Sunday 30 September 2012

Mega rarity in Moosonee, version 2

Apparently it was decided that since Harlan's Hawk isn't currently considered a valid species, it won't count towards the "50 days of rare" competition! I figured I might as well find something rarer today, so we turned up a Carolina Wren in Moosonee for our daily rarity. Take that ;)

We figured that because of the warm weather and light south winds overnight it was possible that some southern birds might make their way into the Moosonee area, and we were not disappointed! The day started out innocently enough as we scanned the river first thing in the morning. Just about nothing was moving so we eventually started wandering through town. At one point Mark was up ahead and Alan and I were walking parallel to shore creek, when we stopped dead in our tracks as we heard an interesting bird sing. It sang again and we both kind of realized it was a Carolina Wren! Mark had heard it too and so the three of us cornered it. It popped up in front of Alan and he confirmed it was indeed a Carolina Wren. We spent the better part of the next hour getting photos of it and listening to it making a variety of vocalizations.

Normally I wouldn't really care about seeing a Carolina Wren in Ontario, but it just so happens that it is an exceedingly rare bird north of the southern Great Lakes. There are 3 accepted records for northern Ontario. Michael Butler had one in Marathon earlier this year, so this would make the 5th for northern Ontario. Of greater interest is that it is the most northerly record of a Carolina Wren ever! Of course, Carolina Wren had never been recorded in the Hudson Bay lowlands before.

We were pretty stoked about this bird and continued checking around town. Later in the afternoon we saw the only other "southern vagrant" for the day - a female-type Indigo Bunting at the Moosonee sewage lagoons. There are about a half dozen previous records for the southern James Bay area.

I went for a nice walk this evening along one of the railway tracks. It was nice to enjoy the peacefulness of the perfectly calm air. Despite the warm temperatures, the presence of some bird species that I associate with winter gave the air a certain feel to it. A family of Gray Jays followed me along, a Northern Shrike hunted the American Tree Sparrows in the bushes, and an Evening Grosbeak flew over.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Moosonee before we head back down south. Hopefully that pesky wheatear will show up, though I am not too optimistic. We need some cold weather! I would really like to have a third installment in the "Mega rarity in Moosonee" series of blog posts I have been making. On one hand it is great that we have found a bunch of fantastic rarities for Moosonee, but on the other hand it is kind of frustrating that they are all birds that aren't new for my big year!

Of course, lots of photos will be added to this post once I get back.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Mega rarity in Moosonee

After 2 days of slogging around town, seeing very little, we finally struck gold and found a mega rarity! The good news: It is rare enough that there is only one previously accepted record by the OBRC. The bad news: it is not a species I can count towards my big year!

We were sitting on a picnic table relaxing on the east end of town when we noticed a good raptor migration starting. Lots of Rough-legged Hawks, the odd Red-tailed Hawk, and a few Peregrine Falcosn. We all got on this interesting looking raptor which didn't seem quite right for a Rough-legged - but it didn't look right for a Red-tailed either! I knew right away that this was something good so I starting taking photos and Alan did as well. It came right over us and we all got some great looks and photos at an adult light-morph Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk!

Eventually it continued on to the west and we checked our photos vs the Sibley app on my phone to confirm - definitely a Harlan's. Unfortunately for me, I was having problems with my dad's backup camera which I was using (my camera bit the dust not long ago). Somehow it managed to erase the whole series of the hawk, as well as other photos, off my camera. This is the second time that this @#$%&@# camera has done that! I will do my best to recover the files, and I think I may bite the bullet and buy a new camera once I get back. I was hoping I could save the money and wait to next year to make the purchase, but I really need a reliable camera that won't do that!

Even if I can't recover the files, Alan will send me his photos to post on the blog.

Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk is currently considered a subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk that breeds in Alaska and winters on the southern Great Plains. It used to be considered a valid species, and maybe it will be again soon? There is one accepted record for Ontario, a bird in Toronto in 1996. There are however, a few more valid records that haven't been reviewed.

This is the first time that Harlan's Hawk has been recorded in northern Ontario as well. A great mega-rarity, but unfortunately it won't count to my big year!

Photos to come (eventually).

Thursday 27 September 2012

Moosonee update and rare bird competition

A few days ago, Brandon Holden (view his blog here) decided that since he had about 50 days with limited work, he was going to go on a 50 day rare bird finding mission. Eventually, the idea turned into that we should have a rare bird finding competition! The winner gets bragging rights and possibly a little booze. The rules are that in order to participate, you have to have a blog where you post updates on how your "50 days of rare" are turning out! A good chunk of us are in on the competition - check Brando's blog for updates!

For a bird to qualify, it has to be self-found! For details on what counts as a self-found bird, there are a few grey areas but fortunately Punk Birders made an extensive set of rules on what counts as "self-found" which I mostly agree with!

With the competition beginning 2 days ago, I figured I would be in a good position to take the early lead with a good self found bird since I had a trip planned to Moosonee, Ontario. The trip started out well with some modest rarities...

Alan Wormington, Mark Jennings and I left Hamilton at 2:00 AM and drove straight north. We stopped at the Powassan lagoons right at sunrise for our first stop of the day. While there were no shorebirds there, there was a good variety of ducks and sparrows and it didn't take Alan long to pick up a Nelson's Sparrow along the edge! We kept looking and I noticed another Nelson's. We saw a few more skulky sparrows that were probably Nelson's, but couldn't confirm.

Later in the day we made a stop at the North Bay dump. It was absolutely crawling with birds and we estimated at least 500 White-crowned Sparrows, 150 American Pipits, and 100 Savannah Sparrows. Other goodies mixed in included a Clay-colored Sparrow, some Indigo Buntings, an Orange-crowned Warbler and more. Of greater interest were the 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls we found! According to Martin Parker these are possibly the first for Nipissing County - pretty cool. Photos coming! I think with that I took the lead in the rare bird competition. I am sure it will be short lived since someone will find a mega rarity soon (hopefully!).

