Thursday, 31 January 2013

White-winged Dove, Red-headed Woodpecker and Hermit Thrush - just another January day

First some good news: I have ordered a new camera! It is a used Nikon DSLR - an older model that is basic, inexpensive, but will get me through the next couple of months until I can afford a "real" camera again. The bad news: It won't arrive for a week or two so I am stuck taking photos with my phone through my scope! Hopefully it won't be long until I can take half-decent photos again.

This morning I was going to meet up with Barb Charlton and we had plans on heading down to Haldimand Region to do some surveying for some particularly rare species, but with the heavy winds and blowing snow forecasted, we decided it just wasn't worth our effort. What to do then, since we were up early and ready to go birding? Well, a twitch was in order.

This time it was down to Rondeau where a White-winged Dove, originally found by Jim Burk on January 26th, was still attending the bird feeders at the Visitor's Center regularly. Barb and I had each only seen 2 White-winged Doves ever in Ontario so it was nice to be able to look for another. More importantly though, I had to keep my lead on the Top 100 Ebirders for Chatham-Kent, and this would be a new addition for me! Hopefully none of the "old-time" Rondeau birders add in their data so that I can stay in the lead ;)

We arrived at the VC around 9:00 AM, and just as we were getting ready to get out of the vehicle, the White-winged Dove landed on the feeder. That was easy! However by the time we made our way over to where it was, it had vanished. Finally, half an hour later, it showed and we were both able to take a few photos. Here is the best I could manage through my binoculars.

White-winged Dove - Rondeau Provincial Park (January 31, 2013)

Several other interesting birds nearby including a bunch of Common Redpolls, a Tufted Titmouse (always a treat to see), and a Hermit Thrush in Ric McArthur`s yard.

From here we headed down to the Erieau pier to check out the action. On the way however, a nice 1st year Red-headed Woodpecker was working some telephone poles. Cool! This was a new "winter" bird for me.

Red-headed Woodpecker - north of Erieau

Down at the piers we saw lots and lots of ice and I`m pretty sure I smelled an Ivory Gull at some point. Should I count it? There were a few interesting ducks (lots of Redhead, a Gadwall, etc) but the "rarest" birds were the coots, of which there were about 90. Pretty good for this late date, I guess.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful as we checked a number of locations. It is tough to find birds in snow squalls and high winds! But it was still a successful day. Red-headed Woodpecker, White-winged Dove, and Hermit Thrush - just another late January day in Canada!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Wildlife Club trip to Algonquin

Even though I graduated last spring from the University of Guelph, I have a lot of friends still in the campus Wildlife Club and I've participated in numerous trips/parties/meetings with the club this year. The latest adventure was a trek to a very cold and moderately snowy Algonquin Provincial Park this past weekend.

Due to a speaking engagement the night before I wasn't able to get to the 'Gonc until mid morning, but even with the relatively short trip, there were some epic times!

Within a few hours of arriving, I had already seen just about all the Algonquin specialties that were around. A walk down Opeongo Road resulted in sightings of several Gray Jays by the parking area. Todd Hagedorn and I ventured down the snowy road on foot and heard several Boreal Chickadees. We could hear a Black-backed Woodpecker tapping quietly off to the side, and a brief investigation resulted in Todd getting his first looks at a female Black-backed Woodpecker. For a lot of birders in North America, this species along with the more widespread American Three-toed Woodpecker is near the top of the "most wanted" bird list. We are fortunate to be able to see them regularly in the boreal forest in central and northern Ontario.

From here we checked the visitor centre feeders. As usual they were very busy, and it was fun having great looks at Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and a single male White-winged Crossbill. The best looks I have ever had of this species! Also of note here was a female "rostrata" Common Redpoll, the subspecies that breeds in Greenland.

Pine Grosbeak (January 25, 2012)

The next stop was the Spruce Bog Boardwalk. Along with Todd, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch, Athena Gubbe, and Mark Dorriesfield, we walked back deep into the spruce forest off the beaten track. Here we picked up several pairs of grouse tracks, and after following the winding trail (they never seem to like walking in a straight line!) we flushed a grouse that turned out to be a Spruce Grouse. Nice! A bit later we came across a Ruffed Grouse as well, surprising given the habitat that seemed a little too sprucy for Ruffed Grouse.

That evening I had one of the greatest wildlife moments of my life. We had heard of a Great Gray Owl that was being seen at the 48 km mark, so we drove over and were immediately treated to stunning looks at this northern beauty. After several minutes of observation, the owl suddenly left its perch in the tree and flew directly at me. My jaw dropped open as it passed right over my head, no more than 16 inches away! I could hear the sound of the wings as it passed overhead. Wow! This was only my third encounter with the species, and what an encounter it was! A friend of mine was able to get some photos of the experience, and if I can I'll see if I can post them here.

