Monday, October 12, 2009

Conventionally Speaking

The first weekend in October Jean and I attended the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) Annual Convention at Point Pelee. In 2007 we attended our first annual convention which was also held at Point Pelee. We have now visited Point Pelee a few times over the last four years, including one visit before the obsession to keep a list existed. I do have a confession to make. Our visits have been during the months of June, August and October. Yes loyal readers, I am an Ontario birder that has yet to visit Pelee during the month of May. Our birding friends sitting with us at Saturday's banquet were as equally shocked. Unfortunately for me, work related duties prevent me from taking any extended time off in May. A long weekend could be possible but I'm sure we would be elbow to elbow with other birders, jostling for the best spot to view a lifer Golden-winged Warbler. Enough of the sour grapes. I have a weekend of birding to tell you all about.

October 2

It rained during most of our commute to Point Pelee on Friday. I was hoping that this was not an indication of how the weather would be during the convention's field trips. The forecast was not looking good so rain gear was packed for the trip.

After arriving in Leamington late in the afternoon (we followed the trail of tomatoes) and settling into our room for the weekend, we went out for dinner. In addition to birding at the convention we were looking forward to an authentic Mexican meal at a restaurant where we had dined on two previous occasions. The restaurant no longer exists (replaced by a Caribbean market and restaurant). With a substantial population of migrant farm workers from Mexico (so substantial in fact that there is a Mexican consulate in town) there are a few authentic Mexican eateries to choose from. We chose Los Compas on the Talbot Line and despite the language barrier we managed to order some excellent enchiladas. Continuing with the subject of restaurant closure, another establishment we liked, the Russell Street Steakhouse, is now a gift shop.

After dinner we birded Lakeside Park in nearby Kingsville. Birds seen from the beach included, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Ring-billed, Herring and Bonaparte's Gulls, Caspian Tern and Double-crested Cormorant.

October 3

Saturday morning we attended the field trip in Point Pelee National Park. We met with other OFO members at the visitor centre for a morning hike to the tip. The Weather Network had forecasted rain but the grey clouds had yet to release any precipitation on the large group of birders. While we stood with the rest of the OFO members in the parking area, patiently waiting for the field trip to commence, Bald Eagles were observed flying overhead.

The large number of birders split into groups, those wishing to walk to the tip and those riding the tram to the tip. We joined the group (led by Bruce Di Labio) that would walk along the roadway leading to Canada's most southern mainland point.

With woodland forest on either side of the road we were hoping for some migrating warblers. Jean and I still needed Orange-crowned, Pine and Cape May for the year list, not to mention a few lifer warblers that have eluded us despite visiting Malcomson Eco Park every weekend this past May (events still sitting in the draft section). A smaller group (led by Pete Read) would eventually mix with our group and split again with Jean and I somehow ending up in the smaller group.

During the walk along the roadway, large flocks of Blue Jays flew overhead and Golden-crowned Kinglets were calling from the cedars by the roadside. Surprisingly, few birds were seen while walking along the paved road. Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and Sharp-shinned Hawk flew above, sending the Blue Jays into panic mode. Jean spotted Chipping Sparrow and a Northern Flicker before we reached the tram drop off but that was it for bird species along the roadway. While exploring the tip a late Chimney Swift was spotted flying south towards the end of the tip. Walking along the beach on the east side of the tip, a very long line of Double-crested Cormorants (1000's) stood out against the grey clouds. A few Red-breasted Merganser were seen from the east beach as well.

Birds were not the only animal migrating. Jean managed to capture some images of resting Monarch Butterflies.

At the tip (it has been longer in previous years) Ring-billed Gulls stood in the sand while birders discussed the species seen and missed during the walk.

The highlight at the tip while we were there was not of the avian variety. It was a mammal. An American Mink walked on the beach, oblivious to the humans it zig-zagged through as it continued on its merry way, eventually disappearing into the woods.

