Sunday 29 June 2014

Off to Georgian Bay Islands National Park...

In a few minutes I will be heading out the door and going to Georgian Bay Islands National Park in southeastern Georgian Bay with Todd Hagedorn for the weekend. After working a fair bit over the last month and a half it will be a welcome break, that's for sure! I have gotten out a few time apart from my work surveys and will try to get a post or two up at some point. In the mean time, here is a photo of a Common Ringlet from Newmarket a few evenings ago.

Common Ringlet

Georgian Bay Islands is a herpers paradise. I'm not sure what the total species count is for the park, but it has to be close to, or at 30 species. I've been there on two occasions previously - if I recall, I saw 25 species of herps there on one weekend trip! Eastern Massassaugas, Eastern Hognose Snakes, and Common Musk Turtles are three of the species which are relatively easy to find there.

Eastern Hognose Snake - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Eastern Hognose Snake - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Northern Ringneck Snake - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Eastern Milksnake - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Common Musk Turtle - Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Not only is it a crazy herping location, but the birding can be pretty good too. I recall on my first trip being surprised by the number of Prairie Warblers - I think we heard about a dozen singing males over the course of the weekend!  Should be fun...

Tuesday 24 June 2014

An evening on Amherst Island

As I mentioned in my post early this morning, I traveled to Amherst Island to look for a reported Lark Bunting yesterday. That morning, I was up early to complete a breeding bird survey in Burlington, and after finishing my surveys (and stopping near Guelph to see an Upland Sandpiper), I headed back to the office. As I was finishing my day in the early afternoon, the news broke about the Lark Bunting on Amherst Island. It had been present for about five days and was singing away in the same location that morning.

I immediately contacted a few birders to see if anyone wanted to go with me. This was a bird I wasn't going to miss! I had never seen one before in Canada (or Ontario for that matter), and these days I only add 4 or 5 new Ontario birds a year. Not only that, but it was on a rare afternoon where I did not have any commitments - not too common for me in June.

Barb Charlton was interested in coming with, so I met her somewhere along the 401 around 3 PM, and we were off! The drive was fairly uneventful, and by 6:15 PM we rolled into the Millhaven area to catch the ferry. Barb spotted an Upland Sandpiper on a wire just outside of Millhaven, so I turned the car around to get a better look. It hopped down onto a stump right beside the road.

Upland Sandpiper - Millhaven

 Sweet bird! Uplands are closely related to curlews, and they are one of only a few species of shorebirds in Ontario that nest in dry, open fields. They have been experiencing population declines in the past few decades, coinciding with the loss of grassland habitat - a similar fate shared by many other species including Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, and Henslow's Sparrow.

Upland Sandpiper - Millhaven

Upland Sandpiper - Millhaven

After enjoying the Upland for a few minutes, we raced down to the docks and just caught the 6:30 ferry. It was a warm and calm evening and we enjoyed watching the swallows foraging above the boat, and dreaming of glimpsing perhaps a Neotropic Cormorant or Arctic Tern somewhere over the water...

ferry to Amherst Island

We arrived 20 minutes later and had just started south down the main road when we drove past Mike Burrell, Erica Barkley, and James Barber. They had just returned from looking for the bird which was still singing away. They needed to catch the return ferry and we were eager to see the bird, so we said goodbye and continued on.

As we drove along we added a few new "county ticks": - Brown Thrasher, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark. Much of the island consists of pastures with farmers still utilizing old-school farming practices, and many fields are left fallow or as grazing for cattle. The grassland birds were reaping the benefits with high numbers of Upland Sandpipers, Short-eared Owls, and even a few Wilson's Phalaropes nesting, along with all the common grassland birds.

We arrived at the spot and a birder was pulled over at the side of the road, taking pictures of a small dark bird on the wire. We approached and had great views of the Lark Bunting singing away!

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

The other birder was local Kurt Hennige who does a lot of work with grassland birds on Amherst Island. The Kingston-area birders have had a number of good birds over the past month, including Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Chuck-will's-widow, and now the bunting. Not to mention the Thick-billed Murre late last fall.

The Lark Bunting spent a few minutes at a time perched on the wire, singing away. Strangely, its song was nearly identical to that of a Northern Cardinal. If I heard that song coming out of a thicket somewhere I probably wouldn't even think twice about it. It did sing a longer song, interspersing other more sparrow-like sounds with the cardinal phrases. Cool bird!

