Monday, August 30, 2010

The Best Tick of the Year.

The evening of Friday August 13 was the start of my week's vacation and before leaving for Inverhuron, Jean and I participated in the Ontario-wide Chimney Swift blitz. Bird Studies Canada encouraged residents to look for roosting Chimney Swifts on the weekend of August 13-15 to raise awareness of the plight of this species.

Starting at 8:00 PM, we monitored 3 chimneys at the Lake Street Armoury in St. Catharines. In June of last year, we observed 8 swifts enter the chimneys. During this year's blitz we counted a total of 16 Chimney Swifts as they entered the armoury's chimneys over a 45 minute period.

Twice the amount we observed last year. Though this year's count was held 2 months later, let's hope that the increase Jean and I observed is an indication that the local population is increasing.
OK, on to the best tick of the year. This bird has appeared on Ontbirds for the last few weeks and I sighed as each birder added it as their most recent addition to the Top 100 eBirders in Ontario list. I was unsure I would get a chance to observe it but upon consulting the Ontario road map, travelling to the Luther Marsh for a possible lifer tick was worth the detour. Well worth it!

Jean and I were travelling to Inverhuron for a few relaxing days at a cottage on the shores of Lake Huron. To get to Bruce County from St. Catharines, we planned to travel north along Hwy. 6 until reaching Hwy. 9/County Road 109 in Arthur. If we were to continue our route to the cottage, we would head west along Hwy. 9 to Kincardine. The Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area is only 20 kilometres north-east of Arthur. We could easily take an hour or two to search for the reported bird before continuing on to Inverhuron.

Ontario birders reading this post will be fully aware of the bird I was chasing. For those of you outside the province, the bird that continues to attract twitchers from many parts of Ontario is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Though far from its breeding range of Texas, Oklahoma and the western edges of Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, this is not the first appearance in Ontario. The bird is a very rare to casual wander in much of North America (National Geographic Field Guide to Birds, 5th Ed) and the Ontario Bird Records Committee has accepted 45 records in the province (Bob Curry, Birds of Hamilton and Surrounding Areas).

To increase our chances of observing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I took notes while reviewing previous Ontbirds posts. I chose to approach the area the bird was frequenting from the west and travelled along County Road 15. The gravel road cuts through the northern section of the wildlife management area and shortly after the road turned to pavement we came across another birding couple (Brian and Lynne) in search of their lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Brian commented on the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) decal affixed to the window of our car and introduced himself as the treasurer of the OFO. Brian and Lynne had been looking for the flycatcher for approximately 1.5 hours and informed Jean and I the bird was seen earlier by the birding blind, south-east of our position. On August 3, the bird was observed and photographed perched on a wire above the county road. Jean and I proceeded to Sideroad 21 & 22 to search the area surrounding the blind. Looking west from the sideroad, we observed a Northern Harrier and Green Heron.

Brian and Lynne pulled up behind us but we did not have any good news to share with them. After a few more minutes of scanning the field and viewing 3 Sandhill Cranes flying over the marsh, Brian questioned a bird perched on a branch in the distance. Our suspicions had Brian and I rushing for our spotting scopes and as we were doing so, Jean and Lynne confirmed that this was indeed the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. As the bird jumped up from its perch, its long scissor-like tail was revealed. Both Jean and Lynne shouted out, "That's him!". Yes! Here we were, thousands of kilometres from Texas and we ticked a lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

The four of us observed the bird for an hour as it hunted from the bare branch some 150-200 metres away.

During the 60 minutes of birding bliss, an Ontario Provincial Police officer stopped his cruiser and asked if we had seen the bird. It appears that this local detachment of the OPP are aware of the bird's presence and the number of birders it has attracted to the gravel roads of Dufferin Region. A local resident stopped to see what we were looking at through our scopes and was treated to a great view of the flycatcher through Brian and Lynne's spotting scope.
After sharing the observation of the lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher with Brian and Lynne, we went our separate ways. Ticking lifers is always exciting and it will be great to reminisce with Brian and Lynne the next time we meet at an OFO event.
Jean and I remained in the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for another two hours. We ticked a few additional county birds during lunch at the main entrance and then returned to the area where we had observed our 299th lifer. We parked at a small WMA parking area off of the road and walked the grassy trail towards the marsh/lake.
The Sandhill Cranes observed earlier could be seen in a distant field, but their calls made it seem like they were much closer. While looking at the cranes through the scope, 2 Wild Turkeys were observed running behind the tall birds. Many Bobolink were roosting in the grasses not too far away and we observed 5 Great Egrets while at the marsh. A post received on Ontbirds recently, indicated that 209 Great Egrets were counted here during the CWS Great Egret roost survey.
At first it appeared the only waterfowl on the lake were mallards. Two white swans were seen on the far side of the lake but they were too far away to identify. Two young male birders arrived shortly after us to scan the lake and noted the species Jean and I observed. They soon left, even after I informed them we had seen the flycatcher in the area 1.5 hours earlier. Unfortunately for them, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reappeared as we were walking towards the duck blind. This time it was perched on a branch near the edge of the marsh.

Jean and I observed many Pied-billed Grebe (adults and their young) on the lake as we walked along the dike.

The white swans were closer to our position, close enough to identify them as Trumpeter Swans. I thought I was going to have to wait until December to tick this species. We viewed the pair of Trumpeters and 6 cygnets from the blind.

A Rana pipiens relaxing in the grass on the dike.

Our time at the Luther Marsh came to a successful conclusion and after finding the reported bird, I could truly relax at the cottage for a few days. Jean and I have observed some exciting lifers this year, but I think I can safely proclaim that the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the best tick of the year. Now it's back to adding species to the year list. Hopefully we can add a few while birding along the shores of Lake Huron.


  1. Great post Bob! Congrats on the lifer too! A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher would be a lifer for me too, as would be the Chimney Swift. And I love flycatchers and swifts.

    It looks like you had an excellent detour, well worth the time spent. From your photographs the area looks gorgeous.

  2. Congratulations! My life STFC was some years ago in central Panama (and my only one so far)

  3. Larry and Jan, many thanks for your comments.