Wednesday 6 June 2012

Two lifers in 12 hours

I returned late last night from a whirlwind trip that took me from Cambridge to Point Pelee to Walpole Island to Pelee to the Holland Marsh and back to Point Pelee. I had three main targets in mind - King Rail, Northern Bobwhite, and Western Kingbird - and was hoping to maybe see a rarity as well!

The trip started off great Sunday evening as I drove down from Cambridge. I decided that I would check out Port Stanley and see what was happening. I've had a fair bit of luck in this part of Ontario, seeing birds such as Black-throated Sparrow, Western Kingbird, Black-tailed Gull, and lots of shorebirds in the past couple of years in Elgin County. I didn't get much at the harbour (though Gavin Platt had seen 2 Red Knots there earlier in the day), but found quite a few shorebirds at the lagoons. A highlight for me was a nice Western Sandpiper hanging out with some Semipalmated Sandpipers. Too distant for photos, unfortunately.

My next stop was the Blenheim lagoons. Just as I was approaching the exit on the 401, my phone rang. It was Alan, and he had 2 White-faced Ibises at the shorebird cell at Hillman! Obviously I scrapped the plans of birding Blenheim and raced down to Hillman Marsh, arriving just as the sun was setting. Dean Ware was already there looking, but we couldn't turn up the ibises in the fading light. They must have just left to roost for the night. Alan showed me his photos that evening - a 1st year bird and an adult.

not a White-faced Ibis - Hillman Marsh

The following day I spent at Pelee. No luck with the ibises, so at about 9:00 AM I headed into the park and walked some trails. 5(!) Prothonotary Warblers on the Woodland Nature Trail was a definite highlight. Butterflies were quite numerous and I was happy to see my lifer Pipevine Swallowtail. This is the only butterfly I photographed, a Spicebush.

Spicebush Swallowtail - Point Pelee Nation Park

I didn't see much the rest of the day so I headed up to Walpole Island to search for Northern Bobwhites and King Rails. I drove around all evening on the island with not a whole lot of success. I amused myself with finding quite a few common species since I was in a new county I had hardly birded before (Lambton). As the sun went down, I gave up with the bobwhites and switched to King Rail hunting.

King Rails are an Endangered species and it is estimated that 25 to 50 pairs breed in the province. About half of these pairs are on Walpole Island, but apparently they are tougher to locate now as opposed to late April and early May. The males are much more vocal early in the season.

I spent an hour or two in perfect habitat, stopping every now and then to listen. At one point I was sitting in my car with the windows open, writing in my notebook, when suddenly I heard a loud "kack-kack-kack" beside me! It was a King Rail! It called several times and was very close to the road. Using my flashlight I had a very brief glimpse of it standing among the reeds before I heard a splash and it vanished. It called several more times in the next 1/2 hour before I drove away. Success!

The following morning I had very low hopes of seeing a bobwhite since they are potentially extirpated from Ontario. I find it is better to be pessimistic when out birding, because then you never get disappointed! Well, the pessimism seemed to work since I found a covey of bobwhite! I never did see them but spent quite a while listening to several of them calling back in an oak savannah about 50-100 meters off of the road. It is hard to estimate how many there were, but probably 3+. They were making a variety of calls too, not just the typical "bob..WHITE!" for which they are so aptly named. This was a very exciting lifer and a bird I never thought that I would ever get in Ontario!

At this point I was two-for-two with my main target species, both being life birds. Feeling lucky, I motored down to Windsor to check the location where a Western Kingbird spent the summer with its Eastern Kingbird mate last summer, producing 3 hybird offspring. Unfortunately the only kingbird I found was an Eastern, so I headed back to Pelee to spend the rest of the day.

young Eastern Foxsnake I rescued from the road

Just as I was nearing the park entrance, I heard that a Cattle Egret was present north of Toronto! I have struck out on this species 3 times this year, so despite the distance, I was determined to finally see one. Since I already had my two main targets for this trip, I figured I would try for the Cattle Egret and leave Pelee a day or two early.

I picked up Barb Charlton en route and we headed up to Toronto. For some reason, Barb and I have had incredible luck whenever we chase a bird. We have been successful this year already chasing Harris's Sparrow, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Spotted Towhee, White-winged Dove, Bell's Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Piping Plover, Yellow Rail, and Curlew Sandpiper! The only birds I can recall that we missed this year were Varied Thrush and Say's Phoebe. Since I can't seem to buy a rare heron/ibis this year I figured that if Barb and I went together it would increase our odds exponentially.

Cattle Egret - Keswick

As you can see from the above photo, we were successful once again! The Cattle Egret was pretty much exactly where it was "supposed" to be and we had great looks of it pulling worms from the lawn. The grackles didn't seem to like it though. At one point a few grackles tried to scare it away, but instead it just flew closer to us.

Cattle Egret with earthworm - Keswick

Cattle Egret - Keswick

Around 7:45 PM, the egret seemed to have had enough and took off to roost for the night. I really like this photo for some reason.

Cattle Egret - Keswick

The Cattle Egret and King Rail were both code-3 species, with the bobwhite being a code-4 species. I am now up to 313 species for the year. Unless another rarity shows up, I will be spending the next three days herping in southern Georgian Bay! 


Unknown said...

Congrats on the lifers! Very nice shot of the cattle egret in flight.

Fred said...

Yes, great photos of the Cattle Egret.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kory and Fred!