Monday 30 April 2012

Welcome to May

It was the last day of April today, and finally some new birds moved into the park! As usual I started out at the tip first thing to do my survey. It was pretty windy and quiet, but the Eared Grebe was still swimming around at the edge of the merganser flock and a recently arrived Marsh Wren was seen at the tram stop. I thought I heard another one rattling away right at the very tip!

It was a little quiet in the park and then the rains came. I made it back just in time and contemplated my options. 1) Have a nap, 2) Get soaked and walk around in the park, and 3) Check for grounded shorebirds. I did the latter, and despite some extensive searching in the fields/shorelines/Hillman Marsh, I couldn't turn anything up that was too interesting. Warbling Vireo at Hillman as well as White-crowned Sparrows were new birds for the year.

I went back in the park and had fun watching some sparrows (2 late American Tree Sparrows were the highlight). Soon after I received a text from Sarah that Dan Salisbury had found a Le Conte's Sparrow near Sanctuary. I met up with Dan, and after about 20 minutes of waiting unsuccessfully, I decided to walk up the beach a bit. It didn't take long until I flushed a streaky sparrow with an orange rump from the grasses! I got a few glimpses of it skulking around, confirming my suspicions that it was a Le Conte's. This was a lifer! They weren't the greatest looks but I'm sure I'll get better ones at Rainy River this summer. Dan and I spent a bit of time birding in the area, and I picked up my first Baltimore Oriole and Orange-crowned Warbler of the year. Later that afternoon I heard and saw a male Orchard Oriole at the visitor centre, yet another year bird. This brings me up to 231 after the end of April.

Orange-crowned Warbler - April 30, 2012

I thought I would take the time to post a few more photos from the last few days, now that I have the time/internet access at Rick's place. :)

Yellow-rumped Warbler - April 28, 2012

I kinda like this shot of a Blue-headed Vireo.

Blue-headed Vireo - April 28, 2012

Great Horned Owl - April 27, 2012

2nd Point Pelee record of Common Raven since 1970 - April 27, 2012

Really tired - time for bed. These 5 AM mornings are starting to catch up with me...

Sunday 29 April 2012

Eared Grebe and a few others from Pelee

Last night was quite cold, dampening the migration a bit, but a few new birds had blown in. I think that more birds moved out than in, since it was extremely quiet as I walked to the tip this morning!

As I was counting the blackbirds and Blue Jays reverse-migrating, the sun slowly warmed and I watched a young raccoon scrounging around the tip. The previous day I had found a raccoon which had fatally injured a Northern Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi) but made no attempt to eat it. That kind of pissed me off and I declared a personal vendetta against all raccoons.

Raccoon - Point Pelee National Park

Despite the fact that this guy would grow up to be a snake-maiming terror, I thought it was kind of cute. In the nice morning light I took a moment to grab a few photos.

Raccoon - Point Pelee National Park

And one more. I couldn't resist...

Raccoon - Point Pelee National Park

Friends from Guelph - Chris, Chris, and Pauline - as well as Pete and Sue Read soon joined me at the tip. Pete and I saw a small dark grebe diving near the tip at the same time, and upon binocular views, we realized it was an adult Eared Grebe in alternate plumage! What a stunning bird.

Eared Grebe - Point Pelee National Park

This was my 8th (!) Eared Grebe I've found in the past 4 springs. I don't know why I always come across them! It wasn't a year bird however - as  I found one at Long Point earlier in the spring.

Eared Grebe - Point Pelee National Park

There had been a large concentration of scoters off of the west beach so I checked them out later in the morning. It was truly impressive to see over 400 Surf Scoters and 50+ Black Scoters. Many of them were displaying and calling, something I had never seen or heard before.

Surf Scoters - Point Pelee National Park

Steve Pike had mentioned a male Long-tailed Duck that was attempting to court a female scaup, much to the chagrin of the male scaup. I came across the Long-tailed Duck (new for my Point Pelee list), but it was much too far for photos. Its not often I see them in this plumage.

I realized at this point that I was a bit dehydrated and really tired (apparently its not wise to drink only coffee and beer for 3 days straight), so I ended up taking it easy and napping. Fortunately there wasn't much to see in the park! Tonight, Rick was gracious in offering up his place for me to stay again (thanks, Rick!) so I'm looking forward to not sleeping in my car. The forecast is improving and its about to get crazy in Ontario! Hopefully the inevitable rarities that show up aren't too far from Pelee...

