Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ontario Big Day - May 19, 2018

With some changes in our plans, we decided to run an Ontario big day route on May 19th, a little earlier than originally planned (we had planned originally May 26/27, but with Lill and I moving on the 25th things were abit trickier), but nevertheless a great time of year to do an epic amount of birding in a single day. 

I met up with Adam and Matt Timpf in Norfolk on Friday evening ready for our adventure up north. Shortly after meeting at Adam’s farm we drove up north, ready to start our big day.
Starting right away, we picked up the nesting Piping Plovers at Wasaga, before turning to Tiny Marsh, getting some marsh birds including Virginia Rail and Sora.

After an hour spent between Wasaga and Tiny, we zipped up to Algonquin, arriving early in the am. Before dawn arose, we picked up Northern Saw-whet and Barred Owl, but missed Long-eared where they were nesting. We definitely had one interesting bird, but just didn’t hear it well enough to confirm.

Arriving in the east end of the park we birded a few of the stalwart boreal locations, hoping to pick up the Algonquin grand slam. Unfortunately the dawn chorus was severely limited due to the cold temperatures (3 degrees) and the relatively early date. Many of the breeders had not arrived, and we only picked up a Gray Jay (of the grand slam specialties). We did, however, pick up a few goodies, including Common Merganser, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, lots of siskins and a few Purple Finches. Leaving Algonquin was a little underwhelming, as I had thought a good target would be close to 100 species – our total was at 69 sp!

Anyways, we quickly motored down to Carden, where we encountered heavy rain as we got within 20 minutes of Wylie Road! We were still able to pick up most of the specialties, including Loggerhead Shrike, Grashopper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, and a surprise Northern Mockingbird!

We were able to spend a short amount of time here, before jetting down to Lake Ontario.  Arriving on Lake Ontario we picked up the nesting Fish Crows, a few Red-necked Grebes, and our only Bonaparte’s Gull before making it to Hamilton. Hamilton turned out quite well, with Black Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, nesting Peregrine Falcon, White-winged and Surf Scoters.

We were able to quickly move through Hamilton, setting our sights on Townsend, which did not disappoint. Townsend was great, with lingering Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Duck, and a good assortment of shorebirds, including Wilson’s Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a somewhat, out of place Upland Sandpiper. With Townsend under our belts, we were sitting at 130 species – definitely lower than I had expected we would be at, but still quite a number of species that were easy that we could get at Long Point.

We quickly booked it down to Long Point, where Adam and Matt’s expert navigation of the area proved excellent. Tufted Titmouse, Red-headed Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch all quickly fell, before we made it Backus Woods. At Backus, we picked up both Prothonotary and Cerulean Warblers, and a clutch Hooded Merganser, however, the Louisiana Waterthrushes were a no-show. Acadian’s hadn’t shown up there quite yet.

Making our way to Long Point itself, we headed straight for Old Cut and the Provincial Park, where a great number of migrants awaited us. Bay-breasted, Blackpoll Warblers all quickly made appearances, as well as Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrush, while a pair of Gadwall flew over! A Common Nighthawk calling from its perch was an added bonus too.

From here we checked out Big Creek, coming out with Least Bittern, American Coot, a late Green-winged Teal and the pair of Trumpeter Swan’s. With sunset fading we had added 55 species in a little over 4 hours! Long Point had definitely saved our bacon.

With only a few species left that we could realistically add, we checked a key spot for Great Horned Owl, before packing it in at Adam’s with Eastern Screech-Owl and a few Eastern Whip-poor-will’s. Our final total was 188 species – a not too bad count for an interesting day of weather and our first time running the route.

With our first Ontario big day under our belt, I can’t wait till next year to hammer out our route!!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Milestone....Barnacle 400!

Well I had me a little birding milestone last night. Yesterday after work, I decided to head up to Schomberg where the Barnacle Goose has been the past 3 days, and with the hopes of seeing my 400th species in Ontario!

