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.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Thunder Bay dreaming...

After Nathan and did our best attempt at blitzing Rainy River (R and R...) in 30 degree heat, we motored east to Thunder Bay, where we met up with my brother, Mike and his colleague Colin Jones  on June 24th.

The four of us were doing some surveys for Rapids Clubtail, an endangered species that Nathan and I (more like Nathan...) had just written the updated status report on for COSEWIC. Nathan and I had successfully applied for a species at risk stewardship grant with the MNRF and were completing a week of surveys just south of Thunder Bay.

We spent an awesome 4 days walking parts of the Arrow, Pine, Whitefish and Pigeon Rivers. No dice on Rapids Clubtail, but we did find a few interesting species, including Riffle Snaketail.  While not an Ode and not a native species, we also saw a Sea Lamprey that Mike found.

Birding was mostly on the back-burner, but we managed to see A. White Pelican's every day, as well as a small group of Evening Grosbeaks and a territorial Vesper Sparrow (somewhat rare up there).

On the Wednesday (June 27th), Nathan, Mike and I dropped Colin at the airport and started making our way back to southern Ontario. We were making good time driving along the north shore, when just outside of Terrace Bay, I saw a bird perched on the hydro lines up ahead. My first thought was American Kestrel, but as we got closer the bird had an auspiciously long tail!! Fork-tailed Flycatcher immediately raced to mind. I quickly sat-up from the steering wheel and as we drove by, I could see the light back colouring -- HOLY FUCK! It was the real deal -- SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER!

I couldn't believe it! Without getting in an accident I pulled the truck over, pulled a U-turn and raced back. Nathan and I got great looks, and quickly called Mike to come back (he was just ahead of us). The three of us got some great looks from the side of the TransCanada hwy. before watching it fly over us, land in a spruce for a few moments, before disappearing to the northwest!!

From here, we kept continuing to Sault Ste. Marie, and then met up with my Dad outside of Sudbury, where I was to head up to do our annual Breeding Bird Survey routes in northeastern Ontario -- stay-tuned!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A little R and R is all that's needed...

On the weekend I returned from a whirlwind northern Ontario adventure that saw me travel from Waterloo on June 20th up to Rainy River (R and R...) for a day and a bit with Nathan Miller ahead of some dragonfly work we had secured with the MNRF near Thunder Bay.

With not too much time, Nathan and I traveled through the US, making it to Marquette, Michigan on our first night (June 20th), before arriving into Rainy River (R and R...) around 2pm on the Thursday (June 21st).

We quickly set about driving the 'good' areas around the area and were able to net pretty much all the expected prairie species that are typical to this area over the afternoon of the 21st and morning of the 22nd. We had some really interesting highlights:

- exceptional numbers of LeConte's Sparrows and Sedge Wrens, with cumulative trip totals of 67 and 108 individuals, respectively!!!

Sedge Wren briefly along the fenceline.

- good numbers of Clay-colored Sparrows (84) and Brewer's Blackbirds (88)
- Franklin's Gulls (500+), Yellow-headed Blackbirds (3) and American White Pelican's (110+) were also around, primarily near Lake of the Woods, by Harris Hill

- 3 Marbled Godwits including one at a new location (per eBird)
- 3 Sharp-tailed Grouse and 11 Western Meadowlarks throughout -- I love hearing these guys!

We also managed some decent rarities for the area too:
- the first Meadowlark we heard was an Eastern! I couldn't believe it! I got a really crappy shot of it here:

Best of all was a male Dickcissel that we found nearby!

With our whirlwind trip to Rainy River (R and R...) we motored onto Thunder Bay for close to a week conducting dragonfly surveys (I'll post about this in a few days).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Extreme Southwestern Ontario birding - June 15-16

Yesterday afternoon (Friday June 15) Rob Palin and I ventured down to the Lake St. Clair area after work hoping to meet up some of the specialties home to Walpole Island and extreme SW Ontario.

We started our excursion at Angler's Line where we picked up at least 3 Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a flyby Least Bittern, and a host of other marshbirds, including several flyover Black-crowned Night-Herons.