Saturday 28 April 2012

Cold and windy times at Pelee

It's been a while since I've made a post or gone through the backlog of emails piling up since I haven't had a chance! I've been birding pretty much nonstop since my last post, with little to show for it. Late April birding at Point Pelee can be really hit and miss. When the weather conditions line up we often get a major pulse of neotropical migrants and a healthy dose of rarities this time of year. But when the weather is cool with strong north winds, as has been the case for close to a week, the number of birds is really meager! Very little migration occurred since the last pulse on April 17-20. This brought rarities like Say's Phoebe, Fork-tailed Flycatcher,Western Grebe, Bells's Vireo, and Western Tanager to southern Ontario. Most of the birds at Pelee have left and nothing has arrived. For instance, I have had 3 days straight where I've seen less than 15 warblers! I mean individuals, not species!! There have still been some year birds in the last few days, however. They include: -Sedge Wren and Upland Sandpiper while unsuccessfully chasing the latest report of Say's Phoebe from Carden -Chimney Swift -Common Tern -Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow Warbler -Lincoln's Sparrow It's not all bad news, however. Yesterday I was able to photograph only the second park record of Common Raven since 1970. It was first seen on Tuesday by Alan. It was really beat up..who knows, maybe it was a Chihuahuan Raven... Additionally, there was a new 'flood' of birds that came in last night. I was greeted at the tip by a singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and later, came across a flock of perhaps 100 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Sanctuary. Mixed in were Pine, Nashville, Palm, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers as well as White-eyed Vireo and a few other odds and ends. Finally, the weather forecast is starting to line up and next week could be fantastic. With the warm, southerly air and the increase in birders out looking, the craziness should begin in earnest. Gettin excited!!

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Birthday grebe

This morning I headed to Van Wagner's Beach first thing to look for the reported Western Grebe, found yesterday around noon by Rob Dobos. I arrived shortly after 7 and it was easily visible between Hutch's and Baranga's on the Beach. I walked out to the lake and grabbed a number of photos as it dove, about 100 feet offshore.

Western Grebe - Hamilton

It kept heading east towards me, giving me great scope views. My parents had gotten me a Nikon TC 1.4x teleconverter for my birthday, effectively changing my 300 mm lens to a 420 mm. The first photos I took with it on my camera were of the grebe! It was still a little distant, but the extra 120 mm sure helped!

Western Grebe - Hamilton

The Western Grebe was yet another rarity to add to the list for the year. As of the end of the 2009 OBRC report, there were 27 accepted records in Ontario, with 10 of these records coming in the spring period of early April to mid-May. An additional 5 records were accepted of Clark's/Western Grebe that couldn't be assigned to a species.

On the way back to Cambridge, I stopped at the Safari Road wetland just east of Kirkwall Road in Flamborough. Despite traffic, wind, and loud squawking Canada Geese, I managed to hear 2 American Bitterns as well as a Virginia Rail grunting.

These 3 year-birds bring me up to 217 for the year. I am planning on spending the rest of the day relaxing in Cambridge, then heading back to Pelee later this afternoon.

Monday 23 April 2012

Recent updates (Western Tanager, Chat, etc)

Back in the south with internet access so I thought I would post a few photos from yesterday. After a long drive, I finally arrived at the location of the Western Tanager in the late afternoon. As I rang the doorbell, I could see the tanager sitting in on the feeder through the window in the house!

Western Tanager - lower Bruce Peninsula

It appeared to be in good shape, feeding regularly (on sunflower seeds) and scaring away the sparrows who were also trying to feed.

Western Tanager - lower Bruce Peninsula

The only time it left the feeder (and when I took the photos) was when a Red Squirrel stole its spot. The  tanager "patiently" waited, eventually returning once the squirrel was done.

Western Tanager - lower Bruce Peninsula

Like the Bell's Vireo the day before, this was a lifer! Additionally, and more importantly, it was a code-4 rarity, the 12th one I have seen so far this year. The homeowners wish to keep the location quiet so unfortunately I can't tell anyone the location.

Western Tanager - lower Bruce Peninsula

Since I had driven 5.5 hours to see this bird, I wasn't about to just turn around and go back to Pelee, so I spent the rest of the evening on the Bruce. The scenery was absolutely stunning against the setting sun and there were a fair amount of birds active despite the wind. I came up with about a dozen species of ducks, both species of yellowlegs, and a number of other early migrants such as Fox Sparrow, Blue-winged Teal, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-rumped Warbler, etc.

Greater, Lesser, Greater

Bald Eagle - Bruce Peninsula

That evening I fell asleep to the sounds of Common Loons, Sandhill Cranes, and courting American Wigeons in the darkness.

