Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 of 2010

2010 was a good year of birding for Jean and I. We attended 6 OFO trips, the annual OFO Convention in the Fall and participated in 6 counts, all helpful in obtaining 208 species before the end of the year. Of the 208, 13 were lifers and a handful were species we do not find every year. In picking species for my top 10 list, lifers and rarities should help narrow my selection. Right? Well, after much thought and a pint of Smithwick's, here are my top 10 for 2010.

10. Sedge Wren

Observed in the Sedge Marsh on the Carden Alvar OFO trip. That was some good birding at this spot. Marsh Wren and American Bittern added to the year list and Alder Flycatcher and Sedge Wren (#297) added to the life list.

9. Golden-winged Warbler

The first of two warbler species on the top 10 list. It was the first visit to the famed Carden Alvar for Jean and I. While walking along Wylie Road, all in our group could hear the bird singing in the brush. Eventually, a male Golden-winged Warbler (lifer #294) revealed itself and continued to sing from the top of a tree.

8. Loggerhead Shrike

The first of 5 lifers observed while on the OFO Carden Alvar trip. Though they were distant, we had good views of a Loggerhead Shrike at 2 locations in the Carden Alvar.

7. Gray-cheeked Thrush

After a few frustrating attempts to view a Gray-cheeked Thrush while birding Long Point Provincial Park during the OFO Convention, Jean and I were finally able to view the distinctive markings of Catharus minimus (lifer #302) upon returning to the Old Cut.

6. Virginia Rail

An elusive bird. We were in the Prospect Marsh, nearing the end of the OFO Carden Alvar trip, when we observed this rail species. Hidden in the cattails, a Sora repeatedly called but was never seen. Luckily, the Virginia Rail (lifer #298) was observed as it ran between a less dense patch of reeds on the opposite side of the gravel road that cuts through the marsh. If the rail was not seen and only heard, I would not have counted it as a lifer.

5. Clay-colored Sparrow

A lifer observation during the BOS May Count. A golf course in NOTL was the first stop of the day to look for a Great Horned Owl. No owl but Dan Salisbury picked out the call of the sparrow. In order for it to be a lifer tick, Jean and I needed to see the bird. With the early morning sun at our backs, Jean and I, along with John Black, Dan and Katherine, had excellent views of the Clay-colored Sparrow as it called from atop a conifer.

4. Cape May Warbler

Observed in early May while birding warbler hot spot, Malcomson Park. Though not a lifer, this was our first observation of a breeding adult male. The yellow face and chestnut coloured cheek were a welcomed sight.

3. Long-tailed Jaeger

Jean and I have been lucky when it comes to observing jaegers. After standing on Van Wagner's Beach for only 15 minutes, we observed a Parasitic Jaeger chasing a cormorant in the Fall of 2009. This year, we visited the Hamilton hot spot in search of a jaeger that was putting on quite the show less than 100 metres from shore. Our first attempt, the bird was a no show. We then birded the area surrounding Van Wagner's Ponds and returned to the beach for a short break before another session of waiting for a jaeger to fly by. Within seconds of sitting down on a bench, the Long-tailed Jaeger flew along the shoreline. For the next hour, Jean and I observed the lifer Long-tailed Jaeger a few more times as it flew back and forth and at times, resting on the water.

2. Eastern Screech-Owl (red morph)

If not for the keen eyes of co-trip leader Betsy Potter, OFO members would not have observed the owl during the Niagara River Gull Watch. An owl sighting is always sweet but viewing a red morph (more commonly found in the southern U.S.) of this species in Niagara was even sweeter. Too bad we forgot Jean's camera.

Photographer's conception

1. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Back in August I proclaimed this bird would be the best tick of the year. Approximately 4.5 months later, the proclamation still stands. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the Luther Marsh in Dufferin Region, Jean and I shared the lifer observation with fellow OFO members Brian and Lynne Gibbon.

Jean and I had a closer views of the vagrant later that afternoon. The odds of observing another Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Ontario are extremely low. In my opinion, no other bird we observed in 2010 can claim the #1 spot.

What were your top 10?

