Saturday, August 29, 2009

Birding and a Movie

Not all my free time can be spent birding. A bike ride Wednesday night. Poor little Nishiki. A broken axle has the bike sitting in Liberty's temporary repair shop for a few days. Yes, it may be an anchor weight but it still has some life left in it before being relegated to winter riding.

Thursday evening, a movie. We went to see the film 'The Time Traveler's Wife', based on the novel of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. I was concerned it would be a sappy romance and became doubly concerned when I observed I was one of only a handful of guys (with their wives) in the theatre. I have read the book and enjoyed it. I'm not going to pretend I'm a reviewer but the movie was well done and I was not disappointed.

A time travelling gene. Hmmm.

Spoiler Alert!!!

Interesting how this gene contributed to the demise of the character. Similar in a way to another supposed gene, one for vagrancy.

The birder in me would listen to the bird songs during the exterior scenes and I believe the majority were added by sound editors after the fact. In the final scene with Henry and Clare I'm sure I heard a House Wren.

The movie was over and walking in the mall parking lot we heard the nasal peent of a Common Nighthawk emitting from a nearby tree. It was 9:15 PM and the half moon partially covered by clouds was not providing sufficient light to determine which branch the bird was roosting on. We had observed our lifer Common Nighthawk (2) flying above the sewage lagoons of the Wetland Ridge Trail in May of last year. After seeing a lifer, any subsequent observation of the bird where it is only heard counts. A lifer on the other hand, must be seen before I can add it to the life list.

After hearing the Common Nighthawk, the year list now stands at 177. Beating last year's total of 187 definitely seems possible. 11 species? Easy peasy, right?

Evidently, time travelling without a TARDIS can be dangerous. Birding whenever the opportunity arises, even without the bins, can be downright beneficial.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Relaxing at the Cottage

August 15

It was the weekend leading into our second week of vacation and Jean's brother and sister-in-law had invited us to vacation with their family and some friends on Lake Huron. They had rented cottages for the week and Jean and I travelled up to Inverhuron on the Saturday to spend a few days relaxing on the sandy shores of the third largest Great Lake (by volume).

Once through Guelph the drive became quite relaxing. No major highways required (or exist actually). The style of travelling I prefer.

August 16

The morning was spent exploring the cottage with bins in hand before heading to the public beach (within walking distance). You never know what you may come across. Nothing new though. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird made a brief appearance.

The weather and lake were fantastic. The only bird catching my attention was a Caspian Tern flying along the shoreline. Further up the beach is Inverhuron Provincial Park where Jean and I would do some birding in the afternoon.

We hiked a short bicycle trail to a boardwalk overlooking the park's beach before trekking into the sand dunes (an area less frequented by visitors on a hot and sunny afternoon).

Looking south towards the public beach.

A Swamp Sparrow (#172) was added to the year list while standing by the creek.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (best guess)

Returning to the car we spotted this dragonfly as we crossed the creek.

Sprinklers watering the large garden of a private cottage provided a much needed cool down. Relax. We did not trespass. The pulsating sprinkler was wastefully spraying water onto the road.

After dinner, we all enjoyed an evening by the fire (Joe Strummer style).

I'm not sure if Joe sang this to his kids whilst at Glastonbury but Cam did a great job!

August 17

In preparation for the trip to the cottage, I visited the eBird Canada site looking for "hot spots" in an around the Tiverton area. There were 3 plotted on the map that looked interesting, Point Clark, the Kincardine sewage lagoons and MacGregor Provincial Park. Jean and I would spend most of the Monday at MacGregor Point.

We observed a few birds while walking the trails along the beach and through the campground. White-throated Sparrow, Black-throated Green Warbler and Black and White Warbler were the most interesting.

Beside the campground, we came across a Marl wetland containing frost heaved boulders. The greyish mud lacks many nutrients required for most plants to grow. A suitable environment however for bladderwort, sundew and pitcher plants.

Image by Bob

While having lunch on the beach we observed a Great Egret and a cicada.

We picked up a map at the park office and discovered a wetland trail. Rather than drive further into the campground we accessed the Tower Trail from a side road. Standing on the observation deck we observed Wood Duck and a Belted Kingfisher. Warblers seen during the hike included Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart and Black-throated Green Warbler. We added Red-eyed Vireo (#173) to the year list before turning around. If we return next year, we plan on hiking the entire 3.5 kilometre loop.

