Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Prettiest Sunday Afternoon Drive

July 23

The original plan was to go to Hamilton with hopes of finding the reported American White Pelican for Jean's Dad and his wife Ruth to view and then some additional birding on a Royal Botanical Gardens Trail through the Hendrie Valley. Jean and I ticked our lifer Pileated Woodpecker on this trail during the OFO Convention last year.

The weather forecast for Thursday called for heavy thunder showers throughout the day and this time the weatherman was spot on. The heavy rains in Hamilton called for a change of plans. A drive along the Niagara River (Fort Erie to Chippawa) was chosen as an alternate for our morning of birding. Winston Churchill, while visiting Niagara Falls in August of 1943, described the Niagara Parkway as "the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world". Though it was a Thursday it was still a pretty drive (especially when birding).

Our first stop was a rocky shoreline (known to local birders as Jaeger Rocks) on Lake Erie to look for some shorebirds.

The first birds sighted were considerably larger. 3 Great Egrets (#161) were hunting in the shallows of the lake.

Residents across the street maintain the gardens on the slope above the rocks and they have placed martin houses on the boulevard. The houses were a beehive of activity with the adult Purple Martins flying back and forth to feed their demanding young.

All three egrets would leave, allowing us to concentrate on the early shorebird arrivals. In October of last year, a rare Eurasian species was present for a few weeks. It took two attempts, each an hour long, for Jean and I to tick the lifer Curlew Sandpiper. Check out noflickster's post for a retelling of his journey to a foreign country to observe this lifer bird.

Though there was no Eurasian bird this day we observed 2 Spotted Sandpiper, 5 Semipalmated Sandpiper and 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, #162 for the year list (The white rump visible when stretching its wings.).

One camera shy White-rumped Sandpiper

With all the shorebirds identified and thrilled we had introduced a lifer White-rumped Sandpiper to Frank and Ruth, we left the Lake Erie shoreline to look for birds along the upper Niagara River. This is when I thought we would see some egrets as there is a rookery on Motor Island (near the southern tip of Grand Island).

At one stop on the river there were many Double-crested Cormorants on the water. 3 Great Egrets (I suspect the same 3 seen at Jaeger Rocks) stood on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Further downstream we stopped near a creek with views of Strawberry Island State Park and a building that reminded me of a more famous building on the River Thames. I spotted an Osprey roosting in a tree on Strawberry Island, the occasional Common Tern flying along the river, a Belted Kingfisher, and a couple Great Egrets in flight, keeping to the U.S. side. Not carrying the proper identification I assume.

Driving to Chippawa we would spot a few more Belted Kingfishers (an adult feeding its young) but not much else. Luckily the heavy rains held off until our morning of birding along the Niagara River was done. Come winter there will be quite a number of waterfowl on the upper river. It'll be cold and I will most likely be wishing it was summer again. I highly doubt Winston travelled the parkway on a freezing cold January day. Unless he was a mad keen birder.

Friday, July 24, 2009

June 22

Returning to the normality of birding in southern Ontario there have been few chances of adding a bird to the life list (especially in mid-July). Back to looking through the e-mail reports from the Ontario listserve. In the meantime, adding species to the provincial year list will suffice in order to match or exceed last year's total of 187 species.

Thanks to John Black and Kayo Roy (we tested the field trip and hot spot sections of their soon to be published Niagara Birds book), we now know where to readily find the grassland species, Grasshopper Sparrow. We had ticked our lifer Ammodramus savannarum in June of last year (much to the delight of the author of this section, the directions worked) in an area bordering the east side of the Welland Canal. On Wednesday afternoon we returned to the same location.

Walking into the grassland we observed a common sight for this time of year, a Red-tailed Hawk pursued by a Red-winged Blackbird.

It would not be long (approximately 50 metres from the road) before we spotted our first Grasshopper Sparrow of the day. We ticked a total of 4 of the grassland species in this small area. Entering this number on eBird Canada prompted a confirmation request (4 is an excellent count....). Really? I'm slightly surprised but there must be a valid reason for the confirmation.

Walking up the slight rise we continued our search for grassland species.

Looking east from our location.

No more Grasshopper Sparrows were found but a Northern Harrier entertained Jean and I as it soared nearby, repeatedly disappearing and then reappearing from behind some trees.

Further up the path a family of Wild Turkeys (2 adult & 4 young) zig-zagged across the trail to avoid further detection. Having found the bird we sought Jean and I returned to our car and encountered a few individuals of this yellow critter with spots.

Orange Sulphur, Colias eurytheme

Our next stop was a wetland habitat where we were greeted by a lone Great Blue Heron.

Further along the long narrow pond an adult Pied-billed Grebe cared for 3 young.

