Tuesday 27 September 2011

Reflections from this year

As I write this, I'm looking back on the past 9 months or so this year. I've seen 264 species of birds in Ontario this year, not a huge amount considering I've spent almost the whole year in the province, but not a small amount either. Last year at this point I was up to 281 species, and the year before I was at 267. I finished those previous years with 304 and 286 species, respectively.
So what is this reason for the discrepancy this year? Have my mad skillz decreased? Maybe. Or perhaps we have just had less rare birds show up this year? That could be possible too. I think though that it had to do with the way my birding habits have changed over the past year.

2009 was a big year for me because I had my own car and the freedom to travel around the province at will looking for birds. At this point I hadn't been birding for very long, so there were a lot of new species that I wanted to see. I think I picked up over 80 new Ontario birds then.

In 2010, after having a really good start to the year, I decided to push and see if I could see 300 species in Ontario as kind of a personal goal. In the end I drove WAY too many kms but completed my goal (Harris's Sparrow was number 300), with many awesome birds along the way. I picked up 34 new species, including most of the remaining "gimmees" such as Evening Grosbeak, Whimbrel, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

This year, I don't really have any internal drive to see as many species as I can in Ontario. I am really taking satisfaction in working some of my favorite "local patches", such as Guelph and the Point Pelee area. As well, there haven't really been that many birds this year that I would consider chasing after. For instance, I could have traveled out east a few hours to bag White-faced and Glossy Ibis for the year, but I've now seen them both in Ontario and I value gas money more! Obviously the more one birds in a certain area, the less amount of "good" birds seem to be showing up since less and less are novel.

So anyways, here I am with 3 months left in the year. I should pick up a bunch of easy birds like finches, some geese, Red-necked Grebe, and Cave Swallow (hard to believe that this is now usually an easy bird!), but I'm not expecting to see over 280 this year. I've already missed a couple easy ones, like Upland Sandpiper, Least Bittern, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Whip-poor-will!

Hoping this fall will be a good one! If the weather gods are on our side we should get a few nice weather systems from the southwest. 2 years ago an early November system brought with it Phainopepla, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Western Kingbird(s), Cave Swallows, etc. Maybe my Barn Owl was associated with it too?

Monday 26 September 2011

Some additional shots from the Bruce

For some reason Blogger was being a little b*tch last night and I was having a bit of trouble uploading photos, so I only put a few up. Here are a couple additional photos from the weekend.

enjoying the beach at Singing Sands

have you EVER seen a happier looking dog? - Singing Sands

Wolf Spider with young - Singing Sands

Cool to see one up on the Bruce. (Common Buckeye)

Mantis - Cyprus Lake (photo by Kaylyn McCaw)

Patrick doing his thing (photo by Kaylyn McCaw)

full extension - The Grotto

Northern Leopard Frog

Also forgot to mention - on the way home, my car stopped in Mount Forest for a little bit of a stretch break. East of the bridge downtown (where they are doing construction) is a fairly extensive floodplain with some muddy edges. We found 8 species of shorebirds here, including 1 White-rumped and 1 Wilson's Snipe. Various dabbling ducks were around, as was 1 Osprey, 1 Double-crested Cormorant, 2 Green Herons, and 2 Great Egrets. This is probably the best spot I know of in Wellington County for shorebirds at the moment.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Bruce Peninsula - including Lark Sparrow

This past weekend, 30 members of the University of Guelph wildlife club headed up north to the Bruce Peninsula for a weekend of anything and everything wildlife.

The weekend was definitely a success and one of the better club trips I've attended yet! A lot of that had to do with the awesome group of people that went, as well as the almost perfect weather (minus setting up the first night in the rain).

Among others, I was happy to meet Reuven Martin and Mark Dorriesfield - two fellow birders whose names have popped up an awful lot on ebird. They are both attending first year at the university.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was the adult Lark Sparrow that several of us saw. An account of that:

I was walking along the shore when a sparrow-like bird flushed from some grasses and flew about 50 feet to another patch. I managed to get my bins on it but nothing conclusive. I did notice a lot of white in the tail so I figured it was probably a Vesper (there were a few VESPs in the area). Fellow birder Alex Sutton and his girlfriend Koley also got on the bird. I asked Alex what he saw, and he mentioned seeing red in the head. I thought that was kind of strange, and we kept birding, trying to get a better look at this bird. Each time as it flew, it made some "tink" calls, a lot different than the harder, lower call of the Vespers. Eventually Alex flushed the bird over to me and it landed about 25 feet away along the edge of grass. I was surprised to see it was an adult Lark Sparrow! After about 10-15 seconds of observation through my bins it flushed again and continued out of view to the Northwest. Unfortunately my camera still had the 18-55 on it (I was taking some wide-angleish shots earlier) and I didn't get any photos.
We returned to the spot with Mark and Reuven later, but unfortunately had no luck in re-locating it.