Happy New Year to all and Good Birding in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Niagara Falls CBC

Monday December 27 was the Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count and we joined the same group of birders we have on previous counts, in the same area of Niagara-on-the-Lake, for a cold day of birding. At least there was no snow flurries or winter storms. The eastern U.S. was hammered with a winter storm and counts were either postponed or busted due to the large amount of snowfall over the weekend.

At our first stop, John Black (section leader) decided to mix it up and divided us into two groups. Normally, we birded the residential neighbourhood east of the Department of Defence lands as one group. This year, John Stevens, Jean and I covered the streets east of One Mile Creek (more like a ditch) while John Black, Denys, Maggie and Roy covered the usual area west of the creek.

We did not find many feeders in the area we covered. As John indicated, when property ownership changes so does the use of feeders. A flock of 25 American Robins was moving through the neighbourhood and we encountered them often during our stops. We found a couple of good spots, ticking MoDos, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, House Finches, American Goldfinches and Tufted Titmouse (4). No Tufted Titmouse for the other group but they found a few Cedar Waxwings. Species flying overhead included, Mallard, Canada Goose and a swan that we reported to our section leader as swan sp. Oops.

After tallying numbers, we then headed for the sewage lagoons. The gates have been closed on previous counts and we have had to view waterfowl through a chain link fence. This year, the count was on a Monday and the gates were open, allowing us to drive in and count ducks and geese from the warmth of our vehicles. In addition to the ubiquitous Mallards and Canada Geese we observed Green-winged Teal (1), several Bufflehead and American Black Duck. Sharing space on the ice with the geese and at times intimidating the larger birds, we ticked an immature Great Black-backed Gull.

The property of Strewn Winery was not too active this year. Numbers were higher but species were few.

A flock of Northern Cardinals (15) emerged from behind the piles of grape compost as we walked down a slope towards Four Mile Creek. We followed the meandering creek and found only one sparrow species. Dark-eyed Juncos were flitting in the brush on the creek's embankment. Walking back through the vineyard we observed a massive flock of European Starlings. The small black cloud contained an estimated 3000+ starlings which would have cleaned the vines if the grapes had not already been harvested for ice wine. That did not stop the starlings from trying though. A a few birds were trapped underneath the netting used to protect the grapes.

The trapped starlings attracted a Cooper's Hawk but while we were there, the accipiter failed to capture any of the ensnared starlings.

At the Niagara Lake Shore Cemetery, we viewed the feeders by the office. New species for the day were Pine Siskin (4) and Common Redpoll (1). The redpoll was our #208 for the year, for Denys, it was an impressive #250.

After an early lunch we birded the area around Four Mile Pond. Pishing did not flush Swamp Sparrow for the second year in a row. We observed this species at the pond in 2008 during our first Niagara Falls CBC.

A flock of Common Redpolls (50) were seen feeding on the seeds of an Alder Tree. Their irruption has finally arrived in the Niagara Region.

This year, Four Mile Creek was frozen over and it was humourously suggested this light-weight birder (literally speaking) cross the creek to search for sparrows. No Great Blue Heron this year either.

Niagara Shores is an area that can be counted on to view Bank Swallows during much warmer weather. But this December day it was pretty quiet.

Jean observing a Downy Woodpecker at Niagara Shores. A few chickadees as well but no Golden-crowned Kinglets were found in the conifers.

We moved on to Butler's Burial Ground. More Northern Cardinals, House Sparrows and a couple of American Crows. We were hoping to have a repeat of Northern Mockingbird but the species was not ticked for our section list.

A wooded area near the Niagara Parkway was the last stop. It was even quieter than Niagara Shores, no birds heard or seen while walking the trails. All that we found was a decorated evergreen.

As a group, we observed a total of 33 species in our section. The Common Redpoll seen at the cemetery feeder will most likely be the last tick for the 2010 Ontario list and on New Year's Day, 208 will reset to 0. Not to worry. Jean and I have one more CBC remaining on our calendar that will give us a good head start in reaching 210+ by the end of 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Feeder Viewing

Over Christmas, time was spent with family and friends but we managed a few minutes of birding here and there while travelling along rural roads in the Niagara Region.

