Wednesday, 25 April 2018

More spring sightings in Niagara

Last week was a bit of a write-off for me as I came down with a nasty stomach bug that knocked me out of commission on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday morning were busy as I tried to catch up on all my work but by Friday afternoon I was free, with a serious urge to get down to the lakefront and look for birds.

Port Weller was my destination as it so often is, and it was a good choice. While my species total was relatively modest (42), there were a few new migrants in. While the Golden-crowned Kinglets had disappeared I was happy to see my first migrant Winter Wren of the spring, numerous Horned Grebes (many in pristine breeding plumage), and a few Purple Martins mixed in with all the Tree Swallows.

Purple Martin - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

The "best" bird of the day was a total surprise, as they often are. I had approached "the big pond" along the east side of the pier and quickly scanned the ducks that dotted its surface; Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, etc. Suddenly I noticed a small dark bird swimming away from me; it had evidently been out of view in the aquatic vegetation along the near shore. A Common Gallinule!

Common Gallinule - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

While Common Gallinules are an uncommon but regular marsh bird that breeds in large wetlands in southern Ontario, they are unusual in Niagara with only a few reliable places, such as Mud Lake Conservation Area, hosting breeding individuals. Occasionally they are seen in migration and they have occurred at Port Weller in the past (according to ebird the last individual was in 2004). This was my second gallinule species for the big pond, after "twitching" the Purple Gallinule back in 2011, a bird which is much rarer in Ontario!

Common Gallinule - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

The lighting on the Common Gallinule was absolutely terrible but I was able to take some poor quality record shots to document the find. The Common Gallinule was my 196th species for the Port Weller pier.

Later on in the walk I encountered one of the Eastern Cottontails that frequent the pier.

Eastern Cottontail - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

On Saturday Laura and I took advantage of the sunny, warm conditions (finally!!) and drove down to Wainfleet Bog. The temperatures could have been a few degrees higher to entice a greater amount of reptile activity; though we still had some success.

Laura and I at Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

It felt great to be wearing the waders, exploring one of the few natural gems remaining in Niagara Region, even though Wainfleet Bog is just a shell of its former glory due to extensive peat farming that had taken place. Several Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas flitted on by, a sight for sore eyes after a long winter. From all around us the calls of Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs emanated from the wetlands, with the low snore of Northern Leopard Frogs and the chuckles of Wood Frogs providing the bass and tenor notes. Egg masses had already began to appear - these frogs don't waste any time - and I snapped a few photos of a Western Chorus Frog egg mass.

Western Chorus Frog eggs - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

Laura and I set off to a part of the bog that I had not been to in years, crossing several deep canals to reach the area. Evidently it had been a while since people had been down that way since we had two excellent bird sightings. The first was an American Bittern that we inadvertently flushed. It circled around us once, providing a spectacular view before settling down in a distant part of the bog. American Bittern is surprisingly rare in Niagara; this was only the second I had ever seen.

The second great bird was a Long-eared Owl that we surprised in an alder stand in the middle of the bog without a tree in sight. It settled in a different bush at a same distance from us, allowing us to soak in the views. I only had my macro lens with me and there were many branches in the way, but at least I managed an identifiable photo. I am not sure why the owl was in such a location that does not seem "typical" for the species. My guess is that the owl was hunting frogs - the buffet has quite the spread at this time of year with many different flavors.

Long-eared Owl - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

Other recent arrivals that we encountered on our walk included Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Tree Swallow and Swamp Sparrow.

The temperatures were in double digits but a bit of cloud cover and a light breeze hampered reptile activity. The only snake species we could find was Eastern Gartersnake. Despite its abundance, Eastern Gartersnake is one of my favorite species due to its variability and the frequency in which I encounter them. The individuals at Wainfleet Bog often are browner than normal, possibly due to the tannins from the peat staining their skin.

Eastern Gartersnake - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

Eastern Gartersnake - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

Eastern Gartersnake - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

With a few hours to kill on Sunday I took advantage of the beautiful day and explored a new area in Niagara for me - Niagara Shores Conservation Area. Located on the Lake Ontario shoreline just west of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the park consists of some mature Carolinian Woodland (with some really nice, mature examples of Sassafras and Tulip Tree), some scrubby areas, and Four Mile Pond along the western boundary. The potential for migrant birds is excellent and I look forward to visiting throughout the spring!

