Saturday 30 April 2011

Point Pelee day 1 of 22

A great start to my 3 week stint here at Point Pelee National Park!

Rather than boring you with all the birds I saw I'll just brag about the house I'm living in!
My room looks out over the lake and has a deck that reaches out over the lake and happens to be just North of the park. And as if that weren't good enough, the people I'm living with are cooking for me! That alone guarantees that the next three weeks will be great.

My deck for the next while:

The Point as seen from my deck, not bad!

I found this Eared Grebe this evening only to find out that it was found a few days ago. I seem to be good at finding rarities that are already found.

I'll try and post more interesting things in the near future.

Monday 25 April 2011

Prince Edward County

When I said I was birding for 72 hours pretty much non-stop I wasn't joking. We weren't doing some sort of Big Weekend, although we did have a goal of seeing 100 species of birds during the weekend. We simply didn't sleep because of the many distractions. Mira and I had the clever idea of camping between a marsh and a field on Thursday evening resulting in Swamp Sparrows, American Woodcocks, Wilson's Snipe and what seemed like every other bird singing, calling and screaming throughout the whole night. I'm not even exaggerating, I remember looking at my watch several times thinking that it must be dawn with all these birds singing and shouting at each other only to see that it was 1am...... 2:30am..... 4am.....will the birds ever shut up and let me sleep!?

After crawling out of the tent in the morning we began some more serious birding. We soon found several hundred Bonaparte's Gulls, Green-winged Teals but stopped short of finding any Little Gulls or Common Teals. We found most of the expected species for the weekend by noon with nothing too unusual. Come to think of it I think most of the morning we spent trying not to get our feet wet only to come back with soggy shoes, socks and pants.

This river looks deceivingly easy to cross from this picture but in reality it was waist deep and very cold.

After recovering from numb feet we met this river and had fun building a bridge to get across.

I find that a vignetted bird photograph (such as this Mute Swan) makes it seem as though it's a rare bird. Sure makes it look a little more appealing than usual. That might just be an excuse for my lack of digiscoping skills.

In the afternoon we ventured to Prince Edward Point and found a large flock of White-winged Scoters and managed to turn up 2 Surf Scoters which I was pretty happy about because I've struggled to find Surf and Black Scoters all winter and thought it was too late in the season to find them by now.
This Merlin gave us a menacing stare:

Then on Friday evening we knew it was going to rain a fair bit so we tried to find a hill or anywhere the water couldn't get to us. The only place we could find happened to be next to a marsh much to my disappointment. But there was a sign of optimism. An American Bittern landed near our tent just before sunset so I hoped that at least I'll be kept awake by a different song. But my hopes were dashed soon after getting into my sleeping bag. It started to rain and my tent has this amazing ability to amplify the sound of rain to make a bit of drizzle sound like you're inside a tornado. Needless to say I was awake for most of that night and didn't even hear the Bittern sing once!

In the morning our tent decided to take a ride with the wind followed by a dip in the marsh. After a frantic chase over a Beaver home and around a Canada Goose nest I managed to grab the tent and returned to the car with soggy shoes, socks and pants once more.

On Saturday we made our way towards Presqu'ile with a productive stop at the smallest and dirtiest marsh imaginable and found our only Purple Martins for the weekend along with an impressive number of migrants including Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Brown Creepers.

At Presqu'ile we began by walking the Marsh Trail and found another Bittern, heard the first Sora for the year and watched Swamp Sparrows as they chased each other about the cattails while a Great Egret was stalking fish.

Then we went to the sandy beach on the west side of the park where the real excitement of the weekend began! 32 American Avocets were flushed by a walker and flew near us giving us a much needed adrenaline rush. After enjoying the birds for an hour or so we continued along the trail and found my second Dunlin for the year.

See what I'm saying!? Vignetting makes the birds look cooler! Right?

Later that afternoon I was surprised to find 2 Black Scoters fairly close in to shore meaning we had seen all 3 Scoter species during the weekend. Where were they all winter!?

On Saturday night Mira and I vowed never to sleep within a one hundred kilometer radius of a marsh ever again. We drove as far inland as is possible on a tank of gas and found a remote country road next to a plot of fragmented forest. Or at least we thought it was remote... At 3:25am (yes, I checked my watch) a crew of young drunk hot shots came tearing down the dirt road and decided that they should wake up the 'hippies' sleeping in their tent. After blaring their car horn and music for a few minutes and running around our tent like a bunch of football hooligans they continued along their way to cause a ruckus somewhere else....I suppose they couldn't find anyone else to annoy because they were back 30 minutes later.

On the bright side, all the adrenaline from that midnight scare resulted in some pretty rare birds including a Violet Green Swallow and Ontario's first Long-toed Stint - only to find out that it was a beautiful beautiful dream.

All the lack of sleeping is like this 'spring' we're having. You'd expect a good spell of warm weather to finally stick around any day after all the cold and miserable weather but the rain and cold fronts continue to find their way to us just like I expected to fall asleep any minute after all the lack of sleep but the annoyances continue to find their way to me.

