Tuesday 31 January 2012

Northern Trip summary and photos (part 2 of 2)

Barb sent me a few of her photos so I thought I would post them. While we were snowshoeing in Pukaskwa we were surprised to see several Pine Grosbeaks hopping on the ground. Closer inspection revealed that they were foraging on a herbaceous plant which Mike IDed as Bush Honeysuckle - Diervilla lonicera. The snow was high enough that the birds could reach the seed pods. We wondered why they would waste their time on this food source when feeders with ample seed were just down the road. Perhaps they were obtaining different nutrients from this plant? Barb managed to get some shots of the birds' tracks in the snow while they foraged.

Pine Grosbeak tracks - Pukaskwa National Park

A photo of yours truly photographing grosbeaks in White River

The following morning was very windy, nixing any chances we had at the Three-toed Woodpeckers. After contemplating our options we left Marathon and headed north once again. We had received word from several people that a second Gray-crowned Rosy-finch was in the area. This one had shown up at a feeder in Rossport, and since it was on the way to the rosy-finch in Macdiarmid, we were hoping to get two rosy finches in one day. Had it ever been done before in Ontario? Our bad luck, which had started when we struck out on Three-toed Woodpeckers the day before, followed us throughout the day. Long story short, we missed both rosy-finches! Rossport was a really nice town to visit and it has that rarity-attracting vibe to it. I'll definitely visit again in the fall when I spend a few weeks along the north shore of Lake Superior. Despite reassurance from the Michon's in MacDiarmid that the rosy-finch was due to show up at the feeders any minute, the bird didn't cooperate. I did photograph this interesting redpoll that looked bigger and paler than the rest. I'm not very good with redpolls so if anyone has any thoughts as to the species/subspecies I would appreciate it. I was originally thinking it was one of the Hoaries but the red on the breast seems extensive and there is a bit of streaking on the undertail coverts. The bird was huge and the streaking on the sides is very fine...

Harold Michon convinced us to come back the next morning - "Coffee will be on at 8:30!" - so we made the long drive to Geraldton to look for a hotel for the night. We contemplated whether we would cut our losses and continue on, or if we would backtrack and try once again for the finch. The decision was made easy when I discovered that I had forgotten my phone back at the Michon's house!

We backtracked the following morning and showed up right on time in MacDiarmid. Almost immediately I saw the rosy-finch as it came to the feeder! Our luck had turned! After a bit of waiting it hopped up onto a branch next to the feeder and I was able to get a number of shots with my 300 mm. The below shot has not been cropped - goes to show how close the bird was!

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch - Macdiarmid, ON

On top of that, somebody stopping by to visit the Michons found my phone, undamaged, on the driveway! What a great start to the day.

We arrived in Longlac later that morning and were worried that we wouldn't see the Spotted Towhee since it had been more easily seen early in the morning. As we arrived, Fred Jennings informed us that he had seen it 15 minutes prior to our arrival. His wife, Penny, put on a pot of coffee and Barb and I stationed ourselves at various locations inside with clear views of the towhee's favorite haunts. Eventually Fred came bursting through the doors and said that Barb was watching the towhee at the feeder! I arrived, saw the bird, and even managed to get a few shots through the window. This was probably the high point of the trip.

Spotted Towhee - Longlac, ON

The Jennings made us a great lunch and another pot of coffee, then we were on our way. We didn't see much the rest of the day although we found our first Ruffed Grouse of the year. We spent some time searching for owls near Kapuskasing and Cochrane but came up empty again. Nevertheless it was a fantastic day as we were now 3 for 3 on rarities.

Day 5 was cold but calm as we spent the morning birding some of the side roads outside of Cochrane. I predicted we would get 4 or 5 species, but amazingly we came up with 8 (I could probably see more species in my small suburban yard in Guelph - goes to show how slow the boreal forest is in winter). Pine Grosbeaks were conspicuous once again.

Pine Grosbeak

We did come across a family of 4 Gray Jays which are always nice to see. Before that, our only sightings this trip was a heard-only bird in Pukaskwa and a single bird flying over the highway.

