Friday 30 December 2016

2016 (part 2)


July was a bit of a slower month from a natural history perspective. Often by this time of year I have a bit of a hangover from nature overload, and it can be tough to find the motivation to go out and search for things on my own time. The birds have all settled in, having their young, the herps are more difficult to find, and the weather can be at times oppressive. This year I focused more on exploring Niagara Region a bit more thoroughly, in particular looking for shorebirds at Mud Lake CA and the Avondale Ponds among other places. This digiscoped Stilt Sandpiper was one of several I crossed paths with this summer, along with other goodies including an adult Baird's Sandpiper. It was fun to slowly work on filling in the holes in my Niagara list as well!

The one bird twitch I experienced in July was to Bayfront Park in Hamilton to see the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks found earlier by Eric Holden. An unusual sighting for the province, and a life bird for many who came to see them.

Ontario year list: 252
World year list: 830

Northern Pearly-eye - Cambridge, Ontario

Stilt Sandpiper - Mud Lake CA, Port Colborne, Ontario

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks - Hamilton, Ontario


The excitement of the month in the Ontario birding scene was, of course, the Common Ringed Plover discovered at Tommy Thompson Park by Paul Prior. This species is quite scarce in most of North America (apart from the Arctic where small numbers breed), and this bird represented a first record for Ontario, pending acceptance by the OBRC.

An August trip to Nova Scotia was also on the agenda this year to spend time with Laura's family. I made it out for a day of birding near Halifax and discovered this juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Hartlen Point near Dartmouth, a rarity for the area. It ended up being a good autumn for this species in Nova Scotia as numerous other individuals showed up, including a second bird that joined this one!

Living and birding frequently in Niagara Region payed off on August 15, as Laura and I discovered a Lark Sparrow on the end of the Port Weller east pier. This provided the third record for Niagara Region.

I visited Point Pelee for a weekend towards the end of August as well. Other than dropping my phone into the marsh, the weekend was a success. Highlights included photographing an American Bittern and studying a variety of shorebirds at close range in the Pelee marsh.

Ontario year list: 262
World year list: 837

Common Ringed Plover (right) - Tommy Thompson Park, Toronto, Ontario

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Hartlen Point, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

American Bittern - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Black Tern - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Sanderling - Leamington harbour, Ontario

Piping Plover - Burlington, Ontario


On September 3, Alan Wormington passed away while in hospice care in Leamington, Ontario. Alan was one of Canada’s and Ontario’s premier birders, and was widely considered by his peers as one of the most skilled and influential birders 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. In addition to birds, Alan was a keen naturalist that had a particular affinity for butterflies and moths - he found several new species for Ontario, and countless new ones for Point Pelee. Alan became a good friend of mine over the last five years or so and was a mentor to me in the birding community. I will always have fond memories of birding and hanging out together both at Point Pelee, as well as at James Bay during our expeditions together. He will be missed!

I only have one other photo to share from September since I rarely had my camera with me on outings this month for some reason. Laura and I found this Eastern Gartersnake at one of my favorite herping spots in Waterloo Region; as you can see it was in mid-struggle with a plump American Toad! We stayed until the end of the scene and yes the snake was able to eventually choke down the unfortunate anuran!

Most of the month I birded locally, focusing on the many excellent areas Niagara Region has to offer during the autumn. Highlights including finding a Prairie Warbler at Port Weller, Black Tern at Niagara Falls, and a wide variety of shorebirds and songbirds throughout the region.

Ontario year list: 267
World year list: 841

Alan Wormington at Moosonee, Ontario (September, 2012)

Eastern Gartersnake predating an American Toad - near Cambridge, Ontario


October was a month filled with a wide variety of bird and herp sightings, capped off with a trip to Netitishi Point on James Bay at the end of the month.

Early in the month, I visited Long Point with Todd Hagedorn for a day, a location that for some reason I had not visited in several years. It was a pretty active day for migration and among the day's highlights was a pair of Nelson's Sparrows that we discovered at Big Creek Wildlife Management Area. Most of the few records of Nelson's Sparrow for the Long Point area are of birds discovered at the remote banding stations, so this provided the first "chaseable" ones as far am I am aware.

