Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lifer Below the Falls #450

In my home province of Ontario, Jean and I still have a few species to add to our provincial list. 201 to be exact unless additional species are accepted by the OBRC. When one is a lifer and it happens to be in Niagara, well I get three lists taken care of all at once.

On November 15 last year, we observed our lifer Sabine's Gull from a vantage point 57 metres above the Niagara River. Table Rock is an excellent location for viewing gulls flying below the Falls and after 15 minutes of scanning the Niagara River while elbow to elbow with tourists, we spotted the striking wing pattern of the reported juvenile Sabine's Gull.

A prediction for the next addition to my lists? Using eBird's Target Species application indicates the top five for my Niagara list based on frequency are Black Scoter, Black-headed Gull, American Pipit, Vesper Sparrow and Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Jean and I have not observed a Black-headed Gull and the remaining four species have been observed outside of the Niagara Region. Our lifer Saw-whet Owl was viewed on the region's front door step at the Hamilton managed Fifty Point Conservation Area and when I submitted my checklist to eBird, the conservation area had one hot spot at that location. A year or two later, the location was split into Fifty Point CA (Hamilton side) and Fifty Point CA (Niagara side). The conservation area is divided by Fifty Mile Creek a natural border between the regions of Hamilton and Niagara. I can recall that we were on the Niagara side of the creek but I've decided to leave the lists unchanged.

So, next species then? Black Scoter and I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year's Day 2015

Listers. We are a predictable bunch. Our eBird year lists reset to zero and we dash out the door to tick species we observe every day or that unique one that is far away from home. That was my plan the morning of January 1.
First stop was a municipal park along the Lake Ontario shoreline. During the St. Catharines CBC on December 14, a Harris's Sparrow was observed in a flock of House Sparrows by two well-known birders from Hamilton so Jean and I returned the morning of the 18th with hope of finding our next lifer on the Waterfront Trail in Cherie Road Park. No lifer that day but we left with a new spot to go birding in the Garden City.
The first species observed by Jean and I on January 1 was a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder near an entrance to the trail. Yeah, I ignored looking at hydro lines and front yard feeders while en route to the north end. Other species observed while in the park included, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Ring-billed Gull, Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch and American Goldfinch.
Our next stop was a hot spot further east along the shoreline which produced good results for our group during the Niagara Falls CBC on December 28. A much needed Red-breasted Nuthatch was added to our Niagara 2014 list but below freezing temperatures a few days later caused the creepers, wrens and nuthatches to remain hidden from sight. After 30 minutes of exploring the wooded area of Happy Rolph's, we found only three species and left with just Canada Goose and Black-capped Chickadee added to the Niagara list.

On to Niagara-on-the-Lake to observe waterfowl on the river and to attempt a 2015 observation of a lifer we observed in late November last year. A long distance drive to St. Louis, Missouri for Jean and I is no longer required after viewing the reported Eurasian Tree Sparrow. It was first observed by a homeowner on the Niagara Parkway and since then, many birders have travelled to the north-east corner of the Niagara Region to catch a glimpse of an Old World species introduced to North America in 1870. No repeat for us or for anyone in 2015. Last reported sighting occurred on December 28, 2014. During our Eurasian Tree Sparrow stakeout, we added Blue Jay, European Starling and House Sparrow to the Niagara list.

We then ran into some birding friends at Nelson Park on the Niagara River and took in some great views of a Common Loon with 4 Red-throated Loons.  It's always good to have similar looking species side by side for comparison. Waterfowl seen included Redhead, Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard.  We could not find the Glaucous Gull spotted by our friends near the Queen's Royal Park gazebo earlier in the day.

Near Fort George, Jean and I stopped at a spot where seed was left on the ground. Knowing we had observed Tufted Titmouse here in the past, we waited for a few minutes and added another tick for the day. We were now heading home but along a planned route that might produce the Ring-necked Pheasant observed late last year and a Snowy Owl found at the Niagara District Airport by our friends.

No pheasant for us but I was glad to hear our friends had found three in the same field. The Snowy Owl could not be located either. We settled for Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon on the regional roads near the airport. Last species observed on the first day of 2015 was a Northern Harrier at the Snowy Owl stakeout in west St. Catharines.

It was a start. 364 days left to obtain 200+ species for the Niagara year list. Covering our section for the Port Colborne CBC on January 4 could produce some interesting species. I was hoping the weather would cooperate.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year

Happy New Year!

It's been approximately 21 months since my last posting. The over extended sabbatical is over and the tales have returned. There's no shortage of birding adventures. Birding in Belize, 2014 lifers and the chase to tick as many species for the Niagara 2015 list is underway.

Jean and I had a personal best for the Niagara Region last year. During the months of November and December there were some unexpected ticks.........

......and then some misses when searching for species observed by others during the St. Catharines Christmas Bird Count.

The last species for 2014 is a bird that is becoming more and more difficult to find in Niagara. After we finished the Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count, Jean spotted a Ring-necked Pheasant standing in an open field. Best of all, it was in the circle and was added to this year's count.