Gray Jay - near Cochrane, ON

The weather had started to turn so we drove south towards Ottawa. Somewhere along the way I got the "bright" idea that if we traveled through Algonquin, we would have 2 hours of light to try for Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadee. We arrived around 3:30 PM at the Spruce Bog boardwalk where snowy but relatively calm weather conditions awaited us. After a brief run-in with several members of the University of Guelph wildlife club we began our search. 2 hours later, the closest we had gotten to our grouse was some fresh tracks. I did see and hear a Boreal Chickadee and we watched a Pine Marten stealing suet from the feeder. I bet the woodpeckers were pissed.

Pine Marten - Spruce Bog Boardwalk (photo by Barb Charlton)

From here we made the long drive to Ottawa where we were staying with the Toews. They were very hospitable and it was great to have a place for the night.

The following morning Brendan and Kim Toews waited at the feeders with us for several hours but the Varied Thrush didn't show. Quite a few Blue Jays kept us entertained with their antics however. It is too bad that Blue Jays are so common as we tend to overlook this beautiful species.

Blue Jay - Limoges, ON

The Toews's took us on a tour of the concessions around Casselman and I added Lapland Longspur to the year list. We decided to not chase a hawk-owl which was farther east and instead try for the one near Perth that was along our route home. Bad move - we didn't see it. The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful bird wise and I rolled into Guelph around 11:30 PM. What a whirlwind trip!

Monday 30 January 2012

Northern Trip summary and photos (part 1)

Late last night I finally arrived back in Guelph after the whirlwind trip to the north. There were many ups and downs on this trip....but we stayed (mostly) positive and saw a lot of good birds!

Like I said in the previous post, Barb and I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie on January 24 around noon, giving us all afternoon to bird the city. Our first stop was in the north-east section of town along Fish Hatchery Road to search for the Black-backed Woodpecker. This bird was almost too easy as we found a very visible female only about 10 meters off of the road.

The bird was pretty good at keeping most of its body hidden behind branches at all time, making photography a challenge.

Black-backed Woodpecker - Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Extensive scaling was visible on most of the spruce trees in the area. Various Soo birders had seen a male bird at this location meaning that at least two birds are wintering here.

woodpecker scaling - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

While here we saw our first Pine Grosbeaks of the trip! They would prove to be one of the more common birds, being seen and heard at almost every stop we made on this trip.

Dave Bell guided us (via texting) throughout the afternoon. This day in the Soo was an early highlight of the trip as we saw just about everything that was around. A stroll around the Locks produced quite a few good birds (and mammals), including this Red Fox which apparently has become quite tame.

Red Fox - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

While we were checking out the fox we heard the distinctive calls of a White-throated Sparrow near a feeder. According to Dave this bird has been wintering in the area.

White-throated Sparrow - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

This bird feeder consisted of an open jar of peanut butter fastened to a tree - obviously the chickadees liked it!

Black-capped Chickadee - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

The highlight for me at the Locks was the flock of Bohemian Waxwings that flew over us several times. I counted all the specks in the frame (about half of the flock) and came up with 120-ish birds. So the flock was probably close to 250.

Bohemian Waxwings - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Barb and I found this very obliging owl. I'm sure its a new species for Ontario, if only we could identify it...

We also found a flock of redpolls containing at least 1 Hoary as well as a decent variety of waterfowl. That night we stayed at the Bell's place and feasted on a fantastic steak dinner they put on. Living the dream!

After the Soo, we had several of our targets already in the bag and so we left early to get to Marathon in decent time. Along the way we stopped in several towns to check the feeders. White River was particularly good and numbers of both Grosbeaks were around town. Evening was a year bird for both of us.

male Evening Grosbeak - White River, ON
female Evening Grosbeak - White River, ON

We spent a bit of time photographing the Pine Grosbeaks here - us southerners never got sick of them the whole trip (ok maybe a bit near the end).

female Pine Grosbeak - White River, ON

male Pine Grosbeak - White River, ON

We arrived in Marathon around 1:00 PM and immediately went to the feeder where the Harris's Sparrow was over-wintering. Michael Butler had checked in on it previously for us and reported that it was still present. As soon as we arrived, Barb went inside to chat with the homeowners, only to come back outside to see me taking photos of the bird. Nice bird and our first rarity of the trip in the bag! A few Cedar Waxwings were present which was also a year bird.

