Friday, 30 November 2012

Waterloo gulls

I've been searching for gull flocks in the county over the past few weeks hoping to find some white-winged gulls. I was unsuccessful until last Tuesday.

The first one I found was this 1st winter Iceland Gull:

I identified it as an Iceland Gull due to the pale primaries, small bill (this picture makes it look larger than it actually was) and pale upperparts. The all dark bill, lack of grey on the mantle, and somewhat checkered upperparts helped age this bird.

There was one other bird that I came across that stood out:

I first saw this bird flying next to the Iceland Gull and noticed the overall pale plumage and pale primaries - so at first I thought it was another Iceland Gull.
Once it landed, I noticed a few things that were off for Iceland Gull: dark primaries (too dark for a white-winged gull, but too pale for a Herring Gull), it was slightly larger than the nearby Herring Gulls (Iceland Gull should be smaller), and the bill seemed too large for Iceland Gull.

My next guess was Glaucous Gull which was easily ruled out because of the darkish primaries (Glaucous Gull has white primaries) as well as the head shape.

Next guess was Herring Gull. But it was much paler than the other Herring Gulls that it was standing next to. The primaries were much too pale, and they also have pale tips:

The bi-coloured bill and pale eye could fit for a 2nd winter Herring Gull; however, they also fit for a Glaucous Gull of the same age. There is a pale tip to the bill which is more typical of Glaucous Gull:

In this photo the bird is facing away from us, with a 1st winter Herring Gull in the foreground. Note the relatively dark primaries of the Herring Gull:

In flight, this bird was obviously much paler than any of the immature Herring Gulls. It also appeared to have very pale primaries on the underside.

My conclusion is that this was a 2nd winter Glaucous x Herring Gull (a.k.a Nelson's Gull) because it shows characteristics intermediate between both species.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Columbia Lake continues to impress!

No exceptional new birds were found today, but all the notable species of the past few days were re-found today by many different birders!

Honestly, I have lived cumulative about 15 months in Waterloo. For the first 10 of those months I saw zero birders when I was out birding on my own. So it's a big deal to see birders out in Waterloo!

Today there were no less than 10 individuals, needless to say drawn out by the gulls and geese!

I dragged one of my roommates out to see the birds today. When I was scanning the geese he said to me "what's that one with the bright orange legs and looks like an Egyptian Goose"! It was pretty easy to find today because it was roaming around in a grassy field with the other geese. It was also super tame and allowed me to get very close for some pictures:

An adult Glaucous Gull was on the ice at Columbia Lake today - a new year bird for me :)

This 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was nice to see as well. I don't think anyone else has reported this individual yet this season so I suspect it is a new arrival.

Later in the afternoon I returned to Columbia Lake to check out the geese. The Greater White-fronted was right where I left it.
Although the legs seem uniformly bright orange, the bill seems a bit duller towards the base. That means it comes from the frontalis population/sub-species that breeds in arctic North America versus from Greenland. Waterloos first record of Greater White-fronted Goose was a bird from the Greenland race!

Josh V was also there to see the goose. Check out how approachable it was:

This first winter Iceland Gull has been at the lake for 2 straight days:

The birding has been good in Waterloo this week! :-D

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Columbia Lake is brewing!

...I can only wish!
With a Cackling Goose and Glaucous X Herring Gull hybrid yesterday I was already feeling pretty lucky!

So while making a brief stop at Columbia Lake to see if the Cackling Goose was still around I was surprised to see a goose with a bright orange bill!
Another Greater White-fronted Goose! This was my 3rd self-found GWFG for the county, out of only 4 or 5 records in the county!

Tomorrow I'm expecting a different species of goose, on my wishlist is Pink-footed :p

This bird was aged as an adult due to the black marks on the belly:

The GWFG that was at Laurel Creek on October 26th of this year was also an adult and could very well be the same bird...

Interestingly, my first Greater White-fronted Geese were on November 29th, 2010...

Cackling Goose

After classes were finished yesterday I decided to take the small detour to Columbia Lake on my way home.
A largish flock of Canade Geese was feeding on the grass next to the lake. I largely ignored them because I was interested in the 200-300 gulls on the lake. After scanning the gulls a few times and not seeing any of the hoped for Great Black-backed Gulls (yep... I still it for the year in the county) I started eating my sandwich. I glanced over the geese and noticed a smaller one among the flock that was feeding much more actively than the other geese.
At first I didn't believe myself and pretty much ignored it, but after a while I decided to take a look through my binoculars. I was surprised to see the stubby bill and short neck - an unexpected year bird :)

A female Common Goldeneye was on the lake - this is only my first one in the county that hasn't been on the Grand River.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Niagara birding

Joined the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists today for their annual gull trip to Niagara.