I made good time driving up, getting to the lagoons around 6:35pm, and still had about an hour of light left in the day. Unfortunately the bird wasn't present when I arrived, and in fact only about 40 Canada's and the 2 Trumpeter Swans were present. Figuring that the lagoons must be where the geese are spending the night I stayed put and after about 15 minutes it paid off, when several large flocks of Canada's started coming in from the west. I was able to quickly pick the Barnacle among the flocks and it proceeded to land and show nicely for the next 25 minutes. I was pretty happy, my 400th species in Ontario.

I made all sorts of birding goals when I was teen; it's always nice to some of them.

Next goal: find a new bird for Ontario!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ontario Big Day???

If you're sensing a theme you might be onto something...anyways, after all that planning for Huron that I've done I naturally started into thinking about an Ontario big day. With the record last set in 2012 at 204 species I started looking at the possibilities for date, route and associated possible speices.

For the date, we'll want a date where we can maximize breeders and yet still have some migrants. Generally speaking the period of May 22-29 has stuck with us, and we'll pick something in between this.

With some help from Mike, we took a look at the frequency of observation for species reported in Ontario, specifically in the Algonquin-Carden-Hamilton-Carolinian sphere of things. We ranked species into 6 codes, as follows:

1. guarantee, don't need to target (e.g., House Sparrow)
2. virtual guarantee, show up at location and will get it (e.g., Ruffed Grouse)
3. should get by targeted effort but could miss it or a migrant that requires luck (e.g., Sedge Wren)
4. will need a stakeout (e.g., Tundra Swan)
5. shit luck required (e.g., King Eider)
6. diamond encrusted horeshoe up your ass required (e.g., Pomarine Jaeger)

With our codes figured out and the frequency of observation, we categorized each species reported and figured out that there are:
84 code 1's
88 code 2's
49 code 3's
20 code 4's
174 code 5's and 6's

With that being said, to break the record (204 sp), we'll need the following:
all of the code 1s (84 sp)
90% of code 2's (79 sp)
71% of code 3s (35 sp)
30% of code 4s (6 sp)
1 sp. code 5 or 6

As far as routes go, the previous and current big day records  of 200 (2000) and 204 (2012) species, respectively, both have followed a roughly Algonquin to Pelee/Long Point route. I think the Long Point idea is better just because of the shorter distance, though you don't have a Hillman when you go the Pelee route, though Long Point has more guaranteed specifically for CERW and LOWA.

What do you think? Think the record is beatable? Think an Algonquin-Carden-Hamilton-Long Point route is the route of champions or should it be Pelee/Hillman?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Huron County Big Day

Not too much happening here with us this weekend. We have our big cross country ski marathon next weekend in Quebec, so just chilling out and psychologically preparing for >50km of skiing....!

With all that thinking, I've decided that I'm going to do a big day in Huron County over the Victoria long weekend!! Why you might ask? Well, there are a few reasons:

1. I haven't done a tonne of birding here,
2. the county should be a pretty good place for birding, particularly given it's proximity to the shoreline,
3. it has very birding litle coverage, and
4. I think I can get 20-30 county ticks.

I think a realistic count could be anywhere in the ballpark of 130 - 170 species, depending on the weather etc.

I've got lots of time to prepare for it; I've made a rough map with some locations that I think are worth checking out:,-81.5870533,41553m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!6m1!1s1DowkECFFb2sK74gAwbm1A8jUsU7d-0gy

A few things stand-out to me when looking at the county.
1. the county is large (85km north-south, and up to 50km east-west), so I'll have to follow a fairly strict schedule/itinerary
2. it's fairly agricultural, meaning I'll have to really focus on the areas that are 'worthwhile'
3. the shoreline is approximately 82km, meaning I'll have my work cut-out for me to check
4. there are at least 5 sewage lagoons (grand bend, exeter, seaforth, zurich, and wingham)

What do you think???