During my cursory walk on Sunday I found over 40 species, several which I photographed for the first time in Niagara (Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Pine Siskin). Two pairs of Belted Kingfishers were present. They likely nest in the embankment along the shoreline.

Pine Siskin - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

Belted Kingfisher - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

Belted Kingfisher - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

While the duck diversity has decreased in recent weeks with the onset of more seasonal weather, several species are still commonly seen (for now). The Long-tailed Ducks are in their spiffy spring plumage, looking quite different than a few short weeks ago. Red-breasted Mergansers are still frequently noted as well, but they too will be heading up north in a few weeks.

Red-breasted Merganser - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

While walking along Four Mile Pond I spotted two Snapping Turtle "in the act". Unfortunately they noticed me too and sunk back into the water!

Snapping Turtle - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

A third Snapping Turtle was catching some rays in a sheltered corner of the wetland. This is a common sight in April, but by the time the warm weather is here to stay in late May, Snapping Turtles are rarely seen basking.
Snapping Turtle - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

Hermit Thrushes rarely cooperate for photos for me. This one did, though of course it was on a shaded branch with a backlit background!

Hermit Thrush - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

And a photo of a Cooper's Hawk that was intently keeping an eye on some sparrows flitting at the edge of the marsh.

Cooper's Hawk - Niagara Shores CA, Niagara Region

On Monday I returned to Port Weller, hoping that the continued warm weather had pushed a few new birds onto the pier. I was also hoping to catch up with the Virginia Rails that Ryan Griffiths had found on Sunday in the small pond near the end of the pier.

Fox Sparrow - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

Monday ended up being one of the better days I have had on the pier in recent days. Sparrows in particular stole the show. Field, Fox, Song, Swamp, White-throated, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree, Chipping, and Savannah Sparrows were all accounted for and I enjoyed sifting through a few flocks. The Savannah Sparrows (3 in total) were actually new Port Weller birds for me, number 197. Savannah Sparrow was definitely a low hanging fruit but it was nice to finally see some at Port Weller! Some of the other "easy" species I need for my Port Weller list include Green Heron, Great Egret, Broad-winged Hawk, Sora, Solitary Sandpiper, American Woodcock, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech -Owl, Common Nighthawk, Horned Lark, Eastern Bluebird, Blue-winged Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and Bobolink. Later in the walk I heard one of the Virginia Rails ticking away - number 198.

Savannah Sparrow - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

One of the bigger surprises of the day was a Common Raven that flew over the parking lot as I arrived. This was only my second ever sighting of Common Raven at Port Weller. The species appears to be expanding in Niagara Region; now three black corvids are possible anywhere in the region (Common Raven, American Crow, Fish Crow). The Common Raven was a little distant when I finally got my camera on it.

Common Raven - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

It was a very birdy walk. Good numbers of both kinglet species were in, while Hermit Thrush, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper and Yellow-rumped Warbler numbers had increased significantly. I finished with 56 species; a solid showing for the date.

Eastern Phoebe - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region

We are now into the best time of year as far as I am concerned and I am excited for what the next few weeks have in store. Spring is always over much too quickly so make the most of every day!

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Spring has sprung in Niagara

The first two and a half weeks of April were a mixed bag weather wise, but with one steady theme: cold temperatures. Most days throughout the first half of the month were well below the average temperature for that time of year, and despite several teases winter would just not slink away. That has changed in a hurry however, and the last week or so has seen a flood of new migrants appear throughout the province. So far my birding and herping has kept me fairly local here in Niagara but I have been out a handful of times. Below are some photos from a few of those outings.

