Monday, 10 September 2012

Big year stuff

It is now September 10th and I am into the home stretch for my big year. I have already seen well over 90% of the bird species that I will get for the year, and probably over 95% of them.

I am at 330 species, and the record is 338 species. There are however, two birders close on my heels this year, and they both have about 320 species - maybe one or two more, depending on what they are suppressing from ebird ;). I'm not going to worry about that for the duration of this post and just talk about what my chances are of passing the 338 mark.

There are eight species of birds remaining that I have ranked lower than a code 4. Here they are, in order from most likely to least likely.

Purple Sandpiper
Black-legged Kittiwake
Red Phalarope
Gyrfalcon
Cave Swallow
Pacific Loon
Glossy Ibis
Western Kingbird

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Purple Sandpiper
-code 2
-chance I will get it this year: 95%
Purple Sandpipers are annual each autumn in Ontario, usually between mid October and early December. Normally birds show up anywhere along the Lake Ontario shore and there are usually sightings at Presqu'ile, the Stoney Creek/Hamilton lakefront, the Niagara River, as well as less frequently at a handful of other locations around the lake. Most years there are a few reported from Lake Erie as well, either at Long Point, Port Stanley, Port Burwell, Erieau, or Wheatley/Point Pelee. Some years there are more than others, but I can't remember a year in which there hasn't been a few chaseable Purple Sandpipers somewhere! That is why Purple Sandpiper is only ranked as a Code-2 bird, and I will be pretty depressed if I miss it for the year!


Black-legged Kittiwake 
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 90%
I think that this is the easiest of the code 3 birds remaining. I have been birding "seriously" for 3 years prior to this one and haven't yet missed Black-legged Kittiwake for the year. There are usually several seen througout the autumn at Van Wagner's Beach, one or two will probably show up at the Niagara River, and they show up sporadically elsewhere on the Great Lakes. According to Ebird, between 2009 and 2011, there were kittiwake sightings from Point Pelee, Sarnia, Port Stanley, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Stoney Creek, Hamilton, Bronte Creek, Guelph, and Cobourg. Additionally they have been seen from Netitishi Point in southern James Bay in late autumn, a location I will be going to.


Red Phalarope
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 80%
This one can be tricky, but I think I have a good chance of running into one sometime. Most sightings are flybys from people doing lakewatches, or single birds at sewage lagoons in the autumn. I have only ever seen one Red Phalarope in Ontario, an individual I found at Port Stanley last October. However, this year I will be putting in my time at lakewatches (Point Pelee tip, Van Wagner's beach, etc) in late autumn, as well as checking as many of the little harbours on lakes Erie and Ontario as often as possible. I will be surprised if I miss it for the year, but stranger things have happened.


Gyrfalcon
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 70%
I suppose the 70% refers to the chances of me getting to Netitishi in the fall! If I can get there for a week or two I should probably run into several Gyrfalcons. While it is very likely I will be going to Netitishi, this is my only shot at this species, unless I happen to run into one somewhere in southern Ontario in December. I still have never seen one in Ontario, ever.


Cave Swallow
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 50%
This one could go either way. In most of the last 10 years or so, Cave Swallows have appeared along the Great Lakes following weather systems coming up from Texas in October/early November. In 2010, several hundred were seen over a couple of days at Long Point, effectively causing the OBRC to knock if off of the review list! I probably would have this one ranked a little higher but last year not a single Cave Swallow was reported in Ontario. Hopefully that won't repeat itself this year.


Pacific Loon
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 50%
This is another one that could go either way. In southern Ontario they are a review species, but normally one shows up somewhere on Lake Ontario in the late autumn that is chaseable. By looking at the OBRC reports, chaseable Pacific Loons have shown up in the autumn 4 years out of 7 between 2004 and 2010. Additionally it is a species that is possible at Netitishi Point.


Glossy Ibis
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 25 % (Glossy), 50% (Glossy/White-faced)
Between 2002 and 2010, a chaseable Glossy Ibis has been around in the autumn in southern Ontario in 3 out of the 9 years. However in most of those years,ibises that were either Glossy or White-faced (a very tough identification) were seen. I still need both species of dark ibises for the year so I suppose even seeing one of these birds where the identification isn't certain still counts to my year!


Western Kingbird
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 40%
My main chance at this species was when I was in Rainy River during the summer. At least 2 Western Kingbirds were reported but I was unable to catch up with any of them! Most years one will show up in the autumn somewhere, and I am hoping that will happen again this year. There was a recent sighting of one up in Marathon, ON about a week ago that hasn't been seen since.

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So that is it for codes 1, 2, and 3 birds! I think its pretty good that so far I haven't definitely missed any of the codes 1, 2, and 3 birds. Some of them, like Kentucky Warbler, Summer Tanager, and Henslow's Sparrows become nearly impossible later than June. Other ones like Yellow Rail, Prothonotary Warbler, and Piping Plover become impossible after about August. The only species I haven't got yet are species where my best chances at seeing them occur in the autumn anyways.