The plan for today was to drive down to Pelee, stopping at various locations along the way. I had planned to meet up with Ken Burrell later to go over some stuff for the work I'll be doing for him this May. A Say's Phoebe had also shown up at the Carden Alvar as well. I debated driving to Carden, being there for first light, seeing it, then booking it to Pelee, but I decided against that. It was probably a good thing, since it didn't show today! Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes. Can't get them all!

The drive down was fairly uneventful. I stopped at every lagoon between the Bruce and Point Pelee, but unfortunately I couldn't find anything rare mixed in! Probably the most interesting thing was the heavy wind, up to 70 km/h, sustained all day. Much of the topsoil from the fields was being blown away...

Anyways, I met up with Ken and we birded Hillman and a couple trails in the park briefly that evening. A Black-bellied Plover at Hillman was nice (and was a year bird, along with Cliff Swallow), as was the flock of 200+ Forster's Terns.

The highlight, though, was in the park. Migrants were incredibly scarce (only ~3 kinglets, 3 individual warblers, etc) though we did have a few phoebes and Blue-headed Vireos to keep us on our toes. Just as we finished on the redbud trail and started heading back to the VC, we flushed a medium sized bird from the brambles along the path. It acted quite skulky and was tough to get a good look at, but it appeared to be a Yellow-breasted Chat! We played the call, and it promptly responded from deep in the brambles. Sweet!

The winds are supposed to stay strong from the north overnight, so likely there won't be many migrants in the park in the morning, but Ken and I are going to try anyways. If a chat can stay hidden for 3+ days, who knows what else is out there just waiting to be found...

Sunday 22 April 2012

Really quick post today because I'm using my phone... Today was really cool and windy, and very few birds were in the park. Marianne Reid found a Yellow-throated warb, and I think that was it for really good birds! No sign of the Bell's Vireo today. I birded for a few hours with Kory Renaud and we were happy to turn up a Prairie Warbler near Sparrow Field, presumably the same one that was present yesterday. That was my only year bird in the park. I received news around 11:00 that a Western Tanager was coming to a feeder on the Bruce Peninsula! Thanks to Ethan Meleg it was arranged for me to visit the homeowners and see the bird. I arrived around 6 PM and immediately had it on the feeder! I managed some shots which I will post eventually. This was my second lifer in 2 days and a code-4 rarity. I also picked up another year bird in Brewers Blackbird, giving me 210 so far. A Say's Phoebe is currently in Carden Plains, found by Maris Apse today. Unfortunately I have prior commitments tomorrow and can't chase it, but if it is still around I'll go Tuesday! The crazyness has begun...

Saturday 21 April 2012

Rarity to kick off my time at Pelee!

This morning was cold and windy, so it took me a bit of effort to get out of bed (ie my front seat of my car) and make my way to Pelee. I had just pulled up when Brett, David, and Barb showed up, so I joined them in birding the park today!

As we started walking towards the tip, we saw that a Bell's Vireo had just been found by Steve Pike at the tip! Michael Tate, Alan Wormington, and others managed a few brief glimpses of it before it seemingly vanished. We spent the next three hours trying to relocate this bird, unfortunately to no avail. It was good to be reacquainted with some familiar faces and be introduced to others, though.

The vireo was traveling with a small flock of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, a Prairie Warbler, and a Blue-winged Warbler. While we saw many of these species, the vireo was nowhere to be seen! I did get a few new year birds while searching...Blue-headed Vireo; Wood Thrush; Nashville, Palm, Black-throated Green, and Blue-winged Warblers; and Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpeckers - Point Pelee National Park

Finally, around 11:00, Barb received a phone call that the Bell's Vireo had been refound near the start of the West Beach footpath! Kory Renaud was the finder, and lucky for us the bird co-operated! Brett and I had fleeting glimpses of it in the trees, then Barb got it, and finally David got on it and managed some pretty sweet photos. Bell's Vireo is a code 5 bird, and as of the end of the 2009 OBRC report there were only 12 accepted records. This is the first April Bell's Vireo for Ontario.

Bell's Vireo - Point Pelee National Park

This was a bird I really wanted to get this year, as I missed the one at Pelee last year! It gave the impression of a large vireo, but flitted around a fair bit unlike some vireos. It was fairly drab with one obvious wingbar, a grayish head, and muted yellow/green/brown colours. It actually gave the impression of a fall-plumaged Tennessee Warbler to me. Unfortunately it was hardly ever in view and the above photo is the best that I could manage!

