Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 Year in Review - part 2

The month of May was a busy one for me, as it is for all birders in Ontario. I began my first full-time job as a biologist for a consulting firm, and given the time of year I was in the field pretty much non stop from the middle of the month until early July. Additionally I moved to a new area, and I tried to find time to go birding as well whenever time and daylight allowed. Some highlights from spring migration...

Beaver - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Northern Goshawk - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

White-eyed Vireo - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Blue-winged Warbler - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Scarlet Tanager - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Black-and-white Warbler - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Common Grackle - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Willet - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Willet brigade - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Bonaparte's Gull - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Yellow Warbler - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Purple Martins - Blenheim, Ontario

My work surveys brought me to places including Timmins, Wawa, Sudbury, North Bay, Niagara, and various locations in the GTA/Hamilton area. One highlight was finding Algoma District's third Marbled Godwit and first Arctic Tern within a minute of each other at the Wawa lagoons. But of course, enjoying the breeding birds, herps, and insects of northern Ontario was certainly a highlight of the year.

Mink Frog - Sudbury, Ontario

European Skipper - Sudbury, ON

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Wawa, Ontario

Midland Painted Turtle - Mattawa, ON

Living in a new part of the province meant that I explored it as well as I could in between work excursions. While I would never endorse living where I do (its a really terrible location if you are a birder), there are a few interesting places nearby. Happy Valley, a forest containing species such as Hooded Warbler, Jefferson Salamander, Acadian Flycatcher, and Barred Owl is only a few kms from my place, and a myriad of other breeding birds can be found in the area.

Virginia Rail - Carden Alvar, Ontario

Eastern Bluebird - Carden Alvar, Ontario

Prairie Warbler - Carden Alvar, Ontario

Mourning Warbler - Minesing Swamp, Ontario

Red Knot - Schomberg, Ontario

Tawny-edged Skipper (I think) - Toronto, Ontario

Warbling Vireo - Newmarket, ON

Meadowhawk sp. - Newmarket, Ontario

Most weekends were spent traveling to other parts of Ontario on herping and birding trips - in fact, since I moved to the Aurora area I have only spent one weekend "at home"! Here are a few highlights from these trips. As you can tell, I tried to focus more on herps and insects this summer since I was kind of overloaded on birds. I guess two full months of doing breeding bird surveys daily will do that to you!

Eastern Foxsnake - Norfolk County, Ontario

Eastern Hognose Snake - Norfolk County, Ontario

Giant Swallowtail - Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

Dickcissel - Hillman Marsh, Ontario

Common Map Turtle - Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario

Snapping Turtle - Hillman Marsh CA, Ontario

Hackberry Emperor - Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

Great Black-backed Gull - Leamington, Ontario

Part three will cover the last five months of the year.

Monday 30 December 2013

Snowy Owls on the East Coast

Yesterday afternoon I went down to the Hartlen Point area of Dartmouth, N.S. with Laura and her parents to look for Snowy Owls. None of us had seen a Snowy Owl in Nova Scotia before, and with several being reported on the golf course at the end of Hartlen Point, we were hoping to get lucky and have some decent looks at one.

Right away, Laura spotted a Rough-legged Hawk hovering in the moderate winds, looking for unsuspecting rodents. By the time we pulled off the road and scrambled out of the car it was further away, but we all still had great looks.

Arriving at Hartlen Point, I immediately noticed a Snowy Owl hunkered down in a grassy area between two fairways on the golf course. It was fairly distant, but still close enough to enjoy with binoculars. While we were watching the mostly pure white Snowy Owl, a heavily barred bird flew in from the west, heading straight for the first Snowy Owl. They took off together, eventually disappearing over a ridge in the distance. Awesome!

We drove around and it did not take long to relocate the young Snowy hunkered down along the ridge. I approached and was able to obtain some photos I was happy with before backing away.

