Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wall of Fame

Being birders, Jean and I have a small number of bird prints (though growing) adorning the walls of our home (either received as gifts or purchased by ourselves). Even before we started to obsessively keep a life list we had three prints lining the wall along the stairs to the second floor, a fourth we purchased at the Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina now keeps them company.

For my birthday last year, Jean gave me a most excellent gift, the complete set (24 prints) of Fenwick Lansdowne's Birds of Canada (1959), presented by the Star Weekly. A coworker of Jean's brought the set in for Jean to look over before taking them to her church's rummage sale.

The 14 x 10.5" prints were still in the original envelope, postmarked with a prodigious postage of 7 cents! Without hesitation Jean purchased them on the spot.

We purchased two frames and the first print selected for a wall in the spare room was the Hermit Thrush. The second frame remained empty until the return from our vacation in British Columbia in June of this year. In honour of the lifer observed at Lake Louise, the Clark's Nutcracker print hangs at the top of the stairs. Every morning, I am greeted by Lansdowne's rendition of the gray and black bird as I walk down the hallway.

Accompanying each print in this series is text written by Hugh M Halliday. He has written a few books on the Canadian wildlife he encountered while travelling this vast country.

Clark's Nutcracker was named after Capt. William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark exploratory expedition which crossed the continent in 1884-86. He was first to report the species. In Canada it inhabits the mountainous regions of British Columbia and Alberta. It is also called Clark's crow and has much in common with that other member of the crow family, the Canada jay, known also as whiskey jack, camp robber and other names. It comes into camp, is noisy and "talkative" and entertains with its antics. Nutcrackers often perform gymnastics. They "discuss" neighborhood topics. Favorite habitat of this distinguished bird is high on evergreen slopes of the western mountains. If protection is afforded, the nutcracker, white except for wings and tail, is likely to become so tame it will eat from a person's hand. It is fond of meat and can be found on hand for scraps from the picnic tables in western national parks. In winter its food is the seeds of conifers. It alights on a branch bearing a cluster of cones, jerks one loose with a foot and, swooping to the ground, picks up the cone in its bill and carries it away to tear it apart and get at the seeds. But being a crow it will eat almost anything.

Hugh M Halliday
Star Weekly, 1959

I don't expect to mount all the prints. Even I find it a bit excessive but I'm sure there is room for a couple more. Which ones will be selected is yet to be determined. It is quite the decision to make.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekend Birders

Days grow shorter and the nights are getting long

Rik Emmett, Mike Levine, Gil Moore

Fight The Good Fight

The nights, they are getting longer, limiting birding to the weekends. So, Jean and I fill the void with other activities. Last week was the Heart of Niagara Fall Reading Series (at the Pelham Library) with Nino Ricci. He read from his latest novel "the Origin of Species" and answered questions from the audience. Afterwards, we had him sign copies of "the Origin of Species" and "In a Glass House" (the second novel of the "Lives of the Saints" trilogy). He seems to be a very down-to-earth individual. We briefly discussed biology and birding in Leamington as well as dog/human behaviour when he discovered Jean is a SPCA agent.

Wednesday evening we attended the Ron Sexsmith concert at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre on the campus of Brock University. We always make an effort to see his performances when his tour brings him to Niagara. Included among his many fans are Elton John, Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello.

The opening act was the folk duo Dala and as the so called hunter out west proclaimed at a Tom Cochrane concert, Amanda and Sheila "Rock!". Dala will be appearing at the Mountain Stage, Cultural Center Theatre in Charleston, WV on November 22 and at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky on the 23rd. I highly recommend you check their show out if you live by either of these venues.

On previous occasions Ron has been backed by four musicians but this evening there was just a trio. Ron on his acoustic, Don Kerr on drums and Jason Mercer on bass.

Ron Sexsmith has so many brilliantly written songs its hard to choose just one. The selection on YouTube was limited but I thought you all might enjoy this one.

Until the arrival of spring it looks like we will be weekend birders (the name of my fantasy football team) for now. Where we will bird this weekend has yet to be decided but I'm sure we can find a location with some avian activity.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hey Rocky! Watch Me Pull a Pintail Out of My Hat!