We stopped along the way to do some birding in Hamilton where we saw the immature King Eider among the masses of diving ducks.
Further down the lake at Niagara-on-the-Lake a Red-throated Loon gave uncharacteristically good looks.
This photo certainly doesn't do it justice - but you can see the relatively small and upturned bill which makes the identification much easier:

Further upstream there were thousands of gulls, this Franklin's Gull has been hanging around for a few weeks and may be the same bird that frequented the same area last winter:
Note the darkish mantle, and dark hood! 

Above the falls this Belted Kingfisher was acting unusually tame for the species. This is probably the best photo I have of a Belted Kingfisher!
The bird appears to be a male (due to the lack of rufous on the belly) - however, it does have a bit of rufous spotting in the breast band, which may indicate that it is a young bird. The fact that it was relatively tame may also be evidence that it is a 1st year bird.

Mira asked me to take a picture of this Bufflehead:

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was very close-by allowing a great photo opportunity:

All in all, we had about 55 species of birds today, 9 of which were gulls!
The next few weeks I'll be trying to focus on studying, after which I'll be in Newfoundland for a while :)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

RARE property in Waterloo

This morning I joined a few local birders to check out the RARE property in Cambridge which is within Waterloo county.

The highlights for me were a Carolina Wren singing, some Common Goldeneyes (first ones for me in the county this year - I'm still doing that 'medium-year'), and a late Yellow-rumped Warbler - which will likely be the last warbler I'll see this year in Ontario. I'm sure there'll be some in Newfoundland when I go there in December ;)

No bird pictures today...

Here's our eBird checklist from today.

In other news, I surpassed my goal of 2000km on my bike! Eventually I'll try to scrape together a 'bike list' of all the species I've seen this year by bike...


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Peep @ Presqu'ile

Joined a few birders, today, to chase an unusual sandpiper that was found at Presqu'ile Provincial Park this morning.

The consensus seems to be that it is a 1st winter (basic) Least Sandpiper with some remnants of its summer plumage.

The pale leg colour apparently wasn't noticeable this morning when it was first found. However, there are several photos that show an obvious yellow/green colour to the legs.

It's getting late for a Least Sandpiper in Ontario, and LESA's in Ontario rarely begin molting into basic plumage while they're here. Which explains why this bird 'looked different' than what one would normally expect.

There seem to be some feathers remaining from its juvenile plumage, which can be seen in the wing coverts - adding to the confusion.

Check out this phenomenal primer on shorebird molt!

Here's our eBird list from the location.

Off to do what I should have been doing today :S

Singapore Big Year story time

Many of you may remember that I was in Singapore this past winter to study, and of course, bird, for 4 months. I met many locals and luckily for me many of the locals were doing a big year - meaning that there was always someone to go birding with, and always a new bird to chase!

Anyway, I've been following their pursuits throughout the year and thought I'd share some of their stories from today:

"Today I do not have any photos to show. Nonetheless, I have some anecdotes to tell. Saturday being my family day, at noon time, I was at NEX having ordered dim sum and awaiting my first bite. A SMS came as I chewed on the complimentary peanuts. It was from Ding Li Yong. "Green backed Flycatcher now". Oops, decision time! To go or not to go? The look of my wife was one of resignation and of course I rushed out from the restaurant and proceeded to have my rendezvous with Ding Li and his FC. That short sojourn of course meant I had packed dim sum for lunch later at home. 

Because I really had no intention to go birding, after lunch I took a nap. A good one and when I finally woke up, saw another SMS. "Pratincole at Seletar West, if u still need it" and was from Lau Jiasheng. A mad scramble ensued to get ready and I bolted out the door in record time. Thankfully I stay nearby and I soon connected with Jiasheng, his dad and the pratincoles. Jiasheng was incredulous when I said it's my lifer.
What's the moral of the story? According to my wife it's "Eat and sleep well, you'll get your birds". I think it's that I have many good friends that make birding worth it. No matter how many I manage to tick this year, I won't soon forget it's not a solitary effort. Thanks guys!
252 and counting!"

