Wednesday 21 November 2018

Calliope Hummingbird: yet another new species for Ontario

It has been a banner year in Ontario in 2018 as our provincial bird list inches closer to 500 species. Three new species have already been discovered within Ontario's borders this year, bringing the provincial checklist to 499 species (pending acceptance from the Ontario Bird Records Committee).

Back in August, Kiah Jasper and Alfred Raab discovered a Reddish Egret in Oliphant, Bruce County, the first novel species for the province in 2018. Wading birds are prone to wander and many birders had predicted that it was only a matter of time before this southern species would appear in Ontario. As a bonus, the Reddish Egret decided it liked Oliphant and remained in the area until at least September 17, allowing many birders to enjoy it.

Reddish Egret - Oliphant, Bruce County, Ontario (August 22, 2018)

Not long after the excitement of the Reddish Egret, the news of a Great Kiskadee at Rondeau Provincial Park sent shockwaves through the birding community. Posted to iNaturalist as a flycatcher species on September 7, several keen eyes picked up on the record and realized that the bird was indeed a Great Kiskadee, a species found throughout the Neotropics. This species has seen its range expand northward in Texas in recent years, but as a first Canadian record the Great Kiskadee was a huge deal. It remained in the park for around two months, though with a long hiatus in the middle.

Great Kiskadee - Rondeau Provincial Park, Chatham-Kent, Ontario (September 8, 2018)

Back on October 18th, a tiny hummingbird appeared at the feeders of Linda Johnston who lives in Goderich, Ontario. She kept her hummingbird feeders up and as the autumn progressed the as-yet unidentified hummingbird remained faithful to her feeders, along with a lingering Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Eventually photos taken of the hummingbird were posted to Facebook, and as they say, the rest is history. Any hummingbird lingering this late in the autumn is of great interest to birders; it seems more often than not, an out-of-range southern or western species (usually Rufous Hummingbird) is often involved.

Several local birders were able to observe the hummingbird late last week and over the weekend, while Glenn Coady was instrumental in nailing down the ID (unanimously as a young male Calliope Hummingbird, according to all experts polled). Glenn also helped obtain permission and establish the ground rules for birders to visit Linda's property to view the bird.

Thanks to Linda's generosity, viewing periods have been established for six consecutive days. With nothing too pressing on my schedule, I arranged to carpool with Barb Charlton, Garth Riley and Nancy McPherson to be there at 9:00 AM on November 20, the first possible time. Garth offered to drive and we braved the remnants of the first snowfall of the year as we made our way across endless farmland to "Ontario's west coast".

Calliope Hummingbird - Goderich, Huron County, Ontario (November 20, 2018)

The Calliope Hummingbird appeared almost immediately upon our arrival. It would alternate between feeding at one of the several feeders around the back porch, and hovering by some of the trees at the rear of the backyard, presumably hunting for spiders or other sources of protein. Visits to the feeder were frequent and everyone came away with good views of the bird. Photos were a little tricky given the low light and the bird's propensity to perch only on the hummingbird feeder and eschew well-lit, natural perches for the most part, but I don't think anyone was complaining!

Calliope Hummingbird - Goderich, Huron County, Ontario (November 20, 2018)

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird species in North America and one of the smallest species in the world that completes a long-distance migration. Calliope Hummingbirds spend the warmer parts of the year in the mountains of western Canada and the United States where they are at home in riparian thickets and meadow edges in coniferous forests. During the winter, Calliope Hummingbirds migrate to central and southern Mexico. One of the identifying features of a Calliope Hummingbird is the short tail and long primary projection, so that the primaries hang down past the tail tip. This photo below helps illustrate that point. 

Calliope Hummingbird - Goderich, Huron County, Ontario (November 20, 2018)

Despite the fact that this species had never occurred before in Ontario, it was not totally off the birding community's radar. Hummingbirds are well known for their long-distance vagrancy and for over-wintering in places far outside the "typical" wintering range of the species. A cursory look at eBird shows dozens of Calliope Hummingbird records from all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. A bit closer to home, there have been records from Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio as well. For some reason Ontario sees way fewer vagrant hummingbirds than nearby states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan - perhaps due to the blocking effect of the Great Lakes - so it is probably incorrect to say that we were due for this species. But considering the many records of Calliope Hummingbird in the east it did feel like it would happen eventually!

Calliope Hummingbird - Goderich, Huron County, Ontario (November 20, 2018)

For those wishing to observe this rare wanderer from the west, below I have copied the details of the "viewing conditions", as posted by Glenn Coady to Ontbirds and the Ontario Rare Bird Alert Facebook group.

Looking for that next adrenaline hit? You’ve come to the right place.

For some time now there has been a previously unidentified immature male Calliope Hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) coming to a feeder in Goderich. Since late last week, I have been in negotiations with the homeowner to permit access to the Ontario birding community to enjoy seeing this outstanding bird. We have now come to an agreement on a limited viewing period opportunity with well-defined rules at the very earliest opportunity the homeowner’s schedule would permit. Failure to strictly adhere to these rules will result in immediate cessation of further viewing, so DO NOT allow yourself to become the person who spoils this opportunity for everyone else.

This bird is feeding, roosting and spending all of its time in a small area only visible from private property, so there is virtually zero chance of seeing this bird in any other manner. It does not leave this small area that is not visible from the street. Incredibly, until November 18th this bird was accompanied by a very late Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but that bird appears to have departed with a thick fat layer on that morning, leaving the Calliope Hummingbird unchallenged access to the feeders now.

Here, then, are the conditions for the limited viewing period:

1) Access to the backyard viewing area will be permitted only for the dates November 20 - 25, 2018 inclusive.

2) Birders are welcome only between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on any of those six days.