Now that the excitement and controversy of viewing the Phainopepla has subsided (whom am I trying to kid), I finished up the following post of our hike to Woodend Conservation Area.

November 8

Sunday's weather was even more wonderful than that encountered during my Saturday hike. The thermometer reached 20 degrees Celsius while Jean and I were hiking at Woodend Conservation Area Sunday afternoon. The seasonal high in southern Ontario at this time of year is 7 degrees! No wonder there were many cars parked along the roadway of the conservation area. Everyone was out for hike, not just birders looking to add to their year list.

We started walking east on the Bruce Trail, near the entrance to Woodend, and found dozens of American Robins flying from tree to tree. The trail descends the Niagara Escarpment at the west end of the conservation area, meeting with the Wetland Ridge Side Trail. Our plan was to take the side trail to view the lagoons of the Wetland Ridge Trail. Walking further east along this section of the Bruce Trail will be left for another day.

South of the side trail is the Niagara Escarpment.

To the north, (hidden behind the tall grass) a vineyard and the campus of Niagara College.

As we hiked to the lagoons of Wetland Ridge (I was a few paces ahead of Jean) a flash of brown glided between Jean and I. As I do not have eyes in the back of my head I did not see what passed between the two of us. What Jean saw was no bird. When the animal grabbed onto the tree trunk, Jean immediately exclaimed, "Bob, it's a flying squirrel!". It was 3:00 PM and very sunny. What was this nocturnal creature doing outside of its home?

Jean was able to capture some great images of the rarely observed Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans).

I never grow tired of looking at the exposed layers of rock on the Niagara Escarpment.

Arriving at the Wetland Ridge we walked along the south end of the lagoons. No waterfowl in the south lagoon.

Walking on the path between the two lagoons revealed that all the waterfowl were in the north lagoon. Over 30 Bufflehead and a pair of Northern Pintail were found.

The college has placed a different style of Wood Duck nesting boxes in the lagoons. A hollowed out roll of hay supported by a triangular frame.

Though the colours have fallen from the majority of the trees on the escarpment it was a great day for a November hike.

Monday, November 16, 2009

There's One in Every Crowd (Unfortunately)

All was well in Brampton Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining, the temperature favourable and a vagrant Phainopepla was observed by many excited birders, including Jean and I.

The quiet residential neighbourhood has been very accommodating to the visiting birders. The resident that first spotted bird even set up a stand with free coffee and cookies. It has been suggested that an OFO certificate be offered for putting up with the visiting birders. I could not agree more with this suggestion.

When the Phainopepla was first reported, all were informed to respect the privacy and property of the residents. Sunday evening I was in utter disbelief upon discovering one ignorant birder disregarded the request. I believe the sequence of events described on the Ontbirds report occurred shortly after Jean and I left the neighbourhood.

We last observed the Phainopepla disappear into a Yew, in the front yard of a home. Apparently there it lingered because the ignorant birder trespassed onto the front yard and shook the bush to flush the bird. Both the homeowner and a neighbour witnessed this inappropriate behaviour. Obviously, they were not pleased. Birders that observed the unbelievable act were shocked. What was this guy thinking? Is he not aware of the OFO Code of Ethics or does he lack any regard for his surroundings? This birder had previously trespassed on another property without permission.

Let's hope the ignorant birder has read the posting on Ontbirds and realizes he made a huge mistake. Not only did he trespass, he also jeopardized the safety of the rare visitor. The Phainopepla could have been startled and in a panic, flown into a window, resulting in grave consequences.

In order for Ontario birders to continue to observe reported birds (as well post their observations without apprehension) in residential neighbourhoods or any where else for that matter, I believe an apology to the homeowner is required as well as a written apology on Ontbirds (with the permission of the coordinator of course). It would be the right thing to do.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Was Worth The Drive To Brampton (Tolls and All)

November 14

Since November 11, I had received e-mail reports from the Ontbirds report, informing of a rare bird observed in Brampton (north of Toronto). With the passing of each day I hoped that the accidental visitor would stay for the weekend. The bird (closely related to the waxwings) was a Phainopepla, a member of the Silky-flycatcher family. Phainopeplas can be found in the southwestern United States and Mexico so why was it feeding on berries from bushes in a residential neighbourhood, north of Lake Ontario? In November no less!

