Thursday, 20 April 2017

Saturday birding in Essex County

Saturday dawned grey and rainy so I took my time in the morning birding a few areas outside of the park before entering around 8:45 AM.

Bonaparte's Gull -Towle Harbour, Leamington, Essex County

Bonaparte's Gulls -Towle Harbour, Leamington, Essex County

Fortunately the front quickly passed through and the rain ended soon after my arrival at Point Pelee, and I enjoyed a great walk down the west beach footpath towards the tip. The birding was pretty steady and I sorted through the small flocks of kinglets, sparrows and occasional Yellow-rumped Warblers. Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets made up the bulk of the smaller songbirds. A few House Wrens were in as well, a few days ahead of schedule, but not too unusual given the other early species arriving a few days early.

Just south of a well Honey Locust known as the "Serengeti Tree" I heard a Northern Parula singing. It was doing the alternate song with numerous buzzes, and I eventually tracked it down for decent enough looks. This was the earliest Northern Parula I have had in Ontario, though it is a species with several mid-April records in Ontario.

Northern Parula - Point Pelee National Park

Aproximately 2,800 ducks were in a loose flock offshore, with most of the birds within a reasonable scoping distance. The vast majority of the birds were Greater Scaup, though Lesser Scaup was also present in decent numbers. I counted 109 Surf Scoters and 5 White-winged Scoters, though the strangest find was a female Blue-winged Teal tucked in with all the diving ducks.

Greater Scaup - Point Pelee National Park

Near this area I also noticed my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year as it fluttering past along the shoreline. I birded the tip area pretty throroughly and enjoyed sifting through the sparrows, but eventually I turned back towards the tram loop to head back to where my car was parked. Mike Nelson had discovered a flock of American Avocets at Hillman Marsh earlier in the morning so I was hoping to catch up with these birds. American Avocets are one of my favorite shorebirds and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see 36 of them in breeding plumage!

Hillman Marsh was productive and we enjoyed the somewhat distant scope views of the avocets as they mostly rested in the shorebird cell but occasionally became a little more active. I ran into Blake Mann, Paul Pratt and Dan Loncke here as well. A flock of 35+ Pectoral Sandpipers in the back of the cell was nice to see, my first of the spring.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Point Pelee National Park

I decided to go for a walk at nearby Kopegaron Woods after lunch. This tract of Carolinian woodland can be quite productive with migrant warblers and other songbirds and in the past I have seen Worm-eating Warbler and Connecticut Warbler here among other more common species. This time, several flocks of kinglets and Brown Creepers were near the parking lot while the flooded woods held several Rusty Blackbirds, a declining species and one that I always enjoy seeing at this time of year. The biggest surprise was a Fish Crow that was with a few American Crows, flying around and calling just south of the parking lot. I watched it for a few minutes and was even able to see the differences in overall size and wingbeats in comparison with an American Crow.

Jeremy Hatt, and Kory Renaud dropped by, following shortly afterwards by Jeremy Bensette and Emma Buck. While we waited unsuccesfully for the crows to return in the parking lot, word came in of seven Black-necked Stilts that had been found in Windsor, Ontario a couple of hours earlier. We did not know who the observer was and there were few details, but Jeremy called Dwayne, a fellow birder and resident of Windsor, and asked him to check out the constructed wetland where the stilts had been reported. Seven Black-necked Stilts would be unprecedented in Ontario!

Dwayne investigated the pond and was surprised to see that seven Black-necked Stilts were indeed there! Needless to say a large contingent of Essex County birders made their own over to Windsor in record time...

Black-necked Stilt - Windsor, Essex County

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

The stilts were right where they had been reported and we were able to approach within a reasonable distance along the shoreline. They didn't seem too concerned with our presence which made for some great photo opportunities!

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

Black-necked Stilt is a common breeding species in much of the Americas, but their range stops short of Ontario. Prior to this flock, Ontario had 18 records of Black-necked Stilt with all records pertaining to single individuals or small groups of 2-3 birds. Most records have been from the spring time and the earliest ever was a group of three birds at Hillman Marsh Conservation Area on May 5, 2013. This was an unprecedented number of birds for Ontario, but not completely unexpected given the trend of this species in neighbouring states.

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

This is perhaps my favorite photo of the group. At one point the group of stilts took flight and landed on some mudflats to our left and I was ready with my camera for flight shots. This particular image caught Emma Buck on the far shoreline, watching the stilts as they flew past!

Emma Buck and the Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

Eventually I was able to get all seven birds in one photo.

Black-necked Stilts - Windsor, Essex County

We enjoyed the stilts for about an hour and a half, getting more than our fill of this very rare species for Ontario. Samantha Dundas who found the birds that morning even dropped by to check in on them and say hello to us, so it was nice to meet her as well (and thank her for the great find!).

I planned on making one more birding stop that evening, checking out the Harrow lagoons where a Greater White-fronted Goose had been found by Donny Moore over the previous days/weeks. It wasn't there during my visit, but I did come across a group of nine Least Sandpipers. This was another fairly early species as the first individuals usually arrive towards the end of April.

Least Sandpipers - Harrow lagoons, Essex County

As I finished up in Harrow I realized that I still had time to drive back to Hillman Marsh and quickly scope the mudflats at the shorebird cell one more time before dusk. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the avocets were still present. I took advantage of the rare opportunity to approach the birds on the mudflats and take some photos from a reasonable distance. The avocets did not seem at all concerned with my presence, continuing to rest or lazily probe the mud while I photographed them. It was an awesome half hour of photography with a species that I had never really photographed well. What a way to end the day!

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County


Dwayne said...

Josh, great posting and photography as usual! There was a single Black necked Stilt at Hillman last year on April 29th, 2016 - which might have been the previous early record. Thanks for the mention! -DM

Andrew Bradshaw said...

These Black-necked Stilts certainly seem to be on the increase. I just saw 50 of them here in central Illinois, and there seem to be more and more breeding pairs locally here too. I'm glad to see such a great bird on the increase, when so many others seem to be decreasing.

Mark Korducki said...

Great photos Josh. We have stilts nesting regularly now at Horicon Marsh in WI. Maybe Ontario will have them nesting soon. When you see Jeremy tell him to update his Blog lol.

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Dwayne, for some reason I didn't even think about last years record (was going off the previous OBRC spreadsheet to see all the accepted records). Hope to run into you this spring down at Pelee!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Interesting, hopefully that trend continues!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Mark. Haha I periodically tell him to every now and then - hopefully we will get at least one update in the next few months!