We checked numerous nooks and crannies, sewage lagoons, etc on the drive up and didn't see anything else of too much interest. After an all-too-brief sleep in Cochrane for the night, we drove up to the Abitibi Canyon today. We checked the dam and any good looking areas for birds. No rarities, though there were lots of birds to keep us interested. I noted an Evening Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbills, Lapland Longspurs, 17(!) Eastern Bluebirds, Rusty Blackbirds, and my first American Tree Sparrow of the fall. Winter is almost here! We also had a total of 7 Spruce Grouses and 1 Ruffed Grouse on the road, which provided amazing photo opportunities! Which reminds me, what is the plural of grouse? Grice?

We took the train to Moosonee and Alan and I managed to see a Western Meadowlark on the way (90% Western vs Eastern, since all previous records of meadowlarks up here have been Westerns)! 17 Sharp-tailed Grouse gave us the grouse trifecta for the day. Once we got to town, we checked out the dump and the sewage lagoons first. A Canvasback was at the lagoons, one of only 3 records for southern James Bay! Unfortunately it won't count towards the "50 days of rare" competition, since it was found by a local birder a few days ago. Either way, Alan was pretty stoked since it was his first for his southern James Bay list. I couldn't care less, since it is a @#*$%^& Canvasback. Meh.

We didn't see anything else good today. The winds are fairly strong from the southwest so maybe it will blow something interesting in!

I have lots of photos to add to this post, but I can't get my photos onto my computer until I get home so it will have to wait.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Going on a Rarity-hunting trip

(Rarity with a capital R!)

Seventeen hours from now, I will be in a vehicle heading towards northern Ontario on my second last (or third last) major trip of the year. I'll be joining Mark Jennings and Alan Wormington on a rarity-hunt in a fantastic place to look for rarities this time of year - Moosonee!

You see, the last few weeks in Ontario have been a little depressing from my "big year" standpoint. Since the Thick-billed Kingbird in late August, there hasn't been a single chaseable year-bird that I could have seen. I did however, find the Yellow-crowned Night-heron on September 12, so I shouldn't complain too much, but I was expecting a few more decent birds to show up this month. Maybe a Western Kingbird, a Ruff, perhaps even a Eurasian Collared-dove. A few really good birds, including Ontario's first ever Kelp Gull, did show up but none were chase-able! 

In addition, I haven't added  any more of my 8 remaining Code 2 and Code 3 birds since September 1st. I was really hoping that a Glossy Ibis would show up this month! However, there is a lot of the year left and I am still confident I will get 5 or 6 out of the 8 birds remaining. 

Since no other birders seem to want to find any rarities for me, I will have to do it myself. Alan and I started talking about this trip sometime in August and after a bit of planning and booking of hotels, everything is a go. Mark Jennings agreed to come with and we will be taking his car up.


 So why Moosonee?

Lark Sparrow (1978)
Lark Sparrow (1986)
Northern Wheatear (1976)
Northern Wheatear (1980)
Northern Wheatear (1990)
Northern Wheatear (2003)
Loggerhead Shrike (1990)
Prothonotary Warbler (1989)
Dickcissel (2010)
Cattle Egret (1996)

Those are just a few of the rarities that Alan, Mark and Co. have found in Moosonee on autumn visits. Every trip they seem to find something good! And four wheatears is a nice number..

I could use one of these on the trip (Lazuli Bunting)

Of course we will be checking a lot of other spots along the way. The Abitibi Canyon dam will be checked twice. Oh yeah, almost forgot:

Northern Wheatear (1972)
Northern Wheatear (1989)

Are you starting to see a trend??? We will be checking a bunch of other dam systems up there as well as over 10 sewage ponds that rarely, if ever get checked. Something good is bound to show up!!! All of Ontario's autumn Northern Wheatears have occurred between the dates August 17 and October 19, with the majority coming in September and early October. If I get a Northern Wheatear this year, this trip will be it. 


This part of Ontario this time of year is a great rarity magnet because it concentrates rare birds.
To me it seems that there are rare birds everywhere, its just a matter of finding them. In much of southern Ontario away from the lakes this is a daunting task since there is no way to really concentrate the rare birds.Quite a few rare birds show up at Pelee, Rondeau, Long Point, and Presqu'ile because the lake and the respective peninsulas concentrate the birds. In the southern James Bay area of Moosonee, rarities are highly concentrated. Say for instance, you are a western bird that is used to life on the open prairies. If you get lost and end up flying over boreal Ontario, looking down you don't see any inviting habitat. But as you start to tire, and you see a big open area (such as a town, or a dam system), you will probably land since its the closest you will get to an open prairie. Additionally, any large body of water is a huge obstacle for landbirds. Often they will hit the shoreline and end up following the coast. Moosonee is located right at the base of James Bay and is an inviting, open area for any vagrant that travels down the shoreline of James Bay. 

There are a greater number of birds on the move during the spring and autumn migrations, and thus there are a greater number of rarities moving as well. In autumn there are simply more birds which could explain why a huge percentage of rarities are found this time of year! Not to mention that young birds have a greater tendency to get lost and migrate the wrong way. Who knows what could show up on our trip? 

I would be very happy with one of these (Black-throated Sparrow)

A brief itinerary: 
We leave tonight at 2 AM from Hamilton, spending the day checking out good looking spots between North Bay and Smooth Rock Falls. 
Thursday: check Abitibi Canyon, catch the train to Moosonee
-four nights in Moosonee
-Monday: take the train back to Fraserdale, overnight in Smooth Rock Falls
-Tuesday: tour of the 6 big dam systems up there
-Wednesday: check of a bunch of sewage lagoons, drive home

I'll bring my computer and we will have internet where we are staying, so I'll update frequently if we see something good!