We walked back to the visitor centre with Pete Read and a small group of birders. The perfect size for walking along the trails through the forested section of Pelee. At the 42 degree latitude marker we found our first warblers of the day. 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers, one of them with such an orange wash in its breast we thought it may be a Bay-breasted. But the flash of yellow on the rump laid any other possibility to rest.

Pete led us to the sparrow field which to his surprise was not much of a field anymore. At the banquet we were informed that the field will soon be restored to a "field sparrow field". During the hike back to the visitor centre, along the east beach and forested trails, we observed Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Brown Creeper and #178 for the year list, 2 Winter Wren.

Before leaving Point Pelee National Park, Jean and I stopped at the overlook on Sanctuary Pond. We joined a fellow birder from the morning hike on the overlook and scanned the pond for waterfowl. American Black Duck and Wood Duck were observed during the 20 minutes we birded from the observation deck. Two more birders from the hike joined us and aided in the identification of the swallows (5-6) flying back and forth over the water. Amazingly, we spotted 4 species of swallow in this small group (Tree, Bank, Cliff and Northern Rough-winged). The highlight while we were there was the 2 Swainson's Thrushes (#179) found in the vegetation by the water's edge.

Little did I know that one of the birders was a representative from Vortex. You think the Vortex hoodie would have been a clue. He asked me how we were enjoying our Vortex Skyline. Without knowing he was a rep. I gave him an answer he wanted to hear. I asked how he liked his Vortex binoculars (Vipers). That's when I discovered he worked for Vortex and that he would be working the booth at the banquet.

We stopped at the Pelee Wings store after leaving the park and checked out adapters for digiscoping. We were shown a couple of models but for now Jean will continue to use the method she is currently using (sans adapter). The owner of the store suggested Jean Iron's adapter of choice. A spice jar cap.

The evening would be spent at the banquet. We arrived early to check out the displays, including the Vortex booth. Larry from Vortex showed me a pair of Vortex Vipers and they are really sweet. I best start saving now. We stopped at the soon to be published "Niagara Birds" booth and spoke with Kayo. It's always a pleasure speaking with him. The publication of the book has been deferred to March of next year. Jean picked up a catalogue from Quest Tours. The trips are amazing! She also purchased an OFO toque.

After the great meal, Ron Tozer (banquet MC and veteran trip leader) was presented with the Distinguished Ornithologist Award. The guest speaker was Jim Duncan who has studied the Great Gray Owl for over 25 years. He discussed the owl's habitat use, nesting ecology, vocalizations, breeding dispersal, prey use and availability, mortality and population dynamics. All I can say is, I can't wait for the next Great Gray Owl irruption. The images of the Great Gray Owl "snow plunging" were amazing. The owls will dive into 2 feet of snow to capture Meadow Voles (their preferred prey). On some attempts, only the tips of the tail feathers remain above the snow when capturing a vole.

The evening completed we all left, some with a selection of Heinz products that adorned the banquet tables, for a much needed restful night. There would be more birding on the Sunday.

October 4

During the 2007 convention Jean and I attended the Rondeau and Area field trip. This year we toured the Point Pelee Birding Area with Steve Pike.

On the Saturday afternoon tour of the area, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was spotted in a field but this day only Killdeer were found at our first stop. This was the onion fields. Plenty of farmland still to scan for our lifer Buff-breasted.

Our next stop was a dike (adjacent to an onion field) at the end of Mersea Rd 19. Within no time, Steve had picked out an American Bittern at the west end of the dike.

Here I am checking out the American Bittern.

Walking along the dike we scanned the field for Buff-breasted Sandpiper and once again found only Killdeer. In the willows on the slopes of the dike we spotted Chipping and White-throated Sparrows, Brown Creeper,Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and an additional warbler needed for the year list, 2 Pine Warblers (#181). 3 Sandhill Cranes called as they flew north over the field, directly in front of our group. What a sight! A female Peregrine Falcon that was perched in the field tried capturing a meal from a large flock of Blue Jays but was unsuccessful. During the 1.5 hours spent birding this area Jean and I observed 18 species, including a Common Loon flying south towards the tip.

