Sunday, 3 February 2013

2 great days at Pelee

I am currently sitting in a Tim Horton's in Leamington, going over my notes after two great days at Pelee and stealing their wifi. I never did find the big rarity (big surprise, right?) but I have seen quite a few good birds in the two days.

Yesterday I started at Wheatley harbour about an hour after sunrise, after driving down from Cambridge. However on the way, I scared up a flock of what I assumed were mostly Horned Larks along the roadside. It was pretty surprising when I saw that they were mostly Lapland Longspurs! About 70 in total, by far the most I had ever seen in one spot. Normally in the winter this species is very scarce, and usually only present in ones and twos with flocks of larks or buntings.

Continuing on to the harbour, I happened onto some good birds, seeing 2 Glaucous Gulls sitting together on the ice. New Pelee bird for me, just like that!! To make things better, the birds took to the air and headed southwest into Essex County, so it was a new Essex bird for me as well. I may or may not have had a part in flushing the gulls into the preferred county by waving my arms emphatically ;)

I met up with Kory Renaud and Jeremy Bensette and we spent a few hours in the park. We did not see a whole lot, though White-throated Sparrow was a year bird for me. The highlight of the afternoon was near the southeast corner of Hillman Marsh. As we were exiting our vehicles, I thought I heard a pipit. Sure enough, there was one hopping around on the ice! Hopping is definitely a good word in this situation, since it only had one good leg. I wonder if it will be able to survive the rest of the winter?

While scoping the ducks on the lake, we were surprised to hear a Killdeer calling! It spent the next 10 minutes flying around and loudly announcing its presence, most likely the first "spring" Killdeer and the harbinger of many to come.

Kory left at this point, so Jeremy and I walked around Hillman Marsh. While checking out the new shorebird viewing location at the marsh, I was surprised to see a Vesper Sparrow sitting in a bush!! This is a tough bird to get in the winter, and was my first "winter" Vesper. Fortunately Jeremy had his camera ready and was able to grab a shot!

Vesper Sparrow - Hillman Marsh CA (photo courtesy Jeremy Bensette)

That evening Jeremy and I watched a Great Horned Owl, and later 4 Long-eared Owls hunting at dusk. I had never seen this before as most of my LEOW sightings include birds trying to look like a tree branch.

Kory and Sarah Renaud were hosting a shindig for several local birders, so I was pretty stoked to be able to go, stuff myself with pulled pork, AND have a place to sleep. Thanks, guys!!

Today I spent the whole day birding with Kory. We checked many locations, from in the park to the onion fields, Hillman Marsh, various spots in Leamington, and Wheatley harbour.

Before walking around the marsh boardwalk, I predicted that we would see 3 individual birds. A Swamp Sparrow, a Marsh Wren, and a Northern Harrier. Imagine my surprise when we flushed up a Marsh Wren! It scolded us a few times and popped up for brief views. A new "winter" bird for both of us. Near the end of the walk we flushed a Swamp Sparrow as well. Cool! We managed to go the entire loop without seeing another bird - even a harrier was a no show. But still, 2 outta 3 ain't bad.

In mid afternoon, we were milling around at Wheatley harbour, wondering what to do, since a White-winged Dove had been reported from the Visitor Center at Pelee. We were feeling pretty lazy and didn't feel like driving back into the park. However with nothing better to do, we drove in and unsuccessfully searched for the dove. It wasn't in vain though since we did turn up a Hairy Woodpecker behind the Visitor Center. They are quite scarce in the park and usually only occasional winter visitors. Checking my records, apparently this was a new Pelee bird for me!

We finished the day by walking along the Shuster Trail. The highlight here was a very "obliging" pair of Eastern Towhees - another good winter find. (Note: I usually hate using the word "obliging" since the birds were just doing what they do naturally - in no way were they showing off to us). A Winter Wren chattered, and 2 Bald Eagles flew over.

A few other highlights the past two days:
Fox Sparrow
Hermit Thrush (x3)
Cackling Goose (x2)
many many many Lapland Longpsur sightings
Eastern Screech-Owl
Ring-necked Pheasant
2 Red-shouldered Hawks
61 Robins! (they are scarce this winter)
1 very cold muskrat
Lesser Scaups and Redheads sitting in a cold field

Summary after 2 days at Pelee:
68 species
13 year birds (note: I am not doing a big year, even though my year list is on pace with last years. I am just unemployed and going birding a lot)
2 new Pelee birds (Glaucous Gull and Hairy Woodpecker)
29 Ebird checklists (because quantity is better than quality...or something)

Tomorrow - time to bird Sarnia!! Check out Blake Mann's blog to see why. Spoiler alert - I love gulls!(though not as much as Brandon does)

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