Thursday 29 November 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose in Waterloo

With a distinct lack of rarities in Ontario lately, I have done significantly less driving (and birding). There just haven't been the birds and to be honest, after all the hectic traveling that I have done throughout the year, it can be hard to find motivation!

This morning I finished writing and sending in a good stack of rare bird reports from this year to the Ontario Bird Records Committee (35 down, 9 to go...). Feeling a little restless, I ventured north to Waterloo, where fellow birder and blogger Alvan had discovered a Greater White-fronted Goose yesterday. He found the bird at Colombia Lake, part of the University of Waterloo Campus. I had only seen one White-fronted so far this year (from way back in January) and I had never seen one in Waterloo Region, so this seemed like a worthwhile venture!

After a pleasant cross-county drive in which I hit nearly every green light, I arrived at the lake. I could see a massive flock of geese on the lawn of a nearby rugby pitch but something else caught my attention - gulls! Hundreds of gulls were perched on the edge of the ice on the lake, so of course I spent some time sifting through them. I was happy to find a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, which turned out to be a new species for my Waterloo county list.

Soon enough though the geese were calling my name so I headed on over. A quick scan with the binoculars, and there it was!

Greater White-fronted Goose - Waterloo (November 29, 2012)

That was easy. There was a single Cackling Goose there as well, presumably the bird Alvan had a few days ago. As long as I moved slowly, the geese were quite tolerant and allowed me to approach closely for photos. Time for a big wing stretch...

Greater White-fronted Goose - Waterloo (November 29, 2012)

Greater White-fronted Geese, like all the other North American species, breed in the Arctic. While some species migrate through Ontario regularly, the core migratory range of white-fronts is through the Great Plains, west of Ontario. Consequently Ontario only occasionally gets them, and usually they are single individuals that must be somewhat lost. This one managed to find a flock consisting of a mixture of the local "Giant" Canada Geese and the migrant "Interior" Canada Geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Waterloo (November 29, 2012)

Nearly every photo I took had parts of other geese in the background. Finally, after a few minutes of stalking, I was able to get it by itself.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Waterloo (November 29, 2012)

Alvan Buckley and Mira Furgoch also made an appearance, as did about a half dozen other local birders throughout the day. I did not know there were so many birders that called the ornithological desert of Waterloo Region home! 

Alvan, Mira and I studied the gulls since the geese were flushed by some dog walkers. A great variety were present, including an adult Glaucous Gull, a juvenile Kumlien's Iceland Gull, and the juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. 

It was a worthwhile trip. I managed to see 3 new Waterloo birds, bringing my county list up to 201. Plus any day where I can study gulls other than Herrings and Ring-billeds is a good day, in my book!

Greater White-fronted Goose - Waterloo (November 29, 2012)

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Some media links

Since breaking the Ontario "big year" record back on October 29th along the coast of James Bay, I have had a few media requests. Here is a link to an interview I did with CTV a week or two ago.

Several more articles are in the works and I'll post links to them when they become available.

Additionally, tonight (November 28, 2012)  I will be on the daily science news show "Daily Planet", talking about my Ontario birding "big year". It airs at 7:00 PM on Discovery Channel Canada. Check it out!! If you do not get Discovery Channel Canada, the episode can be viewed after it airs at the following link:

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Netitishi days 13 and 14

Woohoo!!! The last of the Netitishi Posts!

November 2, 2012
Weather: 1 to 3 degrees Celsius, heavy overcast with regular mist and light rain, winds NW 50 to 80+ km/h
ebird checklist:
29 species

This morning we awoke to another gray and dismal day. The clouds did not look like they would be breaking at all, and the whole point was enshrouded in a heavy mist with list rain falling. We knew right from the start that the helicopter wouldn't be coming, so we didn't even bother packing up our gear and bringing it to the coast.

one of the cabins at Netitishi

Even though the winds were strong and out of the northwest, the birding wasn't very good. Some waterbirds were flying but fewer than previous days, probably due to the constant precipitation. Additionally, I don't think that the birds like migrating when the wind is whipping by at 80 km/h! Despite that, we spent most of the day in the shelter by the coast, watching the sea just in case there was a lost shearwater somewhere out there.

Bird highlights for the day were extremely limited and included both Iceland and Glaucous Gull, some late Northern Pintails and American Wigeons, and 13 Black-bellied Plover. A far cry from the Great Cormorant and Western Kingbird seen the previous day! (I did search extensively down the coast for the kingbird, to no avail). The highlight for me was probably the juvenile Peregrine Falcon we watched cruise down the shore. It did not notice us sitting in the shelter and ended up landing on a branch that was no more than 6 or 7 feet from us! As I slowly moved my binoculars up to my face to have a better look, it noticed us, freaked out, and made a beeline down the coast.

The big story of the day was the tide. As the day wore on, the water rose higher and higher, eventually coming dangerously close to the shelter. I abandoned ship but Alan stayed in the shelter long enough to see the wave that took it out. Here is what it looked like after! (Please excuse the terrible quality of the photos...its not easy taking pictures in 80 km/h winds with waterdroplets on my lens and a camera that is fogging up)

In the above photo (taken from the line of spruces), the most distance piece of land is where the shelter stood. In a normal high tide, the water would come to perhaps 20 meters from here, and at low tide it would be several hundred meters out. As you can see, the water demolished the shelter and ended up flooding, almost to where I am standing!

R.I.P., wind shelter

The above photo is a close up of what used to be the shelter. It served us well and will be missed. :(
Poor Brandon, who spent so many days slaving away to make the shelter as structurally secure as possible!

