Thursday, 5 October 2017


I've been a little M.I.A. over the last month or so, but for good reasons. On September 9th Laura and I got married, and a few weekends later we flew to Nova Scotia for the "second wedding"; really just a big party for everyone from Laura's side who couldn't make it to Ontario. And then to top it off I have been madly planning and studying for my trip to Borneo.

Fast forward a few weeks, and here I am, in Borneo - a place I've always dreamed of visiting! I landed on the evening of October 2 in Kota Kinabalu, located in the western part of Sabah Province, on the Malaysian side of Borneo. I picked up my rental car and drove straight to the famous Mt. Kinabalu which is where I have been stationed for the last three nights.

Borneo has been absolutely incredible to say the least and I've enjoyed marveling at the magnificent trees, searching out many of the rare and unusual bird species, and coming upon unexpected surprises around each and every bend (today I found a Rafflesia flower! Not in bloom though...). Driving on the left has been a lot of fun, especially when jostling with trucks up windy mountain roads!

I don't have a lot of time to write many details, as bedtime beckons - those 4:30 wakeup calls come quickly - so I'll leave with one highlight from today.

My plan for today was to park at the Poring Hot Springs and hike up to the Langanan waterfall, one of the largest in Sabah province. This trail is well known among visiting birders due to its large bird list, including several highly sought after species such as Hose's Broadbill, Bornean Banded Pitta and Blue-banded Pitta. The Blue-banded was one of my most wanted birds of the trip; perhaps because its stunning beauty adorns the cover of one of my Borneo field guides, so it was one of the first Borneo birds I became familiar with when researching the island. This scarce endemic is occasionally found on the Langanan waterfall trail but I was not holding my breath, especially since the two semi-reliable locations along the trail proved fruitless to me on my walk to the waterfall.

I completed the long and arduous hike up to the waterfall, stopping frequently to scan for birds, of which there were many vocalizing from the cathedral like trees, but few low enough to identify visually. At one point I stopped at a particularly scenic bend in the trail, and paused for 10 or 15 minutes to scan the treetops and record the vocalizations of some of the barbets that were calling incessantly. Not expecting much, I played a snippet of the song of Blue-banded Pitta - a moderately long, mournful whistle - and as expected, there was no response. I resumed recording the birdsong, focusing on a Black-and-yellow Broadbill that had fired up. Suddenly I heard a peculiar whistle, not far off the was a Blue-banded Pitta! I kept the recording going as the pitta sang two or three other times - I couldn't believe my luck.

Blue-banded Pittas can be quite shy so I was not expecting to see this bird. Just in case, I set my camera to "pitta mode", cranking the ISO up to 4000 and setting the aperture to be wide open, to let in as much light as possible in the dark understorey. Suddenly, there it was - a fiery red blob hopped into view, staring right at me! I slowly brought up my camera, cracking off a few dozen frames through the foliage, before lowering it and bringing my binoculars up to take in its beauty. For the next 30 seconds or so I stared at the pitta as he began flipping over some leaves, presumably looking for some morsel underneath. A few hops later and he was out of sight, while I stood there with my jaw open (probably). I couldn't believe the sequence of events!

Tomorrow I will be heading back into Kinabalu Park with a dwindling "hit list" as it has been a successful few days. I have yet to catch up with an Everett's Thrush, Mountain Wren-Babbler, Whitehead's Trogon or Bare-headed Laughingthrush; maybe with a bit of luck I will stumble upon one or two of those tomorrow! From there I will be spending a day in the Crocker Range to the south, followed by a night near the Klias Peatswamp reserve, before returning my rental car to the airport and flying across Sabah to meet up with my group.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Late summer rattlesnakes in the Muskokas

A few weekends back, several of my closest friends and I spent three nights up at Dan Riley's family cottage, located on the west shore of Lake Simcoe. It was a bachelor weekend of sorts for us, but instead of strippers and casinos, we had hiking and rattlesnake-ing on the agenda.

During two of our days at the cottage several of us decided we would go for a drive to check out a favourite herping spot, a location where among ten species of snakes, Eastern Massasaugas are regularly encountered. Todd Hagedorn, Dan Riley, my brother Isaac and I composed the intrepid herping crew on both days. I was really hoping that we would luck into finding a few Eastern Massasaugas - not only because it is my favorite species of reptile in Ontario but because it would be a first for my brother, who was my original herping buddy during our formative years.

