Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Dove and the Olive Branch

Now that I am working again, I accept that I won't be able to chase every rarity that gets reported in Ontario like I did most of last year. I'm grateful to be employed again (w/ a job I'm enjoying no less!) so I'll easily deal. However, I'm on call this week so when a reliable rarity (White-winged Dove) is within reasonable driving distance (Rondeau Provincial Park), it doesn't take long to decide I'm going to twitch it (after sleeping in....shhhhh).

Well, as things sometimes do, things instantly went wrong.

The entire drive from home to Rondeau was a drive through fog whose consistency was more that of a hearty beef stew than of pea soup, a fog that brought to mind images from Stephen King's The Mist, or José Saramago's Blindness.

It was only when I pulled up to pay at the park office that it started to rain. Canadians are obsessed w/ weather so I often wonder if something is wrong w/ me because I never check it on days when I really should check it (like days I plan to be outside for long periods of time and it calls for rain but I don't pack anything waterproof...?). When I lived in Toronto I would always wear the opposite of what the weather called for (which I hadn't checked anyway). Mark Field can attest. 

                                                                                                      Cut to flashback:



     Ummm, you do realize it's -200 today, right?


     Ohhhh pish posh, I'll be fine! Let's boogie!

JEREMY jumps into car wearing flip flops, boardshorts, and a tank top. 



     Can we go to the hospital?


     Told ya.


The thunderstorm started when I entered the park. I was told at the park office that I was the first person to go through the gates that morning. Her smile said, "Welcome to Rondeau!" but her eyes said, "because what dolt would be stupid enough to be birdwatching right now." I pulled into the Visitor Centre parking lot (the White-winged Dove had been reported from the feeders there) and saw that it was covered in wet ice so I gently applied my breaks and slid from one end of the lot to the other. After eventually coming to a stop in a parking spot that I deemed "close enough", I stepped out of my car and fell right on my face. As I removed my cheek from the icy surface, sure enough, a maintenance vehicle had just entered the lot in time to see me flailing around on the ground. He averted his gaze to spare me further embarrassment (to cover up his laughter...?). He wasn't long at the Centre and by the time I finally found my footing and stood up, he had left. Success! I took a step toward the Visitor Centre, excited and hopeful to see the White-winged Dove!

...and fell on my face. 

Now, at this point, I was like, the definition of -___- but I'd made it this far so I was determined to at least reach the last 20 feet or so to get under shelter and out of the rain and look for the dove. As I dragged myself across the pavement, crying, flashes of lightning threatening to electrocute me into oblivion, the first ounce of doubt (that I'm certain enters every twitcher's mind) entered my mind: "what if I don't see it?"


I WILL see it. I must. It can't end like this. To my utter disbelief, the first bird I saw was the dove. OH GLORIOUS GLORY OF GLORIES! I fell to my knees, swung open my arms, and threw back my head thanking the skies like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption before bringing up my binoculars to......wait what? This wasn't the dove. It was a dove. But not the dove. It was a Mourning Dove. My face darkened as I contemplated jail time for what I was about to do to that Mourning Dove but I took a deep breath and started to scan branches for the dove. Fogged and covered in water, my bins scanned along and came across not 1, not 2, but a total of 4 Mourning Doves. I tried to picture a beach and a calm ocean with Jeremy Renner emerging from the water. Perhaps a different vantage point will help me find the dove. I started to walk along the Tulip Tree Trail, which was now a muddy mess from the deluge. I limped along like some kind of swamp creature and those hearing my moans heard the wailing of a tortured soul trapped in purgatory. Nothing. I squished back to the Visitor Centre awning and watched the feeders. 

I found a 5th Mourning Dove.

Now at this point, the thought crossed my mind that I actually shouldn't see this bird. Seeing the bird would ruin the beauty of such a miserable day. I mean, a story like this, rife with pathetic fallacy, is supposed to push its main character to his/her breaking point, right? A story like this is supposed to end w/ me finally snapping and charging myself into the Visitor Centre wall and knocking myself out, waking up in a hospital bed only to have my doctor tell me that I'll be happy to know that the dove arrived at the feeders as I was carried away in the ambulance. But the author of my story didn't have the heart to do it. This story was to have a happy ending. The rain began to let up.

Slumped against the wall, I just stood there and waited. And waited. The rain stopped. A statue I was. Determined. And then, anti-climatically, there it was. It was just...there. It flew in right in front of me. Dropped an olive branch at my feet. Flew away and ate seeds within 20 feet of my own. I admired the dove and took notes. Its mixtures of soft browns and greys, ivory-white wing edges, poppy-red legs, and that delicate dab of purple on its nape, so faint it was almost imperceptible. A small, peaceful moment. A moment that reminds me why I watch birds.