Moving on we stopped slightly north of the intersection of Mersea Rd 19 and Mersea Rd D. There was a a great amount of activity in the vegetation on the far side of a large roadside ditch. Warblers seen by Jean and I included Tennessee, Northern Parula (#182 for the year & spotted for the group by Jean) and Magnolia. Other notables, included Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a Cooper's Hawk that, unlike the Peregrine, was successful in capturing a Blue Jay.

Further up Mersea Rd 19 we stopped at another onion field. Many Killdeer and some Horned Larks were observed. As the group headed back to their vehicles, a Northern Harrier was spotted flying over a distant corn field.

Scanning one more onion field the group observed a Black-bellied Plover and more Horned Lark (24). The Buff Breasted Sandpiper will have to wait another day to be added to our life list.

Steve led the group to a public beach in the Hillman Marsh area. Friends of his live close by and allowed the group onto their property for a closer look at some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visiting their feeders.

The final stop of the trip was at Wheatley Harbour to look for the reported Red-necked Phalarope (October 2). Many Double-crested Cormorants were resting on the break wall and a few Great Black-backed Gulls were floating on the lake with Bonaparte's and Ring-billed Gulls. At Muddy Creek (it empties into the harbour) Jean and I spotted a Great Egret, our last species of the field trip before heading back to Leamington for lunch.

It was time to head home and along the way we stopped (as planned) at Smith & Wilson Estate Wines in Blenheim. As mentioned, another field trip during the convention took place at Rondeau Provincial Park (approximately 1 hour east of Point Pelee). After birding the provincial park the group would visit the Blenheim sewage lagoons. Though the lagoons are under construction the town of Blenheim graciously allowed the OFO access to them during the convention. Since we would be passing them on the way home, why not stop by and see what we can find. After purchasing some wine I asked for directions to the lagoons as I have only visited them once (two years ago). Of course. What other road would they be on besides Lagoon Road.

Getting directions to the Blenheim sewage lagoons. Turn left at the car wash. Got it!

Arriving at the lagoons we found a long line of parked vehicles. Excellent. The gate is still open. The group was at one of the far cells. It did not contain any water which meant shorebirds were possible. The two closer cells we past between contained a lone Pied-billed Grebe, Canada Goose, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler (#183 for the year) and Ruddy Duck (#184). Approaching the group we observed a Peregrine Falcon soaring above the cell. Yes. Peregrine Falcons and shorebirds do not mix. Any notable birds (White-rumped Sandpiper) vacated the cell immediately. Only a few Killdeer remained. The majority of the group was done for the day so they left with some trying their luck on the far south side of the lagoon area. An American Pipit (#185) landed briefly in the cell. Jean and I were able to get a good view of it through our scope before it flew away. 185 for the year. Only three more species and we beat our total for 2008!

Our day was done and on the way out we met Ron Tozer (2009's Distinguished Ornithologist as well as compiler for the convention). He informed us that a total of 167 species had been observed so far. Walking to our car along Lagoon Road we ticked Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers.

Another annual OFO convention had come to an end. Jean and I had ticked a total of 59 species while birding the Pelee Area and the sewage lagoons in Blenheim. The total species reported for the weekend was 176, a new record. Notables birds observed included Cackling Goose, Hudsonian Godwit, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Chimney Swift, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo and Brewer's Blackbird. Looks like we missed a few. No additions to the life list either. Hopefully we can add some lifers next year when we attend the 2010 Ontario Field Ornithologists annual convention at Long Point. Another migrant hot spot. On the way home Jean mentioned that next year's convention will be the same weekend as the Squeezer. What will this poor birder decide to do?


  1. Wow Bob, that is quite the list! What a great conference you got to enjoy. The American Mink would be a lifer for me. I have never seen one of those little guys. I bet that was exciting.

    I love listening to Sandhill Cranes flying over too. I hope to see some up close and personal next weekend.

  2. Larry, thanks for your comments. Observing the mink was exciting (A first for me). Good luck with the Sandhill Cranes next weekend.