Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The land of ice (storms) and snow (geese)

For a birder from southern Ontario, Eastern Ontario is a very different place and since Erica's family is from that area I get to explore the birding there pretty regularly.  One of my regular spots I like to check when I have time is the Long Sault Parkway.  The eBird barchart has 199 species listed, which especially when you consider it is situated in a part of Ontario that is pretty under-birded, is pretty impressive.  The best bird I saw on the list was Jacob Bruxer's Western Grebe that he found earlier this fall.  There was also a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher back in 2009.  The best thing I have been lucky enough to see was a Eurasian Wigeon a few years ago that had been found earlier.

It is a really neat causway that connects something like a dozen islands over a 10km stretch of road.  There are lots of places to park your car and have a picnic and there are even some camping spots along the way.  I usually only ever get there in the waterfowl season but I imagine it would be a pretty good spot for passerine migration too.

Anyways, while visiting for Christmas I made a quick trip there are on the 23rd.  Here's my full list.  It was fairly slow, with lots of ice building since my last visit on December 9. The best thing I found was a group of 51 Snow Geese mixed in with the Canadas right at the Long Sault end of the Parkway.

On December 9, I captured this pair of Common Loons in nice and close:

Snow Geese are definitely one of the birds I think of when I think of eastern Ontario with the massive migration of Greater Snow Geese passing through each year.  The other eastern Ontario specialty is Gray Partridge.  Even saying that I had only found Gray Partridge once before while visiting Erica's family.  That was a pair of birds seen in the field across from her parent's house on March 21 of last year.  Erica's Dad lets me know whenever he sees them which is still pretty infrequent. However, this morning we went for a cross country ski around the fields and found some pretty fresh tracks in the snow that I was pretty confident were Gray Partridge. I started following them and it was clear that they were enjoying the leftover soybeans in the field.  A few minutes later I put up a group of 11 of them!  They flew across the road so on our way out an hour or so later Erica and I took a detour to see if we could find them for a photo.  We were in luck as they were busy foraging in a corn stubble field. This was the first time I have actually heard Gray Partridge.

I also took a quick video of them. Unfortunately as soon as I stopped recording the flock got up and flew a short distance and started making all sorts of noise...
In case you are interested in the exact spot where they were, here is our eBird checklist.

And here's a link to the eBird map of Gray Partridge in Ontario.

On the way east on Saturday we had to stop in Kingston for a few things so instead of actually setting foot in a mall I went around back to check out the long-staying Northern Mockingbird, which is a pretty good Kingston bird.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

'Tis the season

I'm just going to ignore the fact that it has been a while and jump right into this post. As you all know we are now well into Christmas Bird Count season and we've had the big weekend of counts done and starting to post the results.  So far there are lots of pretty apparent trends out there in southern Ontario: lots of lingering waterfowl, some lingering Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Warblers, lots of Barred Owls south of normal, and pretty much no Robins.  Most of the winter finches, with the exception of redpolls, appear to have motored right on through Ontario.

As usual I was out for two counts this past weekend and wasn't disappointed.  Saturday's count was the Kitchener CBC.  For this count we cover the area west of Erbsville which has a lot of nice forest.  What it doesn't have is any water to speak of so unlike some other areas we didn't see too much of interest this year.  Our best bird was probably the Swamp Sparrow in the wetland behind the old Erbsville Outdoor Education Centre.  Here's our day's list if you're interested.

Despite our rather slow day the Kitchener count was a huge success.  When all was said and done all the groups tallied 74 species on count day (beating the old high of 70!) plus 3 more species for count week.  The highlight of count day was the Cackling Goose (new species for count) that has been present for some time now on the sports fields at Columbia Lake.  You can see my summary of the count here. Here's a picture I took of the Cackling Goose on count day while Ken and I poached in Virgil Martin's territory:

Cackling Goose at Columbia Lake on count day

The Cambridge CBC was a completely different story for us.  Since 1994 we have covered the area between Puslinch Lake and Valens Reservoir - in most years it is tough to get even a Canada Goose or Mallard since our's is one of the few sections without part of the Grand River in it and our species total usually suffers because of that.  However, in warm years when Puslinch and Valens have open water (like in 2001 and 2011) our area kicks some serious ass! In 2001 I think Canvasback and Long-tailed Duck were both new for the count.  In 2011 there weren't any new species but we finished with an incredible 52 species for our area. This year was no exception, even though we didn't break the 50 species mark.  I'm pretty sure both the Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck were new species for the count and Red-breasted Merganser, Greater Scaup, and the huge count of Hooded Mergansers were not too shabby either.  To top it off, Erica and I had a Barred Owl in our area on Friday night (count week)! It was a pretty rainy day on Sunday for the Cambridge count so not many pictures taken, but here are a couple:
female/immature Ruddy Duck and American Coot at Puslinch Lake

Coyote eyes up some Mallards!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Weekend report

Well, first thing's first:

Couldn't resist...I might have trouble sleeping the next couple nights.  Hopefully I'll be out on bird watch Thursday/Friday/Saturday.  Brandon's blog is probably the best source of information if you want to get really excited about this storm in Ontario.  But also check out the ebird story and birdcast for more information.

