Sunday 31 July 2011

Shorebirding - July 31

I decided to finish off the month of July by doing a round of shorebirding to the northwest. Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch joined me, and the goal was to check out the conditions of a few lesser known lagoons on our way to Grand Bend.

The first stop was the Mitchell lagoons. To be honest, this location really sucks right now. The only bit of shorebird habitat was the narrow island. All we found were:
8 Lesser Yellowlegs
5 Least Sandpipers
1 Semipalmated Sandpiper
1 Spotted Sandpiper
a few Killdeer

The next spot was the Seaforth Sewage lagoons. I had no idea if there was even access to this place. The gate was open however so we drove right in. All the lagoons were very full, but there were a few scattered LESAs and LEYEs around the edges. The highlight for me though was a leucistic Mallard!

We continued on to the Hensall lagoons. The gate was locked and no trespassing signs were everywhere. We didn't want to be shot, so we continued to Exeter.

This was actually probably the highlight of the day. As we arrived, we saw a Vesper Sparrow flush from the road. After parking the buzzing notes of Grasshopper Sparrows were everywhere. Other sparrows seen here include Field, Chipping, Song, and Savannah.

While checking out the numerous swallows we were surprised to see an all white thing. I managed to get some shots from a very long distance with the new lens, and it appeared to be an albino or leucistic tree swallow. The day of abnormally plumaged birds continued.

leucistic Tree Swallow

Also, check out this swallow. Unlike the nearby Cliff swallows, this one had a dark forehead, much like a Cave Swallow. However the throat pattern seemed more in line with Cliff. Can anyone provide any insight?

Petrochelidon swallow - Exeter sewage lagoons

Petrochelidon swallow - Exeter sewage lagoons

In comparison, here is a normal Cliff Swallow from further down the wire.

Petrochelidon swallow - Exeter sewage lagoons

Water levels were high but there were still a good variety of ducks. Only a few common shorebirds were present.

The last stop was Grand Bend. Unfortunately there were not really any huge numbers of shorebirds like we expected. I saw my first Semi Plovers of the fall, and there were also a bunch of Solitary, LEYE, LESA, semi sands, etc. No Pectorals, Dowitchers, Stilt Sands, Baird's, Greater Yellowlegs etc. Quite dissapointing actually. The White-throated Sparrow was still singing strong, and we also had a bunch of Bobolinks near the entrance. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Eastern Phoebe rounded out the sightings. At this point the day was getting quite warm so we called it quits and headed back home.

Bobolinks - Grand Bend sewage lagoons

Saturday 30 July 2011

In defence of listers

[I will admit it. I am a lister. I keep track of all the birds that I see, keep year lists, county lists, state and province lists, yard lists, a life list, etc. I also enjoy the non-listing aspect of birding, such as the other day when I watched a Field Sparrow sing incessantly from its perch atop some dogwood for 10 minutes. It was cool!]

First off, I apologize in advance for this rant, as I want to keep this blog more on the subject of bird sightings, as well as sharing a few photographs. Well on second thought, I won’t apologize because I’ve been meaning to type this for a while! 

Neotropic Cormorant - Wheatley, Ontario (found by B. Holden)

It seems that in the birding community in North America, there is a general consensus that “twitching” a bird to add it to a list is something to be frowned upon. Before I jump into that, I’ll clarify the term for those readers who may not be up to snuff on the newest birding lingo. You see, birders are crazy and we have a whole new language to describe our peculiar activities. “Twitching” a bird is essentially the act of traveling to a location with the sole intention of seeing a previously reported bird. Often, rare vagrants stay put in an area for a few hours (or even a few years, as was the case with Ontario’s only Heerman’s Gull), so other birders may have a chance to glimpse these rare birds. Additionally, many birders often keep lists, which may be one of the mechanisms that drives the “twitching”. For me in particular, I keep an Ontario list so when a Mountain Bluebird showed up near Hamilton this past spring, part of the motivation I had to see it was driven by the fact that I was missing that species on my Ontario list. Check out a poorly phone-scoped photo of the bird below, possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken: 