It was another hot day! A swim in the waters of Lake Huron was required when we returned to the cottage. After dinner we all went to Kincardine to watch the sunset and listen to a piper standing at the top of the lighthouse.

August 18

My brother-in-law's family had booked the cottage for the week but Jean and I would return to St. Catharines on the Tuesday. Some stops were made along the way (hot spots found on eBird Canada).

Wind farms dot the landscape in Bruce County.


The Kincardine Sewage lagoons and dump produced only Turkey Vultures and many Ring-billed Gulls. The lagoons were fenced preventing easy access and the water levels were very high. I'll assume that there were no shorebirds to be found.

Point Clark

We stopped and viewed the Parks Canada managed Point Clark lighthouse. We flushed 6 Spotted Sandpiper as we walked along the marina wall.

Our last stop was a rest area near Mitchell. A Belted Kingfisher was observed perched on a utility line above Whirl Creek.

Renting cottages in Inverhuron is an annual ritual for Jean's brother and his friends. If the dates work out for us next year we will most likely rent a cottage ourselves and spend the entire week relaxing at the beach as well as exploring Huron and Bruce counties. Until our next road trip, it's back to birding in the Niagara Region.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shorebirding at Rock Point

August 12

Due to prior commitments, Jean and I could not attend this year's Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) trip on Sunday August 9 so a visit to Rock Point Provincial Park later in the week was planned. It was the first week of our 2 weeks of vacation and our calendar was empty. The Weather Channel would determine the day of our visit and Wednesday's forecast was the most appealing.

Shorebirds observed during Sunday's OFO trip included, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Short-billed Dowitcher, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and Black-bellied Plover. In total, 56 bird species were observed. Our trip looked promising. We invited my parents to join us for the day with a plan to follow the annual OFO trip route.

Rock Point Provincial Park is on the shores of Lake Erie and provides great viewing of shorebirds that have stopped to refuel while migrating to their winter homes. We started our hike on the limestone shelf, an excellent area for observing corals, bryozoans, crinoids and other reef organisms from the Devonian period.

We crossed paths with a family returning from their morning of exploring the park's shoreline. A young boy in the group observed my scope and binoculars and asked if we were birding. He then informed us he spotted a Ruddy Turnstone and that the action was that way as he pointed towards the bend in the shoreline.

It was not long before we encountered our first shorebirds. In a small shallow pond, 8 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 1 Semipalmated Plover (#167) and 1 Spotted Sandpiper were observed.

Yes, another juvenile Spotted Sandpiper (we have yet to see an adult this year). The Semipalmated Sandpipers were startled by our (and 2 additional birders) presence. As the birds took flight, Jean spotted a White-Rumped Sandpiper amongst the small group of peeps.

Avian activity was also occurring in the Willows behind us. Flitting in the trees were Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (3), Song Sparrow (1) and Tennessee Warbler (1). Rounding the bend we were greeted by a large number of shorebirds. John Black's trip report informed 200+ Semipalmated Sandpipers were found on Sunday. It appeared that this species was still the majority. I counted 160 while walking along the beach. My dad was the first to find a Ruddy Turnstone (#168) through his binoculars (the pair dad trustingly allowed my brothers and I to use on our family vacations). Dad was lucky enough to observe the bird turning stones. "Good spotting dad." I would say as I finally observed the Ruddy Turnstone (no longer turning stones).

As mentioned, there were many Semiplamated Sandpiper and as encountered on the OFO trip we found 5 Short-billed Dowitcher (#169) searching through the mud in a sewing machine-like motion.

A "croc" waiting silently for prey to come within reach.

Additional shorebirds found included 6 Sanderling (#170) and 2 Least Sandpiper. One bird had us guessing a couple of days later. Looking through digiscoped images we found a bird we could not identify confidently. Wishful thinking was leaning towards Baird's Sandpiper but all was not right with that identification. It could be a White-rumped Sandpiper but its primaries did not extend beyond its tail. Posting an i.d. confirmation on the Birder's World forum had a response suggesting Sanderling. Oh, yeah. That fits. The only Sanderling we have come across have been juveniles. We have no experience with other plumage of this species. I now think we have a "moulting adult" Sanderling.

