Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Point Pelee and area - May 17

Continuing on with a series of posts about an extremely productive long weekend of birding, centered around May 16. For the May 15 report look here, and for the May 16 report, look here.

May 17th was similar to the previous few days - the winds were light and the weather forecast was for hot and sunny conditions. David Szmyr and I headed out to the tip, though things were rather slow and not much was flying overhead, so we bailed on the reverse migration fairly early in the morning. As we were walking up the west beach footpath I received a call from Steve Pike, who had been with us earlier at the tip. He had just had brief looks at what he thought was a Le Conte's Sparrow further up the west side of the tip, near the Solar Panel building. We were only two minutes away so naturally we headed over to take a look at the bird. A group of thirty or so birders and photographers had assembled a few minutes later as we waited for the bird to pop up again out of the cedars. It finally did, and everyone oohed and aahed while dozens of camera shutters went off. I took a really good long look at the bird instead of reaching for my camera, and realized that the bird in question was a Nelson's Sparrow! Unfortunately, shortly after proclaiming this to the group of birders standing around, the bird flitted back into the deep grasses and was only seen poorly for the next few seconds until it disappeared for good.

 Nelson's Sparrow breeds in several places in Ontario. The subspecies "alterus" breeds in sedge and willow meadows along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts. The nominate subspecies "nelsoni" breeds in the prairies, just barely reaching western Ontario in Rainy River District. Compared to alterus, nelsoni is somewhat brighter with more vivid colours. While southern Ontario sees very small numbers of Nelson's Sparrows passing through in the autumn, it is a rare species during spring migration. Perhaps this is due to its secretive habits, affinity for sedge marshes with standing water (a habitat that birders rarely explore thoroughly), and late migration window. Let's face it - few birders are out tromping around in mosquito infested marshes in late May searching for Nelson's Sparrows. At any rate, it was my first spring Nelson's Sparrow, and only my second observation for the Point Pelee Birding Area. A few years back I explored Hillman Marsh on foot in October and managed to scare a couple of them up.

Additionally, it was my 1000th species of bird I had observed in 2015, a goal of mine that I've had ever since the beginning of the year. This was a good year to try and see 1000, as I had trips to Colombia, Morocco, Scotland, and Cuba in the early part of the year. I guess I should make a new goal of seeing 2000 species in a year! :)

  The following photo I took of an alterus Nelson's Sparrow at Little Piskwamish Point, James Bay in July, 2012.

Nelson's Sparrow - Little Piskwamish Point, James Bay

Dave and I birded for a short while longer in the park, though few birds were around and not much was singing. We did hear both Willow and Alder Flycatcher, and had crippling views of a male Mourning Warbler.

A Glossy Ibis had been seen sporadically at Hillman Marsh over the previous few days, and with a positive report of it returning to the shorebird cell Dave and I motored over there. Dave is doing an Ontario Big Year, and Glossy Ibis was a really good one that he did not want to miss. Back in 2012 I managed to strike out on all of the ibises during my Big Year attempt.

The ibis was showing well from the back of the shorebird cell and we ended up watching it with the Rileys who had beaten us there. Due to the heat haze, harsh mid-day lighting and distance it was one of the worst looks I've had at an ibis, but any look is better than no look. In fact it was only my second ever Glossy Ibis for Ontario.

I did pause for a few moments at Hillman to photograph this Green Frog as well as several wildflowers in the soft muted lighting once the sun was obscured by clouds.

Green Frog - Hillman Marsh CA

Green Frog - Hillman Marsh CA

The afternoon was spent relaxing with a few beers at the Riley's cottage, but by 6:00 PM the air temperature had cooled sufficiently to head back into the park. We didn't see much during the few hours at Point Pelee, though we did come across a vocalizing Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, my first of the year. As we were standing around and not really finding birds, an Ontbirds post by Adam Pinch made up our minds as to where we should go. He had discovered a Snowy Egret with Dean Ware in the onion fields north of the park. I drove to the spot, met up with Luke Berg and David Szmyr, and made the long walk down the dyke to where the egret was hanging out. For some reason I did not bring my camera - an obvious mistake as the bird flew past us, no more than 10 m away and in great light! It eventually alighted on a wooden piling on the other side of the canal, allowing for more distant digiscoped photos. Dave was particularly happy to see the egret - a great bird for his year list.

Snowy Egret - onion fields

1 comment:

  1. The Nelson's Sparrow photo is lovely...looks like artwork!