Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Cranes

Other than adding Tundra Swans to the yard list, I had not been birding for almost three weeks. Yes, way too long of a time period to have without an attempt at adding birds to the year list. Especially if I am striving for 200+ species this year.

In order to break 200 this year I thought it best I attend as many OFO trips as possible. The first was the Fisherville Area field trip on February 6. No lifers but 6 species were added to the year list. Unfortunately, Jean and I missed out on the Short-eared Owls observed at the end of the day. Hopefully we are not sitting at 199 on December 31.

The next scheduled trip was to the Long Point Area. Jean and I had good results on this trip in 2009 and we were hoping for a repeat Sandhill Crane observation. The Long Point peninsula (sandspit) is 40 kilometres in length and is recognized as a biosphere reserve by the United Nations. To birders, it is an excellent spot for observing migrating birds in the spring and fall. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO) and celebrations are planned for the weekend of May 14-16.

We set out on the morning of March 13 with rain forecasted for the entire weekend. Additions occurred along the way. We had hardly left St. Catharines when we observed a Great Blue Heron in flight as we crossed Lake Gibson. Blackbirds seem to appear like magic this time of year. Travelling south through West Lincoln, (along a road the St. Catharines CC rides regularly) we ticked Common Grackle. Red-winged Blackbirds were also spotted but a female, yes a female, was ticked earlier in the year while at Dufferin Islands.

At the St. Williams Forestry Station we joined 30+ birders ready to explore the Long Point area in the cold and rain with trip leaders Jim Heslop, George Pond and Bob Stamp. Our carpooling friends, Anne and Bev, were unable to attend this year's trip so it would just be Jean and I in our car as the line travelled to spots we became familiar with in 2009.

Not much was seen at the St. Williams Marina.

So on we went to Port Rowan. From the overlook, the group of die-hard birders did well to identify the waterfowl on the lake below. I would usually do my best to count the ducks or at least estimate their number but the cold rain had me simply noting some species with an 'x'. American Wigeon was added to the year list as well as Killdeer as one flew over the group. Looking westward towards the marina, Bald Eagles were seen on the ice and in the air.

We descended to lake level to examine the bay west of the marina. There was a considerable amount of ice in the lake and waterfowl were few and far between. Last year we observed an estimated 1500 Tundra Swans and a small flock of Snow Geese (blue and white morphs) at this location. This trip, we counted only 6 Tundra Swans mixed in with Buffleheads and Canada Geese. A large number of American Coot were assembled by the pier.

At the Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Area, we found our third target species. The group observed a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the field across the road (the same location as last year). The coolest thing during our time here was sharing the view of the cranes with a young birder. I believe he was on the trip with his granddad and Jean pointed him in the right direction so he could see them through his binoculars. I had been sharing views through our scope when the young boy approached me and I could tell by the look on his face he wanted to have a view as well but the angled eyepiece was to high for him to look through. No worries there. I rotated the scope 90 degrees so that the eyepiece was now at his level (as well as some of the shorter ladies), allowing him a closer view of his life bird. One can only hope that this moment will keep him birding for years to come. Which reminds me, Jean and I should take our nephew and niece birding soon.

We stopped at a couple of spots along Big Creek, including the closed section of Concession Road A. Sunny blue skies and hundreds of Tundra Swans in flight were absent on this year's walk along the road. Eastern Bluebirds, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Blue Jay were ticked during the short walk.

At the Old Cut we had our lunch break in the former bird banding station. To mark the 50th anniversary of the LPBO, a hook rug depicting a scene of the point, its lighthouse and the bird banding station, was hanging from the wall. The material used to create this wall hanging was from the clothing worn by volunteers that assisted at the LPBO over the past 50 years. It took 2 years to complete the work of art.

After lunch, Jean and I explored the Old Cut area adding Black-capped Chickadee and Common Grackle to our trip list.

Due to the weather, we had only one stop remaining. A local birder on the trip allowed the group to view the avian activity at feeders spread throughout her property. In the morning, she had observed a total of 23 species in her yard. It rained during our time here which most likely contributed to Jean and I observing only 14 species.

Despite the cold and rain, it was a successful trip. No point (or ticks gained) being a fair-weather birder. We're on par with last year's Ontario list and if we continue to repeat observations like Sandhill Crane, Jean and I just might have a record year (personal best). Now, if we can only tick some rarities.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Birding During the Olympics

Another season of winter listing has come to an end. Adding birds to the winter list during the last two weeks of February proved difficult as Olympic fever spread throughout the country. Sunday February 28 (the last chance for winter listing) was spent viewing the 50 km cross-country ski race (what a finish!) and of course the gold medal men's hockey game.

The morning of February 21 was the last contribution to the winter list. Jean and I returned to Thorold to view the waterfowl on Lake Gibson. This sunny day, we spotted a scaup-like bird with its head and bill buried deep into its back. The bird eventually lifted its peaked head and presented a bold white ring near the tip of the bill. As usual, the ring around the neck remained undetected. With a Ring-necked Duck (male) added to the winter list, we headed to Short Hills Provincial Park. We hiked along the Paleozoic Path and a small section of the Swayze Falls Trail and found a White-throated Sparrow in the brush. The last addition for our winter list.

From December 1, 2009 to February 28, 2010, Jean and I observed 75 species. Though we did not match last season's observations of King Eider, Eastern Screech Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Redpoll and White-winged Crossbill, we still managed to beat the 2008/2009 total by 4 species.

Ontario birders reported a total of 192 species which included a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (an exceptionally rare species in any season in Ontario), a Phainopepla and a Yellow-billed Loon. The final list can be found on Blake Maybank's website. Many thanks to Todd Pepper for coordinating this year's Ontario winter bird list and keeping Ontario birders updated with a monthly e-mail of the list's progress.

With the book closed on a successful winter list and no more Olympic distractions, it's time for spring migration. Early spring migrants are on the menu this weekend (figuratively speaking of course) and seeing a flock of Tundra Swan pass overhead as I stood in my back yard early this week was all I needed to get back in the game.