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

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