Harris's Sparrow - Marathon, ON

Later, Michael told us that we were really lucky to see the Harris's Sparrow - apparently it can be extremely difficult to locate during the middle of the day.

That afternoon after checking his feeders (tons of the usual finches including both redpolls), Michael gave us a bit of a tour for Three-toed Woodpeckers in Pukawska National Park. He has seemingly got it down to a science, but despite our best efforts we couldn't turn one up! The wind was a little strong and the birds are usually more easily found in the morning. However this snow-shoe clad hike was one of my trip highlights. It's not everyday that one can explore pristine spruce forest in the north, and it was fantastic to not hear other people or cars as we walked. The only year bird here was Gray Jay, though I was happy to spot a Northern Shrike at the top of one of the trees. This may explain why we did not find any Boreal Chickadees at this location.

Mike and I at Pukawska National Park

Mike and his wife Martha cooked us an amazing chili dinner that evening and good conversation, stories, and maybe a little gossip flowed over wine. Throughout our stay at their place they were gracious hosts and very welcoming. Barb and I felt at home here!

That evening we went out for another snow-shoe trek to search for owls. While we were unsuccessful in that regard, it was great to explore the winter wonderland with the stars in the night sky appearing a lot brighter than they do back home.

The following morning after enjoying a hearty breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, sausages, bacon, eggs and coffee, I took the time to take some photos of Mike's feeder birds. I couldn't catch the Hornemann's that were present the previous afternoon, but I did get a chance to photograph "Mr. Creamy", a leucistic redpoll. Any thoughts on the species?

leucistic redpoll - Marathon, ON

This bird we were debating whether it was a southern Hoary Redpoll or a Hornemann's. It did appear larger than the nearby redpolls and could very well be a female Hornemann's.

possible Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll - Marathon, ON

Thursday 26 January 2012

Update after 3 days in the north

Barb and I are currently in a motel in the quaint town of Geraldton, located northeast of Thunder Bay along highway 11. We have had a whirlwind 3 days and have another 3 crazy days ahead of us! I will post a full report when I get back, so this brief report will do for now.

On Tuesday we made good time, getting into the Soo around noon. Dave Bell was our virtual tour guide - telling us where to go via text messaging. He did a great job and helped guide us to a location where Black-backed Woodpeckers were seen. We got a nice female as well as tons of finches as a bonus!
Dave directed us to Bellevue Park and the Locks among other places. Among the highlights were a huge flock of Bohemian Waxwings (250+) and our first Hoary Redpoll. I didn't notice it until looking at photos later.

Black-backed Woodpecker - Sault Ste. Marie, ON

That night we stayed at his parents place, enjoying their hospitality, gourmet steak dinner, and wine. Off to Marathon in the morning!

We got to Marathon and immediately saw the Harris's Sparrow that was coming to a feeder. After meeting up with Michael Butler we got settled then headed out to search for Three-toed Woodpeckers - unsuccessfully I might add. On our evening snowshoe trek we unfortunately couldn't turn up any owls despite our best efforts. The wind picked up and by the morning it was too strong to find the woodpeckers so we decided that we would leave Marathon and head north. While we missed the woodpeckers, we did get a Gray Jay and great looks at a Northern Shrike. Best of all was enjoying Michael and Martha's hospitality and amazing cooking! I spent quite a bit of time studying Michael's redpoll flocks as all four subspecies were present.

redpolls - Marathon, ON

Day 3 was one to forget. Long story short, the entire day was devoted to chasing rosy-finches unsuccessfully. We did find our own "probable" Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll which was rewarding.

Tomorrow we are back-tracking an hour to the last rosy-finch. I forgot my phone at the house of the couple who has the rosy-finch coming to their feeder - perhaps it is a sign. Afterwards we are trying for the Spotted Towhee in Longlac. A Varied Thrush was seen yesterday nearby...could be interesting...

Pine Grosbeak - Marathon, ON

Tuesday 24 January 2012

quick update from the north

Barb and I are currently in Sault Ste. Marie after driving and birding all day.

I woke up at 1:45, picked up Barb, and drove to the Soo. I wasn't expecting much today but we arrived by noon, giving us time this afternoon. Mainly with the suggestions of David Bell, we managed some good birds including Black-backed Woodpecker, pine grosbeak, 200+ Bohemian waxwings and tons of other finches and stuff. 3 year birds for me.

Tomorrow we hope to get Harris's Sparrow, Hoary Redpoll, Evening Grosbeak and A. Three-toed woodpecker in Marathon.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Itinerary for the northern trip

This Tuesday, Barb Charlton and I leave southern Ontario for the cold snowy north of Ontario. This is a trip I've wanted to do for some time, and so now that there are a few rarities coming to feeders up north we're making this trip happen. While our total species seen on this trip will be relatively small we should get most of the northern specialties that one can get in the winter. Here is a brief outline of our itinerary:

Tuesday, 3:00 AM: leave Barb's place in Flamborough and drive up to Sudbury, then across to Sault Ste Marie. Hopefully get into the Soo with a few hours of light left to check some of the spots around town. Stay overnight in the Soo.

Wednesday: Leave Sault Ste. Marie early with our destination being Marathon. Once in Marathon, try for the Harris's Sparrow that is coming to a feeder as well as various finches. Try for Boreal Owl that night.

Thursday: Bird the Pukawska area in the morning to try for Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers. Leave Marathon and drive towards Longlac, stopping at MacDiarmid to try for the Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. If we have any light left (unlikely), try for the Spotted Towhee in Longlac. It hasn't been seen for a couple of days so it might be gone/dead. That evening, try for Boreal Owl in several spots if we still need it.

Friday: Go back to MacDiarmid if we missed the Rosy-finch that day. Try for the Spotted Towhee again. Then drive to Cochrane, birding along the way. Again, try for owls late afternoon/evening.

Saturday: Leave Cochrane and, if the Varied Thrush is still being seen, drive to Ottawa. Bird along the way and if we're missing any boreal species then try to pick them up somewhere. Arrive in Ottawa late that night.

Sunday: Try for the Varied Thrush first thing in the morning, then head-er home. If there are any things we still "need" on the way home (Hawk-owl, maybe harlequin duck or something) then try for it.

Depending on what birds we have seen/haven't seen, as well as things we can't control like weather, our route may change and we may stay up in northern Ontario for a longer or shorter amount of time. The itinerary I've outlined above is more of an "ideal" itinerary.

Here are a list of the target species in order of most likely to least likely, as well as the rarities coming to feeders.

Rarities at Feeders:
Harris's Sparrow (likely)
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch (likely)
Spotted Towhee (unlikely)
Varied Thrush (likely)

Very likely to guaranteed:
Gray Jay
Boreal Chickadee
Pine Grosbeak
Evening Grosbeak
Hoary Redpoll

Greater than 50% chance:
Bohemian Waxwing
Northern Hawk-Owl
Great Gray Owl
Ruffed Grouse

Could go either way:
Black-backed Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Boreal Owl

Unlikely but possible:
Spruce Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Gyrfalcon (none reported yet this winter)
Barred Owl

Other species are quite possible that wouldn't be year birds but still nice to get. They include both crossbills, Common Raven, Pine Siskin, Northern Goshawk, cool subspecies of redpolls, Snowy Owl, etc.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Duck, duck, Goose!

This morning I was contemplating whether I would do the "right" thing and catch up on schoolwork, or whether I would try some birding. Since I would be missing nearly a full week of school next week that was currently the option which seemed the most prudent at the time.

What birds were there to chase, anyways? Could I go to Fort Erie and hope the kittiwake flies over to this side of the river? Maybe head up river and hope that the Black Vultures would fly over the river? Despite being at the river about 10 times since November I still hadn't seen these birds, on the Ontario side or the New York side. Should I go up to Guelph Lake and see if the Barred Owl is still around? It hadn't been reported in quite some time but that could just be a factor of the bird roaming around the woods a fair bit combined with the fact that most birders in the area had already seen and photographed it. Or should I drive to Aurora and try my hand at turning up the Townsend's Solitaire which was reported waaaay back on the Christmas Bird Count? It would be a long shot, but that's what big years are about sometimes.

