Monday, December 31, 2012

Ontario Big Year: #305 - Purple Sandpiper

It's been a great year of birding for me in Ontario. Of course, I want to do a few summary posts of my year in the near future but this post will just be about my last new year bird of 2012: Purple Sandpiper.

A fireplace. A chair. A window. A coffee. A book.

Oh yes, I was in my happy place. I was relaxing at home, periodically looking out at the birds at my feeder, when my phone vibrated in my pocket. A direct message on Twitter from @blacklite9900. Interesting. I opened my Messages and there in my inbox was the following message:

"Don't know if you're working...PUSA at the tip" I kid you not, my first reaction was, 'that is one helluva late Purple Martin.' I facepalmed. 'You fool,' I thought to myself, 'it's a Purple Sandpiper. RUN!!!'

I scrambled around the house grabbing warm clothing for the outdoors, sent Kory a message to say I was on my way, and ran out the door, slipping and sliding across the laneway, scarf sailing.

Snow Buntings flying out of the way, my car smashed against snow drift after snow drift as I plowed my way south to Pelee, sweaty palms gripping the wheel and praying that I wouldn't careen off the road into a ditch on New Years Eve.

'With my luck,' I thought, 'I'll run into a ride program.'
Imagine it!

Police Officer, "Have you had anything to drink today?"
Police Officer: "Sir, please take your hands away from my holster and blow into this breathalyzer."

Eventually arriving at the Tip, I walked at a quick pace to the end and spotted Kory, Alan Wormington, and Richard Carr looking through their scopes. I somehow managed to get to them without slipping and falling (I assumed this would happen). I aimed my scope at the Tip and got the Purple, feeding on the east side with a group of European Starlings.


Huge thanks to Kory for alerting me of this bird and thanks to Al and Richard for finding it.

Other highlights at the Tip while I was there included White-winged Scoter, Horned Grebe, Savannah Sparrow, American Pipit, and a hybrid Herring x Great Black-backed Gull.

A great way to end the year!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The earth, tireless and now quite familiar after 4.5 billion years of rotation, continues its steady roll eastward, stars and planets disappearing under the sun's injection of light, driving the night sky to the west. Those still dreaming miss the sun's needle-tip peak pierce the horizon, sending cords of colour across the sky. Clouds, pink and purple, bleed out onto the plains, a new day's first breath heard on the winds blown off James Bay carrying the far-away howl of a loon.

The morning burgeons with activity until it reaches a plateau, early exhilaration waning as the day tips over into afternoon. The sun and moon, bored, begin to play gravitational tug-of-war, receding coastal waters helplessly grasp at loose sand, pulled by invisible tethers. A teaming tidal flat is revealed, a feeding factory of infinitesimal feasts: invertebrates facing their demise to shorebird bills knitting, probing, twisting and intruding their way into the moist terrain, tongues like conveyer belts leading to inner assembly lines. Tiny beings decimated by stomach acid, broken down and gizzard-ground into nutrients absorbed into the body, the mechanism for migrating machines to begin their long flight south.

A White-rumped Sandpiper leaves a line of imprints in the mud while she feeds. She is one of thousands, the coastal sand now a brocade of myriad criss-crosses. She is just about ready for her long flight, having eaten to excess. The winds are in her favour. This is not her first flight; she has made this trip six times before. There is urgency in her movements. She will fly out today.

A distant pair of eyes looks on. The flock is scanned from an elevated perch, a large piece of driftwood, a giant's bone wedged against the coastline. The watcher knows that patience will be rewarded. Many minutes pass. A suitable target is found. Talons dig into the wood in anticipation. The falcon, a shadow, hungry, lets go its perch and takes to the sky silently, cutting through the air toward the centre of the crowd.

A commotion. The White-rumped Sandpiper senses movement at the edge of the flock. Her mind switches instantly from food to fear. She joins the chaos of flapping wings in the air, her adaptations allowing her to mirror every movement of the group, as if all of these individual beings were a single surging organism. A blemish in the flock approaches, a larger presence at her rear. It causes her to err and lose sync from her surrounding kin. Her instincts bank her sharply to the left, but her pursuer stays mere inches behind her. She tries to fly back toward the flock but the rest of the birds have already flown too far down the coast.

