Sunday, 31 March 2013

Unique photo of a lifer

March 21, 2013: A few hours in Edinburgh
March 22, 2013: Oban, Scotland
March 26, 2013: Rare duck in Scotland!
March 26, 2013: Aberlady Bay, Scotland
March 30, 2013: Unique photo of a lifer (Paris, France)
March 31, 2013: Photos d'oiseaux de France (Paris, France)
April 2, 2013: Seabird die-off on the east coast of Scotland

I often find it difficult to find motivation to photograph famous buildings/landmarks. Usually, whatever photos I end up with are ones that are identical to the photos taken by thousands (or even millions) of people before me. It is really hard to get a unique photo, and so I often don't bother.

Yesterday, I was exploring Paris with Laura and our friend Jared, on exchange in France for a year. When we stopped to view the La Tour Eiffel, things were not lining up for me to be able to take some unique photos of it. It was hazy, the lighting wasn't the greatest, we were short on time, I had no tripod, and there were many tourists around. 

However, just as we were approaching, a small brown bird alighted on a nearby tree. A Short-toed Treecreeper! I had seen several Eurasian Treecreepers in Scotland, but this similar species (that isn't found in the U.K.) was a lifer for me. It also provided a unique opportunity to photograph the Eiffel Tower. 

Short-toed Treecreeper and Eiffel Tower

That little bump on the right side of the tree is the Short-toed Treecreeper (taken with my 18-55 mm lens). I wonder if it is the first time that a birder has photographed a life bird as well as the Eiffel Tower at the same time.

Anyways, Laura and I are back in Edinburgh after 4 or 5 days in France. It wasn't a birding trip, but I did see a few things including several life birds. I'll go through my photos and make some posts in the upcoming days.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Aberlady Bay, Scotland

March 21, 2013: A few hours in Edinburgh
March 22, 2013: Oban, Scotland
March 26, 2013: Rare duck in Scotland!
March 26, 2013: Aberlady Bay, Scotland
March 30, 2013: Unique photo of a lifer (Paris, France)
March 31, 2013: Photos d'oiseaux de France (Paris, France)
April 2, 2013: Seabird die-off on the east coast of Scotland

The wigeon in the last post was from the afternoon trip that Laura and I made to Aberlady Bay, east of Edinburgh along the Firth of Forth. Some more photos from the day...

We found a freshwater pond and began searching for amphibians.

 Laura found a toad! It had seen better days, and was decomposed, missing its hind limbs.

Laura and dead Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

We did find some amphibian eggs as well - recently laid Common Frog eggs to be exact.

 Common Toad eggs

I was happy to discover a European Stonechat a little farther along, staking out its territory along a fencerow. This was a life bird so I tried to get some photos.

We flushed a Eurasian Woodcock in the same area, another life bird.

Two Roe Deer were further along the path. There are two native deer species in Scotland - the Roe Deer and the very impressive Red Deer. Maybe next year we will venture into the highlands for a few days and see these.

We made our way back to the coast, watching the large flocks of shorebirds and ducks. I was happy seeing large numbers of Common Shelducks; a species I had only seen once before in Scotland. All the usual shorebirds (or waders, as they are called out here) were present, including lots of Eurasian Curlews.

Checking out the shorebirds...

It was around this time that we had the excitement with the wigeon (see previous blog entry).

A flock of Dunlin, with some Common Shelducks and a few other species of ducks in the water.

And a massive boat.

Currently I am in Tours, France for a few days as Laura and I visit her friend Jared, who is on exchange out here. The weather is certainly a bit nicer here than in Scotland!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Rare duck in Scotland!

March 21, 2013: A few hours in Edinburgh
March 22, 2013: Oban, Scotland
March 26, 2013: Rare duck in Scotland!
March 26, 2013: Aberlady Bay, Scotland
March 30, 2013: Unique photo of a lifer (Paris, France)
March 31, 2013: Photos d'oiseaux de France (Paris, France)
April 2, 2013: Seabird die-off on the east coast of Scotland

Today, Laura and I headed over to Aberlady Bay, east of Edinburgh along the coast, to see what birds we could find throughout the afternoon. I will make a full post about this trip eventually, but right now I will just post some pictures of a potential rare bird we came across.

