Monday, April 27, 2009

Robin's Nest

Though it is nowhere near as exciting as a Red-shouldered Hawk's nest, a pair of Robins are building a nest in a vine, on the south wall of our house. About 10 days ago we noticed one of the pair fly into the vine with a beak full of mud. I would confirm our suspicions later that day.

I'll keep you informed on the pair's progress.

Sunday evening, Jean and I returned from a weekend of birding in Algonquin, including Saturday's OFO Algonquin Park trip. Results with images (Jean has a new toy--Nikon Coolpix) to be posted soon. Did we tick any Boreal species? Wait and see.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Colourful Afternoon

When looking over the daily listserve reports I always open the e-mails titled "Mud Lake". The majority of the time, well actually pretty well all the time, the reports are for the Mud Lake in the Ottawa area, a six hour drive from St. Catharines. On Saturday afternoon, Jean and I visited the other Mud Lake, a mere 25 minute drive away.

We have birded the man-made lake a number of times, including in April of last year after receiving a listserve report (the only recent report for the Port Colborne Mud Lake?). The report included the observation of 2 Rusty Blackbirds. We found 1, our lifer and only sighting so far, with little difficulty. The only other lifer listed for Mud Lake is Ring-necked Duck in late March of 2006.

Upon reaching Mud Lake Conservation Area we were welcomed to a drop in temperature of 5+ degrees Celsius and a strong south-west wind. Luckily we would be sheltered by the surrounding trees and dike while looking at the waterfowl on the lake. St. Catharines was sunny and 20 degrees when we left. It is amazing how much the weather differs from spot to spot in the region.

While setting up the scope, Tree Swallows (#84 for the year list) were flying back and forth along the edge of the bullrushes and male Red-winged Blackbirds were preparing for the arrival of a potential mate. The view of the lake from this vantage point will be totally obscured with bullrushes come summer time. Of the waterfowl present, a few Blue-winged Teal (#85) were close enough that the scope was not required. Further out on the lake, 30 American Wigeon were counted. The remaining waterfowl included the ubiquitous Canada Goose and Mallard, though their numbers were quite low in comparison to the wigeons.

There are trails in the conservation area and with spotting by the lake side done, Jean and I walked a short distance on the section atop the dike. The trail is surrounded by brush and trees but observing birds is not difficult at this time of year. 6 Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitted from tree to tree, so close sometimes that the binoculars remained pointed to the ground. The small birds could not contain their excitement on returning to Ontario, for unlike the Ruby-crowned Kinglet observed from my yard, these birds were revealing their ruby crowns proudly. It was quite the display and one I have not viewed too often. A Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal were heard but not seen as a Black-capped Chickadee jumped among the fallen tree limbs.

Retracing our steps on the trail, Jean spotted 1 Brown-headed Cowbird (#86) at the top of a tree. Our birding done at Mud Lake, we would head to our next destination, the purpose of our visit to the Port Colborne/Wainfleet area.

Friends of ours own property in the area that is suitable for American Woodcock and had informed me that they saw the species earlier in the week. Last year the friend had observed the courtship display. We needed to add the bird to the year list so a visit was planned for Saturday afternoon. Walking around the wet and mixed growth lot we observed Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow. We would eventually flush not 1 but 2 American Woodcock (#87). I had taken the scope hoping to use for viewing the secretive bird but we would only view while they were in flight, a cool sight none-the-less.

With the American Woodcock added to the 2009 list, our day of birding was completed. Additions to the year list should continue at a steady pace for the next few weeks now that the migratory birds are arriving.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Observations from the Yard

For the third weekend in a row I observed the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the trees near our yard. The only difference this morning was the presence of a second Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I observed the male in his usual tree. There were quite a few holes, all neatly arranged in a horizontal line, in the tree, as with many of the trees found along the parking lot entrance. I noticed some movement in a tree closer to our street. It was a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The pair would eventually leave my sight when the male flew over to the female to chase her around the trees.

A total of 6 Dark-eyed Juncos were flying through the neighbourhood, stopping in my yard as well as the neighbouring properties on either side of our home. They should be leaving for their breeding range soon, not to be seen again until the fall.

During this time in the back yard I also ticked a bird for the year list. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, #83, was quickly jumping from branch to branch in the same trees that the sapsuckers have called home during their brief stay in the neighbourhood. All was calm as there was no sign of the kinglet's ruby crown patch.

The weather was quite warm today and after enjoying lunch on the back patio, Jean and I observed a pair of House Finches in the yard north of our property. The colour of the male was very red and I used the female, which lacked the white eyebrow found on the female Purple Finch, to aid in the identification.