We spent much of the remaining daylight observing the owl hunt from the north side of the road. Watching it in the scope from close range was incredible - you could see every feather in sharp detail, the little bits of rodent flesh around its mustache and on its bill, and those piercing yellow eyes. While several carloads of birders stopped to view it, everyone was respectful and no one left the road side or tried to bait the owl.

Great Gray Owl - Algonquin PP

Unfortunately I am still without a camera so my cell phone shot will have to do. Which reminds me - if anyone reading this knows of where I can get a used Nikon DSLR for a good price (under 200$), please let me know. I just need something to tide me over until when I can afford a new camera in the spring.

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun. There was a lot less birding done, with an increase in the amount of shenanigans that occurred. Highlights definitely included human tobogganing off of a steep hill near Mizzy Lake, but this blog is supposed to be about wildlife, not wild life, so I'll say no more!

I'll close out with this photo I took at Ragged Falls, along the HWY 60 corridor in Haliburton County. It was another great trip with like-minded individuals and I can't wait for the next adventure!

Ragged Falls, Haiburton Co.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Winter is almost over....

Southern Ontario is currently mired in the coldest stretch we have had all winter. Daily highs here in Cambridge have been between -10 and -15 for a few days now, with daily lows closer to -20. It's sometimes hard to get motivated to go out into "the field" and see what birds are around!

I, for one, like the cold (in small doses), but every year around this time I start to get a bit of cabin fever, wishing it was spring already.

However, there is still hope! The shortest day of the winter, December 21, had fewer than 9 hours of daylight. Fortunately that is long behind us now, with the total amount of daylight for today being 9 hours and 38 minutes. I have started to notice the incremental daylight increases when out birding on recent outings. For instance, the other day I was scanning ducks at Windermere Basin in Hamilton,  well after 5 PM. In late December we would often have to call it quits by 4:30 or 4:45 PM. By the end of February, with spring right around the corner, the day length will be 11 hours and 10 minutes, with sunset happening after 6:00 PM!

Of course, even with this chilly weather, there are signs in the avian world that spring is coming. Some owls are calling more regularly and even starting to nest. The first "spring migrant" Horned Larks have probably arrived last week with the warm weather in southwestern Ontario. It won't be long until we get a pulse of warmer weather, bringing with it the first spring migrant dabbling ducks - especially Northern Pintails.

Of course, one of my favorite pastimes is to search out breeding amphibians in their vernal ponds in certain woodlands. Usually the first wave occurs around March 15, a mere 50 days away! Here are a selection of photos of species we can look forward to in the upcoming weeks, as winter slowly loses its icy cold grasp...

Spotted Salamander migrating
Northern Ribbonsnake

First "lep" of the year - Mourning Cloak

Spotted Salamander on its way to the breeding ponds

Spotted Turtle

Known to some as the Eastern Konk-la-reeee

Gray Treefrog

calling male Spring Peeper

Jefferson Salamander

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Niagara River birding

Yesterday morning, I met up with a large contingent of other young birders, including fellow bloggers Alvan and David for a tour around the Hamilton lakeshore and Niagara River corridor. We started the day in Fort Erie, checking out the crow flocks for a hopeful glimpse at the rare but somewhat reliable Fish Crows. One of the groups of crows was mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk just south of the racetrack and after a few minutes we heard the distinctive double note (cah-uh!) of a Fish Crow calling. All the crows soon flew off, following the raptor, and were never seen again.

We checked a number of spots along the river, seeing most of the regular gull and waterfowl species, but the main highlights were certainly above the falls. Across from the Dufferin Islands parking area we found 4 Purple Sandpipers on a rock, though we could not find the previously reported Harlequin Duck. The PUSAs were lifers or new Ontario birds for some of the people in the group!

Those bumps on the rocks are Purple Sandpipers. You don't have to believe me if you don't want to.

Purple Sandpipers - above Niagara Falls

And here is what they are supposed to look like...

Purple Sandpiper - Bronte harbour (December 1, 2012)

All along the river today were huge numbers of gulls. I would like to go back to the river soon and check them out more thoroughly, since there are bound to be some interesting things mixed in. Personally, we couldn't locate any rare species on the river, though it was nice to see about 5 Glaucous and 35 Iceland Gulls. I can't recall ever seeing that many of those species here before. Several Thayer's Gulls were nice, as were a couple of hybrids. One had us stumped, since it was definitely a Herring x something else. Lesser Black-backed? California? An F2 hybrid? Alvan has photos on his blog.

Other highlights on the river included at least 3 Black Vultures and some Turkey Vultures soaring over the dump on the NY side and a few Tufted Titmouse at Dufferin Islands.

From here we swung over to Lincoln, ON to search for the Red-headed Woodpecker, briefly checking out the most photographed Snowy Owl in Ontario on the way. While we were there the photographers were baiting the owls constantly, often right next to the road.