All up and down the coast, the tide demolished everything in its path. There were peninsulas, formerly covered in debris with even some trees growing, that were scraped clean. Thousands of logs and massive trees were pushed up. Luckily for us, Netitishi Point is raised up compared to most of the land, so we never feared for our safety. If we were camping out on a flatter part of the coast, we would have been in serious trouble.

logs and debris pushed up against the coast

November 3, 2012
Weather: not noted. I recall it was still windy, though with less precipitation and a higher cloud ceiling
ebird checklist:
Total species: not noted

I did not make extensive notes for this day. Basically, it was another day with gale force winds out of the north. Alan was watching for birds from the line of spruces, while I had gone around the point to the east in a nice sheltered location to watch. We only got in a few hours of seawatching before we heard the distinctive sounds of the chopper arriving! The following 30 minutes were filled with frantic packing and hauling all of our gear to the coast. Despite the short amount of birding we got done today, we had some interesting bird sightings.

I had a single King Eider fly past (by itself), as well as an interesting bird which may have been a large alcid sp., but I can't say for sure. I only had a brief look at it before it disappeared behind a wave, never to be seen again. For all I know it could have been a Long-tailed Duck, but it looked really damn good!

Alan had what was perhaps the bird of the trip, but one that "got away". He noticed a shearwater sp. waaaay out along the horizon. Unfortunately due to the distance, he was unable to pin it down to an ID. I unfortunately missed seeing it from where I was watching from. Super frustrating!!!

Alan also saw a Gyrfalcon from the helicopter as it took off, a bird that I also missed. Finally, as we were flying low over the mouth of the Moose River, we both happened to notice some birds near the water. Several were obviously Herring Gulls, but two of them looked REALLY good to be Northern Fulmars. I didn't say anything since I thought that I was seeing things, but when we landed Alan mentioned the birds, saying he thought they might have been Northern Fulmars. I guess we'll never know!

Monday 26 November 2012

Niagara weekend results

The last two days I spent in the Niagara region, checking out the gull action on the Niagara River. The river is always a fun time - lots of birds, good company, and usually some interesting or rare birds. This weekend was no different, even though we finished far short of the record of 14 gull species in one day!

On Saturday, I tagged along with the Kitchener Waterloo Field Naturalists on their annual trip, along with fellow Ontario bird-bloggers Alvan, Ken, and Mike. The weather was reasonable and we were excited for a day on the river.

En route, we made a couple of stops to check out the duck action in Hamilton. The only location of note was the end of Green's Road, where we saw the continuing 1st winter male King Eider along with a female that only a couple of us were able to see.

We continued on to Niagara-on-the-lake, of Razorbill fame from last autumn (and several other RAZOs in past years). There was no little black-and-white alcid present today, however. The highlight here was probably a Red-throated Loon which was nice and close.

At Queenston, we had several Turkey Vultures but none of the hoped for Blacks. There were an adult and 2nd-winter Little Gull flying around downstream of the docks, however.

Adam Beck was rather dull, though we did find the Franklin's Gulls at the roosting rocks after a tense 3 seconds of not being able to find it. I think it was one of the first birds I looked at.

We then continued on to the Pumphouse and the Control Gates, easily the highlight of the day for me. Of particular interest was the adult Thayer's Gull that was flying around, giving us point blank looks in beautiful light as it flew around and occasionally landed on the water. Sweet! We also had a number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, including an adult that was close enough that I couldn't resist the urge to "phone-scope" it.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Niagara River

This gull was a bit of a head-scratcher, though I believe it is most likely a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull (we had two hybrids that day). Also at the same spot were 4 swallows feeding over the river which appeared to be Northern Rough-winged Swallows. My latest date for this species!

hybrid gull - Niagara River

Yesterday (Sunday), I returned with the University of Guelph Wildlife Club - always a good time! We checked out many of the same places and saw some of the same birds. As a group we had 9 species of gulls, though we completely missed Glaucous for the day and only part of the group was able to see the Franklin's. The bird highlight for me and several others were the 4 Black Vultures that cruised over the river from the New York side, eventually disappearing into the wilds of Ontario. This was only my second sighting of this species in Ontario this year; the other sighting coming at the same location back in February.

Two out of the four Black Vultures

Another interesting bird was an apparent hybrid seen at the control gates that Brett Fried found. It had several characteristics that made it seem superficially similar to a Slaty-backed Gull, but other features didn't match up. Maybe next weekend!
It was a stellar weekend with some good birds - King Eider, Black Vulture, Franklin's Gull, Northern Rough-winged Swallows - and the action is undoubtedly going to heat up. I'm excited to return in upcoming days and weeks!

Friday 23 November 2012

Gulling this weekend

Brandon did a post on his blog recently about setting the gull "world record' at the Niagara River, a feat that could very much be in reach this autumn/early winter. The record currently stands at 14 species in one day, recorded in Ontario "back in the day", and matched by birders in Newfoundland in 2010. Last year I had a day that was close to tying the record, when Brett Fried, Reuven Martin and I spent December 4 at the river. We were off to a good start in the morning, seeing a California Gull above the falls. Along with the 4 common species as well as Lesser Black-backed, we were up to 6 species. Down at Adam Beck we added Thayer's and Iceland Gull, giving us 8. The Black-legged Kittiwake made an appearance for us at the Whirlpool soon after, so we were sitting pretty with 9! Number 10 was the big rarity of the day, a Slaty-backed Gull which had been found previously by Kevin McLaughlin. Also nearby was our first Glaucous Gulls of the day, so we had 11!

Black-legged Kittiwake - December 4, 2011

The Franklin's Gull was roosting at its usual place, upriver of Adam Beck. In late afternoon, with 12 species already seen for the day, we headed to Niagara-on-the-lake for Little Gull. We got some right away, but despite our best efforts we weren't lucky enough to have a Black-headed, Ross's, Laughing, or Sabine's fly by, so 13 it was.