A hydro canal (and a road maintained by the local power company) runs parallel to the pond for a few hundred metres before emptying into a larger waterway. The larger bodies of water (where I fished in the summer months & played hockey in the winter months in my youth)eventually enter a water treatment facility (yes the Welland Canal is the source of our drinking water) and a hydro generating station atop the Niagara Escarpment.

Walking along the gravel road we found 18 species of birds including, Common Yellowthroat (3) and Eastern Wood-Pewee (2) but no additions for the 2009 Ontario list.

No worries. By comparison, we are still ahead of the 2008 list. Thursday (a crucial t.t. in the Tour) we would continue our search for additions to the 2009 list but with 2 extra pairs of eyes, Jean's father (Frank) and partner (Ruth).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

B.C. Trip Part X

June 20

One More for the Road

During our stay at the Tara Shanti Jean and I would start the day birding from our room's window and being closely located to a latitude of 50 degrees N, it sometimes involved attempting an identification of a very loud bird between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 AM.

This morning we had our last venture of finding a lifer in the gardens below before leaving for a day of travelling to Radium Hot Springs in the Rocky Mountains. I awakened shortly after 7:00 AM and viewed some movement in the bushes below our window. Eventually the 71st addition to our B.C. list would emerge, a male Nashville Warbler. Only one other bird would appear before our full English breakfast, a nemesis Empidonax flycatcher. This time we were successful in our indentification.

This was the bird responsible for waking me at 4:00 AM with its sharp "peek" call. Our geographical location eliminated 7 Empids from the list of possibilites. The bird appeared to have a large head and the white eye ring expanded in a "teardrop" at the rear. We were sure we had a Hammond's Flycatcher. Listening to audio on the All About Birds site when we returned home confimed we had observed our 281st lifer.

Leaving the Tara Shanti, we travelled south to Creston where we would then head east along the Crowsnest Highway, eventually losing an hour upon entering the Central Time Zone.

Arriving in Cranbrook, it was time for a break and Elizabeth Lake looked to be the perfect spot, not just for picnicing but for observing birds as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

B.C Trip Part IX

June 19
Birding at The Summit

The previous day Jean and I had birded the summit of the Kootenay Pass, adding a Pine Grosbeak to our life list. This day the weather was less than birder friendly and we spent most of our time exploring Kaslo on the west side of Kootenay Lake.

In the evening we would visit Danie's sons' (Keith & Greg) home and recording studio (The Summit) for a barbeque.

Greg strumming a few chords on a newly acquired guitar.

While Keith was grilling the burgers, Jean and I strolled the property looking for birds. In the conifers between the buildings we spotted a female Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Chipping Sparrow. That would be it for birds in the trees but two swift-like birds flying overhead caught our attention. OK. So we had a swift but which one? In this region of B.C. it could either be a Black Swift or a Vaux's Swift. Looking up at the birds in flight we could see a short, stubby tail on a cigar-shaped body, similar to but smaller than the Chimney Swifts we see in Ontario. The Black Swift is a much larger bird with a slightly forked tail. No fork, Vaux's Swift added to the life list, #279.

After dinner our host Keith and his dog Echo took Jean and I on a guided tour of the forested section of the property. We hiked up a hill to reach the summit of The Summit. More Chipping Sparrows (2) and 2 Hermit Thrushes were found while Echo ran through the forest as if he was a deer. Reaching the summit, once used as a site for a radio tower (only the foundation remains), a greenish-yellow bird with wing bars came into view. As we both looked at it, Jean said "I think that's a female Western Tanager.". The bird would disappear into some tall pine trees that stood beside the cliff edge of the summit. Although we could no longer see the female bird it continued to call. So I "pished" with hopes of drawing the female from the trees. She would stay hidden but its mate, a beautiful male Western Tanager, popped out onto a branch in full view confirming Jean's identification of the female. For a few minutes we were all entertained by the brilliant colours of the male tanager. Seeing a mating pair of a lifer bird (#280) was thrilling indeed. Another target bird crossed off the list. Thanks to Keith for capturing the moment with Jean's camera and to Echo for not pushing us off the edge in his excitement (not for the bird, just excited to be out for a walk).

Saturday would be the start of our return to Calgary for our Monday evening departure. With Steller's Jay and Clark's Nutcracker still remaining on the target list we would have to plan our stops with hopes to tick these two birds classed in the Corvidae Family.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Green Listing

July 20

The first day of our week's vacation, no long distance travelling this time, and Jean and I would ride our bikes to Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario. Though we did not have our binoculars we observed many birds while riding along 12 Mile Creek and upon seeing 2 Common Terns (first for 2009) flying along the shore of the beach at Lakeside Park a simple bike ride became our first day of GreenBirding. Any future GreenBirding rides will include a backpack containing binoculars.

I first became aware of GreenBirding while reading a few birding blogs last year (blogs responsible for the creation of my 2 cents worth of birding adventures). At the time BIGBY sparked an interest but I never did follow through. A new year and though it is half over, the start of a new list seemed appropriate.

