Saturday, 2 January 2016


2015 was an excellent year filled with great friends, heaps of wildlife sightings, and one major life milestone. I am a little bit short of time and have a big trip coming up in a few days, so I'll try to make this summary (relatively) short and sweet; short on text and heavy on photos.


I kicked off the year with Laura's family in Nova Scotia, but before long I was on a plane heading south for the country of Colombia. Over the 2.5 weeks I was in the country, I traveled around at various times with David Bell, Daniel Riley, Dan Wylie, Adam Timpf and Steve Pike. Colombia was a place that I had wanted to visit for quite some time as it boasted the highest bird species list of any country. We explored the Santa Marta and Guajira regions in the north for a week, followed by a 10-day mad dash through the Andes to clean up as many species as possible. We witnessed some of the most stunning scenery I have ever laid eyes on, found nearly all the birds we were hoping to, and had a pretty amazing trip through and through. It is impossible to do Colombia justice in a few short weeks (or even in a few months) so I will definitely be visiting again!

Ontario year list: 25
World year list: 585

view from the lodge in the El Dorado reserve - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) - Tayrona, Colombia

Andean Emerald (left) and Purple-throated Woodstar (right) - Montezuma Road, Colombia

Violet-tailed Sylph - Montezuma Road, Colombia

Squirrel Cuckoo - Montezuma Road, Colombia

Yellow-eared Parrot spot - near Jardin, Colombia


Winter held much of North America in its icy grip through January and February so I was quite happy to experience the cold for only a few days during February. After arriving back from Colombia, I had about a week to prepare for my next adventure - this time to Cuba with Worldwide Quest Nature Tours. Worldwide Quest had provided me with the opportunity to assist with guiding a great group of people through the western half of the country. I think it is safe to say that everyone had a memorable experience, complete with some pretty incredible wildlife sightings! Highlights included the world's smallest bird (the Bee Hummingbird), many of the country's endemic birds, a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, land snails and unusual plants, and the first Townsend's Warbler ever seen in Cuba. I am excited to return to this beautiful country full of vibrant colour and friendly people with a new group this coming February.

Ontario year list: 29
World year list: 736

Cuban Trogon - Soroa, Cuba

Cuban Parrot - Playa Larga, Cuba

Atala Butterfly - Reserva Sierra del Rosario, Cuba

coastline at Playa Larga, Cuba

Cuban Tody - Soroa, Cuba

Northern Curly-tailed Lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus) - Playa Giron area, Cuba

Townsend's Warbler - Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes, Cuba

West Indian Woodpecker - Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes, Cuba


I journeyed to Scotland by the middle of the month to visit Laura during her fourth and second-last year studying veterinarian medicine at the University of Edinburgh. We ventured south to Morocco for over a week, our first visit to Africa together! Laura and I rented a car and explored the mountains, coastline, and desert in this surprisingly diverse country. Undoubtedly the highlight for us was our engagement along our own private beach near the rivermouth of the Oued Massa, located near the northern boundary of the Sahara Desert. Morocco was a destination that had never really been on my radar, but it was a location I would highly recommend for any naturalist. We spent many hours catching lizards, finding wheatears, larks and the Endangered Northern Bald Ibis, eating fantastic cuisine and exploring the wide open spaces and mountains.A trip I'll never forget...

Ontario year list: 83
World year list: 907

Laura and I in Marrakesh, Morocco

Northern Bald Ibis - Parc Nacional Souss-Massa, Morocco

desert near Guelmim, Morocco

Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) - near Tiznit, Morocco

Wall Gecko species (Tarentola sp.) - near Guelmim, Morocco

mountains near Oukaimeden, Morocco

Crimson-winged Finch - Oukaimeden, Morocco


Laura and I visited the Highlands in Scotland for the first few days of April; a place we had never explored during my three previous visits to Scotland. Highlights for me was my first Rock Ptarmigan and a Black Grouse, though the Eurasian Capercaillies remained hidden unfortunately.

Several days into April I jetted back to Canada and began to focus on the upcoming field season. The end of the cold weather coincided nicely with my arrival from Scotland and, like every year, I ventured outside to enjoy the natural world as often as possible during this period of new growth.