As we were leaving the main estuary area and heading back to the town of Aberlady, I was keeping an eye on the shorebirds (mostly Dunlin, Euro Oystercatchers, and Euro Curlews) and ducks (mostly Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Eiders, Mallards, and Common Shelducks). Four wigeon were relatively close to us, so I stopped to scan them. 2 male Eurasian, 1 female Eurasian, and 1 odd looking and familiar wigeon. It appeared to be a female American Wigeon; a species I am very familiar with in Ontario but not one I was expecting in Scotland. However it is a tough call with female wigeons, so I tried to document the bird with photos as it sat in the grass.

putative American Wigeon (left) with Jackdaw (right) - Aberlady Bay, Scotland

Here is another photo from a little closer. In the above photo, the grayish head really stands out (compared to the deeper brown head of a Eurasian Wigeon). In the following photo you can see the faint black line along the gape (proximal edge of the bill) which is apparently diagnostic for American Wigeon.

putative American Wigeon - Aberlady Bay, Scotland

Of course, a shot of the wings would be needed to clinch the ID. Fortunately for us, the 4 birds eventually got up and flew (the tide was going out and the ducks were constantly coming and going). I was able to get a series of photos including one showing the white auxillaries on the underside of the wing. Eurasian Wigeon has an all gray underwing most of the time.

putative American Wigeon (right) with Eurasian Wigeon - Aberlady Bay, Scotland

In this photo, the two male Eurasian Wigeons are on the left, next is the putative American Wigeon, and on the right is a female Eurasian Wigeon. Note the difference in underwing pattern in the two female wigeons, as well as the lighter gray head on the putative American versus the darker brown head on the Eurasian.

putative American Wigeon (second from right) with Eurasian Wigeon - Aberlady Bay, Scotland

Does anybody have any thoughts on this bird? Bruce MacTavish, are you reading? It looks good to me but I don't want to jump the gun. Apparently there are 3 previous records for the Lothians, with the last coming in 1998.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A few hours in Edinburgh

March 21, 2013: A few hours in Edinburgh
March 22, 2013: Oban, Scotland
March 26, 2013: Rare duck in Scotland!
March 26, 2013: Aberlady Bay, Scotland
March 30, 2013: Unique photo of a lifer (Paris, France)
March 31, 2013: Photos d'oiseaux de France (Paris, France)
April 2, 2013: Seabird die-off on the east coast of Scotland

Several days ago, I had several hours to explore the areas around Arthur's Seat located in the east end of Edinburgh, UK. Arthur's Seat is a rock formation rising about 250 meters in height and several kilometers in circumference. It is a popular location for people to visit and to climb. Here is a photos I took from Arthur's Seat last year. The view is looking northeast, towards the Firth of Forth which drains into the North Sea.

view of part of Edinburgh, U.K. as seen from Arthur's Seat

The areas around the base of Arthur's Seat is mostly parkland (Holyrood Park), complete with a sizable loch that often holds wintering ducks. I decided to check out the south side of Arthur's Seat before walking around the loch in the few hours that I had.

Several birds were flying in the updraft, including lots of Eurasian Jackdaws, several Carrion Crows, a single Common Raven (my first for the UK) and two Common Buzzards.

Common Buzzards - Edinburgh, U.K.

The high winds made any attempt at Passerine searching useless. Linnet, Twite, Lesser Redpoll, and Meadow Pipits are sometimes in the open areas. I instead focused my efforts on photography of some of the gulls and waterbirds. I did come across a rather photogenic Eurasian Wren in a thicket, though. This is a very close relative of the familiar Winter Wren on the west side of the Atlantic (and they were considered the same species until very recently). Unlike the relatively shy North American species, only found in dense brush usually away from suburbia, the Eurasian counterpart is the most abundant bird in Britain. It can be found almost anywhere where there is suitable cover and dense brush.

Eurasian Wren - Edinburgh, U.K.

Eurasian Blackbirds are fun to see at first until one quickly gets sick of them. It will take me quite some time to figure out all their various calls.

Eurasian Blackbird - Edinburgh, U.K.

Unlike my visit last February, the temperature this time around was at the freezing mark. The lochs were mostly frozen as a result, concentrating the ducks and forcing the gulls to stand on the ice. There are 6 species of "common" gull species in this part of the U.K. - European Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed, and Common Gull. The 6th is Black-legged Kittiwake; a common breeder offshore on some of the islands. Here are 3 of the aforementioned species together.

