Saturday, March 21, 2009

First Day of Spring & Shade-Grown Coffee

Living close to the downtown has its advantages as well as its drawbacks. Though some interesting species appear on the yard list, birding an urban area of St. Catharines is limited. In order to get anywhere in the city worth birding, our vehicle is required. With all this travelling by car, how could we contribute to the environment in a positive way for a change?

Car pooling on a recent OFO trip contributed in the reduction of carbon emissions but what else could we do that would be beneficial, especially with it being the first day of spring? I had recently found some information on shade-grown coffee while browsing the web. Originating at the blog, Birding with Kenn & Kim, I found my way to the Birds and Beans site for Canadians and discovered a list of shade-grown coffee distributors. To my surprise, a small restaurant in downtown St. Catharines was on the list. Perfect! Not only could we purchase shade-grown coffee, it was also found within walking distance of our home. Though not planned we had lunch at the restaurant on Friday, followed by a cup of coffee. It was excellent and a 1/2 pound of the Birds and Beans Sumatra blend was purchased. This morning's cup was really good, so future purchases will occur. With only the Sumatra beans available downtown, Central and South American blends will have to be purchased online. After an early morning cup of Guatemalan Huehuetenango, Jean and I can observe warblers this spring knowing we have contributed to the conservation of their winter homes.

A quick visit to Jaycee Park in honour of the March equinox produced two additions to the year list. A Pied-billed Grebe (#72) was observed on Martindale Pond as well as a Double-crested Cormorant (#73). Yes, spring has finally arrived in southern Ontario.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Long Point OFO Trip

There was no sleeping in on Saturday March 14. Jean and I had planned to attend the OFO trip of the Long Point area and the meeting time was 9:00 am. I was glad for that. We didn't have to wake up at such an ungodly hour with Long Point less than two hours away. Coffee was brewed, mugs and thermos filled, scope loaded into the car, and the vcr set to tape the Liverpool versus Manchester United match. We travelled along Hwy. 3 and observed many Red-tail Hawks surveying the rural farmland of Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Arriving in Simcoe we continued our drive along Regional Road 24 in order to reach the trip's meeting spot, the St. Williams Forestry Station, the oldest provincial forestry station in Canada. As we approached St. Williams, 2 Wild Turkeys flew across the road, a sign to the start of a great day of birding.

We arrived at the forestry station with time to spare and joined a group of birders enjoying views of at least a half dozen Pine Siskin flying from tree top to tree top. The 40 birders assembled together and our trip leader Jim Heslop (along with Bob Stamp and John Olmsted) informed the group of the spots that were on the itinerary. With such a large group car pooling was suggested and I believe Jean and I, besides the trip leaders, were the only ones willing to car pool. Two sisters, Bev and Annie, asked if we would car pool with them. This would turn out to be a sound decision. In addition to getting along very well with our newly found birding friends, Bev also resides in nearby Port Ryerse and knew the area we would be travelling.

The group's first stop was the marina in St. Williams. Most waterfowl were distant and space was limited for scopes but we had some good views of Redhead and Hooded Merganser. A Song Sparrow sang its famous song as we viewed the ducks and Jean and I recorded our first observation of Red-winged Blackbird (#60) and Common Grackle (#61) for 2009. With too many vehicles on this trip, a visit to Booth's Marina was scrubbed and we continued on to the marina in Port Rowan. Port Rowan is a small town, overlooking Long Point, our future destination.

The amount of waterfowl encountered was staggering. This was our first visit ("No way!" "Way!") to Long Point to observe spring migrants at this time of year. We have seen Tundra Swan on the Niagara River, small flocks of 30 to 40 totalling 200, as we travelled along the Niagara Parkway from Fort Erie to Chippawa but the numbers here were amazing. There were over 1500 Tundra Swans (#62)! Within the small bay near where we stood, a good number of American Wigeon, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck (#63), were observed. 3 Canvasback (#64) were spotted amongst the larger number of various waterfowl. Along with smaller numbers of Gadwall, Bufflehead and Common Merganser were many American Coots. During our time here a small flock of Canada Geese flew in but what attracted the attention of the birders was the 11 Snow Geese (#65), blue and white morph, that accompanied them. Jean and I had only observed one Snow Goose, a white morph, on the Niagara River prior to this trip. This was an excellent opportunity to observe both morphs not only on the water but in flight as well. After our fill of waterfowl, content we had observed all there was to see, we moved on to the next point of interest.

