Saturday, 31 March 2012

Gone shriking

Brett had plans to hit up the Carden Alvar north of Toronto today, so I, of course, couldn't refuse the trip!
The Carden Alvar is one of Ontario's best known birding hotspots, and for good reason. It is one of the last remaining expanses of open prairie, rough pastureland, and hawthorn alvar left in southern Ontario. Consequently it holds a large number of breeding grassland species, including Eastern Bluebirds, Common Nighthawks, Bobolinks, Clay-colored and about 10 other species of sparrows, Upland Sandpiper, and of course the Loggerhead Shrike. Add to that a variety of marsh birds such as Sedge Wren, Virginia Rail, and American Bittern as well as about 15 or more species of breeding warblers (many with much more northern affinities) and you have the makings of a very unique area.

But, the shrikes.

This is one of only a few locations left in Ontario where Loggerhead Shrikes breed. They are doing fairly well throughout most of their range but in Ontario they are down to a few dozen pairs, mainly due to habitat loss and conversion of pastureland into monoculture. Fortunately, efforts are underway to protect this unique area and several conservation groups are attempting to buy more of the land to protect. Not only does this protect the shrike, but also the myriad of other species utilizing the area.

Brett, Erika, Reuven (of Guelph FISH CROW fame), and myself headed up fairly early in the morning and were on site around 8:00. I heard a distant winnowing Wilson's Snipe, we saw the first of many Eastern Meadowlarks, and we just about ran over a Ruffed Grouse that didn't like the idea of moving off the road. Red-winged Blackbirds were singing the songs of spring.

It wasn't long before we spotted our first Loggerhead Shrikes - an unbanded pair on McNamee Road just east of Wylie Road. This individual was unique in the limited black mask, but every other character lined up for it to be a Loggerhead Shrike. Its mate was more typical looking.

Most of the spring migrants hadn't returned yet to the alvar, but we did get a few species of sparrows including 2 Field, 3 Swamp, and 2 Savannah to go along with the hoards of Song Sparrows. A few Eastern Meadowlarks and Eastern Bluebirds were in attendance at nearly every stop. Several Sandhill Cranes flew over and I grabbed a quick shot of of a Canada Goose.

We found a further 3 shrikes on the day. One was on the west side of Wylie Road near bluebird box 21; two banded individuals were in the field on McNamee opposite the quarry road.

Is that a bear? Nope, just a blurry porcupine.

It's obvious that all the landowners in the Carden area welcome birders with open arms.

That's all for now, folks. The two year birds brings me up 167. I am heading north in the very near future - I'll comment on that later!

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