Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dorian!! Day 1 (of 3)

Back as Hurricane Dorian was wreaking havoc in the Bahamas and starting to make its way north towards the US, the track of Dorian started to come into focus a little better, revealing that it would potentially make landfall, somewhere in the Atlantic Maritimes.

On Wednesday (Sept. 4) and into Thursday, it looked increasingly like it would be eastern Nova Scotia that would see Dorian make landfall. On Thursday, I asked around and got bites from Barb Charlton and Ethan Gosnell to accompany me out east into the storm for a few days. We took the Friday evening flight from Hamilton to Halifax on WestJets discount airline - Swoop.

Friday evening saw us arrive in Halifax, where we picked up our rental car and get into our hotel in Dartmouth, while Dorian continued its determined track towards Atlantic Canada.

Saturday we were up dark and early, driving southwest of Halifax, where we checked out a number of interesting sites near Lunenburg. The weather became increasingly inhospitable to bird, with the wind and rain picking up throughout the day. We didn't see too much of interest, except for finding an imm. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Around lunch-time we were back in Halifax trying to figure out where to go ahead of Dorian (as well as to get something to eat before the McDonald's and Tim Horton's closed!). At this point Dorian's landfall was becoming locked in, with a hit, just on the east side of Halifax/Dartmouth. We started birding and scouting to the east of the city for birding on Sunday and Monday.

With Dorian's arrival nearing we had to call it early (~3pm), as the wind and rain was just too much, not too mention for our own safety, with sustained winds hitting close to 100km/hr.  We managed to snag a room at the hotel we stayed at the night previous night (in Dartmouth) and luckily didn't lose any power!!

Around 7pm, as the eye was nearing land, I got a text that someone had seen several Bridled/Sooty Terns south of the city. With this in mind, I gathered Barb and Ethan up and quickly booked it to an area we had scouted earlier - Lawrencetown West beach. With sunset nearing, we got here at 19:25, with about 20 minutes of light.

Getting out of the car, we could see that there were hundreds (thousands?) of darners and other dragonflies around, as well as shorebirds flying by. Almost immediately we had Purple Martin (rare), Barn, Bank (rare), and Tree Swallows flying in off the ocean, with several hundred over our 30 minutes here. The real craziness started when I spotted an odd tern/gull-like bird land about 100m away on a rock almost immediately after getting out of the car. Thinking it was a Skimmer or something good, we quick ran over, watched a wave smash the bird and drag it into the surf. Ethan managed to get some pics, while we watched the bird drown! Looking at Ethan's pics on his camera revealed the bird to be a Sooty/Bridled Tern!!! [edit: after getting Ethan's pics on a computer, the bird was identifiable to Bridled Tern]

Photo by Ethan Gosnell.
After we lost the Bridled Tern, we watched as several gulls and terns flew in off the ocean, but we weren't able to ID them, as the lighting and light rain/mist was challenging for birding. After a few moments, more birds came into view, coming in from the ocean. Getting closer to us, we could see that all of the gulls were Laughing(!), as well as several Royal Terns(!), and a Black Skimmer!!! Shit was really hitting the fan!

Photo by Ethan Gosnell.

Photo by Ethan Gosnell.

 With sunset fast approaching, Ethan and I watched an interesting bird a few hundred metres away do a weird 'moth-like' flight, before landing on the ground. We both raced up the hill and encountered a wreaked Black Skimmer!!

Ethan Gosnell
With light totally failing we new the next day (Sunday) would be fantastic!!

Our interesting eBird checklists, here:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron:
Lawrencetown West:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Blenheim CBC -- Dec. 17

We are now in the midst of the Christmas Bird Count season.  This year I decided to switch the count that I do on the Sunday, dropping Cambridge, moving in favour of the more exotic Blenheim CBC, which covers all of Rondeau Provincial Park.   I was lucky in getting a great area, with Mark Jennings retiring his area, I was tasked with covering the Shrewsbury/Erieau/McGeachy Pond area.

Looking ahead to Sunday late last week, the weather was still in flux, however, things turned out amazing, with strong NE winds occurring Saturday (theoretically pushing waterbirds closer to shore), before becoming calm and warm (8 degrees), and even lots of sunshine on Sunday!