Birdwise, the rest of the weekend was a little slow but we made up for that with the snakes. Among the 9 species we saw were several Northern Ribbonsnakes.

Northern Ribbonsnake - Bruce Peninsula

I was happy to come up with a neonate Eastern Massasauga later that afternoon. It was my first one of the year, due to the fact that I was stuck in Windsor all summer, unable to make many trips north.

Eastern Massasauga - Bruce Peninsula

Eastern Massasauga - Bruce Peninsula

Eastern Massasauga - Bruce Peninsula

Here's one of the few bird photos I took, of a juv Semi Plover.

Semipalmated Plover - Bruce Peninsula

This morning we made one last stop to see what we could turn up, as most of the group didn't get to see the Massasauga. No dice, but I found a nice Ringneck Snake and several Red-bellied Snakes. All in all, a fantastic weekend!

Northern Ringneck Snake - Bruce Peninsula

Monday 19 September 2011

OFO convention at Pelee

Last night I returned from the OFO convention held at Point Pelee. Despite the low number of migrants in the park, I would still say the weekend was a success! It was great to meet old friends and to put some faces to names.

Saturday morning I drove from where I was staying in Windsor to Point Pelee. Steve Pike and I were scheduled to be a leading a hike throughout the onion fields and Hillman marsh in the morning. When I arrived Steve was already there, and he looked like death warmed over. He bowed out of the morning session and was hoping to be fine by afternoon, or at the latest, by the time of the dinner.

Our group first checked out the dyke that leads east towards the lake from the far end of concession road E. Despite relatively high winds we found a few pockets of songbirds, highlighted by Philadelphia Vireo and 10 species of warblers. A Wilson's Snipe flew by and some Harriers were seen flying around the marsh.

We made our way up to Wheatley harbour, which I had scouted the night before. Unfortunately both Lesser Black-backed Gulls weren't present, but 2 juvenile Ruddy Turnstones were.

After some discussion, our group decided to head north to a field near Wheatley which held American Golden-Plovers the day before. This turned out to be a very good move as not only did we have good looks at the Golden-plovers, but 5 Buff-breasted Sandpipers flew in to close range for a few minutes! The rest of the time, they were barely visible out in the fields. Also seen here were a few Black-bellied Plovers, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpipers, and singles of Baird's Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Buoyed on by our success, we headed to Tilbury since it was close. The usuals were here, highlighted by a flock of 11 White-rumped Sandpipers. It was good to see birds actually using the "shorebird cell", now that it had a bit of water again.

The afternoon consisted of leading a convoy of over 30 cars back to the BBSA field. Fortunately for all the participants, we managed to see all 5 way off in the distance. Few other decent birds were seen that day, and I finished birding around 4:00 with close to 80 species for the day. Not bad considering I didn't even step inside the National Park!

I slept in my car Saturday night and decided to sleep in til about 8. I birded the park briefly, but it was very quiet for songbirds and I didn't see much. Highlights included Grey-cheeked Thrush and Mourning Warbler.
I did stop to photograph what I was told was a Variagated Meadowhawk.

On the way back home, I stopped at Tilbury but few new birds had arrived. The WRSA flock now numbered 14.

Photos to be added later!

Friday 16 September 2011

Birding along Lake Erie

I'll make it short since I'm short on time...currently I am parked outside of a McDonald's in Leamington making use of their wifi.

Today's birding took me along the lakeshore from Port Stanley to Point Pelee. Here's my Ontbirds post summarizing Port Stanley:

"I had about 16 species of shorebirds in the Port Stanley area this afternoon. There were 5 species on the 
East pier, including a juvenile Red Knot. On the beach west of the pier were thousands of gulls, including a
1st cycle and adult Little Gull.
At the lagoons, I ran into another birder and we had
6 A. Golden-plovers (j)
2 Baird's Sandpipers (j)
1 White-rumped Sandpiper (ad)
2 Red-necked Phalaropes (j)
1 Stilt Sandpiper (j)
1 Horned Grebe
While along the lake there was a constant stream of raptors including all 3 falcons.
I counted over 2500 Broad-winged Hawks in 1/2 an hour, so I am sure the hawkwatch
had huge numbers today.

