Monday, 20 November 2017

Mountain Bluebird ties the record!

It has been an exciting few weeks in Ontario, in no small part to all of the rare birds that are being observed in the southern portion of the province. An Anna's Hummingbird, only the third to be documented in Ontario, was discovered at a bird feeder in Carleton Place early in November and its presence was made public to the birding community last week. A Townsend's Warbler has become quite regular in its habits in Bate's Subdivision near Rondeau Provincial Park, in the week since its discovery by Jim Burk. A Black-throated Gray Warbler has been reliably seen in Ottawa for almost three weeks. This was just one of three excellent birds that Bruce DiLabio came across, with the other two being Razorbill and Northern Gannet (I think I need to put a radio-tracker in Bruce and follow him around - its a good strategy to see rarities). A Summer Tanager is visiting a feeder in Sudbury. And a whole variety of "lesser rarities" have been seen throughout the province including a smattering of Cattle Egrets, Red Phalaropes, Black-legged Kittiwakes, a Black-headed Gull, Pacific Loons and more. Late fall can be a spectacular time for birding even though most of the landbirds have cleared out.

On November 18 another rarity was added to the list, when Anthony Vanderheyden discovered a female Mountain Bluebird at Snyder's Flats in Waterloo. Mountain Bluebird is a western species that is at home in open, scrubby areas throughout the Rocky Mountains and across the Great Plains. It also has a tendency to turn up in out of the way places and rarely but regularly appears in Ontario. There are 43 OBRC accepted records of Mountain Bluebird, with most records occurring in late autumn or early winter.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

At the time I was at Point Pelee National Park with Todd Hagedorn for the weekend, and staying with Jeremy Bensette in Leamington. Jeremy was eager to get to the bluebird as it would be a potential year bird for him; the record-tying bird. It was too late in the day to chase the bluebird on Saturday so Jeremy planned to be there the following day. Todd and I planned on birding the Pelee and Rondeau areas before making our way back home. Upon our return to the Kitchener-Waterloo area we would look for the bluebird if it was still around.

The next morning Todd and I had a pretty productive day of birding that I will probably detail in another blog post. The bluebird was still being viewed, despite the high winds and occasional flurries, typical of late November it seems. Jeremy was already on site having already viewed the bird, and Todd and I met up with Ken Burrell and Dan MacNeal to conduct our own search. We had only been on site for half an hour when we received a call from Jeremy. He was looking at the bird with Owen Yates and Tim Arthur, only a short distance away from where Todd, Ken, Dan and I were searching.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

The Mountain Bluebird was actively searching for prey during the entire time that we watched it. The bird would frequently perch on the tips of willow and alder bushes to have a better view of the ground below, not always an easy task due to the strong winds almost blowing it off its perches on occasion. Being a bird of the Great Plains, I am certain that Mountain Bluebirds are well adapted to strong winds.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

She appeared to be pretty successful, catching and gulping down a few grasshoppers while we watched. On a few occasions the bird hovered before dropping down, a behavior frequently shown by Mountain Bluebird which isn't seen as often by Eastern Bluebird, the expected species in southern Ontario.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

Male Mountain Bluebirds are visually quite appealing due to their unmistakable sky blue coloration. The females, while a little more muted in color show subtle beauty in their own right. They still exhibit some blue, particularly on the tail and in the folded wings. In flight the blue flash was quite striking when she hovered above the ground facing away from us.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)


This photo, taken just after she hopped off her perch, illustrates some of the blue easily seen in the flight feathers.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

Sometimes she would hunt from the ground, taking advantage of the relative shelter from the wind provided by a nearby gravel hillside.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

We enjoyed the twenty minutes or so that we spent with her. At one point she came to within about five meters of our group, seemingly unconcerned with our presence. Finding food was of primary importance.

Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

The Mountain Bluebird represented the 343rd bird species seen or heard by Jeremy Bensette this year, officially tying the big year record which I set in 2012. Congrats Jeremy! It was great to share this moment with him, as Jeremy is one of my best friends who I have shared a lot of time (and birds) with over the last few years. The Mountain Bluebird was just one of many highlights this year which also included Jeremy standing in my wedding party in early September. Luckily for him he did not miss any year birds due to the wedding festivities, and no rarities showed up during the day of the wedding, which would have given Jeremy a very difficult decision to make!

Photo courtesy of Corynn Fowler Photogrpahy

And a photo of Jeremy with his record tying bird...

Jeremy Bensette with Mountain Bluebird - Snyder's Flats, Waterloo Region (November 19, 2017)

While I am sure it will not be long until he sees another year bird to take sole possession of the record, for a brief moment at least we both share the record, which is pretty cool. Jeremy has certainly put in the time and effort (and mileage) in his big year attempt and is very deserving of the record. Here's to many more year birds before the year is out; lets see how high you can push the record, Jere!

4 comments:

  1. Some terrific shots of the Mountain Bluebird, Josh.....it appears that the bird and the light were very cooperative and you were ready for it. Now if we could only get one to show up and be seen in the Rondeau area for a new park checklist species.

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    1. Thanks Allen! Sometimes the stars align and not only does the bird appear but it becomes very cooperative for photos. I am certain that you Rondeau guys will get a Mountain Bluebird before long. That has to be one of the biggest holes on the Rondeau checklist...apart from Pacific Loon of course!

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  2. I saw her today...truly an attractive bird! Looks like you had a bit less desirable weather though!

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    1. Not the most desirable weather, but the falling snow provided a favorable element to add to the photos!

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