Tuesday 13 September 2016

Long lost photos

This week I have been going through and uploading all of my bird photos from Ontario into eBird. I have been making good progress and at this point I have uploaded all of my photos from 2009 through 2014, as well as a few others from 2015 and 2016. I have uploaded photos of 341 species taken in Ontario, meaning there are only 10 species that I have photographed whose likenesses haven't made it into eBird.

As I was going through these photos I found quite a few that I had not posted to the blog, usually because I never got around to going through those albums, purging all the poor photos, and editing some of what was left over. Since I do not have a ton of current material at the moment as I have been too often leaving the weight of my camera behind on recent excursions, I thought I would post a few of these photos which had been forgotten until now.

On April 21, 2014 I was doing some work in the Lindsay area during the morning, leaving my whole afternoon free. I decided to explore the nearby Carden Alvar, home of a number of grassland/alvar specialties including Upland Sandpiper, Clay-colored Sparrow, Sedge Wren and Loggerhead Shrike, among many other interesting species. While the bulk of the Upland Sandpipers had not yet arrived to set up their territories, I was able to tease one individual out of the alvar.

Upland Sandpiper - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Several newly arrived Loggerhead Shrikes also put in appearances, including this individual on the aptly named Shrike Road. Loggerhead Shrikes are an Endangered species in Ontario with only several small populations hanging on. Carden hosts the majority of the birds, though there are a number of pairs in the Napanee area and a few on the Bruce Peninsula as I understand. Due to the land use practices in the Carden area as well as work done by local conservation groups to buy up land, enough habitat remains for the shrikes at Carden for now, though the population is still quite low and certainly at risk. That being said, they are relatively easy to find by driving some of the roads within the area, and there are often a few pairs along the heavily-birded Wylie and Shrike Roads.

Loggerhead Shrike - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Loggerhead Shrike was actually a new addition to my "photographed in Ontario" list as I had completely forgotten about these photos! It is species #351, meaning that there are 28 species that I have yet to photograph which are on my Ontario list. Unfortunately several of these are code 6 rarities which I may never have another shot at including Pink-footed Goose, Black-tailed Gull, Elegant Tern, and Phainopepla, as well as a few code 5s such as Golden-crowned Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole, Razorbill and Great Cormorant. Fortunately there are still a few easy ones remaining including Marsh Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Waterthrush and Rock Pigeon (!), along with several other regular Ontario species such as Kirtland's Warbler, Black-headed Gull, Northern Gannet, Glossy Ibis, and Barrow's Goldeneye.

Loggerhead Shrike - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

After photographing the shrike, I noticed this Eastern Gartersnake attempting to gather some sort of warmth from the road on this relatively cool, gloomy late April day.

Eastern Gartersnake - Carden Alvar (April 21, 2014)

Switching gears now - after the excellent trip to the coast of James Bay that Kory Renaud, Jeremy Bensette, Alan Wormington and I went on in the autumn of 2014, Kory, Alan and I birded the Hearst to Cochrane stretch on October 11. We saw a few interesting birds that day including a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Kapuskasing landfill, a group of 8 Cackling Geese and 66 Pectoral Sandpipers at the Hearst lagoons, and an Eastern Meadowlark near Hearst, representing one of few (the only?) record(s) for Cochrane District. This Bald Eagle did not mind our presence at the Hearst landfill - it was more concerned with finding some delectable morsel to eat among the heaps of rotting garbage (what a magnificent creature). Fortunately none of the garbage is visible in these photos.

Bald Eagle - Hearst landfill (October 11, 2014)

Bald Eagle - Hearst landfill (October 11, 2014)

Sticking with the northern Ontario theme, the next photo is of one of my favorite mammals in the province. This dude was walking right down the middle of the highway that leads to Pickle Lake, so we stopped to admire and photograph it. Fortunately (for the porc) our presence was enough to force it to slowly shuffle off the dangerous road.

Porcupine - south of Pickle Lake (June 29, 2015)

Ontario is home to only one species of lizard, but fortunately, Five-lined Skinks are relatively common throughout their range in the Georgian Bay region of Ontario. They inhabit several locations in southwestern Ontario as well and can be particularly common in parts of Point Pelee National Park. Last summer Laura and I drove down to the Windsor area to participate on the Ojibway Prairie Bioblitz, also spending a day at Point Pelee National Park. Like most lizard species, Five-lined Skinks are oviparous, meaning that the young hatch from eggs, and along with Jeremy Bensette, we found a few Five-lined Skink nests inadvertently in our search for snakes and other herps.

Five-lined Skink and eggs - Point Pelee NP (July 17, 2015)

I'll finish this post with a photo of Sanctuary Pond at Point Pelee on a beautiful, calm May morning.

