Friday 31 May 2013

The Next Few Months

After graduating from my undergrad degree at the University of Waterloo I spent the majority of May birding throughout Ontario. The next 3 months will also be full of birds before I head back to school for another degree in Newfoundland (more on that in a future post!) I am now on my way to the Northwest Territories where I will be doing shorebird related work for 6 weeks!

The exact location is at the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary:

Satellite view from the area:

For the 6 weeks I'll be joining 4 others to do nest searches, shorebird banding, among plenty of other tasks.

Some cool species that breed there are: 3 Jaeger species, Pacific & Red-throated Loons, King Eiders, Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, several other shorebird species, Snowy Owls, & Smith's Longspurs! Hopefully I'll have plenty of photos to share of all these species when I am back.

I'll be there until mid-July, so don't expect anymore blog posts. Although, Mira may feel inclined to make a post or two. After the NWT I'll be in Alberta/BC for 2 weeks, then 2 weeks of shorebird surveys on the James Bay coast - bringing me to mid/late August...

Tuesday 28 May 2013

North Shore of Lake Superior - May 25 & 26

Saturday and Sunday were spent driving around the Ontario side of Lake Superior and checking in on all the communities along the way - much like the birding in Newfoundland. Unlike our northward part of the trip, it was warm and wasn't raining. So the birds weren't concentrated at the feeders.

One of our first stops was at Hurkett Cove Conservation Area. On this day there was a big birding event, with almost 100 birders converging on the area! It was the Pelee of the North!

We were told of the best spot for shorebirds and made the short walk out to the sandy spit. It's a beautiful spot where a Snowy Plover and possible Couch's Kingbird were once found nearby! This is amazing considering that it probably gets checked less than 20 times a year!

At the spit were Dunlin, Semipalmated & Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied & Semipalmated Plovers, and a Hudsonian Godwit and Greater Yellowlegs flew over.

Lapland Longspurs were hanging out with all the Dunlin and behaved just like shorebirds!

Neys Provincial Park was one of our many stops. A beautiful park where we some how missed Boreal Chickadee (a species we missed on the whole trip!)

Many tame Ruffed Grouse were in the park:

A few abandoned boats were at the rocky point, once used to move prisoners of war around the area for logging work:

A Least Chipmunk was munching on something near the boats:

American Redstarts were one of the most common species of warbler of the trip:

The lack of birds at Marathon was compensated with a beautiful blue sky and blue lake:

One of my favourite locations we visited was Pic River. This unusual camping and RV area is at the mouth of the Pic River and has many sandy dunes. The area seemed to attract many birds when we stopped here on the 21st. On the 26th it didn't have many birds. Our only Sanderling of the trip was here though:

Mike pointed out a bunch of Tiger Beetles, and I think we to find 3 species:

This first one is as of now unidentified! I thought it would be easy considering that it's relatively plain, and has a white border along the rear of the wing. Any Tiger Beetle experts out there?

Hairy-necked Tiger Beetle (Cicindela hirticollis) can be identified by the hairy-looking neck, and g-shaped marking on the shoulder:

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle (Cicindela tranquebarica) - identified by the elongated line on the hind part of the shoulder:

Check out this Tiger Beetle guide for Ontario - there aren't many species so it's relatively easy to figure them out - even though I couldn't figure out that first one!

An obliging Spring Azure was nearby:

Monday 27 May 2013

Day 2 in Rainy River - May 24

This was our second, and last day in the Rainy River area of Ontario. An area where several species of bird regularly breed, but are hard to find anywhere else in the province. Some specialty birds are Western Meadowlark, Marbled Godwit, Le Conte's Sparrow, Brewer's Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and others...

On this day we had several Western Meadowlarks singing on territory throughout the area:

After finding 1 Marbled Godwit the previous day, we were happy to find 6 more the next day.

Sandhill Cranes are relatively common throughout the area:

I was happy to get great looks of several Olive-sided Flycatchers, a species I had only heard before!

White-throated Sparrows were singing from every plot of woods:

In the afternoon on Friday we boated out to Windy Point Island, which is almost 2 km long and ranges between 200 and 10 meters wide. It is mostly a long sandy beach with marshy areas on either side. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and our target bird, the Piping Plover have been known to breed on the island.

On the island, a small flock of shorebirds included Dunlin and Least Sandpiper:

These are all photos from that same point & shoot I mentioned in previous posts. I'm loving the results!

While I was photographing the Dunlin (above) Ken & Mike found a Piping Plover. Unfortunately, while I was walking over the bird managed to disappear. I was getting worried that I would miss it!