L. Black-backed, Common, and Black-headed Gulls - Edinburgh, U.K.

While these birds are common over here, I had fun studying their various plumages. European Herring Gulls are non-existent in Ontario, Common Gull has only occurred a few times (and I've never seen one), Black-headed is a genuine rarity, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rarely seen up close. Here is another Common Gull, in flight.

Common Gull - Edinburgh, U.K.

Duddington Loch was mostly open and had several duck species. Apart from the familiar Gadwalls, Mute Swans, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, and Canada Geese, there were also quite a few Tufted Ducks and Common Teals (neither of which I have seen in Ontario).

Tufted Duck - Edinburgh, U.K.

Tufted Duck - Edinburgh, U.K.

The default crow in most of Scotland is the Carrion Crow, which is very similar in appearance to our American Crow from back home. Several hours west of Edinburgh they are replaced with the Hooded Crow (which I saw a few days later).

Carrion Crow - Edinburgh, U.K.

Little Grebes, Eurasian Moorhens, Eurasian Coots, and Greylag Geese rounded out the waterfowl. I wish I had a scope with me since there were some un-IDed ducks on the far side!

I checked out the brushy areas and re-familiarized myself with the songs of the various tit species. A Song Thrush flushed, Dunnocks sang from most areas, and several flocks of European Goldfinches and Chaffinches were in the area. Unfortunately I couldn't tease out a Green Woodpecker (which are in the area) or a bittern (which sometimes is found around the edges of the loch).

Common Chaffinch - Edinburgh, U.K.

So there you have it - some of the garden-variety species common in Scotland. Nothing rare, but fun to see after an absence of over a year!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Free issue of North American Birds

Mike Burrell also posted this on his blog, but since I received an email about it this morning along with some encouragement to spread the news among my birding circles, I thought I would post it here.

North American Birds, the excellent journal that is published four times a year, is offering up a free online version of their last issue. The journal is now going digital after many years of only being available in hard copies to members.

Anyways, download the spring issue here!!

Of interest in this journal is the spring of 2012 birding summary for Ontario, written by Alan Wormington.
I am currently working on last winter's report to be published soon. If you have any significant bird sightings between the period of December 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013, please send them to me. I should note that if your sighting(s) have been posted to Ontbirds or Ebird, I will have already heard about them.


Update from Scotland: I have been here for a few days, and we have been graced with typical Scottish weather. Temperatures ranging between 1 and 5 degrees Celcius, almost constant strong east winds, and heavy overcast most days. Yesterday happened to be sunny (though it was also cool and windy) and I made it out for a few hours while Laura wrote her last exam. I will make a post about that soon enough, but in the meantime here is a photo of a  Common Buzzard hovering in the strong winds at the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Point Pelee annual report.

The excellent annual report for 2012 in the Point Pelee birding area (including Point Pelee National Park, Leamington, Wheatley harbour, Hillman Marsh, etc) has just come out. Alan Wormington spent countless hours working away at it and it looks quite good. Last year birders found a cumulative 293 species, which is the second highest total ever for the Point Pelee birding area. Check it out for details on the Kelp Gull, Vega Gull, Brown Pelican, Bell's Vireo, and more!

A link to the report can be found here: Point Pelee birds 2012

Check it out!

Bell's Vireo - Point Pelee National Park

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

More from Pelee

When this gets posted, I will be on a jet across the Atlantic ocean to visit the beautiful Laura Bond. My next post should have photos of European birds!

Anyways, about a week ago I visited Ontario's banana belt for a few days - specifically the Point Pelee area. I was going to post some photos from that trip, but then excursions to Haldimand County, the Collingwood and Owen Sound areas, and Toronto got in the way! Anyways, here is a day by day summary of the trip.

March 10:

Drove from Cambridge down to Point Pelee. I had my first migrant Turkey Vulture of the year just outside of Cambridge, then ended up seeing 0 more the rest of the trip!
The highlight for the drive down by far was a Common Raven flying over the highway just outside of London in Middlesex County.

I checked the Rondeau area in the afternoon, though I could not find much of interest. No little white geese to speak of! There was quite a high number of waterfowl in Rondeau Bay, though much of it was too distant to ID. Ridgetown lagoons was great with 6 Canvasback, 48 Tundra Swans, and my first big flocks of blackbirds being highlights for me!

From here it was off to Point Pelee - specifically the Couture Dyke to search for the Greater White-fronted Geese that had been reported on and off throughout Hillman and the onion fields. There was a huge number of Canada Geese back here, and by carefully scoping them I found a flock of 8 Cackling Geese mixed in. Cool! I scanned the large flocks of wigeon and pintail, though I couldn't find any rarities mixed in. I was specifically looking to find a Eurasian Wigeon all weekend, to no success. The White-fronted Geese weren't here unfortunately.

While I was driving the onion fields, I got a text from Kory Renaud that he and Sarah had just found the target geese in a field just south of Hillman Marsh. I was pleasantly surprised to see 34 of them, though they were quite distant! This was not only a new Pelee bird for me, but the first time that I had ever seen more than 2 together in Ontario.

trust me, about 20 of the White-fronted Geese are in this photo!

Jeremy Bensette drove up while I was looking at the geese. We spent the rest of the daylight checking out some areas near NW Hillman Marsh.

The first two Tree Swallows of the year were combing the air above the shorebird cell for insects. This was the earliest I had seen this species in Ontario, beating my previous best of March 13 (from last year).

We finished the day by listening to a pair of Great Horned Owls dueting, while the occasional Long-eared Owl flew past and at least 4 American Woodcocks "peeent"ed. A great day!

March 11

Jeremy and I started the day by birding Point Pelee National Park. We checked out the tip area, though it was very quiet for passerines. Presumably the strong winds had something to do with that!

I was happy to spot two 2nd winter Iceland Gulls sitting on the tip. This was another new Pelee bird for me! There was a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull and an adult Lesser Black-backed here as well. Some ducks were migrating past, including a few small flocks of Green-winged Teal and a Horned Grebe.

While walking the park road, we ran into Alan Wormington who had just found a Snow Goose just outside of the park gate. This would be another new Pelee bird for me. We made a brief check of several locations in the park and found quite a few sparrows, though they were all American Tree, Song, and Dark-eyed Junco. A highlight was a group of 5 Eastern Meadowlarks in Sparrow Field.

Fortunately, the Snow Goose was right where it was supposed to be!

We checked the flooded onion fields extensively and combed through thousands of Ring-billed Gulls. Several Glaucous and Lesser Black-backed were mixed in, but none of the hoped for Mew or California Gulls! 5 Greater White-fronted Geese were mixed in with a flock of Canada Geese along Mersea Road 19.
Also, I realized that female pheasants can really blend in to corn stubble.

Here's a funny looking pheasant - a young male maybe? To be honest I know next to nothing about this species.

We went back into the park, but didn't see a whole lot. I finally got my first Rusty Blackbird of the year in a flooded slough just north of the Visitor's Center. We ended the day scoping the thousands of ducks at the shorebird cell at Hillman in strong winds and rain. We thought that the newly-erected shelter/blind would provide some protection from the elements, but it did the opposite! The horizontal rain went right through it, and its design acted like a wind tunnel! We were better off standing outside of it.

March 12

I had a later start than usual, but the cold and windy weather did not seem very inviting for birding. I checked Hillman Marsh out briefly, including the south end, but didn't see much of interest. Later on I heard that Alan had found 43(!!) Greater White-fronted Geese, a new high for Point Pelee and presumably southern Ontario as well. I basically worked my way back to Cambridge along the north shore of Lake Erie. There were some birds here and there, and the highlight for me was finding 4 Snow Geese at the Aylmer WMA. A Northern Shrike was also in the area. Notable for the area were 3 Long-tailed Ducks at the Port Stanley sewage lagoons. Long-tailed Ducks are hard to come by on Lake Erie, so to get 3 together at close range was nice! I also had 6 Canvasbacks at the Aylmer sewage lagoons.

Monday, 18 March 2013

More from the Western Grebe photoshoot

Here are a few more shots from the grebe bonanza on March 16th at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto.

I must say, it was a nice change to spend some time focused solely on photography, as opposed to birding while taking the occasional oppurtunistic photo. It had been a while since I had done that despite that being a New Years Resolution of mine. By watching the Red-necked and Western Grebe interact for over an hour, I learned a lot more about each species than I normally would as a birder.

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

This is another example of the "cormorant wing stretch" that this bird seemed to enjoy doing every 10 minutes or so. I am not sure if it was actually trying to dry the wings somewhat, or if it was some sort of display.