After that success, anything else would be just bonus. Turns out there wasn't much else in the park, and eventually we decided to head over to Rondeau to look for the Yellow-throated Warbler!

We made a number of stops along the way (I picked up Spotted Sandpiper for the year) and eventually made it to Rondeau. Unfortunately the Yellow-throated Warbler was a no-show in the time we were there. Just as we were leaving, Dave the machine somehow picked out a tiny warbler backlit at the top of a very tall tree off in the distance..I don't know how the guy does it. We spent the next 20 minutes enjoying the VERRRY territorial little guy as he made his presence known by chattering at us.

Yellow-throated Warbler - Rondeau Provincial Park

I added Rose-breasted Grosbeak as a year-bird here as well. Another highlight was this mischievous little guy..stealing seed from the bird feeders with those nimble fingers!

Raccoon - Rondeau Provincial Park

And one of several Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the park.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Rondeau Provincial Park

So there you have it. It was a great day in the field, and I am now up to 207 species for the year. Most importantly, I added another code-5 rarity as well as a code-3. Its the most wonderful time of the year!

PS what's this about extreme weather coming in? From what I hear we are expected to get some precipitation and crazy north-ish winds the next few days. It won't be much fun birding, and who knows what rarities this system will blow in, but any ridiculous storm has high vagrant potential! Especially if it happens in late April. Especially since we have just had a few warm fronts coming up from Texas, bringing birds farther north than they had planned. All these birds will want to head back south, and Pelee is like a funnel....keep your eyes open, as things could get interesting.

First day at Pelee

Its been a fantastic two days! I currently have a place to stay tonight, thanks to the kind hospitality of Rick Mayos. Internet, the hockey game on TV, a shower, a doesn't get any better than this!

Anyways, I left home yesterday morning, making it to Pelee by 6:00 that evening. I checked out a number of decent areas along the way (Aylmer lagoons, Port Stanley harbour and lagoons, Ridgetown Lagoons, Blenheim, etc), without seeing a whole lot. Here are a few photos...

European Starling

Blue-winged Teal

American Toad

Lesser Yellowlegs

Savannah Sparrow


Hillman Marsh was fantastic, and it didn't take me long to find the White-eyed Vireo that was hanging around the banding nets. I watched the shorebirds for quite some time, eventually having a flock of 53 American Golden-Plovers land for 10 minutes before continuing on.

American Golden-Plovers


A Short-billed Dowitcher also flew in, calling. After about 60 seconds it too took off, never to be seen again that evening. This is undoubtably one of the earliest spring records for Pelee - I'm not sure of what the record early date is, though Alan told me today. This is the best I got as it flew away...

Short-billed Dowitcher - Hillman Marsh CA

Yesterday I saw 12 new year birds, bringing me up to 195 for the year. Here they are, with their code in brackets.

Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
Dunlin (1)
Sora (1)
Solitary Sandpiper (1)
Bank Swallow (1)
Great Egret (1)
American Golden-plover (2)
Least Sandpiper (1)
Short-billed Dowitcher (1)
Forster's Tern (1)
White-eyed Vireo (2)
Gray Catbird (1)

Thursday 19 April 2012

It's on!

I know, its still only April 19 and we haven't hit the peak of migration and rarity season yet. But judging by what birds have been reported in Ontario the last 24 hours you might think its May already!

I have heard from several people that a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was banded by the crew at the tip of Long Point yesterday. I don't have any other details, but from what I've heard this would be the first one banded for Canada! Of course there is no way for me to get to the tip, Fork-tailed Flycatchers don't usually hang around very long, and there's always the question if you can count a bird which has been recently caught and banded. After seeing the Smew in December, Fork-tailed Flycatcher became one of my most wanted birds for Ontario.

A Whooping Crane was reported from Ingersoll (border of Oxford/Middlesex Counties) yesterday as well! This globally Endangered species has less than 500 individuals remaining in the wild. Occasionally the odd bird is seen in Ontario, but these aren't technically "countable"since they most likely come from a reintroduction program (birds breeding in Wisconsin and wintering in Florida).

taken from Wiki Commons

Finally, a Barnacle Goose was reported today from Peterborough! There is only 1 accepted Ontario record for this species - a bird that had been banded in Scotland. It was shot by a hunter in eastern Ontario. Several others have shown up around the province but since Barnacle Geese are regularly kept in captivity, the  origins of these birds are debatable. I wouldn't at all be surprised that this Peterborough bird is a wild one, especially considering the influx of Barnacle Geese into New England and eastern Canada this winter, but I doubt this one will be accepted by the OBRC. Pure speculation on my part since I don't know any details really about this Peterborough bird...for all I know it could have been banded in Scotland as well...If I go and see this bird, it will only count for my big year if it is accepted by the OBRC (them's the rules).