Baiting owls is a contentious issue with birders/photographers and I'm not sure where I stand on the issue. I've never baited owls, simply because I'm not all that big on raptor photography and personally it seems like a cheap and easy way to get outstanding photos...for some reason I would rather put in some legwork to get the great shots. What I enjoy about bird photography is being able to travel to interesting, relatively remote locations, and seeing birds doing what they do naturally. Standing on the side of a farmers field with 50 other people taking the exact same photo as me doesn't really turn my crank.  But still, I can certainly see why people enjoy that since they can get fantastic photos in that sort of situation.

On one hand its not much different than having a bird feeder for blue jays and chickadees, and I'm sure a hungry owl this far out of range wouldn't mind the free meals. But on the other hand, when it is being done so close to the road, it is quite possible that the bird will get hit by a vehicle at some point. This has happened before with baited owls.

Anyways, check out my awesome photos of the owl - taken with my phone through my scope!

Snowy Owl - Vineland

Here is what they look like a little closer...

Guelph, December 2011

We unsuccessfully checked for the wintering Red-headed Woodpecker, though there was a White-crowned Sparrow coming to the feeders. Dave did a really good one and decided to drive into a ditch, so the rest of us got sprayed with mud but we managed to get him out!

From here we checked the Hamilton lakeshore and while we did see most of the regular waterfowl species, we could not find any King Eiders or Harlequin Ducks.

34 ebird checklists, about 63 bird species, about 20 year birds, and several hundred kms later we arrived back home. A great day out!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Current birding plans and hypothetical big year

Current birding plans:

Tomorrow I am planning on birding the Niagara and Hamilton regions with some fellow birders from the Guelph and Waterloo areas. It should be fun! If all goes to plan we should find a Glaucous-winged Gull (though I would probably be happy with an Ivory Gull instead). If that doesn't work out, we should be able to see at least a few of the rarities that are in the area. In no particular order, some potential target birds we could get include Fish Crow, Black Vulture, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, California Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Snowy Owl. We will certainly not see all of these, but we will most likely see a couple of them. Stay tuned!


Hypothetical big year...

I am obviously not doing a big year right now, but if I was it would be possible to be off to an incredibly fast start already. Here is a rundown of what I would have done if my Big Year started in 2013, and I was actually in the province to start it on January 1...

First on the agenda would be the Code-5 Slaty-backed Gull, first seen on December 30. Without a doubt I would have started the year along the Niagara River, and I would have seen the gull that morning (as Sarah Richler and Andrew Davis did, via ONTbirds).

Next up would be the Code-3 Yellow-throated Warbler that was reported on December 31st in Brighton, Northumberland County. I wouldn't have been able to get there that day most likely, so I would have chased it on January 2. I can't be certain but I believe it was seen at least until the second day of the year.

There was a bit of a lull of "rarities at this point so I would have cleaned up some of the Code-3 species. Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, and Greater White-fronted Goose would all be relatively easy over a span of about 2 days, following by a trip to Algonquin to try for Great Gray Owls and the Northern Hawk Owl. The Great Gray would be relatively easy (there are a sh!t ton of them in the park right now) but the Northern Hawk Owl would be a little tougher. A Boreal Owl was found in Ottawa on January 5 but I wouldn't have been able to make it there in time before it was dark, and I doubt I would have chased it the next day unless I had heard positive news. There was also a Code-3 Harris's Sparrow coming to a feeder near Fenelon Falls which wasn't made public but which I had permission to see if I was so inclined. Obviously if I was doing a Big Year, I would be!

The next rarity of the year would be the Code-4 Townsend's Solitaire that was found in Durham Region on January 9. I probably would have chased it that day or first thing the next morning. This bird has been pretty reliable and is still present. Maybe that afternoon I would have arrived in Ottawa and tried for the code-3 Gray Partridges that have been reported in several spots. I would have probably stayed the night and seen the partridges in the morning, if I missed them the afternoon before.

Code-4 Fish Crows were first reported on January 11 and have been seen (or heard) regularly since. I have no doubt I would have seen them relatively easily! Code-4 Black Vultures have been semi-reliable at the river this January and eventually I would probably get them on the Ontario side.

The next rarity would be the Code-4 Western Grebe that was seen in Sarnia on January 16. I would have been there first thing on January 17. It was seen on the Ontario side that morning.

Finally, there has been Code-3 Laughing Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake on the Niagara River. Both would be tough to relocate, but possible, espeically with all the time I would have put in at the Niagara River so far!

So to summarize, if I was doing a Big Year this year I would have five species ranked Code-4 or higher at this point: Slaty-backed Gull, Townsend's Solitaire, Fish Crow, Black Vulture, and Western Grebe. I would have for certain six Code-3 species: Yellow-throated Warbler, Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Gray Owl, and Gray Partridge. I would also have a chance at having Code-3 Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Laughing Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake on my list.

In comparison, by this date last year I had seen three Code-4 or higher rarities and two Code-3 species (however I had missed the first 6 days of the year). Obviously 2013 is off to a better start for the potential Big Year birder! The real question is this: is there anyone else there who has seen the majority of these species so far and is planning a Big Year???

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stealing an idea from Ken...