Todd (foreground) and Dan looking for snakes - Muskoka District, Ontario

Isaac looking for snakes - Muskoka District, Ontario

We could not have asked for better weather conditions for both days. While the afternoons were warm, the heat was far from oppressive, and a light breeze whisked away any perspiration quickly and efficiently. Due to the time of year the majority of the biting insects were nowhere to be found, exponentially increasing our collective levels of comfort.

Birds were eerily silent out in the rock barrens. Since the breeding season is essentially finished, most species were staying quiet (no need to draw undue attention), while other species were absent, having already departed for warmer climes further south. But we were not here to look for birds - the snakes were the object of our searching and we were not disappointed with our haul.

I was fortunate to spot a couple of Smooth Greensnakes out and about during our first day as we herped a familiar location, a place where I have visited on at least 20 occasions. Smooth Greensnakes are a common but inconspicuous species found in this part of Ontario; when crossing an open rock barren they are much easier to spot!

Smooth Greensnake photoshoot - Muskoka District, Ontario

Todd and Smooth Greensnake - Muskoka District, Ontario

Since I did not have my camera and lens with me on Day 1 I did not focus on photographing the smaller snakes as much, though I took a couple of quick snaps with my phone. Nothern Ring-necked Snakes are probably the most abundant species of snake in this habitat (open rock barrens, oak/maple woodland, and scattered wetlands).

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Muskoka District, Ontario

Within an hour of our arrival on Day 1 we hit the jackpot. A yell from Dan got the attention of Isaac, Todd and I. Dan had discovered a "nest" of baby Eastern Massasaugas, all coiled up, under the edge of a massive rock that was propped up, creating a large cavity underneath. This turned out to be one of two "nests" we would find on the day, totaling 14 rattlesnakes! This photo below is of the second nest which Todd first spotted. My picture is of fairly poor quality (the iPhone doesn't handle contrast-y scenes too well), but hopefully you can make out a couple of the baby rattlesnakes tucked in against the rock.

Eastern Massasaugas - Muskoka District, Ontario

We were ecstatic with our finds and soaked up the views of the baby rattlesnakes. Like all rattlesnakes Eastern Massasaugas are ovoviviparous; meaning that they give birth to live young, though the developing young are fed by egg yolk (vs being fed through the placenta, as what happens in humans and other viviparous species). The young rattlesnakes often remain in the same birthing area, sometimes with the mother nearby, for a period of several weeks before dispersing throughout the surrounding landscape. I can count on one hand the number of Eastern Massasauga nests I have stumbled across; it's always cause for celebration!

Below is a photo of a neonate Eastern Massasauga that I took several years ago. This photo illustrates not only the neonate's excellent camouflage on the open bedrock, but also the single "button" it possesses, compared to the multi-segmented rattle that older snakes have. I have to admit, these snakes are as cute as a button!

Towards the end of our hike on Day 1 I spotted this gorgeous Eastern Massasauga in a rock pile where I have seen them in the past. Dan and I were both kicking ourselves for having left our cameras behind, forcing us to resort to our phones for photographs.

Eastern Massasauga - Muskoka District, Ontario

On our second day, Todd, Isaac, Dan and I decided to check out a new area, something that I don't do as much as I should. In the past when I was much more involved in the herping "scene" I would frequently widen my search radius to explore new areas; nowadays, I tend to return to the same tried and true locations that I have been visiting for years. Our gamble paid off handsomely this time as we found quite a variety of reptiles and amphibians; I believe we totaled seven snake species on Day 2, giving us eight species for the weekend. I even remembered to bring my camera this time, giving me a chance to test out the new D7500 and 300 mm lens.

Dekay's Brownsnake is well known to most naturalist-types in southern Ontario, in part due to the species' ubiquity, but here on the barrens they are much more difficult to come across. I certainly see more Eastern Massasaugas than I do Dekay's Brownsnakes up here, for some reason! This individual was the only one of the weekend; it was found under a rock in some barrens that look very similar to the above photo.

Dekay's Brownsnake - Muskoka District, Ontario

We came across this interesting scene as we hiked along. The wet summer that we have been experiencing likely contributed to high water levels which presumably burst through a beaver dam, almost completely draining this wetland. The water level had diminished by well over a meter. Needless to say there is a beaver out there that has had its engineering degree revoked.