A few other things have been turning up as well, such as a Yellow-throated Warbler in Rondeau and a Dickcissel in Hamilton. Both of these I have classified as code 3.

I am spending the entire day today moving out of my house in Guelph, so no birding today. But tomorrow I start 6+ weeks of non-stop birding! I'll make a post soon about what my strategies for May are. In the meantime, I am probably going to check out the Peterborough Goose tomorrow if it is still around, then grab the Hamilton Dickcissel, and finally make my way to the south to hopefully see the Yellow-throated Warbler in Rondeau. I was originally going to go to Pelee Island for 4 or 5 days, but those plans are nixed since BOTH ferries are broken down. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise and a rarity will show up on the mainland. If I would be stuck on the island, it would take a considerable amount of time to make it to the mainland to check out a rarity, causing me to potentially miss it.

By the way, after finishing my exam yesterday, I did a bit of local birding....had some fun birds for Wellington, such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Vesper Sparrow, Caspian Terns, Pine Warblers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Broad-winged Hawk, etc. Picked up my first Winter Wren for the county too...
Caspian Tern and Broad-winged Hawk were both year birds, bringing me up to 183.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Things are a happening

Here are a few recent reports from around the Great Lakes....

Lesser Goldfinch in Pennsylvania (first state record)

Brown Pelican in Minnesota (third state record)

Eastern Kingbird  from Kitchener yesterday. They normally don't show up until the last couple days of April at the very earliest...this may be one of the earliest ever for Ontario?

Red-headed Woodpecker from Guelph...another super early migrant

Henslow's Sparrow from Point Pelee

Yellow-throated Vireo from Point Pelee

Magee Marsh, Ohio (April 15):
 -Hooded Warbler
-Yellow-throated Warbler
-White-eyed Vireo
-American White Pelican
-American Avocet

elsewhere in Ohio...
-9! Prothonotary Warblers on territory found by one observer in the middle of the state
-Cattle Egret in the northern third of the state
-Say's Phoebe present for several days now on Lake Erie
-White-winged Dove, same deal
-Black-necked Stilt, southwest Ohio
-Ibis sp., northern Ohio

So yeah, things are really starting to happen, especially just across the lake in Ohio. Ohio starts getting the first wave of rarities usually a week or so before us, so expect a similar list of rarities in Ontario a week or so from now (hopefully)! 
Some predictions of mine between now and the end of April...
*disclaimer: I am in no way held responsible if none of these birds actually show up. It's a complete guess*
-Swallow-tailed Kite
-Townsend's Warbler
-Cinnamon Teal
-Snowy Egret
-Say's Phoebe
-Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
-Western Grebe

Hopefully we'll get a good dose of "lesser" rarities (most of these I have categorized as code 3).
-Yellow-throated and Worm-eating Warblers
-American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Willet
-Eared Grebe
-Le Conte's and Henslow's Sparrows
-Summer Tanager
-Glossy Ibis
-Laughing Gull


It's been kind of frustrating so far while doing this big year because I have been stuck being a full-time student. While it hasn't really prevented me yet from chasing a rarity (you gotta have priorities), it has limited the amount of time I could be away. I would have loved to spend more days in the north for instance, but exams were calling me back! Additionally, I have been out of the province for 25 out of the 107 days this year. I've really lucked out that I haven't really missed anything while I have been gone! But, as of tomorrow morning, I will be done with school. That means that I can FINALLY go all out on this big year.
My last exam is tomorrow morning at 8:30. Hopefully by Friday I will be all moved out of my house in Guelph, all packed, and heading to Essex County. Unless there is a pressing rarity elsewhere, I will probably head to the island for a few days to find all the rarities before Kenny gets there ;).

Monday 16 April 2012

Report from April 15

Yesterday afternoon, after coming out of my second last exam of my undergrad, I checked my phone and saw that I had similar texts from 3 or 4 different people....all along the lines of "So are you gonna chase it?" I checked my email and saw that Terry Sprague had posted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that was present in Prince Edward County! This was kind of frustrating for me because I was supposed to be hosting a party that night, and I hadn't really planned to be away for the entire day on Sunday since I had my last exam on Wednesday morning. Brett let me know that evening at the party that he would be picking me up at 6 the next morning (I had no choice), so I guess that was settled.