As I drove home, the sky opened up. The fog diminished. It was a nice drive. 

I had posted my sighting to Ontbirds to let birders know the White-winged Dove was still present and hoped that others would be able to capture that small, peaceful moment if they decide to chase it. I noticed I had a few replies to my Ontbirds post so I opened one of them to read their congratulations.

"Get a job."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Project FeederWatch

Now being out of the city, I thought it would be a good winter to do Project FeederWatch and so far I have not been disappointed. Project FeederWatch is run by Bird Studies Canada and requires as much effort as you are able to give. Here is simple citizen science at its best, allowing people to submit important bird data on the days they aren't able to leave their house. Here is a link to the main site: Project FeederWatch Canada.

Because I was working two jobs when FeederWatch started, I opted to take down data every two weeks on the hard copy booklet sent out w/ the welcome package, though I sort of wish now that I would had just done everything by computer and inputted data each week (you just have to make sure you leave 5 days b/w your counts so you're restricted to the same two days each week w/ this method). The first few pages of my FeederWatch booklet that I'll be sending in are pretty sparse. Like, two-American-Goldfinch-over-a-two-day-period sparse. Then the first big snowfall happened at the end of December and that changed everything. Within the first day of the big snow, I had American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpecker, Brown-headed Cowbirds, European Starlings, and House Sparrows.

Though Project FeederWatch will only get my data for 2 days out of each two week period, I have kept up a daily list on eBird of everything that's been visiting the feeder.

Here's my Project FeederWatch list for the winter so far (including high counts):

American Goldfinch (2)
Blue Jay (1)
Mourning Dove (1)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
European Starling (16)
American Tree Sparrow (1)
Dark-eyed Junco (including 1 female Oregon) (8)
Brown-headed Cowbird (4)
House Sparrow (25)
Accipiter sp. (1)

Total Species: 10

And here's my Feeder List for the winter period starting December 1, 2012 (including high counts):

Accipiter sp. (1)
Mourning Dove (5)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Blue Jay (4)
American Crow (7)
Black-capped Chickadee (2)
European Starling (16)
American Tree Sparrow (4)
(Slate-colored) Dark-eyed Junco (8)
(Oregon) Dark-eyed Junco (1)
Northern Cardinal (4)
Brown-headed Cowbird (4)
House Finch (4)
American Goldfinch (2)
House Sparrow (52)

Total species: 14

Here are a few of my Instagrams from this winter:

 Male Downy Woodpecker

 Blue Jay

 Black-capped Chickadee

 Brown-headed Cowbird

 House Finches and House Sparrows

 Dark-eyed Junco - female Slate-colored

 Northern Cardinal and House Sparrows

 Dark-eyed Junco - female Oregon looking like a ball w/ a tail

I'm hoping that w/ another blanketing of snow this winter, I'll get some more birds coming around. The last few mild days have been pretty empty out there w/ a recurring Blue Jay and Downy Woodpecker and the occasional House Sparrow but I'm hoping at least a few more species will stop by. Nuthatch, Common Redpoll, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, or dare I go there...a Pine or Evening Grosbeak...would also be great.

My best bird has been, what I'm calling, a female Oregon Junco. I will be submitting a report to the OBRC that is as detailed as I can get to try to have it accepted. I've taken numerous photos now and a couple of rough videos so w/ the right amount of description, hopefully I can finally get an OBRC bird for the Hatt Farm!

Here she is again, iBinned. Unfortunately, w/ the loss of snow cover, she hasn't been at the feeder since January 9. I guess it's time to write and submit the report as I have my doubts I'll see her again. The Oregon subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco was added to the Review List for Southern Ontario in 2012.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Butterflies of 2012

In putting together a mammal and herptile list, I figure I might as well share my butterfly list for last year as well (I'll also eventually get back to birds and post my final 305 bird list from 2012 and a summary at some point!). 2012 was an amazing year for butterflies in Ontario w/ many rarities recorded in high numbers. My personal list is going to be a bit patchy as I'm putting it together from rough notes, emails, and eButterfly entries but I think I can remember most of the species I saw (butterfliers, please let me know if any of my picture ID's are incorrect). One of my new years resolutions this year is to keep better field notes of other wildlife sightings than just birds. Butterflies marked w/ a '*' were lifers.