Mountain Bluebird - Stoney Creek (found by C. Edgecomb, B. Charlton, R. Dobos, D. Don)

One article in particular really rubbed me the wrong way. It is entitled “The Filth of Twitching” and is available here.
In the article, the author describes twitching a bird as “a despicable, deformed beast that consumes the innocent birder”. He describes going to look at a Lesser Sand-Plover in California, and seeing many birders arrive, look at the bird for 10 minutes, add it to their list, and move on.  The author sees this behaviour as despicable because the bird was seen as a quarry or prey. The birders were seeing the bird, "collecting" it (adding it to their list), and moving on to the next rare bird. The author seemed to have the high and mighty opinion that HIS way of birding was the only correct one (spending lots of time studying the bird, perhaps not seeing it only as something to be “collected”), and these filthy twitchers weren’t doing it right. 

Black-throated Sparrow - Port Burwell, Ontario (found by A. Allenson)

To me, I find it nearly impossible to describe behaviors as right or wrong. I see very few black and white issues in the world, and this is another gray issue.  There is no rule that states that the only good birder is the one who doesn’t chase rare birds. What birding means to one person is completely different than what it means to another birder, and I find it very offensive to call someone out on their style of birding, just because it isn’t the way you do it. If chasing birds and adding it to a list is what gets you off, then by all means do that! If you enjoy watching the ecology of birds in your garden more than anything else in birding, then by all means do that! Essentially, do what feels right to you and don’t worry if other people frown upon it.
I’m going to use an analogy that may be a little extreme, but here goes. Ok, birding is like religion (that’s right, I went there). Just like there are different religions, there are different styles of birding. I think that someone should choose a religion or belief system that seems exactly perfect for them, and no one should tell them that it is wrong to have that belief system. Same with birding styles. I also hate it when people attempt to force their belief system on others, telling them that all other belief systems are incorrect. Same goes with birding.

So basically, this entire article can be boiled down into a few sentences:
(These are my thoughts and you don't have to agree)

There is no “right” way to practice the art of birding. People shouldn’t criticize other people because they do it differently. People should do whatever feels right for them, regardless of what other people think. Ultimately, we are all out there because we share a passion of birds, so let’s all get along! 

While the author pointed out many negative aspects of twitching, I’ll mention just a couple of the positive aspects of twitching.

-the thought of seeing a new bird can be the driving force to get us out of bed and out in the field
-it is a great way to run into old friends
-it can bring you to explore other parts of the province that you normally wouldn’t check out

And that’s all for know! Let me know your thoughts. The next post will be actually about current bird sightings, I promise.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Baby sna-a-a-a-a-a-akes, yeah

I was listening to the song "Baby Snakes" by Frank Zappa earlier today, so I think it is appropriate to post this photo of one of the first neonate Butler's Gartersnakes we got last week. Isn't it cute......

Also, check out this map that Stuart Immonen made. It shows all of (or most of, at least) the sewage lagoons in southern Ontario. Definitely a great resource for someone looking to expand their reportoire of regularly visited shorebird/duck/wading bird spots. I haven't even heard of half the places, but I'm excited to check some of them out.

That's all for know! I'm looking forward to doing a bit of birding this weekend and trying out the new lens which just arrived (Nikon 300 f/4 AF-S).

Sunday 24 July 2011

The snakes of Ontario - part 3

Part 1 - Eastern Gartersnake, Dekay's Brownsnake, Northern Redbelly Snake, Northern Ribbonsnake
Part 2 - Northern Watersnake, Lake Erie Watersnake, Queensnake
Part 3 - Eastern Milksnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Part 4 - Northern Ring-necked Snake, Smooth Greensnake
Part 5 - Gray Ratsnake, Butler's Gartersnake
Part 6 - Blue Racer, Eastern Massasauga

This post will cover some of Ontario’s largest species – the Eastern Milksnake, Eastern Foxsnake, and Eastern Hog-nosed Snake.

Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)

The Eastern Milksnake is one of the prettiest species found in Ontario, and also one of the most wide-ranging. They do range all the way from SW Ontario east to Ottawa (and beyond), and north to Manitoulin Island. Milksnakes are generally considered to be habitat generalists, being found in river valleys, deciduous woodlands, fields, barrens, alvars, and even residential areas. It seems that they prefer edge habitats complete with ample cover (for thermoregulation) and prey.

Eastern Milk Snake - Muskoka Co.

Eastern Milksnake - Flamborough, City of Hamilton

Eastern Milksnake - Bruce County

Eastern Milksnake scalation

Much of agricultural Ontario no longer can support populations as it once did, and Eastern Milksnakes are largely absent from most agricultural areas from Essex County northeast to the southern part of Georgian Bay. In the past, many fields were left fallow and large hedgerows were present. Nowadays, the trend to go to a more intense form of agriculture has eliminated many of the hedgerows and old fields which provide habitat for this species. Fortunately there are still many good areas in southern and central Ontario. This photo from the Long Point area shows a great Eastern Milksnake spot with long grass, coverboards, and most certainly a lot of mice.

Eastern Milksnake habitat - Norfolk Co.

On the Bruce Peninsula and in “cottage country” Eastern Milksnakes can often be found near open rocky areas. This unique habitat is also used by other species, such as Smooth Greensnake, Eastern Massasauga, and Eastern Foxsnake.

Eastern Milksnake habitat - Muskoka District

I’ve had a bit of success with this species around where I live in Cambridge. Their density here seems to be fairly low though. Here are some shots of local Eastern Milksnakes: 

Eastern Milksnake - Waterloo Region

Eastern Milksnake - Waterloo Region
Eastern Foxsnake (Elaphe gloydi)

A brief word about the latin name for this species: In the past, much of the New World and Old World species belonged to the genus Elaphe. In North America, the Bullsnakes, Foxsnakes, Cornsnakes, Ratsnakes, and others belonged to it. Recent genetic work has proposed a whole re-working of the genus, though there is still controversy over the validity of this work. For now, I’ll stick to calling them all Elaphe.
Eastern Foxsnake is a fascinating species that I have spent a lot of time with over the last couple of summers. I’ve been fortunate to see dozens of this species, even doing some radio-tracking of them. As a result I’ve managed to see some interesting behaviour and some cool individuals, such as this hypomelanistic animal that a friend of mine found.

Eastern Foxsnake

Eastern Foxsnake

Eastern Foxsnakes are one of the most “at risk” species of North American snakes. Their global range only includes a few counties along Lake Erie in Ohio and Michigan, as well as three-ish populations in Ontario, all relatively small in size. The reason for this decline is simple – they depend on lakeshore marshes and adjacent woodlots and farmlands, which are being destroyed at a very quick rate. Road mortality is also a strong factor for this species which spends a lot of time wandering around over large areas. We have seen movements of over a kilometre in a day with some of our animals.

Eastern Foxsnake - Essex County

For now though, they seem to be stable in parts of southern Ontario, and hopefully this continues!

Eastern Foxsnake - Essex County

Eastern Foxsnake - Essex County

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos)

The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is definitely one of the most bad-ass snakes in Ontario, perhaps second only to the Eastern Massasauga. Not only is this snake heavy bodied and capable of growing to a length over 4 feet, but it also has the most impressive display when provoked. While many snakes may, perhaps, strike at a predator when cornered, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake takes this to a new level. This species will strike, flatten out its neck cobra-style, defecate on their own body (to make themselves as distateful as possible), and if all else fails, play dead.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Norfolk County

Despite this impressive display, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is a Threatened species in Ontario, mainly to the loss of their preferred habitat. Hoggies are specialists that rely on areas containing loose, sandy soil, as well as a high toad population. While many species are generalists when it comes to dietary preferences, Eastern Hog-nosed snakes subsist on a diet dominated by toads. The sandy substrate is necessary so they can use their upturned snout to dig out cavities in which they deposit eggs. This is quite an impressive feat for a snake!