I don't usually see shorebirds when in Muskoka District (apart from occasional individuals at the Bracebridge sewage lagoons), but we were happy to see that several shorebirds were making use of the recently exposed mud caused by the draining of the wetland. Among those present were Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover.

Solitary Sandpiper - Muskoka District, Ontario

For much of our hike on the second day we explored the periphery of a large wetland complex; as a result we encountered numerous Northern Watersnakes and Northern Ribbonsnakes moving through the sedge meadows surrounding the wetland, or basking higher up on the lichen-encrusted bedrock that circled the wetland.

Northern Watersnake - Muskoka District, Ontario

Northern Ribbonsnake - Muskoka District, Ontario

Todd (left) and Dan - Muskoka District, Ontario

Snakes are not the only reptiles that frequent the barrens; Ontario's only lizard species can also be found, if one knows where to look. This little gaffer is a young Five-lined Skink, as told by its bright turquoise tail. As they age they lose the blue colouration while the stripes will fade as well. 

Five-lined Skink - Muskoka District, Ontario

Dan made a great spot with this adult Eastern Massasauga, representing the highlight of the day (for me, at least!). While every encounter with this species is worth remembering, this one was made extra special because the snake was found in a new location for us.
Eastern Massasauga - Muskoka District, Ontario

Eastern Massasauga - Muskoka District, Ontario

Our last snake of the day was a little Red-bellied that Todd found alongside the trail. There are two common colour morphs of this species that we see in Ontario - this individual was of the gray morph, which is my favourite of the two morphs, while they also come in brown. Both morphs show the striking red ventrum. 

It was a great weekend with the guys, in one of my favorite parts of Ontario. I'm already looking forward to visiting again; unfortunately it won't be until next spring.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

New old photos

The last couple of weeks haven't been too kind to me from a birding and photography perspective. Many readers of this blog, at least those of you who pay attention to the "rare bird scene" in Ontario, heard about the Wood Stork that frequented Point Pelee National Park on August 12-13. Like many other Ontario birders, I jumped at the opportunity to search for this rare wanderer from the south. I wasn't able to go on August 12 as I was camping with some of my family at Long Point Provincial Park, but after hearing news that it was still at Point Pelee the following morning I jumped in my car and raced down to Point Pelee. Long story short, I missed the bird, and it was a painful one at that - if I had arrived five seconds earlier I would have seen it. In fact I was looking at Jeremy Bensette who was looking at the Wood Stork circling over the Visitor's Centre when I pulled into the parking lot, but by the time I jumped out of my car it was out of sight. A few minutes later it flew south off of the tip of Point Pelee, never to be seen again. Oh well, such is life if you chase rare birds; you can't get them all. (Update - presumably the same Wood Stork was reported by several observers flying over Point Pelee in the last couple of days...)

A few days later, my camera, complete with the attached teleconverter and 300 mm lens, was stolen off of the front seat of my car while it was parked in the driveway, likely by one of other local meth-heads that frequent this part of Niagara Falls.

Mainly due to not having a functioning camera, I have not been out taking photos lately and so the material is a bit lacking for the blog. Over the past few weeks, in between helping Laura out with all the last minute wedding planning as well as preparing for a trip to southeast Asia in October, I have been editing a few photos here and there, photos which for a variety of reasons I had not edited previously. Without further ado...

My dad has always been into photography and occasionally over the past few years we have gone out shooting together. He has really shown an interest in birds over the last year or two and on May 19-21, 2016 he joined me for our first spring weekend together at Point Pelee.

It was a great weekend of birding and father-son time, and due to the time of year (late May) the crowds of birders from earlier in May had subsided, while good numbers of migrant birds still could easily be found. One of the highlights of the weekend was watching a few young Great Horned Owls along the Woodland Nature Trail.

The shorebirds in the onion fields and at Wheatley Harbour put on quite the show. Several whirling flocks of restless Whimbrels landed briefly on the rocky breakwall, while hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlins dodged the waves along the shoreline.

Who doesn't love Ruddy Turnstones? No one, that's who.

This Dunlin was most of the way through its pre-alternate molt, just in time to fly to the Arctic for the breeding season.