Ken Burrell made a post on his blog today about his all time Ontario winter bird list, so I thought I would steal his idea and do the same! If you haven't already, check out Ken's blog...

Up until recently I didn't care in the least about my all-time winter bird list and until last year I had never chased a bird simply because it was a "good" bird to see in the winter.  I think the first good winter bird I chased for that reason was the Bobolink on the mountain in Stony Creek last January, and that was only because I was in the area to look for Short-eared Owls! But as these things do, I have slowly become more interested in keeping a winter list and this winter I have chased the odd bird which would be new for me. One reason why I became interested in my winter list is because I was the official "keeper of the list", as you can see from my weekly or bi-weekly posts to Ontbirds. Additionally, it seemed like everyone else was keeping a winter list and of course I didn't want to be left out. :) Besides, it gives you an excuse to see some interesting birds in the dead of winter!!

So, what are the most interesting birds I have on my winter list? I'll have two categories: the ones I chased, and the ones I found on my own. Links to my blog posts about those birds will follow in brackets.

Smew (
Yep, the insane Whitby bird, one of only a few records of this species for inland North America. Christmas Miracle at Whitby Harbour is right, as the beaut was found on December 26, and only lingered for 2 more days. I was lucky enough to be able to race out there with Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch on the 27th, and we were treated to great views for the 10 minutes I was able to be there before racing home for Christmas dinner!

White-winged Dove (
White-winged Doves show up every year in Ontario, but there had only been one previous winter record. This one was coming to a bird feeder in North Bay, and so I drove up there with Brett and Barb Charlton to nab it for my big year.

White-winged Dove - North Bay (February 14, 2012)

Band-tailed Pigeon (
The other rare member of the Columbidae family I was able to see last February, this one coming to Al Sinclair's feeders in Muskoka. It took two tries, but I finally got it with David Bell, Andrew Keaveney, and Sarah Jane Stranger-Guy. The third winter record for the province!

Rob Dobos came up with this incredible find in Stony Creek, only the 2nd or 3rd winter record all time for Ontario, and first in many decades. While looking for Short-eared Owls last January I decided to look for it. That involved about 30 seconds of crossing the road and walking up onto the dyke, having the bird flush right away.

Bay-breasted Warbler (
The Sedgewick Warbler found by Jesse Pakkala and David Bell last December. I saw it very briefly in December, and again a week ago once its identity was confirmed as a Bay-breasted. Only the 3rd winter record!

Bay-breasted Warbler - Oakville (January 8, 2013)

Western Tanager (
Last December I stopped by the little parkette in Oshawa with Brett and Erika and we were able to see the bird easily, along with Doug McRae who stopped by. This was the 4th winter record for the province.

Self found winter rarities...
I haven't been in the birding game long enough to have accumulated a long and decorated list of rarities that I found, but I've had a few in the few years I have been birding. Here are some of my best finds in the winter:

Fish Crow (
At the time, this was definitely my best find, since it ended up being the first confirmed winter record for the province! Andrew Keaveney and I found one with a large groups of American Crows in Fort Erie last winter, which also ended up being year bird #100 in my Big Year attempt. Subsequent searches by other birders turned up 5 birds. Since then, Fish Crows have expanded their ranges north and west into Ontario, though they are still a rare bird here.

Fish Crow - Fort Erie (February 9, 2012)

Sanderling and White-rumped Sandpiper (
Not too rare, but still there only a couple previous winter records of each of these. These birds were co-found with a big crew of other birders, down at Purple Palooza in Presqu'ile this past December.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
There are about a dozen records of this species in the winter. I happened to find one in December, 2008 at LaSalle Park in Hamilton. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently someone had found it a number of days earlier. It was a female bird and since I was a relatively new birder, I was stumped for a while as to what it was!

Nashville Warbler (
This was a big highlight from last December as I found this bird at Sedgewick while chasing the Cape May Warbler that Cheryl Edgecombe and Rob Dobos found. There is some debate as to whether it is the western form or not.

Nashville Warbler - Oakville (December 11, 2012)

Wilson's Warbler 
Another one co-found with a group of people, this time while at Bayfront Park in Hamilton while chasing the Black-throated Gray Warbler. I think Mark Dorriesfield was actually the first person to lay eyes on it though! Bayfront was a magical spot last winter, hosting Orange-crowned, Wilson's, Black-throated Gray, and Black-throated Green Warblers along with Blue-headed Vireo and 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers last winter.There are about a dozen records of Wilson's Warbler in the winter.