Though her energy stores are high, the speed of her flight and the maneuvers she is forced to make begin to tire her. The falcon is relentless. She manipulates her wings and splashes into a pool of water below, her pursuer speeding over her. She takes flight immediately. She adds a few yards between herself and the falcon, which somersaults as it circles back in her direction. The distance between predator and prey lessens. She tries one more time to bank but this time the falcon has read her next move.

Talons tear through feathers and skin and the White-rumped Sandpiper is smashed against the ground. She twists a wing free and pushes it against the earth to throw off her attacker but her torn body is already too weak. She will not make the flight south. She feels another stab, a sharp beak puncturing her chest. She ceases to struggle. Her vision blurs. Her heart, racing just seconds before, stops.

The Peregrine Falcon wastes little time in its success. Grasping its meal in its talons, it flies back to its perch. No amount of meat can be squandered. This is survival. The falcon eats to its fill until little remains, and eventually flies back toward the forest.

The day wastes away. The first presence of the returning night is felt in the drop of degrees as grey and white feathers float away on the surface of the risen tide. The moon returns and new spirits rise to join the dance in the sky. Those still bound to Earth look upward and marvel at the wonder of the Northern Lights, their eyes reflecting the shifting sheets of radiant green.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#304 Cave Swallow!

This morning I arrived at the Tip at about 8:30 hoping that the change in temperature would perhaps get a Cave Swallow on the move. I wasn't disappointed. It ended up being one of the first birds I saw!

As I was walking past the Solar Panel Display on my way to the Tip, I was watching a flock of American Robins flying by and then thought, wait, what is that small thing? I brought my bins up. A SWALLOW! I watched it bank and saw its rump, then its throat, and that's when my heart skipped. Pale, Pale, Pale. Though I certainly wish I would have had a better look (like the one that was within 5 feet of birders at the Tip a week before!), I saw it well enough (LIFER!) and I continued to watch it as it flew against strong west winds almost over the lake, then turned and headed southeast. I hurried to the Tip thinking it might have been hanging around down there out of the wind but never relocated it. This species was my 304th in Ontario this year. Although my Big Year definitely slowed down once I hit 300, I was always hoping to reach 305 so that should be attainable w/ one more month to go (Purple Sandpiper...?). 

I was later joined by Alan Wormington and Richard Carr but none of us stuck around long as there wasn't much activity on the lake. Large numbers of scaups and Redhead off the east side, a couple of Common Loon flyovers, about a dozen distant Tundra Swans, a handful of Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye, 4 Horned Grebes, only 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, and of course, lots of Red-breasted Mergansers.

My view of the Tip this morning.

There was a decent number of raptors flying today on account of the winds including Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper's Hawks, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, and Merlin. Reminded me of my time helping out w/ the hawk watch at Holiday Beach Conservation Area this fall. Looking forward to reading the results of the count from there today. Thanks to my good friend, Vee, for somehow managing to memify my love of hawks w/ Jeremy Renner:

I also finally checked out the new sculpture near the entrance of Point Pelee where the old admin building used to be. The artist is Teresa Altiman and the sculpture is of a turtle, symbolizing the Ojibwe legend of Turtle Island. There are four feathers hanging around the turtle that represent the four directions that people travel from to visit Point Pelee.

The sculpture stands upon a rock w/ this inscription:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Them Rhode Island Reds

Those who follow me on Instagram (@lesliejh85) know I love my chickens. Followers are treated to (subjected to...?) photos of them doing everything from stealing seed from under my birdfeeder to dirt-bathing in our flower gardens. It was only a matter of time before they were a topic of a blog post. 