Eventually I received an email on ONTbirds from Mark Peck who had refound the Brant and Greater White-fronted Geese at LaSalle Park in Burlington. Long story short, 45 minutes later I was looking at the geese!

Greater White-fronted Goose - LaSalle Marina, Burlington

Barb Charlton and the rest of the Hamilton "crew" were there among other birders and photographers looking at the geese. 6 Cacklers were hanging out along the edges of the flock of Canada's. While I had a Cackler earlier in the year fly over me at Stoney Creek, it was nice to get prolonged close-up looks at this species. 

3 (of 6) Cackling Geese - LaSalle Marina, Burlington

The Brant was supposedly hanging out to the west along the lakeshore. After staring at the distant flocks of geese I was able to see a small dark goose mixed in with a small flock of 8 Canadas. Eventually this flock got up and flew more towards the middle of the bay.

It was a few great hours outside in sunny, calm conditions. This may be the last birding I do before my trip on Tuesday with Barb as the schoolwork is really piling up. Well, those plans could change if someone turns up a rarity!

Thursday 19 January 2012

(Partly) successful Hamilton trip! Eared owls

Brian Enter did me a favor by editing the Fish Crow video to make the calls of the crow more noticeable. He reduced the background noise and increased the volume, and labeled when each species of crow called. The timing is just slightly off at the beginning of the clip. The Fish Crow is listed as calling right when an American Crow calls. The Fish Crow calls immediately afterwards.

Thanks Brian!


After Tuesday's unsuccessful jaunt to Hamilton, I wasn't feeling that motivated to brave snow squalls and rush hour traffic today. However, by 11 AM this morning, the lure of the big year (a feeling of obligation more than anything) was enough to kick my butt out the door. Instead of spending all day fruitlessly searching for geese, I thought I would fruitlessly search for owls instead. I have missed Short-eared Owl exactly three times this year already, and Long-eared Owl twice.

My first stop was Bronte Creek Provincial Park in the howling winds. After about 15 minutes of searching a dark owl-like bird flushed from a stand of trees I was searching. It landed back in the stand and I had brief looks at my first Long-eared Owl for the year. I found a second not long after. Unfortunately they are not always the most photogenic subject and it was hard to get a view of these owls amidst the tangles and branches.

I was planning on trying for Short-eared Owls later in the afternoon in Stoney Creek which meant I had a few hours to kill. I drove around looking for geese, at one point even parking myself for an hour and a half along Eastport Drive as some geese started to trickle in. This is one location where the Brant and Greater White-fronted Goose has been seen sporadically over the last week or two. However, only about 40 geese filtered in and none of them were anything but Canada's.

After birding for another hour or so, picking up Green-winged Teal for the year at Windermere, I headed up the mountain.

The snow squalls that had lasted pretty much all day finally disappeared. I had great looks at a Northern Shrike, a Rough-legged Hawk, several Red-tails, an American Kestrel, and a smattering of Northern Harriers.

Northern Shrike - Stoney Creek

American Kestrel - pre mouse kill

American Kestrel - post mouse kill

Finally at around 4:20 PM I noticed a Short-eared Owl rise up out of the grass. I managed to get a few distant photos of it and two others as they circled the field with bouncy wingbeats.

distant Short-eared Owls - Stoney Creek

Success. Hopefully someone else can find the geese this weekend so I can try for them before leaving for up north. 109 for the year, in case you're keeping score.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Quick update - unsuccessful Hamilton trip

Quick update on the old year list....

I headed down to Hamilton on Tuesday since I have no classes on Tuesday/Thursday. My main targets were Brant and White-fronted Geese. Both these species I will undoubtedly have many more opportunities to look for, but they are still tough birds to find.

And I struck out. It rained for a lot of the day and despite looking at seemingly every single goose from Bayfront Park in Hamilton around the bay to Windermere Basin, and the Lake Ontario shoreline from Spencer Smith Park in Burlington to 50 Point Conservation Area in Winona, I couldn't turn up anything interesting! Not Cackling Geese either.

