Monday, September 12, 2016

The Coves -- a new 'thing' in Ontario birding?

The title might be a bit dramatic, but I've been nonetheless enthralled the last few days with the notion that we, Ontario birders, may have our very own Cape May morning flight going on...it's just that we don't have to travel all the way to New Jersey to see it...

Rewind a few weeks ago: Barb Charlton, aka Barbed-Wire, and Big Country (formerly known as Tim Lucas) and I went down to Hatteras, North Carolina for some pelagics (I will be doing a blogpost on this at some point!) in late August. During one of our countless, random conversations during our 30 hours of driving Tim mentioned that he thought the Coves might provide a location where morning flights of landbirds could be observed. This was a really interesting idea and left me thinking a fair bit over the next little while about the location and the phenomenon.

Editors Note: For those that don't know where the Coves are....the Coves are the extreme western edge of Big Creek Marsh and the base of the Long Point peninsula, slightly raised above the lakeshore (~40 feet up?), where the vegetation from Big Creek marsh narrows to <100m of vegetation along the lakeshore. This geographical feature acts as a natural funnel for birds moving westwards, along the lakeshore.

Pardon my 'Bradon-esk' map making (they're not as nice as what Brandon would do); yellow star is where the Coves are. Yellow arrows are where birds would move (west along the point, west along the shore, and south along the Big Creek corridor), with lesser movements overland through the various green patches (orange arrows).


Fast forward to last week: I was able to take last Friday (Sept. 9th) off and luckily also had some conducive weather for songbird migration too -- north winds and slightly cooler temps.

I got down to the Coves on the 9th and immediately had Warblers and other landbirds migrating overhead, moving west. I was excited! Tim was right! Over the course of the next few hours I had about 2,000 birds that would be counted if I was doing a 'standard' morning flight at Cape May -- which is pretty decent. Warblers accounted for about 500 individuals, with American Redstarts (38), Magnolia (29), Chestnut-sided (11), and Blackpoll (7) comprising the main numbers (that I was able to identify). Other species like Bobolink (64), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (54) and Red-eyed Vireos (38) were also around in good numbers.

To top things off, I also had a Eurasian Collared-Dove(!) flyby! Pretty sweet! See my eBird checklist, here to see everything I observed: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31493708

Sunday (Sept 11), I managed to make it back down and again there was a decent movement, however, not as good, though I somewhat expected this after taking a look at the wind map the night before, looking at the wind field. Again, decent numbers of warblers, with ~150 individuals noted: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31528555

It was interesting to compare the 2 days that I've been down there so far; it appears that any day with a north wind could be good for a morning flight. I think the rarity potential for this site is excellent (look at my Sept. 9th checklist), with species like Dickcissel, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher surely occurring on a 'regular' basis, while other species like American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Bobolinks, American Goldfinches expected to show up in huge numbers.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Birding on First Nations Reserves

That's an odd title. But it's true...they're pretty good for birding; it's just no one goes to them!! This morning I made the exception and took a drive over to Six Nations, just north of Hagersville. I wasn't really sure what to expect (both in terms of birdlife and hospitality), but it was really good.

I got there shortly after 6am this morning, starting at Indian Line and Seneca Road, where I worked my way north, zig-zagging throughout the reserve, ending at Indian Line, one road north of Hagersville.

My birding tour on Six Nations. Note the 2 pin-marks...

The reserve was/is largely like other reserves that I've driven through, with lots of old-field/scrub habitats and good chunks of forest. I had lots of neat stuff throughout the reserve, best were 2 singing male Cerulean Warblers (see map), as well as 4 Yellow-throated Vireo's, 1 Northern Waterthrush, 8 Blue-winged Warblers, and a singing male Purple Finch. Here's my eBird checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30190936

I was pretty blown away by the numbers of things like Eastern Towhee's (21), Field Sparrows (22), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (12), Willow Flycatchers (7), and Eastern Phoebe (12, inc. recently fledged young). While, given all the habitat, I only had 1 Ovenbird. However, having said this, it was quite windy this morning.