This weekend I will be down at the river for both days. There are currently no potential year-birds anywhere in the province to chase (there haven't been in weeks!) so we'll just have to find something rare on the river! I am really hoping that the Ross's Gull, found during Sandy, is hanging around.

Saturday I will be joining the K-W Field Naturalists on their annual gull trip, and Sunday I will be accompanying the University of Guelph wildlife club on their annual trip. Fingers crossed for a great weekend of gulling!

Late-season herps near Cambridge

With the mercury projected to reach about 14 degrees Celsius yesterday, I had to get over to one of my favorite locales to look for some snakes. This particular location (which I won't name, due to sensitivity issues with some of the species that are present) I know intimately, having visited it between 150 and 200 times over the years. In that time I have noted 25 species of herps here - the only two species that occur in Waterloo Region but not here are Queen Snake and Blanding's Turtle. Some of the more notable species I have discovered here over the years are local rarities in Ring-necked Snake, Eastern Milksnake, Smooth Greensnake, Jefferson Salamander, and Pickerel Frog. 

Northern Ringneck Snake - August 16, 2008

Pickerel Frog - April 7, 2010

There is one species which resides here which I have a greater appreciation for than all the rest. While by no means common , it is regular in Waterloo Region and not highly sought after by most herpers. The Northern Ribbonsnake is that species.

It makes its home in the wooded hills and low lying swamps and fens in the area. It is not gaudily attractive, but it has a certain subtle beauty to it. I have grown to know this species over the years, spending countless hours watching its behavior - from it feeding on frogs, to its mating rituals on warm spring days, to studying its thermoregulatory patterns around the hibernacula in late autumn. 

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 1, 2010

The autumn is my favorite time to visit the site. On warm days in October or even early November, any south facing slope will have an abundance of Northern Ribbonsnakes and other snakes, out to gain precious rays of sun for what could possibly be the last time of the year. I can hardly think of anything I enjoy doing more regarding natural history than watching these snakes interact with each other and the environment on a calm, warm October day. 

Unfortunately because my Big Year has taken up so much of my life, I had not been unable to make it over to the site yet this autumn. Looking at the weather forecast and seeing that it was my last chance to find some herps, I decided to spend the afternoon there yesterday.

It took a bit of effort but eventually I found a neonate Northern Ribbonsnake. It was somewhat surprising in that it was in a low-lying area adjacent to a marsh, while normally this time of year all of the snakes are in the hills. Could it be that this little ribbonsnake, being a neonate, was inexperienced in finding a suitable hibernacula? It had found a nice patch of sun to thermoregulate for this afternoon, but perhaps it was not an ideal location to spend the winter. Would it survive? 

Northern Ribbonsnake - November 22, 2012 

I did not see any other snakes in the nearby vicinity, even though I had on previous October visits in other years. I had assumed that while this was a good thermoregulatory area, it was perhaps not ideal for spending the winter. In November visits, when snakes should theoretically be near the entrances to their hibernacula, nearly all the snakes that I have found have been up in the hills.

Perhaps this little ribbonsnake was just inexperienced in finding suitable hibernacula, or maybe this particular area was more suitable than what I had envisioned. Was my previous theory about hibernacula wrong? It is moments like these that really make me appreciate being out, observing natural phenomena such as this. Despite visiting the site hundreds of times, and thinking I have all the answers about certain species and behaviors  I often come away from an interaction with more questions than answers. Every single trip has been worthwhile, in some way or another, in that I learn something, or more frequently, learning that I know far less than what I had thought. Moments like that often give me a greater appreciation of the natural world. 

Continuing on, I walked another ridge where I had seen snakes before on occasion. However, the wind had picked up by this point, and the sun was weak enough that there would not be much incentive for a hibernating snake to come to the surface and bask. I lucked out however, and found an Eastern Gartersnake near the top of the ridge.

Eastern Gartersnake - November 22, 2012

It too was quietly basking in the sun for what would probably be the last time until mid March. While far more abundant the closely related Northern Ribbonsnake, at this site this generalist species is outnumbered. While occupying separate niches here throughout the warm part of the year, when the weather cools they will share space. It is not uncommon to find several individuals of each species near the entrance to a hibernacula.

Eastern Gartersnake - November 22, 2012

I bid my farewell to what will almost certainly be the last snake I see this year. This date of November 22nd is the latest that I have seen Northern Ribbonsnakes as well as Eastern Gartersnakes in Ontario. Combined with the Northern Leopard and Green Frogs I encountered later in the afternoon, it was a very successful day!

And as much as I don't like to admit it, it was kind of nice walking around without binoculars today, not worrying about what bird I had to chase next...

Thursday 22 November 2012

Eastern Ontario - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My last morning in Prince Edward County! It was still early when I woke up (that is what happens when you go to bed at 8:00 PM) but eventually there was enough daylight to do some birding. Finally, after several days without any luck, I found my Bohemian Waxwings! Well, I only saw one, hanging out with some Cedars. But still, better than none!

Other bird highlights included a juvenile Northern Goshawk chasing something, a couple of Purple Finches, and a Red Crossbill which flew over while I was near Ostrander Point. I then decided that I was ready to leave, and so I began the drive back.

Not before a stop at Presqu'ile, however! Since it was a Tuesday, it meant that the whole park was open (several locations are closed 4 days a week for duck hunting). It was warm and sunny again, so I thought I would try my luck out at Gull Island, the Purple Sandpiper capital of Ontario.

I was hoping for the Purps, but the owls were the most interesting things out there. Two Snowy Owls, both heavily barred individuals, were on patrol on the gravel bars offshore. I wish I had brought my camera with me, but since I didn't, this crappy phone-scoped shot will have to do.