During the ride we covered 20 kilometres cycling to Port Dalhousie and back. We observed a total of 21 species from our bikes and if we had not stopped to talk to Jean's Dad and Ruth (on their daily walk) it most likely would have been less. Frank pointed out a Black-crowned Night-Heron in the willows off of the trail and I spotted a Yellow Warbler in the branches of a nearby tree while we were chatting.

Hopefully we will have some chances to add more species to our "Green List" before the weather takes a turn for the worse. After a couple months of collecting data I will submit a list to the duo at "The Way of the Sparrow".

An American White Pelican has been spotted in Hamilton Harbour. We'll be looking to add it to the year list some time later this week. The same one we observed in the harbour last year?

Bird sightings during Le Tour Update:

During Sunday's stage, Phil pointed out a "local buzzard" as it was flying above the peloton. He added that "....it was most likely looking for roadkill I think...". Or possibly some riders that had "cracked" and had no more courage remaining in their suitcases.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Birding During Le Tour Part Deux

Yes it's true! Phil Liggett is a birder. Cycling and birding. That sounds like somebody I know!

I was viewing Friday's Stage 13 of the Tour de France on Saturday and as three breakaway riders approached the Col du Platzerwasel (Cat. 1) Phil and Paul discussed a European migratory bird.

The stage was passing through the Alsace Region of France and their topics of conversation went from the smelly Muenster Cheese to the European Stork. Paul Sherwen commented that Phil would be happy to hear that this region was home to the European Stork. Phil then added a few facts on the rising number of breeding pairs (from 5 to 148) through the aid of conservation efforts. Phil is always pointing out wildlife during the stages of Le Tour, especially birds. A few days ago he mentioned that a marsh seen from the helicopter camera was probably good for birdwatching. I knew it! "Phil's a twitcher." I commented to Jean.

It was an exciting stage, Heinrich Haussler of Team Cervelo taking the stage win after a great day of riding in the rain.

Shortly after discussing the stork and two commercial breaks, the helicopter camera picked out 3 European White Storks on a rooftop. Will we see any more birds? With a birder at the helm, most likely so. I wonder if Bobke is birder?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wetland Ridge

On the evening of Sunday June 12 Jean and I spent a short period of time birding the lagoons of the Wetland Ridge Trail. It was an evening for viewing parents and their young.

Even before entering the nature area we were greeted by an adult Northern Flicker feeding one of its young in the college parking lot. Passing the vehicle gate, we spotted young sparrows, unsure of the species, in the storage yard. The young sparrows flew through the chain link fence to the adult Chipping Sparrow (another adult busy feeding its brood) across the access road.

As we approached the lagoons a male Common Yellowthroat, our first Ontario sighting for the year, crossed the path.

Walking up to the edge of the north lagoon we flushed 2 juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Both herons flew to the nearby corner of the lagoon, landing on a log to our right.

Though slightly blocked by the surrounding vegetation, Jean was able to capture the following digiscoped image.

The adult with young theme continued. An adult Pied-billed Grebe was kept busy attending to 4 young.

Moments after flushing the immature herons, 2 Green Herons flew in the opposite direction from the same area to a small stand of trees on the northern edge of the lagoon. Both species of heron were added to the year list this evening.

With our time limited we would only reach the north-east corner of the north lagoon. Exploring the south lagoon would have to be done on a future visit. The usual species were observed walking along the raised path but we could not find any shorebirds on the mat of algae and debris.

Returning along the northern edge of the lagoon (the Niagara Escarpment beautifully lit by the setting sun) we spotted 2 more Black-crowned Night-Heron (1 juvenile & 1 adult). Back at the original viewing area we found another youngster, a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. A Solitary Sandpiper has to show up sooner or later.

As we were leaving the Wetland Ridge Trail, one of the Green Herons flew by and came to a rest in a tree, long enough for another digiscoped image.

Other than counting Chimney Swifts, this was our first time birding in the Niagara Region since returning from our vacation in British Columbia (more posts to come). I suspected we would find a heron (BcNH) but adding two species of heron we needed for the year list (in one evening) was a pleasant surprise.

We still have to find a Grasshopper Sparrow this year. A visit to some grasslands in the region should be planned before its too late.

All images by Jean

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life List Book Giveaway

Hi All,

If you would like to win a copy of Olivia Gentile's Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds check out the 10, 000 Birds site. You can either describe your most coveted bird Twitter-style or See a life bird for Phoebe. It's that easy. Well, seeing a lifer may not be that easy but you'll have fun trying.

Cheers and Good Luck.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

B.C Trip Part VIII

Birding at 1800

Earlier in the day Jean and I had spent 4 hours birding the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, adding 5 species to our life list. The day before we had discussed which spot on the Selkirk Loop we should visit after the WMA.

