Thursday, 27 June 2013

Chestnut-sided Warbler photoshoot

Chestnut-sided Warblers are a common species found throughout central and northern Ontario. They favour successional growth areas, so any area that has Speckled Alder, Willows, Raspberry, and similar species is ideal for Chestnut-sideds. It is not uncommon to hear the loud "Pleased-to meet-meet-you" ringing throughout these shrubby areas.

Most of our sites we are working on consists predominately of this habitat type, and often Chestnut-sided is my most commonly encountered species. The other day I was wandering around near Wawa, and a very territorial male Chestnut-sided decided to come check me out.

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Wawa, ON

He sang several times, loudly proclaiming this area as his. Presumably he had a girlfriend sitting on a nest nearby!

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Wawa, ON

It is easy for us here in North America to get used to the gaudy colors of all of our wood warblers and to pass off an individual such as this as "just another Chestnut-sided". But the mahogany "sides", yellow cap and bold black and white pattern really is quite beautiful up close.

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Wawa, ON

One more photo. On this trip, Chestnut-sided has been the most abundant warbler, followed by these species (in rough order). I may be forgetting a species or two.

Nashville Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
American Redstart
Black-and-white Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Mourning Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Canada Warbler

Plus smaller numbers of maybe 10 other species.

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Wawa, ON

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Field work in central Ontario

It has been a jam-packed few weeks to say the least. Between morning bird surveys, evening Whip-poor-will surveys, and driving between our sites (Wawa, Gowganda, Timmins, Mattawa, Sudbury, North Bay, etc), there hasn't been much time for anything else really. However I have taken my camera with me occasionally and snapped the odd photo here or there.

Butterflies are a relatively recent interest of mine and some diversity is showing up in northern Ontario. Most of the more interesting species will be in the next post, but here are a few common butterflies.

In southern Ontario, Northern Crescents are one of the more common species this time of year. Turns out that the same can be said for central Ontario. Everywhere I go I run into these! The odd Tawny Crescent here and there has been nice as well. I think I photographed one, but that will be in the next post.

Northern Crescent

The same can be said for the Little Wood-satyr. Common everywhere! This is the most abundant species on most of our sites right now.

Little Wood-satyr

Butterflies aren't the only interesting things we have been seeing of course. Herps are always a priority of mine (well, except for the height of bird migration!) and we've come across some interesting things - Blanding's Turtles probably being the main highlight, right at the northern extent of their range. I've also came across some Northern Ringneck Snakes north of North Bay. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me that day, so this iPhone photo will have to do.

Northern Ringneck Snake

Duskywings are all over the place right now in some areas. I don't have a butterfly guide on me and I am admittedly a bit rusty when it comes to duskywings. I think this is a Juvenal's - someone please correct me if I'm wrong!

Juvenal's Duskywing

Birds are the main priority for me since I have a certain number of point counts I have to complete on each site. Doing point counts is a bit different than "regular" birding. About 95% (or higher) of it is birding by ear - in fact most days I don't even take binoculars with me into the woods. For one, it is way easier to detect species by song. Everything is singing first thing in the morning, and unless I pish or call a bird in, chances are I will not see it anyways! Second, the mosquitoes and other various friendly insects are ferocious on most of our sites. There is no way I am going in the woods without wearing full bug apparel, including rain pants, a bug jacket, and latex gloves! Using binoculars is a bit useless since it is hard to see through a bug jacket in the darkest parts of the woods. And third, rarely are my point count locations near trails or roads - a lot of bushwacking is involved! I don't really want to get my binoculars all scratched up. So because of that, while I may get 50 or 60 species on a site, I usually don't see more than 10 or 20 of them.

Some of the "heard only" highlights so far while at work include Connecticut Warbler (Timmins), Golden-winged Warbler (Sudbury), Great Crested Flycatcher (Wawa), Boreal Owl (Wawa), Northern Saw-whet Owl (Mattawa), and quite a few more. Certain species which are sometimes considered semi-rare in migration in southern Ontario are actually quite common up here. Some examples include Mourning Warbler, and Philadelphia Vireo. There are a few rarer species which I have actually seen instead of just heard. These include an American Three-toed Woodpecker north of Wawa and a Green Heron north of North Bay. Here is a photo of the most abundant, or at least the most easily seen, raptor in central Ontario. This is an immature Broad-winged Hawk.