Snowy Owl - Presqu"ile P.P.

Other highlights out here included all 3 scoters, a Northern Harrier, and a distant group of shorebirds on the next island over, which had vacated the area by the time I was close enough to scope them out. Probably a few Purples mixed in, but oh well!

I was driving along Paxton Drive later, when I looked up to the left and just happened to see an owl looking back at me! It was a Barred Owl, a species which is being seen in increased numbers in southern Ontario this year. I stopped the car and managed a few photos from inside the car, resting the camera on the window ledge. Eventually the owl heard something, since it focused on a spot back in the woods and went in for the kill. I never did find out if it was successful or not, since it was partially obscured by the trees.

Barred Owl - Presqu"ile P.P.

Any day you unexpectedly see two species of owls is a good day! I was particularly happy to see the Barred owl, since my only two previous sightings this year were ones that others found and I "chased". There is a lot more excitement in finding your own! This was my 307th "self-found" bird this year. Other potential additions to my "self-found" year list include Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Gray Partridge, Red Phalarope, Black-headed Gull, California Gull, Great Gray Owl, and Townsend's Solitaire. Who knows, maybe I'll hit 310.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Prince Edward County - Monday, November 19

I awoke to calm winds and blue skies - perfect birding weather! While weather systems and strong winds can shake things up and bring in rarities, there is something to be said for a nice calm day. The bodies of water are calm (making waterbirding exponentially easier), flyover finches, sparrows, waxwings etc can be heard from a great distance, and it is just plain awesome walking around in beautiful habitat as the sun shines down!

Now that I had my main target species (Pacific Loon) in the bag, I moved on to other target birds which wouldn't be new for my year. Bohemian Waxwing was one such species, a bird that had almost completely eluded me this year. My only sighting so far this year was a flock of 200 birds in Sault Ste. Marie, waaaay back on January 24. Most recent visits by others to Prince Edward seemed to turn up flocks of Bohemian Waxwings so I was hoping for similar luck.

I stopped for many flocks of waxwings, scanning thoroughly for the larger, grayer ones with the rufous under the tail. No suck luck! Several flocks and over a hundred birds later, I had still seen only Cedars.

Cedar Waxwings

Even without my Bohemians, it was still a great day to be out. I checked East Lake in the morning as well, scanning the still-as-glass water for loons, while watching the antics of several adult Little Gulls as they swirled with the Bonaparte's. The Pacific Loon was nowhere to be seen! Perhaps it was up at the east end of the lake, or perhaps it had left altogether. Many Common Loons were around, though less than the previous evening. A nice surprise here was a pair of Hoary Redpolls, a flyover Snow Bunting, and my first Lesser Scaup for Prince Edward County.

West Lake was next, and it was absolutely full of waterfowl! After driving around some roads in the community on the "island", adding Evening Grosbeak to the list, I drove to the far south end of West Lake to scan for ducks.

I parked and enjoyed a few hours of hiking in Sandbanks Provincial Park, periodically stopping to scan the lake. I was adding birds left right and centre which were new for the county for me. A Great Black-backed Gull first. Then a tight group of Common Mergansers. Several White-winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls flew over. A Pileated Woodpeckercalled from the woods. A single Ruddy Duck, hanging out with the mergansers. And a raft of scaup and Redhead, including a Canvasback. Not to be outdone, Little Gulls stole the show with at least 9 seen (probably more).

The afternoon was warm and sunny so I walked around a bit near Point Petre. Here, the avian highlight was a 1st cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull and my first Horned Grebes for the county. But the biggest surprise was finding this Green Frog in a puddle!

Normally that wouldn't be too notable, but the date was November 19. This is the latest Green Frog I have seen in Ontario, with the exception of the occasional individual I have seen swimming slowly under ice in a vernal pond during the middle of the winter.

Green Frog

From here, I drove along Long Point Road to the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area. A beautiful stretch, and it didn't take me long to find a Northern Shrike and several good waterbirds including a pair of Red-throated Loons and close to 100 Horned Grebes (with a smattering of Red-necked Grebes mixed in). None of the hoped for Clark's Grebes though!!

I finished the day by walking around Prince Edward Point. It was extremely quiet with the bird highlight being a few Ruffed Grouse which I flushed. There were a few Sanderlings still hanging on by the lighthouse, a relatively late date for them I think.

Hastings and Prince Edward counties - Sunday, November 18

On Sunday morning, I left my sister's place in Kingston and began the drive back towards Cambridge. However I had nothing planned for a few days, so I decided to spend a day checking out Prince Edward County, a location I have wanted to check out for some time.

Prince Edward County is a peninsula located in eastern Lake Ontario, just south of Belleville. With a population of just over 25,000 people it has to be one of Ontario's least populated counties. The birding there, however, is great. Over 350 species have been recorded in the county, including some notable rarities in Ferruginous Hawk, Brown Pelican, Say's Phoebe, Painted Bunting, Great Cormorant, Ash-throated Flycatcher, White Ibis, and Bicknell's Thrush, just to name a few. Ontario's 5th Black-bellied Whistling-Duck record was of a long-staying bird which I was able to see two years ago.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Milford

On Sunday morning, I birded around Belleville and Trenton before crossing over to Prince Edward County. I didn't see a lot of birds, but it was fun sorting through all the ducks. The highlight was probably the Ring-necked Pheasant that was creeping in the weeds behind the Canadian Tire in Trenton!

Next on the agenda was a spot near Carrying Place that looked good for waterfowl. It was - several thousand of them! Notable were the hundreds of American Wigeon, though no Eurasians mixed in.