On Sunday morning Mira and I found ourselves searching for grassland species in the Newburgh area. We found several American Kestrels, 3 Loggerhead Shrikes, an Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Bluebird, several more Wilson's Snipe and many Savannah Sparrows singing.

When we were back on the road on our way to Mira's parents house we tallied our sightings to find that we were at 97 species. After much discussion we decided to allow 2 Hooded Mergansers on to our list that Mira saw on her way to Prince Edward County on Thursday but only if we did manage to find 2 more species. After 2 hours of driving a Coopers Hawk flew overhead bringing our total to 98 (99 if we count the Mergansers) and as we pulled into the driveway a Sharp-shinned Hawk landed on a tree in her parents yard revealing its nest and bringing our total to 100 species.

On the drive this Bittern was easily spotted in a marsh as it sang:

Then it was back to real business:

Now I must catch up on sleep ahead of 3 weeks of what will likely be a sleep depriving three weeks at Point Pelee! The next round of excitement starts Saturday.... that's if the rain stops.

This blog post ended up being a lot longer than expected. I doubt anyone will make it this far but if you did congratulations! You are the lucky winner of a huge sum of money. Go to this link to redeem your prize and continue reading about birds.

Confused about Flycatchers?

I figure most birders won't have too much to do this week anyway, bird migration is relatively stagnant as are the rain clouds. Although, you may be excused if you thought that the only flycatcher we had here were Eastern Phoebes at this rate!

More optimism less pessimism to come in a future post...

Sunday 24 April 2011

American Avocets

Need I say more!?

Mira and I found them only 2 hours after they were first found! Imagine our excitement thinking we were the first ones on them...
Can't be too greedy!

Out for a swim!:

I've been on the road for 72 hours for pretty much non stop birding. Amazing weather, amazing birds and lots of excitement! But now I need to sleep... and wow does it ever take a lot of time to catch up on all the bird sightings around town... Violet Green Swallow (a bird I've longed for), Neotropic Cormorant and many many more.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Durham birds and things to read!

Saturday morning I took the GO train to Oshawa to go birding around Thickson's Woods and Oshawa Second Marsh. Two hot spots I've heard a lot about but have never been to. I knew it was going to be windy and rainy all day but I convinced myself to go knowing that "any day could be a special day, you just have to get out there and see if it is!" as Kenn Kaufman once said.

I had planned to walk the whole day in the blustery weather but Rayfield Pye (another Newfoundland birder in Ontario) offered to show me around! Thanks Ray, it sure made the day more enjoyable.

We began by searching around the Thickson's Woods for any recent migrants. I was surprised that several birds were singing despite the rain and bitter winds. We found most of the expected stuff plus a Great Horned Owl which was my first for the year. Apparently there's a nest in there somewhere!
Then we ventured off to Oshawa Second Marsh where we found 3 species of swallow (Barn, Rough-winged and Tree), several Little Gulls and Bonaparte's Gull and a Dunlin! Shorebirds are probably my favourite family of birds so I was happy to see my first one of the year (not including Killdeer and Woodcocks).
We also found a 1st year Glaucous Gull at the Oshawa Harbour.

Kenn Kaufman was right! It was a good day and it wouldn't have happened if I didn't persuade myself to get out there and see what I could find!

I didn't bring my camera along today so no pictures here just a bunch of boring words.

I've been following a multi-author birding blog lately: Birding Blogs
It has got some 'big name' birders there (although I don't know who most of them are). Kenn Kaufman is there - I've been mentioning him because I just finished reading his book 'Kingbird Highway' .

An interesting blog post about statistics and birding (I like Math and I did a statistics course last fall so this one appealed to me):

And another blog post: It's about Malta - an island that I think every birder should know about even though I have no attachment to it:
"How do we Solve a Problem like Malta"

And another article to read (reading is good for you!) about Jean Iron's trip to James Bay with the Royal Ontario Museum (slightly jealous):
"Volunteering for Bird Conservation on James Bay"

Sunday 10 April 2011

Toronto migrants

The weekend was spent in Toronto at the Leslie Street Spit with Mira. My favourite place to be in Toronto! It is a decently sized park that takes a full day to walk around and thoroughly search for birds in every area. There are many habitats and I've learned over the last 3 months where I will likely find certain families of birds. Only one habitat is missing... mudflats!!!! Well there's definitely more than one habitat missing but that one is noticeable in my mind. There are limited areas of sandy beaches that attract shorebirds so it's difficult to find them there. Although it can be pretty good for Whimbrels in May! I found about 100 there last May so hopefully I will again this year.

Another good thing about having a preferred local park is that you can visit it regularly and easily monitor migration as it progresses. Having that sort of attachment to a park makes it really exciting at this time of year. Two weeks ago I found 41 species on the Spit despite my efforts for at least 50! This past weekend I fairly easily found 64 species without putting a big effort in. I even had a nap for 3 hours on Saturday! Resulting in a terrible sunburn to my pale pale face...