During the first two weeks of April I stayed fairly close to home as I had a number of projects on the go that I wanted to wrap up before spring really sprung. That was largely a successful venture and I even saw and heard a few birds from my office window during the process. Fish Crows have become a semi-regular feature here in Niagara Falls; I see roughly equal amounts of American and Fish Crows near the house. Soon it will time for some nest-searching! Speaking of nests, a pair of very vocal Merlins has been terrorizing the local songbirds in our neighbourhood. Last week they spent a few days investigating an old nest in a willow tree two yards over and visible from our backyard. Fingers crossed that they will nest! I haven't photographed these Merlins yet, so this old photo from Pelee will have to do.

Merlin - Point Pelee National Park (April 15, 2013)

All the way back on April 9 the first mini-pulse of songbird migration was detected. A walk at Port Weller was quite productive; among the 36 species was an Eastern Phoebe, an early-ish Barn Swallow, and quite a few Horned Grebes in various stages of molt. After disappearing for a few days I was happy to see five Red-throated Loons. Port Weller seems to be an excellent locations for that species and most visits from autumn through to mid April produce one or more Red-throated Loons.

Horned Grebe - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Horned Grebe - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Red-throated Loon - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Eastern Phoebe - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Northern Cardinals, while remaining resident in southern Ontario throughout the year, provide one of my favorite signs of springs when males belt out their cheery songs on the first warm, sunny days in late winter. By this time of year, Northern Cardinal songs ring out through the suburbs and thickets almost continuously. This male tolerated my close approach as he inspected the old fruits from a sumac.

Northern Cardinal - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Port Weller is one of my favorite two places to visit in Niagara Region; the other being Wainfleet Bog of course. While Port Weller is a human-made pier that lacks any high quality ecotypes, it also attracts migrant birds quite well. By mid April the species composition is changing daily or even hourly. My two or three visits a week are enough to be intimately familiar with the local birds, so much so that it is very easy to detect when new migrants have appeared. On April 13 a little wave of birds arrived, including some Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Hermit Thrush and a dozen Golden-crowned Kinglets. Despite the dim lighting I manged to snap a few photos of the kinglets that I was happy with. Kinglet photography is definitely an advanced class! Fortunately for me this time I had one or two males quite interested in my pishing, and they sat still long enough for some photos.

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Port Weller east pier, Niagara Region 

My next post will cover some of the birding and herping highlights from the last week.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Guyana, Trinidid and Tobago: Part 1 (Introduction)

January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge
January 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge


This past January and February Laura and I escaped the cold temperatures for a few weeks by traveling south to Guyana, with a stopover in Trinidad and Tobago for several days during our return trip. About a year ago while we were planning our wedding, Laura and I decided that I would plan the honeymoon, as Laura was happy taking on the bulk of the wedding planning. That sounded great to me and I immediately began to think about some possible destinations. Due to the wedding taking place in early September and with lots of family and friends visiting from out of town during that period, Laura and I did not exactly feel like it would be a good idea to fly south immediately following the wedding. Instead we planned to embark on the honeymoon several months later, during the depths of winter. We also decided that I would plan the honeymoon to be a complete surprise for Laura. With the busyness of the wedding as well as her job as a veterinarian, not having to think about planning a trip was an added bonus for Laura.

White-bellied Piculet - Georgetown, Guyana

We planned on being away for two weeks so naturally that narrowed down the list of destinations. Far flung places like Australia, Asia and Africa were likely off the table, given the long flight times to reach them. We will visit Australia or Uganda sometime when we have a month or more to travel around, but for two weeks I did not think it was justified this time. I turned my focus to South America for a few reasons. Ultimately I wanted to visit somewhere unique - there would be no lying on beaches at resorts in the Caribbean for us. There would have to be areas of high quality rainforest to explore; an ecosytem that Laura had never visited. Herping opportunities would have to abound (Laura loves salamanders, snakes, lizards and other herps), and there would definitely need to be a variety of possible new birds for myself. I'm not sure the exact process I took to settle on Guyana, but something about the wildness of the country drew me in. With a handful of decent quality lodges located deep in the forested interior, Guyana had the infrastructure to support ecotourism, though it would still prove to be a bit of an adventure. After all, only a few thousand tourists visit the country each year.