Luckily we re-found it not too far away and I enjoyed great looks at this endangered species:

It did a good job of camouflaging itself in the sand and rocks, can you find it:

On our way out of the Rainy River area we stopped by the sewage lagoons:

This spot, for whatever reason, attracts a lot of Wilson's Phalaropes. Our high count was over 140 birds! The females are more colourful than the males and are also polyandrous (i.e. 1 female may breed with several males), and the males incubate the eggs, meaning that the females begin their southbound migration earlier than the males, because the males must incubate and raise the chicks.

At the Emo sewage lagoons we were surprised to see 3 Soras running around in the open. All 3 let us get relatively close before making a mad dash to hide and then apparently seemed to forget what they were running away from, and continued walking around right out in the open. One bird actually made a short flight away from us, crashed into a bunch of reeds, and fell to the ground! Silly birds!

The highlight of the day was during our drive back into the boreal forest. On the highway near Atikokan we saw a lynx next to a random parking area. We quickly stopped, turned around and saw the cat slowly walk into the woods before we could get a photo. A fox was nearby barking loudly at the lynx. Apparently it had a den nearby and the lynx was not welcome!

Here's the fox half way between its summer and winter coats, with its evil eyes!

Saturday 25 May 2013

Rainy River area - May 23

Our first full day of birding the Rainy River area was on Thursday, after 3 days of traveling through northern Ontario.

It didn't take long to find one of my most desired species, the Sharp-tailed Grouse. We were lucky to observe a male doing a half-hearted display from a rock:

We ended up seeing many of these grouse throughout the area. Most of our sightings were of flushed birds from the roadside. Almost every time we flushed the birds we all thought they looked like ducks before realizing what they actually were...

Another target bird was Marbled Godwit. This species breeds in the Rainy River area in low numbers. eBird helped us locate where previous sightings have been and sure enough there was one :) Nearby were several other shorebirds, including Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Lesser Yellowlegs!

A confiding Ruby-throated Hummingbird got the attention of my camera:

In the late morning we returned to our campsite when Mike and I decided to photograph the Harris's Sparrow and Yellow-headed Blackbirds that were visiting the nearby feeder. This feeder is amazing (at the Harris Hill Resort). There were always Yellow-headed Blackbirds nearby, Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, several sparrow species, and many more birds!

When we arrived at the feeder I noticed that one of the male Purple Finches looked a bit different. It was sitting in the middle of 3 other male Purple Finches where I noted that its red/purple colour was very noticeably different than the surrounding Purple Finches, and it seemed slightly larger. I pointed out the different bird to Mike and it stole our attention for the next couple hours.

The bird in question is on the right and a normal Purple Finch is on the left, facing away.
Note the difference in red/purple colour

Other things that we noted were the more streaky back, and a contrast between the red head and brown nape. This contrast is higher up on the unusual bird, vs the normal Purple Finch.

Unusual finch - note streaky back, and contrast between the head and nape/neck

We were able to rule out House Finch because of the forked tail, and lack of brown streaks on the lower flank.
The behaviour was also distinct from the 10+ Purple Finches (they're dirt birds up here!) It barely moved throughout our observation and often was in a tree all on its own, while the Purple Finches were in a completely different bush and seemed much more active.

At this time we didn't have a field guide with us so we resorted to taking a ton of pictures to help make an ID later.

One thing I didn't notice in the field, but seemed clear in the photos, was the two different shades of red/purple. The purple colouring around the breast seems to be similar to that of a normal Purple Finch.

Cassin's Finch was on our mind so we quickly read through the Sibley page for Cassin's Finch. Many of the field marks seemed to line up: larger size, somewhat straighter bill, the more reddish plumage, the contrast between head and nape, and the brown streaks on the back/mantle. But it was definitely not a perfect fit. The bill was definitely not straight and long enough, the head shape was off, and there wasn't any streaking on the undertail coverts. So we sent some photos off and the general consensus is that it's definitely not a Cassin's Finch. It could be just a normal Purple Finch that was eating some unusual food, or a hybrid Purple X House Finch. What are your thoughts?

A normal Purple Finch:

We did eventually get around to photographing the Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Beautiful birds! I would love to have them at my feeder:

Clay-colored Sparrows were never very far away - I love these guys:

This Richardon's Ground Squirrel was a neat find, apparently a rare breeder for the area, and the only area where you can see them in Ontario:

Quiz time:
Merlin feeding. Any guesses as to what species is in its talons?

Don't miss the blog post from Mira below - she's in Edmonton for the summer and is seeing some awesome birds!

Long Weekend in Southern Alberta

Guest Post by Mira Furgoch

Last weekend I went on a four day long birding trip from Edmonton, AB to Brooks, AB with some friends from the Edmonton Nature Club.