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

Another example of the "bellyflop display". About half a second after assuming this pose, it was then bellyflop in a not so graceful manner!

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

Every now and then a Red-necked Grebe would tell it off.

Western and Red-necked Grebes - Toronto, Ontario

And to close, a basic "field guide style" shot.

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

It certainly wasn't an "ideal" photoshoot - I wish I was lower to the water (my lens was about 30 inches above the surface), there could have been fewer ripples, and the birds could have been just a touch closer. But all told, I was pretty happy to get a series of a Western Grebe, especially since it is a rarity in Ontario.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Western Grebe photoshoot

Part two of this set of photos can be viewed here.

This evening I had plans to pick up my parents from the airport in Toronto, after they had been on a 10 day trip to tropical Costa Rica (I'm not jealous at all...). I decided to leave in the mid afternoon, stopping along the Toronto waterfront to do some birding. I was hoping to see the Harlequin Duck that had been reported at Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

Unfortunately I couldn't locate the Harli, but I noticed that the long-staying Western Grebe was swimming in the harbour with some Red-necked Grebes. Seeing a potential photographic opportunity as the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds, I climbed down the bank and set up my tripod and camera among the rocks.

There were about 8 Red-necked Grebes in the harbour as well as the Western. They seemed to tolerate my presence and as a result I was able to get some images that I was happy with.

Western and Red-necked Grebes - Toronto

At times the Western Grebe would do what I would assume is a "display", though I haven't looked into it. It would assume this position before doing a bellyflop.

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

Another common "display" that the Western Grebe would do involved crouching really low to the water, with its neck down as low as it could go. It would then start flapping its wings just under the surface of the water, raising its body out of the water. Though it never did "dance" like I've heard Clark's Grebes do on their breeding grounds. This was just an exaggerated flap. 

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

Check out that beautiful wing stripe! Not that grebes fly much during the day, but that is how obvious the wing stripe is on a vagrant Western.

Western Grebe - Toronto, Ontario

This photo helps illustrate the structural differences between a Western and Red-necked. Western has a thinner neck, longer thinner bill, and overall more slender appearance. The clear demarcation between the white "fore" neck and black "hind" neck is pretty distinctive as well. 

Western and Red-necked Grebes - Toronto, ON

At one point, I noticed the Western Grebe getting dangerously close to being directly in line between the CN Tower and I. I hastily removed my teleconverter, re-attached my lens, and was just able to squeeze both the bird and the tower in the same frame. I doubt anyone else in the entire world has a photo of these two things together! :)

Western Grebe - Toronto, ON

More photos coming tomorrow!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Birding in northern southern Ontario

On March 14th I left my usual stomping grounds of southwestern Ontario between Hamilton and Point Pelee, venturing north to Collingwood and Owen Sound. I normally wouldn't go birding up there in mid-March, however I had agreed to give a presentation to the Owen Sound Field Naturalists in the evening so I made a day out of it, birding along the way.

In southern Ontario, spring has more or less arrived. Yes, there is still snow on the ground, and the salamanders and frogs haven't awakened yet. But the sun is feeling warmer, the days are longer, and many early spring migrants have returned. Quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are back, along with waterfowl, Killdeer, American Robins, and the first Song Sparrows. When I was in Pelee a few days ago it felt like a typical mid April day.

But that is not the case further north! In many areas the snow is still 20-30 cm deep, with blowing drifts across the roads. The only spring migrants that I saw (apart from some waterfowl) were American Crows and Ring-billed Gulls. Nowhere to be seen were Red-winged Blackbirds, and I did not cross paths with any robins. On a few occasions I slowly drove the perimeter of a concession block, stopping periodically to look and listen. Several times the only species I saw were American Crows and European Starlings. The temperature was cold and the strong northwest wind was brutal.

Northern Pintail - Collingwood harbour

But I did see some birds! Early on, a highlight was a flyover Red Crossbill north of Shelburne in Dufferin County. It was my first RECR since early December, according to my records. Maybe they are back on the move again, after being absent all winter?

Eventually I made it to Collingwood, and I spent about 4 hours driving along the coast to Owen Sound, periodically stopping. This is a beautiful drive (hugging the picturesque shoreline in many stretches) and I can definitely see some rarity potential. There are several little harbours and rocky shoals that look perfect for vagrant waterfowl, shorebirds, or gulls.