Last August two juvenile Piping Plovers spent a few days along Burlington Beach. While birding one day with Todd Hagedorn and Reuven Martin, we swung by the beach and easily located both birds. Formerly a fairly common breeding species on the Great Lakes, Piping Plover populations plummeted over much of the second half of the 20th century.  Largely due to the conservation efforts in Michigan, numbers have slowly but steadily climbed and Piping Plovers are now beginning to return to several former breeding locations on the Great Lakes. In Ontario, teams of volunteers at several of the beaches where Piping Plovers nest help protect the birds by arranging for sections of beach to be cordoned off, and by placing wire cages around active nests to limit potential depredation events from occurring. With so much negative environmental news at the moment, and with species being added to the Species at Risk in Ontario list nearly every year, it is great to have Piping Plovers as a tentative success story, so far.

I believe that these birds were identified as being born at Darlington Provincial Park in Durham Region earlier that summer, due to the unique combination of colour bands adorning its legs.

Sandhill Cranes commonly breed in the vicinity of Grass Lake, southwest of Cambridge in southern Waterloo Region. It was one of the first bird species that I really took an interest in, as a teenager with an insatiable desire to find reptiles and amphibians who largely ignored birds. To this day Sandhill Crane remains one of my favorite bird species.

Last September while on a hike near Cambridge with Laura, we came across this Eastern Gartersnake that had managed to get a hold of a young American Toad. We watched the very much one-sided battle draw to its inevitable conclusion, 15 minutes later.

Black Vultures first began appearing along the Niagara River late in 2010 and since then they appear to have taken up permanent residency in the Queenston area; currently the only place in Canada where Black Vulture can easily be seen. This individual was perching in a somewhat photogenic location near the Locust Grove Picnic Area, one of the more reliable locations to spot a Black Vulture. It was impossible to have a perfectly unobstructed view though, without any of the colourful autumn foliage getting in the way.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Niagara big year?

This year has been a particularly great year for birding in Niagara Region. As is an annual tradition with several of the region's birders, I am participating in an informal year list competition. It is all in good fun and no one is suppressing any birds from anyone else (yet!), but it is a great way to add in a bit of friendly competition.

Magnolia Warbler - Port Weller, St. Catharines, Niagara Region (May 16, 2017)

The Niagara big year record was set by Marcie Jacklin in 1993 when she counted 251 bird species. To put that number in perspective - some years there are not even 251 species cumulatively observed throughout the region! It is interesting to look at the differences between her list and the avifauna of Niagara today. Marcie had nine finch species in 1993, only missing Red Crossbill out of the ten regular Ontario finches, while so far this year I have seen but three species. Several other species made it onto Marcie's 1993 list that one would be hard-pressed to find in Niagara today, such as Northern Bobwhite, Ruffed Grouse, White-eyed Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prairie Warbler and Brewer's Blackbird. But on the other hand Trumpeter Swan, Snow Goose, Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven, Fish Crow and Black Vulture are missing from Marcie's 1993 list, species which are nearly guaranteed these days.

Fish Crow - Port Dalhousie, St Catharines, Niagara Region (March 20, 2017)

Currently my total for this year in Niagara is 237; that includes Thayer's Gull which can still be counted in 2017, according to the ABA Big Year rules. As of next year though, this (former) species can no longer be counted. Marcie is right behind me at 233, and Jean and Blayne Farnan are at around 230.

As a "fun" way to visualize my progress throughout the year I created a coding system to categorize each of the potential species that I might encounter based on their perceived rarity in Niagara, much like how I did for my 2012 Ontario big year. Code 1 includes the guaranteed birds, such as Gadwall, Chimney Swift, Tufted Titmouse and Nashville Warbler. Code 2 are the tricky species that should all be possible during a Niagara big year, for example Rough-legged Hawk, White-rumped Sandpiper, Marsh Wren and Orchard Oriole. Code 3 includes all the species which can be really hit and miss, including Ross's Goose, Pomarine Jaeger, Long-eared Owl and Golden-winged Warbler. And finally, Code 4 includes all of the rarities; in general, species which are less than annual in Niagara. Some of the more likely Code 4 species are Cattle Egret and Black-headed Gull, while some of the more unlikely species include Yellow-billed Loon, Wandering Tattler, Prairie Falcon and Green-tailed Towhee.