Broad-winged Hawk

I'll finish up with a butterfly that probably faces the highest road mortality out of any species in Ontario. Any guesses?

If you guessed Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, you win. I actually have no road mortality data, so I could easily be wrong. But it seems like every time I drive on a highway in this part of Ontario in June, I take out at least a dozen.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Sunday, 23 June 2013

6000 "county ticks" for Ontario

Just over a month ago, Mike Burrell wrote a post on his blog about his successful quest for 6000 "county bird ticks" for Ontario. What does that mean? Simply put, a birder's total county ticks is the sum of their individual life lists for every county in a given area. For instance, if someone has seen 200 species in Essex County, 100 in Norfolk County and 100 in Chatham-Kent, then they have 400 total county ticks.

For some reason, birders often love lists. A life list contains every species that a birder has seen in the world. Probably most birders keep one. Having a list to look back upon is a great way to remember each and every species along the way, and it can also instigate a bit of friendly competition. Other common lists that birders keep include country lists, provincial (or state) lists, and yes, even county lists. Often, a birder will keep year lists for one or more areas as well.

While I find there to be a lot of enjoyment in birding apart from keeping lists, I still enjoy keeping them. Maybe it is the obsessive-compulsive side of me, or perhaps a competitive streak in comparing your list with someone else's. But right from the start, I kept a life list, Ontario list, Ontario year list, etc. I never really started caring about county lists until Ebird made it possible. Now with just the click of a mouse, it is simple to view just about any list of yours that you could imagine! Ah, the wonders of the interwebs.

So eventually, I started keeping track of my county lists in Ontario just for fun. One great feature of Ebird is that it will calculate what your total county ticks are for a given state or province, saving you from doing the work! And so for the past couple of years I have kept an eye on this feature as my total county ticks for Ontario climbed over 4,000 and then 5,000 last spring. I kind of half-heartedly made 6000 a goal of mine, just because!

Ontario has 50 "census divisions" that are either called counties, districts, regional municipalities, etc. I will just refer to them as counties in this post. So to have 6,000 total county ticks, one would have to see an average of 120 species per county! That involves quite a bit of travel, and as such it is a good gauge to estimate how much traveling and birding one has done in Ontario.

This morning I finally hit 6000, with #6000 being a singing Northern Parula in Timiskaming District as I was doing a breeding bird survey near Gowganda. One great thing about my job is that I am sent all over the province to do bird surveys, and so I cover a lot of the counties! A few fun stats:


Highest 5 County lists

294: Essex County

  • I lived here for two summers, and it also happens to be home to Point Pelee National Park, a favoured haunt of mine.
  • Some highlights: Painted Bunting, Vega Gull, Townsend's Warbler, Curlew Sandpiper, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Trumpeter Swan x 2 (including the first record for Point Pelee), Bell's Vireo, Great Gray Owl
  • Big misses: Purple Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Shrike
  • Most recent: Piping Plover (May 12, 2013)

244: City of Hamilton
  • Another one of Ontario's heaviest birded counties, and only 15 minutes from where I have lived for most of my life. Consequently, I have done a fair bit of birding here.
  • Highlights: Northern Hawk Owl, Barn Owl, all the geese and all the grebes, Lark Sparrow, Black Vulture, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Solitaire
  • Big Misses: Sandhill Crane, Ruddy Turnstone, Blue-headed Vireo, Cliff Swallow, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, etc. Lots of easy one left!
  • Most recent: Yellow-billed Cuckoo (June 13, 2013)
236: Municipality of Chatham-Kent
  • Home of Rondeau Provincial Park, and not far from my home away from home of Point Pelee.
  • Highlights: White-winged Dove, Lark Sparrow, American Avocet, Worm-eating Warbler, Magnificent Frigatebird, Eurasian Wigeon, Eared Grebe
  • Big Misses: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Purple Finch
  • Most recent: Lark Sparrow (April 24, 2013)
220: Wellington County
  • Not exactly a bird mecca, but I did my undergrad at Guelph and lived there for two of the years. 
  • Highlights: Parasitic Jaeger, Connecticut Warbler, Mountain Bluebird, Harris's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee
  • Big Misses: White-winged Scoter, Northern Goshawk, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Most recent: Black-billed Cuckoo (June 12, 2013)
215: Regional Municipality of Halton
  • Right next door to Hamilton, and consequently another county I visit somewhat frequently. Basically any county on the Great Lakes has a much higher species list than the landlocked ones.
  • Highlights: King Eider, Eared Grebe, Red Knot, Long-tailed Jaeger, Prairie Warbler
  • Big Misses: Sora, Dunlin, American Woodcock, Least Flycatcher, Horned Lark, Lincoln's Sparrow
  • Most recent: Least Bittern (June 13, 2013)

Lowest county lists:

0: Kenora
6: Haliburton
31: Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry
37: Lanark
43: Manitoulin

In fact, most of my eastern Ontario county lists are pretty sparse. I could easily add a few hundred with a weekend trip out east in May or June!