Eastern Hognose Snake - Muskoka District

This photo here characterizes good Eastern Hog-nosed Snake habitat. The substrate is very sandy, there are brush piles and ample  vegetation to provide cover, and the canopy is fairly open so that the snakes can thermoregulate. Not visible in the photo is the series of ponds off in the distance that American Toads use to breed in.

Eastern Hognose Snake habitat - Norfolk County

The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake ranges in two bands in Ontario - one band stretching along the north shore of Lake Erie, and another band reaching from southern Georgian Bay east to the Kawarthas. The southern Georgian Bay animals are particularly interesting. Due to the lack of sandy soils, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes here can be readily found on granite outcrops and shorelines.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Muskoka District

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Muskoka District

This individual was basking quietly under a juniper shrub, not 20 meters from open water.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Muskoka County

In late summer the eggs hatch and baby hoggies can be found regularly in some spots. Unlike the dark, patternless individuals pictured above, these neonates I photographed had a very strong dorsal pattern. Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes are one of the most variable species in Ontario, with some being jet black, others brown and blotchy, and others a brilliant orange/red. But all have that lovable upturned snout.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Norfolk County

I have decided that I will split up the remaining species (Smooth Greensnake, Northern Ring-necked Snake, Black Ratsnake, Butler's Gartersnake, Eastern Massasauga and Blue Racer) into three posts. Stay tuned!

Birding around Essex

I met up with Ken Burrell and 3 of his coworkers - Megan, Nate, and Charlotte - for a day of birding/butterflying around Essex County. Bird-wise, it was pretty quiet: Some Moorhens and various wading birds at Holiday Beach (though no Cattle Egret), Sanderlings at the tip of Point Pelee, and the shorebirds at Tilbury were probably the highlight. Amongst the regular hoard of Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer, we also picked out:
4 Stilt Sandpiper
4 Short-billed Dowitcher
1 Greater Yellowlegs
1 Solitary Sandpiper
40 Lesser Yellowlegs
40 Least Sandpiper
20 Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Butterflies were also in the news. At Pelee we saw many Giant Swallowtails, some Spicebush Swallowtails, Emperors (both Tawny and Hackberry), and an American Snout among others. My highlight was finding a worn Juniper Hairstreak right next to the trail on the west side of the tip. No photos, though Ken might have grabbed some on his camera.

Despite the lack of "good" birds, it was an enjoyable and relaxing day away from work!

Saturday 23 July 2011

Finally some birding tomorrow

It seems that a few good birds have been moving around lately. Brandon and Kenny had a Cattle Egret at Holiday Beach, and Pointe Mouillee in Michigan now has 2 Little Blue Herons, the two Ibises (one a White-faced), an American Avocet, 5 Cattle Egrets, 2 Snowy Egrets, etc. It seems that wading birds are on the move! Additionally, White Ibises have shown up in Kansas and Missouri in the last couple of days as well.

At work, all of the Butler's Gartersnakes that I am radiotracking have given birth. It has been a hectic 3 weeks, but now I have the freedom to take the day (well, some of it anyways) tomorrow to NOT work. I am meeting up with Ken Burrell tomorrow, hoping to hit up some of the usual spots in Essex/Chatham Kent. Holiday Beach, Pelee, Hillman Marsh, Wheatley, Blenheim, Ridgetown, and Tilbury lagoons, etc. Maybe if I get lucky I'll cross paths with some good birds.  I still haven't seen a Stilt Sandpiper or Least Bittern for the year.

Sorry for the lack of real content lately. I'll have part 3 of the "snakes of Ontario' series up tonight, covering Eastern Milksnake, Black Ratsnake, Eastern Hognose Snake, and Eastern Foxsnake.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Back in June, Brandon Holden ( posted a photo of the US drought map, showing a severe lack of rainfall in the southern states. Last Thursday's map is similar.

While this continues the possibility remains fairly high for southern species to escape the drought and head north into the upper midwest and Ohio. Brandon highlighted in his post (from June 25) the chance of Dickcissels, Little Blue Herons, and perhaps, if we are really lucky, another Neotropic Cormorant to be found in Ontario. Dickcissels seem to be around in some weedy areas in the SW corner of the province, and hopefully we willl soon get some wading birds with their post-breeding dispersal.