From here, we headed over to Walpole Island, where we did some scouting before an evening of marshbirding. Another flyby Least Bittern and Yellow-throated Vireo were our highlights, despite putting in a good effort to come up with a King Rail -- our main target.

First thing today (June 16), we got up at 4:30, and were touring Walpole by 5:00 am. We came up Ace's and had a King Rail at our first spot(!), in the south end of the island. The bird called twice, giving it's chaotic 'pig grunting' calls that are quite unique and loud.

Coming up with a King was pretty damn sweet, so we thought we'd better try our luck looking for Northern Bobwhite, as the island was/is home to the last remaining native N. Bobwhite in the province. Despite our best efforts, checking the area's where I had had them about a decade ago, we didn't have any. Checking eBird, it looks like the last one's reported here were in 2014, though I know they were here as recently as 2016. The area where they used to be has some houses nearby, and a few feral dogs that could be the main culprit.We had a few more Yellow-throated Vireo's and a single T. Titmouse.

From here, we headed to the Moraviantown First Nations and just drove through the area. I've only birded this area once, but found a very hard to get White-eyed Vireo back in 2015. In a bit less than an hour we had a flagged Pine Warbler, 5 Blue-winged and a single Hooded Warbler before the rain hit.

With Skunk's Misery/Mosa Forest only being 8 minutes we headed over here, while the rain came down. After about 45 minutes, it let up enough that we checked the trails and again had some great stuff, with our highlights being a singing male Cerulean and 3 Hooded Warblers as well as a singing male Acadian Flycatcher.

A little distant, this Cerulean was quite obliging, before moving on.
With these locations being so far, and June being such a busy month, it was nice to get down here and come up with some good birds!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Missed species on the big day...

With any big day you'll miss some easy species and our big day - May 19, 2018 - was no different.

With 188 species under our belts there wasn't too many additional species we could've realistically added, given the Ontario record is 204 species. Below is a rundown o species we missed but could have realistically seen, in taxonomic order:

189. Blue-winged Teal -- yep, one of our biggest misses. Ithought we'd luck into one.

190. Spruce Grouse -- Algonquin failed us that was for sure...

191. Great Egret -- Windermere had some literally only a few days later.

192. Green Heron -- what the heck??

193. Sharp-shinned Hawk -- next time I'll need to lock one down.

194. King Rail -- breeding down at LP we tried but missed out.

195. Semipalmated Plover -- should've gone to 5th Road East, in Hamilton. Was present on the 20th...

196. Black-bellied Plover -- ditto

197. Solitary Sandpiper -- ditto

198. Greater Yellowlegs -- ditto

199. Yellow-billed Cuckoo -- I think we were abit early, but the forests in Norfolk should've had some.

200. Black-backed Woodpecker -- Algonquin....

201. Acadian Flycatcher -- abit early. Norfolk...

202. Alder Flycatcher -- what the....too early.

203. Philadelphia Vireo -- I still can't ID this guy by song...

204. Boreal Chickadee -- Algonquin...

205. Louisiana Waterthrush -- Norfolk...

206. Blue-winged Warbler -- what the....

207. Mourning Warbler -- too early...

208. Orange-crowned/Palm/Wilson's Warbler -- migrants

209. Clay-colored Sparrow -- Carden was pouring rain when we were there

210. Evening Grosbeak/Red Crossbill/White-winged Crossbill -- Algonquin...

Questionable species:

Harlequin Duck - the long-staying female at the Burlington lift bridge was apparently still present on the 21st...this one stings abit, as we were literally right at the lift bridge.

Iceland/Lesser Black-backed Gull -- there was an ICGU at Shell Park pier, but we decided it was too much time out of our way

Red-shouldered Hawk - Minden's abit out of the way to get this guy...

Northern Goshawk - who's got the lock on the next in LP??

Long-eared Owl - we stopped by a spot where they're nesting, had 2 weird/distant calls that were likely LEOW but we didn't pull the trigger

White-eyed Vireo - there had been a pair at O/C two days before...

Rusty Blackbird - Algonquin???

With that being said, will next year bear fruit on breaking the record??? Who wants in???

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!!