Obviously I have a lot of misses as well. Some that come to mind are Spruce Grouse, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Gray Catbird. There have also been a lot of great winter birds that I could have easily chased but decided not to. This list includes Razorbill, Phainopepla, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Northern Parula, for instance.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

2012-2013 Ontario winter bird list update #5

We are halfway through the month of January, meaning we are also more than halfway through the winter birding period, running from December 1 to February 28. Since the last update (end of December), 5 more species have been added to the cumulative total for this winter, and one species has been removed, bringing the total winter list up to 209. We are still quite a ways away from beating last year's mark of 224, but it is still within the realm of possibility. I have sent the updated list to Blake Maybank and he will post it on his web page soon. A link to the webpage:
Since the last update, the new species are:
Boreal Owl: January 2 (Ottawa)
Brant: January 3 (Long Beach, Wainfleet)
Baltimore Oriole: late November to December 4 (Essex County)
Laughing Gull: January 13 (Niagara River)

The bird identified as a Blackpoll Warbler at Sedgewick Park in Oakville has been subsequently photographed and seen by many and is a Bay-breasted Warbler. This is only the 3rd winter record, and is by far the latest record with the previous two records being in early December. It is still present.

Some of the more notable misses so far include California Gull, Pomarine Jaeger, Barn Owl, and Blue-headed Vireo. Send me an email if you know of any species that would be new to the winter list.

Still missing...

Good birding,

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Saw-wheeet find near Cambridge

This afternoon, needing a break from the presentation I was working on, I went for a walk at a local area near my house with my mom. It was warm and overcast, however the winds were keeping the avifauna mostly hidden away. We left the path near the pond and headed deep into the woodlot. As we walked into an area with large hemlocks, we heard some chickadees making some scolding sounds about 50 meters away, in a tangled area of vines, shrubs, and diminutive trees. Thinking there might be an owl nearby, I watched the chickadees as they flew around agitated, and eventually located the source of their worry - a Northern Saw-whet Owl tucked away in a crook in a tree!

Fortunately my mom had her camera with her and was able to snap a few photos before its battery died.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Cambridge (photo by Fran Vandermeulen)

Despite being a common owl over much of its boreal breeding range, they generally don't overwinter in this part of Ontario and are thus only around during migration. Their ability to remain perfectly still and hidden makes it very difficult to find saw-whets, and often the scolding chickadees do all the work, as was the case this time. In fact, this is the first Saw-whet that I have seen in the county. Nice to get it so close to home, too!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Strange big year records set last year

Obviously, one of the side-affects of seeing 344 species in Ontario is that there are several other records that can probably be broken. With most of the following examples, I'm really reaching for straws and coming up with obscure categories. Thought this would be a fun thing to do, and an effective way to procrastinate!

Most bird species seen in one year in Ontario: 
-this one is the obvious one. But there are a few other obscure records that I think I might have set. Keep reading...

Most bird species photographed in one year in Ontario:
-now this probably isn't the record as someone, at some point has probably photographed more in one year. At the very least, this is a very beatable number! Remember some of my misses? (Thayer's Gull, Ring-necked Pheasant, Warbling Vireo, Marsh Wren, American Woodcock, etc)

Thayer's Gull - a big miss

Most species "self-found" in one year in Ontario:
-I have no idea if 307 is now the number to beat, but it seems like it would be tough to self-find that many ever again in a given year. Partly why I managed 307 is that I traveled to the north (James Bay) and the northwest (Rainy River), so species like Black Guillemot, Northern Fulmar, and Gyrfalcon were locks in the north and Western Meadowlarks, Franklin's Gulls, and Black-billed Magpies were easy self found birds in the northwest.
Other self-found highlights last year include Fish Crow, 35 warbler species, Blue Grosbeak, King Rail, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Harlan's Hawk (though it doesn't count as a species), Common Eider, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Western Kingbird, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

self found Western Kingbird

Most species seen at least twice in one year in Ontario
-this category is the same as a typical big year, the only exception being that each species has to be seen twice, not just once! Some notable misses include Golden Eagle, Gray Partridge, Piping Plover, Red Phalarope, Laughing Gull, Arctic Tern, and Prairie Warbler. Most rarities I saw only once, with the exception of a few such as Western Tanager, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black Vulture, Black Guillemot, and Fish Crow.

1st Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the year - Demorestville (April 15, 2012)

Earliest date to hit 300 in one year:
May 18
-at the start of the year, my goal was to hit 300 by the end of May. I managed to get it 13 days ahead of schedule. Bird #300 was Piping Plover from Wasaga Beach, Simcoe County.

Piping Plover - Wasaga Beach (May 18, 2012)

Most "total county ticks" in one year in Ontario:
-for those who don't know, this is the sum of all of my county lists for the year. Fortunately, Ebird keeps track of county lists for me! This averages out to 83 species per county. Out of Ontario's 50 counties, I birded in 49 of them - only missing out on Kenora District in the north. My top 5 counties were Essex (262), Cochrane (193) Chatham-Kent (176), Hamilton (171) and Rainy River (162). Again, this may not be a record, and even if it is, it seems very breakable. I would imagine that a birder trying to set this record could top out somewhere between 7000 and 9000 in a year. The strategy would be much different than for a big year and there would be considerably more traveling. A good strategy would be to spend one day birding each county during all four seasons. I would imagine that after a year spent doing that, you would know the backroads of Ontario better than anyone else.

