Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ontario SwiftWatch

This past weekend Jean and I participated in Ontario's first provincewide blitz to monitor Chimney Swifts entering chimneys.

A weekly birding column, 'Wing Beat', authored by Lionel Gould, informed us of the event where volunteers are asked to choose a night between June 26 and 28 and observe chimneys that have swifts. The St. Catharines Standard article stated that the Chimney Swift population has declined in Canada by 96 per cent over the last 40 years. The species is listed federally as threatened and Bird Studies Canada organized the event to prevent further decline in the population through conservation efforts.

While barbequing on the back patio Sunday, 8 Chimney Swifts flew over our yard chittering away, reminding us we still had one evening available to count them entering a chimney. We had a good idea where they were roosting. The Lake Street Armoury must have chimneys suitable for swifts.

It was asked that volunteers start at least 20 minutes before sunset so around 8:15 PM we headed over to Lake Street to stand across the road at a suitable vantage point. It was raining so we took our spot beneath the entrance overhang of a local credit union. There are 3 chimneys on the east side of the building. Which one would they choose?

During the 60 minutes of monitoring we observed the aerial acrobatics of the swifts as well as streaks of lightning shooting across the sky behind the armoury. The swifts appeared to be teasing us as they flew towards the chimney but at the last second pulled away to continue some last minute feeding on some flying insects.

A total of 8 swifts entered chimneys (3 in the front chimney, 2 in the chimney directly behind it & 3 in the chimney to the south) at the Lake Street Armoury. The exact number we observed flying over our yard earlier in the evening. Hopefully, with conservation efforts, that number will soon double. It was quite an impressive sight viewing 70 Chimney Swifts in Valdosta, Georgia 2 years ago. One that I would welcome back to the Niagara Region.

Monday, June 29, 2009

B.C. Trip Part IV

June 16

Artisan Birding

Before breakfast Jean and I birded the grounds of the Tara Shanti for one hour.

Image by Bob

No new birds but we would discover the the nest of the Rufous Hummingbird pair. If not for spotting the male Rufous selecting a piece of lichen from a tree branch and taking it back to the nest in a Honeysuckle vine, the nest would have remained unnoticed.

Can you spot the nest?

Here is a cropped image.

Hummingbird nest images by Bob

Later that morning we visited the Artisan Way (Hwy 3A) in Crawford Bay, a strip of various artisans and their working studios.

The North Woven Broom a historic log barn with hundreds of brooms hanging from the rafters.

Image by Jill (Mum)

The broom used in the 'Bewitched' movie poster was made at this shop. Along with some pretty cool Harry Potter prototypes.

The building housing the Barefoot Handweaving Studio & Gallery was interesting.

Image by Bob

Guess what was used for insulation. Straw!! How cool is that.

Image by Bob

More importantly, there was a bird singing outside the studio that caught the attention of Jean and I. It would disappear but would return when we continued our tour at Breathless Glass, Fireworks Copper & Glass and Kootenay Forge.

Tim at Breathless Glass making a wine glass.

Images by Bob

The bird was amazingly coloured, brilliant turquoise head and back; reddish breast; white belly and 2 white wing bars. A lifer Lazuli Bunting (#270).

While at the last artisan shop, Dogpatch Pottery, I scanned the field and sky from the road side, spotting Red-tailed Hawk, Common Raven, American Robin and Violet-green Swallow.

With the shopping concluded Jean and I had lunch with her mum on the beach neighbouring the Crawford Bay Wetlands. The Wetlands were calling and this time I had our scope.

Images by Jean unless stated otherwise.

Friday, June 26, 2009

B.C. Trip Part III

Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

After a 35 minute ferry ride, we were now on the western side of Kootenay Lake. We didn't see many birds during the crossing, only 2 Osprey (nesting on a buoy) and 1 Mallard as we arrived in Balfour.

Image by Bob

Travelling north along Hwy. 31 we found the hot springs in Ainsworth closed so we returned south to visit Kokanne Glacier Provincial Park. Along the way we stopped at the picturesque Coffee Creek for a photo op.

Reaching the entrance to the provincial park we left the paved, smooth asphalt of the 3A and started our ascent on a 16 kilometre rocky, gravel road to the Gibson Lake parking area. Adventurous hikers can start at the parking lot near the 3A and backpack to a cabin or for the even more adventurous, sites for wilderness camping. The Gibson Lake parking area is only 2 kilometres from the glacier and for those camping overnight, chicken wire and rocks are provided to protect your vehicle's tires and brakelines from hungry porcupines.

During the slow 45 minute ascent to the lake, Jean observed a thrush-like bird on the road, approximately 20 metres ahead of us. Looking through her binoculars, she quickly identified it as a Varied Thrush. In order to tick it as a lifer I needed to get a look at the bird. It flew from the road into some trees to our left. I was driving so I pulled up to the area where it was spotted and was able to get some great views of the grayish-blue and orange bird. After missing what would have been the easiest lifer on our list earlier this year, we were able to find lifer #268 in its regular habitat of dense coniferous forest.