Our farm used to only have sheep, cows, goats, and rabbits. Not surprisingly, I was pushing to add birds to the menagerie. I wanted to get a flock of Helmeted Guinefowl or an Emu but there were some associated problems. Guineafowl are apparently quite raucous and I read they can be bad for eating snakes. Emus are darned expensive and I couldn't bear having it end up as a burger for the rest of my family to eat. Then, early this fall, my dad found some free Rhode Island Reds on Kijiji. A total of 26 birds, they were advertised as being egg-layers (each lays an egg every other day), free range, and their meat isn't good for eating. Perfect.

When we first brought them home, I was trying to get my dad to keep them in our chicken coop for a couple days to acclimatize them to our farm before letting them out (this is imperative for guineafowl) but when we released them, he left the doors to the coop open and they quickly started to run all over the place. I kept madly running around trying to herd them back to the coop but they were too curious and wanted to investigate their new surroundings.

On the first day they turned our backyard into Kakariko Village.

I thought for sure we'd lose half of them by that night and have calls from neighbouring farmers asking if all the chickens running through their yards were ours but fortunately, the chickens immediately took to our property and stuck around. We do feed them in the coop each evening so that helps to keep them coming back.

I instantly fell in love with them. They're so curious about everything and hilarious. They follow all of us wherever we go on our property but if you turn around and start walking back toward them, they start nervously clucking (I've become very good at imitating this nervous call and it gets them really riled up). All of them are tame but they stay just out of reach to the point of frustration. Basically they let you get within a hands length and then start walking away. I've only been able to catch a couple of them so far but we try not to do it often to keep them stress-free. Almost every time I step out the door, I'm greeted to a group of wobbling chickens running full speed toward me.

As time goes on, they're getting more brave, too. They've ventured into our front yard now where my feeder system is. I'm involved in Project Feederwatch this winter so I was trying to think of ways of preventing them from eating my seed but I decided it's just too much a hassle. They're like squirrels. They'll find a way. It hasn't mattered too much yet anyway because the only thing that's come to my feeder so far is an American Goldfinch pair. I expect a better turn out after the first snowfall. 

Project Feederwatch #fail

Our Rhode Islanders also love the dirt. I've never seen any creature take such vigorous dirt baths. They dig a hole in soft soil and scratch and toss it up onto their feathers and then roll around in it. It keeps their feathers clean and healthy for better insulation and getting rid of parasites.

Fine now but wait until they start digging out our annuals.

And the eggs! The eggs taste spectacular. We get about 12-18/day so we've been constantly looking up new recipes. What I can't believe is how eggy they taste. It makes me realize how much better food from free-range animals tastes than the tasteless watered-down versions you buy at grocery stores (from caged birds). Of course, 12-18 eggs a day is hard to keep up w/ so we give out a lot of eggs to family and friends.

I'm hoping they all survive the winter. It's hard to get an accurate count because some of them roost in our shed at night and during the day, they can be found virtually anywhere around the property. I'll end w/ a photo of one of our Reds settling in for the night.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Delaurier Big Sit

Although I had to work this afternoon, I still made it to Pelee for the morning and did a Big Sit w/ Marianne at the Delaurier parking lot. I'm really starting to enjoy these sits. On a north wind, it's a great way to just stay in one spot and wait and see what flies over. We've had good success each time we've tried it.

Though there was a Cave Swallow seen at the Tip this morning just before I was leaving the park, I was still very happy to get 2 new birds for my Point Pelee list. They were Bohemian Waxwing and Red Crossbill, both of which were flyovers and seen by the 4 of us who were observing (Mike Tate and Bob Cermak joined us for a couple hours of the Sit). We also had a number of Common Redpolls, White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfinches. Birds we hoped for but didn't get included Pine Grosbeak (long shot) and Evening Grosbeak. As I'm writing this, I see that Mike Tate posted our sightings to Ontbirds, which I'm happy about since Pelee gets under-reported this time of year even though it's a great place to be birding!

It was a chilly start and foggy (like pea soup fog) but once the sun broke up the haze, we had a decent day w/ bursts of birds flying over followed by periods of lulls where nothing seemed to be moving. Great day of catching up w/ two awesome Ottawa birders, having laughs w/ Marianne, and getting a good count of winter finches for Pelee.

