Monday, 27 November 2017

Anna's Hummingbird and Black-throated Gray Warbler in Eastern Ontario

The last few weeks have been nothing short of excellent when it comes to unusual birds being found by intrepid birders in Ontario. Eastern Ontario in particular has been on fire, starting with the alcid sp. found by Jon Ruddy back on October 30. The same alcid (or a different one) was found by Bruce Di Labio on Oct 31 - it was a young Razorbill. Several other rare species have been found in eastern Ontario in the weeks since, including a fly-by Northern Gannet along the Ottawa River, a long-staying Yellow-headed Blackbird and Black-throated Gray Warbler in Ottawa, an Anna's Hummingbird in Carleton Place, and yet another alcid sp. in Ottawa. Bruce Di Labio and Jon Ruddy, in particular, have had their names flash across the rare bird alerts frequently in the last few weeks. Thanks to their great finds, many birders have made their way to eastern Ontario and observed some incredible species for the area.

The Anna's Hummingbird was first observed on November 3 when it appeared at a hummingbird feeder at a private residence in Carleton Place, Lanark County. Bruce Di Labio was made aware of its presence and invited to view the bird on November 11, at which point he identified the wayward hummingbird as an Anna's Hummingbird. Native to the west coast, Anna's Hummingbird is a mostly resident species from coastal Alaska south to northwest Mexico. In recent years the species has expanded its range; in the past, southwestern British Colombia was the furthest north the species could be found.

Perhaps due to this expansion in both geographic range and population size, Ontario has seen all three of its Anna's Hummigbirds in the last eight years. The first was discovered coming to a feeder in Kingsville, Essex County from 25-30 October, 2010. Unfortunately by the time a conclusive identification was made the bird had disappeared. The second was a long-staying individual in Thunder Bay, from September 19 - December 7, 2013. That bird's presence was not made known to the birding community until early December and a handful of local birders were able to successfully view it, along with several quick-acting southern Ontario birders. I chased this bird with Andrew Keaveney, arriving mid-day on December 8, 2013 after enduring snow squalls and shut down highways on our drive up. When a second-provincial record frequents a bird feeder for 80 days and you show up on day 81 with no sign of the bird, it is more than a little depressing.

But as is occasionally the case when it comes to chasing rare birds, redemption often occurs - that is, if luck is on your side. Late on November 12, 2017 I answered a phone call from a good friend of mine. He had helped arrange for me to see the Anna's Hummingbird, a bird I had become aware of a day earlier. Wanting a shot at redemption with this bird, I jumped at the opportunity. My Monday morning plans were drastically altered - four hours after receiving the phone call and after a couple of short hours of sleep I was on the road, my car pointed in the general direction of Carleton Place.

At 7:00 I found myself at the designated meeting spot. A local Carleton Place birder had arranged for about 10 birders (myself included) to view the bird at the private residence and by 7:30 AM we were in position, with everyone keeping a close eye both on the feeder and on the cedar hedge where the bird apparently roosted.

Anna's Hummingbird - Carleton Place, Lanark County

It was a tense 10 minutes of waiting before the deep voice of Mike Tate announced that the hummingbird was at the feeder. Success!

Anna's Hummingbird - Carleton Place, Lanark County

In the dim early morning light we were treated to about 30 seconds of viewing the hummingbird  as it hovered in front of the feeder, dipping down every few seconds to drink the sugar-rich liquid. I fired off a few photos but mostly just watched the bird through my binoculars. While superficially appearing similar to a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, this female Anna's Hummingbird was noticeably stockier with a thick, straight bill and a reddish central throat patch. As quickly as it appeared, the hummingbird was gone. Fortunately we were treated to an encore appearance, only fifteen minutes later. The incremental increase in ambient light levels meant that I was able to bump my ISO sensitivity down from 5000 to 4000 - still way too high for my liking, but that was the sacrifice that was needed to obtain at least a marginally sharp image at 1/100 of a second.

Anna's Hummingbird - Carleton Place, Lanark County

After the early morning wake up and 5.5 hour drive it sure felt good to lay not only lay eyes on this hummingbird but manage a few OK photos as well. This was my first western hummingbird I have encountered in Ontario. Rufous Hummingbird is the only regular vagrant hummingbird we see in the province, with perhaps one record a year. Maybe we will start to see an increase of Anna's Hummingbird records given the range expansion the species has shown recently.

It was shortly after 8:00 AM and I was on my way. It is always nice when things go according to plan!. Given that the day was still young, instead of driving straight home I decided to take a detour through Ottawa to see the Black-throated Gray Warbler at the Brittania Filtration Plant.

Like the Anna's Hummingbird the Black-throated Gray Warbler was also easily found as it flitted in a few Eastern White Pines near the entrance to the filtration plant. Along with several birders including Owen Yates, Rob Buchanan and Kit McCann we watched the warbler as it moved through the branches, carefully scouring them for spiders and whatever other morsels it could find. It was keeping close company with a Nashville Warbler - evidently, another individual that had neglected to migrate properly with the rest of its species. It was certainly an odd couple to see together in eastern Ontario during November.

Black-throated Gray Warbler - Britannia Conservation Area, Ottawa

Six years had passed in the time since I observed the only other Black-throated Gray Warbler on my Ontario list. The long-staying individual at Bayfront Park in Hamilton moved around frequently, and I only caught up with it twice on a half dozen visits. Considering I was not able to take any good photos of that bird, managing some serviceable photos of this individual was a bonus.

Black-throated Gray Warbler - Britannia Conservation Area, Ottawa

It was an excellent morning of birding! I relaxed on the drive back by listening to some tunes and podcasts, and only stopping once for a work conference call. I made it through Toronto before rush hour and was even home in time for dinner. A pretty great day of birding! On those slow February days when nothing of consequence is being found and reported, while a foot of snow lies on the driveway and the winds howl, I will think back fondly to this day...

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