Waterfowl spotted on the lake included, Mallard (females with many young), Canada Goose, Common Merganser (1) and Red-breasted Merganser (1 male).

Hey! How did that red coloured rock get here?

In addition to the fossilized sea creatures, there are lines (Glacial Striations) on the limestone shoreline. They were caused by glaciers 11 to 12 thousand years ago. The red rock is Grimsby Sandstone and was most likely deposited by the advancing and retreating glaciers.

Returning to our car we walked along the wooded trail above the beach and spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird as it zipped past us on its way to the next flowering plant. We reached the boardwalk for the observation deck, my dad leading the way. His interest in why things are there and how they work has yet to falter.

Standing on the wooden deck atop the sand dunes my dad was laughing (while shaking his head). A sign beneath the deck read, "Sensitive Area. Sand Dune Stabilization Project. Do Not Enter.". My dad remarked, "look at all the footprints on the slope of the sand dune!". It is unfortunate that there are some people that will ignore requests such as this.

After a break we checked out the beach area used for swimming and my dad searched for the perfect skipping stone. Jean's grandmother asked my father what it was like being retired shortly after his retirement. He replied, "like I'm 10 again.". 15 years later, he is still that 10 year old. I can only hope that my retirement will be as enjoyable.

Our next stop was the evaporating ponds north of the park. On the OFO trip an employee from the company that owns the ponds would open the gate allowing the group access to the entire area. We would simply scan the waters from the outside of the chain link fence. We spotted 2 Great Egrets and 3 Great Blue Heron in the reeds and 6 Caspian Terns resting on the sandbanks. Another birder came along (I had seen him on previous OFO trips) and he picked out some Hooded Mergansers sunning on a rock. Wow! Good spotting! Even with our scope it was difficult to identify the birds as mergansers. The gentleman informed us that he had seen a Baird's and Stilt Sandpiper while at Rock Point. It appears timing is everything. I highly doubt that the Stilt Sandpiper was present while we were on the shoreline. Interestingly enough, our lifer Stilt Sandpiper was observed at the evaporation ponds on the 2007 OFO trip. The long-legged sandpiper with a slightly down curved bill would not have been overlooked by Jean and I if it was there (at least I hope we're better than that).

Further down the road was another pond but the water levels were to high for shorebirds. We stopped at the nearby feeder canal to check out a lock once used by barges travelling between Welland and Port Maitland (I knew my dad would like this spot).

Our last attempt at birding this day was exploring the sod farms (from the road side) for Black-bellied Plover. During this year's OFO trip, the plovers were observed at the Poth Road farms. We found none. Only a couple of humans with a remote control model airplane and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs in a flooded field further down the road. Travelling north along Townline Road we came across a harvested section of a sod farm. In the dirt we found what we were looking for, 20 Black-bellied Plover (#171) along with 24 Killdeer.

Our day of birding completed, we stopped at Hippo's in Lowbanks on the Lake Erie shore for a delicious Lake Erie perch dinner.

Shorebirds and a perch dinner. A fantastic way to spend a day, especially with my mom and dad. During our birding adventures it has been great having both our parents tag along and to know when they're with us that they are enjoying the day just as much as Jean and I. We have yet to hear a groan from the back seat of the car, "A sod farm?" or "Are you serious? A sewage lagoon? You're stopping here?". If our parents had not taught us to be interested in our surroundings when we were young I don't think we would be birding today. Many thanks to them all for showing us the way.

My parents & I, Rock Point, August 2009

Jean with her dad and his wife, Fort Erie, July 2009

Jean and her mum, Crawford Bay Wetlands, June 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Due to technical difficulties the regularly scheduled birding blog is unavailable. In its place, a cycling video for you all to enjoy. Found this posted on the SCCC forum.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A New (Birding) Trail

August 10

Having viewed a pair of American Goldfinches feeding from Sunflowers in our garden earlier in the evening, Jean and I thought where could we bird in St. Catharines that was nearby and easily accessible?

A new trail had recently been constructed on the Port Weller Spit allowing walkers and cyclists scenic views of the Welland Canal and Lake Ontario.