That's all I have got for now...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Winter bird roundup

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had plans to check out Sedgewick Park yesterday afternoon for the warblers that were present. Before I could leave though, a nice male Hoary Redpoll drew my attention on the birdfeeders outside our living room window! The first time I've ever had one at home.

45 minutes later I was on my way to Sedgewick. In no time at all, the Bay-breasted Warbler announced its presence and perched quietly out in the open for a while. I ended up watching it for about half an hour and managed a few half decent photos with my mom's Point-and-Shoot camera.

Bay-breasted Warbler (January 8, 2013)

In the next photo you can see the spot of missing feathers on the top of its head. I wonder what that's from!

Bay-breasted Warbler (January 8, 2013)

Like I mentioned, this was the first January record for the province and is record late for Ontario by over a month. If it successfully overwinters and leaves in say, April, does that mean that the record-late fall date would be sometime in April? lol.

Both the bright Orange-crowned Warbler, possibly a western form, and the dull Orange-crowned (the form we see in Ontario) were still present, gleaning whatever insects they could. Two active Ruby-crowned Kinglets chased each other around, and a single Yellow-rumped Warbler chupped from the tangled vegetation. The Western Nashville Warbler and Cape May Warbler did not make an appearance and it is likely that they either moved on or perished.

Bay-breasted Warbler (January 8, 2013)

I birded a few other spots on my way back to Cambridge, including checking in on the Barn Swallows that are overwintering in Burlington. I would imagine there are few if any previous January records for the province. I didn't take any photos this time, so here's one from the summer!

Barn Swallow - Brant County (July 15, 2012)

Over at LaSalle Marina in Burlington was this White-winged Scoter that definitely had seen better days. If it wasn't dead then, it probably is by now.

Dead-ish White-winged Scoter (January 8, 2012)

I happened to be in Guelph last night, so this morning I decided to walk around a bit to shake off some of the cobwebs, residual from the night before. Riverside Park in northeast Guelph seemed like a good bet, since a Tufted Titmouse had been seen there (its very uncommon in Wellington County, and I've never seen one there). Unfortunately, the wind was howling out of the west for most of the time I was there and I did not see or hear the 'mouse. There was a Greater White-fronted Goose sleeping on the riverbank with several of the hundreds of Canada Geese. This spot with its open water seems like a good place for wintering waterfowl and I wouldn't be surprised if a few more interesting species join the fray!

I also stopped at the U of G arboretum on the way home to see if I could find Bohemian Waxwings. They are one of my nemesis birds. I only have had 10 sightings of this species ever, but only once did I actually have a decent look. Fortunately, the Bohemians were present! While they were not feeding low in the berries like they had been reported to be doing, the looks were still great as they trilled away in the tops of the trees.

Additionally, the wintering Brown Thrasher was still in the berries near the Arboretum Centre - another new one for my all time winter list.

Not a bad few hours of birding to start off the year for me! Bay-breasted Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Barn Swallow, Greater White-fronted Goose, Bohemian Waxwing, Hoary Redpoll, and Brown Thrasher are all quality January birds in Ontario.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Back in the homeland

After a fantastic 2 weeks, I am back in Ontario for the next little while. As I type, I have already added 5 species to my 2013 yearlist! (House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, House Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and American Tree-sparrow). I'm on a good pace to break the

Matt Timpf isn't doing an Ontario Big Year - in fact he is going one step farther, and attempting a Canada Big Year in 2013! I'll definitely be following his blog as I'm sure it will be interesting. Check it out:

Charlotte Wasylik is a young birder from the prairies of Alberta. She recently interviewed me about my Big Year, and that can be found on her blog, It's good to see another young birder so passionate about birding. I used to think that birding perhaps might decrease in prominence due to it being practiced by mostly an older demographic, but in the last few years especially quite a few young birders have come up out of the woodwork.

Sedgewick Warblers update: Sedgewick Park, in Oakville Ontario, has become a hotspot of warbler activity all winter, as almost all Ontario birders have probably heard by now. It started out with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, than a Cape May Warbler, 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, a Yellow-rumped Warbler and another kinglet, all found by Cheryle Edgecombe and Rob Dobos. I was lucky to find a Nashville Warbler that is probably the western form on my first visit (no provincial records though there have been a couple seen in the province before). A second Yellow-rumped Warbler and third Orange-crowned Warbler were found and it became apparent that one of the Orange-crowned Warbs was very bright and may be a western form. Finally, David Bell and Jesse Pakkala found what appeared to be a Blackpoll Warbler, and all the birders seeing it for the week or two after added it to their lists as a Blackpoll. However, photos taken a few days later show it to be a Bay-breasted Warbler.

There are only 2 previous winter records of Bay-breasted Warbler in the province: November 29 to December 2, 1964 (Long Branch, Toronto) and November 10 to December 3, 1985 (Toronto). The Bay-breasted is still being seen daily, making it record late for the province and the first January record. Cool!

The Cape May hasn't been seen for a couple days, but everything else is. Just the other day, an Oregon Dark-eyed Junco (a western form) joined the fray at Sedgewick. It just keeps getting better!