With the yard observations concluded, Jean and I would leave St. Catharines for an afternoon of birding in Port Colborne. You'll have to wait for the next posting to find out if any birds were added to the year list.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Brother Went to Brazil & All I Got Were These Lousy Bird Photos

Yes, as the title suggests, my brother visited Brazil earlier this month. He stayed in Sao Paulo for 10 days, enjoying the weather south of the equator and watching water drain the opposite way down the sink.

As a birder, I was actually pleased that my brother captured images of a few birds he encountered during his trip. It's a challenge having to identify species of birds I would not normally encounter birding in the Niagara Region.

This first photo after much thought and surfing the net, appears to have examples of adult and juvenile Kelp Gulls. 2 adult Kelp Gulls can be found (1 standing & 1 sitting) in the right foreground of the image. A third adult Kelp Gull in the background is looking in the direction of the photographer. To the best of my ability (I'm no gull expert) I can see examples of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year Kelp Gulls. Feel free to comment on the identification.

In the next image we have Royal Terns in nonbreeding plumage with an adult Kelp Gull. The Royal Tern can also be found in North America and was added to our life list at the Lighthouse Pool in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in June of 2007. In addition to our observations in Florida, my wife and I also observed the terns on St. Simons Island in Georgia.

This one is a Southern Lapwing.

Many thanks to my brother Bruce for providing the images for this posting. I needed something to post between my weekly observations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Louth Conservation Area:Revisit I

Late Sunday afternoon, Jean and I returned to Louth Conservation Area to check on the progress of the wildflowers. During our initial visit on March 28 only a small number of flowering Hepatica were found. Two weeks have passed since then and the Hepatica are becoming more apparent. The Trilliums are slowly emerging from the forest floor, some with buds that likely will flower in the next week. The only other flowering plant detected was that of a small cluster of Mayapple.

Mayapple, Louth Conservation Area, Spring of 2001

The number of bird species observed was over twice that of our last visit. So much for stating there is little activity in the conservation area. I guess I just need to visit more often?

Dark-eyed Junco were very active in the Cedars near the parking lot and a pair of White-breasted Nuthatch were seen as we started along the side trail, the male offering the female a gift in the form of a seed. Returning along the Bruce Trail, we found a pair of Brown Creeper and a Northern Flicker. Our first flicker for 2009 was observed on Good Friday while travelling a rural road from Welland to Thorold. The Bruce Trail exits the conservation area 100 metres west of the parking lot and continues west along Staff Avenue. I plan on discussing sections of the Bruce Trail east and west of Louth Conservation Area in future postings. We returned to our car, once again observing a high amount of activity in the Cedars. A pair of Golden-crowned Kinglet (#82 for the year list) were quickly jumping from branch to branch while the quietest Blue Jay ever, sat perfectly still and partially hidden from view, requiring a moment to verify the identification. Yes, there I've said it! A Blue Jay, had me guessing.

During our next visit to Louth Conservation Area, we plan on descending the escarpment to view Louth Falls and explore the trails for flowering Trilliums, the provincial flower of Ontario.

Louth Conservation Area, Spring of 2001

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday Birding

With the snow gone and temperatures back to normal, Good Friday was actually starting to look like a Great Friday. You think I would want to sleep in on a holiday but our one dog would have nothing of it. This is beginning to sound like a recurring theme. I took the dogs outside and surveyed the area for any bird activity. It was 7:50 AM and my watch must be synchronized with that of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. There he was again, same tree, same time.

Later that morning, Jean and I headed for Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) to purchase her brother his birthday gift. Last night's attempt to purchase shade-grown coffee did not go as planned, the cafe downtown was closed. No worries, we can go to NOTL, pick up some fair-trade coffee at the 10, 000 Villages store and then go to the Queenston boat ramp on the chance of spotting the reported Black-headed Gull.

No coffee. Even though NOTL is a tourist destination, 10, 000 Villages was closed. We purchased some loose tea instead. A green tea named Monkey King, quite fitting we thought, for a brother born in the Year of the Monkey. After a couple more purchases we headed up river to Queenston look for the reported gull. Finding the Black-headed Gull would not be easy, there were hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls on the Niagara River. We scanned the gulls looking for a red bill amongst all the black bills but came up empty. Well at least we added Bonaparte's Gull to the year list, #79.