200+ species: 8 counties
150+ species: 13 counties
100+ species: 31 counties


What is the record? To be honest, I have no idea. I don't know if there are any serious "total county tickers" in Ontario, though it seems to be a somewhat common hobby in the states (likely due to the smaller area to cover in most of the states). I suppose if someone was really dedicated, they could see 200 species in every county in Ontario over the course of a lifetime, with over 300 for some of the counties. Maybe 12,000 would be possible.

So that's about all I have to say about that! I don't really plan on going out of my way to boost my "total county ticks", but it's just a fun thing to look at when I am sitting in a hotel room in Timmins, bored out of my mind! On an unrelated note, go Blackhawks!!!!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Mink Frog from Sudbury

Mink Frog is one of the least known species of frogs to herpers in southern Ontario. Not because it is rare by any means,  but because it only occurs in the north. While Mink Frogs are relatively common even in the central reaches of the province (Georgian Bay across the Kawarthas to the Ottawa area), they superficially resemble a Green Frog and I guess maybe a lot of herpers aren't that interested in them. In the boreal forest they are the most common species of Anuran frog.

When doing surveys in the summer in central Ontario, it is not uncommon to hear Mink Frogs clucking away in large wetlands. Mink Frogs are summer breeders, filling the air with their calls by day while Gray Treefrogs take over for the night shift.

Our Sudbury site has an abundance of Mink Frogs, and so I snapped a few photos on the rare occasion that I had my camera with me in the field.

Mink Frog - Sudbury, Ontario (June 19, 2013)

For comparison, here is a photo of a Green Frog from last spring. Note the Mink Frog's more pronounced blotches on its dorsum. Additionally, the Green Frog has dark bands around the hindlimbs, while the Mink Frog has broken bands, if it has any at all. Green Frogs have a more pronounced dorsolateral ridge; the raised line running from behind their tympanum (ear) down towards their hindlimbs.

Green Frog - Cambridge, ON (March 19, 2012)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

This and that

I am currently in Wawa, ON after an insane few days of bird surveys in northern Ontario. Between morning bird surveys, long drives between study sites, and evening Whip-poor-will surveys, there has been very little time for anything else. Then there are the unexpected things in northern Ontario. Last trip (back in May) there was the series of highway closures that added about 12 extra hours of driving to our trip. Luckily for us, the highways are open this time. However, last night when returning from a Whip-poor-will survey near Timmins, we find out that the highway was closed because two tractor trailers collided. It created a massive pile of wreckage, but luckily no one was killed. We ended up sitting on the highway until about 3:00 AM until it reopened. Fun stuff! So when we do get a few hours off, we end up sleeping. Hence, the lack of blog posts!

In the meantime, here are a few random photos from the past few weeks.

First up are two photos of a male Mourning Warbler from the Minesing Swamp, west of Barrie. Mourning Warblers are a pretty common breeder in successional growth, and that particular day I heard about 8 males singing at various locations. This one came flying in to let me know that I was too close. After some careful watching, a female tried to sneak out of a shrub undetected - no doubt near the location of her nest.

Mourning Warbler - June 2, 2013

Mourning Warbler - June 2, 2013

After doing some surveys in Hamilton on June 4, I checked out a local spot for some sparrow species. A pair of Vesper Sparrows was in one area, and the male came in close to have a look at this intruder several times until I left the area. It's too bad that it was mid-day, since these photos could have been awesome with better light!

Vesper Sparrow - June 4, 2013

Vesper Sparrow - June 4, 2013

Finally, here is a photo of a Northern Cloudywing, a type of spreadwing skipper that can be found in open fields and woodland openings. Now that it is June and migrant birds are no longer around, I tend to focus more on herps and insects. I find that looking for butterflies combines the good parts of herping and birding.