I am hoping to get at least 6 out of the 8 birds listed above though I could probably still have a chance for the record if I get 3 of them. Several other birds, ranked higher than code 3, somewhat predictably show up in the later months of the year.


Rufous Hummingbird
-code 4
There have already been two this fall (both one day wonders) - how many more will there be? Every other year or so there is one that spends some time at a feeder in Ontario in the autumn.


Townsend's Solitaire
-code 4
Formerly a review species in northern Ontario, though not anymore as sightings in the winter are becoming more regular! Usually there are one or two around somewhere and more years one is seen on a Christmas Bird Count in southern Ontario...however there have been a lack of chaseable Townsend's Solitaires in Ontario in the past number of years.


Swainson's Hawk
-code 4
This is a "have to be there at the right time and place" type of bird. Most years there are a few seen migrating at hawkwatches in southern Ontario. These birds are relatively unpredictable, but I suppose if you spend enough time at hawkwatches in the autumn you will eventually get one! The problem is, I hate hawkwatching but who knows, I might try it out more often this autumn.


Black-throated Gray Warbler
-code 4
This is another one which has started to show up with more frequency in the autumn, becoming almost annual recently. Most of these ones are pretty hard to chase, though the one in Hamilton last December was easy!


rare alcid (Razorbill, Ancient Murrelet, Thick-billed Murre, Dovekie, etc)
-codes 5 and 6
I think there is maybe a 20 to 40 percent chance that one of the above will show up somewhere on the lower Great Lakes in the early winter. Last winter brought us a Razorbill to Niagara-on-the-lake which spent a few weeks!

Rare gull (Slay-backed, Ross's, Mew, Ivory, etc)
-codes 4 to 6
I think the chances that one of the above will show up are pretty darn good! It seems that Slaty-backed are occuring annually now, as are Mew Gulls. I still need Ross's and Ivory for my life list - perhaps one will grace us with its presence this winter? Then of course there is the Kelp Gull at Wheatley harbour...I'm really hoping it will hang around for a few days for me to return back to Ontario!


Rare flycatcher (Fork-tailed Fly, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Say's Phoebe, Ash-throated Fly, etc)
-codes 5 and 6 
Maybe this is asking for a bit too much after we already got our Thick-billed Kingbird, but I'm going to be greedy and hope we get one in the next couple of months! ANY of the above would work for me :)


Barn Owl
-code 4
A rare breeding species in the province, though the only Barn Owl I saw was a migrant in November that Dave Bell and I found. I'm not really expecting this one this year, but I am still going to do a fair bit of looking around in suitable Barn Owl habitat.


Northern Wheatear
-code 4
Very rare in southern Ontario, but they are a very scarce annual migrant in the southern James Bay area. Fortunately I have a 6 day trip planned to search specifically for this species in late Sept/early Oct.


rarity at Netitishi Point
-hopefully code 6
I am hoping that I will get at least one rarity when I am up there! A shearwater would be nice, as would an Atlantic Puffin, or Glaucous-winged Gull, or storm-petrel...heck I would be ecstatic if we got a Northern Fullmar!


wildcard birds!!!
-codes 5 and 6
2009 brought us a Black-throated Sparrow, Phainopepla and Black-tailed Gull, 2010 gave me a Golden-crowned Sparrow and Painted Bunting, and last year a Purple Gallinule and Smew! What will it be this year???


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What this whole post boils down to: After all remaining code 1, 2, and 3 birds are accounted for, I will probably have between 334 and 336 species on my year list. I will need an additional 3 to 5 "rarities" to break the record! I think my odds are still pretty good. As well, once I return from Nova Scotia tomorrow night I will be in province for the remainder of the year. Now if only that $%#$& Kelp Gull hangs around...


11 comments:

  1. Josh - the hawk watch at Holiday beach had 4 Glossy/White Faced Ibis fly by yesterday morning. They circled the marsh and headed back to the west, the direction they came from. I had a glance at a pic on the back of someone's camera, but not the actual pics yet. Maybe these birds are still in the area. I went looking in the Amherst Point area (Ducks on the roof) but haven't turned them up yet

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    1. Photos of the WFIB from Holiday:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtcraft/7974745763/in/pool-ebird/

      These birds were seen just a few km away in Michigan at Pte Moo previously!

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    2. Interesting...I'll be down that way starting tomorrow for a few days. Maybe they'll show up again.

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  2. I love these overview posts. Now I know what birds to root for. Go team Josh!!

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  3. I'm convinced we are going to see at least one Northern Wheatear on the Moosonee trip. Have faith!

    Best Ontario location for Swainson's Hawk is Seacliff.


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  4. Do you have N. Gannet for the year, if not that should be one you stand a pretty good chance of getting.

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    1. Hey Dave, yep thanks - somehow forgot to put that one on the list! If I had to guess I would say I have a 30-40% chance at getting one for the year.

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  5. The Brown Pelican is still on Lake Erie! Seen in Ohio this morning going east along the south shore.......

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  6. There was a Rufous Hummingbird is Hamilton about a week ago, but apparently it is gone?

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