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...