All in all a great 2.5hrs! The area screams of great potential (PRAW, YBCH, ACFL, PROW, etc.); I will be surely going back as soon as I can get some time to head there!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A closer look at breeding White-eyed Vireos in Ontario

As a biological consultant I work and follow Species at Risk (SAR) in Ontario very closely, as they essentially dictate my workload with respect to development applications. I consider myself someone who feels strongly towards the protection of our biodiversity and I've often wondered how and why certain species are classified as at risk and others aren't.

In recent years there seems to be an overall shift in the type of species being classified as at risk. In the late 80's/90's species that were designated as at risk were generally species whose ranges barely extended into Ontario (e.g., Prothonotary Warbler, Barn Owl, King Rail, etc.). In contrast to this earlier 'phase' in species at risk protection, the last 10 years has seen many common species, albeit declining at alarming rates, classified as at risk (e.g., Barn Swallow, Eastern meadowlark, Bobolink, etc.).

I think this recent phase in SAR protection has allowed some great work to be done for protecting species like Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink. A bi-product of these 'umbrella' species being protected is that many other species (and not just birds either) that are declining and found in the same habitats (as BOBO and EAME as an example) are also being protected (e.g., EAKI, VESP, SAVS, FISP, etc.). However, in 'analyzing' these 'phases' of SAR protection there are a few species that were 'missed' during the 1st phase in the late '80's/90's, with White-eyed Vireo being one of them (I think).


White-eyed Vireos are an increasingly rare breeding species, found exclusively in the extreme SW part of the province. For fun I asked a few people I hold in the high regard with respect to songbird populations in Ontario: 2 out of the 3 people said <12 pairs/year; the 3rd person didn't specify a breeding population.
There is a general lack of information on the species likely in part because the species isn't classified as at risk and therefore doesn't receive funding allotments that species like Loggerhead Shrikes or Acadian Flycatchers may.

During the 1st Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (OBBA) it was postulated that because the species was (and is still, relatively) common during spring migration, due to birds overshooting from the main US range, that the species was going to expand into southern Ontario as a breeder and become more established. The population estimate in reading the 1st OBBA was roughly estimated to be ~50 pairs, with 2 squares having a population estimate of between 2 and 10 pairs. WEVIs were recorded in 19 atlas squares (2 confirmed, 8 probable, and 9 possible):



Compare that with the 2nd OBBA (2001-2005) where WEVIs were recorded in 15 atlas squares (4 confirmed, 4 probable, and 7 possible) and it is relatively clear that the expansion predicted during OBBA 1 has not materialized, in fact WEVI has become scarcer, both in terms of spring migrants (personal observation) and breeding birds.


It's hard to say exactly how much of a population reduction the change from the 2 atlases represents; the total decrease of atlas squares is 21%, though in reality this doesn't mean too much. Taking a further look, eBird provides a good tool to document the species, particularly in the past 10 years, when eBird usership has dramatically increased. It is, however, clear that there are very few records during the months of June and July (over the past 10 years), as shown below:

No records were noted from Pelee Island.

Currently White-eyed Vireos are classified by the MNRF as S2/Imperiled ("very few populations; 20 or fewer locations, making it vulnerable to extirpation").

Looking into this a little more by comparing the data presented above with data we know regarding a similar species in Ontario -- the Acadian Flycatcher, is designated as an 'critically endangered' species. Acadians are also listed as S2, with a national population of 30-50 pairs (likely closer to 35 pairs). Both WEVI and ACFL have very similar geographic ranges.

Both species according to the Breeding Bird Survey have exhibited relatively flat population trends since 1966; however, to be fair WEVI has undergone +0.4% vs. ACFL at -0.4%, per Sauer et al. 2013/BBS.