1st cycle Little Gull

Bonaparte's Gull - Port Stanley

Horned Grebe - Port Stanley Lagoons

juv. Stilt Sandpiper - Port Stanley lagoons

world's crappiest photo (Red-necked Phalarope juv)

The rest of the day I hit up some spots between Port Stanley and Pelee, stopping at Ridgetown, Blenheim, Wheatley harbour, Hillman Marsh, and the Onion Fields. I didn't find anything really crazy, though another Horned Grebe (Blenheim lagoons) was weird.

Horned Grebe - Blenheim lagoons.

I finished the day with 84 species - not bad considering I had almost zero songbirds (only 2 warbler species, 1 thrush, etc)

Sunday 11 September 2011

Another day at the beach, plus some passerines in Guelph

Well, it looks like I picked the wrong day to go to Van Wagners! David Bell and I drove down for most of the day yesterday, but today a lot more stuff is being posted. At least 14 Sabines' Gulls have been seen, as well as jaegers. A good variety of shorebirds are being seen at Windermere too...

Anyways, here's a recap on yesterday's sightings. I personally saw about 10-15 jaegers by the time we left at around 1:30 PM. Most were too far out to identify, though we did get at least 4 Parasitic and 1 Long-tailed (intermediate/light juvenile). I managed to photograph 2 of the Parasitics that were relatively close - however they were still too far away for good photos.

juvenile Parasitic Jaeger - Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton

sub-adult Parasitic Jaeger - Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton

A number of shorebirds were seen, including a single Whimbrel (before Dave and I arrived) and a few Red Knots (after Dave and I left, of course). Still, it was an enjoyable bay out at the beach.

By the way, we did check Windermere and the Red Hill stormwater pond as well, but all we came us with were 2 Stilt Sands (Red Hill) and a single Black-bellied Plover (Windermere).

Late last week I checked out the Guelph Arboretum for the first time all fall. There was a good diversity of passerines, with Mourning Warbler highlighting the 15 warbler species. A Yellow-throated Vireo was nice, as was a few Philadelphia Vireos, a Scarlet Tanager, and a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

Next weekend is the OFO convention at Point Pelee. I am going to be a hike leader this year, so I plan on heading down Thursday evening or Friday morning to do some scouting. Should be fun.

Friday 9 September 2011

East winds at the beach

On September 7th I headed down to Hamilton to see what the forcasted east winds would bring to Van Wagner's beach. Due to the previous evening's festivities I was unable to drag myself out of bed til about 9:00, but eventually I was on my way and arrived at the beach around 10:00.

A few other birders were already there scanning the lake, including David Bell from Guelph and his girlfriend, as well as Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch. We spent some time scanning and eventually had less than satisfactory views of distant jaegers. Eventually, one pair came from the north close enough to identify as a Long-tailed and a Parasitic.

Later in the afternoon we checked out Windermere basin and the Red Hill stormwater pond, with little to show for it. A few Stilt sandpipers were the only noteworthy thing (they were at Red Hill).

The others left to go back home, so I returned to Van Wagner's for a few more hours in the afternoon. The rain had finally stopped which was nice, and we were rewarded with many jaegers. The few that came close enough to identify were all Parasitic. Brandon Holden had a nice spot with a Sabine's Gull not too far out that I watched briefly.

Other birds seen in the afternoon were 3 seperate sightings of Black Terns, small flocks of sanderlings, 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (flyby) at least 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (I only got on 2 of them), and a smattering of Common Terns and Bonaparte's Gulls. At one point 10 Green-winged Teal flew directly overhead. A few Purple Martins rounded out the sightings for the day!

All in all it was not a bad day at the beach. If the winds continue from the north-east, we might get larger numbers of Sabine's Gulls plus the first Black-legged Kittiwakes of the season. Stay tuned.

Thursday 8 September 2011

More from the maritimes

My next post will detail my first day back in Ontario, which I spent at Van Wagner's Beach in Hamilton. But until now, here is the full account of the rest of my birding adventures in "Canada's Ocean Playground".

As I mentioned, the day in Brier Island was a success. All said and done, I finished with 4 life birds as well as great looks at other seabirds.