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

After singing it would fly back behind some shrubs, landing deep in the long grass. Sometimes it would perform a short display flight while singing before dropping into the grass. I was not quick enough to catch a good photo of that though!

It flew down to the road briefly, as well as to some other trees in the area .We approached it as it was on a fence line beside the road for some closer photos.

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

Eventually we had to get going to catch the return ferry, or risk having to stay an extra hour on the island. We had a long drive ahead of us to get home, but we also had more birding plans!

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

After catching the ferry, we stopped over at Parrot Bay Conservation Area near Amherstview. The Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers had been seen here for the better part of the month, and the Kentucky was reported as recently as June 22. Unfortunately, neither species would not reveal itself in the fifteen minutes that Barb and I stayed.

Our final birding stop was Hilltop Road in southern Prince Edward county where the Chuck-will's-widow had been calling for about a month as well. We made a few wrong turns but eventually ended up at the spot well after dark. The clouds were rolling in and the wind was starting to pick up. Arriving at the spot, we got out of our car and met Tyler Hoar who was waiting for us. He had heard Chuck a handful of times over the last 45 minutes. After a few minutes we heard Chuck call about three times, though despite waiting it out for another half hour, that would be it. The Whip-poor-wills had stopped calling as well, and downpours began shortly after, as Barb and I departed for the long trek back to Toronto.

It was a pretty decent after work excursion, that's for sure!

Lark Bunting - Amherst Island

Lark Bunting on Amherst Island!

This morning I was doing breeding bird surveys in Burlington. At noon I was working away at the office in Aurora. Then news broke of a Lark Bunting on Amherst Island, so after finishing up at work I met up with Barb Charlton to see this bird, a species with about 30 OBRC-accepted records. I had never seen one in Ontario, and Barb had only observed one. Long story short, we were able to view the bird for some time as it sang, perched out in the open, and even did a sort of display flight. Here's one photo for now - I'll update this blog tomorrow with the full story.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Rarity round up

It is that time of year again. After a hectic spring migration, the vast majority of birds are on their breeding grounds, happily singing away and procreating. This can be a fun time for a birder. It is not hard to see 80 or 100 species of birds in a long day of birding in most of southern and central Ontario, if one puts in a good effort. Birds are also singing away, making it that much easier to pick them out! However, for birders who enjoy the thrill of searching for rarities, this is a very slow time of year. Spring migration finished up around the middle of June, though the odd shorebird could potentially count as a spring migrant. And fall migration is still a few weeks away, though "failed breeders" and some early shorebirds will be starting to trickle through soon. But when birds are not moving around, the chances of finding a rare bird are quite slim. Check out this graph I made a few years ago, documenting every OBRC-reviewable "rarity" that had been accepted by the committee, up to the end of the 2011 report.

As you can see, rarities are found in two major pulses, each corresponding with migration, not surprisingly. The slowest time of the year is the dead of winter, roughly mid January until mid-March. The second slowest period is from mid-June until the end of July.  The last two weeks of June are particularly sparse. Here is the complete list of every OBRC-reviewable rarity, found being the dates of June 18 and June 30 in Ontario (current to June, 2011). Hopefully I did not miss any!

Eurasian Collared Dove - June 24, 1998, Burlington (found by John Keenleyside)
White Ibis - June 27, 1998, Pelee Island (found by Ethan Meleg, David Hodare)
Western Grebe - June 20, 1999, Rainy River (found by David Elder, Karen Mikolieu)
White-winged Dove - June 27 to July 1, 2001, Thunder Bay (found by David and Ann Christianson)
White-winged Dove - June 30, 2002, west of Kingsville (found by Stu Mackenzie)
Northern Wheatear - June 23, 2003, Point Petre (found by Robert Maurer Jr.)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - June 26, 2004, St. Clair NWA (found by Cecilia Verkley)
Henslow's Sparrow - June 19 to July 7, 2005, southern Chatham-Kent (found by Alan Wormington, Keith Burk, E. Jane Burk)

keep checking those nice fields for Henslow's....

McCown's Longspur - June 21, 2005, Weagamow Lake, Kenora District (found by Pete Read, Josh Shook). This is the only record for Ontario.
Prairie Warbler - June 20, 2006, Thunder Cape (found by John Woodcock)
California Gull - June 29, 2006, Point Pelee (found by Alan Wormington)
Black Vulture - June 22, 2008, Tobermory (found by Tom Thomas and Tim King)
Brown Pelican - June 27, 2009, Point Edward (found by Daniel and Sara Miller)
Barn Owl - June 30, 2009, Blenheim (found by Brandon Holden and Ken Burrell)
Chuck-will's-widow - June 18 to July 28, 2010, Kirkfield (found by Martin Parker et al.)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - June 19, 2010, Kenora District (found by Lillian Anderson)

As you can see, there are not a lot of megas on this list, apart from the provincial first record of McCown's Longspur way in the north. The White Ibis was a good one too!