Monday 24 September 2012

Pelagic results, Pelee for two days, and SPOTTED REDSHANK report?

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few days - I have been pretty busy!Regarding the pelagic I went on from Hamilton, check out the ONTbirds posts from Gavin.

This afternoon 14 birders chartered a boat for a pelagic cruise of the west end of Lake Ontario. We left Bronte Harbour and sailed across the lake into a strong wind towards Fifty Point then circled around the shore in the shelter of land back to Bronte. The cross lake leg was mostly devoid of gulls and the few we saw showed little interest in our chum. However it was in this zone that we had our two best birds. The first was thought by some to be a dark immature Long-tailed Jaeger however other opinions were voiced. Not long after we had spectacular views of an pale adult Parasitic Jaeger. Along the south shore we saw some White-winged Scoters and other ducks. Several loons presumed to be Common Loons were seen. Off Burlington Beach we crashed a Ring-billed Gull party and persuaded them to come with us back to Bronte with the gift of popcorn. Two birders briefly saw a Sabines Gulls among the Ring-billed Gulls but sadly I was not one of them even though I was flanked by the two who did.
Logistics: The boat was Veterans Dream, a Grand Banks 42 Classic with a full walk around deck. She suited our needs admirably. More information is available at Guy Smith was our captain for the afternoon. He normally does fishing charters but was quite happy to meet our peculiar needs. This year his season will end at the beginning of October but he normally goes to the end of that month. Thanks are owed to Cheryl Edgecombe who encouraged me to make the booking. If you have any questions feel free to ask.
Gavin Edmondstone
Oakville, Ontario

3 idiots on the boat - photo courtesy of Barb Charlton!

So to sum it up, we didn't see much! But it was an enjoyable ride out in the boat with good company. Out of the interesting birds listed, the only one I got was the adult Parasitic Jaeger. Thanks Gavin for arranging it, and maybe the next time the birds will be a bit more cooperative!


Anyways, the last 2 days I have been in the Pelee area looking for the Red Phalarope and Pacific Loon that were reported. Long story short, I didn't get either! I missed the Red Phalarope by about an hour and ended up walking the east beach for about 12 kilometers the first day...oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Regarding the Pacific Loon, I didn't even see a Common Loon!


And finally, I saw that a SPOTTED REDSHANK was posted to Ontbirds from the Toronto area this evening? We are all scrambling to get details, but if this bird is legit I will be on site bright and early. There are 4 previous Ontario records!

Friday 21 September 2012

Blog milestone and "pelagic" birding in Ontario

Sometime this afternoon/early evening, my blog will roll over the 100,000 pageviews mark! Woohoo! Thanks everyone for reading along :)

I started it in May, 2011 and never thought it would become that popular...but I guess doing a big year will create some interest in the blog. Some fun facts:

-May 2012 was my most popular month, with 12,714 page views (though September 2012 is on pace to reach about 14,000). My first full month, June 2011, had only 666 page views in comparison!

-I have made 220 posts and there are 407 total comments (though probably a third of the comments are from me)

-My most popular post of all time is called "Photos of all the snakes of Ontario, part 1", and my second most popular post is "Mountain Bluebird Photo", not far behind. A lot of the traffic on my blog is from people looking for information about reptiles in Ontario. The 3 posts in the series I haven't finished about Ontario's snakes are 3 out of 5 most popular posts I have done on this blog. Not something I expected!

-Rounding out the top 10 in most popular posts are "Fish Crow video from Fort Erie", "Dickcissels and car troubles", "Birthday grebe", "Crazy day with two year birds", "Great Gray Owl in Kingsville", and "The next 20 birds added to the Ontario list".

-The top referring site to my blog (a.k.a. where other people link to it from) is of course, Google. Second though goes to Blake Mann's blog, "Burg Birder". Thanks Blake! Honourable mentions go to Brandon Holden's blog and Dwayne Murphy's blog.

-most people who read this blog do so in Canada and the US, however there is a strange amount of viewership who hail from Switzerland, Russia, Belgium, and Sweden.


Enough of that...onto some birding news!
Tomorrow I am going on a 5 hour "pelagic" trip out of Hamilton into Lake Ontario with several other birders. I've been looking forward to it for quite some time! I have no idea how successful it will be - perhaps it will be a bust. But I'm hoping that if there is a shearwater or petrel somewhere on western Lake Ontario, we will be able to entice it to come close to the boat. Seriously though, I would be very happy if I could get Red Phalarope or Black-legged Kittiwake for the yearlist on this trip. Full recap coming tomorrow night.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

More Pelee photos...

Here are the rest of the photos from my road trip!

On my last day in the Pelee area I spent some time taking some photos of warblers along the West Beach footpath. The north winds seemed to bring some new birds into the park and I tallied about 15 species of warblers. I finally got my first photos of Blackpoll, Pine, and Bay-breasted Warblers for the year!

Blackpoll Warbler - Point Pelee NP

I also finally grabbed a crappy record shot for Philadelphia Vireo as well! The only vireo I still need to photograph this year is the abundant Warbling Vireo, and I think I may have missed the boat. Funny how it goes sometimes! I missed Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder Flycatcher, Mourning Warbler, and Marsh Wren too.

Philadelphia Vireo - Point Pelee NP

They following day was the visit to Rondeau Provincial Park with friends Chris and Pauline. I didn't photograph much, but this Turkey Vulture soared right overhead so I had to grab a shot.