Horned Grebes made several appearances and I saw a total of 6. A Pied-billed Grebe was also fairly notable in one of the marinas in Owen Sound - it is presumably a spring migrant.

All the expected winter ducks were present, including White-winged Scoter, Redhead, Long-tailed Duck, both scaup, and 3 mergansers. Several sharp looking Ring-necked Ducks were new arrivals. The highlight for me though was a group of 5 Black and 9 White-winged Scoters just west of the harbour in Meaford. Out of the 5 Black Scoters, 1 was an adult male, 3 were immature males, and 1 was an adult female.

Black Scoters - Meaford, Ontario

Black Scoters are not too common on southern Georgian Bay, and it turns out that this was the first time some had been reported to Ebird from Grey County. Cool to see!

So that's that. I still have plans to make one more Point Pelee post; probably tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Haldimand County geese and other fun birds

I'll get to making my second post about my Point Pelee trip soon. In that post, you can look forward to outstanding photos of Greater White-fronted Geese from about a km away, among other things. The pixelation in the photos is breathtaking. But in the meantime, I'll talk about the great day I had today, birding Haldimand County with Barb "Barbed Wire" Charlton.

Despite the occasional snow squalls, cold temperatures, and brisk wind, we headed out for the wilds of Haldimand County, located between Long Point and Niagara. I always enjoy birding this part of Ontario. It is relatively underbirded, the rarity potential is very high, the human population is low, and there are quite a few natural-ish looking areas, such as grasslands and weedy fields, which are often home to an abundance of species. Driving the backroads, periodically stopping in decent looking areas or when you encounter a flock of something, is a great strategy to birding the county.

I'll jump straight to the highlight of the day. At one point, Barb and I got out of her vehicle to scan a field containing geese plus a white blob (which ended up being a barnyard goose). As I was scanning with my scope, Barb noticed a flock of geese way off in the distance with her binoculars, flying towards us. I got on them with the scope and immediately noticed a smaller goose with the Canadas. After they came a little closer I realized it was a Brant!

We ended up jumping back in the car and following them until they touched down in a field. Sure enough, there was the Brant hanging out with the geese!

There are a couple of theories on the origin of this bird. One option is that it is a local overwintering bird. After all, 6 were seen on January 5, 2012 not more than 10 or 15 km away along Lake Erie. Perhaps it is one of those birds? However, shortly thereafter Lake Erie froze over and the majority of the geese departed.

Another option is that it is a "spring migrant". Brant normally migrate through eastern Ontario in late May/early June however there have been a few super early spring migrants. According to Alan Wormington, one showed up southeast of Ottawa on March 17, 2010. Another early spring record was from Peter's Corners, Hamilton on March 21, 2009.

Another example is Whimbrel. They also are late May migrants, however last spring one was seen in Prince Edward County on March 23/24! A Long-billed Dowitcher (usually late April/early May migrants) showed up near Ottawa on March 21, 2012 as well. So super early birds do occur!

A final possibility is that it is a bird that wintered a short distance away where there was open water - perhaps south of Lake Erie somewhere. It's plausible that it caught up with a group of migrant Canada Geese and ended up in Ontario.

Regardless of the origin of this bird, it was a pretty cool find!

We had a number of other interesting sightings throughout the day. 4 Ring-necked Pheasants was notable since they can be a tough bird to come by in most of Ontario. I wonder if the ones we saw were "wild" self-sustaining pheasants, or someone's pets.

We saw two Snow Geese in flight in the Dunnville area as well (one was a blue morph). A couple of Pileated Woodpeckers were also a treat to see, rounding out the sightings for us. Of course, the typical spring migrants for the date were in abundance - Killdeer, blackbirds, Tundra Swans, dabbling ducks, Horned Larks, etc.

Tomorrow I have a presentation to give in Owen Sound so I will leave sometime in the morning and do some birding on the way up. Maybe the Harlequin Duck is still around, or perhaps I'll stumble upon something else interesting.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Point Pelee update after 2 days

I'll make this one short and sweet, and I'll do a longer writeup (with photos) when I get home tomorrow.