Upon reaching our destination, Jean and I surveyed Gibson Lake and found 2 Spotted Sandpiper on some logs along the lake's edge.

The only other bird we spotted on the lake was a lone duck, a goldeneye. The question was, which one? Common or a lifer Barrow's? A scope would easily determine the species you say. Yes it would, if it was not left back at our lodge. I did not expect to bird a lake this day. We would look at the duck through our binoculars waiting for the right angle and lighting to reveal the white crescent and oval shaped head.

Image by Bob

Jean and I are confident that we found our lifer Barrow's Goldeneye, #269, during our stay in the provincial park. We would spot a second Varied Thrush when returning to our car but no other birds were seen while descending the park road.

We did observe a lone, uncooperative Black Bear on the other side of Kokanee Creek. He was too busy foraging and pushing rocks aside to be interested in the humans on the other side of the creek. Here is a heavily cropped image of the bear.

After dinner at a golf course restaurant, yes Dave at DDolan New Birder would be in his glory, we returned to the Tara Shanti and birded from the deck with the Kokanee Glacier as a back drop.

Image by Bob

On Wednesday we would be visiting the small town of Crawford Bay, including the wetlands, in search of an eagle's nest.

All images by Jean unless stated otherwise.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

B.C. Trip Part II

June 15

Get Your Mojo Running

After a long day of travelling, I woke the following morning not feeling fully refreshed. At 7:00 AM Jean would call me to our room's window. She had spotted a male Rufous Hummingbird, lifer #265. Though it was a beautiful bird it would not cure my headache. Luckily some ASA was available.

While waiting for Jean's mum and Danie to wake we birded from the deck of the Tari Shanti, our home base during our stay in the Kootenays.

A few birds we can see at home were found, Chipping Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird and American Robin. The female Rufous Hummingbird made an appearance amongst the flowering trees.

Hidden in the coniferous trees, a bird was repeatedly singing an unfamiliar song. Some pishing provoked the bird to appear long enough for Jean and I to observe the field markings of a lifer (#266) MacGillivary's Warbler. The bird would not cooperate with subsequent pishing, even the next day it could not be fooled. After breakfast we prepared for a day on the west side of Kootenay Lake.

From the parking area of the Tara Shanti we spotted 3 Pine Siskins in some tall conifers.

We picked up some baked goods at the Treehouse Bakery in Crawford Bay

and dropped off some well received cinnamon buns at Danie's sons' house/recording studio, "The Summit". Keith and Echo the dog would prove to be excellent tour guides later in the week.

We then arrived at the ferry dock in Kootenay Bay and took our place in line for the Osprey 2000.

There was enough time before the arrival of the ferry to scan the swallows flying around the area. Amongst the many Barn Swallow, we spotted 2 Violet-green Swallows, lifer #267. A very beautiful bird with the white on the cheek extending above the eye and its white flanks extending onto its rump. With the lifer Violet-green Swallow ticked I relaxed with an Americano Espresso (the coffee in B.C. is amazing) at Mojo's Cafe while playing chess with Danie's son Greg.

The combination of ASA and caffeine brought me back to 100% birding fitness as there were more birds to find on the west side of Kootenay Lake.

All images by Jean.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

B.C. Trip Part I

Sunday June 14

Birthday Lifers (Calgary to Kootenay Bay)

For me, work was finally slowing down and some deserved vacation time was in order. A vacation to the Kootenays in British Columbia was planned with Jean's mum and her partner Danie months in advance and my excitement in adding western species to the life list grew exponentially as the day of our departure drew nearer.

The first day, my birthday, would be spent travelling. Rising at 4:00 AM for the 7:15 AM flight from Hamilton was not as bad as I thought it would be. You gotta love travelling west. It was still morning when we arrived at 9:00 AM CST.

Before disembarking the plane, the first bird added to the Alberta list was, drum roll please, a Rock Pigeon. Woo hoo!!

The rental car picked up, a sweet Volvo S60 substituted for the unavailable Chevy Impala (Ahh, c'est damage.), we left the airport and started our trip south to Highway 3. Jean's mum would be first at the wheel. "What's this button for?", Danie would say from the front passenger seat. Whack!! Instant whip lash for Jean and I. The button flips down the back seat headrests. Word of caution. Do not push this button when you have passengers sitting in the back! We immediately ticked 2 lifers from the Volvo. Black-billed Magpie (#262) as we exited the airport and Franklin's Gull (#263) as we crossed the meandering Bow River many times before leaving Calgary.

Further south in Nanton, we spotted a Swainson's Hawk (#264) soaring towards us, its wings uplifted in vulturelike flight. I'm sure glad I was not driving for this leg of the trip.

After lunch in Fort Macleod, we headed west on Hwy. 3 towards the continental divide. We stopped at the Burmis Tree, a pine marking the eastern edge of Alberta's Crowsnest Pass. The tree is an estimated 7 centuries old and died in the late 1970's.

