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 (

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 (, 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 ( 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:
Skunk's Misery:

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 (, a few Purple Finches, a single Red Crossbill (, a pair of Mute Swans ( 

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 (
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 (! 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! :)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pelee area May 15th

What turned out to be my last day at Pelee turned out to be a doozy!

Things started very quietly, however, with the rain that moved through the region starting at 0600hr, activity really picked up. First thing in the morning I had a Yellow-throated Vireo and my foy Connecticut Warbler at the tip area.

At the lunch, I got word of a Chuck-will's Widow in Post Woods, being seen easily from the trail. We headed there right away, and I was easily able to get it. I managed one phone-binocular photo of it, here.
The bird was a female (brown tail)

After getting the Mrs. Chuck, we headed to Hillman, which turned out to be a great idea. At Hillman we had a huge number of shorebirds, including close to 200 Short-billed Dowitchers, as well as the continuing American Avocet and 2 Willets!

After checking the shorebird cell, Adam (Timpf) and I decided to listen for rails, east of the barn. While we were chilling out, Adam got on a bird, which turned out to be a sub-adult Mississippi Kite! I can't really explain how awesome the next 5 minutes were, we were pretty damn excited (I had spent 5.5hrs looking for kites on Wednesday, only to miss a MIKI by literally 10 feet and my back turned!!). We watched the bird soaring and hunting over the marsh for about 30 minutes, before losing it to the north, only to realize that it was perched beside Mersea Road 2!! I managed a few shots on my phone.

I'm pretty sure it would be classified as a sub-adult in 'late' stage according to Raptors of Eastern N.A.
I couldn't really believe it...this was the bird I was hoping to find this year, given the fact I had shittily missed one, this was pretty awesome!!

After this I packed up and started heading home, only to check my phone and see that a Marbled Godwit had been reported at Erieau. Luckily for me, I checked my phone 4 minutes after the post (7:23pm), and was only 15 minutes away. I made it to Erieau just in time. I got my scope set-up, exchanged pleasantries with some fine Rondeau gents, and got a few photos, before the Marbled Godwit and its 2 Willet companions flew off to the north! What a finish, holy shit!!

Will I have as good of timing next year?

What should I do next year? Caribou Island? Pelee? Pelee Island?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Recent happenings at Pelee

I've been down now at Pelee and have been having a pretty sweet time. The birding has been really quite good, especially after such a crappy Apil.

Today was quite good; 21 species of warblers, 116 species, including a few highlights...

I found my 2nd Henslow's Sparrow in 24 hours today...! This one along the West Beach, just south of the parking lot; makes you wonder how many are missed.

Photo taken by Bryan Teat
We also came across this previously found Cerulean Warbler on Tilden's Woods.
Looked like a SY male. Photo by Bran Teat.
There were lots of decent stuff around; Hooded Warbler at the tip, 2 Yellow-throated Vireos.

Friday, May 1, 2015


I made it down today...and despite just the late afternoon, managed a few goodies, including the Kentucky Warbler found on the Anders Footpath.

Also had an Orange-crowned Warbler nearby.

After checking Hillman, I went over to Wheatley Harbour and had an Eared Grebe.

The next few days look really good!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dreamin' of these....

Despite this being one of the latest springs I can remember, May is literally just around the corner. Having said this, things always seem to even out by the 10th of May.

This year, like many of the past, I'll be off for a few weeks, hopefully enjoying and basking in some serious CMF's. I'll be down at Pelee from May 1-18, so I will potentially see many of you there.

Here's to hoping everyone has a great May, with lots of star-studded rarities, and lots of fallouts.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Long Point - April 10th

I took the day off yesterday, and Lill and I headed down bright and early to Long Point for the morning and part of the afternoon. Overnight we had had lots of rain, thunder and lightning, and the temperature was +14 when I got up (0545)....things were looking good!

Heading straight for the peninsula itself yielded lots of nicely new spring migrants. We saw quite a number of sparrows species, between our time at Old Cut, Hasting's Dirve, and the Provincial Park. Lots of Flicker's, Fox, Chipping, a few Vesper, and 1 Savannah Sparrows as well as our FOY Pine Warbler, Brown Thrasher. Lillian was the official photographer today:

Merlin staking the sparrows out in the fog at the entrance to LPPP.