I work as a biologist for a consulting firm and the period from April through July is the pinnacle of my busy season. I would much rather work 60 hour work-weeks outside, completing amphibian surveys, bird surveys and other wildlife inventories, as compared to 37.5 hours a week cooped up in an office!

By the end of the month the trickle of temperate migrants had given way to the first few Neotropical birds and Point Pelee began calling my name.

Ontario year list: 139
World year list: 954

Coal Tit - Loch Garten RSPB Reserve, Scotland

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Point Pelee National Park

Barn Swallows - Point Pelee National Park

Raccoon - Point Pelee National Park


The month of May flew by as it always does and I effectively split my time between Point Pelee and wherever my job dictated that I conduct field work. Instead of taking a week or two off in May I continued working regular work weeks, but the long hours enabled me to take 3 or 4 day weekends. And what a spring it was at Pelee! Some of the highlights for me included Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Mississippi Kite, King Rail, several Henslow's Sparrows (including some on territory) and Blue Grosbeak. Near the end of the month I successfully chased two mega rarities that were both new for my Canada (and by extension, Ontario) lists. These were Mottled Duck at Hillman Marsh and Wilson's Plover on the Toronto Islands.

Ontario year list: 257
World year list: 1015

Kentucky Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

White-faced Ibises - Port Royal, Ontario

Henslow's Sparrow - near Harrow, Ontario

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

birding at Point Pelee National Park

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Point Pelee National Park

Summer Tanager - Point Pelee National Park

Prothonotary Warbler - Point Pelee National Park

Wilson's Plover - Hanlan's Point beach, Toronto Islands

June and July

June is always the busiest month of the year for me, while July is also quite hectic. This year's breeding bird season was perhaps my busiest ever in the three years that I have been employed at my current workplace. I was constantly shuttling back and forth to Thunder Bay or to Fort Albany, James Bay for field work, while also traveling to Windigo Lake (10 hours north of Thunder Bay), Kenora, and across southern Ontario. Highlights for me included point blank looks at a male Gray Wolf while completing a point count with Dan Riley near Windigo Lake, spending a day and a half birding in the Rainy River region of NW Ontario, and encountering nearly all of the bird species found in the boreal region of Ontario including A. Three-toed Woodpecker, Great Gray Owl, Northern Goshawk, Connecticut Warbler and a surprise Bohemian Waxwing. Ontario's first ever Little Egret was discovered by Ben Di Labio near Ottawa and despite my busy schedule I tried for the bird twice, finally seeing it with Barb Charlton on June 24! I also joined Todd Hagedorn for one night of camping and one day of herping at a favorite location of mine, where it was great to become reacquainted with Eastern Massasauga as well as discover a locally rare Eastern Hognose Snake. By mid-July Laura had arrived from Scotland to spend four weeks in southern Ontario. I was a little burned out from birding and photography at this point in the year but it was great to camp, hike and spend time with her! We made a few weekend excursions including one to Point Pelee and Windsor where we met up with friends, looked for snakes and lizards, and participated on the Ojibway Prairie Bioblitz.

Ontario year list: 279
World year list: 1038

Sandhill Crane - Matchedash Bay, Ontario

my work vehicle - Windigo Lake, Ontario

Eastern Massasauga - Muskoka District, Ontario

Eastern Hognose Snake - Muskoka District, Ontario

Little Egret - Carp, Ontario

approaching storm - Windy Point, Rainy River District, Ontario

Great Gray Owl - Western Rainy River District, Ontario

Franklin's Gulls - Windy Point, Rainy River District, Ontario

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Windy Point, Rainy River District, Ontario

Five-lined Skink on nest - Point Pelee National Park


During much of August I was based out of Aurora unfortunately, working most days in the office (fun!). Being based out of Aurora has its drawbacks, but one benefit this summer was that the Holland Landing lagoons were drawn down in several of the cells providing shorebird habitat, allowing me to bird this place after work at least twice a week. York Region will never be mistaken as a birding hotspot, especially with regards to migration, but with regular visits I was able to turn up two Wilson's Phalaropes, a Red-necked Phalarope, Stilt Sandpipers, four Long-billed Dowitchers (these were in September), and twitch a Little Gull out of a total of 110-ish species. 