After sharing Christmas morning with my brother-in-law's family, Jean and I stopped at a few feeders we have become quite familiar with when returning to St. Catharines from Welland. The feeders are always full of seed in the winter months and attract a variety of species. The first feeder we stopped at though was new to us. We were informed of the location during the St. Catharines CBC round up and that the spot can be relied on for observing redpolls. The feeders are located on the property of a private residence near St. John's Conservation Area, a wooded area we can count on to tick Scarlet Tanager every year. Now that I've said that, we will not find them in 2011. No redpolls but we did get a Christmas surprise. Feeding on the seed scattered below the feeder was an Eastern Towhee, a species that does not appear on our winter list year after year.

At the feeders near Short Hills Provincial Park, we added White-throated Sparrow to the 2010/2011 winter list. For the second year in a row, we have observed Wild Turkeys roaming the property in the valley, south of the park. We continued along Roland Road and Jean's suspicions were correct, I was searching for the Northern Shrike seen in the Hawthorns during last year's St. Catharines CBC. No shrike or any birds for that matter so we tried one last feeder location before leaving the Town of Pelham. More American Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals. But once again, no redpolls.

On Boxing Day we birded along 5th Avenue en route to our friends' home. The open fields were snowy and barren. At a culvert that crosses a ditch, I pished, that's "pished", thinking it would attract the attention of a member of the sparrow family. No Song Sparrow but a female Northern Harrier was flushed from the weeds in the ditch. Further west along the road, we stopped to view some feeders that sit on the back deck of a residence. From the car we can observe birds visiting the feeders and hiding in the brush along the roadside. We found many House Sparrows, a few Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and a lone Red-winged Blackbird, another addition to this season's winter list.

Upon returning home, it was time to relax. The next day we would be birding areas in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Niagara Falls CBC.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 St. Catharines Christmas Bird Count

It's that time of year again. Between December 14 and January 5, nature clubs and birders across North America are participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count held by the National Audubon Society. The first of three counts for Jean and I occurred on Sunday December 19. The St. Catharines CBC has been going on for 56 years and this was our third year of assisting John Black, co-editor of Niagara Birds, with his assigned section of the St. Catharines birding circle (centered just west of St. Catharines).

At 8:00 AM, Jean, John and I piled into Denys' van and the four of us started our count of birds we found while driving along the rural roads of West Lincoln. There were a few intrepid volunteers that started at 5:00 AM to prowl for owls. One group managed to find 11 Screech Owls.

It was slightly below freezing with a fine snow falling and luckily, there was no wind. Initially, it did not look promising. The first feeders observed contained no seed and the woodlot that contained kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees and woodpecker species last year appeared devoid of activity. We spotted 2 Red-tailed Hawks perched in a distant tree but it was just too quiet for my liking.

Eventually, I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker but no other species were seen until we returned to the main road.

John searching the brush near the main road.

The morning was starting to get better. Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows and Downy Woodpecker were ticked before we climbed back into the van.

We continued heading north and found a farm yard with productive feeders. The House Finches, American Goldfinches, Cardinals, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers absent in Boyle were all seen in Rosedene. As we continued to observe the activity at the feeders and in the nearby brush, a large flock of birds flew overhead. As I looked at the flock it seemed so surreal. Their buffy and white bodies stood out against the grey sky and their calls were the only sound I could hear. "Snow Buntings!" called out John and Denys as I continued to look at #207 for 2010. The flock contained an estimated 200 Snow Buntings but we could not spot a longspur amongst them. Later in the day, we saw a second flock of approximately 100 buntings. Other groups observed large flocks as well and after discussing at the round up, it may be a record number for the St. Catharines count.

Before leaving the farm, Jean pointed out one more bird, a Peacock. I caught a glimpse of the uncountable bird before it disappeared behind a barn.

As we approached the northern boundary of our section, Jean spotted 2 Wild Turkeys perched in a tree. On the ground below, Denys found an additional 6 turkeys.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a Swamp Sparrow.

And the sleeping muskrats could care less that a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice would soon be here.

Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels were observed in the morning and aside from a Cooper's Hawk at the start of our count we did not find any other raptors until after lunch. What we observed was dramatic. We spotted a large darkly coloured raptor standing in a field that we identified as a Rough-legged Hawk. Soon after identifying the welcomed addition to the section list, we observed a large female Red-tailed Hawk swoop in and land in front of the Rough-legged Hawk. A stand down ensued. A second Red-tailed Hawk joined the fracas but the Rough-legged Hawk would not be bullied. It stood its ground and the Red-tailed Hawks left to hunt elsewhere.