I cursed a fair bit when the alarm went off the next morning, but Brett showed up on time and we were on our way! We arrived at the residence near Demorestville and the friendly homeowner informed us that it was last seen near the fence of the large field south of her house. She gave us permission to walk around back there, we promised not to sue her if we broke our ankles, and off we went. After 15 minutes or so I walked towards the back of the field, when I was surprised to look up and see this...

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Demorestville, ON

I called Brett over and we had excellent looks at the male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher as it hunted bees, flies, and grasshoppers. At times it flew over us, once only about 5 feet over our heads!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Demorestville, ON

As of the 2009 OBRC report, there were 56 accepted records of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for Ontario. 32 of these records were from late April through June, with most of the other records coming in October. Other than the Scissor-tailed in Thunder Bay on April 10 of this year, this is the earliest spring record for Ontario (April 14), surpassing the next earliest date of April 29, from Iroquois Falls in the Cochrane District. It is not that surprising that one would show up since we have had very strong south winds coming all the way up from Texas in the last few days.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Demorestville, ON

This appears to be a male in alternate (breeding) plumage, due to the very long tail, red in the underwing, and notch on P10. What a stunning bird!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Demorestville, ON

We also heard and saw a Brown Thrasher here, year bird #177 for me. After spending an hour and a half with this bird Brett and I continued on. We decided to check out Thickson's Woods in Whitby hoping that a large amount of migrants had dropped in due to the strong south winds and foggy conditions this morning. We were in luck as dozens of kinglets (both species), Brown Creepers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were present. I grabbed a few crappy shots of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the first one I've photographed this year. Hopefully I can get a better shot to replace this one later this spring.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Thickson's Woods, ON

I added three new year birds at Thickson's - 4 vocal Pine Warblers, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher buzzing in the shrubby field just north of the paved trail, and 2 House Wrens along the paved trail.

We continued on to the Whitby Mental Health Centre where two male Harlequin Ducks had been reported on the lake, as well as a single Brant. I already had both of these for the year, but my Harlequins were in the middle of the Niagara River, and since I'm not entirely sure where the Ontario/New York border is, there was the possibility that I had actually seen them in New York waters. Despite the heavy fog, the 2 harli ducks were easy to pick out close to shore! The Brant was nowhere to be seen, unfortunately. With a bit of post-processing I was able to eliminate most of the fogginess out of the photos.

Harlequin Duck - Whitby, ON

Brett and I then drove up north of Uxbridge to the town of Udora. The previous evening I had received an email from a lady from Udora who had seen a Swallow-tailed Kite gliding over a field here. She wasn't sure if it was possible for one to be in Ontario (which is why she emailed me) but her description was spot on and I'm sure that's what she saw! We met up with her and along with her two kids we checked out the field where they had seen the kite. As Brett and I expected we were unable to find it. More than half of the Swallow-tailed Kites in Ontario, of which there are 15 accepted records, are single day observations of birds flying overhead. They don't tend to hang around very long!  Regardless, it was a great area to explore and we had a few interesting sightings including a large flock of 40+ White-winged Crossbills, pretty good for this late in the season.

We slowly made our way back to Guelph, stopping at a decent looking marsh along Ravenshoe Road just east of Woodbine along the way. There were close to 200 ducks here of which the majority were Green-winged Teal. Most took off as we set up our scopes, so we were unable to pick out any vagrant Eurasian Green-winged Teals with the group. Several shorebirds were also present and I added Lesser Yellowlegs (#181) to the year list.

It was a great day in the field! Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a code-4 species in Ontario and makes the 10th bird I have seen this year that is a code 4 or higher. Like I have mentioned previously, I will need to see about 20 of these super-rarities this year to have a chance at breaking the record, so I'm halfway there. It is an exciting time of year, and it will only get better as the month goes on!

Sunday 15 April 2012


Almost as if on cue, I got my Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! I'm pretty sure Brandon predicted this one...

I'm going to make this post short since I'm working on 3 hours of sleep. I didn't get to bed til about 2:30 last night (hosting a party) and up at 5:30 this morning...full report from today coming tomorrow!