I drove some roads near Consecon, seeing little, and eventually wound up at the LCBO in the town of Wellington. It has to be one of the most scenic LCBO locations in Ontario, backing onto a beautiful bay and harbour. Here I saw my only Northern Pintails, some cormorants, a Great Blue Heron, some Pine Siskins, and a juvenile Greater Yellowlegs hanging out on top of a beaver dam. Nothing super rare, but some good birds, especially considering it is almost December. Of greater interest was the local I ran into, and ended up chatting with for over half an hour. Turns out he is from a little oceanside community in Nova Scotia that Laura and I had visited numerous times, and he was familiar with the wildlife rehab place where Laura worked for 5+ summers! Unexpectedly meeting people like this is a cool side-effect of doing a "Big Year"!

Not long after, I received a call from Tyler Hoar who was birding at nearby East Lake. He had a probable Pacific Loon, but it was diving regularly and hard to locate. Needless to say I raced over to East Lake to meet up with Tyler, and you can read about the Pacific Loon success here.

Pacific Loon - East Lake, Prince Edward County

Whether it was complete luck that I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be able to chase this loon, or whether it was skill in my part in picking Prince Edward County for a few days of birding, I certainly wasn't complaining!!

That evening, I picked up groceries in town, then found a nice secluded spot near Point Petre to spend the night. The last bird of the day was a Northern Saw-whet Owl calling in the darkness.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Pacific Loon!!!

This afternoon, I was doing some birding in Prince Edward County when I got a phone call from Tyler Hoar. He was looking at an apparent Pacific Loon in nearby East Lake (near Sandbanks Provincial Park), so I drove over there to check it out. Unfortunately we couldn't find it initially and Tyler needed to get going. I kept watching, and eventually I got on an interesting looking loon sitting on the lake. It was the Pacific!

Compared to the numerous Common Loons that were nearby, this bird was noticeably different. Structurally, it was smaller than the Common Loons with a smaller bill and rounder head. Common Loons have a noticeable forehead "bump" which this bird didn't have. This bird was a darker black on the back with a noticeably lighter, charcoal gray nape. It also had dark around the eye, while Common Loons have white around the eyes. Finally, the nape was a smooth charcoal gray colour and lacked the jagged lines that Common Loons have.

Fortunately, throughout the ~ 15 minute observation time, it never dived, instead just sitting in the water and preening. It was very distant, but with a fair bit of effort and a little luck I was able to get a photo!

Pacific Loon - East Lake, Prince Edward County

In the above photo (taken with my phone through my scope) the loon is on the right hand side of the image. Here is a cropped version of the same photo:

Pacific Loon - East Lake, Prince Edward County

It appeared to be an adult bird, mostly in winter (basic) plumage. At times I thought I could see a darker "necklace" on the bird which is just visible in the above photo. The reason why the bird has white sides in the above photos is because it was preening. When the bird was at rest, the white sides weren't visible. It wasn't an Arctic Loon!

Thanks Tyler for the great find and for calling me over!

The location is on East Lake, located in the southwest part of the Prince Edward peninsula. We viewed the bird from County Road 18, running northwest to southeast, on the southwest part of the lake. I'll be back in the morning to hopefully get better views!

For those keeping score at home, Pacific Loon is my 344th bird in Ontario this year. I ranked it as a Code-3, meaning that the only remaining Code-3 bird I need is Glossy Ibis.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Interesting peep at Presqu'ille plus birding plans

This morning I received a call about an interesting peep that was being seen down at Presqu'ile Provincial Park. There was the possibility it was a Little Stint (only a couple of previous Ontario records, and a Code-6 bird) so my brother and I drove down from Kingston to take a look at it. It was very convenient that I was in Kingston for the weekend, as it was only an hour drive!

We arrived to a mass of birders looking at the peep. It appeared to be a first winter bird that had mostly molted into its basic plumage. For much of the observation the bird was too distant to get much on it, but eventually we moved closer and it did as well, so we were able to study it well from a moderate distance. This time we were able to get a much better look at the bird, and it appeared to have pale legs - a feature associated with Least Sandpiper and not Little Stint. Some things seemed odd for a 1st-winter Least Sandpiper though. The bird appeared very pale for one, and the supercilium was very much flared towards the rear. To be honest, I had never really seen Least Sandpipers that advanced in basic plumage before, which could account for why the bird seemed strange. Everything else lined up with Least Sandpiper though!

Looking at Alvan's photos that he took today, the bird does appear to be a Least Sandpiper. I wasn't too disappointed as the drive wasn't too long (plus I got to rock out to some tunes with my bro for a few hours) and I was able to catch up with some friends who I hadn't seen in a while.


Current birding plans - Prince Edward County!

I haven't done that much birding in Prince Edward County before, except for a few hours earlier this spring to take a look at this handsome fella:

Prince Edward County is an interesting birding location with a ton of rarity potential. I'm excited to explore it tomorrow, and possibly the next day as well! My main target of course is still Pacific Loon since I struck out on the drive up to Kingston. But who knows what else could be around! Prince Edward seems like a good place for Eiders and Barrow's Goldeneyes, species that I'll definitely be on the look out for.


Friday 16 November 2012

No-rarity November

When Alan and I timed our Netitishi trip. one of the reasons why I was happy to go in October was that early November is usually mega-rarity time in Ontario, and I wanted to be back for that. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case so far this year! With the help of Sandy, Ontario had a ton of great rarities in late October, including some megas, though it has been very slow since November 1.