Other notable species observed in the afternoon included, American Robins (6), Horned Lark (4), Brown Creeper (1), White-breasted Nuthatch (3), Red-breasted Nuthatch (2) and at our last stop, a Tufted Titmouse visiting feeders we did not see last year. The feeders in the back yard of a residence were filled with birds hungry for seed. The homeowner was friendly and allowed us closer views of the feeders. This is a spot we will surely mark for visiting next year.

At the end of the day, we observed 29 species while covering 75+ kilometres of rural roads in our section. The winter list now stands at 41 species and we added 1 species to our year list. The next count for Jean and I will be the Niagara Falls (ON) CBC. Ron Pittaway has predicted an irruption year for Common Redpolls. The small finches were recently observed in Toronto. With a bit of luck, maybe we will spot one or two at some feeders in NOTL or even better, in our backyard from the comfort of the dining room.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Niagara Digiscoping: Queens Royal Park

After observing the Eastern Screech Owl, a nice start to a week's vacation, Jean and I returned to the scene of the tick the following day with hopes of capturing an image of the red morph. No such luck. So we drove along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) to look for waterfowl and loons, specifically Red-throated Loon.

From Queens Royal Park we observed a loon but it was a species already on the year list. Always cool to see members of the family Gaviidae though.
Common Loon, Gavia immer
In a few more weeks it will be much colder and the nasal calls of male Long-Tailed Ducks will fill the air while the Mute Swans seen here, will most likely be found at the NOTL sewage lagoons.

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor

For other World Bird Wednesday Images, visit the Pine River Review.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Red Morph Surprise

On Sunday November 28, Jean and I were present for the annual Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) Niagara River Gull Watch, a trip we have attended since 2007. During previous OFO gull watches we have walked through knee deep snow, endured bone chilling winds and enjoyed the warmth of a late November sun. This year there were no worries of snow plows delaying Jean and I as we drove along the 405 and though the temperature was cooler than last year, standing at the Adam Beck overlook was bearable. Our only setback, no digital camera to capture images every time we added a species to the year list. I'm not the first blogger to forget a camera and I will not be the last so you will have to take my word for it when I tell of the surprise bird found at the Whirlpool. An even bigger surprise, it was not a gull.

Jean and I arrived at Adam Beck shortly after 8:00 AM. It is best to arrive early to obtain a prime viewing spot at the overlook. Arriving closer to the start time of 9:00 AM will limit your choices for the best gull viewing.

Trip leaders this year included Algonquin birder Ron Tozer and New York State birders, Willie D'Anna and Betsy Potter. Jean Iron was leading a tour in French Polynesia so Willie and Betsy willingly accepted to co-lead this year's trip with Ron. Ron was his usual witty self, jesting that he was there for the logistics of the trip. Willie and Betsy would identify the gulls.

View of the Niagara River and the Robert Moses hydroelectric generating station from the Adam Beck overlook, November 29, 2009.

As usual at this time of year, hundreds of Herring Gulls were flying above the Niagara River. Finding another species with similar field markings would not be easy. It was still early and there was plenty of elbow room. Jean and I observed the smaller Bonaparte's Gulls flying up river. Some heading for the Whirlpool while others would continue on to the rapids above the Falls. A lone adult Great Black-backed Gull stood on the concrete wall. A perch he would return to a number of times during the two hours we stood at the overlook. Jean started looking for gulls lacking black wing tips. Patience paid off and she found an Iceland Gull standing with the Herring Gulls by the edge of the river.

As we continued to scan the Herring Gulls for our target species, more birders arrived. To my right, a fellow that drove to Kincardine to observe a recently reported Painted Bunting and next to him Willie D'Anna.

At the official start of the trip, Ron announced the day's itinerary and then introduced John Black and Kayo Roy. The co-editors of Niagara Birds were selling copies of their book. Is there anyone that does not have a copy of this fabulous text yet?