I'll be heading down to Sedgewick (my 5th visit) later today to try to get better looks at the Bay-breasted. Cheers!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

72 species day in the Halifax area

This morning I met up with my good buddy Dominic Cormier to see what birds we could find in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Dom and I go back a ways, meeting in first year university and going birding together whenever we are in the same part of the world. He happens to be living in Halifax at the moment.

Our first stop was a private residence in Lower Sackville who was hosting several rare birds at their feeders. The back yard was perfect for birds, backing onto a ravine, containing lots of brush piles and shrubby areas for the birds to hide, and of course lots of feeders. We managed to located all but one of the rarities coming to their feeders, only missing the Hoary Redpoll seen the day before. We did see a Yellow-breasted Chat, Baltimore Oriole, Pine Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbirds (they are actually fairly rare in Nova Scotia), Pine Siskins, and a pair of Evening Grosbeaks. Even though species like chats and orioles are regular fall visitors and often try to overwinter, I still can't get over how cool that is! Rarely does either one of those species show up late in the fall in Ontario. What a fantastic yard this place was.

Yellow-breated Chat from Ontario

We then headed southeast to the coastline east of Dartmouth and planned to spend the rest of the day working back along the shoreline. The Marsh Wren found the previously day was easily relocated. This is a pretty rare bird in Nova Scotia and was a new one for Dom's Nova Scotia list (and mine of course).

We ended up having a pretty amazing day, seeing a number of good birds for Nova Scotia. A Ruddy Duck and Red-throated Loon were off Seaforth Beach, as was a cold looking Killdeer. Conrad's Beach held 7 lingering Sanderlings, and we turned up Swamp Sparrows in several different places (a pretty tough January bird for the province). Certainly one of the highlights for me was watching a Merlin almost take out an American Pipit. After two or three futile attempts it finally flew away.

The Three Fathom Harbour loop was pretty decent as we added some boreal species in Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee. Eventually we headed over to Cole Harbour for some lunch, then checked out the scrubby area behind the funeral home. Two more Yellow-breasted Chats were skulking around here! Pretty crazy to see for an Ontarioan like myself.

At Rainbow Haven Provincial Park we successfully chased the Audubon's Warbler hanging out with a crew of Myrtle's (another rarity for the province), then raced over to Hartlen Point. The snow was falling heavy at this point, making the geese nearly impossible to see, but the 9 Snow Geese and 1 Ross's Goose was still present on the golf course! This continuing bird was a first provincial record.

Feeling lucky and close to 70 species, we searched for some remaining species with the last light. A Harrier was a nice surprise and all three scoters came easy at the next stop. We nabbed a guillemot, Common Loon, and some Lesser Scaup before racing over to Sullivan's Pond. Here, we noticed a male and female Eurasian Wigeon, a pair of Gadwall, and several Northern Pintails. It was a great day and we finished with 72 species. Not bad! :)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Big Year presentations

Over the next few months I will be doing a few presentations for various birding/naturalist clubs about my Big Year attempt. If you are from a club like this and would be interested in me giving a talk, please contact me ( and we can discuss details further. The presentation I am preparing is between 1 and 1.5 hours in length but of course that is flexible and I can easily modify it to be shorter, if need be.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Birding update: A first provincial record in Nova Scotia

Hey, finally a real birding update! I have been in Nova Scotia since December 26th and have got out a few times looking for birds.

The first chance I had was December 29 when Laura, her friend Jocilyn, and I went to Hope for Wildlife, the wildlife rehab place where Laura has worked for several summers. Almost immediately after getting out of the car, I took a look at the few ducks on the lake beside the rehab and saw a nice male Eurasian Wigeon. Not a bad start! There were a few Ring-necked Ducks as well, a new Nova Scotia bird for me. Since I am currently without a camera I was forced to taking pictures with my phone through my binoculars. Even getting a blurry picture of a bird is quite a feat using that technique!

Eurasian Wigeon - Seaforth, Nova Scotia (December 29, 2012)

Yesterday, Laura had an appointment so I ducked off for about an hour and took a look at a Pine Warbler that was coming to someone's bird feeder near Windsor, Nova Scotia. Like Eurasian Wigeons, they are uncommon but regular in Nova Scotia this time of year. Not a huge rarity by any means, but a good bird!

That afternoon I braved the -12 temperature and strong winds with Laura's family and we checked out the waterfront at Point Pleasant Park. I was "pleasantly" surprised (see what I did there?) to come across a little group of 6 foraging Purple Sandpipers on the algae-covered rocks, as well as a few Black Guillemots offshore. As expected, Common Eiders were everywhere, but for an inlander like me, they are always a welcome sight!

Finally, today I was able to chase the Ross's Goose which was reported at Hartlen Point, near Dartmouth. It was a first provincial record and found January 1 by Mike King. It was associating with a flock of what apperaed to be Lesser Snow Geese. All 10 birds were right where they were supposed to be, feeding on the lawn of the golf course. Sweet!