Friday - Driving South

We ventured out of the city around 9am with our sights set on a small pond in Holden where a five species goose flock (Snow, Ross's, Canada, Cackling and Greater White-fronted) had been hanging out last weekend. To our pleasure the geese were still there!

Snow, Ross's, Canada, Cackling and Greater White-fronted Geese the weekend before this trip (May 12, 2013)

(Please excuse the photo quality, and the giant dust spot on my lens. Luckily for us all I travelled with some other great photographers.)

From Holden we birded our way south, stopping at Big Knife Provincial Park for lunch. As we continued our dive south we got our first few looks at Long-billed Curlew's as they flew across the road to land in a field on the other side.

Long-billed Curlew by Dawne Colwell
We also started seeing lots of Western Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, which we would soon get used to seeing as we searched all the longspurs for a, rarer, McCown's Longspur amongst them...

Chestnut-collared Longspur by Dawne Colwell

Swainson's Hawks were abundant and quite tame, allowing us to sneak up right beside them for fantastic looks.

Swainson's Hawk by Janice Hurlburt

And we finally arrived in Brooks, about an hour later than we were expected, but it had been worth it.

Saturday - Count Day!

We were split up into groups for the 15th Annual Brooks May Species Count. I joined a team of Edmonton birders covering the Majorville Medicine Wheel region of the count area west of the Bow River.

Looking down upon the Bow River near Brooks
This area had a lot of natural grassland and duck ponds full of waterfowl and shorebirds. Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Wilson`s Phalaropes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Vesper Sparrows were most abundant, but it was also great to see a fair number of American Avocets, Marbled Godwits and Cinnamon Teal.

American Avocets by Janice Hurlburt
Marbled Godwit by Dawne Colwell

Cinnamon Teal by Dawne Colwell

We also got some great looks at a fluffed up Barn Swallow and some American White Pelican with large knobs on their beaks, which both males and females display in nesting season before eggs are laid.

Barn Swallow by Colleen Raymond
American White Pelicans

Eventually, under threat of rain we reached the end of the road, and climbed one of the highest hills in the area to the Medicine Wheel where we each left an offering.

Majorville Medicine Wheel
On our way back we made a stop near some agricultural fields and were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Two Ferruginous Hawks, a dark morph and a light morph on a nest, one of three Great Horned Owl nests we saw over the weekend and one of two Harris`s Sparrows we saw over the weekend. All within about 100m of each other!

Ferruginous Hawk by Janice Hurlburt

Great Horned Owl chicks by Janice Hurlburt

Another long but exciting day came to an end with 97 species seen.

Sunday - Provincial Parks and Fields

We started the day at Tillebrook Provincial park, where we saw many migrants including seven species of warbler, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, many Swainson`s Thrush and the second Harris`s Sparrow.

Harris`s Sparrow by Janice Hurlburt

Our next stop of the morning was Dinosaur Provincial Park (one of the coolest places I have ever been!) to look for Say`s Phoebe, Rock Wren, Lark Sparrows and Spotted Towhee.

Dinosaur Provincial Park
After a couple of us got a little lost (due to the distraction caused by a close up Red-naped Sapsucker) we ventured through the rugged terrain and found all of our target birds!

Red-naped Sapsucker by Janice Hurlburt
The Rock Wren was putting on a real show singing from the top of a rocky hill.

Rock Wren by Janice Hurlburt
Lark Sparrow by Janice Hurlburt

Later in the afternoon we ventured out around the countryside continuously checking all the longspurs to try and find a McCown`s until finally we found a small flock with two creeping through the grass!

McCown`s Longspur by Janice Hurlburt
All weekend I had been hoping to see a Prairie Falcon, so it was just my luck that when the car ahead spotted one on the fence post and pointed out the window to the right, that I started scanning the field and totally missed the falcon flying across the road and over the field on the left... Might this become my nemesis bird?

All was not lost however because after about 30 minutes waiting in the rain Sunday afternoon (watching Ferruginous Hawks hunting baby hares) we saw the bird that probably made my weekend...

Burrowing Owl by Janice Hurlburt

Monday - Back North-West

On our drive back we hit up some popular birding locations towards Calgary, Frank Lake and Weed Lake. The lakes had a variety of waterfowl and (especially Weed Lake) shorebirds. We got some great looks at a White-faced Ibis which flew into our area.

White-faced Ibis by Janice Hurlburt

There was a large number of Black-necked Stilts nesting in the area.

Black-necked Stilt by Janice Hurlburt

All in all it was an amazing trip, I had a fantastic time exploring southern Alberta!

Many thanks to the wonderful ladies I travelled with for sharing their experience and photos with me! Thank you Colleen, Janice, Dawne and Heather.

Weed Lake