Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another trip home. Highlight? Broad-winged Hawk migration

So, many updates along the way after another trip home to Essex County, which means a few more posts this week. The first bit of business I have to attend to my weekend list, which ended up being quite decent after birding Hillman Marsh, Two Creeks Conservation Area, and Marianne’s backyard (more on this little known birding spot in a bit). Give me a second while I throw in The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack…

O.K. Ready. I always love a trip home as it allows me to bird within the Pelee birding circle. There’s just something special to me about my hometown and birding, a feeling I have trouble finding anywhere else I travel (nothing will ever beat the Shire right?). Yes, I have found 2 wonderful birding spots in Toronto already but there’s just something about your home turf that ignites your passion to its fullest. Especially when that home turf is the Pelee birding circle. That being said, I wasn’t able to bird as much as I would have liked but when you’re only home once a month or less, there’s also a lot of visiting relatives you have to fit into that precious time. However, on with lists!

Marianne and I decided to meet at Hillman Marsh at 9:30 on Sunday morning to check out if there were any mudflats for shorebirds. When I arrived, I immediately heard a Greater Yellowlegs so I knew there had to be a spot appropriate for feeding somewhere nearby (we got a tip earlier from another birding buddy of ours, Steve Pike, that there were a decent number of shorebirds at the bridge at the northwest corner of the conservation area). But first, we checked out the secret hiding place of the ducks (a glaringly long name, but one that we have always used to describe the area beyond the boardwalk where they throw down feed for waterfowl). There we picked up Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and a few other common species. We also quickly noticed that there were no shorebirds. So, we looked to the skies. There was a nice Northwest wind in the morning so a good hawk migration was underway. We scanned a few kettles and figured there must have been hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks migrating. We also picked up Sharp-shinned Hawk riding the warm thermals, and two Cooper’s Hawks flying lower to the ground giving great views. A few Harriers were scouting the area for food.

Broad-winged Hawk - things to note: broad, white band on an otherwise black tail, the dark border around the trailing edge of the wing, and the white feathers of the leading edge (juveniles share the dark border on wings, but paler).

We then checked out the bridge and located where at least some of the shorebirds were feeding. There we got Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, juveniles and adults. There was also a group of Northern Shovelers as well as a pair of one of my favourites, Blue-winged Teal (in eclipse plumage).

Hunger and hope for more hawks led us to Marianne’s house near Kingsville. There, we set up camp in a bean field behind her house and watched the hawk migration (there were more clouds at this point providing better views but the birds were much farther away…some only black specks in the sky). I was having trouble telling apart birds from those annoying black spots that appear in your eyes when you’ve been in the sun too long and the winds changed to West Southwest so we gave up. Most of the raptors were Broad-winged Hawks but we also saw an American Kestrel. In fact, at my house, which is about half an hour north of Point Pelee, there are many kestrels present right now, perched on hydro wires and hunting in the fields. On Monday, I actually witnessed a female kestrel chasing a goldfinch but to no avail. I saw the full pursuit, including the kestrel give up and fly back to its post: a dead poplar. I took the chance to actually sketch the bird, taking note of shape, posture, flight, and plumage details. This is actually extremely effective as a learning tool (even if it is such a familiar species) and I wish I would have sketched more in the field when I was younger. Now I just get lazy.

Also, Monday morning I went to Two Creeks with my brother who’s training for Ironman Florida in November. He wanted to get some trail runs because it focuses attention on leg muscles you don’t normally use when running on flat ground. I took the opportunity to check out an area I rarely go to. It was slightly disappointing (very quiet) but still a nice area to hike even if the bird life isn’t abundant.

Here’s my list for the weekend:

Double-crested Cormorant (I hope to make a blog post shortly to give my thoughts on the planned Cormorant cull that’s supposed to take place soon).
Great Blue Heron (many including both adults and juveniles)
Great Egret ( 10+ at the northwest bridge of Hillman Marsh. I bet there were a lot at Muddy Creek just north of Wheatley Harbour, often a great place for shorebirds, waders, and waterfowl…not to mention rarities: I’ve seen Am. White Pelican and Ruff in this location).
Canada Goose (some migrating)
Northern Shoveler (made up of females and eclipse-plumages males)
Blue-winged Teal (pair)
Turkey Vulture (a few)
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk (a few migrating)
Cooper’s Hawk (2 at Hillman)
Broad-winged Hawk (150+ over weekend)
Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle (1 adult flying low over a field while I was driving to Windsor)
American Kestrel (many – migrating as well as hunting in the fields around my house; males and females)
Greater Yellowlegs (many)
Lesser Yellowlegs (a few)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay (many migrating – Hillman, Sea Cliff, Two Creeks, as well as over my house)
American Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1 at Hillman Marsh entrance)
Marsh Wren (1 singing at Hillman)
American Robin (many migrating – huge numbers at Two Creeks)
European Starling (many migrating – enormous flocks on the way to Chatham to the Greyhound station)
American Pipit (1 at Hillman)
Common Yellowthroat (5+)
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
Red-winged Blackbird (many migrating, especially on Sunday over Hillman Marsh)
America Goldfinch (many migrating, large numbers over my house)
House Sparrow

Total Species: 37 (low because I didn’t get a chance to do much woodland birding, thereby missing countless vireos, warblers, flycatchers, etc.).

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