Dark and early on Sunday, Rob ''the real deal'' Palin and I met along the 401 in Kitchener, before making our way to the Erieau pier for sunrise.  We decided to do a lakewatch, taking advantage of the day's previous weather and the fact that waterbirds "move" during the first hour or two.  Turned out to be a good call, with both loons (1 Common, 2 Red-throated), 6 Horned Grebe's, 7 Long-tailed Ducks, and all 3 scoters making appearances, making it seem more like Lake Ontario than Erie.

After an hour and a half we moved west to McGeachy Pond, where walked the dyke and back. Things were slightly quiet, but we had excellent quality, with our highlights being: 1 Marsh Wren, 3(!) Common Yellowthroats, 2 Hermit Thrushes, a flyover Common Redpoll, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and absolutely best of all, a Northern Waterthrush! The N. Waterthrush is almost certainly the same bird that had been seen off/on throughout late October and November, and most recently on December 5th. We had the bird at the extreme west end, deep in the scrub.

Phone shot of the Common Yellowthroat at McGeachy Pond.
From McGeachy we went across the road and walked the rail trail down and back. Another Ruby-crowned Kinglet, some Carolina's and a single Winter Wren, as well as the resident pair of Great Horned Owls made appearances.

From here we drove around to Shrewsbury, scoring some Snowy Owls along the way, before walking portions of the townsite.  In town we had another Ruby-crowned Kinglet and best of all a Red-shouldered Hawk that we watched catch a snake!  Shrewsbury seems pretty neat, with lots of interesting areas to check; I'll definitely want to revise my strategy for next year birding here on count day.

By this time it was 2pm; we decided to head back to Erieau to check the townsite proper for landbirds and to properly scan the bay, with the lighting proving excellent. In town we scored some random landbirds, incluing a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Field Sparrow. Scanning the bay was productive too, with distant views of several new ducks for the day (Redhead, A. Wigeon, etc.).

By this time, daylight was fast closing (~4pm), we decided to drive all the roads in our area. We found another Snowy Owl by McGeachy Pond, and our 2nd American Kestrel of the day.

We ended up finishing with 70 species; my personal high on a CBC -- the total species count ended up being 114 species! A great day!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Bluff action - November 22nd

With the deep breeze rolling through southern Ontario on the night of the 21st/22nd (temps ranged as low as minus 18!) and the prospect of east winds, I thought I'd give the Bluff one last go and decided to take the day off.

As soon as I showed up (around 10am), I had an adult Northern Shrike flying south along the bluff edge.  It ended up sticking around for the better part of an hour, allowing me to get some nice looks at it.

Shortly after the shrike I had a first-year Bald Eagle and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk migrating inland. With these two (moving south), I thought there was going to be a push of raptors moving; however, unfortunately this didn't really materialize.  I say 'didn't really' because I did end up having two pretty good raptors after lunch, with a late Turkey Vulture and a classic first-year Golden Eagle, which was pretty nice!

As everyone has witnessed this fall there's been a pretty good finch irruption which has been occurring more or less since late August.  I ended up with some decent numbers considering the late date, with close to 160 Common Redpolls, a single Evening Grosbeak (one of my favourites), a single Pine Siskin, and a few A. Goldfinches.

The highlight (for me), however, was a flock of 19 Bohemian Waxwings that flew south, just before 11am.  I had another flock of waxwings (too far to ID to species) later that I think was a mixed species flock.

All in all I was pretty happy with my decision to play hookey.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Tobermory time

The blog took a little break over the month of August, but things are starting to ramp back up again...

The first half of August saw Lillian and I spend at her family's cottage just outside of Tobermory. We had a great two weeks, and were able to have a good mix of relax time and checking out local hiking spots.

I was able to add in some herping and botanizing through the area, as this is a great area for both.

Got to be one of my favourites, Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
I's a crappy photo, but one of the few we saw, an Alaska Rein Orchid (Piperia unalascensis)
Highly recommended...we took an evening sunset cruise out of Tobermory on a pleasant evening and even had an adult Peregrine Falcon come and roost, close to Halfway Log Dump -- they must be breeding nearby?!

What trip to Tobermory would be complete without seeing Flowerpot Island -- be aware of the crowds!

I think this was my favourtie plant from the trip: North Wind Bog Orchid (Platanthera aquilonis)

Full view of it, on Flowerpot Island.