In the evening, we were returning home after the birthday dinner and I thought we should check out an owl nest we had visited on April 1. At that time there were only young in the nest, no adults to confirm the identification of the species. This time we saw a total of 4 owls. Upon our arrival, 1 adult and 2 young were in the nest. The adult flew off and left the young to survey us on their own. From our location across the residential street we searched the forested land for the adult owl. Jean and I could not find the bird so we crossed the road and started walking the trail through the forest. We slowly passed the tree with the nest, yes it's right on the trail. The trees are all deciduous, improving our chances of observing the adult owl. Jean and I looked at the trees in the area we saw the owl fly to and after a few minutes I found it. The bird was a Great Horned Owl! The white throat and the fine horizontal barring on the lower breast and belly confirmed the identification. Within minutes of spotting the owl, I found the mate, immediately to its left. It's amazing how close they were but we did not see them both right away. This was our first observation of a Great Horned Owl in Ontario, #221 for the provincial list. We ticked our lifer at St. Marks NWR in June of 2007. As we were leaving we noticed one of the young had left the nest for a branch to obtain a better view of Jean and I. The immature owl seemed as interested in us as we were in it. I wonder if they keep their own list?

When we got home, I sat at our computer to inform John Black of our observation (I had left him a phone message after our first viewing of the owl). John had beat me to it. He had e-mailed us earlier, requesting the location of the nest for data collection.

It has been an interesting year for owls. The last 4 lifers were owls and with today's observation, the last 5 species on the provincial list have also been owls. It'll be tough to add another owl to the list.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tour of Pelham

Saturday April 4: We take a brief moment to pause from birding the local trails as there were a number of cyclists out there doing their best to complete the 2009 Tour of Pelham. Unfortunately, I did not take part, neither as a rider or volunteer. I didn't bird anywhere either. I stayed home to recuperate from the latest cold virus passing through the region.

Image courtesy of Dave Van de Laar

It was the 9th annual Tour of Pelham and as Tim posted on the St. Catharines Cycling Club (SCCC) forum, "(it) wouldn't be a Lake2Lake event without a torrential downpour now would it?". The heavy precipitation occurred all day Friday causing Tim and the gang to drastically alter the course, removing the Short Hills Provincial Park section. From the following images (used with the permission of Dave Van de Laar) you can see it was a cold and muddy day of racing.

Over 150 riders braved the elements and thoroughly enjoyed the event. Many of them SCCC members. Those who did not ride did an excellent job of assisting Tim with the set-up, timing, marshalling , and tear down.

Image Courtesy of Dave Van de Laar

Image courtesy of Dave Van de Laar

SCCC member Nathan Chown, riding his cross bike, smoked the 29.8 kilometre course in 66 minutes.

Image courtesy of Dave Van de Laar

The following day (Fox Sparrow day) was sunny and 13 degrees. Monday evening it started to snow. Welcome to April in southern Ontario.

The next Niagara race (road race) will be the Niagara Classic O-Cup Race hosted by the SCCC. Our club does a great job of organising the Niagara Classic. I hope to be there to help out on that day. I'll take the camera as well. Though I think Dave would obtain a greater quantity of images than I ever would.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Seek and you shall find.

Sunday was a good day for adding birds to the year list. The first required little effort. I was standing in the back yard with the dogs, enjoying the rising sun, when I noticed a woodpecker in the neighbouring yard. "Hey.", I thought. "That doesn't look like the Downy." "He's back!" I rushed into the house to get the binoculars. Luckily the bird had not vacated before my quick return. Observing the woodpecker with the bins confirmed my suspicions. Red forecrown, chin and throat with a yellowish belly. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (#76) had returned. I'm not sure of his final destination but it or another of its species passed through our neighbourhood in early April of last year. It was also recorded in October on its return flight to the species' winter range.

Later in the day, I picked up Jean from work and we headed for the Green Ribbon Trail for our second attempt at ticking the migrating Fox Sparrow. It was a beautiful day, sunny and 13 degrees. The "okalee" calls of a few male Red-winged Blackbirds along the creek were heard immediately. As we descended the slope to the pedestrian bridge we spotted the 77th addition to the year list. 2 Brown Creepers were seen, doing what they do best, creeping up a tree on the slope to our right. We continued along the path towards the bridge. The previous years, Fox Sparrow were observed in this area. There was no sparrow action at all. No Song or American Tree flitting around the brush like last time. We crossed the pedestrian bridge and continued along the path. I was beginning to think it may still be too early for Fox Sparrow until a small reddish-brown bird flew low, across our path. We observed the sparrow for a few minutes as it kicked the leaf litter around by the edge of the pond. We continued to follow the bird with our binoculars as it jumped in and out of view in the brush. For the third year in a row, we observed Fox Sparrow on this short trail. Only 1 this year though, #78 for the year list. Hopefully the decreasing quantity with every year is not a trend that will continue next year.

Before returning to our car, we paused to watch 2 brightly coloured male American Goldfinches singing for the affections of 1 female. An American Tree Sparrow was seen sitting in a tree. We should return to Martindale Pond soon, either here or at Jaycee Park overlooking the Henley. We need to add Caspian Tern to the year list and they can be found in this area by Lake Ontario. After that, warblers will pass through. So stay tuned for the results of our lifer warbler pursuit.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Got 'em, got 'em, need 'em, need 'em!