Clay-colored Sparrow - Niagara Falls, Niagara Region (May 26, 2017)

If all 159 Code 1 species and 58 Code 2 species are observed, that leaves the observer with 217 species, with 34 more species required to tie the record. There are only 36 possible Code 3 species, leaving a very slim margin of error. However, for every Code 4 rarity that is observed, one of the "regular" species can be missed.  Below, here is how my list is shaping up in 2017:

Code 1: 158/159
Code 2: 52/58
Code 3: 17/36
Code 4: 10 species
Total: 237 species

Below, I've listed the ten "rarities" I have seen so far this year in chronological order.

Year list #
Black-headed Gull
January 3, 2017
Slaty-backed Gull
January 13, 2017
Barred Owl
January 24, 2017
Louisiana Waterthrush
May 1, 2017
Cattle Egret
May 17, 2017
Brown Pelican
May 29, 2017
Yellow-breasted Chat
May 31, 2017
June 16, 2017
Sedge Wren
July 17, 2017
Long-billed Dowitcher
July 18, 2017

In addition to those species, several other rarities have been reported by others this year in Niagara Region which I have not seen. These include Eurasian Wigeon, Swainson's Hawk, American Avocet, Western Sandpiper and Eurasian Collared-Dove.

Slaty-backed Gull - Thorold, Niagara Region (January 13, 2017)

The following are the species I am most likely to still add to my Niagara year list. I have listed their Code in brackets.

Broad-winged Hawk (1): For some reason I missed this species when thousands migrated through the Region in the spring. Though I was at Point Pelee for about half of the time when Broad-winged Hawks migrate through, that is no excuse for having missed it! Broad-winged Hawks take a different route during fall migration so I may have my work cut out for me over the next five weeks. This is shaping up to be an embarrassing miss...

American Golden-Plover (2), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (3): Both of these shorebirds migrate through in small numbers each autumn, with American Golden-Plover usually being seen in greater numbers than Buff-breasted. Any day now either of these species should make an appearance on one of the sod farms or ploughed fields in the Region!

American Pipit (2), Snow Bunting (2), Lapland Longspur (2). Each of these three open-country passerines are fairly common autumn migrants that I should catch up with, though the latter two species may be a little tricky.

Parasitic Jaeger (2), Pomarine Jaeger (3), Long-tailed Jaeger (4): I am fully expecting to see two out of the three possible jaeger species, but if I am really lucky all three are possible.

Black-legged Kittiwake (3), Sabine's Gull (3): Both of these highly-desired gulls are seen each autumn during lakewatches; it is just a matter of putting in the time. Maybe one individual will spend some time below the Falls, as occasionally these species are known to do.

Common Redpoll (2), Red Crossbill (3), White-winged Crossbill (3): Many finches are quite nomadic, moving around based on the availability of their preferred cone crops. Each of these three species may migrate into or through Niagara this autumn and winter, while Evening Grosbeak and Hoary Redpoll are also theoretically possible. If I am lucky I may add two more finch species before the year is over.

Greater White-fronted Goose (3), Ross's Goose (3), Brant (3): October through December is a great time to find the rarer geese species and I expect to add one of these three (two if I am lucky).

Wilson's Phalarope (3), Red-necked Phalarope (3), Red Phalarope (3): Wilson's Phalarope is a scarce but fairly regular fall migrant in Niagara. With individuals showing up all around Niagara, it is just a matter of time until one is discovered locally. The latter two species of phalaropes are more easily seen during lakewatches, and hopefully I will luck into two species before the end of the year.

Long-eared Owl (3), Northern Saw-whet Owl (3): I put in some time and effort unsuccessfully searching for these species in the early part of the year. Both of these owls migrate through and some will overwinter, but roosting owls aren't exactly easy to find (if you are me).

Franklin's Gull (4), California Gull (4). Niagara has the well-earned reputation as the gull capital of Ontario, and while both these species are rarities, they are seen nearly every year in the autumn and early winter; however, California Gull has been absent the last four winters.

Golden-winged Warbler (3), White-eyed Vireo (3). While I had these species listed as Code 3 due to the potential that they may still breed in the Region, no birds on territory were discovered this year. One individual of each was observed by others during the spring but I doubt either will make an appearance this fall. There is still time, but my hopes aren't too high.