Cassin's Sparrow is another species that has ended up "in the news" a fair bit this summer. South Dakota is host to one currently, and many other states and provinces well north and east of its range have had records. Here is a video of one from Ohio:

With August on the horizon, the diversity of shorebirds being found at lakeshores and sewage lagoons in Ontario is bound to increase. Avocets and Willets are being reported regularly in Ohio (plus my two avocets lately at Tilbury and Blenheim) so keep an eye out for these distinctive birds! Other rarer shorebirds could definitely show up as well, so scan those flocks for Curlew Sandpipers, Ruffs, or even Tattlers and Redshanks!

So what can we expect in the next little bit?
Not much, I don't think. I certainly don't want to be moving around in this 37 degree C weather we will be getting on Thursday (52 degrees with the humidity!!!????), let alone the birds.
Just across the river from me at Pointe Mouillee in Michigan, they are currently host to two ibises (one is a White-faced, the other is debatable) and a Little Blue Heron. I would love it if they decided to cross the Detroit River! Other notables recorded recently from Michigan include Blue Grosbeak, Mississippi Kite, Swainson's Hawk, Green Violet-ear (???!!!), and Mountain Bluebird.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Another day, another avocet

I almost canned my plans to check out some of the lagoons nearby after napping much longer than planned. In the end, I made the one hour drive to Blenheim, arriving with about an hour of light left. Due to my rushed schedule I didn't check out any of the lagoons and headed straight for the sprinkler system. The first bird that caught my eye was a huge shorebird with an upturned bill - an American Avocet. This avocet was much more advanced in its prebasic molt than the one I found at Tilbury, leading me to think that its a different individual.  I watched it in the scope for about a minute before the shorebirds got spooked by something and took off. Last I saw of the avocet, it was heading south. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of this one because I left my camera in the car, and frankly, its a long walk back! Most of the shorebirds returned (minus the avocet), and they included:

30 Lesser Yellowlegs
20 Least Sandpipers
3 Solitary Sandpipers
1 Greater Yellowlegs
3 Pectoral Sandpipers
1 Semipalmated Sandpiper (first of fall for me)
X Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers.

As I was scanning the birds I could hear two Dickcissels calling, one on either side of me. Sweet! It appears that the late spring/early summer droughts in the southern states may have pushed quite a few into southwestern Ontario.
Also, when I entered the avocet in the book at Blenheim, there was a mysterious sighting for an avocet on July 18 at noon. Is it a typo or is it a prediction?  Hmmm.....

I rushed over to Tilbury just before sunset to see what was around. And guess what I saw???

Not much, really. A few Black-crowned Night-Herons, a Short-billed Dowitcher, and a smattering of Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs among the usuals. I had a female Hooded Merganser with the ducks, which is a new Tilbury bird for me. As night fell, ~10 Chimney Swifts were hawking insects with the swallows. The duck flock is now growing, with now over 100 mallards and a few other things mixed in. Last fall quite a few teal used this place, so I'm going to predict a Cinnamon Teal this fall!

Sunday 10 July 2011

Tilbury tonight

On a whim I took advantage of the hour or two of light I had left this evening and drove down to Tilbury. Lots of birds were present, but only a few shorebirds. They were:
Killdeer - 40+
Spotted Sandpiper - 30+
Least Sandpiper - 9
Lesser Yellowlegs - 5
Pectoral Sandpiper - 2 (first of fall for me)
Solitary Sandpiper - 1

Also around were a few Great Egrets, 4 Caspian Terns, 2 Chimney Swifts (my first for Tilbury), Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, etc. Looks good for a rare heron soon! I checked the back of the lagoons and had many marsh wrens calling. No luck playing tapes for rails.

Check out this Black-crowned Night-Heron - a plumage I haven't really seen before. 1st summer or 2nd summer? Excuse the photo quality - digiscoping around sunset is not really a recipe for great photos...