The spring like conditions of Point Pelee is certainly a welcome change! Yesterday the temperature was as high as 16 degrees Celcius in parts of southwestern Ontario, and today was close to double digits (though with a healthy dose of rain). Walking around today, it certainly felt and looked like a typical day in April! No snow, relatively warm air temperature, south winds, flooded fields (that were full of ducks), thousands of blackbirds, and thousands of Ring-billed Gulls everywhere.

Some highlights so far:
-1 Common Raven near London on the drive down
-34 Greater White-fronted Geese in the onion fields yesterday (a new Point Pelee bird for me, and the first time I had seen more than 1 at a time). Thanks for the text, Kory! There were only 5 in the fields today, so maybe the big group has left.
-8 migrant Eastern Meadowlarks included 5 in Sparrow Field and 3 in the onion fields today
-1 adult white morph Snow Goose today in the onion fields, another new Point Pelee bird for me. Thanks, Alan!
-2 Iceland, 2 Glaucous, and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls today, both at the tip and in the fields. Iceland Gull was my 3rd new Point Pelee bird so far this trip!
-huge numbers and diversity of ducks. New arrivals include Wood Ducks (19 today), Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, etc. So far, no rare ducks have been located! With the growing numbers of wigeon and teal, it seems only a matter of time until a Eurasian Wigeon or Common Teal drops in. 2 Long-tailed Ducks flying by the tip this morning were nice to see.
-first migrant aerial insectivores!!!! 2 Tree Swallows yesterday. Spring is here!!!
-at least 4 American Woodcocks peenting and displaying last night (plus hooting Great Horned Owls, and a Long-eared nearby)
-a group of 8 Cackling Geese off of the Couture Dyke yesterday

So to recap, we've had a great diversity of species, including some relatively early migrants. I have managed to pick up 3 new birds for my Point Pelee list, so that means I am even closer to passing Alan's all time Point Pelee list. A matter of time! ;)

Tomorrow I will probably do some birding around here for the morning, then work my way back along the lakeshore.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Pelee for 3 days

Later today I will be leaving for Ontario's banana belt, with a plan to spend most of my time in the Point Pelee area. After a bit of a slow start to spring, at least compared to the last couple of years, finally we are getting some warmer temperatures and south winds. The snow is slowly melting, and there is open water to the south of where I am living in Cambridge.

While rarities are super rare in early March, some species do show up this time of year. Townsend's Solitaires and Varied Thrushes have a history of being found in March in Ontario. Ontario's first ever Furriginous Hawk was found on March 17, 1990. Gulls such as California and Mew (3 records each) are a possibility. Common Eider has 5 March records. Tufted Duck, Mountain Bluebird, Western Grebe, Common Teal, Green-tailed Towhee, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, and Black Vulture all have multiple March records for Ontario.

Rare geese also have a tendency to be found in March. Apparently the large flock of Greater White-fronted Geese is still being seen at Hillman Marsh so hopefully I can add that one to my Point Pelee list. I have actually never seen more than 1 at a given time in Ontario.

Greater White-fronted Goose (November 29, 2012; Waterloo, Ontario)

Snow and Ross's Geese also are fairly regular this time of year. Pelee had some a few weeks ago, and the flock totaling around 10 Ross's Geese may still be in the Rondeau area.

Early spring means lots of ducks and so I expect to have hundreds or even thousands of Redhead, scaup, American Wigeons, Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintail, and other species to sort through. It won/t be long until the first spring Blue-winged Teal shows up, and I am hoping to cross paths with one! Eurasian Wigeon is always a possibility this time of year. That would be another new Pelee bird if I can find one.

Check out this checklist from NW Kentucky (only 1000 km southwest of Pelee). Migrant shorebirds!!! It will still be some time before we start to see Least Sandpipers, yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpipers in Ontario, though.

Blackbirds will be around, Killdeer should be littering the fields, and Song Sparrows will have arrived. Common birds they are, but definitely a welcome change of scenery after the long, cold winter! Tree Swallows hit Lake Erie yesterday, so some of these should be around as well!

Often, white-winged gulls migrating back north are seen on Lake Erie this time of year. I still need Iceland Gull for my Point Pelee list, so maybe that nemesis will finally fall this week. Speaking of potential new Pelee birds, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, and California Gull fall in that category.

We are forecasted to have a good amount of rain tomorrow, but there should still be tons of migrants around. I'll try to update my blog in the evenings. If you do not hear from me, it is likely because I have not seen anything interesting. I will probably stay in the Pelee area until Tuesday evening.