Below is our eBird list from this morning as well as a smaller list from the beach at Pioneer. When we heard about the Cave Swallow at the west beach at the Tip, we tried the beach across from Delaurier to see if we'd be lucky getting a such luck. I'll almost certainly be out again on Monday looking for the last remaining Cave Swallows in Ontario.

Delaurier list:

Pioneer list:

Instagram of Delaurier parking lot when we arrived. Beautiful morning.

Finally, here's a link to Marianne's blog post on our morning over at The Pelee Chickadee:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Goodbye Letter

Dear Ford Windstar,

It is with great sadness that I write this but after 10 years, I think it's time we move on. The rust, the ratting sounds, the heat not working, the rust, the garbage all over the floor, the gas-guzzling. It's just...I need something...newer. I hope you'll understand.

I've never told you this, but you weren't my first ride. Yes, before I started to drive you, there was another...a Green Aerostar. But it had nothing on you, trust me. Besides, I was only a passenger before it was totaled in a ditch. And then, well, there was a Blue Windstar, but that was just a rebound. There were two trucks and a car, too. But of all the vehicles I drove, you were the best.

We sure did share some great memories, didn't we? Remember the day you earned the nickname, Silver Bullet? When you and I raced out to Wheatley Harbour to see a red-morph Ruff in Muddy Creek? We never did top the speed we clocked in at that day. Birders watching our approach said they could hear the sonic boom when we broke the sound barrier.

Then there were all those weekends during highschool where we cruised around Leamington for hours with nothing to do. Oh yeah, those were the days. We were so cool...

Or in the later years when we gave people rides and they had to stand in the back because the seats were out and the floor was covered in sheep manure? Oh yes, you were a farm van, shamelessly, through and through. 

And the lifers! California Gull, Sabine's Gull, Neotropic Cormorant, Spotted Towhee, Great Gray Owl, Ross's Goose, Bell's Vireo. You drove me to all of them. You were dependable to the end...even this fall when I thought every drive was our last.

On that note, I must apologize for what I put you through this last month. It's my fault that you're finally being retired. I thought for sure you could make it up the incline at the end of Concession E....but I should have listened when you were struggling instead of impatiently pumping my boot on the gas. I just really wanted to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Once that muffler came loose, you were never the same. Now you sound like a ticking time bomb and I have to admit, I'm a bit afraid to be close to you when you're turned on.

This morning you gave me my last ride. I didn't see any lifers, no Pelee birds, no year birds, but I still had a great time. By Thursday, you will be dismantled and your parts sold separately. Much of you will be scrapped. However, I'll always have our last bird sighting together, a flock of Horned Larks while I turned into my lane.

It seems fitting that on our last drive together, it rained the entire time.

Goodbye, Silver Bullet.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pelee Birding

I had a good day birding w/ Marianne around the Pelee Birding Circle today. Our day started early at the Tip on account of southwest winds (I still need any jaeger species this year believe it or not!). It was very nice to see the number of birders at the Tip this morning w/ a total of 7 of us scanning for most of the morning. I got to congratulate Josh Vandermeulen in person on his Big Year record. He, along w/ Marianne and I, were hoping for a Cave Swallow flyby at the Tip. It's possible 1 or some will show up in the next few days, especially on Tuesday when a cold front passes through. Unfortunately not a single swallow flew by today.

Observers at the Tip of Pelee

The highlight was a Black-legged Kittiwake that Marianne spotted first and eventually everyone got on it. Blake had a distant Red-throated Loon and a Northern Goshawk making a brief appearance was a new Pelee bird for me, so a personal highlight there. Though I consider a Kittiwake I had last year my first for the Pelee area, it was on the brink of death (found later the same day dead and sent to the ROM) so this flyby was a bit of a more exciting sighting. Not too much activity besides, though there were a good number of goldfinches and siskins flying over as well as a single Snow Bunting. I was hoping for an Evening Grosbeak as Sarah Rupert had a number of them in the Visitor Centre parking lot this week. I need that for my Pelee List (as well as Red Crossbill...this might be the year).

