Friday 1 March 2013

The end of winter listing

Winter bird listing, or keeping track of all the birds seen between the dates of December 1 and February 28/29, has really caught on in Ontario and in some other Canadian provinces. This winter, I happened to get out a fair bit and my 2012-2013 Ontario winter list was getting up there, so a few weeks ago I decided that I would make a push to see how high I could get my list. The highest published single season winter list was the 163 that David Milsom managed to see in 2001-2002. There have been several birders who have since beat that record, but I'm not sure what the current record was.

Wednesday morning, I was sitting at 166 and there were a few species I still needed that were being reported. Cheryl Edgecombe emailed me saying that the long staying (but difficult to pin down) Eastern Phoebe was reported again two days ago, so I braved the slushy conditions and made the drive down to Burlington.

It only took about an hour of searching until I looked down at the creek, and there was the phoebe sitting on a snag above the water! I ended up watching it for about 10 minutes as it picked insects off of the surface of the water. A few Winter Wrens were singing already, and combined with the Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, and House Finches singing, it sounded like spring!

It was 3:40 PM, and I got the crazy idea to race over to Toronto and grab the Western Grebe that was being reported at Humber Bay Park West. I had already once tried for it earlier this year, on my way back from some work I had to do at the Royal Ontario Museum. I missed it then, but this time it was easy, even as the daylight began to fade. It was sleeping with a group of Long-tailed Ducks just offshore from the lighthouse. 168!

Western Grebe - Humber Bay Park, Toronto

A little closer...

Western Grebe - Humber Bay Park, Toronto

I was hoping to hit 170, and with one day left my options were limited. I still needed blackbirds: Common Grackle, and Rusty Blackbird. Chipping Sparrow had eluded my list, but a feeder in Delhi was reporting them. Ross's Goose was another hole, and there had been some near Rondeau. Other potential "longshot" species that were in various locations in Ontario included Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, Slaty-backed Gull, and Gyrfalcon.

I decided to meet up with Barb Charlton, who also wanted to finish strong on her winter list, and we set off to the Long Point area to hopefully add some species to our arbitary lists.

On our way to Delhi to look for the Chipping Sparrows, we stopped in a few spots to check bird feeders that we noticed from the road. While checking one feeder in Lynnville, I was surprised to see a Chipping Sparrow in a tree next to the house! A second Chipper joined it - that was easy!

Chipping Sparrow - Lynnville

Chipping Sparrows- Lynnville

Just like that, I was up to 169, needing one more species on the day to reach my goal. Hopefully I could pick up a Rusty Blackbird or Common Grackle near Long Point!

We spent much of the day exploring some areas to the north of Long Point. Old Man Winter's tight grasp was a little looser here in the south, and it was nice to see Tundra Swans flying overhead frequently. We had a Merlin, Field Sparrow, and some Common Redpolls before checking out Lakeshore Road.

Here we stopped to check out the Sandhill Cranes along the road. Pairs were doing their mating "dance"; flapping their wings and leaping to the air as they circled each other. This was the first time I had seen this behaviour so I took a few distant photos.

Sandhill Cranes - Long Point area

Sandhill Cranes - Long Point area

Several Killdeers were in the area as well; a newly arrived migrant. The first of many shorebirds to come in the next few months!

Killdeer - Port Rowan

After stopping in at BSC headquarters, we noticed a flock of blackbirds and so drove over to check it out. While we scanned the cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds (some which were even singing), I managed to pick out a Common Grackle. Finally! It was nice to hit 170, even if it was "only" with a grackle.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful birdwise as we saw a lot of the usual suspects for Long Point (Belted Kingfisher, many ducks, Snow Buntings, Purple Finches, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier) but nothing else that was new. 

It was a great day in the field, and a nice way to end the winter birding period. Now that it is March, I am looking forward to birding a lot less and preparing for an upcoming trip, of which I will have more details later.

A hint...

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