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Years day birding

I hadn't really ever done a solid day of birding on New Years day, so I decided I'd give it a try yesterday. I decided to do a winter favourite of mine: driving the Lake Erie shore from Long Point to Haldimand County. While I didn't do the full extent of the shoreline, I did do a major chunk of it.

Starting at Adam Timpf's place, I checked his well-stocked feeders and came up with several overwintering birds, including a flock of blackbirds: 5 Red-winged, 2 Rusty and a group of 20 BH Cowbirds. In addition, my FOY Song and White-throated and a somewhat unexpected Field (I didn't think I'd get it).

Making my way south to the lakeshore I came across a male N. Harrier and several large flocks of sparrows. In Port Royal, right at the birdge with Big Creek I had 2 excellent finds: a Hermit Thrush 'chucking' away and a curious Gray Catbird!

From here, heading east I had the large, wintering flock of Sandhill Cranes (~120), east of Port Royal. Near Fisher's Glen I came across more White-throat's and a nice Fox Sparrow along the road shoulder.

Continuing east, I didn't have too much else, especially with the wind picking up, but did come across a nice Northern Flicker (I like seeing these guys in winter) and several Rough-legged Hawks.

All in all, I had a decent total for January 1st of 49 species.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Big Year 2017

Merry Christmas everyone! Ever since Josh's big year, in 2012, at the end of each year I've liked to figure out how I could've theoretically done, had I done a big year over the course of past year.

To-date, I've seen 304 species in the province, one of my better totals, with several great overall rarities and self-found rares, including:

Pacific Loon (self-found)
Wood Stork (lifer!)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (new county tick to my home county)
Mississippi Kite (self-found)
Swainson's Hawk (self-found)
King Rail (self-found)
Black-necked Stilt
White-winged Dove
Anna's Hummingbird (lifer!)
Black-billed Magpie
Violet-green Swallow (lifer!)
Rock Wren (lifer! and self-found!)
Mountain Bluebird (new county tick to my home county)
Smith's Longspur
Kirtland's Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler (new county tick to my home county)
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Henslow's Sparrow (self-found)
Lark Sparrow
Blue Grosbeak (self-found)
Western Meadowlark (self-found)
Brambling (lifer!)

Having listed the species I was fortunate enough to see, the following list is the species I could've/would've seen had I done a big year:

305. Bohemian Waxwing
306. Northern Saw-whet Owl
307. Red Knot
308. Hudsonian Godwit
309. Piping Plover
310. Parasitic Jaeger
311. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
312. Eurasian Wigeon
313. Harris's Sparrow
314. Yellow-headed Blackbird
315. Yellow Rail - James Bay July
316. Arctic Tern - James Bay July
317. Northern Hawk-Owl
318. Franklin's Gull - Rainy River
319. Willow Ptarmigan - Hudson Bay June
320. Gray Partridge - Ottawa
321. Worm-eating Warbler - late May Port Franks
322. Black-legged Kittiwake - October Van Wagner's
323. Snowy Egret - June Windermere
324. Boreal Owl
325. Western Grebe (Mississauga)
326. Townsend's Solitaire (several)
327. Red Phalarope
328. Pomarine Jager
329. Glossy Ibis (August., Mitchell)
330. Long-tailed Jaeger
331. Chuck-will's Widow - June PRince Edward County
332. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Sept., ROndeau)
333. Cave Swallow (Ocober, Pelee)
334. Black-headed Gull (Feb., Port Wellar)
335. Neotropic Cormorant (Sept., Whitby)
336. White-faced Ibis May, Lindsayu)
337. Ruff (April, Bruce)
338. Eurasian Tree-Sparrow (current, Wawa)
339. Northern Gannet (November, Hamilton)
340. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (June, Mississauga)
341. Tricolored Heron (June/July Toronto)
342. Tufted Duck (December Mississauga)
343. Razorbill (October Ottawa)
344. Western Tanager (May, Dwight)
345. Painted Bunting (April, Denbigh)
346. Magnificent Frigatebird (early July Pelee)
347. Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Sept. Toronto)
348. Little Blue Heron (April, St. Thomas)
349. Brown Pelican (early June, Niagara)
350. Slaty-backed Gull (January Niagara)
351. Black Guilletmot (October - Netit)
352. Barn Owl - Essex County December (sounds like a few ppl got to go...)
353. Varied Thrush (Feb., Thunder Bay)
354. Western Sandpiper (October, Hamilton)