Turkey Vulture - Rondeau PP

This Peregrine Falcon was a nice surprise too! Also a new photographed bird for the year...

Peregrine Falcon - Rondeau PP

That afternoon I was lucky to find a Snow Goose at the Blenheim lagoons. This was my earliest autumn migrant for southern Ontario by nine days.

Snow Goose - Blenheim lagoons

Yellow-rumped Warbler from Blenheim...

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Blenheim lagoons

The Ridgetown lagoons were productive - highlights being Red Knot, Red-necked Phalarope, and American Golden-Plover (in that order).

Red Knot - Ridgetown lagoons

Red-necked Phalarope and friends - Ridgetown lagoons

American Golden-plover and Red Knot - Ridgetown lagoons

One morning at Pelee I was happy to come face to face with a big momma Snapping Turtle. She was just ambling along one of the dirt concessions north of the park, so I helped her across to the ditch she was heading to. I'm glad I got to her before another vehicle did since there are always way to many dead turtles on the roads. One wonders how someone can be so blind when they are driving that they don't see a monstrous turtle! Either that, or they have a limited mental capacity and enjoy hitting them (seems likely since many dead turtles are on the shoulder of the road). At any rate, this one will live to see another day!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Home for a rest

Last night I returned home from my roadtrip to the "Banana Belt" of Ontario. Yesterday was spent touring around Elgin County, a favorite county of mine to bird in Ontario. For some reason, I have had a lot of luck in this part of the province! Interesting birds I have seen in this county include Black-tailed Gull, Black-throated Sparrow, Western Kingbird, Brant, Eared Grebe, Golden Eagle, Whimbrel, Red Phalarope, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Western Sandpiper - all in probably less that 14 days of birding in the county. 

Long story short, I didn't see much throughout the whole day, so I called 'er quits and headed home that evening. I had originally planned to spend an additional couple of days birding along the lake to Fort Erie but the prospect of a cool, rainy, windy day on Tuesday did not seem like much fun. Plus I was looking forward to a real bed and some real food! However, I still did add 11 new Elgin County birds, including a Thayer's Gull on the breakwall (seems a tad early for one already). 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - a new Elgin Co. bird for me

Some stats from the trip:
6: total days
1220: the distance (km) that I drove
158: my species count for the trip (could have seen a bunch more if I was trying for a big list!)
21: species of warblers I saw (including Pine, one I rarely see in the autumn, and Connecticut)
22: species of shorebirds I saw (including American Avocet, Red Knot)
14: number of species I photographed for the first time this year
274: number of species I have now photographed for the year
1: number of code-4 or higher rarities I found (Yellow-crowned Night-heron!!!)
1: number of year birds
0: total number of good meals I had

Here are a few more additional photos that I finally got around to editing from the trip.

This young Bonaparte's Gull I photographed on the first day. I didn't notice it at the time, but looking at the photos you can see that this bird has some "louse spots" below its eye. These "chewing lice", most likely of the genus Saemundssonia, are an ectoparasite which feed on the skin, feathers, or blood of the host, particularly around the face. While these parasites may not necessarily be detrimental to the bird's health, they have been shown to be an indicator of a bird with poor health. This Bonaparte's Gull seemed rather sickly and allowed me to walk right up to it so I wouldn't be surprised if it perished sometime in the next few days. For additional reading on the subject, see

Bonaparte's Gull with louse spots - Point Pelee NP

Bonaparte's Gull with louse spots - Point Pelee NP

While I was birding in the Pelee area I kept my eyes open for unusual butterflies given the incredible year it has been so far. I was rewarded with a Cloudless Sulfur, though none of the hoped for Ocola or Long-tailed Skippers! I took a few photos of some common southern species one afternoon.

Common Buckeye - Point Pelee NP

Common Buckeye - Point Pelee NP

Gray Hairstreak - Point Pelee NP

Wild Indigo Duskywing - Hillman Marsh CA

On my 3rd day, Kory Renaud took me out in his canoe to check out the Pelee marsh for shorebirds. It was a beautiful evening - perfectly calm, around 20 degrees, and sunny. My camera was having problems but I got a few photos I was happy with! It is super easy when the birds will let you float right up to them.

Black-bellied Plover - Point Pelee NP

Pectoral Sandpiper - Point Pelee NP

American Golden-plover - Point Pelee NP

American Golden-plover - Point Pelee NP

Black-bellied Plover - Point Pelee NP

Not a shorebird, but a common species I hardly ever photograph!

Herring Gull - Point Pelee NP

And another non-shorebird, but a secretive species that hardly ever lends itself to good photo opportunities.

Sora - Point Pelee NP

That's all for now - more photos coming up.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Pelee to Port Stanley

Some updates of what I've been up to the last couple of days...

Yesterday morning the conditions looked great for a huge hawk flight so I went over to Seacliff (in Leamington) to do some hawkwatching. Sharp-shinned Hawks and Kestrels whizzed by throughout the morning hours, and by 9:30 the Broad-winged Hawks started flying. Alan Wormington arrived and we spent a while waiting for the huge flight to materialize. Unfortunately, it never happened!The cold front that had recently passed through had a really wide path and it was moving pretty slow - maybe it caused a lot of the raptors to still be at sites farther north and east. We had about 1000 Broad-winged Hawks and about 8 other species of raptors, though nothing too interesting. Other interesting sightings included an Eastern Meadowlark (early migrant), a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a colony of Dainty Sulfurs.

I spent the rest of the day checking out the national park to see what the north winds had pushed down the peninsula. It was a nice change seeing numbers of warblers and so I spent some time getting photos of a few species I hadn't yet this year (Bay-breasted and Blackpoll warblers). I now have 273 species photographed in Ontario this year (hoping for 300!). I checked the bridge at Hillman as well as Wheatley harbour, but of course the Kelp Gull was nowhere to be seen. I still wouldn't be surprised if it shows up again somewhere on western Lake Erie!