Silver-spotted Skipper
*Northern Cloudywing

Photo by Mark Field - Rainy River District

*Dreamy Duskywing

Photo by Mark Field - Everard Road, Thunder Bay District

*Common Checkered-Skipper

Photo by me - iBinned (record shot...?)

Common Least Skipper
European Skipper
Fiery Skipper
*Indian Skipper

Photo by Mark Field

*Hobomok Skipper

Photo by Mark Field - Everard Road, Thunder Bay District


Black Swallowtail
Giant Swallotail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Photo by me - Everard Road, Thunder Bay District

Spicebush Swallowtail

Whites and Sulphurs

Cabbage White
*Mustard White - first seen at Moosonee Sewage Lagoons
Clouded Sulphur
*Little Yellow - multiples seen at Point Pelee
*Sleepy Orange - 1 Point Pelee (NW Beach) w/ Marianne Reid Balkwill, Tom Preney, and Russ Jones
*Dainty Sulphur - multiples at Hillman Marsh

Photo by me -Hillman Marsh, Shorebird Cell

Coppers, Hairstreaks, Blues

Bronze Copper

Photo by me - iBinned at Couture Dyke, Hillman Marsh

Banded Hairstreak
*White-M Hairstreak -first seen at Sparrow Field w/ Matt Timpf. Saw another later in the summer w/ Marianne

Photo by me (I need a real camera)

Gray Hairstreak
Eastern Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Summer Azure
*Silvery Blue

Photo by Mark Field - Rainy River District


American Snout
Variegated Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
*Silver-bordered Fritillary

 Photo by Mark Field - Rainy River District

*Silvery Checkerspot

Photo by Mark Field - Agawa Bay

Pearl Crescent

Photo by me - Hillman Marsh

Northern Crescent
Baltimore Checkerspot

Photo by me -Sunnybrook Park, Toronto

Question Mark
Eastern Comma
Mourning Cloak

Photo by Mark Field - Everard Road, Thunder Bay District

American Lady
Painted Lady
Red Admiral
Common Buckeye
 Photo by me - Comber Sewage Lagoons
White Admiral

Photo by Mark Field - Rainy River Sewage Lagoons


 Photo by me - St. Clair National Wildlife Refuge

Hackberry Emperor
Appalachian Eyed Brown
Little Wood Satyr

 Photo by Mark Field - Rocky Point

Common Ringlet
Common Wood-Nymph
Red-spotted Purple

Total Species: 52 
Total Lifers: 14

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Mammal and Herptile Lists of 2012

So I spent a couple hours the other day going through 2012 notes and eBird lists w/ Mark Field, which is always a kind of hilariously disjointed conversation because we always seem to falter something like as follows:

Mark: "Ok, so our Greater White-fronted Goose isn't on eBird. What date was that?"

Jeremy: "That's weird...let me search it. Oh, you're right, it's not on there. I better add it to the list so I'm not missing anything for Cochrane. Do you want me to share that day with you and Anonymous User?"

Mark: "I have some pictures I can send along w/ our report to show it wasn't the Greenland subspecies. Wait...there are a bunch of other subspecies."

Both: *incoherent rambling about scientific names of various subspecies.

Jeremy: "Yeah, when I type it into Explore Data on eBird, it comes up w/ a 'Tule' subspecies. What is that?"

Mark: "Winter Wren...did you see that?"

Jeremy: "Where did my wine go?!?!...........Oh, there it is. I really need to go through my notes to figure out all the mammals I had last year. Oh and the date was September 11."

Mark: "Oh, I spoke with David Beadle and I'm going to send that moth photo to him to identify."

Jeremy: "But so....AAAAACKKKKHHHHH.....HHHH.....CKKKKH..."

Mark: "Are you ok?"

Jeremy: "Sorry, I accidentally deleted something I didn't want to."

And it went on like this...

And yet, in our labyrinthine way, we somehow always manage to finish what we set out to do. And while all this discussion was happening, I went through the Ontario Mammal Atlas and the ROM Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario and figured out my mammal and herptile lists for the year.

Obviously since this wasn't my priority on many of my trips, other wildlife sightings were mostly incidental so I could have seen more if I had tried or paid a bit closer attention but birds were always my top concern. Long story short, we need eMammal.

2012 Mammal List


Virginia Possum – Saw lots of dead ones at the roadside but had one alive one at Walpole Island w/ Mark Field

Shrews and Moles

Shrew sp. (I didn't catch any to identify them by their teeth unfortunately).
     - I also don't recall seeing any moles. Gotta start paying more attention and keeping better notes. Living on the farm now w/ spring on the way, I should have no trouble finding all sorts of cool things around here.