In the past, one could bird along the Seaway Haulage Road or the rustic trails created by people hiking on the east pier and I was concerned that too many trees would be lost during construction of the gravel path. Well, it appears the trail (which completes the Welland Canal Trail) still has a good number of trees and bird activity appears unaffected (as does the mosquito population). We did not plan for biting insects and with the sun quickly setting we failed to complete the entire section of the 2.7 kilometre trail, observing 17 species during our short visit to Port Weller.

May 2010 will be the determining factor for repeated visits. The eco park on the west side has produced some excellent days during spring migration (I still have a warbler post sitting in the drafts) so hopefully this new trail will provide a lifer or two next year. If I can pull myself away from the eco park that is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sunflower Visitors

August 10

We planted a Sunflower in our garden last year and this year it returned with a second plant, both producing beautiful blooms.

The blooms are now gone and to some, the plant may not look that appealing anymore.

To an American Goldfinch however, they look great.

The other day I caught a glimpse of some finches near the sunflowers. The male stood on top of the fence post (all that remains of the fence). The birds quickly took flight. On another day, the finches would pass by without stopping. Most likely due to the presence of the homeowners and their dogs in the backyard.

Monday evening I was with the dogs and taking them back into the house. The finches had returned and they were both feeding on the seeds of the Sunflower. I quickly ushered the dogs back into the house, allowing Jean to capture the following images.

The male and female American Goldfinch fed from the plant for 15 minutes.

With a bit of luck the sunflowers and finches should return next year. A fence should be in place by then. Hopefully it will not be a deterrent.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

B.C Trip Part XI

June 20

Elizabeth Lake

As some of you may have guessed, a few postings of my vacation in British Columbia remain to be transcribed from memory to the blog. Kootenay Lake was now behind us and so far Jean and I had ticked 20 lifers. We had travelled from Kootenay Bay to Cranbrook and it was now mid-day (a bit later actually, we had crossed back into the Central Time Zone). Time for a break. Slightly west of the Cranbrook city centre is the Elizabeth Lake Sanctuary, a 6 hectare wildlife area in Confederation Park. I think every Canadian city has a Confederation Park.

Image by Bob

Looking out onto the lake we were amazed with the number of American Coots (adults and young) we saw. I counted close to 150 but there were probably additional numbers on the other side of the lake.

We observed two types of grebes, an adult Pied-billed Grebe with 2 young and 2 adult Eared Grebes in breeding plumage. The golden "ears" behind their eyes were a spectacular sight as we have only seen the birds in their winter plumage on previous occasions.

There were a few gull-like birds flying above an island of bullrushes in the middle of the lake. Looking through the binoculars and scope we could see that the gulls were in fact Black Terns (a total of 12). Entering the number on eBird prompted a confirmation for the number observed. An excellent observation according to eBird Canada. I'll wager there were probably more that we could not see nesting on the island.

Waterfowl seen included the ubiquitous Canada Goose, Redhead, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds were flying back and forth along the lake's edge as well as exploring the picnic area for any left overs.

It was time to move on. We enjoyed our lunch break at Elizabeth Lake. I don't know how we missed it when we were travelling to Kootenay Bay on the 14th.

The rest of the day was spent travelling north to Radium Hot Springs.

Shire horses in Fort Steele

Columbia Lake

Dutch Creek Hoodoos

Looking west, slightly south of Radium Hot Springs.

There was a city park across the street from the hotel we had booked for the night and after relaxing at the hot springs and some exploring in Kootenay National Park, I attempted some birding at 10:00 PM. Though I only spotted an American Robin it was pretty cool knowing I was looking at a bird this late in the evening. Radium Hot Springs is very close to 51 degrees N latitude and what do you know, we were on the doorstep of the Summer Solstice.

The hot pool in Kootenay National Park

The cool pool (which was not very cool according to Jean)

The Rockies, Kootenay National Park

Looking west from the Radium Hot Springs entrance to Kootenay National Park

Birding at 10:00 PM

The owner of the hotel informed me of an annual birding event in the area, Wings Over the Rockies. May 3-9, 2010? Why do the majority of birding festivals occur in May? Remind me, why do I have to work? Work = cash = house + birding. Oh yeah, that's why.

More travelling was planned for the next day. We would pass through two national parks on our way to Lake Louise in Alberta. There are no guarantees that we would encounter wildlife but this was the Rockies. We had to see something, right?

All images by Jean unless otherwise stated.