Big Creek and its flood plain are known to produce some good observations so the first stop along the creek was on a closed section of Concession Road A. When Bev informed me the road was called "A Road" I thought she was simply saying "a road". I'm not sure how long it took me to realize that it was in fact the name of the road. We parked our cars and strolled along the closed road, crossing 2 bridges blocked with concrete barriers to prevent vehicular traffic. During the short walk, flocks of Tundra Swan flew overhead in what seemed an endless aerial show. What an amazing sight!

Images courtesy of Annie Goulden

A scan of the Wood Duck houses for screech owl proved unsuccessful but an immature Bald Eagle (#66) flew through the trees to the delight of the group. Shortly after that observation a Great Blue Heron, another first for 2009 (#67) was seen flying above our location.

Our next stop was the Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Area. Upon entering the parking area we observed a woman waving at us. She was from another group and was attempting to inform us of a bird sighting, as she stated, "I'm trying to tell everyone there's Sandhill Cranes across the road and no one is paying attention to me". Well we did, along with a few other OFO birders. Jean, Bev, Annie, and I crossed the road to the area the woman described and found the cranes with no problem.

Image courtesy of Annie Goulden
We watched 2 Sandhill Cranes (#68) for a few minutes and then the appearance of third crane convinced them to join it in the field next to the waterfowl management area. We would observe a total of 6 Sandhill Cranes during our stop here, our new viewing position downwind of a dead skunk.

Images courtesy of Annie Goulden

After viewing the cranes, our attention was drawn to the gulls that other members of the group were observing. Many thanks to Steve Thorpe for finding the Glaucous Gull (#69), amongst the Ring-billed Gulls, through the heat haze on a flooded field. In addition, 2 Killdeer (#70) were observed during our time at Lee Brown's.

We proceeded to 1st Concession Road to look for waterfowl on the same creek visited earlier in the morning. No new species observed here. It was time for lunch, so the group headed for the Old Cut Banding Station on the point. Bird Studies Canada had kindly opened the station to allow the OFO group a spot to have lunch.

After eating and a quick review of the species tallied so far, we walked the trails adjacent to the banding station. Walking the trails our gang of four observed, Black-capped Chickadee, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Common Grackle, American Crow, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. Unfortunately for us we did not see the Golden-crowned Kinglet observed by a few other OFO birders. The remains of a large avian carcass was found on the trail and it appeared to be that of a Great Blue Heron. Before returning to the mainland our group stopped at a viewing stand on the causeway to view the waterfowl on the inner bay. Room was limited on the viewing stand so a small group of us stood on the shoreline to obtain this view of the inner bay.

Image courtesy of Annie Goulden

Behind the waterfowl, 8 immature Bald Eagles played and provided the afternoon's entertainment to some OFO members. The large amount of Tundra Swans took flight and revealed approximately 50 Snow Geese. The sight was pretty cool.

Image Courtesy of Annie Goulden

The last stop for our carload was on Concession Road #3 along Big Creek. Green-winged Teal (#71), our last species to add to the year list, were observed with Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck. The train of cars continued along more concession roads in search of Golden Eagle but we decided to call it a day, visiting Booth's Marina before returning to our car at the forestry station. No waterfowl were observed at the marina. No Golden Eagle either as per Jim's trip report on the listserve. We missed the Eastern Bluebirds listed on the report but I can tick them later. We have promised to take Jean's mum to search for Eastern Bluebird. We have a couple of spots lined up that should produce positive results.

Overall, Jean and I had a great field trip, adding 12 species to the year list. Thanks to Annie and Bev for inviting us along for the drive through the Long Point area. We enjoyed their company and appreciated their knowledge of the area. We have promised to return the favour if they decide to attend the Niagara River OFO trip even though it is in December and will be much colder (especially at Adam Beck). Additional thanks to Annie are in order for providing the images appearing on this post. Glad to see she captured one of Jean and I in our designer rubber boots. This was our first visit to Long Point and it will not be our last, perhaps a future visit to observe warblers will occur.

Oh and for those interested, Liverpool FC 4-Man. Utd. 1. Nuff said!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bear Tagging in Algonquin with Rick Mercer

I had mentioned Algonquin Provincial Park briefly in my last post. On this week's Rick Mercer Report, Rick assisted in the tagging of three bear cubs. It looks like he actually enjoyed it. Who wouldn't! I would rather deal with a mother Black Bear and her cubs than Canadian MPs any day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Winter Listing

The winter birding season came to an end on February 28 and migrants will soon be arriving.
Already, reports of Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer have appeared on the Ontario listserve. It is still early days though and with Jean at work on Sunday I thought I would compile our winter list while watching some FA Cup matches (many thanks to the cable gods for the free Setanta).

Since we started birding the number of lists that I keep has increased with the passing of every year. In 2008, two checklists were added. During a family vacation in Algonquin Provincial Park, I picked up a checklist for the park at the west gate welcome centre.

Birding the Old Airfield, Algonquin Provincial Park

Additions to the list will be limited with Algonquin a 5 hour drive from the Niagara Region. We are hoping to add Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, and Gray Jay to the list on an upcoming trip to the provincial park.

The second list was handed out at the Ontario Field Ornithologists Convention last October and is for the Hamilton Study Area. With its great birding areas less than an hour away, additions to the study checklist should occur more often.

Birding Woodland Cemetery, OFO Convention

Back to winter listing (December 1 to February 28), I'm not sure if it exists south of the Canadian border, a web search only found provincial winter lists. "Are there any U.S. compilers keeping winter lists, perhaps in the northern States?".

During the 2008/2009 winter birding season 197 species were observed in the province of Ontario. Jean and I observed a total of 73 species. Reviewing our observations (2006/2007, 2007/2008 and 2008/2009) through eBird Canada, the number of species observed has increased every season. Hopefully with a bit of luck and some effort on our part, a greater number of species will be observed during the 2009/2010 winter birding season.

If I come up with any new lists between then and now I'll let you know.

Two additions to the year list occurred Sunday. Returning home in the afternoon, 2 Turkey Vultures (#58) were observed soaring over the neighbourhood. Later that evening, 5 Wild Turkeys (#59) were seen roosting in a tree for the night while we were travelling to my brother-in-law's for a visit.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reflections & Deletions

In early February I received 6 e-mails from a regional reviewer for eBird Canada. The reviewer was requesting additional details of 6 observations submitted to the site between February 2006 and March 2008. In order to maintain high data quality standards eBird requires further details before the observations can be accepted into the public data base. Some of the observations in question were 3 years old! That must be some task reviewing the large number of entries submitted to the site.

Jean and I are both biologists and have always been interested in observing birds as well as other animals. We even purchased a checklist book, "A Bird Lover's Life List & Journal" with illustrations by John James Audubon, during our visit to Bombay Hook NWR in Smyrna, Delaware during the summer of 1997. Jean still uses this journal for recording our lifer observations.

It was not until 2006 that I thought we should truly start maintaining lists of birds we encounter. Two of the observations in question are from our first year of birding.

The first bird in question is a Barrow's Goldeneye observed on 12 Mile Creek in February of 2006. We both cannot say for certain that we actually observed a Barrow's. Head colour was used in the identification but more attention to detail should have occurred. I did not let the inquiry from a regional reviewer, a highly experienced birder, intimidate me. I was not offended either. They have a job to do. Simply put, the experienced we have gained had us questioning ourselves.

