Monday, September 27, 2010


Jean and I started our life list in 2006 and we recently ticked our 299th lifer last month while at the Luther Marsh in Dufferin Region. Finding additional lifers in the Niagara Region and the Golden Horseshoe has not been easy so when ever I receive e-mails of reported birds that are within my ever expanding birding circle, I'll make an effort to chase the bird.

It's September and jaegers are once again appearing at the west end of Lake Ontario before continuing their journey from the Arctic to winter on the ocean. We observed our lifer Parasitic Jaeger at Van Wagners Beach during an OFO trip in October of 2009. On Saturday September 18, we went hunting for a Long-tailed Jaeger.

A beautiful morning at Van Wagners Beach.

Arriving at the beach, I chose a spot for the scope and preceded to wait. From what I have read, it can be a waiting game when looking for jaegers. Though the wind was not favourable for spotting the large seabirds, the weather could not have been better. Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls were present along the shoreline while two Downy Woodpeckers continuously called from the nearby trees. Long lines of Double-crested Cormorants were on the move but that was it for flybys. Time for a change of pace. We strolled along the bike path and crossed the road to look for passerine migrants at the nearby ponds.
As soon as she looked into the tall Willows, Jean spotted a male Wilson's Warbler. I failed to find it as it moved quickly from tree to tree but I did get to see a female in the same area. The birds were fast and furious. Other species found included Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Scarlet Tanager. Walking south, we entered the natural regeneration area where I was treated to a great look at a male Wilson's Warbler. In a small apple tree, we observed a dull coloured bird with faint streaking on the sides of the breast and yellow undertail coverts. Orange-crowned Warbler! Jean and I have not seen this species since October of 2007. This was a much needed tick if we are to reach 200 species this year. Before reaching the abandoned railway bed, we observed Great Crested and Least Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Walking along the railway line, Common Yellowthroat flitted in the bushes. Wading birds observed in the ponds included Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile) and Great Blue Heron.

Every where we go, we encounter Monarch Butterflies.

The pedestrian bridge is progressing nicely. It won't be long before we are able to walk over to the Windermere Basin from Van Wagners Road.

Our birding completed at the ponds, Jean and I returned to Van Wagners Beach for a break and another session of waiting for a jaeger flyby. Within seconds of sitting down, the bird we were waiting for flew by, heading south along the shoreline. There was no doubt. This was the Long-tailed Jaeger. Our 300th lifer! It rested on the water for a short period of time before continuing on in a southerly direction towards a large group of gulls. For approximately an hour we stood on the beach and observed the jaeger 3 more times as it flew back and forth over the water. During one of its passes, we watched the jaeger fly in a downward spiral as it chased after a gull. Harassment is their speciality. Last year's lifer Parasitic Jaeger was seen chasing a Double-crested Cormorant. After the jaeger show and a plate of celebratory fries at Hutch's Restaurant, we headed over to the Windermere Basin to check out the waterfowl and shorebirds.

OK. Not one the most esthetically pleasing views but some great birds have been recorded at this location. During the winter months, the Basin does not freeze and attracts large flocks of waterfowl. This late summer day, only Canada Goose and Mute Swan were observed with a few Double-crested Cormorants and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. Looking towards the southernmost section of the Basin from where we stood, Jean and I could see Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs but even with the use of our scope, smaller shorebirds were difficult to identify. We decided to walk along the gravel path to find an accessible location that would give us a closer look at the shorebirds feeding in the mud. We met a birder leaving the area and he let us know what birds he found and where we could stand to view them. Many thanks to him.

Jean and I could now identify the unknown shorebirds and added White-rumped Sandpiper (1) and Ruddy Duck (9) to the year list.