We entered B.C. after passing through Crowsnest Pass with 9 birds added to the new provincial list. The British Columbia list was now the priority.

Though we spotted no lifers, we found Canada Goose, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing and Northern Rough-winged Swallow during a short stop a Mount Broadwood Heritage Conservation Area, slightly east of Elko. A nemesis flycatcher remained unidentified.

Passing through Cranbrook, Moyie, Yahk and Creston on our way to Kootenay Bay, we observed Osprey (nesting pair), Common Raven, Brown-headed Cowbird and Tree Swallow. Other wildlife seen included a pair of Mule Deer feeding on some bushes in a hotel parking lot and a Black Bear foraging in the yard of what seemed an uninhabited residence.

We arrived in Kootenay Bay, tired from the long day of travelling. It was a good birthday, I crossed the continental divide for the first time and added 3 species to the life list. With a good night's sleep I would be refreshed and ready to tick some more western birds.
All images by Jean.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I and the Bird #102

I and the Bird #102 can be found at the Birder's Lounge. Give it a read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lifer at Mud Bridge

The last Sunday in May, Jean and I had stopped at a spot on 15 Mile Creek in search of herons, specifically Green and Black-crowned Night-heron. No herons but a brief glimpse of a swallow disappearing under the bridge that crosses the creek led me to believe we had a possible lifer Cliff Swallow. We could see mud nests under the bridge but no further observations of the swallow occurred.

We returned a week later, late in the afternoon, to attempt another observation of the swallows living under the bridge. We surveyed the area from the bridge and along the road while we waited for a family to finish their day of fishing from the creek's bank. From the bridge, we would again have a quick glimpse of the fast moving birds but we needed to stand on the bank of 15 Mile Creek to improve our view of the swallows as they were leaving and returning to their nests.

We would identify 2 other species of swallow, Tree and Barn flying overhead. During the quick view of the "bridge swallows" I did not see the long forked tail found on Barn Swallows. Chances were this was a Cliff Swallow, despite their name, they do nest under bridges.

While we patiently waited for the family to leave, we spotted a small accipiter flying above the tree line. It would return and we would observe the hawk's short, squared tail as it flew directly above us. It was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, #154 for the year list.

After catching their quota of sunfish, the family left and Jean and I would take their spot beside the creek.

15 Mile Creek separates St. Catharines from the Town of Lincoln and empties into Lake Ontario. Travelling upstream, the creek immediately turns right south of the bridge and continues to meander through a wide expanse of bullrushes.

3 swallows would emerge from underneath the bridge while standing by the creek and we noted the pale forehead, buffy rump, and squarish tail on each one. They were Cliff Swallows for sure, lifer #261.

Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) on the banks of 15 Mile Creek

A total of 19 species were seen on this day, including a lifer and an addition to the year list. We'll return to this spot every year to ensure adding Cliff Swallow to future year lists.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Grassland Species

Finally! I was beginning to think Jean and I would not see any Bobolink in the grassy field on 5th Avenue this year. Desperation was soon to set in and I was prepared to contact John or Kayo for an alternate location in the Niagara Region to ensure we would have this grassland species on our year list. Returning from a club ride Saturday morning I caught a glimpse of what I believed to be a male Bobolink.

Jean and I would return later that afternoon to confirm my earlier observation from the Nishiki. Yes, it all makes sense now. Does this mean I can never purchase a new bike? I would change the name of the blog, perhaps to, "Tales of the Cannondale". An excellent bike but for a birding blog, not very intriguing. And you all thought I obtained the name from the bottom of a plate like the designers of the bike did (or possibly a bag of rice).

We would observe 3 male Bobolink (#152 for the year) in this field pictured below. Using a scope we had some great views of the birds in their breeding plumage as they grasped onto stalks strong enough to support their weight. While in flight, the Bobolink would pass close by, singing their rolling song.

Another object we observed in flight was a Lancaster bomber (the only flying Lancaster in North America) as it passed over our location. Both my uncle and Jean's grandfather were members of Lancaster crews during WWII. It was an amazing sight to see this plane fly overhead.

OK, back to birding. While we were standing on the rural road Jean mentioned there was one species she would like to see again. We had last seen one in this location in May of 2007. An Upland Sandpiper. Well, ask and you shall receive. Out of the long grass on the opposite side of the road, near the last remaining vineyard, popped an Upland Sandpiper (#153). It walked out onto the road but would quickly return to the long grass and remain hidden from view. As we passed the vineyard we could not find the bird again.

Other interesting species observed along the rural road included, Savannah Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, Eastern Kingbird and a Great Blue Heron observed in flight.

I can now rest easy. Bobolink was added to the year list as well as the bonus Upland Sandpiper. Another grassland species will be next on the agenda, the Grasshopper Sparrow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

4 Peregrine Chicks in Hamilton

Though they appeared in early May, I was unaware of the successful hatching until I saw a report on a Hamilton morning news program earlier today.

Here is the site complete with FalconCam. Enjoy.