Eastern Red Bat – A beautiful individual at Presqu’ile Provincial Park w/ MayaRicker-Wilson and Mark Field while listening for Barred Owl.
Little Brown Bat - Pelee and elsewhere
    - I know I had other bat species but I didn't identify them at the time. Anyone have any idea what bats would be in the James Bay area during early September? 

Rabbits and Hares

Eastern Cottontail
Snowshoe Hare
European Hare - Essex County w/ Marianne Reid Balkwill


Eastern Chipmunk
    - One of my big disappointments was not remembering to look for Least Chipmunk during my trip to Rainy River.
Woodchuck - One at James Bay near the Longridge Camp was interesting. I see that there is no record of one in that region for the previous Ontario Mammal Atlas (likely due to lack of effort).
Gray Squirrel
Red Squirrel
          - This year, I really want to get over to Pelee Island again to look for Fox Squirrel
American Beaver
Deer Mouse
Meadow Jumping Mouse - outside of Toronto during a survey
Meadow Vole
Common Muskrat
Norway Rat
House Mouse
North American Porcupine - My favourite mammal sighting of the year - w/ Mark Field. It was crossing Highway 17 in southeast of Laird.


Beluga - 3 at the James Bay coast. Another highlight.


Gray Wolf - an individual that approached Mark Peck and I along the shores of James Bay. Unforgettable experience and decent photos taken.
Red Fox - including the CrossMorph at the James Bay Coast and in the Moosonee sewage lagoons. 
Black Bear
Northern Raccoon
Marten - Little Piskwamish along James Bay coast
Striped Skunk
River Otter - Algonquin Provincial Park and Wawa Sewage Lagoons
        - I'm pretty sure I saw a weasel last year as well but have no notes.


White-tailed Deer
Moose - 2 along highways in the north

Reptiles and Amphibians 2012

Frogs and Toads

American Toad
Gray Treefrog
Spring Peeper
Western Chorus Frog
Wood Frog
Northern Leopard Frog
Green Frog
American Bullfrog


Snapping Turtle
Painted Turtle
                MidlandPainted Turtle
                WesternPainted Turtle
Northern Map Turtle
Blanding’s Turtle


Common Five-lined Skink


Common Gartersnake
Northern Watersnake
Dekay’s Brownsnake
Eastern Foxsnake

Not much a snake list considering how many species we have in southwestern Ontario. There are many I hope to come across this year. 

Canada Big Year - Matt Timpf

I would like to bring attention to the Big Year of my good friend, Matt Timpf, who has decided to do a CANADA Big Year in 2013. As soon as I heard, I got very excited as he's a great birder, a great person to bird w/, and well, a great person in general. I wish him the best of luck! I hope I can get him on at least a few rarities in the Pelee Area since Ontario will be his home base during the year. He was also extremely helpful at finding birds for my pursuit to 300 last year in Ontario so I owe him some birds. He is currently planning a trip to the east coast followed by a trip to the west.

I highly recommend checking out his blog. For me, it will be a good way to see what birds are easier/harder to find in areas of the country that I haven't been able to birdwatch yet. I'm also curious to find out what the current record is and how many species one can expect to find in Canada in a calendar year if they put the work in. And of course, w/ any endeavor like this, the birds are wonderful, but it's as much about the discovery of new places and the people that you meet along the way that make a Big Year worthwhile.

Here is a link to Matt's blog:

Monday, January 07, 2013

Jan. 5/6 - Pelee and Surrounding Area Owling

Whenever you decide to sleep in instead of going to the Tip, you always risk missing a rarity. Well, that's exactly what happened last week when an Eared Grebe and a Black-legged Kittiwake were seen at the southernmost point of mainland Canada on one of my days staying home (I'm also at home this morning so let's see what happens down there.....). Fortunately, I got to the Tip on both Saturday and Sunday morning and although I didn't get anything really rare, I wasn't disappointed.

On the 5th, I met Kory and Sarah Renaud and stood in the cold until my toes had had enough. There have been a number of interesting gulls at the Tip lately w/ hybrids, rarities, and winter visitors settling on the peninsula. Waterfowl are also present in huge numbers. On the morning of the 5th, we looked northeast and saw a swarm of ducks fly up from the water. It looked like a cloud of distant midges there were so many! We estimated 50,000 ducks in the group (likely a mix of mergansers, scaups, and scoters).