Ken came up this weekend and we did some "local" birding.  Saturday it was western Prince Edward County with nothing too unusual amongst the rain/cold/wind.  We were mainly checking out Point Petre.  White-winged Crossbills have definitely started to move (we had a single) and same with Evening Grosbeaks, even though we didn't have any.  Pine Siskins are still going strong.  We had another late Vesper Sparrow (had one last week too).  We did a quick zip into Gosport to nail down the continuing Glossy Ibis and Hudsonian Godwit.  Ken managed a phonescoped shot of the ibis here.

This morning Ken and I walked around Gull Island at Presqu'ile first thing.  We had our first Snow Buntings of the fall plus a decent mix of 8 shorebird species.  Add in the Hudsonian Godwit and Killdeers at Gosport again and we had ten shorebird species on the day! 

After Gull Island we got some danishes and then made a couple stops along the lake between Presqu'ile and Cobourg.  Tons of Red-breasted Mergs and Greater Scaup moving (east) and good numbers of Common Loons and Horned Grebes but not much else.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I was headed home today from Peterborough when I noticed a big flock of waterfowl flying south up ahead.  As we approached the flock, I realized it had the characteristic "jumbled" look of a flock of Brant! I estimated there were about 150 birds in this flock and I was pretty excited.  Less than 10 minutes later I was pulling out of our carpool parking lot in my own car when I noticed another flock, right above me!  This one was even bigger (about 300) and also contained 2 Canada Geese holding up the rear.  Even better, I managed to get my bins on this flock and enjoy it for a second or two through them.

The second flock was really amazing because it was traveling very quickly- I followed it all the way from Springbrook to Stirling, a distance of about 11.5 km!  I was traveling about 95km/h but the flock was going more in a direct S direction while I was going SSE.

Brant at Presqu'ile PP, Northumberland on June 1, 2009
I still get pretty excited anytime I see Brant in Ontario because I did all of my birding growing up west of Toronto, where Brant is a very uncommon migrant.  There seems to be a sort of imaginary line east of Toronto where beyond that Brant become much more common.  In the Ottawa and Kingston areas this is a pretty normal migrant to see going overhead in late May and October.  The reason for this is that the Brant we see in Ontario likely all pass through southern James Bay and then follow the Ottawa River valley and cross over to the Atlantic in the NE US.  It will be interesting to see if these Brant were part of a larger movement of birds exiting southern James Bay after some north winds and stormy weather there....we'll have to wait and see if Josh and Alan were on the coast yesterday and today watching thousands of Brant pass by...For those of you who don't know, they are at Netitishi Point, on James Bay.  Netitishi Point is an Important Bird Area, partly because of the large number of Brant and other waterfowl that pass through there each year.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

weekend birdies

Well, I made it out to Point Petre yesterday morning.  There was a nice selection of sparrows, including a late Grasshopper and a single Vesper.  The only other highlight here was a single female Black Scoter hanging out with some Long-taileds...I made a few other short stops on the way home with nothing much of note to show for my efforts except maybe a latish Caspian Tern at Wellington harbour/bay.  

Today was a bit different story, Erica and I met up with Doug McRae, Barb Charlton, Mark and Diana Peck, and Sarah and Georgia Petrasek at Presqu'ile.  We birded Owen Point and then walked across to Gull Island (no hunting there on Sundays...).  The crossing to Gull Island was a bit ridiculous; it is so dry you could have done it in sandals and not gotten your feet wet!  Just before we crossed a large shorebird flew in from Gull Island and obligingly fed along the shore for us. 

Yep, that's a late Willet!  I can't remember hearing of one before in Ontario in October...Checking Bob Curry's Birds of Hamilton he lists a late date of October 19 for the HSA.  Anyways, a pretty sweet bird to say the least.  The rest of the island was pretty standard fare.  On the way back to the cars we had a late Northern Parula along the trail.  Here's the full list of goodies from Owen Point and Gull Island.