In short, Brett and I chased a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Prince Edward County this morning and were succesful after about 15 minutes of searching. We managed to get a ton of killer is an early edit.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Demorestville

I added 6 more year birds today - the flycatcher, as well as Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, and Lesser Yellowlegs. It was a great day in the field, and I'm now up to 181 for the year!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

2 more weeks to go

Looking at the calendar, it currently says April 11. This means that we are only a single fortnight away from the most wonderful time of the year! April 25th (give or take 3 or 4 days) is usually when migration really heats up in southern Ontario and the first wave of neotropical migrants show up. Last year on April 24th I found a Snowy Egret and a flock of Willets,  and I also saw Brandon's Neotropic Cormorant. The following day I had an Eared Grebe and Eurasian Wigeon at the Blenheim lagoons. Other good birds seen in Ontario during the April 24-27 period included Black-headed Gull (Niagara), Townsend's Solitaire (Rondeau), Cattle Egret (Whitby), Yellow-throated Warbler (Van Wagner's Beach, Mississauga, Rondeau, Pelee Island), Worm-eating Warbler (Long Point),  Western Meadowlark (Pelee Island), Glossy Ibis (Pelee Island), Eared Grebe (Pelee Island), Prothonotary Warbler (Pelee Island), Western Grebe (Toronto). You get the idea!

This weekend is really starting to look good. Unfortunately I have 2 more exams - one on Saturday and my last exam of my undergrad career on the following Wednesday. Currently, strong southwest winds are forecasted for Saturday through Monday - hopefully strong enough to suck some southwestern species up from Texas! If my studying is going well I may sneak away for maybe Monday...we'll see.

In other news, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher showed up yesterday in Thunder Bay! I haven't heard any news on whether it is still around. Here is a shitty photo of the only Scissor-tailed I have seen in Ontario - one from Luther Marsh in the summer of 2010.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Luther Marsh (August 7, 2010)

By the way, I added three year birds yesterday in Guelph - Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, and Greater Yellowlegs.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Northern Trip by the numbers

I'm not back home in the south, so I figured I should put out a final wrap post about my whirlwind northern trip. Here are some numbers from the trip:

100: Total number of new "county ticks" I added. (For those who don't know, a county tick is a new bird seen in a county. For instance, I saw 27 new birds for my Thunder Bay District list on the trip, 2 new birds for my Haliburton County list, etc. I'm now up to 3243 county ticks for Ontario. Divided up by the 50 counties, that is an average of 65 species per county.)

72: total hours away

31: total hours spent driving

2828: Total km driven

50: Number of times I questioned my sanity for doing this trip

1: Times I was pulled over for going 91 km/h in a 60 km/h zone

1: Times I was let off and not given a ticket for going 91 in a 60

3: Number of moose/truck collisions I saw near Marathon

1: Number of moose I saw standing on the shoulder of the road during the night

3: Number of year birds I saw

155.9: The highest price of gas (per litre) I saw up north

So there you have it. The drive home was fairly uneventful - a few birds here and there, but nothing really notable. I didn't really stop to go birding, as I was eager to get home! From a big year perspective, the trip was a definite success. While it was a lot of driving for only a few new species it was a trip that I needed to do or risk not seeing those species for the year (Boreal Owl in particular). I saw the main 3 species that I was going for, and the 2 misses (Western Meadowlark and Sharp-tailed Grouse) I will see when I go up to Rainy River later on in the spring. Logistically the trip worked out great as my car had absolutely no problems, I had no collisions with moose, and I had no huge unexpected expenses. Michael and Martha were extremely helpful in Marathon and I really appreciated having a place to stay.

For the next little bit I won't get out a whole lot as I have 3 exams in the next 10 days. After that, all hell will break loose :)

Thursday 5 April 2012

Grouse, Owls, and Woodpeckers in the north

The alternate title to this post is "Cocks, Hooters, and Peckers in the north".

On Tuesday, I finally finished my final project for Evolutionary Ecology and I was excited to hit the road and head north. As I mentioned previously, there were a few species that I needed to knock off the list - species that I had hoped to see before spring migration really heated up. Those species were Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Spruce Grouse. If I could get these ones under my belt, the only northern birds I would need would be James Bay birds or Rainy River birds.

At about 9:30 I was on my way, headed straight for Algonquin Provincial Park. Spruce Grouse, though ranging throughout much of Ontario, can be notoriously hard to find, except in Algonquin at April! I was hoping to see a displaying male - something that I've never seen before.

I arrived at 1:00 AM and fell asleep to the sounds of Northern Saw-whet Owls hooting to each other. It was great to be back in the "north"! First thing in the morning, after unsuccessfully looking for the chickens along Opeongo Road, I went to the most accessible, reliable spot in the park - Spruce Bog. I was actually surprised when I noticed a male Spruce Grouse, in full display, standing at the side of the trail! The little guy was all puffed out, black neck feathers, red crest and all, with his tail sticking up right behind him. I was wondering where his lady friend was - he was probably wondering the same thing. At this point I realized I should get some photos, so I fumbled with my camera instead. This is all I could manage as he sauntered into the forest, realizing I wasn't a suitable mate choice. Maybe there are more lady-chickens in that direction. Best of luck, little guy!