Golden Eagle (3), Northern Goshawk (3): Both of these raptors are scarce migrants that are not reported each fall. Geography has a big part to play, limited autumn raptor migration in Niagara.

Whimbrel (3): Very few were observed during the spring, and its not a species I often see in the autumn. I don't have very high hopes...

Scarlet Tanager - St. Catharines, Niagara Region (May 9, 2016)

So there you have looks like it will probably come right down to the wire. Of course, there are a couple things which will prevent me from maxing out my species total throughout the rest of the year. In particular, I will be heading to Asia for most of October, the time of year when most of the remaining species are the easiest. This will likely give Marcie and Blayne/Jean an opportunity to squeeze past. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Brambling twitch to Brockville

"Lord I was born a Brambling man,
Trying to make a living and doing the best I can,
And when it's time for leavin'
I hope you'll understand
That I was born a Brambling man"

-Dickey Betts, The Allman Brothers Band 

I had always wanted to be a Brambling man, or at the very least have Brambling on my Ontario list, and a few months ago I finally had that opportunity. Back in December 2016 a Brambling made an appearance at a lucky birder's feeders . It hung around for a few hours but was not seen on subsequent days unfortunately. Several months later what was likely the same Brambling reappeared, this time at a different bird feeder about 10 km from the original location. The homeowner was gracious in allowing several birders to visit her house to look for the bird, but due to the circumstances the word was not made public to the birding community. I was fortunate in being one of the lucky few invited to see the bird, an opportunity that I could not pass up.

I was up early in the morning to carpool with several others, and by mid-morning we had arrived in the Brockville area to stake out the bird feeder. We were informed upon our arrival by the homeowner that the Brambling had been at the feeders already once that morning. This was excellent news and we made our way over to where there was a good view of the bird feeders.

It was a cool late March day, but the sun was shining and the wind was very light making it quite comfortable. We waited for a while, keeping a close eye on the bird feeders while checking out the other species in the yard. We did not have to wait long - after about 40 minutes an interesting looking finch flew over and landed in the trees on the far side of the property - it was the Brambling!

Brambling - Brockville, Leeds and Grenville United Counties

Eventually the bird made its way over to the feeders where it gorged itself with seed for a good five minutes before flying away, offering excellent views and prolonged study. It was a little too distant for good photos but we were happy to even manage some "record shots".

Brambling - Brockville, Leeds and Grenville United Counties

Brambling is a Eurasian finch, a species that frequently wanders to Alaska and down the west coast of North America. Prior to this bird, Ontario had eight records of Brambling, a relatively high number for a Eurasian songbird! Seven of these eight records pertain to birds that hung around for at least three days. I had previouslylooked for one Brambling in the province, an individual that was found in North Bay in November, 2014. Dan Riley and I chased that bird on the third day it was seen, though we ended up missing the bird. In fact, I was standing right beside a gentlemen who was looking at the Brambling, but by the time that Dan and I had re-positioned ourselves to see the spot where he was looking, the birds all flushed and we never did get on the Brambling. It was never seen again...

Brambling - Brockville, Leeds and Grenville United Counties

Seeing this Brambing was certainly a nice bit of redemption! Spurred on with our success we continued onward, making a few more stops on the way home. In the Brighton area Doug McRae tipped us off to some locations where Great Gray Owls had recently been seen. Our luck this day continued as we located a single Great Gray Owl perching on a utility wire.

Great Gray Owl - Brighton, Northumberland County

We watched it hunt for a while and were lucky in watching it land on a Meadow Vole and swallow it in one gulp. There were too many branches in the way for a "clean" photo, but it was a great experience watching the owl hunt.

Great Gray Owl - Brighton, Northumberland County

Great Gray Owl - Brighton, Northumberland County

Great Gray Owls are one of my favorite bird species and we were thrilled with a chance to view this one up close (especially since it was a species that I had missed on my northern trip a week or two earlier).

Great Gray Owl - Brighton, Northumberland County

Great Gray Owl - Brighton, Northumberland County

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 15 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

January 29, 2016

It was hard to believe, but I was down to my last two days in Argentina. These trips always go by too quickly!

Buenos Aires is one of the most populous cities in the western hemisphere. Its metropolitan area contains between 13 and 17 million people depending on the criteria that are used, making it the fourth or fifth largest metropolitan area in the Americas behind São Paulo, New York City and Mexico City, and possibly Los Angeles.

