Saturday, October 31, 2009

B.C. Trip Part XIII

June 21

It was Sunday, Father's Day as well as the annual Great Lake to Lake Classic back home in the Niagara Region. Since 1999, Steve, Tim and crew, with help from the St Catharines Cycling Club, have organized the citizen's mountain bike race that travels across the Niagara Peninsula from Port Colborne to Port Dalhouise. I had participated in every race, some dry and some not so dry, until this year.

Image by Frank Hampson Sr., 2004

I was on vacation in western Canada travelling to Lake Louise while cyclists covered in mud were crossing the finish line at Lakeside Park. We had travelled from Radium Hot Springs to Lake Louise and had found some accommodation for the evening.

After settling into our room Jean and I explored the property of the hotel while her mum rested. We ticked Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, Chipping Sparrow, American Robin and Yellow-rumped Warbler while walking through the Paradise Lodge property. We found a trail east of the hotel and followed it to a picnic area where we entered into the forest. While hiking behind the picnic area we found a few Gray Jay.

Returning to the picnic area we observed this Common Raven exhibit some interesting behaviour. This bird was enormous!

Taking a closer look we can see it held a piece of bread in its beak. A very stale, hard piece of bread. Even by raven standards.

The raven carried the bread it had found to a small pile of snow. It then dropped the pieces into the snow. Within a short period of time, the bread had softened and the raven could now swallow the morsels of bread with little discomfort.

Later in the evening, we encountered a Common Porcupine running along the road. A rare sight as this species of rodent is usually spotted dead at the side of the road. We were happy to see the porcupine leave the roadside for the carless environment of the forest.

June 22

Our last day out west. We had visited Lake Louise the previous day. The morning of the 22nd we would visit Moraine Lake (our own Lake to Lake). Little did I know that this was the lake on the back of the old twenty dollar bill.

I was the only brave soul wearing shorts this day.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Some great scenery was seen between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Image by Bob

Image by Bob

When travelling from the village of Lake Louise to Banff one can either use the Trans Canada or the Bow Valley Parkway. The parkway includes 18 kilometres of a seasonal road with restrictions from March 1 to June 25 (evenings 6 pm -9 am). This helps protect wildlife at a critical time of year. And we saw first hand why this is necessary. While travelling along the parkway, a truck towing a motor home ahead of us started to weave, eventually pulling off to the side of the road. We slowed down, anticipating that they had stopped to view some wildlife. Jill (Jean's mum) spotted it first. A young Grizzly Bear was in a clearing to our right. A third vehicle stopped and the occupants got out to capture some images as the Grizzly Bear crossed the road behind us. Though an attempt was made we were unable to capture any images of the fleeing bear. Another first!!

Along the route are a number of interpretive displays at pull-offs. We stopped at the first pull-off when we observed a small group of photographers sitting on a concrete barrier overlooking the Bow River. What could they be waiting for? All were checking their watches periodically. Running along side the river was a set of railway tracks. They're waiting for a train!

This was a beautiful view but for some train enthusiasts and photographers a train travelling through the valley would be an added bonus.

Timing is everything (with some luck thrown in). A few minutes later and I would not have been able to capture this image.

Or this one.

Our next stop, the Storm Mountain pull off with views of Mount Ball and Storm Mountain.

Image by Bob

We ticked a White-crowned Sparrow during our break in the picnic area.

A short stop at the Moose Meadows pull off with a view of Castle Mountain. Most likely a good spot for birding if one did not have a flight to catch.

We viewed our last lifer of our trip near Johnston Canyon. I was driving and from the back seat Jean caught a flash of blue to our left. A pair of Mountain Bluebirds (#283).

Approaching Banff, mountains are in every direction.

Mt. Rundle

Sulphur Mountain

Mt. Howard Douglas

And it just would not be the same without a cattle image when one is travelling out west.

Next stop, Calgary airport for the flight back to southern Ontario. Boy, did I have a lot of checklists to enter on eBird Canada.

Monday, October 26, 2009

1000th Checklist

Jean and I are in our fourth year of birding and since day one I have submitted our observations to eBird and eBird Canada. On Saturday October 24, I submitted two checklists. The first for species observed during our attempt to view the Lark Sparrow and a second checklist which was our 1000th checklist.

Some birders contribute between 500-1000 checklists in one year (not sure where they get all the time to do that) and their over zealousness is greatly appreciated, as is any number of lists submitted. eBird Canada collects and filters the data which in turn is shared with the scientific community. For a more thorough explanation check out their site.

The 1000th list was not very extensive. In fact, only one species was observed. Well, two if you count the recently killed Mourning Dove. We were between dinner and dessert at my parents' when we noticed a Cooper's Hawk perched in the front yard crab apple tree. In its talons it held a dead dove. It began to dine on its prey and stayed in the tree for 15 minutes before leaving with its evening meal. A few feathers were all that remained on the tree branch.

Unfortunately, we did not capture any identifiable images for posting. Stepping outside to the front yard for a closer shot would have only disturbed the Cooper's and the bird would have left sooner than later.

The 1000 checklists we have submitted cover 3 provinces and 10 states (with a total of 52 counties). I hope to eventually add more states and provinces, possibly a territory or two. The province with the most ticks, well you can probably guess that one easily. I'm currently ranked 16th on the 2009 Top 100 eBirders in Ontario. Moving up the table before the end of the year may prove difficult. The state and county with the most, well you will have to wait for a future posting, hopefully before the 2000th checklist.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Carefree Adventure

On Saturday Jean and I returned to Van Wagners Beach Road (our last visit was the OFO field trip) in search of a reported Lark Sparrow. It was last seen on October 21 but I thought we should take the chance that it may still be found at the volley ball courts of a beach front restaurant.

An image of the sparrow captured by Tom Thomas can be found on the OFO site.

Strong winds were blowing from the south-west and unlike 2 weeks ago, we could find no birds in the brush along the Hamilton Recreational Trail. No birds at all were encountered, not even House Sparrows, as we passed the restaurant. After checking the volleyball court area, Jean and I crossed the road to the parking lot where there had been some avian activity during the field trip. At first no birds were seen. Eventually, a Dark-eyed Junco popped out of the brush and Jean caught a quick glimpse of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet but the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had moved on. As we walked along the edge of the parking lot another birder joined us in our search. The best spot was near two garbage containers in the parking lot. A number of White-throated Sparrows appeared out of the brush and stood in front of the bins (garbage containers). A beautiful Fox Sparrow jumped into view as we observed the other sparrows. Additional birds observed here were 1 Song Sparrow and 2 Hermit Thrushes.

Though the Lark Sparrow was not found all was not lost this day. During our drive to Hamilton, we took an alternate route atop the Niagara Escarpment and stopped in Fonthill to pick up tickets to attend a reading of Nino Ricci's the Origin of Species. Can you see why the book attracted my attention? Nino Ricci himself will be reading from his newest novel. Should be an interesting evening.

Still sitting at 188. I'm beginning to think it will not change until the Niagara River Gull Watch field trip where at the Whirlpool a Little Gull awaits to be ticked.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Missed Them By That Much

During the Hamilton OFO field trip I added three species to my provincial year list, setting a personal best for birds seen in a year. Any additional birds added to the list after the Thanksgiving Day weekend will be icing on the cake (preferably chocolate).

That opportunity arose yesterday when I received a phone tip from a birding friend. He had observed 17 Brant (with Canada Geese) on the manicured lawn of some lake-front condos. I always appreciate Kayo informing Jean and I of notable birds spotted in the region. It was a phone call from Kayo that led Jean and I to observe our lifer Long-eared Owl in February of this year. Another lifer, thanks to a phone call from Kayo, was observed in June of 2008. A lone Brant on the grass of a city park in Port Colborne (south end of the Welland Canal).

After finishing work, Jean and I went to Jones Beach in Port Weller (north end of the Welland Canal) to observe the Brants.

It had been over 2 hours since the geese were observed but there was still a possibility of viewing them. Upon our arrival we could see that the Brants were no longer present. Mallards dabbled along the shoreline and we spotted 12 Green-winged Teal close to shore. A small flock of Canada Geese announced themselves as they flew by but no Brants were accompanying them.

These two characters were of no help. They had no idea where the Brants had gone.

A worthy try but the year list still sits at 188.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Giving Thanks (for some lifers)

It was the Thanksgiving Day weekend and between celebrating birthdays and feasting on two turkey dinners, Jean and I managed to do some birding (OFO field trip) along the Lake Ontario shoreline in Hamilton (Canada's answer to Pittsburgh minus a NHL team) on the Saturday.

We arrived at Van Wagners Beach shortly before 8:00 AM and while waiting for trip leader Tom Thomas, we scanned the lake with a few other OFO members. Between late August and December, birders will spend hours on the beach at the west end of Lake Ontario to observe jaegers (Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed) as they migrate through the Great Lakes. Hours? Apparently so, according to Bob Curry's book "Birds of Hamilton and Surrounding Areas". We had been standing near Hutch's Restaurant for 10 minutes, maybe 15, when Jean spotted a large bird harassing a Double-crested Cormorant on the water. I would turn to observe the bird flying north towards the Burlington Skyway and followed it until it disappeared out of sight. Another birder was on it and described the wing beat as jaeger-like. All three of us had yet to tick a jaeger.

We discussed the sighting with Tom upon his arrival. The fact that the bird was repeatedly harassing the cormorant (plus our description of the bird) led Tom to conclude we had in fact observed a Parasitic Jaeger. Awesome! Lifer #285 in a matter of minutes! I will not assume a repeat when observing a Pomarine or Long-tailed Jaeger.

The winds, if any, were not in our favour during the hour the group stood on the beach. Birds of interest observed included, White-winged Scoter, Bonaparte's Gull, Common Loon and a Merlin. While walking south along the Hamilton Recreational Trail (avoiding cyclists and runners) we spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle.

We crossed the road to bird Van Wagners Ponds and the surrounding area. Migrants were plentiful. The highlight for Jean and I, another lifer! In the tall grass and willows on the east side of the ponds the group found a pocket of activity. At first, Jean and I were at the wrong end of the line when a member from the group announced the observation of a warbler. "Hey Jean, we need that one." We did our best to observe the bird from our position but in order to tick this bird we would have to move. We found a better spot, without blocking anyone else's view, and patiently waited for the bird to make another appearance. Though it was brief, a male Wilson's Warbler (#286) popped into view. I'm glad we made the decision to move. We would have never seen the warbler from our original position. Hell, there was a guy standing right next to me that did not see it when I could (demonstrating how easy it can be to miss a bird).

We continued on and stopped at a spot overlooking a small creek. The slopes were covered in brush and fallen branches which provided many hiding spots.Winter Wren and Swamp Sparrow were observed here.

The group then walked the gravel paths (one a former railway line) south of the ponds. Sparrows and more sparrows. Species observed included White-throated, Song, Field and White-crowned, #188 for the Ontario year list. What? 188? That's a new record for Jean and I. In 2008, we observed a total of 187 species. With 2.5 months left in the year we still have a chance to add to the record number.

Jean modelling her new OFO toque purchased at this year's convention.

The new gravel path (not present during the '07 field trip) will eventually become a trail and will include a pedestrian bridge that will cross the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). As we surveyed the area from the ramp for the yet to be constructed bridge, a B-25 Mitchell flew overhead. That is the second time a WWII vintage plane has flown by while we were birding. We crossed the ponds walking along the former railway line. In my youth I looked at the pond many times while travelling with my parents en route to a destination north of Lake Ontario.

I always wondered what could be found at this pond but little did I realize that there was a railway line hiding a second pond on the far side.

In the pond this day, a family of Mute Swans, Black-crowned Night-Heron (2 adults and 2 juveniles), 1 Greater Yellowlegs and a Belted Kingfisher were observed. A total of 30 species were seen during our hike around the ponds.

After lunch, we headed to the Windermere Basin (located on the west side of the QEW). The artificially created body of water is the last remaining cell of a contaminated-sediment removal project. During the winter months the pond does not freeze, allowing for a challenging count on the Hamilton CBC.

Jean checking out waterfowl at Windermere Basin

Jean and I had never seen so many Ruddy Ducks (dozens and dozens) in one location. Usually we observe only one, the most up until the Hamilton field trip was 4 at this year's convention. Other waterfowl we ticked included Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Canvasback (a lone female) and Green-winged Teal. We could not get on the Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser or the lone female Northern Pintail spotted by a few other birders in the group.

Walking along the path a Short-eared Owl was flushed. Some were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the owl standing at the side of the path before it took flight and circled above for a short period of time, eventually disappearing over the harbour. For those that chose to stay behind and continue viewing the waterfowl, they missed an exciting moment!

Our last stop was at the northern end of Confederation Park. Birds of interest included, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm Warbler. The Orange-crowned Warbler (seen by a select few) would have been nice as we still need for the year list. Another missed tick was a fall Blackpoll Warbler. We left the group as they continued to bird for another hour in the park. We had some errands to run before Thanksgiving dinner at my parents'.

Returning to the Niagara Region the errand was completed. Sampling and purchasing some wine.

The holiday weekend was well enjoyed. The dinners amazing. Jean and I were thankful for the time we spent with our families as well as ticking 2 lifers and reaching a new year total for the provincial list.

Image courtesy of Jill Hampson

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another Species Return

Despite Liverpool's loss (Geordies should have left their beach balls at home), today was a another beautiful fall day.

I had mentioned the October return of a migrating bird on a recent posting and as on previous occasions, the male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was observed in the trees of the yard bordering the south side of our property.

This afternoon, a second species returned to the neighbourhood (their stay will be considerably longer). A small number of birds were flying back and forth in the trees surrounding our back yard. As some of them flew across our yard I noticed the conspicuous white outer tail feathers. Definitely not the House Sparrows huddled in the Rose of Sharon near the feeder. As some of you have already guessed, Dark-eyed Juncos have returned and will be here to stay until late April. White-crowned and Chipping Sparrows were also observed in the trees.

Another observation, some of those trees will require trimming. The cutting of branches will be limited to the ones touching the barn's roof. After all, this birder would like the majority of the tree to remain. In addition to releasing much needed O2, the trees are responsible for attracting birds to the neighbourhood. When the large maples (a total of three) on the city boulevard were cut down, we no longer observed White-breasted Nuthatch from the front porch. So as long as the neighbours keep their trees, we will continue to observe sparrows, kinglets, woodpeckers and the occasional warbler from our back yard.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I and the Bird #111

Despite an early dumping of snow in Minnesota, Kirk from Twin Cities Naturalist has found time to host I and the Bird #111: South With the Fall. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Summer Finale

It has been here for three weeks now but before fall officially arrived on Tuesday September 22 (shortly after 5:00 pm) Jean and I did some birding during the last weekend of the summer.

September 19

With shorebirds passing through the area as they migrate to their wintering grounds Jean and I checked out some spots along the Lake Erie shore between Fort Erie and Port Colborne.

Our first stop was at a spot with views of the Buffalo skyline. The only shorebirds viewed here, 2 Greater Yellowlegs and some Killdeer.

We would bird a few more spots and shorebird species were limited. Luckily the sunny day and scenery made up for the absence of shorebirds.

We were about to leave a public access (only observing Killdeer) when 3 Semipalmated Plovers appeared out of the tall grass.

September 20

Sunday evening we visited the Green Ribbon Trail. We missed viewing an adult Black-crowned Night-heron but Jean managed to capture some images of a Great Blue Heron.

As the sun was setting we visited Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie with hopes of sighting a few shorebirds in the far west corner of the park. No such luck.

Though it's just a memory

Some memories last forever

Neil Peart
Lakeside Park