Betsy spotted an adult California Gull in the air and then described its flight path so all could find the bird as it flew around the area in front of the Robert Moses hydroelectric generating station. Last year, we observed a juvenile California Gull (lifer #290) The adult California Gull was #202 for the year list. Our next target species was also found flying above the Niagara River. This time, Willie described the flight path of #203 for the year, a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Our last gull species observed at the overlook was a Thayer's Gull (1 juvenile and 1 adult). Jean and I ticked this species earlier this year during the Duck Count.

My wife and I left the overlook for a Tim Horton's run and managed to reach the next stop before the majority of the group despite being delayed by a slow moving vehicle. Unlike the two cars in front, I chose not to pass on a double yellow line. Sitting directly behind the vehicle I could see that it was a brand new Hyundai. In the rear window, printed in scrawl on a piece of paper, "NEW". Was it referring to the driving skills of the driver or the car? Based on what Jean and I observed, I would say it was both. Luckily, I did not have to follow the car to my destination.

Returning to the Niagara Parkway, we entered the parking area for the Spanish Aero Car at the Whirlpool, unaware we passed the surprise bird of the day.

As we waited for the OFO group to arrive, we observed a Common Loon in the Whirlpool. As a group, we scanned the Bonaparte's Gulls for Little Gull. Searching for the distinguishing black underneath of the wings can take a fair amount of time. While there are hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls at this section of the Niagara River, there are usually only 1 to 2 Little Gulls. On this trip, there were 2. Though Betsy was to my right and calling out the gull's flight path, I could not get on it. Jean spotted a Little Gull for a short period of time but I still could not get one in my field of view. No worries. We both observed 3 during a fly by on the BOS April count.

Our next stop was the feeders in Chippawa. Some of the group chose to bird the river above the Falls with Willie and Betsy while the rest followed Ron to Chippawa. Jean and I arrived at the feeders early. The rest of the group were having lunch at, you guessed it, Tim Horton's. With two other OFO members we spotted a Pine Siskin at one of the feeders. This species would not be seen again when Ron and those interested in viewing Tufted Titmouse arrived. Other birds observed here included Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch and of course the star of Chippawa, Tufted Titmouse (2).

It was not until later that evening that I realized we had a second surprise of the day. Don't worry, the first will soon be revealed. I thought that Pine Siskin was ticked earlier in the year but upon completing my entries on eBird Canada, I discovered it was #204 for 2010.

#205 was the surprise at the Whirlpool. At the feeders, Ron announced that Betsy had discovered a red morph Eastern Screech Owl in a tree back at the Whirlpool. A number of birders left before she spied the owl sitting in a Red Cedar near the parking area for the Spanish Aerocar. Screech Owl! A few of us returned to the Whirlpool to view the elusive species. Returning to the Whirlpool, time seemed to stand still. I am so glad there were no vehicles with "NEW" stuck to the rear window blocking our way this time.

Even though Ron described the tree that the owl was roosting in, it was not easy to spot the bird. That was some damn good spotting by Betsy. Jean was first to pick out the owl sitting on a branch at eye level. It was snuggled up against the trunk of the cedar but we still had a full view of the owl as it stared back at us with one eye opened. Our lifer (#251), a gray morph, was tucked into a knot hole of a tree. From the comments that were made, including Ron's and Kayo's, the red morph was a treat. "I can't remember the last time I saw one." I haven't seen one of those in years." A rare treat indeed.

Exhibit A. We returned Monday with a glimmer of hope for a screech owl photo op. The tourists must have thought us mad when we were searching the trees for the red morph.

After lunch, Jean and I rejoined the OFO group near the engineerium above the Horseshoe Falls. No new gull species. With the trip concluded and my target gulls added to the year list, Jean and I travelled to Fort Erie to search for a reported Cackling Goose.

At Baker's Creek, we observed 75 Tundra Swan. Come winter, many waterfowl can be found on the Niagara River.

Reaching Fort Erie, we scanned a few groups of Canada Geese for the smaller Branta hutchinsii. We found the Cackling Goose, #206 for the year, near the Peace Bridge. Though it resembles a Canada Goose, this species is smaller with a rounder head and stubbier bill. Easy to pick out of a flock of Canada Geese as long as it is not blocked from view by one or more of the larger Branta canadensis. I missed the Cackling Goose the first time we slowly drove by the flock.