Northern Cloudywing - June 4, 2013

One reason I love herping is that you can get very close to your target species and see them extremely well, the exception being perhaps basking turtles and some frogs and snakes. Most herps are easy to catch and view well for extended periods of time. A reason that I love birding is the "rarity factor". Birds have wings, and those wings carry these birds to really weird places sometimes. Part of the thrill is looking for these stray individuals. Looking for butterflies is kind of a combination of these two activities. Unlike a lot of birds, butterflies can be viewed at close range for extended periods of time. However they too have wings and show up in wacky places, so there is the rarity factor as well. Additionally, it isn't too hard to get a great photo of a butterfly - they really are so photogenic.

Here is one of the first species of butterflies I identified when I was first getting into the hobby - a Baltimore Checkerspot from the Ojibway Prairie in Windsor.

Baltimore Checkerspot - June 11, 2011

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Working hard (or hardly working?)

It has been a busy month for me to say the least! Late May through mid July is the window to conduct breeding bird surveys in Ontario, and since that is (more or less) my job, I have been crazy busy! In the last few weeks I have traveled to Niagara (x2), Hamilton (x5), Pickering (x2), Toronto (x2), north of Orillia (x2),   and a few more that I am probably forgetting. Not to mention the big trip a few weeks ago that took us all the way to Timmins, Wawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Mattawa, and places in between! I also completed a big day with David Szmyr somewhere in there too. And then there was the time I went to the Bruce Peninsula...

Luckily, my work involves a lot of birding so I couldn't be happier at this time of year. Additionally, the surveys wrap up late morning, so I have been taking several afternoons to go birding on my way back!

In no particular order, here are a few photos that I have gotten around to editing from the past few weeks...

A belligerent cow from the southern Bruce Peninsula. I almost snapped a photo of a belligerent-looking llama with my phone today near Stoney Creek, but it unfortunately moved far enough away that the photo would have lost its charm.

Sparrows are something to look at in the hot summer months, since many of them will sing all day long. Here's a Grasshopper from Burlington!

Grasshopper Sparrow

Keeping a wary eye out for threats...

Grasshopper Sparrow

And always a crowd pleaser, the bird that is generally considered pretty rare, but is actually quite common in the right habitat!

Clay-colored Sparrow

One more for the "seems rare, but is actually quite common" category - a Vesper Sparrow. Recently I was doing some work in Flamborough, and nearly every point count has Vespers. The key? Agriculture and bare soil...

Vesper Sparrow

Anyways, that's all for now. After completing some morning surveys tomorrow, I leave for 10-12 days in northern(ish) Ontario! We are repeating the same route that we did last month, unless of course some of the highways are back open! On the last trip we had to drive from Chapleau to Wawa via Sault Ste. Marie due to washouts. Wildlife highlights on round 1 included Boreal Owl, Marbled Godwit, Arctic Tern, and lots of Large Charismatic Megafauna. For this round, all the late breeding birds will be back. I'm really hoping to find a Connecticut Warbler somewhere since I haven't seen one in a while (maybe over a year?).

I'll try to update the blog every few days when I'm up north. Still lots of photos to post from the past few weeks!

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Medium Day

On Sunday, I met up with David Szmyr for to attempt a Big Day across Simcoe County, Kawartha Lakes, and York Region. David approached me with the idea last week, and since races against the clock are a lot of fun, I quickly agreed.

The Ontario "Big Day" record was actually set this spring by the Cygnus Crusaders, a group of birders who work for the Long Point Bird Observatory. They managed to see an incredible 204 species, starting in Algonquin Provincial Park and finishing at Long Point.

Obviously that was way out of reach for Dave and I for several reasons. First of all, we would miss any and all migrant birds due to the time of year we would be attempting our big day. We would have easily seen an additional 30+ species if we had attempted it in mid to late May instead! Second, we kind of decided spur of the moment to attempt a big day, so our scouting in the days leading up was limited. To truly be successful on a Big Day, one should have every non-guaranteed species pinned down to a location! That includes raptor nests, owls on territory, even ducks in sewage lagoons. Instead of just birding decent habitat, hoping to come across your target species, one should literally run from one staked out species to the next. Third, we would not be crisscrossing the province. The northern birds (several warblers and owls, Gray Jay, Spruce Grouse, etc) would be missed, as would the southern Carolinian species.