The second observation in question was a male Harlequin Duck we found in Dufferin Islands in March of 2006. This one I'm keeping on the list. There is no doubt in our minds that this was a Harlequin Duck. It was considerably smaller than the many Mallards in the pond. The body was bluish gray with chestnut flanks and on the head, the white patch near the ear and the white crescent in front of the eye were very visible. The duck had all the markings of a breeding male Harlequin.

In late May of 2007, we thought we had observed a Worm-eating Warbler exploring the branches of a Walnut tree in our neighbour's yard. That would be freaking awesome if indeed it was a Worm-eating Warbler. Once again, with the experienced gained we have concluded that we most likely observed a Red-eyed Vireo. Spring appearances of Worm-eating Warblers in this area are very rare. The northern extent of the breeding range is found south of Ontario. Since 1956 only 24 Worm-eating Warblers have been observed in the Hamilton Study Area and the Niagara Region would have comparable data.

I am eagerly awaiting the publication of John and Kayo's book "Niagara Birds". It will be great to have a regional bird book sitting next to Bob Curry's book "Birds of Hamilton and Surrounding Areas" on our book shelf.

On March 15 of last year a visit to Jaycee Park in St. Catharines produced two observations that attracted the attention of the regional reviewer. From the park, an Eared Grebe was observed on Martindale Pond. The grebe we observed had a dark cheek and neck as opposed to the white cheek and throat of a Horned Grebe. The grebe also had a thin neck and a more pronounced crown. Thus I fully support our submission of Eared Grebe.

The second bird observed that day was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It was observed in a stand of coniferous trees with Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and White-breasted Nuthatch. Two white wing bars, a white eye ring and no apparent coloured crown were identified on this small bird. Though it was early in the year (the weather was mild that day) I still stand with my final answer of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

The last observation in question is a Lesser Black-backed Gull found on the Lake Erie shore on August 31 of last year. Jean and I travelled to Morgan's Point Conservation Area to observe shorebirds. On the limestone shore, amongst some Herring, Bonaparte's, and Ring-billed Gulls was 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull. Size comparison of the gulls aided in the identification. It was not the largest gull present. The yellow legs, dark gray back and a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible sealed the i.d. for a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Of the discussed observations, the Barrow's Goldeneye and Worm-eating Warbler were lifers. Reflecting on these observations, I don't feel comfortable with keeping them on our life list. So the list is reduced by 2 to 253. Hey, no worries! It'll make the next time we actually observe these birds all the more worth while.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Port Tower Birding

We did not have much time for birding this past weekend but with the little time we did on Saturday, short visits to a couple of spots on Lake Ontario fulfilled the need to bird.

Our first stop at Jones Beach was short indeed. A quick check from the parking lot only produced views of ice flows along the shoreline. No birds present at all. We continued on to Port Dalhousie to view waterfowl at the Dalhousie Yacht Club Marina.

Hundreds of Mallards and a few Mute Swan, were found in their usual spot near the pier edge. I scanned the 300+ Ring-billed Gulls resting on the empty docks but no amount of looking would find another species of gull. I returned to surveying the Mallards for additional species and spotted a new bird for the year list, a male American Wigeon, #57 for 2009. Jean checked some Mallards on the path and was surprised to find a male Northern Pintail (first observation in the marina). The bird appeared to have an injured leg as it walked along the path searching for kernels of corn. The pintail returned to the water, allowing me to capture some images of it swimming with Mallards.

He was very interested in a female Mallard, bobbing his head as he swam along beside her. He also emitted a short call while bobbing his head. Will a hybrid offspring be found later this year?

14 species of bird were found during our 30 minute stop in Port. During the winter months, we will continue to visit the marina as you never know what you may find. Saturday's paper announced that the Port Tower was approved on February 27. Hopefully access to the marina area and pier will not be affected.