Guyana is located  in the northern part of South America, nestled in between Venezuela to the west, Brazil to the south, and Suriname to the east. Around 800,000 people live in Guyana, with the vast majority living along the Caribbean coastline to the north. Guyana is often considered part of the Caribbean region as it has strong cultural, political and historical ties to the region. It is the only country in South America where English is the primary language, though most inhabitants speak Guyanese Creole (which sounds like a heavily accented English and is not too difficult to understand with some practice).

Banded Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira annulata) - Surama Lodge, Guyana

Despite its strong ties to the Caribbean, Guyana contains areas of true wilderness in its green interior. The southern reaches of the country are located within the Amazon Basin, and many areas have yet to be properly explored. The Guianan Shield region encompasses all of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, as well as portions of Venezuela and Brazil. This old and stable portion of the South American Plate is considered one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world, containing many endemic species throughout its tepui highlands, grasslands, and rainforests.

Trans-Guyana Highway near Atta Lodge

Wattled Jacana - Georgetown, Guyana

When it was all said and done, the rough itinerary included:
-flying from Toronto to Georgetown, Guyana
-taking an interior flight to Lethem, Guyana, near the Brazil border in the center-west of the country
-ten days spent at four different lodges in the Rupununi savannah and tropical rainforest in the Guyanese interior
-internal flight back to Georgetown
-day trip visiting Kaieteur Falls (fly-in only), the largest single-drop waterfall in the world
-fly to Trinidad, internal flight to Tobago
-3 nights in Tobago, exploring the island with rented Suzuki Jimmy
-1 night in Trinidad, visit Caroni Swamp
-fly from Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to Toronto

The following maps illustrate the route we took during the trip. Green lines indicate flights, red lines indicate transport by vehicle, and blue lines indicate transport by boat.

Our route in Guyana

Numbers two through five correspond with the four lodges we visited in the interior. In order, they are Karanambu, Rock View, Atta, and Surama.

Our route in the interior of Guyana

Our route in Trinidad and Tobago

Despite being an unconventional honeymoon destination, Laura and I had an incredible trip. There were no major incidents, illnesses, theft, disruptions to our the itinerary, or other issues. And the wildlife and ecosystems we had the pleasure of visiting were nothing short of spectacular. All told we finished with around 350 species of birds, nine species of snakes, a wide variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and many more during the trip. We saw many of the iconic species found in this region, including Guianan Red-Cotinga, Dusky Purpletuft, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Jaguar, Giant Anteater, Giant River Otter, Silky Anteater, and Bumblebee Poison Frog.

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

I'll be making around a dozen posts or so detailing the trip in chronological order. Stay tuned!


January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge
January 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Early spring birding in southwestern Ontario

With Laura flying home to Nova Scotia for Easter Weekend, I decided to make the long, familiar drive down the 401 for a weekend of birding at one of my favorite locations - Point Pelee National Park. The previous few weeks had been relatively uneventful for me from a natural history perspective, as work and other items on a to-do list far too long had kept me from being outside. Other than an hour here or an hour there, I hadn't explored much and I feared that my birding skills were a bit rusty.

After finishing up a few last minute items at home in Niagara Falls, I took the morning on Friday to slowly work my way west along the north shore of Lake Erie, while the strong north winds buffeted my car and instilled a chill in the air. The Port Stanley lagoons held my first Blue-winged Teal of the year- a male sporting crisp spring plumage - among the throngs of other duck species in the four large lagoons. This allowed me to declare that spring had arrived even though the air temperature and cold winds disagreed with my assessment. While all of the other migrant ducks will spend the winter in parts of southern Ontario, Blue-winged Teals are almost never found during the winter period in the province. Spotting my first Blue-winged Teal at some point during March is just as good evidence of springs arrival, as is the first Western Chorus Frog singing from a roadside slough, or the first Ambystoma salamander slipping silently under the ice edge of a vernal pool.

The Ridgetown lagoons are always worth a stop whenever I pass through Chatham-Kent. The large lagoons often hold big flocks of geese and Tundra Swans at this time of year, sometimes with other interesting species mixed in. Before I could even reach the lagoons I was distracted by this Red-tailed Hawk, enjoying an opportunistic meal courtesy of a vehicle.

