Monday, 31 December 2012

If I could re-do the year 2012...

WARNING: this post contains epic amounts of rambling. Excuse my lack of coherency.


2012 will be over in a few hours, and barring a last minute rarity that someone finds, Ontario's final bird list for 2012 stands around 374 species, a very impressive number. As far as I am aware this is the highest number of bird species ever reported in Ontario in one year! Last year, for example, about 355 species were reported.

This year I missed about 30 species that were reported by others. It got me thinking - how high could my list have been if I had done a few things differently?? That's what the point of this post is! Obviously there have to be some ground rules:

-It has to be something that would seem logical to do at the time (for instance, I can't say that I would decide to do some birding in Arnprior on December 15 and happen to find the Ivory Gull. It just wouldn't be something that I would decide to do at the time)
-My monetary situation would be the same (no unlimited funds)


Obviously, one thing that I could have changed would be to be in Ontario for all 366 days of 2012. I happened to be out of province for about 41 days and that cost me a few birds. Mind you, if I was doing the year over again I would still choose to be gone for those days, since it was time well spent with Laura. But if my only goal for the year would be to rack up a big year list, that could a change that I could do.

On my first out of province trip, I missed one species - Black-throated Gray Warbler. It was seen in Hamilton up to January 3, conveniently disappearing before I arrived in the province late on January 6. It would have been an easy tick on January 1!

My next trip in late February and early March was a well timed trip. There were no birds that I missed! A Heerman's Gull was reported but it was so distant that the views were sh!t so that the birders couldn't conclusively ID it. Plus, it wasn't seen by birders chasing it the next day. I happened to return to the province just in time to chase the Smew.

SMEW!! (not the Long Point bird)

My third out of province trip was for 10 days in early September. And this one cost me one potential species, and a big one at that - Kelp Gull! Most of the birders who read this blog know the story behind this one - found by Alan on day 1, not seen on day 2, seen by Alan on day 3, correctly IDed that evening and posted to Ontbirds, never seen again! It's hard to say for sure, but if I was in the province Alan might have told me about this bird before he re-found it on day 3 and confirmed the ID, and I might have seen it. Hard to say, though.

And finally, my fourth out of province trip was from December 26 to the end of the year and beyond. A Slaty-backed Gull was reported yesterday around noon, and if I was in the province I most likely would have chased it that afternoon. It has been re-found today (though on the American side of the river).

In summary, if I had spent all 366 days in Ontario, I would have seen 2 or 3 more species.


Next up: Netitishi Point. It was a success for me since I added 8 year birds. Two of them (Purple Sandpiper and Black-legged Kittiwake) were easy later in the year. So my Netitishi trip gave me 6 crucial year birds: Gyrfalcon, Common Eider, Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Great Cormorant and Western Kingbird. However when I was gone, I missed 6 crucial year birds: Leach's Storm-petrel, Wilson's Storm-petrel, Glossy Ibis, Tufted Duck, Ross's Gull, and Razorbill. All of these, except Razorbill, I would have most likely seen had I been in southern Ontario instead. I have spent a lot of time contemplating what would be the best way to time my Netitishi trip to maximize getting the rarities I did see as well as everything that I missed.

Purple Sandpiper - December 1, 2012

In hindsight, the best possible scenario would be going to Netitshi in early and mid November. The two year-birds that I added in mid November (Cave Swallow and Pacific Loon) were both chase-able during late October, so I wouldn't have to worry about them. That way, I would definitely add 5 birds I did not see: both storm-petrels, Ross's Gull, Tufted Duck, and Glossy Ibis. Additionally, the re-scheduled Netitishi trip in mid November would net Gyrfalcon and most likely 2 or 3 other rarities. When Andrew Keaveney went up in mid November, he added 2 rarities: Northern Fulmar and Dovekie.

In summary, if I had gone to Netitishi in mid November instead of late October, I would have added 1 or 2 additional year birds.


In a recent post I talked about the Say's Pheobe/Western Tanager dilemma I was faced with from April. Simply put, I chased the Western Tanager instead of the Say's Phoebe on April 22nd, and I ended up missing the Say's Phoebe for the year. If I had done the opposite, the tanager would have been easy to get sometime in the following days, since it ended up hanging around. That would have given me an additional species!


Swainson's Hawk: The main reason I missed this species this autumn was lack of effort. About 10 were seen by others at various points between September and November, mostly at hawk-watches in southern Ontario. I really only put two or three solid days in because I do not really enjoy hawk-watching. If I had spent most of the decent days in the autumn hawk-watching I would have seen one eventually!


Barn Owl: Another one you can chalk up to lack of effort. There is no guarantee I would have found one if I tried hard enough, but in all honesty I only spent one full evening searching for this endangered species. 


Finally: Hudson's Bay. I'm not sure if this was even a possibility but if I was proactive I may have been able to find a way to volunteer at Hudson's Bay for a few weeks this summer. It would have netted me 2 additional species in Smith's Longspur and Willow Ptarmigan and if I timed it right I wouldn't have missed anything in southern Ontario while I was gone. One possibility would be if I could have gone up for the first two weeks of August, instead of volunteering in southern James Bay. I would have still seen the ptarmigan and longspur as well as Arctic Tern, the only species I saw on that James Bay trip that I did not see elsewhere.

So in summary: if I had done a few things different, I could have added somewhere between 5 and 10 additional species. 350 would have been a definite possibility!

Anyways, enough rambling. Thank you for reading (if you somehow made it through the entire post!!)


  1. Do you intend on broadening your scope of observing to other flora and fauna in 2013? Don't choose dragonflies as the best field guide is currently sold out and unavailable. Well enjoy whatever you do in 2013.

    1. Hi Brent,

      Definitely. I am looking forward to getting more involved in the "herp scene" this year and improving my butterfly ID and knowledge.

  2. Prior to this year, had you seen every bird that you saw in 2012? Or did you get any life species?

    1. I did get a few life species in Ontario: Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Three-toed Woodpecker, Bell's Vireo, Western Tanager, Le Conte's Sparrow, Yellow Rail, Curlew Sandpiper, King Rail, Northern Bobwhite, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Townsend's Solitaire, and Gyrfalcon. I also saw a bunch of life birds in Scotland and Spain, and Bicknell's Thrush in nova Scotia.

  3. For a list of butterfly resources go to:

    Also there is a website called

    A free publication called "Butterflies of Toronto" is available for free from the Toronto Public Library. Not available for sale.

    Lastly a new field guide in development is "Butterflies of Ontario" to be put out by the ROM.

    If you wish to get a net for butterflies try a collapsible net from The shipping charges and duty costs are substantial but are worth it for the sturdy net that can fit inside a pouch when not needed.