Sunday, November 17, 2013

Long Point November 1-5

As mentioned in my latest blog post, I spent about 10 days at the tip of Long Point, courtesy of Stu Mackenzie and LPBO. Having spent the last days of October at the tip, I was stationed there until the 5th, when I was luckily able to boat back to the mainland.

November 1st:
This day was again incredibly windy, with winds out of the west, diminishing in strength throughout the day. Nonetheless Ed (another volunteer) and I were lucky to have the Brown Booby fly past us around 11:30am, heading east out towards the lake and the town of Lowbanks....This day had lots of Little Gulls far offshore, with a minimum of 10 seen, as well as 2 first-basic Lesser Black-backed Gulls also at the very tip.

November 2nd:
The 2nd was pretty dead, the weather had quieted down a fair bit and the only things of note that I had was a late Marsh Wren and 2 Peregrine's, including one carrying a Bonaparte's Gull in off the flock, all the while being mobbed by a flock of his (or hers) victims counterparts.

November 3rd:
Today was pretty good! Overnight on the 2nd things cleared up and the winds shifted to the north, hence a change in birds and pretty cool out (around minus 3 C first thing). There was a decent movement of raptors, and I managed to grab 2 Golden Eagles and 5 Red-shouldered Hawks. While checking out the lake, I had a Red-throated Loon flyover, while the best bird by far was a swanky looking Purple Sandpiper hanging around at the tip.

Both shots were digi-scoped with my phone..
Everyone out there managed to get it, so that was kind of cool! Later that night, while owl banding, we were treated to another Long-eared Owl and 20 N. Saw-whet Owls!

This was an old male.

November 4th:
Another nice day out, things were relatively slowish. We had what I thought was a different Purple Sandpiper at the tip, moving with a flock of Sanderling and Dunlin, but that's about it.

This bird was putting on a nice show, so I got around to getting my camera out.

November 5th:
Well today was abit of a mix-mash, I didn't bird too much, as we were waiting anxiously to see if we were going to head out. The PUSA from the previous day was still hanging out with the mixed DUNL and SAND flock.

On our boat ride back 3 adult Little Gulls flew within 10 feet of the boat.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Long Point - October 28th - October 31st

From October 28th (Monday) until November 5th (Tuesday), I was at the tip of Long Point, helping out with the Long Point Bird Observatory's migration monitoring program; banding and censusing birds. I really appreciate Stu Mackenzie for getting me out there (as well as back!) and to the volunteers out there for making it an enjoyable trip!

Tip Lighthouse.

October 28th:

Ron Ridout, Stu, and I boated out to the tip in the late morning. Things were pretty quiet, so I mainly just got my room and everything sorted out. Watched the Red Sox's with Ron...

October 29th:
The 29th was pretty good(!), with decent winds from the E-NE, and temps that were pretty chilly (<5 degrees C in the AM, rising to about 8 in the PM).
Highlights included: first-basic California Gull found at the tip by Ron, a probable female-type King Eider flyby, and a dark Parasitic Jaeger off the tip.

October 30th:
The 30th was fairly quiet, weather was super calm and warm. Highlights: banding a Long-eared Owl, a late Pectoral Sandpiper, and semi-good birds, like Red-throated Loon

Mr. Leo...and My. Saw...

October 31st:
This was THE day to be there, and I'm sure as hell was glad I was there...(sorry guys - you know who you are!). A pretty crazy strong storm was coming in from the SW and the forecasters were calling for sustained 70km/hr winds, with gusts up to 100km/hr! Needless to say I was getting ready to spend a fair bit of time in the shanty (the wind shelter at the tip). I got to the shanty for first light, and stayed there most of the day. Around 11am Dan (one of the volunteers who was with me), pointed to a bird about 30 feet away flying away from us. Getting the binoculars on it, I just about fell over...!!! A few expletives later, and we're looking at Long Point's first Brown Booby record, undoubtedly the same bird that was present for 2/3 weeks at near-ish-by Fort Erie. See the ebird checklist link below for some tasty shots as well as a link to my other sightings throughout the day!