My first Brant - December 10, 2008

I did add 6 new year birds but they are all very common birds that I will get multiple times this year. The 6 new birds were:

Pied-billed Grebe
all three scoters
Purple Finch
Ring-necked Duck

By the way - I did get some documentation-purpose photos (also known as bad photos) of several species in Hamilton and will probably end up posting them soon. Edit - here they are.

Pied-billed Grebe - Desjardins Canal, Dundas

Long-tailed Duck - 50 Point marina

Tomorrow I am heading back down to Hamilton to give the geese another shot. It is kind of hard to get motivated to drive to Hamilton for round 2, especially since these are geese that I've seen several times in Ontario. But that's the life of a big year birder!

I also hope to pick up Long-eared Owl at Bronte (if anyone has any specific locations where they have been seen lately, I would be grateful) as well as a try for Short-eared Owl later in the afternoon. If I get those two owls, the only other regularly occurring species I need will be Boreal, Northern Hawk, and Barred.


The itinerary for the northern trip is coming together! As of today, the 2 rarities are still coming to feeders (Gray-crowned Rosy-finch and Spotted Towhee). As well, there are several Harris's sparrows being seen and winter finches are super abundant. Northern Hawk-Owls have started being found so hopefully we'll get one! We'll put in a solid effort for both boreal woodpeckers and hope to cross path with all 3 grouse and Bohemian Waxwings if everything goes to plan.

Northern Hawk-Owl - February 23, 2008

One of my goals at the start of the year was to get all 10 regularly occruring owls and all 10 finches by the end of March. After this northern trip I should have all 10 finches (11 with the rosy-finch) and 9 of the 10 owls. If I can get the two major rarities, I will have 5 Code-4 or higher birds on my list for January. Not a bad start considering I will need at least 20 for the year.

Monday 16 January 2012

Fish Crow video from Fort Erie

This is the video of the Fish Crow that I recorded from Fort Erie, Ontario on January 15, 2012. You'll need to turn the volume up as it is a fairly quiet video with a bit of background noise. Feel free to leave comments on what you think.

0:01: You hear me go "shh", right when an American Crow calls.
0:02: The Fish Crow calls (very short, nasally single note)
0:03 - 0:06: An American Crow calls several times
0:10: The Fish Crow does the same nasal note, and you hear me say "It just called again" right after.
0:13: The Fish Crow calls immediately once I finished saying "It just called again"
0:18: The Fish Crow calls a final time.

Throughout the duration of the observation, we only heard the single nasal call note from the Fish Crow, and we didn't hear the double "uh-oh" note that they also do. It responded to the playback I played on my phone which was the first vocalization that is given for the app "IBird Explorer Pro 2". Its call sounded identical to this recording. It called between 5-10 times after I played the call note on my phone several times. After that, the bird was silent until I prompted it by re-playing the call on my phone. It continued like this until the bird flew across the river with the rest of the American Crows. While we most likely saw the bird, we couldn't pick it out from the other American Crows. I never got a really good look at any of the crows in the tree.

After that observation we spent the next half hour watching and listening to the thousands of American Crows swarming by. Many landed in trees for several minutes before continuing. None of the other crows made the Fish Crow-like nasal "cah", despite many attempts with playback on my phone.

I don't have any video editing software so the video is pretty rough. If someone is able to edit the video to clean up some of the background noise/make the crow calls louder, let me know and I'll send you the file.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Crazy bird for # 100!

Today started out like many other do...waking up much too early, meeting up with other birders, and driving a ways to a premier birding destination. The place was the Niagara River, and the people were Andy Keaveney and his girlfriend Sarah.

We started out at Fort Erie to see if we could find the Black-headed Gull and Black-legged Kittiwakes which have been reported on and off from the American side. Just like a few days ago, we struck out on these species again. As we were scoping the gulls an American Pipit called overhead and landed on a nearby beach. We had great scope views of this bird as it foraged on the beach.

The weather was cold but sunny and with very little wind as we continued downriver. Unfortunately we didn't see much and eventually ended back at Fort Erie in mid-afternoon. As Andy and I parked ourselves in Fort Erie across from Rich's marina in Buffalo we began scoping the gulls again. At one point when they flew up, Andy picked up the Black-headed Gull in flight and quickly got me on it. However we both lost it and didn't see it over the next 45 minutes. It stayed on the American side of the river so technically we couldn't count it for our year list (yet).