After the island, we had word of Evening Grosbeaks visiting Bill Gilmour's legendary feeders so we headed over that way.  The feeders and bird baths were hopping, but the Grosbeaks had apparently taken off shortly before we got there when a Merlin buzzed the yard.  There were a few nice birds around including a Fox Sparrow, Eastern Towhee and a late Gray Catbird at one of the baths.  Here's the full list.

From there Erica and I headed home but not before checking out the Hudsonian Godwit present for a few days now in Gosport.  All in all it was a very birdy morning, with a bunch of new Northumberland birds for me, bringing me up over 200 now for the county...

Friday, 19 October 2012

short post...

It's been a little too quiet on the rarity front lately (with the exception of Ottawa's Western Grebe/Grebes and Brandon's Cattle Egret today).  I got out a bit this week but plan to do a fair bit more birding over the next week.  The plan is Prince Edward County tomorrow and we'll see for Sunday.  Next weekend Ken is heading up here so him and I will have to go find something good.

As I said, I got out a bit this week.  I was home for the weekend but it was mostly consumed by Oktoberfesting.  I made it out to Conestogo Reservoir briefly, not much was there besides the usuals.

This week I had some work to do at the ROM and UofG insect collections, which afforded a chance to make a few stops along the way.  On Tuesday I stopped at Newcastle Harbour for a dawn visible migration watch.  Lots of Horned Grebes and Common Loons but nothing that I could string into something bird was a Snow Goose...or maybe the Chinese Swan-Goose?  According to Tyler Hoar those imported geese have been there for several years.  After our work at the ROM Colin Jones and I checked out Valens CA (which was dead) and the Hespeler Mill Pond (which was full O ducks).

On Wednesday Colin Jones and my Dad and I stopped at Floradale Reservoir which was very foggy with just a few ducks.  On our way home Colin and I stopped at Cranberry Marsh where we had a nice assortment of sparrows and ducks, plus a nice group of 8 Cackling Geese.  At Whitby Harbour there were a lot of Mute Swans and a flock of Black-capped Chickadees that flew across the harbour heading west.

Well, no rarities, we'll see what this nice looking weather brings...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Recent happenings

It's been a while since I posted here so I decided to one big post from a few highlights of the last few weeks..

First up was a couple days I spent on the Carden Alvar at the end of August.  The main goal was to do some insect surveys but as usual I had plenty of other distractions.  Best bird of the trip was by far a flyover Dickcissel "farting" overhead first thing August 31.  The other major highlight was a flock of 15 Red Crossbills the day before.  Here are a couple ebird checklists from that trip:
August 30 at North Bear Alvar
August 31 at North Bear Alvar

 We also managed to see a few Loggerhead Shrikes on Wylie Road, no doubt some of the last in Ontario for the year.  As for photo highlights, this Smooth Green Snake was the definite winner:

Next up, I headed to the Bruce Peninsula.  I had the chance to check out the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory while there and enjoyed some active birding while doing some more insect surveys. Like Blake Mann has reported on his blog, migrant butterflies had made it well onto the Bruce and our first stop on the way up at Oliphant yielded Buckeye, Fiery Skipper and Variegated Fritillary!
Not sure if this is more of a "quiz" photo or not...phonescoped Variegated Fritillary at Oliphant on September 12, 2012
Common Buckeye phonescoped at Oliphant September 12, 2012

We saw a few more Buckeyes elsewhere but the real highlights became dragonflies.  We found an apparent breeding colony of Black Meadowhawks (a boreal species) and ovipositing Green-striped Darners!
Black Meadowhawk, Bruce Peninsula on September 13, 2012
Black Meadowhawk, Bruce Peninsula on September 13, 2012
Green-striped Darner, Bruce Peninsula on September 13, 2012
Also nice to see were a couple of nice ferns on the escarpment:
Cliffbrake spp. Bruce Peninsula, September 13, 2012
Maidenhair Spleenwort. Bruce Peninsula, September 13, 2012

And of course, I did see some birds :)  Nothing too unusual though.  Here are some ebird lists:
Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory September 13
Cabot Head Provincial Nature Reserve September 13
Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory September 14
Black-throated Green Warbler with growth (?) on bill.  Bruce Peninsula September 14, 2012
The real bird highlight was a young Broad-winged Hawk that we came across on September 14.  This individual was on the dirt road leading out of the bird observatory.  It was raining fairly steadily at the time and we watched this bird picking up earthworms off the road.  Eventually we scared it and it flew down the road.  We scared it up off the road further down a couple hours later when we went that far, suggesting it continued eating worms for a couple hours.  Here's a short clip:

Following the trip to the Bruce, it was back home for the OFO convention.  Brandon summarized our day's outings on his blog already so I'll just add this photo of the Variegated Fritillary we saw in the parking lot of Owen Point trail.
Variegated Fritillary at Presqu'ile Provincial Park September 16, 2012
I got home to Heidelberg the next weekend and Ken and my Dad and I checked out Mitchell Sewage Lagoons (AKA West Perth Wetlands).  Shorebirds and ducks were as expected but our biggest surprise was this cooperative Clay-colored Sparrow in a 5-sparrow shrub!


And of course the full eBird checklist.  We checked out nearby Milverton Sewage Lagoons.

Finally, that brings me to this past weekend.  As part of the friendly 50 days of rare competition, I checked out a couple spots in Prince Edward County on Saturday morning.  It was very active for expected migrants, but the best bird I could find was my second latest Eastern Kingbird at Point Petre.  Another definite (mostly non-bird) highlight was when a Merlin came flying in off of the lake and gave chase to a bat!  To me, it looked like this was likely a Red Bat based on, you guessed it, its reddish brown colour.  I snapped a couple crappy shots of the bat flying away:
Lots of phoebes around...other than the Eastern Kingbird no rare flycatchers to be found :(
Here's the Red Bat flying away (with Blue Jays in the frame) after escaping a Merlin.

a few Blue-headed Vireos were about
Lots of sharpies flying around Point Petre.

Here are the ebird checklists from Point Petre and Charwel Point.  That's it for now...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

James Bay highlights

Well, I finally got around to getting all of my photos and videos processed so I can present you with the much anticipated James Bay report, Chickney edition!  I was lucky enough to be part of the crew doing some of the shorebird surveys on James Bay as part of an ongoing joint MNR/CWS/ROM project monitoring Red Knots and other shorebirds utilizing the massive mudflats of western James Bay during fall migration.

We took off from southern Ontario on July 28, spent the day driving to Cochrane, then stayed the night before boarding the train on July 29 to Moosonee.  We started the trip out great with a singing Wilson's Warbler on Barb Charlton's yard in Flamborough of all place.  Next up were Le Conte's Sparrows and Black-billed Cuckoos singing behind our hotel in Cochrane!

On July 30 some of the crew got up early to check the Moosonee Sewage Lagoons out - wasn't too much but here is the eBird checklist. Logistics didn't quite work out so I spent an extra night in Moosonee before being helicoptered to Chickney Point where I would be stationed.  Ken, Jeanette Goulet (CWS) and I arrived at Chickney at about 9:30 AM where we exchanged places with Ron Ridout (BSC), Stu Mackenzie (BSC) and Don Sutherland (MNR).  Our fourth and fearless leader was Christian Friis (CWS).  We spent the next two weeks getting out to the coast for the daily flyby at high tide.  Numbers of shorebirds were absolutely mental with our daily average somewhere around 60,000 and topping out at over 100,000 individuals!!

View of the camp from the air, looking north.  Note the sweeeet observation tower!

Common Redpolls were, well, common

Juvenile Northern Shrike visited us once at camp

An obliging Alder Flycatcher

Crazy storm rolling in

That's hail!

Ice for drinks!

Nelson's Sparrow

The crew out on the flats

Amongst the amazing numbers of shorebirds were lots of Hudsonian Godwits.  This is a flock of about 2500!

Part of the same flock of Hudsonian Godwits - let me know if you find the black-tailed...

Marbled Godwits had mostly left by the time we arrived

A typical view of the shorebirds at Chickney

An even more typical view...what's your count?

Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar

We had bats at dusk on a few occasions...consensus is that they were probably Hoary Bats
Snow Goose numbers built from a few hundred to about 10,000 when we left

A banded female (note the brood patch) Snow Goose

Peregrine Falcons and Merlins were regularly hunting the flats

Nicely coloured "Hudson Bay" Toad

Dawn flyovers were common - this one is a quiz bird for you!

View from the helicopter towards the coast - the trail through the Meadow of Doom

Big Snow Goose flocks at Chickney Channel
As you can see it was an action-packed trip with just so many birds it is hard to describe.  Our camp was located about 20km north of the Albany River.  Be sure to check out Ken's and Josh's blogs and Jean Iron's report for details on their similar trips.

I'll post an update once the daily checklists are up on eBird, but I think we had a bit over 100 species in the two weeks we were there...