Green-backed Flycatcher - Photo by See Toi Yew Wai

"Today, as with Francis, I also have a story to tell. I had just arrived at St Ignatius Church at King's Road (off Bt Timah Road) at 11.55am to attend a former colleague's wedding & lunch. Saw the bride, walked over to congratulate her, handed over my ang pow [a gift of money], and proceeded with the rest of my colleagues, both current & past, to the buffet hall some distance away. An sms came in at 12.03pm from Kim Keang. Green-backed Flycatcher seen at Bida. Earlier on, he had texted me that he had the Hooded Pitta too, while I was still at home. I decided against going for it cos of the wedding, even though I needed the pitta for my BY. Now this flycatcher. I sat there at the buffet hall, not joining in the banter with my frens. I was strugging within myself, like Francis. To go or not to go? That's the q
uestion. If I go after the buffet, it might be too late, I surmised. Time and birds wait for no man! "Sorry mates, I need to leave now!" "What? You just arrived, buffet yet to start & you leaving? came the replies, thick & fast. "Birds calling you is it?" "Yes, you guys are so smart! Indeed it is", I replied instantly. I flew out of the church in double quick time, drove quickly to the cemetery, arrived in less than 20 minutes, met Dingli who showed me the flycatcher, and I was elated and a happy man. Green-backed Flycatcher: my costliest BY bird it had to be - the cost of my ang pow, and the foregoing of my buffet lunch. I left Bida a hungry man & had to eat at the hawker centre by myself....."

Anyway, a few birders have now broken the previous Singapore big year record!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Snyder's Flats - Waterloo

Every friday I volunteer at a location on the other side of Waterloo close to the Grand River. So it has become a bit of a weekly tradition to make a short 3km detour to Snyder's Flats on those days.

Every time I go I seem to find a new county year bird and the area has helped me get some tardy ticks like an Orange-crowned Warbler in late October.

Today I had a full 3 hours to bird the area - with frequent interruptions from the dogs ;)

The day started out cold:

...but was quick to warm up.

The highlight of the morning, no doubt, were 2 Pine Grosbeaks that were calling back and forth and allowed a close study for a good ten minutes:

Here's a short clip of the Grosbeak - listen for the other one calling in the background:

The other day there were 2 Dunlin at Laurel Creek - probably the last shorebirds I'll see this year?

And a Merlin was at Columbia Lake this week as well - I've been seeing a bunch of Merlins lately:

Monday, 12 November 2012

10 hours in Toronto

On my way back to Waterloo, from Newfoundland, I decided to spend a day birding along Lake Ontario to clean up on some year birds.

I joined Mark Field and we quickly found the Ross's Goose that has been in Mississauga for a while:

It has a bit of a 'grin patch', and the head shape isn't perfect for Ross's Goose leading us to believe that it likely has at least 1 Snow Goose grandparent:

Lots of Gadwalls everywhere:

This male Harlequin Duck was fairly distant, making it difficult to find and keep track of when it dove:

A tame American Pipit dutifully perched for a few minutes:

Red-necked Grebes were easy to spot at Colonel Sam Smith Park - I wonder why they hang out there and nowhere else?

I'm back in Waterloo for another 5 weeks - hopefully finches continue to move into Southern Ontario!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

48 hours in Newfoundland

I'm back on the island for a short visit - for an interview in fact. Future visits may be a bit more long-term ;)

Anyway, a short visit to Cape Spear this morning with my father yielded a Red-throated Loon in close:

This Eider was hanging out with some White-winged Scoters:

View of the lighthouse/tip:

I love this place.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Hamilton Fall Count

Yesterday I joined the Burrell family + another local birder to count birds in Cambridge - just within the radius of the Hamilton Fall Count.

It was nice to get out after studying all week and becoming increasingly jealous of the crazy birds being found recently...

Some of my personal highlights were 5 Evening Grosbeaks that flew overhead and dutifully landed on a feeder right next to us! Beautiful birds!
And 2 Red-shouldered Hawks actively migrating over Bannister Lake.

Sandhill Cranes are still at Bannister Lake:

Despite not birding much last month I still submitted my second highest number of eBird checklists for any month (130), and saw about 115 species of birds.
After this week my schedule is looking oddly clear - so who knows, I might actually get a chance to get out more regularly... The gulls are beckoning.


In other news, two Newfoundland birders recently started blogging about their adventures - check them out:
Bruce Mactavish
Doug Clark