What will be the first species and last species in Niagara and beyond for 2015? Time will tell.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

A New Bird Guide for the Book Shelf (Trogons in My Head)

Well the guide has not actually made it to the book shelf yet. Since late November of last year it sat on our coffee table for easy access in preparation of our birding trip to Belize the last week of February.

Just looking at the cover created visions of trogons in my head and though I know the title and lyrics of the Atlas Genius song 'Trojans' is not about birds from the family Trogonidae, it still sounds like trogons to me. And it continues to play that way when I hear the song on an almost hourly basis while at work. Did Jean and I get to see a species of trogon during our 9-day adventure in the tropics? Stay tuned as this Niagara birder does his best to post tales of visiting Central America for the first time since starting a life list several years ago. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Niagara CBCs

It was that time of year again. Between December 14 and January 5, birders and nature club members head out into the great outdoors to count birds in the name of science. This year, Jean and I could only participate in 2 of the 3 Niagara Christmas Bird Counts.

The St. Catharines CBC took place on December 16 and the weather was mild. No chance of a repeat sundog appearance this year nor was there any additions to the 2012 list while travelling the rural roads of Pelham and West Lincoln. An above average 85 species were found by 50 participants (also above average).

Compiler Marcie Jacklin recently posted a few highlights from the St. Kitts Count.

First record of American Pipit

Second record of Thayer's Gull

Record high counts for:     Northern Shoveler (7)
                                    Ring-necked Duck (44)
                                    Double-crested Cormorant (133)
                                    Tufted Titmouse (31)
                                    Winter Wren (8)
                                    Carolina Wren (34)
                                    Common Redpoll (222)

Record low counts for:      American Crow (77)

The Port Colborne CBC was on Sunday December 30 and as posted on facebook (December 27), I was hoping for Rough-legged Hawk, Snow Buntings and Common Redpolls.

In 2011, we observed Rough-legged Hawk on the Port Colborne count in early January followed by three additional observations between late January and late April. To go all year without a tick and expect an observation with only two days remaining was presumptuous but the conditions and environment in our section were shouting for a sighting of the hawk that breeds in the Arctic tundra. Well it was pretty quiet for this species of Buteo. Another Buteo was easily found and the day ended, Red-tailed Hawks 5 and Rough-legged Hawks 0. Let's hope the Seahawks fare much better against the Falcons.

Common Redpoll was another species with many observations in 2011 but had yet to be found in 2012. During the winter months, the small finches can be found at feeders in Niagara and spending a little time observing some front yard feeders produced three Common Redpolls before 9:00 a.m.

We observed Snow Buntings twice in the Niagara Region in 2011 and the views were early in the year. It seems another species was holding out until the Port Colborne count. In the afternoon, Jean and I found two flocks of Snow Buntings while travelling the roads north and south of the village of Wainfleet.

Both flocks were mixed with Horned Larks. Unfortunately, not a single longspur was found with the buntings. We would end the count with 26 species observed in our section and a new personal best of 217 for the Ontario year list. Though the tally sheets were handed in, we still had a chance at adding another species before the end of the day.

We were discussing the birds observed during the count and Jean picked up some information on the location of an Eastern Screech Owl from fellow Niagara birders Blayne and Jean. It was a good owl year for us and adding a 6th owl species to the year list would be a great way to end 2012. Funny. Blayne and Jean were there when we observed a Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl and Snowy Owl during the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Count. Directions were given but in the end, the finders of the bird decided to lead us to the tree where they spotted the small owl sunning itself. A few more count participants joined the owl prowl and we all headed off to the east side of Port Colborne to observe the Megascops asio.

The bounce song of an Eastern Screech-owl broadcasted from Blayne and Jean's vehicle as we stood by the roadside with our bins focused on a hole in a tree. The appearance of a gray morph was brief and muppet-like. It slowly rose, exposing only the top half of its head and once it realized that it was only birders and their silly playback devices the owl returned to the comfort of its hollow. Good enough for me. Tick number 218.

That's how our year would end. On the final day of the year, we looked for Black Vultures in Queenston after finishing work. No vultures, just lots of gulls soaring around the river at the bottom of the Niagara Gorge. No Little Gull for the year either. The light was fading fast at the mouth of the Niagara River and the gulls were flying very low as they headed to Lake Ontario for the evening. If there was a Little Gull mixed in with the Bonaparte's, there was no way you could tell. The 2012 list was officially closed. In less than 7 hours, we would be celebrating the New Year and the start of the 2013 Ontario Year list.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Oh Where, Oh Where Was That Black-throated Blue?

With only the month of December left I was scrambling to add species to my 2012 Ontario list. Only 2 species were needed to beat last year's total of 216.

The most recent tick was a male Harlequin Duck (#215) in Port Weller on December 7. An eBird Rare Bird Alert informed me that the colourful diving duck was within easy reach. After ticking a Ross's Goose (#213) in Mississauga on November 10, Jean and I tried for a second FOY on the north shore of Lake Ontario when returning to St. Catharines the same afternoon.

