Sunday 28 October 2012

Another morning at the creek

Checked out the waterfowl again this morning without much of note.

An adult Peregrine Falcon was scanning the mudflats from one of the telephone poles:

I wonder if it was one of the birds that bred in the county this year?

Every evening large flocks of American Crows flock together from the dump and countryside. They usually roost in the thousands near the university campus. Maybe, if the rain ever stops, I'll film them - it's pretty neat seeing a constant stream of crows massing together.

Saturday 27 October 2012

More Laurel Creek birds

Lots of waterfowl still at Laurel Creek - but nothing unexpected today. The best bird was a pair of Dunlin that flew around for the first five minutes and decided to land on the far end of the 'lake'.
An hour later I saw them fly back towards me and continue on towards the North East...

Still no Cackling Goose despite the hundreds of Canada Geese:

A good comparison of the two Yellowleg species:

The lesser of the two was injured:

A Northern Lapwing in Newfoundland today is hopefully a vanguard of many more euro-vagrants to show up in the near future ;)

Friday 26 October 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose!

Laurel Creek is finally drained :)

I should probably be going to school now, so I'll just post some photos of the goose:

Only the third record for Waterloo county - the last record was a family group of 7 that I found in the exact same location in late November.

6 Canvasback were also a highlight. A female here:

Monday 22 October 2012

The Thief's Glove

Totally not birding related, but the other day someone tried to steal my bike and managed to achieve 50% of their goal.

After getting a new bike in May, and riding it almost daily in the pursuit of birds I became somewhat attached to it - the fact that the bike is pretty nice also plays a role in that attachment as well.

Anyway, I don't only use the bike for birding, I ride it to school almost everyday and knew very well that I was running the risk of having it stolen. Bike thievery is rampant on campus, so I took the proactive step of locking my bike up with two locks. But not just two locks - two different types of locks. A U-lock, and a cable lock. The thing is that both types of locks are actually pretty easy to break - but you need different tools to break each one. Most thieves only have one tool with them.

That resulted in an annoyed thief after he (or she) cut my cable lock only to realize that I had a U-lock that was impenetrable to their presumed cable-cutters.

Interestingly, I found a single glove below my bike. I will be on the lookout for a person with a single black glove (with red on the inside), who suspiciously eyes bikes :p

Anyway, school is eating up all my time and I'm starting to have withdrawal effects from not birding in so long! :S

I did check Laurel Creek this past weekend, and am quite pleased that 'they' are finally starting to drain it! A bit late for shorebirds, but I can still hope :)

Beautiful, beautiful mud:

I'm becoming more and more interested in mushrooms lately, although I haven't tried to identify this one yet:

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Around and about

School is starting to consume ever increasing amounts of my time.

At the beginning of each term I'm out almost every day, even if it's just stopping by Columbia Lake, but now my eBird checklists mostly come from trips to the grocery store, and during lunch breaks.

This morning I took advantage of the remaining few hours of the car rental from the weekend to roam around Waterloo county. Didn't see anything too notable, but it's always nice to explore my 'home' county.

This Eastern Wood-Pewee was acting very subdued - probably due to the cold weather, and lack of insects. The reason I was able to get a photo was simply because it sat here for over a minute:

Flycatcher identification was once one of my worst areas (I'm still not that great). But Eastern Wood-Pewees are generally easier than the other empids due to a few factors.
Habitat is always helpful - thick forest, with tall trees, but obviously not enough to identify them!
Their darker colour is another factor that helps. Another good thing to note is that they have a long primary projection beyond the secondaries, and tertials.
In my opinion, they also seem to have a more peaked head (particularly pronounced in this picture) - but my field guides don't seem to mention that.

Flycatchers are almost all gone at this time of year (if you're in Ontario). If you check eBird (or below) you'll notice that only Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Wood-Pewees regularly hang out into October.

You might also notice that many of the vagrant flycatchers seem to show up this month! Hopefully one turns up close to Waterloo soon - we're due for a crowd-drawing bird :p

Also check out the latest Punk Rock Big Year update!

Monday 8 October 2012

Dowitchers and Sparrows

The weekend has come to an end and now I'm back in Waterloo.

There were some good birds in the Ottawa region this weekend - but I spent most of my birding time at Constance Bay.

Most notably for me was a long overdue Nelson's Sparrow - a first for me!

After walking around the grassy marsh for a while, we hadn't seen or heard anything other than Swamp Sparrows. I was starting to lose hope - when I noticed some movement low down in the reeds. It was a Nelson's Sparrow feeding on what looked like some seeds. I'm surprised I managed to get a photo of it:

It was a great habitat for the species:

Eventually we found a couple more, and this one perched a little higher up - giving us a much better look:

Another good bird was a Dowitcher. At first I noted that it was an adult in winter plumage. I thought that Short-billed Dowitchers molt on their wintering grounds, and it was getting a bit late for that species. So that would indicate a Long-billed Dowitcher.