I picked Dave up at 2:30 AM and we arrived at the Carden Alvar by 3:48 AM. Bird #1 was a Marsh Wren singing away in the pitch black at the Prospect Road Marsh. This was a great stop and we added both rails, both bitterns, Whip-poor-will, and more. Standing under the stars while a medley of marsh birds call all around is something that everyone should experience at some point! It's a pretty incredible experience.

From here we drove to Alvar Road, picking up a number of singing grassland species along the way. While we struck out on the previously reported Northern Saw-whet Owls, a Barred Owl did call a few times. Our 33rd species of the day was the first bird that we actually saw - a Brown Thrasher. Birding by ear is critical to a big day's success!

Brown Thrasher (taken May 31, 2012)

Until 9:30 we birded the Carden area, seeing all the specialties including Upland Sandpiper, Loggerhead Shrike, and Prairie Warbler. Some species that can be easily missed on a big day were seen - Brown Creeper, Merlin, and Purple Finch. But other ones were missed, including Canada Warbler, Northern Parula, Ruffed Grouse, Sedge Wren, and Clay-colored Sparrow! At one point we had a Reuven Martin sighting (he had an Upland Sandpiper in his scope). Maybe the highlight of Carden was a very friendly cat that hopped in my car for a ride!

We left Carden with 97 species and headed west for a quick stop at Tiny Marsh where we found Black Terns along with 6 other "day birds". Wasaga Beach was next, and within 30 seconds we had our Piping Plover! We debated spending the rest of the day drinking beer and playing beach volleyball, but reluctantly left the shenanigans behind and meandered down to Collingwood.

Piping Plover (taken May 18, 2012)

Collingwood did not disappoint and my staked out Bufflehead and Great Egret were right where they were supposed to be. The Common Mergansers were a no show, but a Gadwall and Red-breasted Merganser pair was a nice consolation! On to the Stayner sewage lagoons.

All three staked out ducks that I had found the day previous (Greater Scaup, American Wigeon, and American Black Duck) were right where they were supposed to be, and with 122 species under our belts, we continued on to the Minesing Swamp.

It was now the heat of the day and so several targets birds, including Blue-headed Vireo, Carolina Wren, and Ruffed Grouse refused to reveal themselves. Our only Yellow-throated Vireo was singing right where he was supposed to, as was a male Pine Warbler. We finally got our first hummingbird and cardinal here, too!

Yellow-throated Vireo (taken May 2, 2013)

Dave and I were feeling a little tired and run down, so we had a much needed stop for refreshments at his place in Barrie. Eventually, the obligation of the big day pushed our asses out the door, and we jumped on the highway to my "local patch".

Because we missed Clay-colored Sparrow at several locations already, we were forced to waste half an hour to get them at the Cawthra-Mulock Reserve in Newmarket. We watched one carry a juicy caterpillar to a shrub, and leave without the insect, so perhaps a little nest searching is in order the next time I return!

With the daylight slowly ticking away, I had to make some decisions about what to cut out and what to go for. Our only chance for Orchard Oriole and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was scrapped, but we had enough time to quickly grab the old reliable Blue-headed Vireo. We decided to finish off the day by hiking around the Happy Valley Forest.

I had a number of staked out birds at Happy Valley and happily (see what I did there?), we were successful with most of them. Two Acadian Flycatchers were calling back and forth to each other - definitely a highlight! We did not "need" Pileated Woodpecker but we stopped to check out the active nest, much to the chagrin of one of the parents. Self-preservation can be a strong motivator, and since neither of us wanted "death by angry Pileated Woodpecker drilling into our skulls", we left the distraught woodpecker alone.

Pileated Woodpecker (taken February 7, 2013)

Our last bird of the day took a bit of effort, but eventually we heard the male Hooded Warbler singing; a few hundred meters away from where he usually is. Species #137, and a great one to end the day with! 137 isn't that Big of a day (it's pretty easy to do at Point Pelee in the spring without trying toooooo hard), but I like to think it is OK for mid-June in the City of Kawartha Lakes, Simcoe County and York Region. With more preparation and a quicker pace, we could have seen maybe 160 or 170 in the same area on the same date.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Rarity in my "backyard"

When I moved to the Schomberg area, I fully expected the birding to be somewhat dull. I was no longer living in the Hamilton Study Area, which is one of the better places to find birds in southern Ontario. Point Pelee was now a 4.5 hour drive, instead of less than 3. I was further away from locations such as Long Point, Rondeau, and Niagara. However, York Region has been a bit of a pleasant surprise, even though it is technically in the Greater Toronto Area! ;)

I have only been here a month, and most of that time I have been working. However I have been checking some local spots with some regularity. Happy Valley Forest is a designated ANSI (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) less than 4 km from my house, and I have been walking there two or three evenings a week. In this Carolinian-type forest, I have already seen several Hooded Warblers, 2 separate Acadian Flycatchers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, an active Pileated Woodpecker nest, multiple Barred Owl sightings (along with 2 other owl species), and much more.

