork, so I thought that I would take the time to mention some of the highlights of my Rainy River trip so far!
I'll start off with my target birds. Black-billed Magpies were almost too easy, and I have seen at least 40 by now! This was a new Ontario bird for me and I think it will take a long time for me to get sick of this beautiful species. There are a couple of flocks of 10-15 of these birds on our study site. Unfortunately I haven't had a good photo opportunity yet, but hopefully soon! My other main target bird was Western Kingbird. Despite a concerted effort yesterday afternoon we failed to turn up neither the previously reported one just southeast of Rainy River, or any others in suitable looking habitat. This pair of Dickcissels, first found by Michael Dawber about a week ago, was certainly a nice consolation!
Another major target of mine was Sharp-tailed Grouse. It would not only be a year bird, but a life bird as well! I hadn't done much birding in areas where this species can be found, and when I had I struck out every single time. Yesterday morning while I was bush-wacking way out in the middle of nowhere doing my point counts, I flushed 14 small grouse-like birds! A bigger one stayed put, and looking at it, it was a beautiful Sharp-tailed Grouse! The 14 small ones were obviously her young. I managed to catch a few quick glimpses of some of the young to confirm. I watched the mama grouse for about 5-10 minutes before I made a hasty retreat to give the grouses their space. This was a very exciting lifer and quite unexpected at that very moment! I made a video of mom (its still on my phone) but I didn't get any photos since I decided to leave my camera behind. Later that afternoon, as my co-workers and I did a bit of birding farther west, we came across about 5 other Sharp-tailed Grouse on the roads and in the fields. Can you spot the Sharp-tailed Grouse in the below photo?
The best way to find Sharp-tailed Grouse in this area is to simply drive the roads and wait until one is flushed from the shoulder. Ruffed Grouse make it a bit easier sometimes by standing in the middle of the road.
Franklin's Gull was another major target, though I wasn't too worried about them since I had plans to do round two of bird surveys for work in early July, a time of year when Franklin's Gulls are much easier to find. However, we found 7 of them at Windy Point! We were busy talking to a land-owner, telling them how we were looking for this particular gull with a black hood, when conveniently the group flew past us. Very cool! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the ready, and despite waiting it out, no more Franklin's Gulls flew by. The Franklin's Gulls were year bird 317 for me.
We have seen lots of other good birds over the last couple of days. Highlights for me include American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Western Meadowlark, Le Conte's Sparrow (very common out here), 17 species of warbler including Cape May, Bay-breasted, many Golden-winged, and Connecticut, Whip-poor-wills, and Yellow-throated Vireos. Seeing some of the specialties of the area, such as American White Pelican and Brewer's Blackbird is definitely a highlight as well.