Monday, 21 April 2014

Perth County Rarity Hunt

I woke this morning almost on time, and by 7:00 I was on the road from the Point Pelee area to Perth County, located north of London. This part of Ontario isn't well known in the ornithological scene. Farmland dominates the countryside, and as a result, rare birds can be hard to come by in the county. There are a few reservoirs, however, that can be quite productive. A quick check of ebird shows records of Black-necked Stilt, Western Sandpiper, Chuck-will's-widow, and Spotted Towhee, though.

Not one but three rare birds had been found in Perth County over the past few days. I have a hunch they were arrivals with the weather last weekend, as many birds invaded the province including other rarities (Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Warblers, American White Pelican). Who knows, though.

The first rarity, a Eurasian Wigeon was being seen regularly at the West Perth Wetlands, but it had not been seen in two days. The second rarity was a Blue Grosbeak, attending a feeder west of Fullarton. Several of us were trying to figure out more details, and if it was possible for people to visit. The third rarity was a Snowy Egret that had been seen along the Thames River along the St. Mary's waterfront.

I went for the Snowy Egret, arriving around 8:30 AM with the sun rising in the sky. Here I ran into Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch. We chatted a bit, and they had not seen the egret since their arrival. We also heard from Barb Charlton who was chasing the birds, and so the four of us met up.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow - St. Mary's, Ontario

Unfortunately, our search of the river was in vain. We did, however, see a lot of new, exciting Perth County ticks (Bufflehead! Great Blue Heron!! MUTE SWAN!!!). Eventually Brett and Erika had to go to an Eastern dinner, so Barb and I continued on to the West Perth Wetlands, the location of the Eurasian Wigeon.

Here we met Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, and Erika Barkley who had the same idea as us. It turns out that they were in contact with the people hosting the Blue Grosbeak, and they had arranged for us to go look for it! We did a quick scan of the waterbirds (highlights being Canvasback, Horned Grebe, American Coot) and got on our way. It was late morning and the temperatures had quickly risen.

We got out and began a search of the property, meeting the friendly homeowners, Rita and Ron. Immediately a bird flushed from the Crabapple Tree next to a feeder. Ken and I had the best looks of the bird (though very brief) and we thought that the bird looked right to be the Blue Grosbeak. A few minutes later Mike had a brief glimpse of a suspicious bird dark bird with blue on it.. Again, difficult to say, but probably the bird.

Luckily any doubts were erased several minutes later when the bird suddenly landed in the tree, easily visible but partially obscured between the branches.. It was a young male Blue Grosbeak, not a female as I had originally thought.

Blue Grosbeak - west of Fullarton, Ontario 

We watched the bird at least three times over the course of half an hour, though each visit was very brief. It was interesting to note the behaviour of the bird, as it pumped it's tail in a phoebe-esque way. Cool!

Blue Grosbeak - west of Fullarton, Ontario 
 This bird was aged as a young male due to the blue coloration coming in along the face. Out of the three previous Blue Grosbeaks I have seen, two were young males and one was an adult male.
Blue Grosbeak - west of Fullarton, Ontario 
At this point I had to get going to an Eastern dinner as well. We left the farm and decided to complete a brief but thorough (and unsuccesful) search of the Thames River for the Snowy Egret. We parted ways and I headed back to Cambridge after a quick check of the Tavistock Lagoons.

It was a very successful weekend of birding Point Pelee and Point Pelee 2.0 this weekend, with highlights being Henslow's Sparrow, Black Vulture, and Blue Grosbeak. Other great birds included Louisiana Waterthrush, Vesper Sparrow, American Golden-Plover, and all the new spring migrants. Now that I am back at work for the week, I am already beginning to look forward to next weekend, when lots of good birds should be around, and at the very least, lots of new year birds. Should be fun!

1 comment:

  1. Nice shots JV! I'd still cast my vote for adult female Blue Grosbeak...

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