The next 20 birds added to the Ontario list - continued

Continued from previous post. Again, I stole all these photos off the interweb thing.

10. Short-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater (photo taken from
If you recall, I posted a link to a David Sibley article where he mentions how melting sea ice may be causing some birds to switch oceans or wander farther than normal. Like Glaucous-winged Gull, David Sibley thought that Short-tailed Shearwater is a species likely to do that. It’s a long shot since this species doesn’t show a lot of vagrancy, but who knows! My bet would be for one to show up along the coast of Hudson’s Bay or James ball in the fall.

When? November

9. Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit (photo taken from
There are 4 species of godwits alive today. Two of them, Marbled and Hudsonian, breed in Ontario and are somewhat common throughout much of North America. Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits are rare vagrants to North America, though Bar-tailed breeds in Alaska. The rarer of the two (Black-tailed) is already on the Ontario list, but Bar-tailed has yet to show up. However, this species has quite a few records up and down the coast of North America. The only problem is that this species is strictly coastal. That being said, there are a couple records inland and I think it is only a matter of time before Ontario gets one. Fun fact of the day: Bar-tailed Godwits have the longest non-stop flight of any bird, with one individual traveling over 11,000 km from New Zealand to China.
When? August or September

8. Allen’s Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird (photo taken from
Every fall some wayward southwestern hummingbirds somehow make their way to the northeast states and provinces. Last year was a banner year for Anna’s hummingbirds. Among the notable records was Newfoundland’s 1st ever, an incredible record of a bird that managed to survive a few months of their harsh winter. Ontario had its first Anna’s last year as well. Allen’s Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird are two similar species that also occasionally end up in the northeast. Ontario has had a number of Rufous Hummingbirds, many that could not be assigned to species (Selasphorus sp.), and no confirmed Allen’s Hummingbirds. Its only a matter of time, though. Ohio had its first in 2009 and Missouri had its first in 2008. There are also records for Georgia, Virginia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, both Carolinas, Tennessee, etc. Ontario will be soon.

When? November

7. White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kite (photo taken from
White-tailed Kite is a beautiful, distinctive species that is a year round resident in the American southwest, Mexico, and Florida. Unlike a lot of species that do not migrate, White-tailed Kite actually does exhibit some vagrancy with records over much of the continent. Ontario seems to get at least one record of a kite every spring, though they usually end up being Mississippi Kite, or rarely, Swallow-tailed Kite. I think that a White-tailed Kite would be an overdue record for the Ontario list.

When? Mid May

6. Redwing
Redwing (photo taken from
Some winters, weather systems rolling off of western Europe hit eastern North America and scatter a few rare birds around. Occasionally, two species of thrush are found (both ABA code 4): Fieldfare and Redwing. In the past, Fieldfare was the “dominant” species that would end up in eastern North America (it’s on the Ontario list) in the past, but recently, Redwing is showing up more regularly. Just this past winter, a handful was present in Newfoundland and Massachusetts. 

When? January

5. MacGillavray’s Warbler
MacGillavray's Warbler (photo taken from
MacGillavray’s Warbler was on the Ontario list at one point, but later taken off because the location where the May 20, 1890 specimen was supposedly found has a number of inconsistencies. I do think that the chances of one showing up in Ontario are pretty good, though. There are a number of records of this western species for central North America and the east coast, including recent late fall records from Maine and Massachusetts (2009). MacGillavray’s is quite similar to Mourning Warbler and at one point they were considered the same species. This will make identification difficult if/when is detected in Ontario! 

When? Late November/early December, or late May/early June. I’m gonna go with early June.

4. Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull (photo taken from
David Sibley wrote an interesting article about how the melting of sea ice in the Arctic circle may cause some species to end up on the wrong side of the continent (see the article: The gist of the article is that melting sea ice allows birds to travel much farther than in the past because there was less of a barrier of continuous ice. Birds travelling a few hundred kilometres up in the arctic may end up 1000’s of kilometres off course by the time they get down here! Glaucous-winged Gull is a species that may be affected by this. Newfoundland had its second record of GWGU in 2006, Colorado has had a few, and Illinois had one a couple years ago. I think that within the next 5 years Ontario will get one. The northern coast of Ontario seems a likely place, as does the Niagara River, but my guess is as good as anyone’s! 