On paper, it seemed easy. Well, we dipped on the small group of Harlequins and the subsequent postings of successful views taunted me to no end. The Port Weller sighting was in my backyard and was worth the 2.5 kilometre walk to the tip of the east pier. With less than 200 metres to go before we reached the red and white beacon at the end of the trail, Jean and I observed the Harlequin Duck sitting on the water with 3 female Buffleheads at the very tip of the spit.

#214 for my list was the most interesting bird Jean and I observed on the OFO Niagara River Gull Trip in early December. Observing a Black-throated Blue Warbler in southern Ontario at this time of year is rare and exciting. At the time of the observation, I did not realize that the warbler would also raise an issue for the eBird regional reviewer.

We observed the bird from the Niagara Parks pathway between the Engineerium and the Old Gatehouse and when I submitted the checklist, I used the eBird hotspot Niagara River-Upper Falls. Unfortunately,this was not the only location used by eBirders reporting their observation. In total, the Black-throated Blue was reported at 6 sites along the Niagara River. One was 25 kilometres down-river at a public park in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The reviewer was concerned with the multiple locations and confusion that it may cause for others that wish to search for the bird.

The locations were all eBird hotspots and it appears that some birders used only one location during their day of birding along the Niagara River. It may be difficult at times to keep multiple lists when moving from one area to the next but as the reviewer stated, there is a general hot spot for the river that can be used for a  running list. This spot is known as the Niagara River Corridor and it is located 1 kilometre north of the Rainbow Bridge. When keeping a single list for a Niagara trip or for any general hot spot across the eBirding continent, it is best to provide a detailed location for any noteworthy bird in addition to any notes you made regarding the identity. This assists others that would like to find the bird. I myself have found detailed comments helped to get a successful tick (the above mentioned Harlequin) so it makes sense to provide accurate information when using eBird.

That's it for my contribution in educating fellow eBird users. Keep those lists accurate and always be friendly towards your eBird regional data reviewer.

Back to birding in the last month of 2012. It was the final weekend of the year and the table still only had 215 species. No first of the years during the St. Kitts CBC on the 16th so it was left to the Port Colborne CBC to uncover some additions before my lists flip back to zero.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Browns Fan for A Day

There are weekends when birding has to take a back seat for other activities, quite literally on some occasions. Last weekend Jean and I spotted birds as best we could while travelling west on the I90 in her brother's van. We were on our way to Cleveland, Ohio to see the Browns play the Chiefs on the Sunday and binoculars were brought along to assist in identifying birds worthy of a closer look. Before reaching our destination, we ticked the species you would think one would see along a highway corridor. I was not surprised to find Red-tailed Hawks, American Crows and Rock Pigeons in all three states but the Wild Turkey in Hamburg, New York and Great Blue Heron flying over the highway, somewhere near Girard, Pennsylvania, helped fill my ornithological gazing needs. More surprising was that this trip was the start of the Pennsylvania list. It's a state we've only ever passed through so as of December 8, 2013, my Pennsylvania list has three species on it. It's a work in progress.

We arrived in Cleveland around mid-day and we stopped to take in the sights along the waterfront. Most importantly, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

An interesting sign in the parking garage of the Great Lakes Science Centre (Center)

Before entering the Hall of Fame and lamenting on Rush's absence, I spotted a pair of Mallards on the water.

After our fill of rock history, we headed over to the West Side Market. En route, we observed our best bird of the weekend. Swiftly soaring over the downtown core was a Peregrine Falcon.

It was a quick view but still a tick. I did a little Internet research after returning home and discovered that falcons have nested on the historic Terminal Tower.

Though I was dressed like I was about to take part in a Christmas Bird Count, there was not much chance of birding on the Sunday. It was time for some football and supporting the Seahawks was set aside for just one day.

Courtesy of Melissa Hampson

Within 12 seconds, the Chiefs scored on their first play of the game and the Dawg Pound (including my brother-in-law and his wife) was silenced for a short time. Between plays, I looked to the skies for any birds but nothing exciting appeared. The excitement remained on the field. After Phil Dawson's 300th career field goal and Travis Benjamin's 93 yard punt return for a touch down (longest in Browns' history), it was pretty well over for Kansas City. The final score was 30 to 7.

It was a great weekend. A new state list was started, species were added to the Ohio list, the Browns won, and we had some pretty good tour guides show us the sights of a city I certainly would like to return to some day. And not just for another chicken-bacon-cheddar crepe. There's still the aquarium to see and the Great Lakes Science Center but more importantly, a return visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is required. Yes, my birding and non-birding followers. It has happened. The Canadian rock trio that has been eligible since 1998 was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Now that I have calmed down, it's time to return my undivided attention to the 2012 Ontario list and I'm hoping the St. Catharines CBC has some hidden gems.