Other notable birds: 2 dark Parasitic Jaegers giving nice looks and 1 Little Gull.

Annndd I couldn't are some shots from the day!

All tuckered out, riding out the wind-storm and all the sand in her eyes..
Oh shit she's up.....and headed my way...!!
Hot-damn....she's getting even closer...!!!

She flew within 20-30 feet of me....GAWD-DAM!!

Stay-tuned for the rest of the trip - I'll have them up in a few days.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brown Booby at Long Point!!!

This is Mike reporting for Ken...this morning while sitting in "the shanty" (classic lake watching shelter at the tip) at the Tip of Long Point Ken and the other birders there were lucky enough to see a BROWN BOOBY almost fly into them and flyover their shelter. The bird then headed NE and eventually joined a feeding frency about 1km off the tip. They got to observe the bird doing several plunge dives! Presumably this is THE Niagara River Brown Booby. Maybe it has been out in the middle of Lake Erie all this time, or maybe just the fewer birders going looking for it haven't turned it up...

Anyways, Ken will have more details but here is a phone-scoped shot he got of it:
And here's another shot, this was taken when the bird flew by within 20ft of them (this is a cell phone shot of his camera's screen:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Brown Pelican

Here's some pics from last month while I was down in the Kingsville area.

Random drake Canvasback at the Kingsville marina (August 15th). My first August Ontario Canvasback.

Second-year Brown Pelican, August 16-20, at the Wheatley Harbour.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Ok, so I'm at work, working on an EIS report, I've got my MES defense next week--things aren't too busy....! Not. (By the way that was a Borat style joke....).

Ok, but from things aside, life is manageable (somewhat). Anywho, Snowy Egrets. They're pretty cool. Pretty rare. I've only seen two birds and I chased both! A few colleagues/friends (whatever you want to say) are down in the Leamington/Tilbury area working (I was down there 2 weeks ago....) and found a few Snowy Egrets.

The 1 bird at the Tilbury lagoons is still around (found on the 2nd, seen today, the 4th). And last week on the 28th, they had 2 birds fly out of the Thames River, a location I've continuously checked for rare herons/gulls/waterbirds, but have come up empty handed. Despite this, Lighthouse Cove (mouth of the Thames River) seems like a pretty awesome spot that will likely turn up alot of crazy and good shit, if its checked!

I don't really have too much new bird news, but thought I would share some things about the Tilbury area, that most people don't really know(?). This area seems like a really great location for rare herons/gulls/waterbirds. Lots of water, lots of ditches, a biggish lake nearby (Lake St. Clair), a pristine (Thames) river.....(NOT -> Borat style) and a decent lagoon (Tilbury).

Here's a print screen of the Tilbury area - if only someone had a chopper and would cruise all the nooks and cranny's for all the Snowy Egrets and Little Blues!

I saw my first SNEG in Ontario along the Thames near Bradley in 2011....
 And with quite a number of SNEG's being seen in areas nearby to Lake St. Clair, rare herons are a species group that likely show up in 'decent' numbers and frequency in this area -- too bad there aren't more observers!

Pat Deacon's shot of the Snowy from the 2nd at Tilbury!

This area has also had several other rare herons, like Little Blue Heron showing up infrequently too, but a place like Lighthouse Cove is ripe for a mega (dare I say Black Skimmer? Least Tern? Royal Tern?).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Prothonotary Warblers

They're my favourite bird, by a pretty wide-margin.I saw my first one, a male at Bannister Lake on May 17, 1997. Bannister Lake is in the south end of Cambridge, so this bird was basically our first 'rarity'. It was also one of the prettiest birds I had ever seen. The bird cooperated so nicely; we were standing on the top of an observation tower, and the bird was literally 10 feet away, at our eye level (on top of the tower). It really stuck with me.