When? Early winter

 3. Cassin’s Vireo
Cassin's Vireo (photo taken from
This is another one that is not on the Ontario checklist yet, despite a few possible individuals over the years. I know at least 3 birders who claim to have seen one in Ontario. The problem with this species is, of course, it’s identification. Formerly called the Solitary Vireo, it was split into three species – Blue-headed, Cassin’s and Plumbeous – with each species having some overlap in plumage with the other ones. There are a few accepted records for the northeast, though.

When? Late April/early May

2. Red-necked Stint
Red-necked Stint (photo taken from
This is probably my most wanted bird to find in Ontario. I don’t quite know why, other than the fact that I love shorebirds! Red-necked Stint may be hard to pick out from a flock of shorebirds, but if one knows what to look for it should be doable. The four stints are Old World species that casually turn up in North America. There are quite a few records of Red-necked Stint on the east coast with some inland records as well. One has been found in Ohio – just across the lake from southern Ontario. Red-necked Stint, much like MacGillavray’s Warbler, is a bird that was once on the Ontario list and then removed - a Toronto bird was first accepted and later rejected. 

When? Late July

1. Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret (photo taken from
Reddish Egret is the only regular North American wading bird that has yet to find its way onto Ontario’s list. I don’t really know why – there are records all up and down the east coast and a bunch in the middle of the continent too! I suppose that a juvenile Reddish Egret, the most likely age class to occur in Ontario, may be harder to pick out unless you know what you’re looking for. So anyways, I think that this is the next species to added to the Ontario list!

When? August

Of course there are many other possible birds I left off the list – some honourable mentions include: Short-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Tropicbird, Clapper Rail, Surfbird, Mountain Plover (aka Colorado dirtpiper), Yellow-legged Gull, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Sage Sparrow, White Wagtail, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Brown-headed Nuthatch etc.....

Friday 8 July 2011

The next 20 birds added to the Ontario list

Disclaimer - none of these photos were taken by me. Link to original photo provided. I hope that's not illegal?!?

To me, there is very little in the birding world that is more enjoyable than finding a rare bird. Finding a bird that is the first record for your respective state/province seems to be the ultimate thrill for many birders. I’ve spent a lot of time (too much, probably!) over the past couple years contemplating what would be the next bird added to the Ontario list. Two of my top choices, Anna’s Hummingbird and Roseate Spoonbill, were found last year and (pending acceptance from the Ontario Bird Records Committee) will be added to the provincial checklist. Below, I’ve outlined what I think may be the next 20 birds added to the Ontario list, ranked from least likely to most likely. I have also gone a step further and tried to guess the time of year that one will show up. Chances are good that I will be proven wrong, but hey, maybe I will get a couple right! Without further ado, the list:

20. Little Egret

Little Egret (from Wikipedia Commons)
Little Egret may be a surprising choice seeing as it is an ABA code-4 bird – or a species that is not annually found in North America. However, Little Egret numbers are increasing in Europe and so is the frequency in which we are getting them in North America. Its only a matter of time before one wanders too far and ends up in Ontario! 

When? late July/early August

19. Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren (taken from
The familiar Winter Wren was recently split into three species – the western N.A. species (Pacific Wren), eastern N.A. species (retaining the name Winter Wren), and European species (Eurasian Wren). While we are familiar with Winter Wren, I would assume that most of Ontario’s birders aren’t too familiar with Pacific Wren, or certainly weren’t, prior to the split. There are no records that I am aware of for Pacific Wren in eastern N.A., but that may be because most of the birders out here aren’t familiar with the species. Who knows, with birders now being more informed, a Pacific Wren will have a harder time slipping past...