What does the fox say??? I think it's something about getting enough to eat at home...

Good numbers of Chippers, a few Fields, and tonnes of Junco's along Hwy. 59.

Mr. Savannah (our 1 and only).

Lots of ATSP were moving (around 120 seen throughout LP Proper).

Good numbers of NOFLs too!

And 3 EABLs along Hasting's.
I also saw a really interesting female Junco at Old Cut, right by the banding lab, that looked like a Pink-sided....but alas no photos or good enough looks to confirm.

Here's our eBird checklist:

After checking LP, we toured the roads west of Hwy. 59 along the lake, but didn't really see anything of interest, so we went for some lunch at the Boat House. After lunch, we checked the Port Rowan overlook and had a few things, despite the crazy strong winds (gusting to 85km/hr), including our only Purple Martin, and 2 Caspian and 9 Forster's Terns hunkering down out of the wind.

eBird checklists:

Next up was Turkey Point, where we really quickly checked and had another FOY: Barn Swallow, as well as 3 Forster's Terns. Deciding we had had a nice day, we headed home, checking for the Eurasian Wigeon, where we dipped, but it offered a nice selection of dabblers nonetheless.

All in all a good day (85 species). Spring is here!!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Eurasian Collared-Dove nest!

It looks as though the case of the Eurasian Collared-Dove's has finally been cracked!

Before heading to our field site, Nathan (Miller) and I headed by the ECDO spot. We've been in the area intermittently for the past 3 weeks doing waterfowl surveys and hadn't had any luck with the doves, but today things changed...!

Nathan was ahead of me and found one of the birds fly over, land in a tree, and fly off, only to return and do the same thing a few more times. I showed up a few minutes later and we checked them out, when I noticed the bird and its mate had nesting material in there beaks! That's pretty cool in itself, but it was cooler to watch them land in the middle of the tree. The nest is directly to the east of the driveway at 1206 Seacliffe. We watched the birds inspect there rather shitty looking nest and drop them off, before finding some more nesting material and repeat.

Nathan managed a few shots too, see for yourself....

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bruce and back

We headed up to Lill's cottage on the Bruce, pretty close to Tobermory, last weekend. Suffice to say, it was, and I expect, it is still quite wintry up there...

Ice is still pretty thick...but nice and blue!
I managed to scope out the Nocturnal Owl Survey route that I'll be conducting next month, just south of the cottage, but overall didn't really see too much up there, minus a large congregation of Common Ravens (~135 at the municipal dump).

On our drive back (Monday March 9th), we came across a Snowy Owl near Tara. Closer to Waterloo we had 3 Snowies within 500m. from one another - pretty cool!

Just outside of Heidelberg we spied a Short-eared Owl sitting on the fencepost. Lill got a few decent shots with her point and shoot.

Possibly one of the same birds present for a few weeks in the area (as many as 3 individuals).
Anywho, not too much else happening this week, but the next few will be different, that's fo sho.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cuba: February 14-20

Last weekend Lillian and I got back from a nice and relaxing week in Cuba, at an all inclusive resort on Cayo Santa Maria. It was my first time to Cuba and at an all-inclusive resort. All in all we had a great time and managed to do quite a bit of birding while there too, which was awesome; I'm sure I don't have to explain the pluses of birding somewhere hot vs. -20 C...

We stayed on Cayo Santa Maria; our hotel, the Eurostars, was situated roughly at the end of a 48km causeway. The habitat was predominated by extensive mangroves as well as dense scrub-forest along an elevated ridge overlaid by limestone (very similar to our alvars in Canada). As one would expect, the causeway took a while to complete (finished in 1999; took 10 years), and the area has only been very recently explored, specifically from an ornithological standpoint. Having said this, the area is very remote, and the causeway itself is a controlled access-point (only tourists, researchers and people working at the resorts are  allowed access). I did a fair bit of studying ahead of time (Birds of Cuba, Birds of the Caribbean and song identifications), as I wanted to maximize my birding, especially as I knew a fair bit of birding would be done by ear, particularly in the dense foliage.

Anyways this is a pretty brief synopsis of the area; below is a day-by-day summary of what we did, saw, etc. All the pics were taken by Lillian (I need to get a good camera).