That night I headed up to Chatham to meet up with some friends, Chris Law and Pauline Catling, and hit up the bar scene in downtown Chatham (It's not much of a "scene"). This morning we awoke earlier than I would have liked and traveled down to Rondeau to hike around. A beautiful day, and a nice variety of warblers and other songbirds. Nothing too noteworthy though.

After a much needed afternoon nap, I was feeling more awake and so I birded the Rondeau area before working my way down the lake towards Port Stanley. The Blenheim lagoons had only two individual shorebirds including a nice Red-necked Phalarope. Other birds caught my attention - namely a white blob on the pond with Canada Geese. It turned out to be an adult Snow Goose! I think this is my earliest autumn record of Snow Goose in southern Ontario, and it certainly is the first time I have seen one at these lagoons. While I was checking out the goose, a strange grebe floated by behind it. Red-necked Grebe! Not a species I ever expected to see at the lagoons, and a pretty rare bird for Chatham-Kent county.

Eventually I made my way over to do a quick check of the Ridgetown lagoons. The little cell in the middle was half drained, so the quick five minute stop turned into an hour as I studied the shorebirds. The highlight for me was a juvenile Red Knot! It was my first one for Chatham-Kent - a species I rarely see in southern Ontario. Not to be overlooked was a sharp looking juvenile American Golden-plover and a busy Red-necked Phalarope, spinning around. 11 species were present in total.

I didn't see anything else noteworthy and I am now in a St Thomas Tim Horton's, making use of their free wifi. Tomorrow is going to be a day touring Elgin County, including the Port Stanley lagoons and harbour, the Aylmer lagoons, Port Burwell, and anything else that looks interesting! Tomorrow night I will be near Long Point as I continue to work my way east. It's been a pretty good road trip so far - an American Avocet, a Yellow-crowned Night-heron, 22 shorebird species including Red Knot, Connecticut Warbler, lots of rare butterflies, an early Snow Goose, and a local rarity in Red-necked Grebe. What will tomorrow bring?

Photos will be added to this post when I get to editing them.

Friday 14 September 2012

Days 2 and 3 at Pelee

A relatively quick post tonight since I'm pretty tired...

Yesterday I spent the full day in the Pelee area. A few highlights, including some good butterflies at the Couture Dyke. I had a Cloudless Sulfur, my second this year, as well as 31 Bronze Coppers (I've never seen them before in southern Ontario!). Some were mating and so naturally I took some voyeuristic photos.

Bronze Coppers - Hillman Marsh

Earlier that morning, while doing a lakewatch with Alan, the most exciting bird was this single juv. Bonaparte's Gull on the beach. It was that slow!

Bonaparte`s Gull - Point Pelee NP

The American Avocet was present yesterday as well as today when I checked in the late afternoon. I ran into Dwayne Murphy here and he was happy to see it. A photo with the real camera this time:

American Avocet - Hillman Marsh

Last night I checked out the egret roost at Holiday Beach to see what was going on. Kory Renaud, Chip Weseloh, Clive Hodder, Bev Wannick, and Jeremy and Nadia (didn't catch their last names) were also there. The egret numbers were way down, and unfortunately there were no rare species present with the group. I still need all 3 ibises for the year!

Kory and Sarah were kind to offer their place for me to stay, and then this morning Kory and I headed in to Point Pelee for a few hours. It was painfully slow for birds and I think we identified about 4 species of warblers. Fortunately, one of them was a Connecticut - a first year bird that walked around on a branch only a few feet from us after we pished it in.

From there the rains came in so I took it easy for a few hours/napped/ate lunch etc. I went out for a bit this afternoon, but didn't really see anything that interesting. This evening, Kory and I met up at the Pelee marsh and we took his canoe around for a few hours. There are some mudflats throughout the marsh and they are used by shorebirds. These areas aren't checked frequently enough and good shorebirds do show up. Especially appealing about the area is the ease in which one can photograph them! They seem to be way less wary of people in canoes/kayaks compared to on foot. Out of the photos I took, this one I was most happy with.

American Golden-plover - Point Pelee marsh

It was beautiful out in the marsh - 20 degrees, sunny, and perfectly calm. Several Soras were seen as were about 10 species of shorebirds. A beautiful end to the day! Tomorrow looks ideal for a huge hawk flight, so I think I will park myself down at Seacliffe and pray for a Swainson's Hawk.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Two rarities to kick off the road trip

I left yesterday morning for the Pelee area, on the start of my week or so long trip throughout southern Ontario. I had a number of target species in mind - Swainson's Hawk, Ruff, Kelp Gull, White-faced Ibis - but little did I know that I would add a new year bird on the first day which wasn't one of the above!

I checked a number of places throughout the day, including Tilbury lagoons, Wheatley harbour, Hillman Marsh, the Onion Fields, and Hillman Marsh again. I had dinner at the Red Bus with Alan, then decided to check out the Couture Dyke for shorebirds. This is quickly becoming a favorite location of mine. It is rarely checked by birders but there is a ton of accessible marsh habitat - a good location for a rare heron to show up!

This year with the low water levels there had been some exposed mud that was being utilized by shorebirds on my last visit. I arrived at the location just around sunset, and to my surprise an American Avocet was present! In the fading light I wasn't able to do much with photography since I was limited to my phone and my scope.

I already had American Avocet on my year list from earlier in the spring when 5 were present at Hillman for a few days. But still, a great bird!