ACFL screenshot for June/July for the past 10 years.
While both species occupy largely the same geographic ranges, they occupy different habitats: ACFLs are in older growth forests, while WEVI are found in old field/thicket style habitats. The last 30 years has seen some dramatic changes in populations of both guilds that inhabit these habitats. Species like the Yellow-breasted Chat have nosedived in Ontario (and the northeast), while the forests that existed in the 1970s/80s have matured and some species have increased that prefer these habitats. Having said this, I would expect WEVI to occupy pretty similar habitats to Chats and would expect that WEVI has also experienced a fairly dramatic decline, though few would notice this decline.

Anyways this is becoming a long blog post; I'd be interested to know what others think about WEVIs in Ontario! Should it be listed as a SAR? Are there more birds than I think? Are they increasing? Declining? Is WEVI declining in Ontario similarly as YBCH?



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Wheatley area - 3/25

I had a field site yesterday in the Wheatley area, so I brought my 'pa with me for the day and ended up doing some good birding around the area. Driving through the field site I was pretty impressed with the number of American Kestrels. We ended up having 10 through the site alone, and another 6 for the day!


The best bird of the site was a Wilson's Snipe in a roadside ditch; a foy for me. Moving on, we checked Hillman. Hundreds of dabblers were present, including about !190 Green-winged Teal and ~270 Northern Shovelers; definitely some of the better numbers I've seen of these species recently. No dice on the Common Teal from last week(?); I still haven't seen a Common, though in 2007 I found an integrade near Belwood Lake. The best bird here, however, was an early Dunlin (thanks Jeremy).

We checked PPNP after, briefly and scanned the lake at the tip parking lot. Thousands of Greater Scaup were present with at least 2 Surf Scoters and several Horned Grebes mixed in. On our way driving out of the park we spotted a Great Egret in the marsh, just north of Blue Heron.

On our way home we checked Erieau and had an almost pure white Snowy Owl just west of McGeachy's Pond. At Erieau proper we checked for the pair of Harlequin Ducks and spotted them pretty quickly, as they flew in just after we got there, coming in from the west. They landed on the other side of the channel where we were able to scope them and get some digipics.





After that we headed for Ridgetown before getting on the 401. Coming up to the lagoons we noticed several large flocks of geese heading in and after scanning the flock on the water came up with 17 Greater White-front's!


In total we had 66 species for the day, with 9,521 individual birds.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Rambling's for 2016 and some birding news

Well, we're already 10 days in, but I've got several updates for 2016. First one up, we're buying a house!! The house we're renting (and the other side) to be exact...it's a semi-detached, close to downtown Waterloo.

We're also doing some traveling: in February, we're heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., staying with my parents for a week. I'm hoping to get a few obtainable lifers: Wilson's Plover, Bachman's Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Black Rail. I think I have decent shots at the first 3; the 4th might be a bit harder.

We've got some other cool travel/birding plans. In May, I'm renting a cottage down at Pelee for the first two weeks; again, I'm hopeful for another great spring and in July, we're heading to Alberta and B.C. for two weeks, partly for Lill's family reunion. I should also have some work out in Alberta as well, so that should be good for some western species, which there's up to 35 species that I could see which would be new.

Baird's Sparrow during my last work trip out west, in June 2010



I'm also planning on going up to Netit in late October and the first half of November; it'll have been 5 years since our trip in 2011, so hopefully I'll get some great stuff up there!! Here's hoping to a CMF!

I also just recently ordered a phone adapter for my scope from Phone Skope (https://www.phoneskope.com), so am really looking forward to getting some usage out of it, when it arrives.

In other news, I've been working on a few papers, with which a few are ready to be published: we're (Jeff Skevington, Scott Kelso, Mike Burrell, Dayna LeClair, Stu Mackenzie, and I) are publishing a paper in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology on a Chestnut-sided x Magnolia Warbler hybrid! I'm pretty excited about this, I just sent in the revised paper on Saturday, but I'll have more to come on this in a little while.

