Friday, March 28, 2008

Weekend Reflections

Last week, I took a trip home to Leamington for the Easter Weekend and, without much effort, saw some good spring birds there. The highlight by far were the high numbers of Tundra Swans in the onion fields north of Pelee (Concession D) and also flying over at various locations. Also along Concession D were Northern Pintails, new for my year list, and a few of the usual suspects. I tried Wheatley Harbour for Canvasback and a pink-billed Greater Scaup Marianne told me about but all were MIA. I was also pleased to get out to the countryside to see good numbers of Grackles (not Boat-tailed as a poor Ontbirds poster accidentally reported!), Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Killdeer, Horned Lark, and a few others, all of which are virtually absent within Toronto. This weekend, I'm probably going to try to find some Bohemian Waxwings flocks that are being reported frequently from Leslie Street.

On a personal note, last Monday marked the anniversary of my grandpa's passing last year. Although he was suffering from dementia in his last few years, I could always count on him immediately asking if I had seen any good birds every time I visited him. When he was still at home and I had to call from Guelph, he would tell me what birds he had at his feeder, always with excitement in his voice. Above all though, his favourite bird was the Purple Martin and he maintained martin houses for years. He took me birding quite a few times when I was younger to Wheatley Harbour, Hillman Marsh, and Holiday Harbour. I could tell he enjoyed the trips as much as I did.

My Grandma, Mom, and I visited his resting place in the early afternoon on Monday. As we were getting out of the car, a large flock of Tundra Swans in 'V' formation flew over the graveyard singing their melancholy notes. It's the kind of moment we used to love sharing together. When you simply have to stop, forget everything around you, and admire the flock in silence.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Half-lifer! - Harlequin Duck male

Someone told me this week that Sunday was supposed to go below 0 degrees but fortunately, the afternoon ended up being really nice (except for a chilly wind). Therefore, I decided to try again for the male Harlequin and after about 10 minutes of being at Humber Bay East, I found it along with the 2 females. I had seen a single female a while back on a TOC trip but I missed the male then. Thankfully it stuck around. There were quite a few people taking photos and watching the trio. They were right where the latest poster on Ontbirds said they had them Saturday. I was able to see the male within about 30 feet of the shoreline, diving and sometimes being chased by the other waterfowl present (Long-tailed Ducks and Greater Scaups).

What a beautiful bird. My best bird of 2008 so far. There will be more good birds though. The year has just started and May is just around the corner. I'm trying for a week to two weeks off during spring migration and I'll be making the most of it. I really can't wait. I also want to be around the area so I'm not out of the loop on news of the cull as I'm sure it will be a hot topic of debate at Pelee this spring.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is Histrionicus Histrionicus History?

Probably not. The more likely situation? I didn't check every possible place. The trio of Harlequin Ducks has been hanging out at Humber Bay East for weeks now; a male and two females which have been described as being "easy to find" by many. So unless they're actually gone, which I don't think is the case, I'll probably see them soon. I just have to do a more extensive search next time. I was on a schedule today and it was tough to leave the park on such a beautiful day. The snow was melting, I was actually sweating in a hoodie and winter jacket, and I was able to wear my sneakers without my toes freezing solid.

Other birds present were the usual suspects. All three Mergansers, Long-tailed Duck, a ton of Mallard and Canada Geese, the family of Trumpeter Swans, Gadwall, Scaup, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and a few Horned Grebes. A singing Cardinal was a nice addition. Apparently the temperature is supposed to drop tonight but I hope it doesn't stay cold for long. It only takes one day like today to really bring on the winter weariness.

And as a last note, congratulations on getting married, Marianne!!!

Update: As I expected, the male Harlequin was reported today between 4:30-6:00pm. I'll be back out there looking for it tomorrow then! This time I'm checking every spot.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I So Hate Hiatuses

No, I have not quit birding. I have, however, neglected Cerulean Sky for far too long. But not to fear. I'm back, the weather is showing signs of warmth, early migrants are being reported, male passerines are beginning to sing, and I am ready to leave the cold and snow behind and enter my favourite season. Spring.

Of course, with spring on the way, some planning must take place. A week vacation is in the works so that I can actually get to Point Pelee this May (it was torture having to miss the entire month of May in 2007 since I was already in the city). Since I'm now quite used to many of the Toronto hot-spots, I'll actually be able to get some good birding done in the city as well.

In the short term, I'm heading out to Humber Bay East this coming Saturday to check out the trio of Harlequin Ducks (2 females and a lucky male). I'm also running out of chances to look for Pine Grosbeak and there are no more reports coming in from the GTA. I've tried various locations, but not frequently enough. I have a valid excuse though, I swear! Before February, I was taking daily walks to the waterfront to look for gulls and waterfowl as well as taking trips to farther-afield GTA locations for Pine Grosbeaks. This was before we were hit with back-to-back storms that left the entire city covered in snow and ice. The other problem. I no longer have winter boots. The boots I was using were not proper winter boots at all to begin with. Now the right boot has a large hole in the ankle, which makes walking through snow cold and painful. To go out birding, I either need to suck it up and purchase winter boots for the remaining bit of winter, or just go out in running shoes and risk frostbite. I'll keep you posted.

Well, the break from extensive birding is over and I'm so glad spring migration is on the way. So, expect a few more posts in the next little while, some of which will likely turn into environmental/ethical rants so be prepared. I have some things to say about the last TOC meeting, a lot to say about the Cormorant cull on Middle Island, and potentially a brief discussion of another controversy regarding Point Pelee...(I'm going to leave that last point vague for the time being).