There was no way Jean and I could let the opportunity slide by without trying to observe it. I demonstrated great restraint the previous day. On Friday I passed by the exit for the bird (Dixie Road) while travelling on the 407 to attend the Science Teachers Association of Ontario annual conference being held at the Double Tree International Plaza on Dixon Road. I was working a booth for my employer, a science education supply company, and the Phainopepla was within reach (mere kilometres). But without Jean I could not tick this as a lifer bird. Other birders we talked to today would not have been as kind.

Travelling time was a little more than an hour and we arrived in the neighbourhood at 11:30 AM (last reported sighting was at 8:35 AM). We found a small group of birders in search of the Phainopepla. No where near as many that flocked to observe an Eastern Crowned Warbler in the northeast of England 3 weeks ago. We picked the right time to arrive. When exiting our car, birders down the street ran in the opposite direction. They had seen it! Upon joining the group we were told of the bird's location. From the sidewalk and boulevard, all (24 birders and some local residents) could see the Phainopepla in a back yard tree. Moments later the bird flew to the front yard of a neighbouring residence where we were all treated to some great views as it moved between the trees and bushes.

Before it moved up the street (across from our parked car) Jean was able to capture some digiscoped images.

Lifer #288 and #191 for the Ontario year list, Phainopepla nitens. Only the second record in Ontario.

Jean and I were able to observe the Phainopepla for approximately 40 minutes before it disappeared into a bush. Satisfied with our observations we left the bird (as it remained hidden) to charm any additional birders arriving in the afternoon.

Looking at the Top 100 eBirders in Ontario (for 2009), 8 birders including myself, have the Phainopepla listed as their most recent addition. I'm currently tied for 15th with a birding friend Jean and I car pooled with on the Long Point OFO trip. She will most likely be attending the Niagara River Gull Watch so I predict the tie will remain by the end of the year. Right Anne?

It's been an interesting week in Ontario. In a matter of days, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and the Phainopepla were reported on Ontbirds. The Ash-throated Flycatcher was found at Point Pelee NP in southwestern ON. The Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher flew into a window of a residence in Oakville and was taken to the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Sadly, it died two days later and was delivered to the Royal Ontario Museum. A more respectable way of collecting specimens. The warm front experienced earlier in the week most likely brought these birds (and possibly others) to southern Ontario. Here's hoping for a couple more. Sightings in the Niagara Region would be preferred.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

In Flanders Fields

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Icing on the Cake

November 7

With the weather as appealing as it was Saturday, there was no way Jean and I could pass on a chance to hike one of the many trails in the region. We returned to Port Weller in St. Catharines to walk along the Welland Canal. Since our last hike, the trail was officially opened and named after the late George Nicholson.

Before starting our hike we checked out the area surrounding Jones Beach (the start of the trail). Unlike last time, we found a Brant feeding from the grass with a mixed flock of Canada Geese and geese hybrids. The lone Brant was #189 for the year.

From the beach we could see many waterfowl out on the lake near the viewing area at the base of a lighthouse, our destination using the Welland Canals Trail. Upon reaching the Lake Ontario entrance of the Welland Canal, the trail turns east (running along a break wall) towards the stone seating area.

Along this section of the trail we observed over 100 Common Merganser.

A pair of Bufflehead were south of the spit.

The highlight while we scanned the waters on either side of the break wall was 3 loons. For comparison, it is always helpful sighting two different species within moments of each other. One loon had a thick beak and a faint pale collar on the neck. A Common Loon. The other two were of the same species and had a small and thin beak (appearing slightly upturned) and an extensive amount of white on the neck. These two were Red-throated Loons, a lifer bird (#287) for Jean and I. We now have 190 species for the year!