When? April (not a great time for vagrants, but birds are singing then, possibly making it easier to pick out)

18. Hammond’s Flycatcher
Hammond's Flycatcher (taken from
It seems that every year Ontario gets hit with some warm weather systems from the US southwest in October and November. The annual “flight” of Cave Swallows seems to occur almost every year, and many of Ontario’s rare flycatcher records have come then. It doesn’t seem implausible that a species such as Hammond’s would make its way across on one of these weather systems. Heck, there are already records for Michigan (Oct 24, 1990) and Pennsylvania, among other northeast locations. The trick is to be able to identify this small, drab empid. This shouldn’t be a huge problem since any Empidonax flycatcher in late fall is a big deal and warrants a second look.

When? late October/early November

Bridled Tern (taken from
17. Bridled Tern

Ontario has had a number of interesting “hurricane birds” – those that get caught up in a hurricane and blown halfway across the continent. The last recent event was in September, 2003 when Hurricane Isabel passed through. Rarities found in Ontario include Black-capped Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Least Tern, Sooty Tern, many jaegers, etc. Additionally, New York had a number of interesting birds, including a Bridled Tern. Maybe the next big hurricane will bring one into Ontario!

When? September

White-throated Swift - taken from Flickr (Jerry Ting)

16. White-throated Swift
Maybe not very likely, but who knows – Michigan had a record (though it was in 1926). Birders keeping their eyes to the skies during migration just may luck out and see this distinctive species. The Michigan record was from August but I think that it is just as likely to have one show up at Pelee or Long Point during spring migration.

When? mid May

Common Murre (taken from

15. Common Murre
Ontario has all of the eastern Alcids on its list already, with one glaring hole – Common Murre. The problem with these is that they don’t really move around much outside of their normal range. Contrast that to the Thick-billed Murre, a species that has exhibited vagrancy up and down both coasts, as well as with a few records being found mid-continent! I am still confident that a Common Murre will show up in Ontario eventually, though.
 When? early December

Northern Lapwing (taken from

14. Northern Lapwing
Just about every year it seems, Northern Lapwings have a winter incursion into the Northeast from Europe. Last year was a particularly good one – Newfoundland had several, Nova Scotia had one, and a few states in the northeast had one or more. I think it’s high time for Ontario to get one! Winter seems like the best time for them to show up.

When? January

Cory's Shearwater (taken from
13. Cory’s Shearwater

Here is another species that I might associate with the passing of a hurricane. Sometimes shearwaters get thrown into the mix so I think its possible for Cory’s to be the next Atlantic species of shearwater to be seen in Ontario. Or who knows, maybe one will wander up the St. Lawrence River and show up in western Lake Ontario! There are a few inland North American records and a few up and down the coast well past its normal range.

When? September

12. Great Skua
Great Skua (taken from
Ontario’s north shore is a magical place, and one rarely visited by birders. The few that have made the trek seem to always come back with tales and photos of rare birds. The most recent trip was undertaken by Alan Wormington and Brandon Holden last fall to southern James bay. In a few weeks of sea-watching they had quite a few good birds including Dovekie, Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater, many jaegers, Black Guillemot, Pacific Loon, etc. If you look at a range map of Great Skua, you can see that it wouldn’t take much for one to be blown into Hudson’s Bay. I am sure that if the north coast of Ontario received as much attention for sea-watching as Van Wagner’s Beach in Hamilton or the Point Pelee tip, then Great Skua would already be on the list. Alas, it is not, but maybe it will be added when the next group of crazy birders head up to the Great White North for a few weeks of sea-watching.
When? early November

Pink-footed Goose (taken from
11. Pink-footed Goose
Pink-footed Goose is another rare vagrant to North America – a code 4 bird. Recently though, it has become much more common with most of the records occurring in the last 25 years. In fact the Greenland and Iceland breeding population increased from 10 thousand to 270 thousand birds in just 16 years! With the higher numbers, more will be spilling over into North America from time to time. Check all those geese flocks you see in the fall!!!!

When? November

I'll put the rest of the birds in a different post. Let me know if you think I am way off, or what your thoughts are...