In the last 2 weeks, the rarities that have been seen in Ontario include:
-a Mountain Bluebird that was only seen once (4th one this year already)
-Cave Swallows that are sprinkled across Lake Erie and Lake Ontario (no one except for me cared, since hundreds were seen in October)
-a Western Tanager that was a one-day wonder in Hamilton
-lots of Eurasian Wigeons
-a Western Grebe that was a one day wonder (6 to 8 have been seen already this year)
-occasional Gyrfalcon reports

Considering that this is usually prime season, that is a pretty weak payload! A few rare birds, but nothing mega (or even close to mega). I would have thought that the hurricane would have displaced enough birds that good numbers of rarities would still be kicking around, but that doesn't seem to be the case!

In the last few days, New York has had Northern Lapwings (very few previous state records), a state-first Virginia's Warbler, a Myiarchus flycatcher (probably Ash-throated), a Barnacle Goose, a Selasphorus hummingbird, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Western Kingbirds, just to name a few. Even the tiny state of Delaware had two state-firsts, in Anna's Hummingbird and Calliope Hummingbird! Everywhere around Ontario has had good birds lately, but we are on a bit of a cold streak. Perhaps most of the birders here are content with how good the hurricane was, and are being a tad lazy? ;)

At any rate, I thought I would be on the run for the whole month of November but it hasn't really been the case so far. But hopefully that will change soon! I am planning a trip to visit my siblings in eastern Ontario and I hope to do a bit of birding before and after the weekend. My main realistic goal is Pacific Loon. Pacific Loon is one of only two remaining code-3 birds that I haven't seen this year (the other being Glossy Ibis). Most years one or more are seen on the north shore of Lake Ontario between Whitby and Kingston. I will be arriving in Kingston Friday night, which means that all day Friday will be devoted to checking out as many spots along the lake as I can. I will probably leave Kingston sometime on Sunday and spend a day or two returning back home, checking out more areas for Pac loons.

Of course, if a mega rarity is seen between now and then, my plans may be altered! But we know that won't happen ;)

Thursday 15 November 2012

Netitishi day 12

Days 1 and 2 - October 21 - 22, 2012
Day 3 - October 23, 2012
Days 4 and 5 - October 24 - 25, 2012
Days 6 and 7 - October 26 - 27, 2012
Days 8 and 9 - October 28 - 29, 2012
Days 10 and 11 - October 30 - 31, 2012
Day 12 - November 1, 2012

November 1, 2012
Weather: 1 to 5 Celsius, heavy overcast with mist and light rain, winds NW 30 to 50 km/h
Ebird checklist:
30 species

The chopper was supposed to come today! First thing in the morning the prognosis did not look good. There was not much fog, but it was raining very lightly and the wind was still strong out of the north - not great weather for a chopper to fly in. As the morning went on, the ceiling started to rise and the light rain turned into intermittent mist, so we packed up all of our gear and brought it out to the coast. From there, we planned to sea-watch until the chopper showed up.

Unfortunately, it never did - kind of frustrating since I was really eager to get back to southern Ontario! We knew all about Hurricane Sandy and I was hoping that we could get back soon enough to see any remaining hurricane birds. However, the chopper's delay in arriving was a blessing in disguise.

Right around noon, Alan mentioned that he had a big cormorant straight out in front of us. I thought he was kidding since we hadn't seen a single Double-crested Cormorant all trip. When I looked, this bird certainly looked different than any Double-crested I had ever seen! It was massive, with a thick neck and chest along with broad wings. The bill was also very broad, and even as the bird flew farther away it was still noticeably larger than a Double-crested. We both realized that this was a Great Cormorant!

The bird had a more goose-like flight due to its massive size (they are twice the weight of Double-crested Cormorants), and it also seemed lost. It was gaining altitude and following the coast along to the west as if it was looking for a way out. It is too bad I had my camera packed away since I could have taken some photos of it!

Great Cormorant was not even on my radar for the trip! It was a code-5 bird with less than a dozen previous records for Ontario. Additionally, all 11 previous records were from Lake Ontario so this was a new bird for Northern Ontario! It was also Ontario year bird #341!

We were thinking that the remnants of Sandy were spinning over southern Quebec, causing strong winds to blow all the way from the Atlantic Ocean over Labrador and into Hudson's Bay. Almost certainly that is how the cormorant showed up!

The fun for the day wasn't done yet. Very few ducks were around, though we did have a Surf Scoter and 2 Lesser Scaup sitting in the water for most of the day. But by 4:30 PM, darkness was approaching and not much was moving on the water. We were both sitting in the shelter, watching the tide rise, when suddenly a bird flew low along the tide line, continuing eastward. Immediately it did not look like any of the typical birds we had been seeing, and I called out, "What was that?"

Alan's response was, "Yeah, what WAS that???"

It was flying somewhat like a robin, but it was a little small and some other things didn't seem right. We got on the bird just as it pulled up for a landing about 20 or 30 meters from us. As it turned, I could see it was a yellow-breasted kingbird! "Western Kingbird!!!" I called out. Alan had his camera with him, so he attempted to get a photo while I ran to get mine. Unfortunately the bird continued on, and disappeared before Alan could get a good look or a photo. He wasn't sure what species it was given the poor views, though I was fairly sure it was either a Western or a Cassin's Kingbird since I had a decent look initially. Either way, we had to relocate this bird!!!

After 20 minutes of unsuccessful searching, we met up again and discussed the possibilities. Even if we did not relocate it, "yellow-breasted kingbird" was still a tick on my year list, but considering how significant a find this was we needed to nail down the ID! Since we first saw the bird on the tidal wrack, I figured that most likely it was along the wrack farther down the coast. I then decided that I would spent the remaining hour of daylight walking east along the beach until I found the bird, or until it was too dark to continue searching.