Laura and I traveled to Point Pelee during the middle of the month to take part in a memorial "service" of sorts for Alan. It was great to see so many familiar faces and to spend the weekend birding and reminiscing about Alan. Some great birds were found during the weekend including a Cattle Egret, Fish Crow and Hudsonian Godwit at Hillman Marsh and a Pomarine Jaeger at the Tip. As well, we crossed paths with two Cloudless Sulphurs within the national park, a southern butterfly species that occasionally strays to southwest Ontario.

As is usually the case, October provided a smattering of rarities across the province. I was fortunate to cross paths with a few including the Le Conte's Sparrow that David Pryor found in Mississauga and the Western Sandpiper that Ken Burrell discovered at Port Maitland.

Ontario year list: 285
World year list: 854

Downy Woodpecker - Van Wagner's ponds, Hamilton, Ontario

Nelson's Sparrow - Big Creek WMA, Norfolk County, Ontario

Rock Point Provincial Park, Ontario

Black Vulture - Queenston, Ontario

female Cloudless Sulphur - Point Pelee NP, Ontario

Fish Crow - Hillman Marsh CA, Ontario

Le Conte's Sparrow - Mississauga, Ontario


Todd Hagedorn and I ventured north in late October to spend 16 full days birding the coast of James Bay, east of Moosonee at a location known as Netitishi Point. It was my fourth time visiting this remote part of the province and Todd's inaugural visit.

James Bay is a dynamic place, especially with regards to bird migration in the autumn, and Todd and I enjoyed this spectacle during the days with suitable weather conditions. But even on the slow days there were things to be seen, such as the always present boreal birds, or mammals such as the occasional Red Fox, Beluga and Bearded Seal.

Birders often venture to the James Bay coast to search for out-of-place birds, since the geography of the area acts to concentrate unusual species. This trip was above average in that regard, and while we could not find any rare seabirds (we'll get a Dovekie next time!), we did find a Western Sandpiper, Eurasian Wigeon, Western/Clark's Grebe, Sabine's Gull, Mountain Bluebird and a trio of Harlequin Ducks. Spending a few weeks away from the distractions of modern life for a few weeks was certainly welcome, and it is this just as much as the unusual birds that keeps drawing me back to James Bay.

In late November two incredible birds were found in the province that precipitated long-distance chases for me and many other birders in the province. The first was the Thick-billed Murre discovered by Burke Korol at Cobden (northwest of Ottawa), and the second was the Crested Caracara discovered by Chris Eagles in Michipicoten (about 2.5 hours north of Sault Ste. Marie). Fortunately I was successful on both chases! The caracara was particularly exciting since this species had never been photographed before in Ontario to my knowledge. An incredible bird to see so far north...

Ontario year list: 299
World year list: 866

the coast of James Bay at Netitishi Point, Ontario

Harlequin Ducks - Netitishi Point, Ontario

Red Fox - Netitishi Point, Ontario

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Netitishi Point, Ontario

Bohemian Waxwings - Netitishi Point, Ontario

Thick-billed Murre - Cobden, Ontario

Glossy Ibis - Port Hope, Ontario

Crested Caracara - Michipicoten, Ontario


One of the highlights of a quiet December for me was observing the female Smith's Longspur with Daniel Riley that had been found on the Long Point CBC by Ron Ridout and the Timpf brothers. The bird was very confiding, and we took advantage of the rare opportunity to study the bird up close. While Smith's Longspur breeds in Ontario along the Hudson Bay coast there are very few records of this often difficult to see species in southern Ontario.

Other than the longspur sighting, the month was relatively slow for me as far as birding was concerned. I did get out locally a few times throughout the month, in particular to look at gulls along the Niagara River. A Black-headed Gull at the Whirlpool was nice to see, especially since I can make it from my house to the Whirlpool in less than 5 minutes! Other highlights in December were good scope views of the 5 Harlequins Ducks at Niagara Falls, re-finding a male Pine Warbler at Dufferin Islands, and studying the wide variety of large gulls that spend much of the winter on the Niagara River.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope that 2017 is full of health, happiness and of course lots of
good birds and herps!

Ontario year list: 302
World year list: 868

Smith's Longspur - near Long Point, Ontario

Smith's Longspur - near Long Point, Ontario

1 comment: