Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bicycle Race

It's that time of year again. What's that? Shorebird migration you say? Yes, but there will be plenty of time to look for shorebirds another day. It's the Grape and Wine Festival and it just would not be the same without Mr. Grape or the Liberty! Bicycle's Off-Road Squeezer.

Good luck to all and hope to see you out on the course. Watch out for those trees!

In honour of the Squeezer, a video for all to enjoy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Additions to Endangered List

An article in Monday's St. Catharines Standard caught my attention.

Ten animal species, including six birds, are now listed as "endangered" under Ontario's Endangered Species Act. Three of the six are mentioned in an article on the Ontario Nature site and include Chimney Swift, Whip-poor-will and Canada Warbler.

Mark Carabetta, conservation science manager for Ontario Nature, said that citizens have to ask their governments to make sensitive planning choices. Well let's hope this works with the proposed aggregate pit in Codrington, Ontario. If the municipal government of Brighton agrees to the quarry, 105 hectares of forest and scrubland will be lost, threatening a small breeding population of Golden-winged Warblers.

Mark also said that citizens ask their governments to create parks and conservation areas. Brilliant. But in the case of the former Department of National Defence lands in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it will not be easy with Parks Canada supporting the proposal of a 17-week international music festival. Though there will be land spared for conservation under the proposed plan, I believe the entire 268 acre site should be a conservation area.

With the addition of 10 species to the at-risk list (aka endangered species list) more land should be spared to ensure that these and other species at risk bounce back to greater numbers, including the Rapids Clubtail (a first for a dragonfly species).

For additional information on species at risk, check out the Ministry of Natural Resources site.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep you informed on the Codrington Pit and Project Niagara proposals.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Birding During the Labour Day Weekend

September 6

With hopes of viewing Common Nighthawk in flight, Jean and I went to the Wetland Ridge Trail Sunday evening. A previous attempt to view a calling nighthawk during a non-birding evening ended in an addition to the year list without seeing the bird.

We arrived at 7:30 PM and had less than an hour of daylight to observe any birds in or around the lagoons. Two people were leaving as we entered and informed us of 2 juvenile Black-crowned Night-herons in the branches of a dead tree in the far corner of the nature area. Sure enough they were still there when we setup the scope. There was insufficient light to digiscope an image of the birds.

We could see a Green Heron at the far end of the north lagoon so we headed that way to get a closer look. The light was fading fast and the heron had left. Only 2 Killdeer remained on the mat of algae. As if in sync, the mosquitoes started biting as the Common Nighthawks began calling. Walking back more nighthawks were heard calling. In a Sumac, less than 10 feet from where we stood, the sixth Common Nighthawk of the evening called loudly. With the little amount of light that was left, Jean and I could not spot the bird in the nearby tree. Though we heard a total of 9 nighthawks without observing any, the night was not wasted. While straining to observe the Common Nighthawk in the Sumac I spotted another bird perched on a hydro tower as I looked back towards the call of another nighthawk. That's an odd looking hawk, I thought. It had its back towards us and when it turned its head around it revealed itself to be a Great Horned Owl. Though we observed a pair (and two young) earlier this year, this was only our third observation of this species of owl. Enough light remained for a scope view of the owl and we were able to make out its white collar.

We left the Wetland Ridge with nighthawks still calling. It was if they were teasing us. As on two previous occasions (back yard and Wetland Ridge) we will most likely observe Common Nighthawks in flight when we least suspect.

September 7

Before leaving for the Marshville Heritage Festival, a report of a Snow Goose (with a number of Canada Geese) had Jean and I stopping at the Green Ribbon Trail in Port Dalhousie. At first no geese could be found on Richardson's Creek or Martindale Pond. A flock of Canada Geese flew overhead but did not contain the white goose we sought. More flocks flew overhead, some deciding to land in the waters by the trail. Hey, this group coming in has a white goose in it! Unfortunately it was only a domestic goose.

A Green Heron was perched very close to the trail. Despite the branches Jean managed to get some good images of the bird.

The 2 Wood Ducks we observed earlier were now resting on a log.

As were the many turtles in the pond.

Leaving the trail a photographer pointed towards a large Rat Snake on the bank of the pond. We discussed spotting scopes and digiscoping (with the photographer not the snake) and then Jean and I headed to the other side of the Niagara Region to spend part of the day at the Marshville Festival.

On the way home we stopped at a pond near Port Colborne. I was hoping for shorebirds but the water levels were too high. Though there were no shorebirds there were a few wading birds. An adult Black-crowned Night-heron was flying away as we approached the pond. Towards the south end of the pond, 2 Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron were busy hunting for prey while 2 juvenile Black-crowned Night-herons stood still on the edge of the pond. Red-winged Blackbirds flew back and forth between the reeds and the field of corn across the road.

Autumn Wild Onion, Allium stellatum

That was it for birding during the long weekend. For shorebirds we will have to plan a day of birding along the shore of Lake Erie in the next few weeks. You never know what you may find. Last year's highlight was the Curlew Sandpiper. Let's hope there will be another Eurasian visitor this fall.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

B.C Trip Part XII

June 21

Radium Hot Springs to Lake Louise

To reach Lake Louise we had to pass through two national parks, Kootenay and Banff.

Within minutes of entering Kootenay N.P. we encountered our first large mammal of the day. As we approached the Hot Springs, a male bighorn sheep ran past us in the opposite lane. You can't get much closer than that!

Near the parking area for the Radium Hot Springs pools we observed a flock of bighorn sheep (mostly males).

Our next stop, the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint (elevation 1370 m).

During the 10-15 minutes of taking in the dramatic view, we observed an American Robin and a Dark-eyed Junco. The junco was not the "slate-coloured" variety we normally observe in our back yard. This one, a first for Jean and I, was a male "Oregon Junco".

Hector Gorge, Elevation 1266 m

In the valley we had some great views of a flock of mountain goats.

We stopped by the Simpson River to observe the results of the 2001 Mount Shanks Fire.

In 2003, 12.6% of the park was burned when two large, lightning-caused fires merged. Fire good! New growth rapidly occurs in the nutrient rich earth (created by the fire).

Continuing through the valley along Highway 93, two vehicles ahead of us came to a stop. A gray wolf was crossing the highway. We managed to catch a quick glimpse of the wolf as it was completing its crossing. It then climbed a bank and disappeared into the forest. This was my first viewing of a wolf in the wild.

We stopped for a break and a short hike on a trail that led to the Paint Pots. Though in a valley we were at a higher elevation (1450 m) than we were at the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint. We were approaching the Vermilion Pass. The Continental Divide and Alberta were only 10 kilometres away. This would be our last attempt to add birds to the British Columbia list.

We crossed the Vermilion River while hiking the Paint Pots Trail.

We hiked through the ochre beds. Native tribes from the mountains and prairies used the "red earth" powder mixed with fish oil or animal grease for use in painting bodies, teepees, clothing and pictures on rocks.

The Paint Pots (3) were formed by the accumulation of iron oxide around the outlets of three cold mineral springs.

Image by Bob

Unfortunately no additions to the B.C. list. Common Raven, Chipping Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler were the only birds seen.

We crossed the Continental Divide into Alberta. Next stop Lake Louise.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon and parked the car in a very busy lot. Jean and her mum started off without me as I grabbed a few things from the car. They were not too far ahead when Jean called out to alert me of a new bird. One I thought would not be so easy. Sitting at the top of a tall conifer was a lifer Clark's Nutcracker (#282)! A woman walking by wondered what was so interesting to us. A bird of course. I did tell her the type but she did not share the same level of excitement that we three did. As we reached the viewing area I was amazed at the number of Clark's Nutcracker we saw. Four more adults and one juvenile were in the trees in the lake's viewing area. The birds had no fear of the tourists. In fact, they took handouts from any tourist willing to feed them. I had no idea that we would be able to tick a lifer Clark's Nutcracker so easily. Birders visiting Banff N.P. for the first time. Don't worry. Clark's Nutcracker will not take a considerably amount of energy to find. In fact, all that is required is a short walk to this amazing view.

Capturing an image of a Clark's Nutcracker did not prove difficult at all.

Another bird looking for handouts, a fellow member of the Jay family, was a Gray Jay. One adult taking care of this juvenile was seen amongst the Clark's Nutcrackers.

We spotted a pair of Common Loons on Lake Louise.

Image by Jill (mum)

After a late lunch in the Lakeview Lounge of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise we birded from the paths surrounding the lake for a while longer. Chipping Sparrow, Pine Siskin and American Robin were added to the Alberta list. It was time to find some accommodation for the night. Why not the Fairmont you ask? Yeah, right.

Staying in Canmore (further down the Trans Canada) was a more economical choice but a quick check of rates (off season and within our budget) at Paradise Lodge and Bungalows had us staying one more night in the national park. Jean and I would have another chance to bird the Lake Louise area before leaving for Calgary. Stay tuned for B.C Trip Part XIII.

Images by Jean unless stated otherwise.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Worthy Substitute

August 20

I had previously mentioned that I still required a Brown Thrasher for the year list. My Ontario sightings of this species are limited and after looking over the observations on eBird, Niagara Shores Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) looked to be the best option.

The hundreds of Bank Swallows seen on May 29 have departed to their wintering grounds in South America (somewhat earlier than the "snowbirds" bound for Florida). We walked along a trail to the western edge of the area but found no birds in or around the pond. The eastern side of Niagara Shores borders the former National Defence lands (currently owned by Parks Canada). A final decision has yet to be made on the future of the property.

Searching the web, I was able to find groups supporting and opposing Project Niagara. I may be biased but as a biologist and a birder (What? They'll remove the sewage lagoons?) I would rather see an eco park at this location. If the choice was between urbanization (as is happening on the main route into NOTL) and Project Niagara, well I'm sure the majority would side with the amphitheatre.

We walked along the fence line, scanning the brush in the neighbouring property. This is where Brown Thrasher have been observed in the past. The bird still remains off the list but we found a worthy substitute. Well, something better actually. It was an Empidonax flycatcher. Our last lifer Empid was observed during our vacation in British Columbia. This flycatcher was slightly different. Though olive-green above, the yellowish underparts and distinctive yellow throat (as well as a yellowish eyering) distinguish this Empid from the others. We had a lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (#284). Sweet!

We left NOTL and travelled along the parkway to a picnic area near the Queenston-Lewiston bridge. The spot is surrounded by trees and overlooks the Niagara River from the top of the Niagara Escarpment. A great spot to observe soaring Turkey Vultures.

You may even catch a glimpse of one roosting in a tree.

On the way home we stopped at the Wetland Ridge Trail.

Jean captured this digiscoped image of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

In addition to these 2 Killdeer, we found 2 Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Solitary Sandpiper (# 175 for the year list) in the usual shorebird corner of the north lagoon.

Swallows were flying above the lagoons and we managed to pick out 1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow (#176) in the bunch.

Continuing with the subject of swallows.

Later in the evening, we received an e-mail (addressed to Ontbirders using the listserve) from Mike Cadman of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). In his e-mail, Mike stated, "swallow species are showing a marked decline across Ontario and northeastern North America". The CWS is in the process of determining what research is required to determine why the declines are happening and are interested in collecting preliminary information on pre-migration and migrating flocks in Ontario. Mike asked all on the listserve to provide information on sightings of flocks with 100+ swallows. Jean and I have not seen any large migrating flocks but I did pass on our May 29 sighting of the nesting Bank Swallows (Mike Cadman is also looking for historical data on swallow roosts).

Back to birding at the Wetland Ridge.

Wood Duck boxes have been placed in the south lagoon to encourage mating pairs to nest in the area. It worked. I counted 12 Wood Duck (adults and young) while surveying the lagoon. They were also raising young here last year.

Moving on, we observed some activity in the adjacent woods of the escarpment.

A Black-throated Green Warbler and 2 Black and White Warblers. Some "pishing" brought them out from behind the branches.

A spying Black and White.

A close up.

A Yellow Warbler was the last bird observed for the afternoon as we walked between the vineyards and lagoons. The day of birding was done and our two weeks of vacation would soon be coming to an end. The lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher helped ease the realization that we would be returning to work soon.