So much so, that I contacted Bird Studies Canada in March/April 1999 about volunteering for the recovery team (in the meantime I had launched myself into reading as much information as I could get on the species, particularly in Ontario). Jon McCracken was the chair of the recovery team and he gave me a some more information, as well as the blue prints for building nest boxes. Dad and I built about 10 at the wood working shop at the school he taught in after hours... :) It was pretty fun. We still joke about seeing some of our nest boxes at Rondeau, where they were being erected.

We also got to go on some nest box rounds with Jon through Backus Woods, just north of Long Point, checking on some of the pairs nesting. I think we saw 10 in one day! As well as our first Acadian Flycatchers, it was pretty cool, and I was hooked.

I've always had a sweet spot for Prothons. I make a special effort to see them wherever I go. There population has really fluctuated while I've been birding, with the population being from 7-25 pairs. I believe this year there are 13 pairs in the province (though it may be closer to 10), though the western Lake Erie basic likely has ~30 pairs (that might be abit high), mostly in Ohio.

Anyways, just thought I'd do a different style of post - haven't been birding too much (though this will be changing!)
Female Prothonotary, Old Cut, May 19, 2002.

Male Prothonotary, Rondeau, May 3, 2008.
Male Prothonotary coming out of nest box (looks weird!), Holiday Beach CA, May 11, 2009.
Male Prothonotary (this was the first year a male was on territory here, in recent years), Fish Point, May 19, 2010.

Male Prothonotary (likely the same bird in 2010), Fish Point, May 2011.

Same bird as above.
Male Prothonotary, Fish Point, May 12, 2013.
Mike captured the male at Fish Point singing his heart out here...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reverse migration....aka my thesis!

Well after almost 2 years working towards my Master's and another year before that for my undergrad thesis I have finally finished my thesis on reverse migration!

Brandon has done a nice photo essay capturing reverse migrants with his photography, so check out his blog for more pics.

I've pasted my abstract below for your enjoyment....

*********************************************************************************** Abstract
The spring reverse migration of songbirds (i.e., birds flying in the direction opposite to be expected), within the Great Lakes region is controversial because it is not understood if the extent or reversal of flight direction in spring is truly a change in migratory patterns or a brief anomaly. It is also not clear what the fitness and community level impacts are. My objective was to determine what and how weather influences reverse migration and to determine which species and families of birds participate the most frequently in this form of flight. I examined species which are participatory (and those that are not) as well as the impacts of specific weather covariates on the abundance of songbirds and focused on the putative reverse migration of passerines.

Field sites were located at the extreme southern tip of Fish Point, Pelee Island (2010-2012) and Point Pelee National Park (2012), where my field assistant and I visually recorded the total number of birds observed to be reverse migrating, while identifying all birds to species or family as best possible. This study was conducted over 97 days during April 26 – May 20, in 2010-2012. Information pertaining to potential reverse migration has only been formally documented twice in the Great Lakes region, most recently in 1951.

I undertook a descriptive analysis to compare the numbers of individuals of bird species and families. Temperate and neotropical migrants were examined, compared and divided into sub-sets based on their geographic ranges. I identified species at risk which I observed during reverse migrations as well as vagrants. Based on provincial population estimates, I determined the proportion of all reverse migrants where ≥200 individuals were observed. A descriptive analysis was undertaken to determine differences between sites (i.e., Point Pelee and Fish Point) in the final year of surveys (2012). Species and abundance were comparatively differentiated between each site location and subsequently compared.

A total of 61,677 birds of 80 species was documented. My results indicate temperate migrants vastly
outnumbered neotropical migrants (as much as 4:1) and numbers of birds varied between study sites. Temperate migrants were noted to be more common (in the final study year) at Point Pelee compared to Fish Point, while neotropical migrants were more numerous at Fish Point than Point Pelee. Despite most migrant species participating in reverse migrations (i.e., of the species regularly occurring in the Pelee region at this time of year), complete absences were noted most notably in Catharus thrushes, while species such as Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Scarlet Tanager, and families such as Tyrant Flycatchers, Vireos and Sparrows were observed to be in less abundance than anticipated. Species at risk and vagrants were noted relatively frequently during this study, suggesting that these surveys are an efficient and important tool for migration monitoring in this region. Disproportionally diurnal migrants, most notably Blackbirds, were observed to engage in reverse migration in higher numbers than nocturnal migrants, such as Wood Warblers.