He headed downriver to try for the gull there while I stayed in place. The gulls flew several more times, but I had no luck picking out anything rare with them. Eventually something scared all the gulls and I was pleased to see the Black-headed Gull mixed in with thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls. They made a big loop, coming over to the Ontario side for a minute or so, before ending up back at the harbour. I called Andy but unfortunately we couldn't locate it later.

As the sun was getting low in the sky we noticed crows starting to build up in the trees nearby. Andy mentioned we try to call in a Fish Crow, considering that Brett had one on the river on January 1 and they winter regularly only an hour from the border in Rochester. As soon as I played the call on my phone, a Fish Crow responded!! We couldn't believe our luck and listened to the crow call several times over the next few minutes. Andy got Sarah to come out of the car and listen to the bird as well. I tried to make a video of the bird calling, knowing full well that my phone probably wouldn't pick up the call. Unbelievably, it did! The crow calls about 4-5 times in the video (there are some American Crows calling as well). Once I figure out how to get it off my phone, I will post it.

The Fish Crow was year bird #100 and a code 4 rarity. Looking at previous years, the earliest date that I had arrived at 100 species was March 12. More importantly, I now have 3 rarities on my list - Mountain Bluebird, Black-headed Gull, and Fish Crow (all code-4 birds).

What's next? I plan to take it relatively easy this week and focus on schoolwork for the first time this semester. After that, a plan is in the works to travel up north via Sault Ste. Marie, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and all the way around HWY 11 to North Bay. It should be one hell of a trip! Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (coming to a feeder), Sharp-tailed Grouse and A. Three-toed Woodpecker are all species I have never seen before. We are also hoping to get Spotted Towhee, Harris's Sparrow, the rest of the finches, Northern Hawk Owl, and Boreal Owl.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Niagara River on Thursday

In the near future (next 1-2 weeks) I will be traveling up north, maybe making it as far as Thunder Bay, to search for northern species and a couple of rarities. If anyone lives anywhere between North Bay and Thunder Bay either along the HWY 11 route, or along the route near the great lakes (Sault Ste. Marie route) and would be willing to provide me with a place to stay for a night, I would be more than grateful! Sure beats sleeping in my car.

Anyways, back to birding. On Thursday, I headed to the Niagara River with Maggie Macpherson, a friend and former Guelphite who is now doing a Ph.D at Tulane University in New Orleans. She was visiting Guelph for a few days so we decided to check out the gulls along the Niagara River.

Unfortunately it rained pretty steadily for most of the morning. We spent a bit of time checking out the flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls near Fort Erie to hopefully pick out a Little Gull (code 2), Black-legged Kittiwake (3), or Black-headed Gull (4) but the rain made it very difficult to see well and we did not find any of those rare gulls.

The whole day wasn't a waste though. We did see all the expected gulls on the river including a distant Little Gull at the Queenston docks. I was happy to pick out an adult Thayer's Gull in flight at the Adam Beck power plants as well.  Lesser Black-backed, Little, Iceland, and Thayer's Gulls were all year birds, as was American Wigeon.

By early afternoon fog had rolled in along the river so we drove to Port Weller to try to find the previously reported King Eider and Snowy Owl. They were both present and Maggie was happy to get her lifer King Eider. The only year bird I got here was Northern Flicker.

Tomorrow I plan on going back to the river and searching for some of those rarities again.
By the way, for some reason the links to my big year list haven't been updating. I have fixed that, but if anyone sees any problems just let me know.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Ottawa to Amherst Island

A Varied Thrush was found by Giovanni Pari in Ottawa on Sunday and was seen several times throughout the day by various birders as it came to a feeder. Andrew Keaveney and I immediately made plans to see it as it would be a great bird for a big year. While more will probably show up, this west coast thrush is never guaranteed! Unfortunately it wasn't seen the next day but we decided to go down anyways. Varied Thrushes will often stay at a feeder for days or even weeks.