Laura and I drove from our bed and breakfast in Digby down to Brier Island, arriving at around 9:00 AM. Since our whale-watching trip wasn't scheduled to depart for another 3 hours, we drove to the north end of the island to check out a good spot for 2 species of seals.

Laura checking out the seals - Brier Island, Nova Scotia
Common Eiders - Brier Island, Nova Scotia

We did see both species but my photos are kind of crappy so I'll spare you.... I did however photograph some Common Eiders and I saw a Great Cormorant, some Black Guillemots, and a few common shorebirds. The entire time, chip notes from Wilson's Warblers and the calls of Eastern Phoebes could be heard in the shrubby area behind us.

I stopped briefly to photograph this fritillary (ID forthcoming once I check my resources)

Laura and I made our way onto the ferry and actually ran into the couple from B.C. that we had met earlier in the week with Blake Maybank in Cow Bay. Small world!
The pelagic trip started somewhat slow, but before long we were swimming in phalaropes. Red was the most numerous by far, and by the end of the trip we estimated that we had seen well over 10,000! What a way to get a life bird.

Red Phalaropes - Bay of Fundy

Despite their abundance, it was hard to get passable photos due to their small size and our continuous rocking on the water. An extra 100mm on my lens would certainly help!

Not long after, we were buzzed by the first of many Great Shearwaters. My only previous sighting was a poor look at a single bird 2 years prior near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It was great to study the intricacies of their plumages.

Great Shearwater - Bay of Fundy

Somewhat spotted some whales off in the distance, and I quickly fired off a couple photos of what would turn out to be our only Fin Whales for the day.

Fin Whale - Bay of Fundy

As the day wore on, a few more pelagic species showed up, as well as some that aren't pelagic. I saw a single adult Pomarine Jaeger, 2 Sooty Shearwaters, and many Wilson's Storm-petrels. In addition, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Pectoral Sandpiper made brief visits to the boat.

Wilson's Storm-petrel - Bay of Fundy

Not long after, we came across a mother and calf Humpback Whale that had been known to be in the area for some time. We were all treated to a great show, as the calf swam up to the boat and lifted its head out of the water. I was limited photographically because I only had my 300 mm lens, so I tried a couple close-ups of the barnacles. The whales stayed with the boat for the better part of an hour.

Humpback Whale barnacles - Bay of Fundy

My highlight came as we were watching the whales. One of the birders on the trip (Elizabeth Doull) alerted me to a Northern Fulmar whizzing past. This was a target species for me, though I didn't expect to get such good looks at one! It also hung around the boat, hoping for a handout, for quite some time.

Northern Fulmar - Bay of Fundy

Northern Fulmar - Bay of Fundy

Our last new seabird for the trip were a few small groups of Atlantic Puffins. Despite missing Manx Shearwater, South Polar Skua (seen a few days prior), and Leach's Storm-petrel, we did quite well with pelagic birds.

Atlantic Puffins - Bay of Fundy

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Home from the maritimes

My flight has arrived back in Toronto after a great trip out east. Birdwise, I saw 98 species this trip in about a day and a half of birding. Ill try to get the photos up in a couple of days.
In other news, judging by the recent reports it is prime shorebird and jaeger time! I'm looking forward to the 25+ km/h NE winds tomorrow and will probably spend some time at the beach in Hamilton. looking forward to birding my home province again!

Thursday 1 September 2011

Bay of fundy "pelagic"

I'll make it a quick post because I am using my phone - full report with photos will follow later!

Laura and I booked onto a whale- watching tour out of Brier Island this afternoon. This morning we briefly explored the northern part of the island, seeing a few various songbirds including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
The boat trip out was a success as we got to see up-close (within 10 feet) views of a mother and calf humpback whale, as well as other Cetaceans.
I was more interested in the seabird side of things and we weren't disappointed. Highlights:
~10,000 phalaropes, mostly Red
-100 Great Shearwaters
-2 Sooty Shearwaters
-1 Northern Fulmar (one of my top targets)
-60 Wilson's Storm-petrels
-7 Atlantic Puffins
-50 Black Guillemots
-1 Pomarine Jaeger
-2 Great Cormorants

Red Phalarope, Sooty Shearwater, W. Storm-petrel, and N. Fulmar were all lifers as I had never done any east coast seabirding before. Photos and a better write-up to come soon!