Northern Bobwhite - are there any wild birds in Ontario anymore????
Western Kingbird - one in Pelee in October, and 1-2 in Rainy River
Laughing Gull - there was a few hanging around Toronto in early June

If you haven't come to the conclusion, 2017 was I believe THE best year ever, to-date in terms of species diversity in the province.

I think a realistic number for a big year this year, blitzing the province the entire year, would be 350-355. This number is pretty nuts, but after looking at the list of rarities, the list just seems to go on and on and seems to serve as a bit of a benchmark for species numbers in the province.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Best Places to Bird in Ontario

This past year has been an exciting one, no reason other than Mike and I are writing a book! Part of a Canadian series, we are writing the Ontario section to the Best Places to Bird [in Ontario]. Currently, only the British Columbia guide is out, however, next spring the next book within the series will be out, covering the Prairie Provinces. Our current date for publication is scheduled for spring 2019.

What essentially the guide covers is the authors pick of the best locations to bird in the province. The guidelines are fairly broad, with really only one caveat: narrow the list of top birding sites in the province and narrow it down to 30 locations (easier said than done).

We are currently half way done our first draft, and have a draft list of locations:

1 Holiday Beach and Windsor (lower Detroit River),  Harrow
2 Pelee Island
3 Point Pelee NP
4 Hillman Marsh and Wheatley (harbour, PP)
5 Lake St. Clair NWR and Mitchell's Bay
6 Rondeau PP (Blenheim, Erieau)
7 Sarnia (Point Edward, waterfront, River)
8 Kettle Point, Ipperwash, Pinery
9 MacGregor Point PP and Sauble Beach/south Bruce
10 Port Stanley -- Port Burwell
11 Long Point
12 Niagara River
13 Hamilton (Van Wagners, Lift bridge, windermere, Red Hill Creek, Toll Gate, Edgelake, Stoney Creek shoreline, Fifty Point)
14 Hamilton Harbour (RBG, Princess Point, Lasalle, Bayfront Park) and Oakville/Burlington (Bronte Harbour, Sedgewick, Paletta, Spencer Smith)
15 Mississauga (Rattray Marsh, Port Credit, Lakefront Promenade Park, Col. Sam Smith)
16 Toronto waterfront (Leslie St. Spit, Toronto Islands, Humber Bay, Ashbridge's Bay)
17 Oshawa-Pickering waterfront (Frenchman's Bay, Whitby Harbour, Thickson's Woods, Oshawa 2nd Marsh)
18 Carden Alvar
19 Algonquin PP (Hwy. 60 corridor)
20 Presqu'ile PP
21 Prince Edward County
22 Napannee Plain IBA
23 Amherst Island
24 Wolfe Island and Kingston mainland
25 Opinicon Road and Canoe Lake Road
26 Ottawa (river and Rideau)
27 St. Lawrence (Morrsiburg to Quebec)
28 Moosonee and Southern James Bay
29 Thunder Bay waterfront
30 Rainy River and area

Which leaves us wondering, are there any areas that we're missing???? It's been pretty difficult to narrow it down this much, leaving several areas that aren't covered as much as we'd like (Sault Ste. Marie, Manitoulin, more within the GTA).

We also need to come up with 1-2 photos per chapter -- does anyone have any great photos of birds that they'd like included in the book???? Generally, we've been trying to pick appropriate species for specific areas (e.g., Loggerhead Shrike for Carden Alvar).

Let us know your thoughts!