Snowy Owls have moved south in huge numbers this autumn, as most birders are well aware of by now! Hundreds have been reported in Ontario, and Nova Scotia is certainly getting its fair share despite many fewer birders to report them.

This young bird did not seem disturbed with our presence in the least. Nonetheless we kept our distance and backed away after watching it for a few minutes. Here is a photo of Laura with her first Nova Scotia Snowy (the white blob to her right)...

It was a pretty cool experience to be able to share with Laura and her parents. There are a few additional birds that are currently in the province that I would like to look for, including a Bullock's Oriole which is attending a feeder only 45 minutes away. Hopefully at some point in the upcoming days I will have a blog post about a successful oriole chase.

Saturday 28 December 2013

2013 Year in Review - part 1

Sorry for the lack of content recently - between work and family/Christmas related events I haven't really done much birding throughout December! Last night I flew to Halifax to visit Laura and her family, and I will be spending the remainder of the year (and the first few days of January) in Nova Scotia. I figured this would be a good time to put together a post summarizing the year's highlights. Scratch that - I'll make three posts. I don't really have any other content at this point anyways...

 Throughout January and February I was able to get out birding a fair bit as I did not have a job yet. Unfortunately I was without a camera for the majority of that period! Observing Ontario's third winter record of Bay-breasted Warbler at Sedgewick Park was a highlight, and fortunately I was able to borrow my mom's camera one day to document it.

Bay-breasted Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville, Ontario

Other interesting birds I saw in late winter included a Brant in Haldimand County, a Harris's Sparrow near Cambridge, and a White-winged Dove at Rondeau Provincial Park. Additionally, a Western Grebe persisted along the Toronto waterfront for a while, eventually resorting to hanging out with a group of somewhat similarly looking Red-necked Grebes. One afternoon I photographed the fellow as it displayed to a female Red-necked Grebe.

Western and Red-necked Grebes - Toronto, Ontario

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

In March I left Ontario, where winter still held an icy grip, for warmer (and windier) climes in Scotland. Laura is currently studying veterinarian medicine there and I was excited to make my second visit to that part of the world. Between two weeks in Scotland and a few days in France, we were fortunate to share quite a few memorable bird sightings together. Below are some of the photo highlights of the trip...

Eurasian Oystercatcher - Oban, Scotland

Goldcrest - Bois de Boulogne, Paris, France

Great Tit - Bois de Boulogne, Paris, France

Kirkcaldy, Scotland

Kirkcaldy, Scotland

Razorbill - Kirkcaldy, Scotland

Once I returned in early April I focused my attention on looking for early spring migrants as well as the first reptiles and amphibians of the year. A yearly tradition of mine involves going to a particular set of vernal ponds on the first warmish, rainy nights of the spring to see what I can find. This year was no different...

Red-bellied Snake - Cambridge, Ontario

Spotted Salamander - Cambridge, Ontario

Spring Peeper - Cambridge, Ontario

It was around this time that I sort of unexpectedly fell into my first full-time job. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up and I was starting in early May, so I made the most of my month of April and visited the Pelee area on numerous occasions. Spring was in the air...

Merlin - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Red-winged Blackbird - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Eastern Foxsnake - Hillman Marsh, Ontario

Northern Ribbonsnake - Cambridge, Ontario

Midland Painted Turtle - Cambridge, Ontario

 By late April, all hell broke loose in southern Ontario and rarities began appearing after several fronts from the southwest. I was lucky to find a Lark Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, King Eider, and be a part of a Townsend's Warbler find within several days.

Lark Sparrow - Erieau, Ontario

Henslow's Sparrow - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

A major highlight of the spring was photographing this Painted Bunting which patronized a feeder near Point Pelee for a few days.

Painted Bunting - Leamington, Ontario

By early May I was forced to vacate Point Pelee to begin my job, but fortunately I had quite a bit of interesting fieldwork lined up. Part two will be next, covering May through August.