Spruce Grouse - Algonquin Provincial Park

I spent the rest of the day doing not a whole lot other than driving, and I eventually made it to Marathon around 10:45 PM. Along the way I spent a few hours searching for Sharp-tailed Grouse east of Sault Ste. Marie to no avail. They are common in Rainy River District (where I will be going later in the spring), but I had never seen them and wanted to at least try here. At one point I took a break and went for a run down a side-road to stretch my legs. I noticed a flash out of the corner of my eye and watched a small, streaky, orangey sparrow flush into some bushes! Without my bins, it sure looked like a Le Conte's, but I wasn't sure and it was hard to get a clear, unobstructed view of it. By the time I had retrieved my optics, the thing was nowhere in site! That's how it goes, sometimes...Le Conte's breed in the area, but they normally don't show up until very late in April. I did see what looked like a Western Red-tailed Hawk soaring by in the area - definitely a highlight! It basically looked like a normal red-tail but completely black (still sporting the red tail though).

Welcome to Marathon (it was 16 cents cheaper in town, though)

As soon as I arrived in Marathon I drove down a side road which cut through some decent looking habitat. Michael Butler had Boreal Owls here once when doing an owl survey so I figured it was worth a try! At the first few stops, I didn't hear a sure was nice however being outside with the night sky completely lit up with stars. The fourth stop was a bit better as I heard a Northern Saw-whet Owl tooting in the distance. Suddenly, as I was about to go back in my car and continue on, I heard the telltale call of a Boreal Owl, way out in the distance!

The rest of the night was more of the same and after 15 stops I had 4 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 2 Boreal Owls (the second one much closer than the first). I parked my car on the side of the road, fell asleep, and it was morning much too quickly. At this point, I had my main target of the trip and anything else would just be bonus!

The next morning I met up with Michael who was free and able to go birding. The first spot we checked out, Peninsula Harbour, was a location where he had found a Western Meadowlark a few days prior (check out his post, Unfortunately the western was no longer present, but a few other birds kept us occupied including a singing Northern Cardinal (rare in Thunder Bay District) and a few ducks.
Next up was a check of Pukawska National Park, where Barb Charlton and I struck out for Three-toed Woodpeckers with Michael earlier in the year. Unfortunately today was no different, and despite beautiful weather and a scenic walk, we couldn't turn one up. We suspected that while this part of Pukawska is a great wintering ground, they breed elsewhere. We did, however, see another chicken - this one a Ruffed Grouse. His lady-friend was also nowhere in sight.

Ruffed Grouse - Pukaskwa National Park

In a different area of the park, the male Redhead was still hanging out with a few goldeneye. Michael only occasionally gets this species in the area - usually about 1 per year.

Redhead - Pukaskwa National Park

We parted ways at this point. Michael recommended I try Neys Provincial Park - the only place in the area where he had seen Three-toed Woodpeckers outside of winter. I walked in, and I hadn't been going for more than 200 meters when I heard the distinctive drumming of a Three-toed Woodpecker to my right! One followed suit to my left a minute later. Despite some effort, they refused to come in and I continued on, satisfied but still wanting more. After about 20 minutes of not hearing anything of note, I came across a little flock of chickadees (both species), nuthatches, and kinglets. I played the Three-toed Woodpecker call note to bring in the Boreal Chickadee, and as I did, a real Three-toed Woodpecker called ahead! I had fleeting glimpses as he scaled the bark, only managing this photo.

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Neys Provincial Park

It turns out that in this area were 3 Three-toed Woodpeckers, all actively drumming and working the bark. I was ecstatic to get such great prolonged views of them. This was my 338th species of bird for Ontario, and my 300th "self found".

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Neys Provincial Park

On the way out, I stopped to photograph this female Ruffed Grouse. She let me get quite close, and I eventually sat down on the road next to her.

Ruffed Grouse - Neys Provincial Park

Ruffed Grouse - Neys Provincial Park

She slowly started walking across the road, taking care to stay "hidden" in the shadow that stretched all the way across, all the while keeping a wary eye on me.

Ruffed Grouse - Neys Provincial Park

Eventually she made it across and slowly stepped into the forest, confident I hadn't seen her!

Tomorrow I leave the generous hospitality of Michael and Martha and make my way back to the south. It was a great visit, though much too short. I would love to spend a lot more time in this area - there is just so much amazing, beautiful habitat.