Right from the get go on Saturday Mira and I found a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets. Not a surprising find but a warm welcome because I hadn't seen them there since early January. Meaning there must be other migrants around...

In the first flock of Kinglets we found our first Winter Wren of the year. This is an exciting time of year!

Later on down the trail a small bird ignorantly zoomed past us in pursuit of insects. Tree Swallows were back in numbers and I ever hopefully double checked everyone of them to make sure no Violet-green Swallows were concealing their identity! My determination to check every swallow has already begun to diminish.

Eastern Phoebes with their tail-wagging antics were also in hot pursuit of insects.

According to the Cornell Lab or Ornithology Phoebes are "loners" because they "rarely come in contact with other phoebes". Later in the Spring and Summer when they're more spread out that may be the case but not now! At times I saw 6 within 5 meters of each other!

Several over-wintering waterfowl, as well as migrating ones, remain along Lake Ontario and will do so for about another month. Including the many hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks.

We also found our first snakes and turtles of the year. 12 Painted Turtles were basking on a log and 6 Garter Snakes were hanging out in some piles of garbage.

But the most exciting find of the weekend (for me at least) was the 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers. A vanguard of many thousands and millions of warblers to come over the next 6 or 7 weeks to Southern Ontario. When I found the birds I was pretty excited so I pursued them for at least 10 minutes admiring them. In two weeks time (and probably less) I'll be blatantly ignoring them as I plow through them trying to find the other species of warblers and passerines.

I have one more weekend in Toronto (next weekend) to enjoy the migration as it marches forward before a weekend in Prince Edward County and 3 weeks in Point Pelee! Part of me does wish I could stay here and witness the migration from the Spit but I have a feeling I won't have any regrets about being in Prince Edward County and Point Pelee! ;)

I've also been doing a bit more taxidermy lately. I'm trying to finish a Yellow Warbler now so I'll hopefully post pictures of it up in the coming week. I promise not to include pictures of its guts spilled out on my table. Just the beautiful finished product... let's hope it turns out nice!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Western Grebe Toronto

Thanks to Bernie Monnette for posting the sighting. The bird was easy to find right where it was said to be at Colonel Sam Smith Park. Almost too easy!

I first found it on its own at the mouth of the marina to the lake - this was at 5:45. Coordinates: 43.588668, -79.516350

But within five minutes it had swam several hundred meters west from the park and approaching a flock of Red-necked Grebes. Hugh Currie and I searched for it from the base of Twenty Eighth street for about 30 minutes only to find that it had returned to the mouth of the marina.

I returned there and had great looks of the bird right up until 7:45.

A scope isn't necessary if the bird is in the marina but if it decides to swim out into the lake a scope may become handy.

Other birds include several hundred Red-necked Grebes (I estimated 400) mostly west of the park. An Eastern Phoebe and a Pied-billed Grebe inside the marina area.

It was bobbing up and down in the waves as it sailed away from me.

In the right light the back of the neck can look fairly red disguising it as a Red-necked Grebe

Monday 4 April 2011

Ottawa birding

This past weekend I was in Ottawa to visit Mira where we joined an OFO field trip on Sunday.

Saturday was spent indoors where we spent the day twiddling our thumbs. We weren't bored or disappointed that we weren't enjoying the nice day outside.

We were taxidermy-ing!

I managed to get my hands on a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that found its way into a freezer after striking a building last year in Toronto. Want to read about these evil buildings?

Saturday the Grosbeak was in Ottawa with its insides spilled out and replaced with cotton balls, a wooden stick and a few strategically placed threads.
It was a fun day full of learning!

Warning, bird lovers may not enjoy the next series of photos! I can not be held accountable for any form of regurgitation!

Without cutting into the body and simply blowing on the feathers it is easy to 'part' the feathers to either side and see the breast skin and fat. The yellowish stuff is the fat. This bird was much fatter than we bargained for making it a difficult taxidermy but we still managed.

After making the first incision you can see inside of the bird and a lot of fat.

We swear it wasn't road kill!!

All sewed back up and looking a little window-stricken.

All cleaned up and ready to migrate back to Toronto!

So yeah, it was fun, and it looks alright. Right? Well maybe not as good as a pro taxidermiest (is that even a word?) but we're getting better and the next bird we taxidermy will hopefully turn out nicer. We have 3 more to cut up, dig around in and sew back up.

The OFO field trip on Sunday was great. I saw 3 new species for the year that I had thought I wouldn't see. 

I've searched for Gray Partridge at least 4 times this year without any luck so when someone shouted out "Gray Partridge!" I was pretty excited! But they were already well hidden away in a patch of corn stalks when I heard that. After a few minutes they flew out and away, giving me the fleeting glimpse of a blurry bird... all too often.

We also found an Evening Grosbeak, a Greater White-fronted Goose, thousands of Snow Geese and many many Northern Pintails.