I received an e-mail yesterday, as did everyone else subscribing to the Ontario listserve, regarding the annual meeting of the 2008 Ontario Bird Records Committee. Two new species were added to the Ontario Checklist during Saturday's meeting at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Barnacle Goose and the Mottled Duck.

That brings the provincial total to 482 species and makes it all the more difficult, or should I say challenging, to complete the checklist. I remember the listserve reports of a Mottled Duck found in the Hillman Marsh, in May of last year. Jean and I were in the field with Kayo, John and Katherine after meeting with them to discuss the directions of the hot spots and day trip section of the soon to be published Niagara Birds book. While observing birds in Malcomson Park, Kayo was on his cell wanting confirmation it was indeed a Mottled Duck before driving the 4 hours needed to reach the Hillman Marsh. Kayo also flushed a lifer American Woodcock for Jean and I while birding the St. Catharines eco park.

Since then, Jean and I have covered quite an extensive area of the Niagara Region while trying out the directions written by Katherine and Drew. We have one more section to receive from Drew and then our job will be done.

Our chances of observing a Mottled Duck or Barnacle Goose in Ontario are slim but if a report occurs and they are within a reasonable driving distance, we'll be there. Our provincial list, adding 3 so far this year, currently stands at 220 species. It appears we still have some Ontario birding to do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fox Sparrow Hunting

Though slightly early for Fox Sparrows, Jean and I stopped at a trail where we have observed the migrating bird the last two years. The weather was sunny with the temperature in the double digits Saturday afternoon, ideal for observing the sparrow as it stops in our region before moving on to its breeding range, the Boreal Forest. On April 15, 2007 we observed 3 Fox Sparrows on the trail where Richardson's Creek empties into the west end of Martindale Pond. Last year on April 7, we observed 2 of this species in the same area of the trail they were observed the previous year.

Walking along the trail we observed two Song Sparrows and an American Tree Sparrow but no Fox Sparrows were found during our time here Saturday. Too early! It was worth a try on such a beautiful day. Before leaving the trail, we observed a very vocal Belted Kingfisher flying high above the area. The most interesting find on the Green Ribbon Trail was our first butterfly of the year, a Mourning Cloak, flying along and eventually landing in front of us on the paved trail.

Mourning Cloaks, Louth Conservation Area, Spring 2001

Inspired by a recent posting on the Nature Blog Network by the author of The Drinking Bird, I thought Jean and I should explore Louth Conservation Area for signs of spring wild flowers. En route to the conservation area we would observe an Eastern Bluebird, #74 for the year, before turning onto one of the many rural roads that ascend the Niagara Escarpment. Mental note, "Dust off the bike and start riding Bob!". Louth Conservation Area has not been very productive for birds but wild flowers abound during April and May. There were no signs of the Trilliums that will soon reveal themselves, resembling a stream of white on the forest floor.

Louth Conservation Area, Spring of 1994
Hepatica and Trout Lily are the first to appear and we found one flowering Hepatica while hiking a section of the Bruce Trail.

As with many of the conservation areas along the Niagara Escarpment, not one but two waterfalls are located on the creek that passes through Louth. We did not descend the trail that takes you to this view of Louth Falls.

We encountered two species of butterfly while hiking the trail. A Mourning Cloak and then a Comma. While browsing the web for information on the butterflies I came across this excellent Government of Canada site, Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. I also flipped through photo albums when we got home and found images of both species of butterfly from a spring visit to Louth Conservation Area in 2001.

Eastern Comma, Louth Conservation Area, Spring 2001

We will return to the conservation area during the months of April and May so we can observe Trout Lily, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Trilliums, Dutchman's Breeches, and more Hepatica. Quite the variety along the Bruce Trail.

Returning home, we travelled along 5th Avenue to see what avian species could be found. As mentioned in previous posts, we have had some great finds on this stretch of rural road. Killdeer and Horned Lark were observed and with the car windows down I heard a song different from the Horned Lark's as we approached the vineyard. The bird responsible for the drzzt call flew across the road and Jean was first to identify it as an Eastern Meadowlark (#75). A second Eastern Meadowlark was found in the corn field just passed the vineyard. We had great views of the bird as it rested on a corn stalk, alternating between its see-you, see-yeer song and the buzzy drzzt call. Happy that I had ticked two species for the year list, we continued on our way home.

Based on our previous observations along the Green Ribbon Trail, there is still plenty of time to add Fox Sparrow to the year list and I'm confident that we'll find them on the same path. I'll keep you posted on our progress.