Not 10 minutes later, I saw a flash to my left.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

There it was - the flycatcher! Immediately the combination of small bill, amount of gray on the head and yellow on the breast, and black tail with white outer rectrices nailed the ID as a Western Kingbird. I yelled and screamed at Alan who was way down the beach and once he heard me several minutes later, he came running over to check it out.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

It appeared to be a young bird and it looked extremely worn. I guess it would have to be considering the distance it flew to get to James Bay!

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

The kingbird kept busy by looking for insects and worms along the tidal wrack, rather efficiently we thought. It was surprising how many things it managed to dig out! Normally kingbirds catch flies and wasps in mid-air but this one was forced to search for different prey. It allowed us a fairly close approach as it "hunted".

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

We wondered how long this bird had been on James Bay. Perhaps the warm southwesterly winds from a few days ago were enough to blow this bird all the way to northern James Bay, and with the strong north winds for 3 or 4 days since it had followed the coast south, all the way to Netitishi Point.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

However it got here, it was one exceptional record! It is the latest record of a Western Kingbird for Northern Ontario and one of very few records for Cochrane District. Seeing a flycatcher was one of the last things we were expecting since the only other migrant Passerines still around were Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and the odd American Tree Sparrow!

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

Western Kingbird is "only" a code-3 bird since they occasionally breed in Rainy River District and a few usually show up from August to October in southern Ontario every autumn. I had assumed that I had missed it for the year when I left for Netitishi, though!

The chopper delay had given us 2 more bonus birds. What would the next day bring?

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Cave Swallow!!

It took 3 full days of birding at Pelee, but I finally got my Cave Swallow. Yesterday, Brandon and I birded hard all day and probably walked about 10 km in the park as well as doing a lakewatch and a check of all the hotspots north of the park. We did all the right things, and we saw some good birds, but nothing really noteworthy!

Today, the hard work seemed to pay off. I was leaving the park when I got a call from Ken Burrell, that he and Brandon just had 2 Cave Swallows heading south from the Visitor's Centre! Needless to say I turned my car around and drove down to the tip of Pelee to search for them (never deviating from the 50 km/h speed limit, of course!!). I arrived just in time to see Alan Wormington and Richard Carr who were about to get in their vehicles and leave the tip. They joined me in the search for the swallows. We were initially unsuccessful, however after 10 minutes I noticed a swallow flying around right at the very tip! We walked down and I was stoked to see this:

Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

That's right, a Cave Swallow! I called Ken and Brandon, and they came down too to get some photos.

Brandon photographing Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

Ontario had a big irruption of Cave Swallows in late October (while I was up north) with only scattered sightings since. I was worried that I would be one of the only Ontario birders to miss it this year.

Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

This bird was a juvenile Cave Swallow and sadly it probably won't make it back home to Texas. It is unfortunate that these weather systems displace these birds all the way to Ontario, ultimately leading to their demise, but it is a phenomena that as birder's we can do nothing about. At the very least, we might as well enjoy these rare birds when they do show up in Ontario.

Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

It was amazing to get such close looks at this species, even though the bird was in a weakened condition. The only other Cave Swallow I had seen before was a very distant bird off of Bronte Harbour. This bird did rest a fair bit on the beach, but it was also actively flying around and presumably hawking insects. Hopefully it is able to regain its strength and return to the south, though that seems like an unlikely possibility.

Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

This was a year bird, number 343. It was also a code-3 bird, meaning that the only remaining code-3 birds are Glossy Ibis and Pacific Loon. Now that I have Cave Swallow in the bag, I will do my very best to turn up a Pac Loon somewhere!

Cave Swallow - Point Pelee National Park

The rest of the day at Pelee was pretty good. Tens of thousands of Red-breasted Mergansers were moving and I am sure over 50,000 streamed by in the few hours we were counting! Some locally uncommon Long-tailed Ducks were around too. Several flocks of Tundra Swans flew by, and in one flock Alan picked out a small white goose which was most likely a Ross's. Finches were also on the move, including White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins, and Common Redpolls. Brandon and Ken had a few Evening Grosbeaks too.

Tomorrow is my last day at Pelee before I drive back. Hopefully we are able to turn up that rarity which is inevitably lurking nearby!

Monday 12 November 2012

Two days at Point Pelee

The last two days I have spent birding the Point Pelee area pretty heavily. Long story short, I still haven't seen Cave Swallow for the year, but there have been a few other odds and ends around.

Yesterday started off well when an Evening Grosbeak flew over me, calling as I was just waking up. This was a new Pelee bird for me! I continued on to the tip shortly after sunrise, meeting up with the crew consisting of Kevin McLaughlin, Blake Mann, Brandon Holden, Marianne Reid Balkwill, Jeremy Hatt, and Alan Wormington. The sun was out most of the time, the temperature was quite pleasant, and quite a few birds were streaming by. The biggest highlight was the juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake that flew by west to east, first spotted by Marianne. This was only my second sighting of this species this year, and it was also a new Pelee bird! Many raptors were around and included Northern Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Cooper's Hawk, and a nice juvenile goshawk which flew low over us a few times.

Peregrine Falcon - Point Pelee 

I didn't see a whole lot in the park throughout the rest of the morning so I decided to drive the onion fields. While walking the dyke at the east end of Concession E I was quite surprised to see a Northern Watersnake basking on the dyke! This was my latest sighting I have ever had of this species, not unprecedented given the warm conditions. Several Eastern Gartersnakes and Midland Painted Turtles were taking advantage of the sunny day as well.

Northern Watersnake - Point Pelee onion fields

The rest of the day was a bit of a wash, though that evening the winds were blowing hard out of the south and the weather was warm, so we were hoping to get Cave Swallows the following day.

This morning, Brandon and I joined up with Jeremy Hatt for another tip watch. Again, thousands of birds were moving and there was the odd thing mixed in with all the Red-breasted Mergansers. 2 single Long-tailed Ducks were nice birds to see at Pelee, and a Forster's Tern flew by with a few Bonaparte's. Perhaps it was a storm bird, still hanging around after the hurricane?