The Schomberg lagoons are also just down the street from me, and I've been checking them frequently. Finally, yesterday I hit paydirt. I had just arrived when I noticed a shorebird along the muddy edge, facing away. It was medium sized, but not a Killdeer - that sure piqued my interest!

A quick check with the scope showed a silvery gray bird with a red breast and belly - a Red Knot!

Red Knot - Schomberg lagoons (June 7, 2013)

Red Knots breed in the Arctic and winter in southern South America. They are very efficient at migrating, stopping at only a few key areas before continuing on their journey. Because of that, they rarely stop over in Ontario on their way up north in the spring or south in the fall. Most records are of juvenile birds in September, or of small flocks of adults along the Great Lakes in late May/early June (usually associated with inclement weather).

I'm not sure how many previous records there are for York Region, but according the official checklist they are listed as "very rare" (less than one record a decade). Unfortunately, Red Knots are listed as Endangered in Canada as their numbers continue to decline.

Red Knot - Schomberg lagoons (June 7, 2013)

Kevin Shackleton, John Watson, and another birder (didn't catch his name) showed up 15 minutes later and we all enjoyed the knot as it fed at fairly close range. Kevin is the one who actually gave me the York Region checklist. Looking at it, there are some "easy" species still missing for the region, so I'll be out hunting for those rarities such as Nelson's Sparrow, Marbled Godwit, Kentucky Warbler, and Lark Sparrow in the next few years.

Red Knot (American Robin impersonation)


Tomorrow I am attempted a Big Day with another local birder, David Szmyr. A big day is like 1/365th of a Big Year, obviously. We are starting at 3:00 AM in the Carden area, and basically birding between there and my local area (Happy Valley) until nightfall. Unfortunately we timed it about two weeks too late since even the latest migrants have pretty much finished passing through. Shorebirds will be a problem (we will probably get 6 species), as will waterfowl (I wouldn't except more than about 12 waterfowl species). Unfortunately the Red Knot was no longer present at the Schomberg lagoons this afternoon. Still, we are shooting high and trying to get as many of the breeding birds as possible. I think 150 should be a reasonable goal! If the cards line up and we get nearly EVERYTHING we are hoping for, 170 might be achievable. Should be fun!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Beaver fever at Pelee

Back on April 29th, David Bell and I had the opportunity to see one of the almost mythical beavers at Point Pelee. I was looking back at some Pelee photos and realized that I never posted these, probably because that was the day that the Painted Bunting stole the show.

Anyways, so here we were, walking down the west beach at Point Pelee, when I spotted a medium-sized furry animal sitting on the beach. Raccoon?

On closer inspection it was a North American Beaver! Cool! There is a pretty good story that may or may not involve me sneaking up and and touching said beaver, but I better not admit to it in case park staff are reading ;)

Eventually, the beaver had enough of Dave and I and so it turned and continued "migrating" south along the west beach towards the tip.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Carden Alvar - herps and insects

The Carden Alvar is not only a great place to see breeding birds, but also a hotspot for several other interesting species. Smooth Green Snakes are common in the alvar and seen quite often by visiting birders, though I've never seen one there. Two provincial species at risk, the Northern Ribbonsnake and Eastern Milksnake, also can be found here. While I was driving down the north part of Wylie Road around mid-day, I noticed a snake on the road just in time. Slamming on my brakes, I expected the blotched snake to be a somewhat lost Northern Watersnake, but was happy to see it was an Eastern Milksnake. A fiesty one at that too, which acted a little defensive as I took a few photos, unaware that I had stopped to avoid it on the road.

Eastern Milksnake - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

The diversity of insects on the alvar is quite high since there are several unique habitat types in the area. The most common species seen was the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, with many gathering together to suck nutrients out of the wet spots in the road. Other species that were quite evident included the first Hobomok Skippers of the year as well as some duskywings. This photo is of a Juvenal's Duskywing.