Sanctuary Pond, Point Pelee (May 2, 2015)

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Alan Wormington – 1954 – 2016

On Saturday evening, Alan Wormington passed away while in hospice care in Leamington, Ontario. He had been dealing with the ravages of cancer for the past 30 months, but especially over the last six weeks or so. Alan Wormington was one of Canada’s and Ontario’s premier birders, and was widely considered by his peers as the most skilled birder of his generation. Alan’s knowledge of Ontario’s birds was enormous, and he was always on the “cutting edge” of the birding scene in Ontario – many would agree that he was the single most influential birder of his generation.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee sewage lagoons - September 24, 2014

Glenn Coady succinctly wrote about Alan’s influence as a field ornithologist, which I hope he doesn’t mind me posting here.

“Perhaps no one since Witmer Stone, a century ago at Cape May, has become so synonymous with the study of the birds of so crucial an area for their understanding and enjoyment, as has Alan Wormington at Point Pelee. As a field ornithologist, many of Alan’s achievements are the stuff of legend. He was the finder of seven species of birds were were new for the Ontario bird checklist: Lesser Nighthawk (1974), Royal Tern (1974), Fish Crow (1978), Cave Swallow (1989), Plumbeous Vireo (1997), Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater (2010) and Kelp Gull (2012) – the most by anyone since the days of William Edwin Saunders a century ago. In addition, he found the first nests for Ontario of Chuck-will’s-widow (1977) and Cinnamon Teal (1983).”

Alan Wormington (front row, left) with Roger Tory Peterson (front row, center) at Point Pelee NP, May 1978

Alan was an excellent photographer, documenting many of his rare finds in an age before digital photography. He was a founding member of the Ontario Bird Records Committee, serving more terms than anyone else, and doing more than anyone to ensure its success as a peer review for rare bird records for Ontario. Alan has written numerous articles about bird status and identification, compiled bird records in meticulous detail for the Point Pelee and Moosonee Birding Areas, and contributed with information for, and reviews of, countless manuscripts and articles. Alan always edited my articles that I wrote for the journal North American Birds. It was often a bit of a painful experience receiving his edits back as I knew that he would meticulously scour every detail of my report for every possible mistake. Alan’s attention to detail and desire for accuracy was exemplary.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee waterfront - September 29, 2012

While Alan was most well known for his birding knowledge and skill, his understanding of the status and distribution of Ontario butterflies was unequaled as well. Alan's was chiefly interested in butterflies growing up, but immediately caught the birding bug after identifying a White-eyed Vireo in Hamilton one spring. His interest in butterflies, however, remained strong through his life; he found several new species of butterflies for the province, as well as countless firsts for Point Pelee. One of Alan's books that he was working on is the "The Rare Butterflies of Ontario" - hopefully its publication will come to fruition in the coming years.

Alan Wormington at Moosonee - September 29, 2013

Unlike many of his peers who have known Alan for decades, I only first met him in 2009. I distinctly remember the first time seeing him in person. I was a nineteen year old herper who had only been interested in birds for the past year or so, and I was visiting Point Pelee for my first time. Even as a new birder, I was well aware of Alan Wormington, as his name would frequently pop up on the Ontbirds archives from previous years or in conversations with other birders, and I certainly got the sense that this man was a legend in the Ontario birding scene. One morning on my inaugural Point Pelee visit, I was birding along the northeast corner of the Woodland Nature Trail. It was a beautiful and calm morning in the park and I was having fun identifying all the warblers and other songbirds I was seeing. Two other birders walked up the trail towards me, and I realized that Alan Wormington was one of them, accompanied by a friend whom I later found out was Henrietta O’Neill. I kept birding as they approached and I noticed a small songbird pop up deep within the dogwoods - it was a waterthrush, most likely a northern. Alan and Henrietta stopped and asked if I had seen anything, and I blurted out that there was a Worm-eating Warbler in the dogwoods, fully meaning to say waterthrush. Alan turned to look before I clarified that I meant to say waterthrush, but the damage had been done. After a quick look he continued on while I felt a bit red from shame! Alan had no recollection of this story when I told him about it last week, no doubt at the time he probably thought that I was just another newbie birder, confusing my waterthrushes with my worm-eating warblers.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 22, 2012

In the years since, I have become very good friends with Alan. We have birded together often at Point Pelee, but some of my fondest memories of Alan come from the trips that we took to the southern coast of James Bay during autumn rarity-hunting expeditions.

From left to right: Jeremy Bensette, Josh Vandermeulen, Kory Renaud and Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - September 26, 2014

All told, we went on five expeditions to his beloved “Moosonee (Southern James Bay) Birding Area”. These trips were fantastic, often filled with rarities, many of which Alan of course spotted. Three of these trips were to Netitishi Point where we birded and sea-watched along the southern coast of James for two weeks straight, and two of these trips were just Alan and I. I have many great memories of these trips - tracking down the wayward Western Kingbird that flitted by us at dusk on our last day at Netitishi in 2012; spotting my first Ontario Northern Fulmar, the record breaking bird of my Ontario big year, alongside Alan; chatting about life and birds beside the campfire during the cold, crisp evenings; watching Alan have his glove stolen by the camp Red Fox, which was later found in the woods, missing a few fingers; straining through our scopes for hours on end during the really good days when thousands of birds migrated by as we struggled to keep track of the numbers.