Other common themes for the time of year include rare breeding birds (Barn Owl, Western Grebe, Henslow's Sparrow, Chuck-will's-widow (it was on territory for the summer!)) and rare doves.

If anyone is so inclined to look for rarities this time of year, that list may give you an idea of the possibilities, if past trends have any bearing on the future! Personally, I know I'll be spending my summer doing other things...


I thought I would post the link the the photos of the TUFTED PUFFIN that Ralph Eldridge found on Machias Seal Island in New Brunswick on June 17 (which is still present, but very elusive). This is the first east coast record since one in Maine in the 1830s. What a crazy bird!! Tufted Puffins are a Pacific species, though there are two recent records from Europe. Perhaps with all the melting sea ice the odd one is finding its way through the Northwest Passage! It is one of those "dream birds" that I'm always keeping an eye out for at Netitishi Point...

Monday 16 June 2014

May 2 - National Willet Appreciation Day

The Willet is a species of large shorebird found only in the Americas. The eastern subspecies breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America through the Caribbean, while the western subspecies is more of an inland bird, breeding throughout the prairies, south to Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. We occasionally see Willets in Ontario; almost always in spring, but with occasional "fall" records in July, August, and September (and rarely later into the year). While this is a rarity through most of the province, it does occur regularly along the Lake Erie shoreline from late April to late May. Point Pelee is a great location to observe one and anyone spending a few days at that location during the peak of spring migration will likely have a chance at seeing one or more Willets. 

Sometimes they are seen in flooded fields, other times at Hillman Marsh, and occasionally at the tip of Point Pelee National Park. On May 2, 2013, a quartet of Willets graced the tip of Point Pelee for much of the day. David Bell and I filled our memory cards with images of the birds later in the evening. They were quite approachable, as most shorebirds are if you take your time and move slowly.

This year I encountered a similar situation during the morning of - you guessed it - May 2nd! Sitting at the tip was a lone Willet, and so while the lighting wasn't ideal, I cracked off a few photos anyways. 

Compared with last year's photoshoot, this time the water was rather choppy, giving a different effect compared to the smooth backdrop from 2013. 

Willets are pretty plain looking at a distance, but up close they can be quite intricately detailed. Most of the ones we see in the spring are undergoing their pre-alternate molt, looking a little rattier then if you saw them a few weeks later in alternate plumage. The most striking plumage feature is only visible when they flap their wings. The bold black and white pattern is immediately obvious even at a great distance! Unfortunately I have yet to photograph one on the wing or in mid-flap yet...

Willets are without a doubt one of my favorite shorebirds! Rare enough to be a "good" bird at any time, fairly easy to approach and photograph, and plain enough looking that they don't get the same attention as, say, an American Golden-plover, or a gaudy Ruddy Turnstone, or a Marbled Godwit.

I'm already looking forward to crossing paths with one again at some point! Willet* be on May 2nd of next year? 

*see what I did there?

Sunday 15 June 2014

Odds and ends from May

As we move into the summer months the amount of recreational birding I do drops off significantly. May is a hurried and frenetic time for birders throughout eastern North America. Nearly every species of bird that we see regularly in Ontario can show up in May. Neotropical migrants are passing through in huge numbers, strays from the west and south show up frequently, and even some lingering wintering birds can still be found. I tried to make the most of the month, driving down to Pelee every weekend for a few days.

But by the time the calendar switches over into June, my focus turns away from looking for birds. My work schedule picks up significantly and I just don't have the time or ambition to go birding on my own away from work hours. Yes, even obsessive birders can get a little sick of it during the hot summer months! Besides, the summer is also the best time of year to look for dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and reptiles. Not to mention the best time of year to sit by a lake with friends having a few beers....Needless to say my birding is limited to wherever my job takes me.

This is where work took me on Thursday (Shining Tree, Ontario). I may or may not have gone skinny dipping in the lake here.