I could not have asked for a better day of birding. Thayer's and California Gull observed as well as a successful search for the reported Cackling Goose. Adding Pine Siskin and the bird of the day, the Eastern Screech Owl, to the year list was fulfilling. If the year was to end now, I would be happy with 206 species for 2010 but I certainly would not mind adding a Brant or Red-throated Loon before year end. 210 in 2010 has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another List to Start Working On

As if it was announcing another start to winter listing, I woke up to the first snow fall of the season. A wet snow mind you, no accumulation but it was still snowing. It is December 1, 31 days left to add species to the year list and I'm all set to start another list. Yes, it's that time of year again. It's time for the Winter List. The winter birding season starts today and runs until February 28, 2011. Once again, Todd Pepper has volunteered to coordinate this year's list and Blake Maybank will be hosting the results on his website.

During the 2009/2010 winter birding season a total of 191 species were observed by Ontario birders, slightly lower than the 197 species in the winter of 2008/2009. Todd has challenged Ontario birders to try and get 200 species this year.

Last winter, Jean and I observed 75 species, up 4 from the species in 2008/2009. So while we try and get a few more for the 2010 Ontario list (results of the Niagara River Gull Watch to be posted soon), Jean and I will also be ticking species for the winter bird list. Let the madness begin.

2010/2011 Winter List
As of February 28: 77 species
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Tundra Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
White-winged Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Saturday, November 27, 2010


November 21

At this time of year the amount of daylight hours we can take advantage of are greatly reduced. Throw in a 5 day work week and you find your birding limited to the weekend. On Friday November 19, I received the weekly Hamilton Naturalists Club Birding Report on Ontbirds. 2 species of scoter and Red-throated Loons were present off Lawrence P Sayers Park in Stoney Creek earlier in the week. All were needed for the year list and one would be a lifer if we were lucky enough to observe it.

Though the park is the size of a postage stamp and surrounded by the larger yards of private residences, it still provides a good view of the lake. Without public accesses, this would be a sad world indeed.

As I was setting up the scope we could see Common Merganser and many Common Golden-eye on the lake. Our first species of scoter was seen approximately 150 metres from shore. The small flock was in flight, their white secondaries easily observed. White-winged Scoter and already on the year list.

There was a strong northeast wind and at times the waterfowl would disappear between the waves.

To identify a bird we would have to wait until it reappeared near the crest of the wave. We spotted our second scoter species. This one we studied for some time since it was mixed in with a few White-winged Scoters. The scoter was all black with no sign of a white comma-shaped patch surrounding the eye. We've done it! #200 for the year list and lifer #303 was a Black Scoter. The tick was quickly followed by #201. Further out on the lake, we could see a black scoter with white patches on its nape and forehead. A Surf Scoter!

No loons were seen while at Sayers Park so we travelled east (less than 1 kilometre) to Green Road. North of the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) there are a few roads that end at the Lake Ontario shoreline that provide a good vantage point for finding waterfowl.

A few White-winged Scoter were observed close to the shoreline.

More Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks but no sign of Common or Red-throated Loons.

Our time was limited so we left the region of Hamilton thrilled to have met our goal. 40 days remain before the list resets itself to zero and we start this mad obsession once again. Can we reach 205? Possibly 210? We'll try. There are still a few target birds we need including a couple of gull species (Lesser Black-backed and California). Perfect. The next attempt at adding to the list will be the OFO Niagara River Gull Watch.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Finding #200

October 24: La Salle Marina & Park

After ticking a Fox Sparrow in the Hendrie Valley, Jean and I stopped at the LaSalle Marina before returning to St. Catharines. The marina sits on the north shore of Hamilton Harbour at the west end of Lake Ontario and is an excellent location for viewing waterfowl. Marina employees were busy putting the last of the boats away to mark the end of another sailing season but the large number of waterfowl usually seen here in the winter had yet to arrive. Less than a dozen Trumpeter Swans were found east of the marina.

In March of 2007, we viewed our lifer Eastern Towhee (#154) at the feeders near the public parking area. A day Jean and I still laugh about. We were standing with a group of photographers, all waiting for the reported towhee to make an appearance on the brush covered slope. During the winter months this species should be wintering in the southeastern United States so it had attracted a number of interested onlookers. House Sparrows were a plenty as we waited quietly. An older gentleman exited from a nearby port-o-potty, its spring-hinged door slamming shut as he approached the group. "What you looking for?" he asked in a loud voice. "A towhee." replied one of the photographers. "A what?" "A towhee." "There it is!" exclaimed the inquisitive senior. "No, that's a sparrow." the photographer responded.

The Eastern Towhee did not show itself while we stood with the photographers but as Jean and I started our walk along the Shoreline Trail, we briefly observed it visiting the feeders at the side of the trail. Since then, I think of this day every time we drive by the portable toilet when visiting LaSalle Marina.

Returning to present day, Jean and I strolled along the Shoreline Trail towards the eastern most point of LaSalle Park. No towhee at the feeders this day but we found Yellow-rumped Warbler (1), White-crowned Sparrow (1), White-throated Sparrow (5) and Song Sparrow (2) while birding the gravel path near the marina.

To get back to the parking area, we walked through the wooded section of LaSalle Park. At the west end of the park, I scanned a flock of Canada Geese with hopes of finding a Cackling Goose. None in this flock so at the end of the day we still stood at 199 for 2010.

A monument to commemorate French explorer Sieur De La Salle's landing in September 1669.

November 6: Jones Beach & the Port Weller East Pier

The first weekend of November, we birded the area immediately east of the Welland Canal.

Last November, we observed a Brant at Jones Beach and a lifer Red-throated Loon while walking on the Port Weller East Spit. This year all we found amongst the Canada Geese were a few hybrids.

Adult and immature Herring Gulls at Jones Beach.

We walked the 2.5 kilometre trail to the beacon. Many Common Mergansers were on the move and we spotted a distant Red-necked Grebe and small flocks of Bufflehead and Long-tailed Duck.

As we walked back on the east side of the spit, Jean and I found an American Tree Sparrow in the tall grass. The species has returned to the Niagara Region for the winter.

This day, Scaup species observed in the bay and in the pond appeared to be Greater one moment, then Lesser the next. Scaup species it would be when submitting the observation to eBird later that evening.

The next time I come across a similar flock, I'll call the species. I promise.

November 14: Fifty Point Conservation Area and 40 Mile Creek

Reports of a Purple Sandpiper and Lesser Black-backed Gulls led Jean and I to the northwestern edge of the Niagara Region. Both species were observed at Fifty Point Conservation Area earlier in the week. Though there was no additional reports, I was willing to make an attempt at adding 2 ticks to the year list. Only one was required to reach the goal of 200 but if we were able to observe the Purple Sandpiper, a rare fall transient in the Niagara Region, it would be a lifer.

Searching the breakwalls of the Hamilton Conservation Authority managed area we did not find the shorebird.

Jean and I then headed over to the marina to look for the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Northern Harrier flew eastward above the fishermen standing on the moorings as we walked along the east side of the marina. The only gulls found were a few Ring-billed.

On the way home we stopped at the Grimsby marina.

A Double-crested Cormorant stood on a rock monitoring the usual waterfowl species.

While a Great Blue Heron supervised from the marina's breakwall.

On more stop in Vineland at a lakeside road. A few common waterfowl (merganser and goldeneye) with some Bufflehead. The day ended with an observation of a flock of Northern Cardinal following one another through the trees on the embankment. In total, we watched 13 cardinals as they moved from tree to tree. A sight we have not seen before. Sure we've encountered one here, two there, another over there as we walked along a trail but never bunched together like this. Do I consider 13 cardinals unlucky and possibly a hindrance to my goal of reaching 200 species before the year is over? Not at all. There's still plenty of time left and no need for panic mode just yet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Niagara Digiscoping

I'm submitting this post of Niagara Digiscoping to "World Bird Wednesday". A new meme created by Springman! at The Pine River Review blog.

Since purchasing her Nikon Coolpix S220 in 2009, my wife Jean has taken up the hobby of digiscoping. These two images were taken at the Wetland Ridge Trail in the Niagara Region, in southern Ontario.

My tales of our birding adventures would be quite boring if not for images such as these two.

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
Wetland Ridge Trail, Niagara-on-the-Lake