Monday 8 August 2011

Looking back part 1

I've been living in Ontario for just over two years now. During that time I've only been 'seriously' birding for 1.5 years (I really only started at the end of 2009 when I was in Newfoundland for a 4 month job). In the meantime I've become pretty obsessed with birding - I'm almost always planning a trip of some sort with birding as one of the top priorities! It has certainly got me going outside a lot more than I would have otherwise and it has brought me to some pretty cool places not just in Ontario but back home in Newfoundland too. And of course I have met many people in the process who have helped me a great deal.

This is my last week in Ontario before 1 week in Newfoundland and then 4 months in Denmark followed by another 4 months in Singapore. It's looking like I'll be back in Ontario - Waterloo to be exact - for 12 months starting next May. I doubt I'll have as much time to bird as I have had over the past couple years. But I'll try my best to keep things interesting when I'm back next year.

So how should I sum up my time in Ontario? With lists of course!

Here's a list of my top 5 birding memories from Ontario:

5: Snow Goose migration in Eastern Ontario:
After going through the previous 10 years of data from March (I do a lot of research for my trips!) on the OntBirds Archives, as well as eBird, I found the optimal weekend to search out the peak Snow Goose migration in Eastern Ontario and went for it. The research turned out to be worthwhile (or so I thought) - as we (Mira and I) found a large concentration of several thousand (25'000+) SNGO without much time spent searching the fields.

Turns out that despite all my research I couldn't have expected that the Geese would stick around - usually they move through within less than a week - numbers would more than quadruple over the next 2 weeks eventually reaching over 1'000'000 (according to some estimates)! Apparently many of the fields the geese rely on for food were covered in snow so they couldn't continue with their migration.

4: Amherst Island owling:

With only 2 species of owls on my life list and terrible looks at those few birds I was desperate to see, and learn about owls. The mythical isle of Amherst beckoned and I could not resist. Conveniently some of Mira's relatives owned a house in Kingston that wasn't being occupied so we took advantage of the opportunity. We raided the house and the island for two weekends in a row with much success. Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl were all seen. We couldn't have asked for more! I still remember the expression on Mira's face when she found our first Saw-whet Owl! I suppose it was a little cute...

Barred Owl enjoying the cold weather

3: Carden Alvar counts:
Although we didn't find anything unexpected in the area it was a blast to wander around counting all the breeding birds which otherwise would be considered unusual in other parts of Ontario. Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler and Loggerhead Shrike were all seen well. The prairie smoke was in full bloom adding to the already attractive fields of wild flowers.

2: Pelee in May:
My 3 weeks of tramping around the point fulfilled my expectations. I had confirmed my job there sometime in December or January so I was anxiously waiting to get started for 4 months - I can be quite impatient. With about 27 lifers and many more amazing hours spent birding there's no way I could complain about my time there - except that now it just keeps getting harder and harder to find something new. I never thought I could survive waking up at 5am and going to bed at 11pm every day for 3 weeks with about 16 hours of birding in between. But it worked - for the most part; my body crashed on me during the last week - I slept through 2 full days.

1: James Bay:
My birding obsession went to a whole new level when Mira and I ventured to Ship Sands Island for a week of non-stop birding. Shorebirds were on the itinerary and the mosquitoes forced us to focus on them even more because the only place we could avoid them was along the extensive mudflats - right where the shorebirds were. We didn't find anything unusual but we were still happy to see many species of shorebirds. A melanistic Least Sandpiper was unusual - something that apparently doesn't occur too often in shorebirds. I simply can't wait to go back - but in the meantime I'll revel in the stories of others as they travel North. I'm sure I'll have my turn to go as well.

In the next post I'll make some bird lists - my top 5 favourite birds seen in Ontario, my top 5 (or should it be bottom 5?) missed birds - there are some embarrassing ones in there...