Eager to wolf down as much of the road-killed leporid as quickly as possible, the Red-tailed Hawk tolerated my approach, as I pulled over to the opposite side of the road to take point blank photos.

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Given the time of day the lighting wasn't ideal but it was a great opportunity to study this individual Red-tailed Hawk as it gorged on the free meal.

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Red-tailed Hawk and deceased presumed Eastern Cottontail - Ridgetown, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

I was in luck as I picked up a tight flock of six white geese sleeping on the far north bank of the big cell of the Ridgetown lagoons, while four Greater White-fronted Goose were loitering nearby and a few Cackling Geese hung around the edges of a Canada Goose flock standing on the berm. The white geese eventually awoke and went for a swim in the lagoon, showing their identity as Snow Geese. Many of the white geese seen during migration in southwestern Ontario appear to show intermediate traits between Snow and Ross's Geese; these ones all looked to be far enough over on the spectrum to be safely called Snow Geese, despite some slight variation in the bill shape among all six individuals.

Snow Geese - Ridgetown lagoons, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

I was happy to see the Greater White-fronted Geese since they were my first for Chatham-Kent. Much like Snow and Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose has also increased in abundance over the years and now the species is not entirely unexpected when it appears during spring and autumn migration. Over the last half decade or so, Greater White-fronted Goose has become an uncommon but regular spring and autumn migrant in the southwest. Much of this increase can be tied to the size of the North American population, which has multiplied by approximately 173% per decade over the last forty years (as per the IUCN Redlist). It's hard to believe now that Greater White-fronted Goose used to be on the Ontario Bird Record Committee's review list for southern Ontario.

Greater White-fronted Geese - Ridgetown lagoons, Chatham-Kent, Ontario

Hillman Marsh was my last stop of the day and it was here where I ran into Rick Mayos and Jeremy Bensette. We enjoyed an awesome couple of hours of waterfowl study, punctuated by great views of a dozen duck species, each perfectly lit by the golden rays of the setting sun. The long-staying Northern Shrike also made an appearance, though I couldn't obtain a decent, non-backlit angle for photos. We joked that if the shrike was taking pictures of us, every single photo would be perfectly lit.

Northern Shrike - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

A few Sandhill Cranes landed in the shorebird cell and we were pleasantly surprised to discover some of the first Dunlins of spring, still sporting their "basic" winter plumage. After a full day of birding I could definitely feel the rust beginning to work itself free!

Dunlin - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

Sandhill Cranes - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

Jeremy and I birded together all day on Saturday, beginning with a few hours of watching ducks at the Tip. Hoards of Greater Scaup could be seen in all directions, often with several small groups in the air at any given time to complement the flocks on the water. I went to work studying the differences between Lesser and Greater Scaup, something I hadn't done in a while. With all of the birds present, it was easy to obtain great looks at both species from all angles, both in flight and on the water.

What remains of the Tip - Point Pelee National Park, Essex County, Ontario

Quite a few other species were mixed in including White-winged and Surf Scoter, Redheads, and even some Long-tailed Ducks. Occasionally we would spot dabbling ducks fly past as well including Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, American Wigeon, Wood Duck and Gadwall, while the first good flight of Common Loon and Horned Grebe for the year was also occurring. Of greater interest however were our first Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows of the season! Small groups of Tree Swallows flew south off the west side of the tip all morning into the strong southwest winds, causing us to question if they were all different birds or the same small group(s) doing laps. An Eastern Phoebe also appeared to be doing laps, flying out from the very tip and circling back, landing back in the forested areas of the tip.

Greater Scaup near the Tip Point Pelee National Park, Essex County, Ontario  (photo taken on April 15, 2013)

Few songbirds appeared to be in, other than a few small groups of Golden-crowned Kinglets along with the aforementioned Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows, so we kept looking for waterbirds. From the tower near the Marsh Boardwalk, the visibility was quite good and we tallied thousands of ducks, most being Lesser Scaup. We also noticed a few Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shovelers, Wood Ducks, Northern Harriers and an American Coot, further evidence that spring was slowly progressing. A flock of around 80 Turkey Vultures flew in off to the lake from the southwest, continuing northeast past us, and towards Hillman Marsh.