Ross's Goose (left) and Snow Geese - Hartlen Point, N.S. (January 3, 2013)

Snow Geese and Ross's Goose (2nd from left) - Hartlen Point, N.S. (January 3, 2013)

I have had bad luck in the past chasing rarities in Nova Scotia, failing with all three attempt prior to today (Little Egret, Pink-footed Goose, and Spotted Towhee) so it was good to finally get on the board.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Thank you

My big year attempt couldn't have been done without the countless people who have helped me along the way.  It would be a very long post and I would inevitably forget someone if I tried to list everyone who helped in some small way, so I will try to keep it relatively short. Thank you... my family both in Ontario as well as my family in Nova Scotia for all the help and support along the way. Mom and Dad, I really appreciate everything that you have done as I went on this crazy adventure, and for encouraging me throughout the year, even when things were looking a little dire! Laura, thanks for all your support throughout the year :) all of you who had provided me with a meal or a place to stay. Some of my trips wouldn't have been possible (for instance, my northern trip to get the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch and Spotted Towhee) without the hospitality of the people along the way. Barb Charlton for her optimism, great companionship, and fantastic homemade wraps on that week long northern trip!

A constant theme this year seemed to involve my car and its troubles (often brought on by wild animals, such as White-tailed Deer in Blenheim and Wild Turkeys at Point Quite a few birders in the Pelee area provided me with accomodation/meals/even a "replacement vehicle" (thanks, Ken!) while mine was getting fixed. Alan Wormington for planning our Netitishi trip and all his help with my car problems in early November, on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere! the usual crew of birders who accompanied me on various trips throughout the year. Brett, Erika, Dave, Brandon, Ken, Mike, Barb, Reuven, Mark, Ross, Chris, Pauline, and others. the University of Guelph Wildlife Club for its epic parties, fantastic trips, and overall great times! Mark Peck, Christian Friis, and everyone else who was a part of organizing the James Bay expedition in the summer. I had a great crew and we had some fantastic birds! all of you who had called/texted/emailed me about rare birds at some point this year. One of the great things about the birding community is how helpful and open most people are about sharing bird sightings. I wouldn't have got anywhere close to where I did without everyone else's birds that I heard about. my employer this summer for providing me with the ideal contract length for what I wanted to accomplish this year, and sending me to Rainy River not once but twice! all of you who gave me advice/encouragement/etc throughout the year. Thanks!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's birding resolutions for 2013

Today was the beginning of the new year, and like many other birders I have made a few goals for the year. After completing a "big year" my goals will be a little bit lower key than last year!

1) Spending more time studying the birds. Often when out birding, my technique can often be summed up like this. See fluttering movement. Move binoculars up to see bird. Bam! Identify it. Move on to the next bird, and repeat. It is easy for me to get into the trap of only viewing the bird for as long as necessary to ID it and then continue on. This can lead to the dangerous trap of over-confidence with identification, and it can also lead to a lack of appreciation of the bird's behaviour, habitat, and other things apart from identification. I will try to force myself to actually spend time sitting still and watching the birds and their behaviours. With some types of birds (like shorebirds and gulls) I do spend a lot of time studying them, but I don't do that enough with Passerines (a.k.a. tree birds, grass birds, and bush birds). I think it will ultimately make me a better birder.

2) Not worrying about the chase as much. For the first time since I've started birding, I am not going to chase birds simply to add them to a year list. I will still keep track of my year list (I like keeping relatively detailed notes), and I may even still hit 300 again next year in Ontario if I do a lot of birding but I'm not going to try for a big year list at all. Instead I will put in more time checking areas closer to home and trying to find my own birds. That is not to say I won't chase birds - it is still a thrill I enjoy and I am keen to add new birds to my Ontario list and some local lists (Hamilton, Point Pelee, Wellington County, etc). Obviously I have nothing against chasing birds for a year list (considering what I spent all of 2012 doing), but I just am a bit sick of that and want to change my approach in the new year!

3). Bird more thoroughly in smaller areas. Often in the past I would spend a whole day birding along the entire Lake Erie shoreline from Point Pelee to Long Point in one day, for example. I think that this year, I will try to bird smaller areas more thoroughly, for several reasons. First of all, you will see a greater percentage of the birds in an area doing this. I personally think that your chances of finding a rare bird is better with this strategy. Secondly, it will cut down on time spent driving! I think that my pocketbook, my back and knees, and my car will appreciate that :)

4) Broaden my scope to include other organisms other than birds again. I used to be really big on the "herp scene" before birds took over. I'm looking foward to doing more herping this year! Additionally, I am going to focus more on other groups of organisms to broaden my scope as someone who is ecologically minded.

5) Get back into photography! I don't just mean half decent/blog filler type photos, but I am going to focus on getting high quality photos more often this year and go on more outings particularly to get photos. Of course, I will need a camera to do this so hopefully I can buy one soon.

Happy new years everyone!