Later in the day, Marianne and I drove the border of Hillman Marsh and came up w/ a decent flock of Dunlin and a single Killdeer. Not much else around but we did have a good number of American Tree Sparrows on the dead end of Seacliff Drive E.

Our next stop was Wheatley Harbour where we met up w/ Brandon Holden and Josh. There was a whole lotta nothing!!

We finished the day w/ a slow walk through Two Creeks Conservation Area, which gave us a bit of time to talk about life and end the day on a pleasant note. Our only birding highlight was an Eastern Phoebe, now a "confirm" bird on eBird since we've rolled over into November.

We also had a couple herptiles today including a Gartersnake in the Sparrow Fields of Pelee and a Spring Peeper calling from Seacliff Drive E. Only a sulphur and an unidentified butterfly that was likely a Buckeye in the insect department.

I'll be birding again tomorrow and hope for at least 1 new year bird (considering any jaeger or a Cave Swallow would be new for my year, it's not actually asking for too much!). There are a lot of eyes in the Pelee Circle this week though so something rare is bound to show up. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

#303 - Snow Bunting (!)

Yessir, I got my 1st Snow Bunting o' the year in Nov. Isn't that redonk?! I mean come on! A common Code 1 on 11/1/12 instead of 1/11/12. And it was a twitch! Sarah Rupert tweeted to tell me where one was hanging out behind Towlie's Harbour in Leamington and I had to drive out to get it. In my defense, I am from the deep south where they're just arriving.

Oh well, I've seen one now so y'all know I'll see a flock of 50 tomorrow. There wasn't much else around Pelee Days Inn. The long-staying group of shorebirds has finally departed.

Only other bird of note for the day was a juvenile Red-necked Grebe at Hillman Marsh (N Lakeshore side) along w/ a good # of Horned Grebes and Common Loons. As far as I remember, this is a new species for my Point Pelee List so I was quite pleased w/ it. There was also an Iceland Gull on the lake at this location and LOTS of Bonaparte's Gulls (no Black-headed Gulls or Ross's Gulls mixed in unfortunately).

Going to Pelee in the morning w/ Marianne so we're hoping for a Hurricane bird if we're really lucky. I'd be beyond happy if I got another year bird.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Point Edward - October 30

With the Holiday Beach hawk count shut down due to the stormy weather and severe winds, I had a free day to roam. Though it would seem Van Wagner's was the place to be (Wilson's AND Leach's Storm-Petrels, jaegers, Purple Sandpipers, Brant, Black-legged Kittiwake, etc.! and I know I shouldn't do this to myself, but if I had spent the day there today, I would have potentially seen 7 year birds, 5 Ontario birds, and 4 lifers), I went to a place a bit closer for me, Point Edward near Sarnia (for those who have seen the van I drive for birding, you know that even Point Edward was a stretch for such a rust-infected rust-bucket). Hurricane Sandy and the resulting weather in the province is moving a lot of birds around, producing pretty unbelievable rarities, and making things quite exciting for Ontario birders looking to see what else shows up in the next few days (oh, a Razorbill, too, waa?!). All in all, I had a great day at Point Edward.

This was the first time I'd visited the spot. It was quite the scene. You essentially parked your car at the south end of Lake Huron and pray for birds to get blown into your windshield so you can see them through the wind and rain while turning on your (non-existent in my rust heap) heat periodically to remember what fingers feel like but in all seriousness, this is actually as much fun as one can have as a birder because, well, I mean, come on now(!) you're sitting w/ other birders in a row of cars in a storm scanning birds being blown all over the place and shouting out sightings from cracked windows while trying to adjust your scope that's propped up with your emergency brake and when every once in a while you run out of the vehicle to go shout to another birder, water splats at you from all angles like running through a car wash despite winds only coming from one direction and then you find out you missed a distant jaeger. I loved it.