Alan Wormington determining the wind direction at Netitishi Point - October 26, 2012

Sitting beside Alan on the coast of James Bay as he identified distant ducks and waterbirds while they were still specks on the horizon, I always felt extra motivated to spend long hours staring through the scope, working on my identification skills. I know that I am just one of many birders who strove to be better after watching Alan work his craft.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 26, 2013

Alan was a pioneer when it came to birding in northern Ontario. He was fascinated with the birding on James Bay and the north shore of Lake Superior, with his main interest lying in the possibilities of finding rare birds. He would return home from these jaunts to the north with reports of numerous rarities each time - often accompanied by good photos. This photograph below features Mark Jennings, Bob Curry and Alan, taken in 1977 when Alan was 23 years old. It was a self-portrait of the guys from their trip to White Top (Ship Sands Island), located at the mouth of the Moose River near Moosonee. Alan told me several stories from these trips; the most memorable of these was a trip that Alan and I believe Bruce DiLabio went on to Moosonee, his first ever trip to the James Bay coast. The teenagers showed up in Moosonee with woefully inadequate equipment and hailed a boat ride out to Ship Sands Island. There was a strong tide combined with a north wind one night, and the guys awoke with water running through the tent. Luckily some native guys were also on the island and rescued them, by taking them in their boat to higher ground!

left to right: Mark Jennings, Bob Curry, and Alan Wormington at White Top (Ship Sands Island), James Bay - August, 1977

One particular example of Alan's tireless passion and skill in birding occurred on my first trip with Alan – a six day trip to Moosonee and back with Mark Jennings and Alan in late September, 2012. After a busy morning of birding around Moosonee, we were relaxing on a picnic bench and watching several Rough-legged Hawks flying over. Alan spotted a distant Buteo coming closer, and immediately began to show interest in it. I was kind of baffled when watching the hawk – it certainly appeared to be a Red-tailed Hawk but it exhibited a plumage I wasn’t familiar with. While I was still struggling to put a name to it, Alan proclaimed how he thought it was a Harlan’s Hawk, and we both took some photos of the bird circling over. Of course the photos show an adult Harlan’s Hawk, a bird that wasn’t even on my radar, but one that Alan was intimately familiar with in the odd chance that he would someday come across one.

Alan Wormington (left) with Mark Jennings at Moosonee - September 28, 2012

Another example from that same trip occurred several days later once we were back on the Highway 11 corridor. After concluding a busy day of birding all of the towns, sewage lagoons and landfills in this stretch, we continued to the east as the sun began to set. Alan was driving, going his customary 20-30 km/h over the speed limit while Mark and I stared out the windows  and tried not to fall asleep. I must confess that I was not paying much attention – it had been a long day and I was on my phone, reading up and seeing photos of a Mew Gull that had been found in Sault Ste. Marie, a bird which we would be trying for the following day. As we flew down the highway, Alan yellow out “Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!” and hit the brakes. I caught a glimpse of a long-tailed looking bird on the wire as we streaked past. He turned the car around and backtracked – sure enough, a young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was perched on the power line in the fading evening light. His preparedness and dedication to his craft was readily apparent to those of us who were fortunate to have birded with Alan.

Alan Wormington and Kory Renaud at Netitishi Point - September 26, 2014 

Alan wasn't all business all the time - he had a quirky sense of humour which frequently surfaced when he was among friends. There is one story in particular I wanted to mention.

In late December, 2012, I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia to spend the holidays with Laura and her family. While a few days remained before the end of 2012, my Ontario big year was essentially over as I would not be returning back to the province until the calendar flipped over to January. I was checking my email one afternoon when I saw the Ontbirds post that had just come in. "Northern Lapwing at Hillman Marsh" it read, and of course Alan was the author. My heart sank as I read the details. Alan had discovered this bird with a flock of 40 or so Killdeer that were still lingering at the southwestern corner of Hillman Marsh, where the mud was still visible due to lowered water levels. Several Northern Lapwings had been seen recently on the east coast of North America, and it was a species that has long been our radar as a new addition to our province's avifauna, no doubt a species that Alan was well prepared for. He mentioned in the Ontbirds post that he had returned back to his house to get the word out and to grab his camera, and that he would be returning to Hillman Marsh shortly.

Alan Wormington at Netitishi Point - October 27, 2013
I checked Ontbirds, eBird, and the various Facebook groups throughout the evening, anxiously waiting for an update on the bird. Laura and her family did their best to dispel my glum mood, but it was of no use.

Strangely, there were no follow up Ontbirds posts, and nothing was on eBird for Hillman Marsh, despite several hours of light remaining when Alan originally posted. It then dawned on me. I quickly checked the original Ontbirds email - under the "Recipient" field, only my name was listed, and I quickly clued in that this was a fake Ontbirds post from Alan, the first one of several I would receive over the years. He really had me going for the better part of a day!

Alan Wormington at Moosonee sewage lagoons - September 26, 2012

I am honored to have known Alan and learned from him over the past six years. Alan was a generous and loyal friend to those who knew him throughout his life. His passing leaves a huge hole in the birding and butterflying communities, and he will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by many.