Seven weather covariates were measured and modeled with the total number of birds detected using R to
determine which covariates explain the most amount of variation of the total number of birds during my surveys. I used an AICc approach to select the best model for each hypothesis. After selecting the top weather covariates with time lags according to the best (lowest) AICc values, I built general models by comparing all possible combinations of the covariates identified in the top models for each hypothesis. I included a random effect intercept for study site to discern any site difference or correlations between Point Pelee and Fish Point and specified a Poisson distribution (log link function as implemented in the LMER package) due to the data set being continuous (time-series) and count oriented.

My adjusted time lag results show that most migrants tend to migrate during and ahead of inclement weather. I also found that all identified covariates influence reverse migration to some degree. Wind direction and barometric pressure were the most significant of the covariates examined (β = 0.718 and -0.213, respectively). Specifically, wind direction is the most important covariate in explaining reverse migration, with days of south winds dramatically increasing the probability of higher numbers of birds during surveys. Low barometric pressure is also important for explaining the number of observed reverse migrants; therefore days with lower barometric pressure have a greater likelihood of increased bird observations.

Based on my observations and results I theorized that while reverse migration pertains to a distinct form of flight, it is likely not an actual form of migration. This form of flight in its simplest is likely a form of re-orientation, whereby migratory passerines take advantage of local weather conditions by flying south extended distances. I anticipate this form of flight has serious repercussions on the fitness levels and life cycles of migratory passerines.

Studies looking at reverse migration provide a useful tool for migration monitoring, particularly on an underexplored phenomenon. Observations of thousands of birds, many of which are either species at risk or vagrants, in an efficient manner are vital for determining population trends related to migratory birds. Continuing this study will allow for a continual monitoring program to assess songbird populations passing through the lower Great Lakes region. Understanding the impacts of climate and climate change on migratory songbirds is another aspect this study will help to address in the future.

And for shits and giggles, I've put some of the pics I really like from Pelee Island....

Any guesses as to what species this is????? Hint: its rare! Copyright Graeme Gibson.

Blue-winged Warbler - Fish Point - May 2012, Copyright Brandon Holden.

male Dickcissel, Fish Point, May 3, 2012. Brandon Holden

male Golden-winged Warbler, Fish Point, May 3, 2012. Brandon Holden.

female Prothonotary Warbler, May 3, 2012. Brandon Holden.

Willets, Pelee Island, May 2012.

adult basic Laughing Gull, West Dock, July 2011.

Henslow's Sparrow, Sheridan's Point, May 6, 2011. Copyright Scott Hulme.

adult male Summer Tanager, Stone Road Alvar, April 28, 2011.

Likely one of my favourite pics of all time. If you don't know what this is, look it up! :)

male Canada Warbler, Fish Point, May 2011.

sunrise at Fish Point! :)
No post about Pelee Island would be complete without the picture of the Burrowing Owl Mike and I found in 2008!!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Random stuff from the spring

Snowy Egret, near Port Hope, late April 2013

Lark Sparrow, Erieau, April 26th

24 Willets, Pelee Island, April 28th

male Prothonotary Warbler, Fish Point, Pelee Island, mid-May 2013

Hudsonian Godwit, Rainy River (Harris Hill), May 22, 2013

Brewer's Blackbird, Harris Hill, May 22, 2013

Yellow-headed Blackbird, Harris Hill, Rainy River, May 24, 2013

Western Meadowlark, Rainy River, May 25, 2013
American Bittern, Point Pelee NP near the Sparrow Field, early May 2013

Blue Grosbeak (first-alternate male), Pelee Island, May 9, 2013

Laughing Gull, Point Pelee NP Tip, May 5(?), 2013