We made it to Singing Sands (two bays south of us) and had some nice Fen Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca)
Halfway through our time at the cottage I left for the day...and got my Ontario lifer (long overdue!) Little Blue Heron!

I was able to do some birding too, and had a large flock of Common Nighthawks at the Tobermory Sewage Lagoons and even managed a few pics of it with my phone through my bins!

Likely the coolest birds I saw up there was this adult Red-headed Woodpecker beside Hwy. 6, just south of Tobermory feeding its young!

It's already been two weeks since we were up (couldn't go this past weekend), but we'll be back fro Thanksgiving!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Kingbird thoughts

Way back in June, Brandon and I met up for some birding on the 1st near Wheatley. The weather had set-up nicely, with a strong cold front, with cool temps. and a decent north/northeast wind.

We were hoping for Kites or whatever else might be in the area, as the previous few days had been hit by a large southwesterly system with high temps and strong SW winds. I wasn't able to get to the lake until closer to 9am, so missed a few Dickcissel's that Brandon had before me.

Arriving around 9am, decent numbers of landbirds were still passing through, particularly when you factor in the date. Within the first hour, we had 3 Dickcissel's, a pair of Pine Siskins, and a late Northern Parula.

Shortly after 11am a yellow-bellied-type Kingbird flew by, which Brandon was able to photograph. I called Mike shortly after to get some figures from Pyle, while my initial immediate thought to Mike was a Cassin's, we quickly concluded that Western was obviously way more likely and that we'd wait to look at the photos on the computer to confirm.

[Getting back to town I honestly don't know why we didn't look more into it but we didn't. (the only thing I can think of is I had just moved days earlier and was still getting unpacked, while Brandon was just starting a new job and in the process of selling/buying a house). Anyways, long story short, we are now getting back to the bird and were hoping for your thoughts on it. I've sent it out to quite a number of west coast and American birders who are familiar with both Western and Cassin's and I have my thoughts/suspicions.]

Here are the pics that Brandon was able to get of it:

Brandon and I kept birding and had a bunch more interesting birds, including Red-throated Loon and Pied-billed Grebe, while the hawk flight finally started, we ended up with a remarkable 11 Broad-winged Hawks and most bizarre of all a light morph Rough-legged Hawk!!!

Getting a MIKI or even STKI has got to be much more likely than a June Roughie...

All in all a great day! Here's a link to my eBird checklist (note the checklist hasn't been updated since the day of):

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What's up with Henslow's???!!

Things are undeniably slow, from a birding perspective, here in southern Ontario, however, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about....but, really, what's up with Henslow's Sparrow in Ontario?!
April 29, 2017 -- PPNP

Take a look at eBird and the last 10 years over the June/July period and it's crazy the difference between Ontario and the immediate surrounding breeding range. Take a look:

Literally a stone's throw into Michigan and there are birds. Throw a rock south, across Lake Erie and there are more birds. While I am being dramatic in saying this, the frequency of observations does warrant me in saying that we must be missing birds on the breeding grounds in extreme southwestern Ontario, specifically in Essex, western Chatham-Kent, and southern Lambton counties.

I do understand that the species is very difficult to pick out, while singing; how many birders could say that they are specifically looking for Henslow's as breeders in Ontario, and extreme southwestern Ontario?? I doubt any. Myself included.

It would be interesting if someone took it upon themselves to look for them. I think if I had the time, I'd try Essex, particularly SW Essex, as that area seems to have a bit more natural cover left, including some restored grasslands. Listening for them in the evening too, would be best.

One additional thing is that the species, from what I understand, isn't that picky in it's breeding habitat. Smaller fields (~5ha) could be good for the species. With that being said, maybe some will be found during the next breeding bird atlas (2021-2026). Time will tell!

Henslow's -- PPNP May 3, 2015

Henslow's -- Pelee Island - May 5, 2011

Monday, July 16, 2018

2018 BBS Blitz

After the excitement from the day previous (June 27th) with the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Nathan and I met up with my Dad on the 28th, just south of Sudbury. I bid farewell to Nathan and my Dad and I headed northeast to Cochrane to start our annual (6th year running...) Breeding Bird Survey blitz in northeastern Ontario.