Since I was flying out of Buenos Aires anyways, we decided that it would be easiest to just stay in the city for two nights as opposed to renting a car to leave the metropolis. One factor behind our decision was the presence of a large man-made ecological reserve that had been built along the waterfront, known as Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur.

While popular with joggers and other pedestrians, the many trails weaving through the reserve and the abundant tall trees and diverse environs provide habitat for a wide range of species. Currently the eBird hotspot for the reserve has 341 species listed, many of which would be new for us due to the much different ecozone surrounding Buenos Aires.

Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our hostel was located a short walk from the entrance of the park and by 7:30 AM we were coming across new species around every bend!

A marshy canal separates the park from the city. Ducks, wading birds, coots, grebes and more were easily observed from the adjacent promenade, and within minutes we had seen our first Silver and Ringed Teals and White-faced Whistling-Ducks.

Ringed Teal - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Limpkin and Wattled Jacana - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Over the course of our first day at the reserve I added 33 life birds (94 total species) - the second highest tally of the trip, after the 38 life birds during our first day of the trip near Santiago, Chile. Without describing in detail every species, below are several photos from the day, as we explored the reserve on foot.

Yellow-browed Tyrant - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Brown-chested Martin - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Nanday Parakeet - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Chalk-browed Mockingbird - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Masked Gnatcatcher - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

White-eyed Parakeet - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

We returned to the hostel by mid-afternoon, happy with our extremely productive morning of birding. That evening we hung out with some of the other travelers staying at the hostel and experienced our only Argentine Asado of the trip - better late than never! We splurged on some decent wine and enjoyed our last night together in Argentina.

January 30, 2016

After a somewhat delayed start to the morning we returned to Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, hoping to add a few more species before I needed to depart for the airport.

Certainly one of my highlights from the morning was observing a few Southern Screamers. While not a particular uncommon species over most of its range, this was my first screamer of any species.

Southern Screamer - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Hummingbirds are absent over much of the area we covered during this trip. Feeling a little bit hummingbird-deprived we enjoyed the numerous Glittering-bellied Emeralds as well as a single Gilded Hummingbird.

Glittering-bellied Emerald - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Exploring the reserve proved successful on our second day. New species for us included two Solitary Black Caciques, a few Sulphur-throated Spinetails, a distant Brown-and-Yellow Marshbird, and a pair of confiding Black-backed Water-Tyrants.

Tiger-herons never fail to disappoint. This Rufescent Tiger-Heron was roosting in a tree at eye level, providing incredible views.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron  - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With our stomachs rumbling we returned to the concrete promenade that lined the canal separating the park from the rest of the city. A number of food trucks were set up which we took full advantage of! Best sausage on a bun that I have ever had, complete with dozens of toppings including a variety of different salads.

This Argentine Black-and-White Tegu was cruising along the edge of the canal, likely looking for something to eat. A pretty impressive species to see in such an urban setting!

Argentine Black-and-white Tegu - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the guys (I can't remember who) made a great spot with this Stripe-backed Bittern, skulking along the edge of the marsh canal, as we scanned from the adjacent promenade.

Stripe-backed Heron - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Even though it was around noon the overcast conditions were not terrible for photography.  The most common species were Rosy-billed Pochard, Silver Teal, White-faced Whistling-Duck and Yellow-billed Pintail, but we also found Brazilian Teal, Ringed Teal, Masked Duck and a pair of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. The Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were a long overdue life bird, the very last of the trip for me.

female Rosy-billed Pochard - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

male Rosy-billed Pochard - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Ringed Teal - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Guira Cuckoos are hard not to like. Something about their boldness combined with that hairdo!

Guira Cuckoo - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With the clock ticking it was time to call it a day since I had a flight to catch. Dave and Adam would continue on for the next month-plus to see more of what Argentina had to offer, but I had to return back home (the joys of a full-time job!). 

For those scoring at home, we finished with over 330 bird species as a group, of which I counted 327. The 210 species in Argentina narrowly eclipsed the 201 found in Chile. All told I added 245 life birds, or roughly 3/4 of all the species we observed. 

The trip was awesome, filled with incredible highs contrasted with some lows, but overall it was everything we could have hoped for. I am sure I will be back at some point in the future!