Day 1: Saturday February 14th
We left on Friday the 13th, only getting to our hotel late in the evening. Our first day here, we mostly explored the resort and started to check areas off the resort. Our resort was pretty big (~800 rooms) and about 1km from end to end. I quickly found some areas close by our room that allowed birding opportunities, as well as getting off the resort.
Western Spindalis in the centre; were quite common in the resort area
I quickly got acquainted with a few of the more common species of the resort: Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Emerald, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, etc.

Looking west, from the Refugio towards the sewage lagoon and resorts in the background.

eBird checklist:

Day 2: Sunday February 15th
After having spent the previous day mostly lounging, I was antsy to explore and get in some good birding. Before breakfast, I walked around the resort, finding several nice, tropical species; Painted Bunting, Common Ground-Doves, Zenaida Dove, lots of warblers, and best of all, by far, a Cuban Gnatcatcher; a very rare species for the area. The bird was singing, in seemingly good habitat, and I later had the same bird a few days later (when I checked back).

After breakfast, we started walking from the resort to the park nearby; Refugio de fauna Cayo Santa Maria. Just as we were almost off the resort, Lill spotted a bird not too far off the ground; an Eastern Phoebe! Cool...! Turns out though, this is only the 8th record for Cuba (r records listed in Birds of Cuba, plus 2 in eBird)! Sweet!

After leaving the EAPH, we walked the 2km to the park and then a pretty cool trail about a kilometre from the entrance and then back. Looking back, this was kind of a crazy day, simply put because if we were in Ontario the equivalent rarities would've been a crazy day. We had amazing luck; not only did we see lots of common and interesting birds, but we found several rarities for the area. Walking over to the park I spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst a flock of Lesser Yellowlegs. Turns out this is only the 2nd record for Cayo Santa Maria and as far as I can tell the only 'winter' record for the species on Cuba (spring migrant?). More bizarre though, was the fact that JV saw, likely this same individual on the 21st!

Getting into to the park though, and walking the trail we saw lots more cool species; our first Cuban Bullfinches, lots of White-eyed Vireos, the Cuban race of Osprey, and best of all; a Key West Quail-Dove, Greater Antillean Nightjar (huge!), and the other really good rarity of our trip, a Thick-billed Vireo singing away near the trail entrance. I'm not really sure of how many records there are here (none?), but as the bird flies, its less than 20km from a known breeding area on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.

The trail in the refugio
Lots of Spanish Moss throughout.
Very alvar like habitat
A Cuban Bullfinch way back in there.
One of the many termite mounds through the scrub-forest.
After our pretty damn productive day, we called her quits and sat by the ocean sipping some nice rum-punch!

eBird checklist:

Day 3: Monday February 16th
This was undoubtedly our highlight of the trip; we took a day trip to the Central Mountains; essentially across the peninsula, close to the city of Trinidad. We got up nice and early, and after waiting for our bus, which was 45 minutes late, boarded and were on our way (left at 08:20). It was a really cool drive, as pretty much all of our drive to the resort on the 13th had been in the dark. On our drive (3 hours one way) we saw lots: Antillean Palm-Swift, Cuban Blackbird, the Cuban races of American Kestrel (pretty cool), Helmeted Guineafowl, and Smooth-billed Ani's among many others.
'Typical' country-side scenery.
After a few dozen switch-backs and 2 stops for the puking guy, we finally arrived. Needless to say it was pretty cool drive (luckily we weren't sick!). The park, Guanayara Park, within Topes de Collantes, was awesome! Breath-taking vistas and great birding all around. It was really fun walking through the jungle, seeing new species, as well as other species we normally don't see until the summer.

We saw lots of really cool species, and given the location and habitat we had lots of new species for the trip: Cuban Green Woodpecker, West Indian Woodpecker, Red-legged Thrush, Cuban Tody (my favourite), Cuban Parrot, a flock of Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds, lots of warblers (had 8 Louisiana Waterthrushes!), and a heard only Cuban Trogon.