When I first arrived by myself at the Tip my heart started racing when a shorebird flew from the east beach. I thought, 'What a great way to start my 2013 year list for Essex County! Purple Sandpiper! Ya!' Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Killdeer, which is still a nice bird for this time of year, but I was hopeful for a species that I might miss out on during the rest of the year. Later in the morning, a juvenile Great Blue Heron flew out onto the Tip and rested there briefly before taking flight southwest. Each morning, there are a couple or few American Pipits feeding w/ European Starlings on the beach as well as an assortment of sparrows (Savannah Sparrows on Dec. 31, 2012, Song Sparrow Jan. 5). Later in the morning I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warblers for the year.

After the Tip, we headed to the Onion Fields to try for Snowy Owl and Long-eared Owl. Kory knew of a good spot for Long-eareds that I hadn't been checking and it did not disappoint. I ended up seeing 2 of them in flight and one perched. Great looks.

Jan. 6, Marianne and I started our day out at the Tip as well. See her blog post for the morning here:

Similar morning to the day before but a juvenile Glaucous Gull right on the beach in front of us was one of the highlights (I love this gull species). I also spotted a mystery gull, which I first tried to ID as a GBBG x HERG but something didn't feel right. The bird was HUGE and didn't seem as dark-mantled as the other hybrids of this type we've had at the Tip recently (although I'm sure there's much variation in these hybrids). It was essentially equal in size to the surrounding Great Black-backed Gulls and the Glaucous Gull. That got us wondering if it could be a GBBG x GLGU hybrid. I'll pose the same question as Marianne on here blog. Anyone have any ideas?!

Here are a couple of my own iScoped photos (quality is not scope has fogged in the inside....EEEEEAAAGHHHHH!!! @#$*!!) but it at least gives an idea of the size/shape/mantle colour.

 W/ Glaucous Gull (bottom right):

This afternoon I'm going to try for Short-eared Owl again south of Essex and see if I can find a Northern Shrike out there as well. Yesterday afternoon, I found a Red-headed Woodpecker, which I was quite pleased w/ (have never had one in the winter). It was a transition bird from juvenile to adult plumage. Kory came to see it as well and we ended up hearing a second bird in the same woodlot.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

January 1, 2013

I started my new year w/ a trip to Point Pelee and the Onion Fields this morning. Though I haven't committed to it entirely yet (it will all depend on what my eventual job situation is this year), I'm thinking I'm going to try to see 250 species of birds in Essex County this year. Kory Renaud inspired me w/ his final tally of 261 species for the County and I think I can get to 250 by year-end. After just doing a 300 year in Ontario, I don't want to have any commitments as large as that was, but we'll see how things go. To be honest, setting goals like this gets me out birding more because I want to see as many species as I can so I think it'll help motivate me on those mornings where you just want to sleep in but you know you'll regret not getting outside later in the day.

My year list after today stands at 41 species.

My first 10 birds of the year, in order, were:

1. House Sparrow
2. European Starling
3. American Tree Sparrow
4. Dark-eyed Junco
5. Black-capped Chickadee
6. Northern Cardinal
7. Downy Woodpecker
8. Mourning Dove
9. American Kestrel
10. Horned Lark

Most of these I had at my feeder right when I woke up. On the drive to Pelee, I added Common Grackle, Northern Harrier, Lapland Longspur, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Rock Pigeon. No Snow Buntings yet...

At the Tip, the highlight was an adult Glaucous Gull. My hopes were high that the Purple Sandpiper would still be hanging out down there. Unfortunately, it wasn't present. That would have been a great bird to get out of the way on the first day!

All 3 Scoter species were present w/ a single Black Scoter seen, many White-winged Scoter, and a handful of Surfs mixed in w/ a huge raft of scaup along the west side of the Tip. American Pipits were feeding on the beach at the Tip and a good number of Bonaparte's Gulls were on the water along w/ Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed Gulls. No Iceland this morning. I hope I can knock that species off soon.

I also added Horned Grebe, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, a single Ruddy Duck, Canada Goose, Long-tailed Duck, and American Crow in the area between the southern tram loop and the Tip.

Elsewhere in the park, I heard Golden-crowned Kinglet, saw a few American Robins, a single White-throated Sparrow, and a Cooper's Hawk near the park gates.

Finally, on the drive home, I added Bald Eagle and Song Sparrow. I searched for Long-eared and Snowy Owls in the Onion Fields (including the one reported today from Erie Shores Golf Course), but couldn't turn anything up.

Going to see if I can get to over 50 species by tomorrow. Shouldn't be too hard!