Sunday, 21 June 2015

Point Pelee and area - May 16

It's been a while since I've actually had time to post to the blog due to a very busy field season which has taken me to a few different places throughout northern Ontario, including Fort Albany, Kenora, and Weagamow Lake (currently the furthest north I've ever been in Ontario!). I still have quite a few photos to go through from the spring, so here's a few more from an extremely productive weekend in the Pelee area.

Being a turtle in southern Ontario is wrought with danger especially due to the high concentration of roadways. Turtles are on the move during the spring and many meet their demise at the wheel of a vehicle. This young Snapping Turtle, disguised as a small rock, was sitting in the middle of the roadway when several of us drove by in Kory's vehicle. It was one of the lucky ones!

Snapping Turtle - Leamington onion fields.

Speaking of turtles, the Point Pelee area (and most of the few remaining natural areas in Essex County) is home to old yellow chin, the Blanding's Turtle. It is quite common to see them basking during warm days in the spring, along with the more numerous Midland Painted Turtle. A few Blanding's Turtles were seen by many throughout May in the shorebird cell and had grown accustomed to the throngs of birders that passed by at close range. Normally this species is quite wary, making it hard to secure decent photos of them basking. It was lightly raining when I took this picture, but the sun's rays were strong enough to entice the turtles to remain on the log.

Blanding's Turtles and Midland Painted Turtles - Hillman Marsh CA

It certainly seemed to be the spring of the Mississippi Kite in Ontario. Normally only a couple are seen each spring, and some years none at all are reported. It seemed that every day or two another Mississippi Kite was found somewhere in Ontario in mid to late May this year! Ken Burrell and Adam Timpf found this Mississippi Kite flying over Hillman Marsh on May 15 and it was seen by many in the area north of the marsh into the evening. Unfortunately my arrival into the Pelee area was too late to search for the kite, but it remained for another day, hunting along Mersea Road 2, the east-west road along the north shore of Hillman Marsh. Jeremy Hatt, Kory Renaud and I caught up with the bird in early afternoon, and even managed some identifiable photos despite the back lit conditions and the height that the bird was flying at. Certainly not good photos by any means, but I was happy as it was my first photographed kite in Ontario.

Mississippi Kite - Hillman Marsh CA

The kite appeared to be very close to having complete adult plumage, although the white secondaries have yet to come in fully, as seen in the below photo. Additionally, the bird showed barring on the underside of the tail, another trait consistent with young birds. Mississippi Kites often molt much of the head and body feathers on the wintering grounds in South America, with the remainder of their second prebasic molt usually occurring on the breeding grounds (Howell, 2010). Given that information, this bird appears to be in its second calendar year, having partially completed it's second prebasic molt.
Mississippi Kite - Hillman Marsh CA

 Mississippi Kites breed in a wide band across the south-east and south-central United States and winter in South America. It is speculated that many records of Mississippi Kite in Ontario originate from the population found in the Mississippi River valley, found as close to the province as southern Indiana and Illinois. Out of the 44 records of Mississippi Kite accepted by the Ontario Bird Records Committee (2014 report), 41 records are from the spring, while the remaining 3 are from September. The vast majority of the spring records fall between the dates of roughly May 11 to May 28. The record early spring migrant is May 5, and record late is June 13. This one was right on schedule!

Mississippi Kite - Hillman Marsh CA

Along with a few other birders, I was invited to visit a small breeding colony of Henslow's Sparrows later that afternoon. Unfortunately I can't provide the location as the site is not accessible to the public. Henslow's Sparrows used to be a relatively common bird in weedy, grassy fields in southern Ontario, but their numbers have dwindled to the point that now only a few known colonies remain. This has caused Henslow's to be listed as an Endangered species in Ontario. Certaily the improved efficiency of agriculture has been a contributing factor in their decline, as few sufficient weedy fields are left fallow. This was my first time seeing Henslow's Sparrow on territory, with all my previous sightings involving spring migrants/overshoots at Point Pelee National Park. The field happened to be a great location for a wide variety of sparrows and we came up with 10 species including numerous Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows along with the Henslow's.

Henslow's Sparrow - Essex County

Henslow's Sparrow - Essex County

Henslow's Sparrow - Essex County

Howell, Steve N.G. (2010). Molt in North American Birds. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

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