Other species observed while walking the trail included, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2), Northern Cardinal (3), Long-tailed Duck (5), White-winged Scoter (2), American Kestrel, Ring-billed Gull and a few stubborn Double-crested Cormorant. Someone should tell them that winter is just around the corner.

Returning to Jones Beach we found the Brant still hanging with the much larger geese.

All and all, a great hike on Saturday afternoon. A Brant was added to the year list, Red-throated Loon added to the life list, topped with some amazing weather. I had feared we would have to stand in below freezing temperatures to observe our lifer Red-throated Loon. Just thinking of those ice flows on the Niagara River and Lake Ontario gives me the chills. There's no rush to get back to the car when it's +16 degrees Celsius. Here's to the unseasonably warm weather lasting for the Niagara River Gull Watch at the end of the month.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

B.C. Trip Epilogue

Four months have now past since Jean and I travelled to British Columbia. This was my first time exploring western Canada and in addition to the birding I was also looking forward to the impressive terrain of the Rockies and the Kootenays.

Image by Jill Hampson

Though lifers can still occur in Ontario (three since my June vacation), visiting two western provinces was sure to add a bountiful number of birds to the life list.

On Day One of our vacation we ticked three lifers in Alberta. Black-billed Magpie and Franklin's Gull in the city of Calgary and a Swainson's Hawk while travelling south on Highway 2. I do find it interesting that Black-billed Magpies (described as a common and very conspicuous bird of western North America) were only observed in Calgary and no where else during our travels.

Day Two, a total of 5 lifers. Without leaving the grounds of the Tara Shanti we were able to tick Rufous Humming Bird and MacGillivray's Warbler. While waiting for the ferry in Kootenay Bay, Violet-green Swallows were seen. On the west side of Kootenay Lake we found Varied Thrush and a Barrow's Golden Eye while visiting Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

Day Three, a resplendent male Lazuli Bunting was heard singing and spotted with our bins while exploring the shops on the Artisan Way in Crawford Bay. After digiscoping Bald Eagles at the Crawford Bay Wetlands we returned to the Tara Shanti and ticked a Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Day Four, before crossing Kootenay Lake for a day in Nelson, we ticked our lifer Cassin's Vireo.

Day Five would be our biggest day for lifers. A total of six. During the four hours we visited the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, we ticked Say's Phoebe, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Kingbird and Cinnamon Teal.

In the afternoon, Jean and I were rewarded with a lifer Pine Grosbeak (male) while hiking a trail at the Kootenay Pass.

Day Six we visited Greg and Keith and while birding on their property we ticked Vaux's Swift and Western Tanager.

On Day Seven, we would add Hammond's Flycatcher to the life list before leaving the Kootenay's behind.

Arriving in Lake Louise, we ticked a lifer Clark's Nutcracker on Day Eight.

Our last day out west would yield one more lifer, Mountain Bluebird.

A total of 22 lifers added over 9 days. My favourite lifer observed during our trip to British Columbia was the Western Tanager pair observed on Greg and Keith's property, The Summit. Jean spotted the female first and a moment or two later, the male responded to my pishing. What colours on this bird! This was one of the species on our target list.

Other target birds observed included, Clark's Nutcracker (much easier than I thought it would be), Rufous Hummingbird and Mountain Bluebird.

A target species that eluded Jean and I was a bird we thought for sure we would find. Keith and Greg had informed us that the bird visited their kitchen on a daily basis last year. Unfortunately we would only see this bird on a banner while visiting the town of Kaslo.

Yes, a Stellar's Jay was not seen during our trip out west.

The number of species observed in B.C. was 78. The newly added provincial list shares second spot with New York on my State/Provincial lists. Alberta sits in ninth (22 species) behind the state lists of Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina. I don't see any changes occurring too soon with the majority of these lists but a simple crossing to Niagara Falls, New York could easily put the state list back into second spot on its own.

At this time, we have no plans to travel outside of Ontario in 2010. While the life birds observed in B.C. and Alberta will be forever etched in my memory, it's back to local birding and monitoring the Ontbirds report in order to add species to the life list.