Spent the time watching the action w/ Andrew Keaveney, Blake Mann, and Josh & Michael Bouman for about 6 hours. A lot of Brant are in the area right now. I estimated around 125 birds but I'm sure that's a conservative count. It was hard to get an accurate count as birds would fly by in flocks, land on the lake and then get pushed back into the river where they flew back out again into the lake. This happened all day. Bonaparte's, Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls were all present in good numbers (5 Great Black-backed and 1 Lesser Black-backed were also present) but the highlights were 2 juvenile Sabine's Gulls (lifer!) and 3 juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake (new year bird). We also had a gull that was a probable "Nelson's" Gull, a hybrid Herring X Glaucous. The bird was large and pale and had a Glaucous appearance but had brown to dark grey wingtips.

Other birds included 3 Red-necked Grebes, good numbers of White-winged and Black Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Canvasback, Redhead, lots of scaups, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, a handful of Mallards, and a flock of Sanderlings. No Red Phalaropes while I was there but others had one earlier in the morning. My one disappointment was missing the jaegers that were spotted. I blame my windshield wipers, which don't work properly...they basically just press water around on the window rather than off it so that when I looked through, I was just seeing a kind of grey smear.

I have job training tomorrow but boy do I wish I could spend the day at Van Wagner's. I look forward to seeing what shows up on Lake Ontario tomorrow in the upcoming days.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Point Pelee Saturday, October 27

Hoping to see a Cave Swallow during the 2012 invasion, I spent Friday driving around the Onion Fields with my mum to try to see any that might be hunkered down in the rain or flying by Wheatley Harbour. We found very few birds (not even a Snow Bunting).

So, on Saturday, Marianne and I decided to try a different approach and park ourselves at the Tip of Point Pelee to see if any flew by in the late morning. I had a wedding in Cambridge to go to later in the day so my time was limited to the morning, which was rainy/cloudy the entire time. However, it was decent down there despite this, with many Common Loon flybys, a couple Bald Eagles and Red-shouldered Hawks overhead, lots of Bonaparte's Gulls, and a single American White Pelican that flew in over the rough waters on the lake and landed on the sandy spit off the Tip.

American White Pelican Instagram

American White Pelican #nofilter

Not a single swallow went by in the morning so we made our way up to Sparrow Field. Not a bad day for passerines with many Song, Swamp, White-crowned, and Chipping Sparrows, w/ singles of White-throated, Fox, and American Tree Sparrow. We also had a Gray Catbird and later had a Northern Saw-whet Owl pointed out to us by a group led by Paul Pratt.

Shy Northern Saw-whet Owl

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pelee Birding Circle - still no Snow Bunting!

Originally I had planned to get out birding early today but after waking up very early to do chores around the farm I went back to sleep for a bit and didn't get out until 11am. Oh well.

I started the day behind Pelee Days Inn. Not much changed overnight though there seemed to be less of everything. Fewer Lesser Yellowlegs, only 2 Least Sandpipers found out of the group of 6 that's been hanging out, and definitely fewer Canada Geese. Still a few Pectorals around and Killdeer but I didn't see any Semipalmated Plover this time around. American Golden-Plover outnumbered Black-bellied there today.

Next was lunch. Anyone visiting the Pelee area MUST go to Birdies Perch, located right across from Pelee Wings Nature Shop. They make the best darn vegetarian wrap you could ask for, called the Green Goddess. I've had about 20 of them since moving back to Essex County. The restaurant is currently rated #1 on Trip Advisor: Birdies Perch Trip Advisor.Unfortunately, I believe it's closing at the end of October so we'll have to wait until next spring to enjoy it again but they are going to do wonderful during the month of May. I'm excited to see what business is like there when so many birders are around.

The Onion Fields didn't produce anything of note for me this afternoon unfortunately but things picked up when I visited Hillman Marsh. I had got a text from Marianne saying she had more Snow Buntings flying over her house so I thought Hillman might give me a good clear open sky to see/hear one flying by. No such luck but I did get migrating raptors including 2 Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, Sharpies, Turkey Vultures, and a single American Kestrel. A few Tree Swallows are still around the area and I had a late Nashville Warbler near the visitor centre.