We left Monday evening after my first day of classes, arriving at our destination for the night at around 1:00 AM. The next morning we showed up at the spot and immediately met Nicholas von Maltzahn, also standing vigil at the feeders. Unfortunately it wasn't seen for the several hours we were there. Nick showed us some spots around the Larose forest before he had to take off. After not getting any Evening Grosbeaks at the feeders where they are supposed to be, we lucked out and heard two Red Crossbills calling. I managed to take very distant photos of one!

Red Crossbill - Larose Forest

We then tried for Gray Partridge in an area southeast of here, but after driving the fields for an hour or so we didn't have any luck. At this point we were getting kind of desperate as we headed over to Kanata to try for them there. We arrived around 3:00 PM, but lucked out as the first spot we looked contained 4 partridge - 3 females and 1 male. This was only the second sighting that I have had of this species, the other being in Brantford last winter.

Gray Partridges - Kanata

Gray Partridges - Kanata

With about an hour of light left we drove down to Bate's Island to try for Barrow's Goldeneye. In the fading light Andrew picked out a textbook example of a female Barrow's Godeneye! I found an adult Glaucous Gull nearby and I ended the day with 82 species for the year.

Today we took the Amherst Island ferry to try for some owls and other wintering raptors. Driving along the roads we saw several raptors, including Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and American Kestrels.

distant Snowy Owl - Amherst Island

A walk around Owl Woods was next on the agenda. A flock of 4 Common Redpolls greated us near on the walk in.

Common Redpolls - Amherst Island

Thar be owls in them woods....

owl pellet - Amherst Island

There's one!

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Amherst Island

We couldn't turn anything else up in the woods and continuing on. Before grabbing our ferry we drove farther west on the island. We were very surprised to see an adult Goshawk perching at eye level in a nearby tree! I managed one shot through the window as it flew away.

Northern Goshawk - Amherst Island

A couple of more photos from the day:

House Finch - Amherst Island

American Robin - Amherst Island

Eastern Ontario highlights

Im making this brief cause I'm typing on my phone making use of the free wifi at McDonald's. A full report with photos will be up tonight!

I spent the last two days birding eastern Ontario with Andrew Keaveney. We missed the Varied Thrush yesterday but got most of our other target birds in Ottawa including:

Gray Partridge (Kanata)
Barrow's Goldeneye (female at Bate's Island)
both Crossbills (Larose Forest)

Today we went to Amherst Island. Highlights:

Northern Saw-whet Owl
3 Snowy Owls (9 already for the year)
Northern Goshawk (adult)

This brings my year list up to 89. My first visit to Niagara for the year will be tomorrow and I hope to hit 100. Hopefully the Black Vultures fly over the river so I can count them.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Great Gray Owl in Kingsville

Brett Fried and I headed down to Kingsville to look for the Great Gray Owl which has been seen well for several weeks. When we arrived first thing in the morning, there was already a group of 30 or so photographers on scene. Brett and I had great looks as it hunted and flew between perches, and everyone was respectful of the owl while we were there. I took a few poor photos (lighting wasn't the best) which I'll post later.

flight shot of Great Gray Owl - Kingsville

The rest of the day was a tour along the north shore of Lake Erie from Kingsville to Ridgetown before going back home. We didn't have too many highlights, however we did have a flyover White-winged Crossbill on DeLaurier Trail in the late morning. We ran into Richard Carr here and he put us on to some owls in the vicinity. We got the screech owl at the tip and a Snowy in the Onion fields north of the national park before continuing.

The only other bright spot of the day was near Erieau as Brett and I counted 4 Snowy Owls in the same field. Too far for photos unfortunately! The Ross's Geese at Ridgetown (which hadn't been reported in a while) did not show, though there was a huge flock of 100+ Tundra Swans.

late Bonaparte's Gull - Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons

Tundra Swans - Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons

I didn't add as many year birds as I had hoped, but the main goal of the trip was to see the Great Gray Owl. I'm currently at 72 species for the year.

Pics will be up soon. I have school all day tomorrow so no birding, but if the Varied Thrush in Ottawa is seen tomorrow that's where Andy Keaveney and I will be headed on Tuesday! The craziness has begun (who really travels 6 hours one way for a Varied Thrush???).