Da'hybrid: May 2014 at Old Cut
As well, Lill and I are publishing a paper in the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology, on the status of the Eastern Phoebe in Cuba (we found the 7th record in February 2015)!

And back to real birding news...I'm taking Friday's off in January and February, so this past Friday was my first, so I decided to head down to Haldimand County (one of my favourite places to check in the winter). I had lots of great stuff...

I started off in Dunnville, checking below the dam, getting Common Loon, Belted Kingfisher, and Cormorant. After Dunnville, I headed along the lakeshore to Nanticoke. Along the lake, I had 51 species, including a Surf Scoter, Cackling Goose, Horned Grebe, Pileated Woodpecker, and N. Mockingbird. The main highlight though was coming across 4 Greater White-fronted Geese, opposite 1351 Lakeshore Road. The birds were in a large CANG flock.

I think that's about it...this coming Friday, I'm hoping to make it down to the Rondeau/Pelee area, but we'll see (and let you know how it goes).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

If I were doing an Ontario Big Year....

I've been mentally keeping track of species seen in Ontario this year, inconjunction with my 2015 Ontario year list. 2015 is turning out to be quite a good year, in terms of species seen in the province. eBird lists 351 species seen so far, a fair bit higher than last year's 345.

So far this year I've seen 301 species, a pretty good total by my standards, particularly for someone who hasn't chased the 'easy' species I'm missing. Having said that, I was down at Pelee in May for 2 weeks, which really helps my 2015 species total.

Going by JV's rules/codes from 2012, I've seen the following Code 4-6 birds:

Pink-footed Goose
Neotropic Cormorant
Little Egret
White-faced Ibis
Black Vulture
Mississippi Kite
Swainson's Hawk
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Chuck-will's Widow
Fish Crow
Kirtland's Warbler
Swainson's Warbler

(It's kind of interesting/crazy to think species like BLVU, ECDO, and FICR are now 'pretty much' established in Ontario; you just have to go look for them).

Anywho, based on my species list seen in Ontario this year, the following species are near certainties had I tried for them:
1. Pine Grosbeak
2. Whimrel
3. Black-billed Magpie
4. Great Gray Owl
5. King Eider
6. Le Conte's Sparrow
7. Nelson's Sparrow
8. Barrow's Goldeneye
9. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
10. Northern Hawk Owl
11. Arctic Tern*
12. Purple Sandpiper
13. Franklin's Gull**
14. Gray Partridge
15. Willow Ptarmigan
16. Smith's Longspur
17. Boreal Owl
18. Black-legged Kittiwake
19. Western Meadowlark**
20. American Three-toed Woodpecker
21. Pacific Loon*
22. Gyrfalcon***
23. Northern Bobwhite (Walpole)
24. Black Guillemot***

* assumes going to Hudson's Bay Coast
**assumes going to Rainy River
***assumes going to James Bay in late fall

Assuming I saw all 24 species mentioned above, I'd be sitting at 325, 18 species shy of JV's record (343). If I had been chasing species left, right, and centre, the following species would allow me to tie the record.


326. Western Grebe (Sept. in Toronto)
327. Eurasian Tree-Sparrow (May Pelee)
328. Black-headed Gull (May Pelee/Novemer and December? Niagara)
329. California Gull (May Pelee)
330. Western Sandpiper (August or Sept at Presqu'ile)
331. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (June Ottawa)
332. Western Kingbird (Septemer Ottawa)
333. Lark Sparrow (April or May Kingston)
334. Lark Bunting (May Flamborough)
335. White-winged Dove (July Rondeau)
336. Wilson's Plover (May Toronto)
337. Gray Kingbird (May Hillman)
338. Tricolored Heron (April Holiday Beach)
339. Mottled Duck (May Hillman)
340. Say's Phoebe (September Rondeau)
341. Gray Kingbird (May Hillman)
342. Worm-eating Warbler (May 17, Pelee, 1 bird twitchable)
343. Townsend's Solitaire (October Col. Sam Smith)

Now, before I hear the comments "Ken, you can't think that you would've gotten ALL of those species??". My reply is, well, why not?? If I had been doing a big year I'd be chasing everything...I'd likely miss a few species in the process, but I'd like to think that I'd find a few species not listed above which would let me be sitting at a tie as it stands right meow.