3) Due to the costs of electricity for heat lamps being provided for the bird as long as it can endure, as well as anticipated costs to replace grass areas in the backyard due to the high volume of foot traffic of visitors, a $3.00 donation per person is being requested from those who attend. I believe this to be a completely reasonable request.

4) There will be a well roped-off area in the backyard and no one is permitted to go beyond that rope for ANY purpose.

5) In order to prevent congestion in a tight area of this home's yard, no scopes or tripods will be permitted into the viewing area. [See: Do not ruin things for everyone else]

6) Parking on this narrow street is limited. DO NOT, under any circumstances, park on both sides of the street and obstruct traffic flow, particularly for large emergency vehicles like fire trucks. Some may find it better to park up in some of the commercial parking spaces in the lots of restaurants along Highway 8 within a couple of blocks of the site and walk in toward the house. We have also obtained permission from the nearby Suncoast Mall at 397 Bayfield Road for those who visit to park in their parking lots and walk the short distance to the house.

7) Please ensure that there is NO SMOKING permitted on this private property and please do not discard any cigarette butts anywhere on this street as an aggravation to the local community.

Now, the homeowner, Linda, still has some trepidation about agreeing to such a viewing event. Recognize that this cannot help but be a stressful occasion for her and her family and show her how truly exemplary your behaviour will be and how much fun the benefits of this wonderfully social experience can be. I want Linda to be able to give positive feedback on such an experience to that next person who might contact me and wondering whether to allow me to share the news of their Rustic Bunting!

Provided you agree to abide by all these conditions/rules, please feel welcome to come and see Ontario's long-awaited first Calliope Hummingbird during the period November 20 - 25.

The bird is reliably feeding at the backyard feeders of Linda Johnston at 232 Bennett Street East in Goderich. As you enter Goderich on Highway 8 from the east, turn left at the second street after the A&W restaurant on your left and China Wok Buffet restaurant on your right. After the bend, watch for house #232 on your left side, a little bit after the second cross street. Remember to park on one side of the street only or else park at the A&W lot and walk in.

The bird’s identification has been vetted by several North American experts already, but I will be posting photos of this bird to the Ontario Rare Bird Alert page on Facebook shortly so that people can independently make their own assessments.

It is probably best to stick to Highway 8 to enter Goderich, but if you do come toward Goderich via nearby side roads, please be very observant and drive the speed limit as there are many large flocks of Snow Buntings coming to the roads to seek grit.

Best of luck to all who go seeking this phenomenal bird,

Glenn Coady

We enjoyed our time with the bird, chatted with Linda and caught up with many of the familiar faces that were present before hitting the road. Along the way a timely text message from Dan MacNeal set us up to see a Bohemian Waxwing feeding alongside a driveway somewhere in eastern Huron County.

Bohemian Waxwing - east of Blyth, Huron County, Ontario

I also made a couple of quick stops in Burlington on my way home. Initially my visit to Valley Inn was fruitless but as I was about to leave I noticed the Hudsonian Godwit nearly at my feet at the edge of the wetland. This lingering juvenile bird has been at this location for several weeks, and was certainly the latest one I had ever seen in Ontario.

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Hudsonian Godwit in the snow - not a typical look for one in Ontario!

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Hudsonian Godwit - Valley Inn, Burlington, Halton Region, Ontario

Saturday 17 November 2018

Galápagos and mainland Ecuador

It has been a busy autumn of travel for me, and I have just returned from another trip to warmer climes. In early November I led a tour for Quest Nature Tours to the Galápagos Islands off the west coast of Ecuador, a destination that I have wanted to visit for as long as I could remember. Maybe it was due to nature documentaries and books featuring Giant Tortoises and Marine Iguanas when I was a herp-obsessed youth. In recent years I have taken an interest in evolution and island biogeography, so to visit one of the best places in the world to explore these concepts was a dream come true. The trip was exceptional by all accounts and I am eagerly looking forward to going through my thousands of photos. Here are a few early edits so far.

Galápagos Land Iguana - Isla Baltra, Galápagos

Galápagos Sea Lion - Isla Santa Fe, Galápagos

Sally Lightfoot Crab - Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos

Marine Iguana - Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos

Common Cactus Finch - Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos

Galápagos Pintails and Western Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise - Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos

Lava Heron - Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Santa Fe Prickly Pear - Isla Santa Fe, Galápagos

Waved Albatross - Isla Española, Galápagos

Santa Fe Lava Lizard - Isla Santa Fe, Galápagos

Following the conclusion of our time in Galápagos, I rented a car in Quito and spent five days on my own exploring the western slope of the Andes to the northwest of the city. I have explored the Chocó biogeographical region before in both the Darién of eastern Panama, as well as in parts of western Colombia, which limited the number of potential new species that I would see. However, the Chocó is an amazingly biodiverse part of the world and I thoroughly enjoyed my time here; whether it was by searching out the remaining Chocó endemic birds I "needed", mothing in the evenings, or exploring the forest at night.

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan - near Bellavista Lodge, Pichincha Province, Ecuador

Equatorial Anole - Tandaya Bird Lodge, Pichincha Province, Ecuador
Tiger Moth sp. - Tandaya Bird Lodge, Pichincha Province, Ecuador

Easily the biggest highlight for me was finding a Banded Ground-Cuckoo with a big ant swarm at Reserva Amagusa, located in the Mashpi area. This scarce Chocó endemic is very secretive and extremely difficult to find, and it was a first record for Reserva Amagusa. After initially spotting the bird, it took a further hour of observation before I was able to obtain record shots (otherwise no one would have believed me!).

Banded Ground-Cuckoo - Reserva Amagusa, Pichincha Province, Ecuador

As usual, I will be making a series of posts documenting these travels at some point in the future. Hopefully sooner rather than later!