After getting into Cochrane in good time (~5pm), and gassing up, we drove another hour and half towards the Detour Lake Gold Mine on Hwy. 652 - about 150km north. We proceeded to set up camp quickly with the bugs swarming, before making a quick dinner and a leisurely drive on the Chabbie Lake logging road. We scored some Common Nighthawks, our only Olive-sided Flycatcher of the weekend, and a few Rusty Blackbirds, including one bird carrying food, however, the Northern Hawk Owls from 2016 were a no-show.

The next morning, dark and early, had us starting the Lower Tweed Lake BBS at 04:44. For the next four hours we completed the standard 50, 3-minute point counts along a roughly 40km stretch.  This year, we were pretty right on, in terms of species and individuals, with 52 species (ave. 53.25) and 633 individuals (ave. 693 individuals). We had 3 new species for the route: Canada Goose, Black-billed Cuckoo, and a somewhat over-due Connecticut Warbler. Asides from the Connecticut, we had some other good boreal highlights too: 1 Bonaparte's Gull, 4 Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, 7 Gray Jays, 3 Boreal Chickadees, 3 Fox Sparrows, 1 Rusty Blackbird, and 1 Orange-crowned Warbler. Check out our eBird list for a complete totals breakdown:
Orange-crowned from last year. Interestingly, we've had a bird at the same point count on the last 3 years.

Based on what I know, Fox Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warbler are at pretty much the furthest south part of there range, which is pretty neat.

After finishing up the Lower Tweed route, we headed back to Cochrane and then west to Kapuskasing, where we'd spend the night, ahead of completing the Pearce Lake BBS (running at km 30 north of Kapuskasing towards the Ontario Hydro dam, about 90km north of Kap) route the next morning (June 30th). My Dad and I were really looking forward to running this route, as last year (our inaugural year) we had to cut the route short because of bad weather and still had a Connecticut Warbler and a Great Gray Owl.

Luckily on the morning of the 30th, the weather was quite good, and after quickly getting a coffee in Kapuskasing, we drove up the logging road 30km to our starting point. We had a great count, with 61 species and 650 individuals, with several excellent boreal species: 3 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Bonaparte's Gulls (including one bird on a nest), 1 Black-backed Woodpecker, 1 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 2 Boreal Chickadees, and our top highlights: 3(!) Connecticut's and 4 Pine Grosbeak's (!!). Check out our eBird list for a complete totals breakdown:

Young male Pine Grosbeak singing away.

We were really surprised by the Pine Grosbeaks -- the day previous, I had literally told my Dad that if we got a Pine Grosbeak or a Bohemian Waxwing that the trip would automatically be a great trip, not thinking that was really a possibility. With the Pine Grosbeaks (a single bird and a group of 3 birds), the 3 Connecticut's were an added bonus. Seeing one of the birds briefly was the icing on the cake.

Finishing up the Kapuskasing route, we decided that instead of driving back the way we came, we'd try to see if we could drive a few kilometres north and then over the Ontario hydro dams and then along the private hydro road to Fraserdale. No one was around, so we just drove on through, and is something I'd definitely recommend doing, if you can. The road was surprisingly great, with no issues and a bonus was a female Spruce Grouse along the way.

Once in Fraserdale, we continued south to Smooth Rock Falls to have lunch, before driving the 2.5hrs to Elk Lake, where our next BBS (Matachewan) awaited us on the 1st.

Again, dark and early, on the 1st we started our 3rd and last BBS of our northern Ontario adventure, just west of Matachewan. This is a uniquely different BBS from the previous 2 routes, as it follows the Montreal River, and is seemingly much more 'southern' in its bird diversity. Weather was not as conducive to doing the BBS as our previous two days (a bit windy), and as a result we had a bit lower species total and individual bird count of 56 species (ave. is 59.33) and 752 individuals (ave. is 885.5).

Nevertheless, we had some good highlights, including 5 Pileated Woodpecker, 11 Northern Parula's, 1 Black-throated Green Warbler, 1 Indigo Bunting, and 1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also had a single new species for the route: an American Woodcock. Check out our eBird list for a complete totals breakdown:

Afterwards, we booked it home, and were back into Kitchener-Waterloo for 4pm! A great way to spend the long weekend!

**If interested in running a northern Ontario BBS route, Bird Studies Canada provides grants of a few hundred dollars per route for surveyors to complete them. In return, you must sign up to complete the route a minimum of 3 years in a row and be proficient in auditory songbird identification.