After completing a breeding bird survey this morning, I debated the possibility of checking out some local areas to see what I could find. In the end though, I figured I might as well go home and take care of some errands that I have been putting off for some time. That North American Birds report isn't going to write itself unfortunately. I also decided that I might as well clear the slate of all my May photos from Pelee that I have yet to post. I'm behind enough on my blog with tons of photos from Panama (and a few from Europe, too) still waiting to be edited and then posted, so hopefully I can catch up on the Pelee photos this week and get to work on writing day reports for Panama shortly after!

I'll start off with a few photos of a male Cape May Warbler that was extremely "co-operative" - basically, another word for "starving and willing to put up with gawking birders for a chance at finding a cold insect on the ground". Dozens of migrant warblers - mostly Wilson's, Blackburnian, Cape May, and Tennessee - along with a healthy dose of Scarlet Tanagers and several orioles, catbirds, vireos, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were all low to the ground on the east side of the park early in the morning. The sun warmed the ground here causing insects to be more active - a welcome sight for tired, cold, and hungry neotropical migrants.

Back on May 13 I visited Paletta Park in Oakville with Kory Renaud in hopes of seeing a reported Cerulean Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher. We dipped on the Cerulean, but did see the Acadian a couple of times high up in a willow. The only flycatcher that was low enough to be photographed was this Traill's Flycatcher. For those unaware, Traill's is a name given to a flycatcher which is either a Willow or an Alder. In fact they used to be considered the same species! These two species are very similar in appearance and are reliably only separated by voice. The bird pictured below was silent so it gets the Traill's label. I used to think that I could tell apart Alder and Willow Flycatchers if I saw them well, but several experiences over the last few years have made me less confident. I've had some that to me look like Willows yet call like Alders, and vice versa. I guess lighting can really change the appearance of a flycatcher from looking more olive-y to looking more gray.

A curious Chestnut-sided Warbler from May 10 at Rondeau Provincial Park...

And finally, a rainy day Tree Swallow.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Why I love my job sometimes

I am firmly entrenched in long hours of field work once again for the next few months, as I try to complete as much work as possible during the brief timing windows I have to survey for birds, amphibians, turtles, and other wildlife. Part of the year is fairly slow for me work wise and I spend a good chunk of my autumn and winter holed up inside the office writing reports. But this year starting in April, field work began to trickle in. These things always come through last minute and by the end of May I was in full blown work mode!

I am incredibly fortunate to be able to practice my hobby as my job; well, for part of the year. It is not always fun and games though up here in northern Ontario, between the long hours, lack of sleep (5 hours straight is almost unheard of!), and biting insects. Right now we are in the delightful overlap period where mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies are all flying in big numbers. And of course, surveying for birds on a site can be a little disheartening when you know that a year from now, this site will likely no longer exist as it does today.

But sometimes, something happens which makes up for all the tough parts of the job. A few days ago, a co-worker and I were surveying a site south of the French River, documenting the birds, vegetation, watercourses, and any other important natural features which could impact the extent of a development. It was a gorgeous site on the Canadian Shield only a few dozen kilometers from the shore of Georgian Bay. Fens, marshes and bogs were interspersed with woodlands composed primarily of White Pine, Balsam Fir, Trembling Aspen, and Red Maple. Extensive networks of rock outcrops weaved through the forests and wetlands. Here is a photo of a similar looking area a few hundred kilometers south of here.

My co-worker and I were walking the edge of a wetland on Thursday when we noticed a turtle basking on one of the logs in the pond. It got away on us (they spook easily, sometimes) but it was likely a Blanding's Turtle, a Threatened species in Ontario, and one that is afforded habitat protection.

The following day, after completing my morning point counts, I focused my efforts on the pond with hopes of turning up the turtle again. A quick scan with the bins revealed a turtle, and it was a beautiful Blanding's!

I spent the next fifteen minutes in stealth mode, as I attempted to sneak up to the basking turtle without it seeing me and spooking into the clear water. Using a beaver dam to hide behind, I was able to get some documentation photos of the turtle, and eventually some good quality images. This one is my favorite of the bunch.

Not only did we find the Blanding's, but we had a few Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling in the vicinity during our evening surveys; also a Threatened species in Ontario that is afforded habitat protection.

The following day we recieved word from the client that they withdrew their plan to develop to property. With the Blanding's and the Whips present, essentially 90% of the site would be off limits for development. The client will likely move on to a different area to build their aggregate pit, but it will be in an area without protected species like Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Blanding's Turtles (as well as the abundance of other species that share similar habitats).