American Avocet - Hillman Marsh

Not 5 minutes after posting the Avocet to the listserv, I was stunned to have an ADULT Yellow-crowned Night-heron fly past! It circled around once, eventually landing in some cattails to the north. It was really cool to hear its unique call compared to the several Black-crowned Night-herons in the area. This bird, a code-4,  was one that I thought I would miss for the year since out of Ontario's 42 accepted records, only 2 have occured in September or later.

I heard the night-heron call again later on in the evening, but at that point it was too dark that I couldn't pick it out in flight.

With that, I had finished my first full day of my southwestern Ontario road-trip. I would say it was a success :)

Better photos of the avocet coming up (it was around today as well).

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Commence epic birding time

I'm back from Nova Scotia! It was an amazing 9 days spent with the lovely Laura Bond, but now I am back in Ontario. And since I'm back, starting tomorrow I am off for some epic birding!. As anyone who read my last blog post knows, the autumn is a great time of year for insane mega rarities, as well as for a lot of "easier" code 3s and 4s which I still need for the year!

I haven't really done any "all-out" birding since early June. Once I finished school in mid April I didn't really stop birding until the 2nd week or June. Since then, I spent a month working, 3ish weeks on James Bay, 10 days in Nova Scotia, and some birding here and there whenever I could find the time. Yes, I still did way more birding than the average person during the last few months, but I certainly wasn't going all out! And when one is doing a big year, one has to go all out.

But, I'm feeling the urge once again. We are now midway through September and rarity season is starting to really get cooking. In the past two weeks, Ontario has seen Thick-billed Kingbird, Kelp Gull, Brown Pelican, Swainson's Hawk, White-faced Ibis, and a frigatebird! Not to mention the "regular rarities like Long-tailed Jaeger, Sabine's Gull, a plethora of shorebirds, some good warblers (Prothon, Kentucky, etc), and more. And things should continue to keep rocking!

So starting tomorrow I am going full throttle again. I don't have any immediate plans to work or any big commitments coming up for the next little while! Here is my plan of attack...


September 12: Leave for Point Pelee area. Spent about 3/4 days in the Pelee area, specifically on a Kelp Gull search. Of course, a lot of time will be spent looking for dark ibises as well as rare herons/shorebirds.  Last time that I was at Pelee there was quite a bit of good shorebird habitat, and hopefully there still is. I still need that pesky Ruff for the year, though it is getting quite late for them. I might do a bit of hawkwatching at Seacliffe as it could be a good spot to get a Swainson's Hawk. And of course I will spend some time at the tip doing lakewatches! That Brown Pelican is still on Lake Erie (seen in Ohio recently) so it might make a flyby at the tip. Who knows.

After that I will probably spend a few days checking out the entire north shore of Lake Erie to the Niagara River, then the shore of Lake Ontario until I get bored. After that, who knows!

On September 22nd I am going on an interesting boat trip (more on that later), and near the end of September I am going on a Northern Wheatear hunt to the Moosonee area! It will be about a 7 day trip when it's all said and done, but again, more on that later!

Of course, in between all this traveling I will obviously drop all plans to chase whatever rarity is around. But if nothing rare shows, that is a rough plan of attack.

Hopefully I will have some posts with ACTUAL photos of real birds soon; preferably photos of a Seaweed Seagull.

Now hopefully my car holds up for a little while (fingers crossed).

Monday 10 September 2012

Big year stuff

It is now September 10th and I am into the home stretch for my big year. I have already seen well over 90% of the bird species that I will get for the year, and probably over 95% of them.

I am at 330 species, and the record is 338 species. There are however, two birders close on my heels this year, and they both have about 320 species - maybe one or two more, depending on what they are suppressing from ebird ;). I'm not going to worry about that for the duration of this post and just talk about what my chances are of passing the 338 mark.

There are eight species of birds remaining that I have ranked lower than a code 4. Here they are, in order from most likely to least likely.

Purple Sandpiper
Black-legged Kittiwake
Red Phalarope
Cave Swallow
Pacific Loon
Glossy Ibis
Western Kingbird


Purple Sandpiper
-code 2
-chance I will get it this year: 95%
Purple Sandpipers are annual each autumn in Ontario, usually between mid October and early December. Normally birds show up anywhere along the Lake Ontario shore and there are usually sightings at Presqu'ile, the Stoney Creek/Hamilton lakefront, the Niagara River, as well as less frequently at a handful of other locations around the lake. Most years there are a few reported from Lake Erie as well, either at Long Point, Port Stanley, Port Burwell, Erieau, or Wheatley/Point Pelee. Some years there are more than others, but I can't remember a year in which there hasn't been a few chaseable Purple Sandpipers somewhere! That is why Purple Sandpiper is only ranked as a Code-2 bird, and I will be pretty depressed if I miss it for the year!

Black-legged Kittiwake 
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 90%
I think that this is the easiest of the code 3 birds remaining. I have been birding "seriously" for 3 years prior to this one and haven't yet missed Black-legged Kittiwake for the year. There are usually several seen througout the autumn at Van Wagner's Beach, one or two will probably show up at the Niagara River, and they show up sporadically elsewhere on the Great Lakes. According to Ebird, between 2009 and 2011, there were kittiwake sightings from Point Pelee, Sarnia, Port Stanley, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Stoney Creek, Hamilton, Bronte Creek, Guelph, and Cobourg. Additionally they have been seen from Netitishi Point in southern James Bay in late autumn, a location I will be going to.

Red Phalarope
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 80%
This one can be tricky, but I think I have a good chance of running into one sometime. Most sightings are flybys from people doing lakewatches, or single birds at sewage lagoons in the autumn. I have only ever seen one Red Phalarope in Ontario, an individual I found at Port Stanley last October. However, this year I will be putting in my time at lakewatches (Point Pelee tip, Van Wagner's beach, etc) in late autumn, as well as checking as many of the little harbours on lakes Erie and Ontario as often as possible. I will be surprised if I miss it for the year, but stranger things have happened.