Another highlight along the edge of the Shorebird Cell was a large # of Common Checkered Skipper. My count got up to 67 being as accurate as possible. I didn't continue along the trail past the Shorebird Cell so there may have been more. They were flying up from the ground every few steps I took. I saw more Checkered Skippers today than the combined total in my whole life. I also had a single Gray Hairstreak along this trail, Orange Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes, and one Monarch.

I finished up the day at Wheatley Harbour (after driving around the fields adjacent to Hillman trying to flush up a Snow Bunting from the side of the road...). Not much going on there besides a good number of migrating Bonaparte's Gulls, 7 Great Black-backed Gulls, and a Palm Warbler. I tried for the Nelson's Sparrow reported by Andrew Keaveney a few days ago but couldn't pish out anything interesting from the bushes at the harbour's edge.

Tomorrow, I plan to grab a lawn chair and park my keester on our back porch and wait for a Snow Bunting to fly over to get to 301. I just want that species out of the way!

And on that note, my Big Year has definitely slowed down after hitting 300. I can't do the same level of chasing I was doing earlier in the year to reach my goal so I'm relying on local rarities to bump my # up at this point. I'd love to go to Ottawa to get Barrow's Goldeneye, Western Grebe, and Tufted Duck but that's so implausible right now it's laughable.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Holiday Beach Praised for Hawk Watching

I guess since I'm given a couple of close-ups in this news report, I figured I'd throw it on here for folks to see. Holiday Beach really is a wonderful place to visit and I love hawk-watching here in the fall.

And one more link:

A Day at Pelee and Surrounding Area

Today, Marianne and I did a tour of the Point Pelee Birding Circle almost from one end to the other. We started at the Tip at 8am to try for jaegers, gulls, and anything else that might fly by (was it too much to ask for a Cave Swallow before November?). Shortly after we arrived at the Tip, we were joined by Kory Renaud who was at 249 for his Essex County Big Year and hoping to get his 250th bird.

There were a decent number of Bonaparte's migrating by and lots of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls flying around at the Tip and we examined everything closely for a late Sabine's Gull or a jaeger flying through but no luck this morning. Lots of Red-breasted Merganser are at the Tip now and an assortment of ducks are flying by. We saw Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Surf Scoter, and Ruddy Duck.

A few raptors were turning back over the Tip including Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, and 2 Peregrine Falcons. One of the falcons, a juvenile, had caught a Blue Jay and was actually eating it mid-flight!

In the shorebird department, we saw the most southern Least Sandpiper in mainland Canada struggling against the wind, walking on a 45 degree angle. When we first arrived, we also had a single Sanderling on the sandbar island off the Tip. A single Killdeer flew over.

One of the highlights was a gull that we first thought could have been the Vega Gull but after examining it closer, realized it was a hybrid of some kind. It appeared slightly larger and definitely taller (long-legged) than surrounding Herring Gulls with a dark grey mantle. Its legs were the same pink colour of a Great Black-backed Gull and the bill was larger than surrounding Herring Gulls. From our distance, the eye appeared dark and Marianne and Kory noted that its head appeared quite flat. I'm leaning toward Great Black-backed X Herring Gull due to bill size and leg colour.

Here's an iScoped photo (centre bird):

Once we moved on from the gull and started scanning the lake again, our best bird of the morning flew by, a Red-throated Loon. I spotted the approaching loon flying in from the east and noted that its head was held quite low in flight so I wanted to get Marianne and Kory on the bird. Once it got closer, Marianne noted the low head as well and upturned bill. This was Kory's 250th Essex County bird for the year and it was great to share that experience w/ him!

Other birds of note at the Tip were 3 Chimney Swifts, 9 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 32 Tree Swallows, and 1 Barn Swallow (possibly my last for the year?).

After checking out Delaurier and Ander's Footpath (siskins, kinglets, goldfinches, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Phoebes, Purple Finch, Chipping Sparrows, juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatch, creeper, and Blackpoll Warbler), we went for lunch and then decided to check out behind Pelee Days Inn.