While development will continue to happen in Ontario and throughout the world, it is a little satisfying that we were able to save this little piece of paradise. May the ol' yellowchins continue to live on in peace...

Saturday 7 June 2014

What's this, a blog post!? Point Pelee May 24, 2014

Yep, I am still alive. I am currently in Massey and my location for the next 10 days (and likely until early August) will be quite variable; usually involving some small town in northern Ontario! This is one of my favorite times of the year, as I am putting in long hours completing wildlife surveys. Between early morning breeding bird surveys and late night whip-poor-will surveys, there is not much time for anything else! But I am able to experience new locations almost every day, become fully immersed in the northern woods, and see a ton of cool species. I'll try to remember to take my camera into the field every now and then and maybe I'll have some material to post at some point. At any rate, here is the second half of my Point Pelee weekend back on May 23/24/25.

The morning began with a stroll through the national park, though considering I can't recall seeing anything interesting and I did not even make an Ebird checklist, I think it is safe to say that it was a bust! By late morning I was out of the park, heading towards Wheatley harbour to look for shorebirds including Whimbrels.

The Whimbrel is one of Ontario's largest shorebird species. They have a condensed spring migration with the vast majority of the birds coming and going over the period of about 1 week while en route to their arctic breeding grounds. Generally, May 24/25 is the peak of Whimbrel migration and on these days it is hard to miss them if you spend a few hours along the north shore of Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. While flocks of hundreds of birds can easily be seen in late May, it is easy to miss seeing them completely during the spring simply because of how quickly they migrate through the province.

I arrived at Wheatley harbour and immediately heard the mournful call notes of a flock of Whimbrels on the wing. There was a group of about 30 birds, wheeling around with a few other shorebirds including Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins, and even a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers. However, there were no Red Knots here during my 2 hour stay, though they were reported not long after I had left!

Whimbrels, Black-bellied Plovers, and a Dunlin - Wheatley Harbour

I ended up with a total of 366 Whimbrels at the harbour as a large flock came in from the east an hour later. Pretty awesome sight!

Whimbrels - Wheatley harbour

high contrast Whimbrels - Wheatley harbour

I continued to the east as I had grand plans of birding Elgin County that evening and the next day. There are a lot of under-birded spots along the shoreline in Elgin with a solid track record of rarities. As well, there are some interesting breeding birds in the county, including Acadian Flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, etc.

I was only 15 minutes east of Wheatley, traveling parallel to the shoreline along Highway 3, when I noticed a large flock of birds steadily powering to the west, a few hundred meters off shore. Yes, more Whimbrels! This group had about 350 birds, bringing my daily total to around 700. Certainly the most I had ever seen in one day.

Whimbrels - east of Wheatley, Chatham-Kent 

While I was photographing the above birds, I received a message that Adam Pinch had found a group of six American White Pelicans at Hillman Marsh! I had never seen this western species at Point Pelee before so naturally I backtracked to Hillman. They certainly weren't present when I drove by the exact spot a couple of hours earlier.

When I arrived there was one white blob sitting in the open water with 5 more circling above it in the sky. Pellies!!!

The five flew in perfect formation, kettling in the strong thermals. At one point they flew right over me, allowing for some interesting photos!

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

Eventually Pelly #6 joined its friends and they cruised along to the east. I lucked out and grabbed the following photo which was my favorite of the bunch.

American White Pelicans - Hillman Marsh, ON

American White Pelicans used to be a rarity in Ontario but in recent years they have pushed further north and east. Now they regularly can be seen in Sault Ste Marie, Rainy River District, an increasing number of lakes in Thunder Bay District, and the coast of James Bay! Perhaps in future years this species will be a regular member of southern Ontario's avifauna. Hamilton, Lake St. Clair, and Port Perry, and Fenelon Falls are a few of the locations off the top of my head that have all had small groups of pelicans in recent days. I'm still hoping to find some at Lake Simcoe one of these days!

I checked Hillman Marsh later that afternoon with Jeremy Hatt and Marianne Balkwill. We added 97 more Whimbrels here, as well as a surprise Willet (getting late!), a White-rumped Sandpiper, and a Little Gull.

Sunday 1 June 2014

May 23 birding - blackbird photoshoot!

It has been a busy week and I have not had any time at all to crank out blog posts. My work schedule is about to get even more hectic and it is possible that I won't have more than two or three days off until August - exactly what I want for the summer, but it leaves little time for things like photo editing and blog posts!. Hopefully in the next few months I'll be able to finish all my posts from the spring in southern Ontario, as well as start making posts about the Panama trip way back in March, but no guarantees.