-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 70%
I suppose the 70% refers to the chances of me getting to Netitishi in the fall! If I can get there for a week or two I should probably run into several Gyrfalcons. While it is very likely I will be going to Netitishi, this is my only shot at this species, unless I happen to run into one somewhere in southern Ontario in December. I still have never seen one in Ontario, ever.

Cave Swallow
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 50%
This one could go either way. In most of the last 10 years or so, Cave Swallows have appeared along the Great Lakes following weather systems coming up from Texas in October/early November. In 2010, several hundred were seen over a couple of days at Long Point, effectively causing the OBRC to knock if off of the review list! I probably would have this one ranked a little higher but last year not a single Cave Swallow was reported in Ontario. Hopefully that won't repeat itself this year.

Pacific Loon
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 50%
This is another one that could go either way. In southern Ontario they are a review species, but normally one shows up somewhere on Lake Ontario in the late autumn that is chaseable. By looking at the OBRC reports, chaseable Pacific Loons have shown up in the autumn 4 years out of 7 between 2004 and 2010. Additionally it is a species that is possible at Netitishi Point.

Glossy Ibis
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 25 % (Glossy), 50% (Glossy/White-faced)
Between 2002 and 2010, a chaseable Glossy Ibis has been around in the autumn in southern Ontario in 3 out of the 9 years. However in most of those years,ibises that were either Glossy or White-faced (a very tough identification) were seen. I still need both species of dark ibises for the year so I suppose even seeing one of these birds where the identification isn't certain still counts to my year!

Western Kingbird
-code 3
-chance I will get it this year: 40%
My main chance at this species was when I was in Rainy River during the summer. At least 2 Western Kingbirds were reported but I was unable to catch up with any of them! Most years one will show up in the autumn somewhere, and I am hoping that will happen again this year. There was a recent sighting of one up in Marathon, ON about a week ago that hasn't been seen since.


So that is it for codes 1, 2, and 3 birds! I think its pretty good that so far I haven't definitely missed any of the codes 1, 2, and 3 birds. Some of them, like Kentucky Warbler, Summer Tanager, and Henslow's Sparrows become nearly impossible later than June. Other ones like Yellow Rail, Prothonotary Warbler, and Piping Plover become impossible after about August. The only species I haven't got yet are species where my best chances at seeing them occur in the autumn anyways.

I am hoping to get at least 6 out of the 8 birds listed above though I could probably still have a chance for the record if I get 3 of them. Several other birds, ranked higher than code 3, somewhat predictably show up in the later months of the year.

Rufous Hummingbird
-code 4
There have already been two this fall (both one day wonders) - how many more will there be? Every other year or so there is one that spends some time at a feeder in Ontario in the autumn.

Townsend's Solitaire
-code 4
Formerly a review species in northern Ontario, though not anymore as sightings in the winter are becoming more regular! Usually there are one or two around somewhere and more years one is seen on a Christmas Bird Count in southern Ontario...however there have been a lack of chaseable Townsend's Solitaires in Ontario in the past number of years.

Swainson's Hawk
-code 4
This is a "have to be there at the right time and place" type of bird. Most years there are a few seen migrating at hawkwatches in southern Ontario. These birds are relatively unpredictable, but I suppose if you spend enough time at hawkwatches in the autumn you will eventually get one! The problem is, I hate hawkwatching but who knows, I might try it out more often this autumn.

Black-throated Gray Warbler
-code 4
This is another one which has started to show up with more frequency in the autumn, becoming almost annual recently. Most of these ones are pretty hard to chase, though the one in Hamilton last December was easy!

rare alcid (Razorbill, Ancient Murrelet, Thick-billed Murre, Dovekie, etc)
-codes 5 and 6
I think there is maybe a 20 to 40 percent chance that one of the above will show up somewhere on the lower Great Lakes in the early winter. Last winter brought us a Razorbill to Niagara-on-the-lake which spent a few weeks!

Rare gull (Slay-backed, Ross's, Mew, Ivory, etc)
-codes 4 to 6
I think the chances that one of the above will show up are pretty darn good! It seems that Slaty-backed are occuring annually now, as are Mew Gulls. I still need Ross's and Ivory for my life list - perhaps one will grace us with its presence this winter? Then of course there is the Kelp Gull at Wheatley harbour...I'm really hoping it will hang around for a few days for me to return back to Ontario!

Rare flycatcher (Fork-tailed Fly, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Say's Phoebe, Ash-throated Fly, etc)
-codes 5 and 6 
Maybe this is asking for a bit too much after we already got our Thick-billed Kingbird, but I'm going to be greedy and hope we get one in the next couple of months! ANY of the above would work for me :)

Barn Owl
-code 4
A rare breeding species in the province, though the only Barn Owl I saw was a migrant in November that Dave Bell and I found. I'm not really expecting this one this year, but I am still going to do a fair bit of looking around in suitable Barn Owl habitat.

Northern Wheatear
-code 4
Very rare in southern Ontario, but they are a very scarce annual migrant in the southern James Bay area. Fortunately I have a 6 day trip planned to search specifically for this species in late Sept/early Oct.

rarity at Netitishi Point
-hopefully code 6
I am hoping that I will get at least one rarity when I am up there! A shearwater would be nice, as would an Atlantic Puffin, or Glaucous-winged Gull, or storm-petrel...heck I would be ecstatic if we got a Northern Fullmar!

wildcard birds!!!
-codes 5 and 6
2009 brought us a Black-throated Sparrow, Phainopepla and Black-tailed Gull, 2010 gave me a Golden-crowned Sparrow and Painted Bunting, and last year a Purple Gallinule and Smew! What will it be this year???