I visited Nova Scotia for a week near the end of August and managed to squeeze in a day of birding, turning up Halifax's first ever American Oystercatcher as well as a few regular autumn vagrants in Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers. The birding out here never ceases to thrill...

Ontario year list: 280
World year list: 1040

Wilson's Phalarope - Holland Landing lagoons, Ontario

Prairie Warbler - Lower Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia

Blue-winged Warbler - Lower Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia


September wasn't much different than August - still based in Aurora, checking the Holland Landing lagoons, and making weekend trips to Point Pelee and area. The Blenheim lagoons were quite productive this year, and in my few visits I discovered a Long-billed Dowitcher and Willet, the latter which hung around for several months. The biggest highlight for me in September was the mad dash to the Rondeau area on September 17 to chase a Say's Phoebe that Jim Burk found (the fourth new species for my Ontario list in 2015).

Ontario year list: 284
World year list: 1043

Willet - Blenheim lagoons, Ontario

Monarch roost - Point Pelee National Park

Sanderling - Point Pelee National Park

Sandhill Cranes - Point Pelee National Park

Say's Phoebe - Blenheim, Ontario

blood moon eclipse - Aurora, Ontario


For the last three years I have ventured to the south coast of James Bay, perhaps my favorite spot in Ontario and home to stunning scenery and excellent birding. Unfortunately I couldn't arrange a trip with others this year so I decided I would do a solo camping trip along the north shore of Lake Superior, Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula instead! While the birding was pretty slow overall, it was still a worthwhile trip and a good way to unwind after a busy autumn at work. My birding highlight was discovering 16 species of sparrows on this trip including the first ever Nelson's Sparrow for Bruce County.

In early October I also finally moved out of the GTA, switching to our St. Catharines office after 2.5 years of penance in Aurora. I moved to the old town in Niagara-on-the-Lake, located only one kilometre from the mouth of the Niagara River. While the short days limited my birding in Niagara this fall I got out as much as I could, finding Red Phalarope, Brant, Clay-colored Sparrow and a variety of other species in October. I am really excited to the birding possibilities here in the spring!

The end of the month provided another jolt of excitement in the Ontario birding scene as Jacques Bouvier discovered Ontario's first ever (and long-awaited) Pink-footed Goose near Casselman, Ontario. It took all day of searching through tens of thousands of Snow Geese on Halloween, but eventually we spotted the bird in the eleventh hour!

Ontario year list: 294
World year list: 1050

car camping north of Marathon, Ontario

sunset south of Rossport, Ontario

Harris's Sparrow - Chippewa, Thunder Bay, Ontario

beach at Rossport, Ontario

Canada Lynx - north of White River, Ontario

Pink-footed Goose success - Casselman, Ontario

November and December

As the year wound down I devoted more time to taking care of overdue projects and preparing for a very busy winter of travel. Combined with the short day-light hours and a lack of fieldwork, I spent much less time outside than is desirable.  Even still, there were a few scattered highlights here and there, such as finding a Black-headed Gull close to home in NOTL and a Black-legged Kittiwake in Fort Erie. I added a surprising number of Ontario year birds as 2015 came to a close, mainly because I had not been in Ontario very much from January through March, thereby missing all the winter species! Birds like Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Evening Grosbeak and Northern Shrike were all new, and I still missed quite a few common ones in 2015 like Pine Grosbeak, Short-eared Owl and Hoary Redpoll.

2015 marked the first time that I observed over 1000 bird species throughout the world in a year. Additionally, two bird species were new additions to my Ontario list - the Bullock's Oriole in Pakenham, and the Vermilion Flycatcher near Wallaceburg. I ended up with 7 new additions to my Ontario list in 2015, bringing me up to 376 species all-time. One of my birding goals is to reach 400 species for my Ontario list at a relatively young age and I would say that I am on track to complete this by the time I am 31, as long I live in Ontario for the next number of years...

2015 was a great year filled with big milestones, excellent travel opportunities and a wide variety of interesting sightings in the natural world shared with many good friends. I am excited for what 2016 has in store!

Ontario year list: 308
World year list: 1058

Cave Swallow watch - Point Pelee National Park

Golden Eagles - Point Pelee National Park
Mountain Bluebird - Whitby, Ontario

Blue-headed Vireo - Oakville, Ontario

Vermilion Flycatcher - Wallaceburg, Ontario