Last Thursday evening I made the long drive back down to Point Pelee for my sixth consecutive weekend. The usual crowds of birders that I had been used to seeing were no longer around on the Friday morning - a bit of a welcome change, as us "locals" had our park back!

I walked down the Woodland Nature Trail through Post Woods, Sparrow Field, Loop Woods, and down to the tip. It was pretty quiet for bird song and many of the early and middle migrants had all but disappeared. However, songs of migrant Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, and Mourning Warblers rang out throughout the woods, against a steady backdrop of the vocalizations of the locals - Yellow Warblers, both orioles, American Redstarts, Eastern Towhees, Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Warbling Vireos. Migrant flycatchers and cuckoos were actively calling and feeding.

Birding in late May at Point Pelee is a whole different experience than during the earlier portion of the month. On this visit the trees were fully leafed out and swarms of gnats filled the understorey. Many migrant birds were around, but they were harder to see, hidden among the foliage. Non-vocal females, which tend to migrate later than males, dominate the migration scene. The sun warms the park quickly and by 11:00 AM activity really quiets down, picking back up again late in the afternoon, but only leaving half the day for productive birding. Rarities seem to be just as likely this time of the year as earlier in the month, but there are fewer people looking and, for me in particular, the motivation just isn't there like it is earlier in the spring!

Yellow Warbler nest - Point Pelee

 I only lasted until 10:30 AM or so in the park before the heat of the day and my restlessness set in, so I cruised around the onion fields and towards Hillman Marsh. The best bird for me in the park was a singing male Cerulean Warbler - pretty late for a migrant - and an Olive-sided Flycatcher flycatching from the tallest dead tree along the seasonal trail just north of the Pioneer parking lot.

At Hillman Marsh I ran into Ross and Graham Wood who had just finished scoping all the shorebirds. Quite a few peeps were in - I counted at least 8 White-rumped Sandpipers - and Black-bellied Plovers numbered around 3600. Diversity wasn't high but it was a lot of fun picking through all the shorebirds and gulls resting on the mud; one of my favorite types of birding.

At this point, not sure with how to spend the rest of my day, I made the quick decision to photograph Yellow-headed Blackbirds at an easily accessible location on the east side of Lake St. Clair - Angler Line. I had never taken any decent photos of this species before so it was worth a try.

After a brief and futile search for a pair of Cattle Egrets that Ross and Graham had found the previous day, I drove up to Angler Line and immediately noticed the first few Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I used my car as a blind and it seemed to work as the birds quickly became accustomed to my presence. Photography was challenging since the lighting was still harsh, and Phragmites and other vegetation along the roadside prevented any chance of a clean shot at the birds, but I got a few that were usable!

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

Yellow-headed Blackbirds - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

Eventually one of the males dropped out of the Phragmites and onto the shoulder of the road, where I photographed it without any obstruction from the vegetation.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Angler Line, Lake St. Clair

The day was still young and so I booted it up to Walpole Island to search for King Rails and Northern Bobwhites. It was an evening well spent - bobwhites were calling at a location where I had heard them in the past, but King Rails were a no-show (though I did not stick around until nightfall). This may be the only place left in Canada with wild Northern Bobwhites so I plan to keep the location quiet, for those wondering.  I also came across a singing Sedge Wren on the island plus a nice mix of of other interesting breeding species and late migrants.

I headed back to Lake St. Clair NWA just before dusk and went for a nice walk out on the dyke with my camera. It was a beautiful sunny evening and Black Terns were fishing in the pools adjacent to the dyke; easily one of my favorite birds. I ended up just watching them fish for the majority of the evening.

Black Tern - Lake St. Clair NWA

Black Tern (with fish) - Lake St. Clair NWA

I nearly smoked this photo - unfortunately I clipped the wingtip...Note the water droplets (it had just unsuccessfully plunged after a fish).

Black Tern - Lake St. Clair NWA

I also came across a tame male Red-winged Blackbird in nice lighting so I worked on cracking off a few photos. A common and gregarious species, perhaps, but still a fun species to photograph. All the while, Least Bitterns and Pied-billed Grebes called unseen from somewhere in the marsh. A great finish to the day!

Red-winged Blackbird - Lake St. Clair NWA

Red-winged Blackbird - Lake St. Clair NWA

Red-winged Blackbird - Lake St. Clair NWA