What this whole post boils down to: After all remaining code 1, 2, and 3 birds are accounted for, I will probably have between 334 and 336 species on my year list. I will need an additional 3 to 5 "rarities" to break the record! I think my odds are still pretty good. As well, once I return from Nova Scotia tomorrow night I will be in province for the remainder of the year. Now if only that $%#$& Kelp Gull hangs around.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Rarer than a Thick-billed Kingbird?`(hint: KELP GULL)

I just saw this posted on Ontbirds by Alan Wormington...

Apparent **KELP GULL** at Wheatley Harbour

Yes, you read that right! Read the whole email here. I haven`t seen the photos yet but apparently they are good for it being a Kelp Gull! This would obviously be a first for Ontario! The first North American record was from 1989 in Louisiana, where it was eventually found to be breeding. I am not sure if there are any records closer to Ontario than the Louisiana ones.

Great find by Alan! He saw it on Friday, took some photos, and saw it again on Sunday on the rocks at Wheatley harbour. Lots of photos taken apparently.

I am in Nova Scotia still and flying back Tuesday evening. If all goes well I know where I will be Wednesday morning.

James Bay part 6 (August 12 to August 15, 2012)

Introductory Post
July 28 to 30, 2012 - Moosonee, Little Piskwamish Point
July 31 to August 2, 2012 - Little Piskwamish Point
August 3 to 5, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 6 to 8, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 9 to 12, 2012 - Longridge Point
August 12 to 15, 2012 - Longridge Point

August 12, 2012 (continued)
I ended my last post with some photos of shorebirds I took on a perfectly calm evening (August 12). Here are the rest of the photos from that night!

shorebirds - Longridge Point, James Bay

Hudsonian Godwit - Longridge Point, James Bay

Hudsonian Godwit - Longridge Point, James Bay

August 13, 2012
This was my second last full day on the coast! It was another warm and sunny day and I ended up going out to the tip of Longridge Point with Jean, Barb and Deborah while Ian and Andrew went out to West Bay to try to relocate the Buff-breasted Sandpiper I had found the previous day.

Again, we had a couple of flocks of migrant Snow Geese go over. Being from southwestern Ontario I was not accustomed to seeing pure flocks of Snow Geese - normally we only get single individuals mixed in with Canada Geese.

Snow Geese - Longridge Point, James Bay

The winds were too light and the tide was about a meter lower than it had been a week prior so there wasn't much happening at the seawatch. We hoped for a jaeger or interesting gull, but it was not to be! Our most interesting sighting were 2 juvenile Marbled Godwits that flew in off of the lake, landed for a minute, and then took off towards the West Bay after being harassed by gulls. This was the only sighting for our camp of Marbled Godwit!

Marbled Godwit - Longridge Point, James Bay

I was happy to pick out a second winter Little Gull loafing with the numerous Bonaparte's at the very tip of the point. It provided a great comparison! The rest of the day was uneventful and very little was seen. At one point 4 Red Knots flew over, my first sighting in quite some time. It was a little worrisome that there were so few knots showing up.

August 14, 2012
My last full day on the coast! I had planned to do another round of invertebrate sampling with Andrew today so I left the camera and scope behind for the day. Good thing, since we didn't see anything of too much interest while we were out doing the sampling. The highlight of the day was a few belugas whales that weren't too far offshore. Jean and Deborah were nearby and we radioed them to check em out.

I took a few minutes to photograph a really beautiful Hudson Bay Toad that was sitting on a path right in camp sometime in the morning as well.

Hudson Bay Toad - Longridge Point, James Bay 

Hudson Bay Toad - Longridge Point, James Bay 

That evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset with a rainbow. It was spectacular on the coast, if one could find a way to ignore the mosquitoes.

Andrew had found a Gray Wolf walking along the edge of the treeline so everyone came out to look for it! Unfortunately it had disappeared by that point.

Jean Iron - Longridge Point, James Bay

Jean Iron - Longridge Point, James Bay

Andrew Keaveney - Longridge Point, James Bay 

That evening several migrant Common Nighthawks migrated overhead. Fall was definitely in the air!

August 15, 2012
Today was the day that the helicopter was supposed to come! Since I hadn't done so yet, I spent part of the morning taking some photos around camp.

The guys' cabin

The guys' cabin

The main cabin

It was someone's idea to come up with a team name for us with "bird" names for everyone...We had some discussion as to what the name should be and eventually settled on Team No-Knots due to the distinct lack of Red Knots at our study site. Your's truly even drew the Red Knot...not bad eh? ;)

There is a saying that you are never supposed to pack up your sleeping bag until you hear the helicopter coming. So many times due to a variety of reasons the chopper could be delayed and you could be stuck at camp for extra days. Unfortunately most of us had packed up all of our gear that morning, so naturally the news came in that the helicopter would be delayed a day in arriving. It would drop off the next crew for this camp, but wouldn't take us back since it would instead go up the coast to pick up the Chickney Channel crew. There just simply wasn't going to be enough daylight to take both crews back to Moosonee.

Eventually, around 7:00 PM, we heard the distinctive sound in the sky and the MNR chopper came in.

Imagine our surprise when they told us we were leaving then! Apparently they had arrived later than expected and there wasn't enough time to get the Chickney Channel crew after all, so they were going to bring us back after all. A hectic pack of all our gear, and we were off!

The next two days were spent driving home. After two weeks on the coast, away from civilization, it was a bit of a shock to return to the highways and the cities. I was going to miss the coast, but knew that I would be back sometime this fall.

I will have one more post about this trip soon - basically just a summary post with some numbers/highlights etc.