I've never seen a Dowitcher in winter-plumage so I didn't have any experience identifying them.

The breast seemed to have speckles:

and the flanks didn't seem to have very obvious barring (more like elongated speckles):

I consulted a few people, only to get differing opinions. Anyway, I'm leaning towards LBDO - but if you disagree, let me know why!
Indications of LBDO, are the darkish throat, straight supercilium, and the more obvious barring on the flanks - which are apparently not so obvious on SBDO is basic (winter) plumage.

I returned to the same area today and was happy to see my first Evening Grosbeak of the year! I didn't get pictures though.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Back to the Prior

I'm in Arnprior (near Ottawa) with Mira for the weekend to visit her family.

The house happens to be right on the Ottawa river so I often find myself looking out over the water hoping for a Scoter or Red-throated Loon to fly-by. No such luck yet!

The beautiful fall colours keep things fun though:

Yesterday we checked out Constance Bay (recently known for the large numbers of Nelson's Sparrows).

Blue-winged Teals were hanging out with the Canada Geese - I love seeing these guys :)

And a few juvenile Black-bellied Plovers were acting uncharacteristically tame by walking out right in front of me:

Pretty cool to see them running around in all the leaves:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday 5 October 2012

Larkwire Review

Last March, while living in Singapore I was reading/dreaming about the impending migration in North America - I was getting super excited to move back to Canada and do some birding. That's not to say that the birding in Singapore wasn't very good. It was great. I might even say it was too good.
It was sort of like when you eat too many candies in one go. At first they're so good and you can't wait to get more, but eventually, it becomes too much and your stomach starts aching (I would know)...

That's what I was feeling in terms of birding. I was super excited to move to Denmark (last year) and then Singapore. Tons of birding, and naturally, tons of life birds. My life list jumped from 318 to 711 in those 8 months (thank's eBird). I was feeling a bit indulged... sort of like that kid with the stomach ache after eating tons of candies... and I was starting to look forward to the good ol' times at home.

Picture stolen from here

Anyway, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this and how it relates to the title of this blog post?
I was excited to go back to NA, so I wanted to do what I could to prepare myself, especially in terms of learning bird songs. I was far behind where I would have liked to be.
A birding friend of mine suggested Larkwire. My first impression of Larkwire was - "oh, another scam" (I can be quite skeptical at times)...
But I quickly noticed the "Try it Now - No Sign up Required" option. So, I tried it out and was pleasantly surprised by the program. After reading the few reviews that I found online, I was convinced that it was worth the investment. Besides, exams were closing in and I needed something to procrastinate with =D

Throughout April, while studying for exams and dreaming about migrants in the New World, I spent several hours studying bird songs on Larkwire - that time correlates strongly with the Bird Song Quizzes that I posted here. Since then I've been practicing during the rare time that I have a few minutes free.

Why do I like the program?

  • Helps teach bird songs in a systematic and logical way - not just playing tapes over and over
  • The game-like aspect: it's set-up like a game where you can complete levels/tasks etc
  • You can choose which species to study
  • It keeps track of which songs you know and which ones you don't, and focuses on the ones you're struggling with
  • There's an App for it!
  • Great for trip preparation - when I went to Alberta this summer, I focused on the sparrow songs of that region which directly helped me to find a Brewer's Sparrow and Golden-crowned Sparrow!!

As with anything, there is room for improvement:
  • Can be tedious to organize specific groups of species (e.g. if you want to learn only finches, you have to manually set that up yourself - which doesn't take too long, to be honest)
  • The "Gold" and "Red" level can be too easy - they should force it to be harder (i.e. make it more realistic such that there's a larger pool of songs to choose from)
  • No waterfowl, herons, shorebirds :S (this has changed, which I'm super excited for - check here for updates!)
  • Very few call notes - the focus is on songs, but I would love to see call notes of warblers, sparrows, etc
  • Would be fun if they had a "top100" kind of thing like eBird to make it competitive :p

I definitely recommend this program to not only beginners but advanced birders as well. It's a great opportunity to remain familiar with the songs/calls throughout the winter, or to study the birds throughout the rest of the continent!

This is what the interface looks like for the beginner level: a song/call is played, and you have to decide which species it is, the game gets harder - trust me ;)

Anyway, you should at least try out the free trial online to see for yourself!

By making this review I'll be able to get the Larkwire expansion pack (the one with waterfowl, etc) for free - :)

Black-tailed Godwit - Thailand
(only North American species of birds are included in Larkwire as of now)