Sturgeon Creek's waters are very low right now so there are lots of mudflats for small groups of shorebirds. The set of shorebirds was almost identical to the birds I had a couple evenings ago at the same location: 40 Dunlin, a handful of Lesser Yellowlegs, 6 Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, a good number of Black-bellied Plover w/ a single American Golden-Plover, a couple Pectoral Sandpipers, and 2 Semipalmated Plovers.

I also noticed 6 interesting Canada Geese that were in an obvious group separate from the rest of the ~200 geese in the creek. They were all noticeably buffier at the base of the black neck and shorter-necked than the rest of the flock. I know there is much variation across Canada Goose subspecies so I want to be careful about calling them anything but they were definitely staying together as a group in the larger overall flock and stood out as distinct birds.

 Here are the group of 6. The far left and right birds show the buffy base of neck w/ no white.

Comparing the two birds in the water, the goose on the left has a shorter neck, buffier front, smaller size, and slightly smaller bill.

We ended the day taking a quick drive around the Onion Fields and finishing up at the southeast end of Hillman Marsh. Not too much to note besides a Spotted Sandpiper found by Marianne on the beach at Hillman. Great day overall.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Holiday Beach Raptors and Kingsville area birding

I only had to help out w/ the Holiday Beach Hawk Count on Wednesday this week so I decided on Thursday to head out and do some birding around Essex County.

First off, the raptor count has been great. I agreed to help count 2 days/week during the duration of the counting season right after I got back from James Bay. Although I've missed the only 2 Swainson's Hawks that have flown over by one day this fall (the species would be an Ontario Year Bird and lifer), I've had a lot of good sightings there and it's certainly giving me a new appreciation for Official Counters. There are times when so many Turkey Vultures, Blue Jays, blackbirds, crows, and finches are flying over that you have up to 4 tickers in hand clicking away and trying to get an accurate count! A few highlights have been the huge numbers of Blue Jays (my highest day so far was 37,380 birds), likely one of my highest count of Tree Swallows I've ever had in an hour span (1,032 streaming by the tower), and the large numbers of ducks to sort through each day on the marsh adjacent to the tower. Another highlight at the beginning of the raptor season was the number of Soras that would start screaming in the marsh each time hunters' guns went off. In my time counting I've only had one juvenile Golden Eagle (I expect more), a few Red-shouldered Hawks (definitely expect more!) and not nearly the numbers of Red-tailed Hawks that will eventually fly over.

Back to Thursday. Andrew Keaveney and I checked out a few spots along the Lake Erie shoreline once the storms cleared, starting w/ Leamington Marina. Literally nothing interesting there so we tried Kingsville Marina where it was closed off due to construction! We then tried a couple places I've never birded before despite growing up in the area (slaps wrist dutifully). The stops included Lakeside Park, which has a very interesting beach with sandbars reaching well out into the lake along the shoreline where large groups of loafing gulls were sitting, and Cedar Island, another good spot for gulls. The only birds of note were a single Lesser Black-backed Gull, a good number of Great Black-backed Gulls, 2 Sanderlings, and a 90% sure Semipalmated Sandpiper, that was distant but showed most of the field marks we needed to safely say it wasn't any of the other peeps (well, except maybe Western but I won't go there....). I'll certainly be birding these areas again in the future having now been introduced to them.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

My 300 (full breakdown will come at the end of 2012)



Here they are
(in taxanomical order):
All 300.

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Tundra Swan
Wood Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
King Eider
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ruffed Grouse
Spruce Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Magnificent Frigatebird
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
King Rail
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Upland Sandpiper
Hudsonian Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
American Woodcock
Wilson's Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Little Gull
Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Iceland Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Snowy Owl
Barred Owl
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Common Nighthawk
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Thick-billed Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Gray Jay
Blue Jay
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Fish Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Bohemian Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Lapland Longspur
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Spotted Towhee
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Le Conte's Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
Pine Grosbeak
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Hoary Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow