Monday, January 25, 2010

Thinking of Warblers

The following has sat in my drafts since May of last year. The plan was to post shortly after each weekend visit to a local ecopark but then it melded into one post which never did see the light of day. I've blown the dust of it, oiled the chain and pumped the tires back up to the proper psi in order to post before migrating warblers pass through St. Catharines once again. They'll be here before you know it.

With warblers in mind, Jean and I would visit a local ecopark a few times during the month of May. The park contains a mixture of wetland, Savannah grassland and Carolinian forest, with over 170 species of birds seen in the 36 acre city owned property.

May 2

We would start at the north entrance of the park, first hearing then seeing our first Caspian Terns (#115) of 2009 as they flew around the stern of a ship bound for Lock 1 of the Welland Canal. Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls were also following the ship hoping for an easy catch in its wake.

Approaching the pedestrian gate we heard the familiar Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada of a White-throated Sparrow. We had heard this species the previous weekend during an OFO trip but had yet to observe the bird. In little time, Jean and I spotted the bright white throat and yellow lore of the singing sparrow.

Northern Cardinals were very active, flying back and forth across our path as we walked the trail on the east side of the park. A Carolina Wren was quite vocal and at times making an appearance in the brush.

The first warbler we would come across, and there were many of this species, was a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

An Eastern Towhee (#112) would surprise us emerging from the brush onto the path.

Other warblers viewed during our first visit included, Yellow (#108), Palm (#109), Nashville (#110) and Black-and-white (#113).

Additional birds seen included, Canada Goose, Turkey Vulture, Killdeer, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren (#111), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (#114), American Robin, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole (#116), American Goldfinch and House Sparrow.

A total of 30 species.

May 8

Jean and I had only been at the ecopark for a few minutes and were enjoying the view of a singing Black-and-white Warbler when Kayo walked in with his friend Brian and asked if we would join them for a morning of birding. With their experience and our younger ears it was sure to be a good day for all.

As we walked along the east trail, we observed Palm, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers. Another birder on his way out informed us all of a Blue-winged Warbler further up the trail. Hey, that was the around the same spot we saw one last year while birding with Kayo, John and Katherine. We would arrive at the spot but could not see or hear the Blue-winged. We cut through a forested section and Kayo flushed a Gray Catbird for Jean and I (#125 for the year list). We would emerge from the forest onto a maintained trail on the west side of the park.

We remained in the forested section of the park and crossed back over towards the pond located on the east side. As we approached the pond, Jean and I heard the "bee-buzz"of a Blue-winged Warbler. Kayo and Brian unfortunately cannot hear this call. It was up to Jean and I to pinpoint the location. The four of us surrounded the area, a "T" intersection of two trails, and our patience would pay off. We spotted a male Blue-winged Warbler (#127).

Additional warblers observed in the park included, Black-throated Green, Nashville and Magnolia (#128). In the same area we spotted these warblers we also found Warbling Vireo (#124) and Blue-headed Vireo (#126).

Other birds not observed previously, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (pair), and Brown-headed Cowbird.

A total of 34 species this day.

May 16

It rained heavily before we arrived for another morning of birding in the ecopark. Jean and I would meet Katherine and her friend as they were leaving. Katherine informed us that they had observed 17 species of warbler, including a beautiful male Cape May. Could we match Katherine's tally? She has an excellent ear for warblers.

Jean and I would observe 10 species of warbler, 4 of which were added to the year list, Chestnut-sided (#135), Bay-breasted (#136), American Redstart (#137), and Blackburnian (#138).

Total species this day, 37.

May 23

It would be late in the morning when we started birding our last visit in May. We came across a plant with rather large leaves. No wonder an undetermined species of butterfly laid its eggs here. It couldn't miss.

Warblers were few and far between. Yellow Warblers were in their usual spot on the east side trail. Further searching produced only 1 Magnolia and 1 female Black-throated Blue (we have only seen females of this species so far this year). It was beginning to look like no other warblers would be observed and most likely a Spring without a lifer warbler. It is only our fourth year of birding and we still need to add a few warblers to the life list. Nearing the exit of the park I caught some movement in the weeping branches of a Willow, next to the path that connects the east and west trails. Another Warbling Vireo for the day. But wait. There was another bird. A male Black Poll Warbler, lifer #147.

Only 27 species observed during our last visit but the stunning Blackpoll lifer made up for the disappearance of warbler species.

With Spring migration concluded, it was time to prepare myself for some western birding. As this post spent quite some time stewing as a draft, we already know how the B.C. trip went.

Let's hope the warblers put on a great show in May this year, with perhaps, a lifer amongst them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

River Birding & Hot Chocolate for Haiti

With only two weekends left in the month of January, I thought I should bird some sections of the Niagara River to assist in surpassing last year's January Regional tally of 49 species. As of January 22, Jean and I only had 37 species. We have some work to do. Finding birds in temperatures below -10 degrees is very unpalatable but Saturday was more to my liking. Sunny with the thermometer at zero and rising.

The plan was to bird the lower Niagara River, starting in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). While travelling along Airport Road, we ticked a Northern Harrier. Attempts to spot the 5th Avenue harrier have not been successful. While still on Airport Road, we quickly checked a nest known for Great Horned Owl but the nest was empty.

Once in NOTL, we stopped at Queens Royal Park to observe the waterfowl and gulls on Lake Ontario. From the parking area, we observed 2 Tundra Swans flying eastward but by the time we climbed the stairs to the top of the hill overlooking the lake, the swans had gone.

Long-tailed Ducks were calling between dives and 1 male Lesser Scaup stayed close to the ice along the shoreline. From the gazebo, we spotted its mate in the river.

It was amazing to see the gulls standing on the smallest of ice flows, including a large Great Black-backed Gull.

White-winged Scoter flew in from the west but would not commit to landing on the lake. We continued on, checking out the marina and the Niagara River at Navy Hall but no birds were seen. Our next stop was at Adam Beck.

Unlike the OFO Niagara River Gull Watch in 2009, few gulls were standing on the rocks on the U.S. shoreline in the gorge below. The Herring Gulls preferred flying between the generating stations. It must have been lunch time for them all. A small group of the gulls that we spotted standing on the edge of the river had no black in their wings. We counted 6 Iceland Gulls in total but we suspect there were more.

We were running short on time. The Whirlpool with its hundreds of Bonaparte's and 1-2 Little Gulls would have to wait until next weekend. We had to get to Welland in order to purchase some hot chocolate. Not just any hot chocolate but Hot Chocolate for Haiti. Our niece wanted to do her part in raising funds to aid the citizens of Haiti. Her idea of selling hot chocolate at the ice skating pond in a nearby city park was brilliant. She raised over $300!

Heading home Jean and I checked out some feeders we first discovered in December. Only Black-capped Chickadee at the first feeder. On Christmas Day this feeder was very active (Tufted Titmouse and Wild Turkey). Stopping at Short Hills Provincial Park we searched the area surrounding the parking lot and walked a short section of a trail. Nothing new until one last search near the parking lot. A Cooper's Hawk chased a smaller bird into the brush but emerged without any prey. At the other yard with feeders, we found our first House Finch of the year.

I thought our day of observations was done but on the way to my parents' for dinner we spotted at least a dozen Wild Turkey at the side of the highway. The male in charge of the flock was displaying very proudly. We have seen turkey here before so I always look to my right with hopes of observing the flock.

The Wild Turkey was #45 for my January Regional list. Only 5 more species and Jean and I will have a new record number of birds observed in the Niagara Region during the first month of the year. Next weekend will be our last chance to reach 50 species. Areas we visit will be determined by what species we still need and how easy it will be to observe them. As I sit here and think it over, it just might be possible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Counting Ducks

On Sunday January 10, Jean and I birded the Lake Ontario shoreline, assisting John Black with the annual Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) winter waterfowl count.

In the Niagara Region, the lake's shoreline is divided into 4 sections. Last year we had a great time counting waterfowl between Fifty Point and Vineland. This year we would cover the shoreline from Vineland to the Port Weller west pier at the entrance to the Welland Canal.

After meeting with the rest of the group (John, Dan & Maggie) we travelled west along the QEW to our first stop in Vineland. Views of the lake did not look promising. We observed a large amount of ice on the lake. Close to shore there was not much open water at all.

After counting Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, White-winged Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard (2) in a temperature of -10 degrees, hot beverages were required. At the well known Canadian doughnut chain we ran into the birders counting waterfowl west of Vineland. Birders and cyclists seem to flock to this establishment.

Continuing east, we stopped at the Beacon marina in Jordan. Water in the marina was totally frozen over and a few fishermen were trying their luck at some ice fishing.

"Who's crazier?", I thought aloud, "The ice fishermen or the birders?".

Long-tailed Duck and Common Merganser were added to our list of waterfowl observed.

We added another 10 Red-breasted Merganser at a second spot in Jordan.

Though we observed a large amount of ice heading to Charles Daley Park we took a chance that there may be some open water near the Town of Lincoln managed park.

Another 100+ Red-breasted Merganser. It was starting to look like the duck of the day for us. A few gulls were out on the water and thanks to Dan, a Thayer's Gull was spotted.

After a short stop where farmland meets suburbia (more goldeneye and mergansers), we counted a large number of waterfowl at the marina by Lakeside Park. Up until Port Dalhousie we had encountered only 3 Mallards. Here, close to 600 Mallards dabbled in the open water where sailboats are moored during the warmer months. A new edition to our list was a single Greater Scaup, the only scaup species seen in our area. American Black Duck (2) and American Coot (2) were also added.

Over on the east side, we walked by the lighthouse Neil Peart sat by in his youth and observed an adult Bald Eagle soaring over the lake. Once again, large numbers of Red-breasted Merganser (200) sat on the lake east of the pier.

Yes, it was very cold walking back to the car, especially with a south-west wind blowing in our faces.

Between Port Dalhousie (a former entrance of the Welland Canal) and the current canal there is not much public access. So our next stop, the Port Weller west pier, would be our last. The Welland Canal is federal land and with new security measures in place the west pier is no longer accessible to the public. During counts (CBC's and MNR counts) birders are granted access. When we are not participating in counts, Jean and I bird along the trail on the east pier.

Travelling in Dan's car to the end of the pier, we could see we were the first to set foot here since the last snowfall. The only evidence of visitors were the coyote tracks along the side of the seaway road. A large amount of ice had been pushed into the Welland Canal, reducing the number of waterfowl that usually occur here.

While looking north towards Toronto, I observed a Great Black-backed Gull flying above the cold swells of the lake but no new waterfowl species were found at the end of the pier.

Returning along the seaway road, we stopped to turn our attention to the birds in the trees and brush. Close to a dozen American Robins (an addition for the year and winter lists) fed from the berries of some Sumac trees.

One last chance for waterfowl was at the outflow of the sewage treatment plant. Warm, treated water flowing into the canal left an open area for the ducks. Within the large flock of Mallards (200) we spotted 2 Hooded Merganser.

After locking the gate behind us we had one last addition to the count. 5 Double-crested Cormorant stood on the ice below Lock 1, a great find for this time of year.

Overall, we observed 13 species and a total of 2017 waterfowl from Vineland to the Port Weller west pier. Quite a small number in comparison to the Fifty Point to Victoria group who counted over 10,000 Long-tailed Ducks.

A few days later, John sent results for the year's count as well as a second spreadsheet with results from the last 26 years. Prior to 1984, I believe the count was conducted from the air.

For this year's count, we had a record number of Mallard and Long-tailed Duck. Looking at the previous years was very interesting. Since 1984, only 3 Northern Pintail have been observed, 2 in 1990 and 1 in 2009. Only three pintails over a 26 year period and Jean was responsible in spotting the lone pintail amongst 100's of Mallards at 40 Mile Creek during our first duck count last year.

Though the day of birding was done for Jean and I, Dan and John headed to the Adam Beck overlook in an attempt to observe the reported Mew Gull and a possible second Mew Gull of the European subspecies commonly known as the Common Gull. According to Ontbirds report, no sightings occurred on the 10th. An additional report on the 14th from the WNY Dial-a-Bird also had no new reports of the Mew Gulls. Whether a new sighting appears on Ontbirds or not, a drive to the Falls is in order. I still have some gulls to add to my winter list. I'll let you know how that works out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Nishiki: A Year in Review

2010, a new year of birding, a new year of blogging.

A year ago today I jumped into the blogosphere feet first and posted the first tale of my birding adventures in southern Ontario and beyond. 112 posts later, Tales of the Nishiki begins its second year. No longer in its infancy, Nishiki will now toddle along, striving to entertain with the latest additions to the life list. But before we go any further into the new decade, let's review events from 2009.

In January, unsuccessful attempts were made to tick not one but two unusual visitors to the Niagara Region. The first had Jean and I standing in the warm comfort of the kitchen of a gracious host. The second, in a less hospitable environment.

After ticking a lifer Eastern Screech Owl in January, the hooting theme continued in February. A Short-eared Owl was added to the life list and in a matter of 24 hours, a trio of Great Horned Owls became a lifer Long-eared and 2 Short-eared.

The following week, the weekend was spent participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

In March, we carpooled with some new birding friends when we attended our first OFO trip of the year. I never grew tired of viewing the Tundra Swans flying overhead.

The addition of a 5th owl species (all in a neat, tidy row) to our provincial list occurred in early April.

In May, I told of our trip to Algonquin Provincial Park which occurred the last weekend of April. The OFO trip on the Saturday produced 3 lifers and on Sunday, a revisit to the park delivered a fourth lifer on the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.

Rather than attend the SCCC Tuesday training ride, I chose to chase down a reported vagrant. Much easier than chasing a breakaway.

June was an exciting month. A week's vacation in beautiful British Columbia.

Image courtesy of Jill Hampson

In all, 14 posts were stretched over 6 months, culminating with an epilogue in early November. A few days before our trip, Jean and I ticked lifer #261 at a bridge on 15 Mile Creek. The month ended with a swift count.

For three weeks in July, I was glued to the television screen viewing the Tour de France with commentary by twitcher Phil Liggett.

In August, my wife and I vacationed with her brother's family on the shores of Lake Huron. Relaxation with some birding (how could we not) in the areas surrounding Inverhuron was well enjoyed. I can't wait to do it again.

In search of a Brown Thrasher for the year list (we never did find one in 2009), we ticked a lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

In September, nighthawks abound during the Labour Day weekend. At the end of the month, I managed to finish the 2009 Squeezer after what seemed to be the longest flat change ever. To see a large number of riders from the next wave pass me by while I stood on Decew Road was quite disheartening. It's still a blast though.

Image courtesy of Frank Hampson Sr.

The first weekend in October, Jean and I attended our third Ontario Field Ornithologists Annual Convention. No lifers that weekend but on the following one, we were thankful for the addition of two species to our life list.

November was an exciting month for lifers in Ontario. While at the St. Catharines Spit, we ticked lifer #287. To tick the second lifer, we drove to a residential neighbourhood north of Toronto. We had some great views of the south-western visitor. I fear he may have finally succumbed to the below freezing temperatures.

We attended the last OFO trip for 2009 at the end of the month and shared lifers with our carpooling friend from Long Point.

December began with a new winter list. I'm still hoping to beat last year's total of 71 species. But what would the month be without a Christmas Bird Count or two.

What tales will be told in 2010? Well for January, I will try and see as many species as I can within the region of Niagara. I don't expect to attain the 104 one birder did last year (he must be retired) but I will do my best to surpass the 49 observed last year. I best stop wasting time at the PC and get out and do some birding.

Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Niagara Falls CBC

Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), home of the Shaw Festival and the controversial jet boat, is situated at the mouth of the Niagara River, on the southern shores of Lake Ontario.

Image courtesy of Dave Van de Laar

The gazebo pictured above was constructed by a production team for the 1983 film The Dead Zone and has been a prime photo location for tourists and wedding parties ever since.

OK, enough of the tour. I could go on and on describing the sites found in the historically significant town. It has been almost three years since yours truly ran down the main street in a kilt to obtain the liquor licence required for my brother-in-law's wedding reception at the old court house. More recently (December 27, 2009), Jean and I assisted with the Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count. The shoreline and river were left to other groups. We would assist Denys with 3 additional birders, in the same area we covered last year with John Black. John was required at the Port Weller east pier, so Denys led the group for this year's count.

Our first stop had us walking along the frosty, quiet streets west of the tourist laden main drag. Feeders come and go but we managed to observe a fair amount of activity in some of the yards. In all, 23 species were counted, including 2 Mute Swans flying inland, most likely bound for the open waters of the NOTL sewage lagoons.

Driving by the former MND rifle range we spotted 10 Wild Turkeys feeding in the field.

Looking through the locked gate of the NOTL sewage lagoons we had some great finds. A Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal (1) were spotted with the many Mallards and Canada Geese.

John received permission to bird the property of a winery by Four Mile Creek.

The temperatures had still not been cold enough to hand-pick grapes for the ice wine harvest. Later in the week though, the thermometer dropped below -8 and production at many wineries in the Niagara Region was set in motion.

We walked along the edge of the creek surveying the brush and trees. The meandering creek was flowing and yielded a Great Blue Heron. Another interesting find was a male Red-winged Blackbird.

Niagara Shores Conservation Area did not produce much at all. We were unable to find a Golden-crowned Kinglet in a stand of conifers by the entrance.

Our group then explored the area surrounding Four Mile Pond but there was no repeat of last year's Swamp Sparrow. A quickly glimpsed Winter Wren was all we could find in the mass of bullrushes.

After a lunch break, we were reduce to 4 birders and we checked out a new location for Jean and I. We walked a trail near Butler's Burial Ground but did not tick any birds until reaching the end of the trail. Standing on a mound of clay (more like clumps of clay) we ticked the last two species for the count, a Northern Mockingbird and a Song Sparrow.

In all, we observed 36 species, 5 more than last year. A well enjoyed day of birding.

The Port Colborne CBC was yesterday but we were unable to assist with the count. If any of you watched the Bills/Colts game then you know the conditions that birders endured while counting birds in the Port Colborne area.

Next week is the Duck Count. We helped John Black last year, counting waterfowl on Lake Ontario from Fifty Point CA in Grimsby to Vineland. This year, we'll be covering the shoreline from Vineland to Port Weller. It's sure to be a cold one.

I received preliminary results for the St. Catharines CBC.

A total of 81 species (above average) were counted on December 20.

Unusual species found included, Snow Goose, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Black Scoter, Merlin, Little Gull, Glaucous Gull and Hermit Thrush.

Our participation in birding activities has increased over the last couple of years and I look forward to future CBC's and other counts. Hopefully we will find time for the Port Colborne count next year. If you're a birder, I recommend attending a CBC in your community. You'll enjoy it!

By the way. I know some birders will, but did you notice anything odd in the image, provided by Dave, at the top of the post? He can be sneaky at times.