Anywho, I just thought it was interesting to ponder a "what if" scenario.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Recent Happening's -- June 2015

It's been a while; June has, as like most years, been incredibly busy; I can't believe it's just about over!! I've been in the field every day this month, covering principally southern Ontario, west of Toronto, to the Bruce, to the Pelee area. I've given a select few highlights from the past month that I can remember.

I've had a work-site just NE of Blenheim, where I've done 2 (out of 3) breeding bird surveys so far. The habitat is quite interesting (old field), given the area. I haven't had any Dickcissel's or Henslow's Sparrows that I was hoping for, but have had up to 3 singing male Clay-colored Sparrows and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, both of which were quite nice to have (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24038985).

Being down in the extreme SW area of the province, I've also had the chance to do some decent birding on my own, picking up some White-rump's at Hillman in early June (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23881254), and checking out some backroads. On June 12th (my first trip down), I checked the area around Port Glasgow out and had some nice stuff along Gray Line, including Hooded Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23881367). I was back down for my 2nd trip on the 24th and decided to check out Moraviantown First Nations and Skunk's Misery--I wasn't disappointed! Just driving the backroads, I had a total of 8 Hooded's, 2 Yellow-throated Vireos, 3 Blue-winged's, 1 Magnolia (pretty surprising), and best of all a singing male White-eyed Vireo!
Moraviantown FN: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24039082
Skunk's Misery: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24039150

Somewhere in between (June 15-18) I went with Chris Law up to Sault Ste. Marie to do some Canada Warbler and Common Nighthawk surveys. We saw lots on my work surveys, including calling Barred Owl, Cape May and Canada Warblers (among 14 other species of warblers). In our free time, we checked out some local Sault hotspots, including driving Hwy. 638 and the Bruce Mine's sewage lagoons. Highlights included (in no order), Sedge Wren, 3 Clay-colored Sparrows, Black-billed Cuckoo (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23932640), a few Purple Finches, a single Red Crossbill (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23953591), a pair of Mute Swans (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23932670). 

One of my point counts, about 2km from the nearest road; pretty nice. The bugs like it too!
More recently (Friday June 26th) I had grassland breeding bird surveys near Clinton. The site was quite nice, with some interesting birds too: Grasshopper, Clay-colored Sparrows, and an Orchard Oriole (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24064480).
Nice view, with the 'umbrella' tree in the background.

Coming back from the site I realized that the Little Egret was being seeing, rather consistently, in Ottawa. I had the next 80 minutes to debate driving another 300 minutes to Ottawa....getting back to Waterloo I gassed up, checked Ontbirds and decided to give'r! Leaving at 9:50, stopping for 2 minutes in Tweed to go pee, then picking Mike up in Perth, we arrived at Brittania at 3:15 to have Bruce Di Labio have the bird in the scope awaiting! Damn! That was good!
I probably won't be able to justify going this far for a rarity for a while....
I almost forgot too...there was an American Avocet also hanging out (http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24064376)! Kind of cool! Not what you're thinking though when you head to Ottawa! I was pretty happy to get the Little Egret though, I couldn't imagine driving twice let alone three times for it (sorry Barb and Josh)!!

With so much happening in June, you'd think I'd be tired of it? In terms of lack of sleep, then yes, but for fun, no. On Thursday, my Dad and I are heading up to Cochrane and the Detour Lake Gold Mine for our 3rd annual BBS surveys! It'll be nice to get some boreal species.
We should see some of these! :)