A shade grown coffee plantation.
Undoubtedly, the coolest bird species we saw: Cuban Tody
After our 4km hike through the bush and a nice swim, we had the long drive back; another 3 hours, with most during the dark, however, I still managed to see a fair bit before dark.

eBird checklist of the day:

Day 4: Tuesday February 17th
We took this day to relax a fair bit, after our pretty busy day. We had wanted to rent a scooter for the morning to head back to the refugio, but weren't able to until in the afternoon; however, this led us to find the sewage lagoon, just a few minutes from the resort. Needless to say, I was excited! My very own Cuban sewage lagoon. Lots shorebirds and waterfowl were present: Black-necked Stilts, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, among some other interesting species; a calling Clapper Rail, Cuban Black Hawk, and tonnes of herons and egrets!

Black-necked Stilts, Willets, Roseate Spoonbills among many other birds at the lagoons. Note lower water levels were to the left, not on the pic.
Prairie Warblers were pretty common in the scrub everywhere.
Least Sandpipers really liked the low water areas.
Lots of herons nearby.
Cuban Black Hawk were relatively common in the area of our resort.
eBird checklist:

Day 5: Wednesday February 18th
We took it easy this day (I guess we took it easy everyday...we were on vacation!); however, I got up nice and early for sunrise and did some good birding along the main road, as well as checking out the lagoons. Here I had some good stuff: the same Cuban Gnatcatcher, a heard only Great Lizard-Cuckoo, my first good views of Cuban Vireo, as well as finding some Stilt Sandpipers and a Yellow-throated Vireo (I think this is fairly rare in winter here). Definitely the birds of the day seemed to be Gray Catbird and Palm Warblers (sounds like Pelee/LP in May!).
Lillian standing beside some huge Yucca!
A Gulf Fritillary; we saw a few species of butterflies (the only other species we saw that I knew was Common Buckeye).
The beach from our resort.
Late in the day, after the rain went through, it was evident that a pretty large cold front had gone through. Temperatures dropped from about 30 to 21 C. Unfortunately we didn't witness any thunder or lightning!

eBird checklist:

Day 5: Thursday February 19th
We took a pretty laid-back way to the day; again we were hoping to rent a scooter, but had no luck (I guess that's Cuba for you). Instead we went to the market to get some souvenirs. Walking back from the market we had our first Gundlach's Hawk fly over. Getting back to the resort, we decided to walk into the park. On our way over (it's 2km to the entrance) we decided we might as well walk the entire road length while in the park (6km) as who know's when we'll be in the Cuba again. Needless to say we were a bit tired and thirsty, but it was pretty cool. We saw another Gundlach's Hawk, and had great views of a Great Lizard-Cuckoo, as well as our first White-winged Dove. Getting to the very end of the road was neat; the area gave way to extensive mangrove swamp, with a wide beach (it was low tide). I didn't bring my scope with me to Cuba, but it was here that I really wished I had - lots of shorebirds were out on the flats (I could really only ID Willets), as well as herons and cormorants.

Great Lizard-Cuckoo - these guys are pretty cool; think Yellow-billed Cuckoo on human growth-hormone

Cuban Black Hawks seemed to like this habitat.
I was hoping for Mangrove Cuckoo's here, but no dice.

eBird checklist:

Day 6: Friday February 20th
Our last day in Cuba. Fortunately we had a later flight, and had the morning to check things out before we needed to get our bus to the airport. I got up early and checked things out. This day seemed very windy (>50km/hr) and cooler (~20 C); it was evident getting to the sewage lagoons that gulls and terns were in higher numbers than I had seen recently. Checking the lagoon out I noticed 2 American Avocets, a pretty rare bird or Cuba (5 records listed in birds of Cuba; 26 records in eBird), as well as my lifer Sandwich Tern! I hadn't really thought I had a chance for either species so it was nice to be proven wrong! It was also cool to see so many Black-necked Stilts - I estimated 425 in the lagoons!

After lunch we packed up and hopped on our bus. With just another hour of time in Cuba, I managed a few more species on our ride back to the airport: Anhinga and Eurasian Collared-Dove. All in all, it was a great trip; I'm really looking forward to going back as well as exploring the Caribbean/Tropics further!

Lizard sp. - I need to ID this; in total we saw about 4 species that I could tell.
Cuban Pewee's were fairly common throughout.
Crested Caracara were uncommon where we were.
eBird checklist:

Trip species list: 115 species