Dabbling ducks - Mersea Rd 21 fields, Essex County, Ontario

Jeremy and I explored the Onion Fields and Hillman Marsh for the better part of the afternoon as a front moved through the area, bringing with it lots of rain. While grabbing lunch in Leamington, Jeremy told me to look up - three Great Egrets cruised over together in formation. Ah, spring.

Hillman Marsh can be quite dynamic this time of year and you never know what will drop in. While we did not find anything spectacular, we did have fun scanning through the hundreds of Green-winged Teals, searching unsuccessfully for the Common Teal which Jeremy had found on March 22. The driving rain made conditions difficult at times, and it was not easy to avoid it even when we placed ourselves in the viewing shelter by the Shorebird Cell. One of the highlights from our time at Hillman was flushing a Wilson's Snipe from alongside the main path on our walk back to the parking lot.

The Mersea Road 21 fields, those famous fields which hosted the Smith's Longspurs in the spring of 2014, often hold standing water and the subsequent waterfowl that this attracts. It was no exception this time, and hundreds of teal, pintails and wigeons were in the fields on every most of my visits over the weekend. While Jeremy and I couldn't dig out the Common Teal, I was surprised to spot a "storm" wigeon, which is a plumage anomaly of American Wigeon in which the individual exhibits a white face. This was only the third one I've ever seen so I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to study it. The winds were approaching gale-force so taking photos through my scope was a little challenging!

"storm wigeon" morph of American Wigeon - Mersea Rd. 21 fields, Leamington, Essex County, Ontario

In the Onion Fields we discovered a Snowy Owl just south of Hillman Marsh, a Ring-necked Pheasant in the "usual" field on Mersea Rd 12 (Jeremy indicated that this was his first in the Onion Fields in months), and a few ducks scattered here and there.

Blue-winged Teals - Leamington Onion Fields, Essex County, Ontario 

We finished the day by scoping the thousands of ducks at the tip, our eyes straining through our scopes until well past sunset. I picked out a female Black Scoter in flight, which was surprisingly my first of the year, and Jeremy photographed the dynamic scene unfolded in front of us, as brightly lit flocks of scaup passed by at a close distance, contrasted against the angry dark gray sky in the background. I had unfortunately neglected to bring my camera, citing potential rain as my excuse at the time. While driving out of the park we heard a few American Woodcocks "peent"ing near a section of savanna habitat, another first of the year for me.  It had been a great day!

I entered the park on my own on the Sunday morning and drove down to the tip where I ran into Blake Mann. Together we scoped the waters off of the west side of the tip as a moderate southwest wind blew in off the lake. While the birding was a bit slower than the previous day and Tree Swallows were nowhere to be found, the waterfowl show was pretty great. Among the highlights were more Long-tailed Ducks, a smattering of dabbling ducks, and several Bonaparte's Gulls, Horned Grebes and Common Loons. Following a few months with limited migration, it was good to soak up the visible migration of loons, grebes, ducks and gulls.

Eventually I met up with Jeremy and we birded for a bit, but by late morning we went our separate ways as I needed to be in Cambridge by dinner time, and he had a family function in Windsor. Just outside of the park I noticed this Snowy Owl in a field along Mersea Road D. The heat haze coming off the field was causing problems, making photography extremely difficult.

Snowy Owl - Leamington Onion Fields, Essex County, Ontario 

Before leaving for good, I birded Hillman Marsh and the Mersea Rd 21 fields one more time, in case the Common Teal was in. Again, I was out of luck, but I did spot an intergrade teal (Common x Green-winged Teal) which Jeremy later indicated had been around for the last week. While finishing up at the shorebird cell I noticed another first of the year - three Greater Yellowlegs! One obliged me by flying around and calling with its two friends before settling back in among the ducks in the shallows.

Greater Yellowlegs - Hillman Marsh CA, Essex County, Ontario

Several Northern Leopard Frogs were tentatively calling from the shallows of the shorebird cell, yet another harbinger of spring. Hopefully the weather warms up soon, as we are nearly into the most wonderful time of the year!