It turned out to be a great day of birding. As it has been for many Ontario birders, the Long-tailed Jaeger was surprisingly cooperative for Jean and I. Only a short period of time was required to observe the migrating seabird, allowing us to add an additional 4 species to the year list when birding the ponds and the Windermere Basin. Reaching 200 by the end of the year is possible. With only 13 to go, time will tell. Did the OFO Annual Convention at Long Point over the last weekend in September prove to be a worthy investment? Migration is in full swing and birding the Long Point area just might have been the right choice for this Niagara birder to get 200 birds this year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Birding the Tower Trail

August 17

During a visit to MacGregor Point last year, Jean and I discovered a trail while looking over a map of the provincial park. On that day, we limited our time to the area near the observation deck. Walking the 3.5 kilometre trail around the marsh would have to wait for a subsequent visit. Upon hearing we could vacation with my brother-in-law's family this year, Jean and I reserved a morning for hiking the entire length of the trail.

We accessed the Tower Trail from a public road bordering the southern edge of MacGregor Point Provincial Park. A Merlin greeted us from its perch as we entered the marsh. The small falcon was capturing dragonflies with ease.

This wetland was once a swamp created by beaver activity and in 1989, Ducks Unlimited Canada completed construction on a dike to prevent drainage of the wetland habitat. This was the first habitat development by Ducks Unlimited in an Ontario Provincial Park.

We walked along the dike, stopping occasionally to view the wildlife in the wetland. American Redstarts and Black-capped Chickadees flitted in the trees behind us. Before continuing our hike east of the wetland, Jean and I observed Mallard, Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Belted Kingfisher and Great Egret in the wetland habitat.

Dragonflies and butterflies were abundant on the Tower Trail.

We were hoping to spot a Pileated Woodpecker while in the provincial park. There was plenty of evidence of their presence. Though some of it was very fresh, we neither heard or saw any Pileated.

Dense white cedar stands are common in moist areas surrounding the wetland.

After viewing a few Red-eyed Vireos, we did not observe many birds until reaching the observation deck. Climbing to the top of the platform, we met a family from Michigan viewing the marsh wildlife through their binoculars. The couple's son seemed interested in our scope and when I found a Wood Duck, I offered the budding birder a closer look at the bird. The family were camping in the park and during our conversation on parks and birds, we shared views of Belted Kingfisher, Pied-billed Grebe, and Green Heron. The boy was thrilled to see birds through the scope and I have an idea he may be a naturalist one day. I was even more convinced when Jean and I caught up to the family on the trail and their son pointed out a Monarch caterpillar he found on the underside of a Milkweed leaf.

Our hike concluded with no additions to the year list. We left the provincial park and the Michigan family as they continued their hike along the Tower Trail. Hopefully they had better luck finding a Pileated Woodpecker.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Surf's Up!

During the first full day in Inverhuron, birding was limited to sightings around the cottage and we managed to add Northern Cardinal to our Bruce County list before heading to the public beach to enjoy the surf created by strong winds.

We were not the only ones surfing that day. Ring-billed Gulls soared above us and floated down effortlessly to a level less than 2 metres above the sand.

Being scavengers or somewhat opportunistic, the gulls were most likely waiting for handouts. But on this day, I would like to think the gulls were enjoying the high winds as much as we were enjoying the surf of Lake Huron.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Niagara Digiscoping

I and the Bird #133 can be found at A DC Birding Blog.

Jean and I first became aware of a nesting pair of Cooper's Hawks on May 19. We were walking on the Merritt Trail in St. Catharines when a male Cooper's landed on the top of a utility pole to feed on its prey. The larger female soon arrived, landing on a neighbouring pole. She quickly announced her demands but the male did not want to share his rather small meal. The pair of accipiters soon took off as we slowly walked towards the trio of utility poles. We continued our walk to the pond, tallying a total of 26 species during the hike. While walking back to our starting point we were following the male Cooper's back to the area where we first observed him. We lost him momentarily but he soon reappeared flying above us with a twig in his beak. The pair must be building a nest!

We returned to the trail on June 3 and found the female sitting on the nest.

In late July, Jean and I discovered that all the time and effort the pair contributed to become parents was a success.

A brief glimpse of the chick's wing.

Unfortunately, we have not walked the trail since then. Jean's dad walks the trail regularly and he informed us that the young Cooper's Hawk recently left the nest. The smaller birds (mostly House Sparrows) can now breathe a sigh of relief. Until next year, the pair will be taking prey less often.