Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Pelee this weekend

This week has been a busy one so far for me. I worked long days on Monday and Tuesday, being up early and then out late completing amphibian surveys.

Tuesday came with an unexpected highlight. I had driven up to North Bay where I was conducting my monthly surface water monitoring program at a local quarry. Despite the lingering snow in the woods, spring felt like it had arrived in force. Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows and even Ruby-crowned Kinglets were singing, a pair of Sandhill Cranes called loudly before gliding by overhead, and a Ruffed Grouse drummed from deepwith in the forest. In late afternoon I was walking through an open area towards a creek north in the quarry when I noticed a falcon heading my way. As it approached my thoughts changed from "nice, I haven't seen a Peregrine in a while" to "holy s***, that's a dark morph Gyr!". The bird cruised for a few seconds then powered by with quick, smooth wingbeats, passing by probably 40 feet over my head. It was enough to see the dark streakings and faint mask, and was certainly the best look I have ever had at a dark morph. All the previous gyrfalcons I have seen have been at Netitishi Point in James Bay, including two really dark ones, some brownish ones and three immaculate white morphs. It was certainly a highlight during a cold blustery morning of work. April gyrs are sometimes seen throughout Ontario and it is thought that some of these are spring migrants returning to the north. Occasionally even hawkwatches see them during the spring. Given the duration of this past winter, and the somewhat higher than normal gyrfalcons reported in southern Ontario, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them are passing through Ontario now. Another possibility is that this bird overwintered (or had been lingering) at the nearby airport, located about 200 m from the spot I saw the bird. Its a big open area and perhaps a productive hunting ground at times. Below is a photo of one of the white morphs from  Netitishi in 2013.

Gyrfalcon at Netitishi Point, October 10, 2013

 I was in the office today and will be again tomorrow, but if all goes well I will be on the road on my way to Pelee by the early afternoon. It is getting to be that "magic window" of spring birding in southern Ontario, roughly beginning in late April and ending in early June. Already some fantastic birds have been found in the province - a Tricolored Heron at Pelee and Holiday Beach, a Common Teal near Owen Sound, a Lark Sparrow in Kingston, a Cattle Egret at Holiday Beach, several Fish Crows, and Eared Grebes, Eurasian Wigeons and American Avocets all over it seems. The action certainly seems to be focused in Essex County however, with most of the above rarities being found there in recent days, along with a Yellow-throated Warbler, Henslow's Sparrow and Piping Plover. Add to that the nesting Eurasian Collared-Doves and the extremely rare for Point Pelee Pileated Woodpecker which has been frequenting the south half of the park for the last few days. Even with the poor weather forecast for the foreseeable future, the migrants are bound to come and many first of years will undoubtedly be found this weekend. Pelee certainly seems to be the place to be and I am excited to make my second visit of the year, the first being back in mid-March.

I am also excited to get back into the birding scene in Ontario a little bit more. This past winter was brutally cold and snowy with few good birds scattered around the province, making it hard to get motivated to go out. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Colombia, Cuba, Morocco and Scotland so naturally my focus has been on birds of further afield. It seems like forever since I've birded regularly in Ontario, so this weekend should be a good way to change that. Even if the rarities refuse to show, a good variety of newly arrived migrants and year birds will keep the days exciting - it really is hard to go wrong this time of year.

Scarlet Tanager

Black-throated Green Warbler

Swainson's Thrush


  1. "... a Little Blue Heron at Pelee and Holiday Beach"

    I never heard about that one!

  2. Haha, somehow didn't catch that when I looked it over!

  3. And don't assume that it is the same bird. Could very easily be a second one.