Boundary Creek WMA near Porthill, Idaho was a possibility. Adding an additional state list to my e-Bird data would be great and we had passports, so our entry into the United States would be less problematic. The other choice was Stagleap Provincial Park on the Crowsnest Highway, west of Creston.

The environment at Boundary Creek was similar to that of the Creston Valley WMA so the chances of adding a lifer would be slim. Stagleap was at an elevation suitable for finding alpine species. The chances of adding a lifer at the provincial park were greater. The decision then was to stay in British Columbia and travel along Highway 3 to the Kootenay Pass.

Ascending the Crowsnest Highway east of the summit was a gradual climb. In fact, I was oblivious during our ascent until I noticed the car was no longer travelling at the posted 100 km/hr. Looking to my left and seeing sheer, rocky mountains finally brought me to the realization we would soon be at the summit. Reaching the summit, we stopped briefly, looking for an entrance to Stagleap P.P. Was it on the descent of the west side of the summit? There was a small sign at the summit but to us it appeared there was no official notification of a provincial park. Noticing the car was low on gas we continued along the highway, reaching Salmo to refuel.

We would return to the Kootenay Pass from the west. Here are some views we observed during the climb.

Elevation 1073 metres

Image by Bob

Elevation 1341 metres

Elevation 1561 metres

Returning to the summit of the highest all weather road in British Columbia, an elevation of 1774 metres, we parked the car in front of Bridal Lake (formerly Summit Lake). Upon completion of the highway the lake was renamed in celebration of the marriage of the east and west in the Kootenays. Across the highway were a couple of buildings and in-between them, a moose!

A quick photo request at the lake (thanks to a fellow traveller) and it was time to hike the trail to a viewpoint 100+ metres above the lake.

Starting our hike, Jean and I could see that no one had set foot on the trail recently. Well at least humans. In the mud we found the tracks of our four legged friend seen at the road side moments ago.

Jean birding at 1785 metres. Honestly. I did not set this up. The fallen tree is aligned perfectly to make the binoculars appear scope-like.

Image by Bob

We continued our ascent to the viewpoint coming across a few blooming Avalanche Lilies. I was so relieved they are named for their appearances after avalanches rather than as a cause of them.

The trail turned and narrowed as we searched the area, hoping for a view of a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch or a White-tailed Ptarmigan. Walking up the trail I felt something crawling on my leg. Yes, I'm a tick magnet! It seems I am always the one ticks choose to climb onto while we are birding.

I was certainly glad we encountered more snow (more snow=no ticks) at 1871 metres. So much snow, we missed the trail to the Cornice Ridge. Technically it's still Spring so N8 should not freak out too much.

Passing through the trees we stopped to find the Red-breasted Nuthatches that were calling. We observed the pair (adding the bird to the B.C. list) and continued along the mountain edge with open views of the valley to the north. While walking through another stand of conifers a Hermit Thrush was singing at the top of one of the trees. As we viewed the bird through our binoculars, a very different bird flew in claiming the tree top from the singing thrush. The moment I saw this bird I knew its identity and it was a lifer. A large finch-like bird with stubby black bill; rose-red head, chest and back; black wings with two white wing bars. A male Pine Grosbeak (#278).

The viewpoint was was not too far away but was not easy to access (more snow covering the trail). Searching for a way to climb a rock formation we found an opening in the trees to the east and observed the Crowsnest Highway down below (the grey line in the centre of the image).

Climbing up the sloping rock formation, we reached a cairn on the viewpoint, an elevation of 1880 metres.

Image by Bob

From the summit we could view Bridal Lake and our tiny car.

Returning along the way we came, no new birds were encountered nor any other hikers. Birding in the peacefulness and cool fresh air of the Kootenays was fulfilling indeed.

We descended Highway 3 into the Creston Valley, hungry from our day of birding. Jean's mum had told us that there was a Mexican restaurant in Creston but could not remember the name. Highway 3 runs through the downtown but no names indicated Mexican other than La Hacienda (a hotel). Some quick inquiries at a 7-11 led us to the Break in Time (not the restaurant Jean's mum had dined at in the past). Many thanks to the customer in the 7-11! The food was Mexican and excellent!! If you ever find yourself birding this section of the Selkirk Loop, I highly recommend stopping at this restaurant.

June 18th was a great day of birding. We had birded the Creston Valley and the sub-alpine forest of Stagleap Provincial Park at the Kootenay Pass, ticking a total of 6 lifers. There was still a few days left of our vacation in the west, enough time to find the species that still remained on our target list.

All images by Jean unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I and the Bird #104

Tweet, Tweet. Twitter, Twitter. There's only one blog with Gunnar in the middle.

OK, that's really silly but Gunnar at "A Birding Blog By Gunnar Engblom" hosts the first Twitter-friendly I and the Bird (in 2 parts!). Check it out.