With the rain pelting down, Brandon and I drove the onion fields, checked out Wheatley and Leamington harbours, and a brief stop at Hillman Marsh. We had some interesting birds including a "green morph" Pine Siskin and 4 roosting Long-eared Owls near Hillman Marsh. Sweet!

Long-eared Owl - Hillman Marsh

With nothing better to do we spent the remainder of the day birding the park in the rain. We didn't see much until Tilden's Woods where there was a large flock of passerines. We estimated 30 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 25 Eastern Bluebirds were present with smaller numbers of Brown Creepers, Downy Woodpeckers, and a few others. We saw a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blackpoll Warbler, two relatively late dates for the species.

Tomorrow we are back at it in Pelee. Hopefully the cold front will send some Cave Swallows this way!

Sunday 11 November 2012

Netitishi days 10 and 11

Days 1 and 2 - October 21 - 22, 2012
Day 3 - October 23, 2012
Days 4 and 5 - October 24 - 25, 2012
Days 6 and 7 - October 26 - 27, 2012
Days 8 and 9 - October 28 - 29, 2012
Days 10 and 11 - October 30 - 31, 2012
Day 12 - November 1, 2012

October 30, 2012
Weather: 2 to 4 Celcius, overcast with light rain in the late afternoon, wind NNE 40-60 km/h 
Ebird checklist:
33 species

After the crazy weather we had on the previous day which brought us the Northern Fulmar, to say that Alan and I had high hopes for this day would be a huge understatement. I walked out to the coast first thing in the morning and the conditions looked great. The wind was strong out of the north and at low tide the water was already quite a ways in.

Unfortunately, it appeared that all of the waterfowl had cleared out of the bay on the previous day. We had 24,100 Brant yesterday, yet only 80 today. We had 3,300 x more Northern Pintail yesterday as well (today we only had two)! However the day was still incredible and once again, Alan and I rarely left the shelter. We ended up finding 6 birds which are rare enough that we have to submit documentation to the OBRC. To put that in perspective, I found only 1 OBRC-reviewable bird in all of 2011!

The first rarity was a nice dark morph Pomarine Jaeger that Alan picked up, lazily cruising the tideline in the mid-morning. We had great looks as it came right in front of us, eventually disappearing to the east. Certainly it was migrating. This is one example of a species which is probably regular at James Bay, but no one is looking so it is still considered a rarity! The bird was still a little distant to photograph properly, but I did get a few record shots. Very poor quality, as you can see!

Pomarine Jaeger (small crop)

Here is another photo in the series, heavily cropped. You can somewhat see the double white flash in the primaries.

Pomarine Jaeger (heavy crop)

Next up was a 1st cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull cruising by with a flock of Herring Gulls that Alan noticed coming along the tide-line. This was a new one for my Cochrane list and another "write-up" bird.

Pom #2 was a little distant, but looked similar to the first one. A very dark juvenile bird. No photos this time (you are welcome!).

Lesser Black-backed #2 was a carbon copy of the first - a 1st cycle bird traveling with a group of migrating Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Not the most exciting find, but still a write-up bird. I was ready with the camera and was lucky to get a few record shots.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull (bottom left)

I've said it before, but I'll mention it again. Getting photos at Netitishi is hard! First of all, the birds are always distant. Often they are close enough to see well with a spotting scope but good luck getting a decent image! I am limited to a 300 mm lens which is nowhere near the magnification of my scope. Second, the birds are constantly moving. And if the bird does land in the water right in front, chances are the waves will be large enough that 90% of the time the bird isn't visible. Because of this, you have to ready with your camera at all times just to have a chance of getting a record photo. I think on the next trip, I will bring a second tripod and have my camera set up at all times. I missed getting documentation photos of several birds simply because I had my lens cap on, or the camera was resting out of arm's reach, etc.

Our 5th write-up bird of the day was a Harlequin Duck flying by at mach 10. The winds had blown it in to shore so far that it missed crashing into our shelter by a few feet!

The 6th and final write-up bird was a group of two Black-legged Kittiwakes. I was sitting back, not using my scope, when I saw a gull very close to the shelter and heading out towards the tide-line. A kittiwake! We had great looks as it flew out over the mudflats. Alan noticed a second kittiwake not far behind. This was another year bird, bringing me up to 340 species for the year. Little did we know that in southern Ontario, birders on Lake Ontario were seeing close to 100 Kittiwakes, along with MEGA rare birds in Leach's Storm-petrel and Wilson's Storm-petrel. It is probably for the best we didn't have internet to read about that!

Other interesting birds seen throughout the day included 7 King Eiders (flocks of 3 or 4, all female), about 30 Red-throated Loons, a couple of groups of Black-bellied Plovers, 7 Glaucous Gulls, and a beautiful white-morph Gyrfalcon that was hovering above the spruces, probably looking for birds crashing into the trees. We had virtually no land birds today, including 0 species of finches!

October 31, 2012
Weather: 2 to 4 Celcius, overcast with light rain and heavy fog, winds NW to N, 20-30 km/h 
Ebird Checklist:
16 species

What a stark contrast to yesterday. The fog rolled in, reducing visibility seriously, and the rain never really let up for long. At least the winds were out of the north. Alan spent a good amount of time seawatching, though I only went out for a few brief stints. We had exactly 1 duck today (a Red-breasted Merganser), and nearly missed Ring-billed Gull for the day! The only highlights were two suspected record late dates for James Bay: the continuing Baird's Sandpiper (Alan only) and a Wilson's Snipe (Josh only).

Chopper coming tomorrow!