Juvenal's Duskywing - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

The second batch of Azures, this one the Summer Azure, was flying and many fresh individuals were in the grassy areas.

Summer Azure - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

I was happy to see another species of Blue - this one a Silvery Blue. Another small Blue had me stumped at first, but I believe it is just a very worn Spring Azure.

Spring Azure? - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Spring Azure? - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

This is the time of year that female turtles are moving towards their nesting areas. Many cross busy roads, so keep an eye out for them when you're driving and if possible, stop and help them across the road. This little Snapping turtle was trying to cross a busy country road with non stop traffic near the town of Kirkfield. Jeremy and I stopped to help a few Midland Painted Turtles cross the road as well.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Carden Alvar - the birds

The Prairie Warblers which I talked about in the last post were certainly the main highlight, though Jeremy and I saw a lot of other interesting things throughout the day. I have a few insect and herp highlights as well, which I will cram into a 3rd post. One old blogging trick is to not waste all your good content in one post and have nothing else to talk about for the rest of the week. So I'm spreading out the material a little bit ;)

I arrived at Carden a bit later than anticipated, since my greatest skill is my ability to turn off 3 separate alarm clocks in my sleep. However, by 6:50 AM I rolled up to Carden and began my birding. Right away, the sounds of the prairie beckoned - a Grasshopper Sparrow buzzing over here, Eastern Bluebirds feeding young over there, and an Upland Sandpiper calling away off in the distance. It was good to be back!

Eastern Bluebird - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Eastern Bluebird - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Making my way to the Sedge Wren Marsh, I noted the distinct absence of Sedge Wrens. However a lot of the surrounding fields had a few inches of standing water, creating perfect habitat. With all of this abundant, suitable habitat around, it is probable that the Sedge Wrens are more scattered throughout the alvar, as opposed to being concentrated in the marsh. Making up for the lack of the wrens was a very vocal Virginia Rail, strutting his stuff out in the open.

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Virginia Rails are secretive little marsh birds that spend their days expertly navigating the maze of dense grasses, sedges and cattails in wetlands. Often the only indication of their presence is the persistent "kiddick, kiddick, kiddick" call or the loud series of grunts coming from the depths of a marsh. These were certainly the best views I had ever had of one!

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

I would imagine that they are called rails because they can stand up straight as a rail with their tail flicked up in the air. You can kind of get a sense of that with these next two photos!

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Eventually I left the sounds of Virginia Rails, Marsh Wrens, and Swamp Sparrows behind and headed down a side trail leading off from the marsh. Birders aren't exactly welcomed by many of the landowners at Carden, and until recently the only access to the area was via roadside. Fortunately the Nature Conservancy and many private individuals have purchased some of the properties and more of the alvar is now accesible.

These famous signs are attached every 50 meters or so to every fence in the area. I can't help but laugh at them - they are absolutely hilarious! To me, it says something along the lines of "It is illegal for hawks to steal your circa-1960's binoculars here".

After exploring some coniferous areas behind the marsh (with a drumming Ruffed Grouse and a few Winter Wrens being my reward), I headed back to the road. Eventually this Upland Sandpiper came and landed on a fence post right beside me. It was on the "wrong" side of the road, so I made the best of the situation and went for a silhouette photo instead.

Upland Sandpiper - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

I had more highlights as the morning wore on, but neglected to take any more photos. Clay-colored Sparrows and Golden-winged Warblers were quite common on the north half of Wylie Road and I had about a half dozen of each. Several singing Canada Warblers were nice to hear before the heat of the day shut up most of the birds, and I had scope views of a Loggerhead Shrike behind Bluebird Box #7. I actually have very poor, distant photos of the shrike, but I'll spare you!

Before meeting up with Jeremy I did a quick check of some areas further south and came up with Common and Caspian Terns, Sora, and a calling Least Bittern; the latter at Prospect Road marsh.

Red-winged Blackbird - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)

Jeremy and I birded Wylie Road again, this time in the heat of the day. We still had many of the same species and added other ones to the day list such as Northern Harrier, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. We had our encounter with the Prairie Warblers, found Jeremy's lifer Common Ravens, and zipped back down to Prospect Road marsh to hear the Least Bittern (another lifer for Jeremy) just before the impending storm.

It was a great day on the alvar, with great company. I finished the day with just over 100 species after adding a few on the drive home.

Mr. Prairie - Carden Alvar (May 31, 2013)