Saturday, October 30, 2010

And Then It Was Gone.

Jean and I moved into our house 10 years ago. It is in an older neighbourhood, close to the downtown, with many mature trees lining the boulevards. Within a few years of moving in, 4 large city-maintained maple trees were cut down. The nuthatches we used to see out front soon left after the removal of the remaining maple. Two young trees were soon put in place but the nuthatches still remain absent.

From the back yard we observe a variety of birds, mostly due in part to the trees on the neighbouring properties. To the south, a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees attract a few migrants including one species of woodpecker I look forward to observing every spring. Like clockwork, a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has appeared for approximately two weeks in April the last three years. It has become a reliable and almost effortless tick for the year list.

To the east, tall pine trees attract both species of accipiters and a large walnut tree that towers over the parking lot behind our yard provides many perches for birds. There is no shortage of room in this tree. That is until last week.

On the 20th, Jean picked me up from work and informed me that the 40+ foot tree was being cut down. What greeted me when we arrived home was shocking.

Sadly, the tree that attracted Blue Jays, crows, 3 species of woodpecker, starlings and a Peregrine Falcon would soon be gone. In less than a week, a tree that took a number of years to grow was gone.

Unlike the maple trees, the walnut was on private property and was not near any hydro lines. Why was it cut down? I'm not exactly sure, though one of the upper limbs snapped and fell to the ground in the late summer. I was in the back yard when it happened and remember hearing a loud crack and looking up to see the limb dangling. It left a gap in the tree but otherwise it appeared healthy. Perhaps the owners feared the tree would cause severe damage to their house if additional limbs were to fall. For whatever reason, it is sad to see such a large tree removed from the neighbourhood.

All is not lost though. I was discussing the tree's demise with a coworker last week and mentioned the disappearance of the nuthatches after the maple trees were removed. While standing in the back yard the following morning I heard the call, make that calls, of 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches. One of the small birds stood atop a hydro pole out front. It continued to call and jump excitedly while on top of the pole. I ran to get my binoculars but when I returned the bird was gone and no longer calling. That was OK. I heard its call and viewed it long enough to tick the 46th species for the yard list. To ensure a repeat visit we'll keep the feeders filled and add a suet feeder for good measure. Who knows, maybe #47, a White-breasted Nuthatch, will return to the neighbourhood.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Squeezer The Movie 2010

Even though I ticked two lifers during this year's OFO annual convention and the trees were dripping with warblers during the Long Point trip, I realized I sort of did miss the 2010 Squeezer after viewing this video. It truly is a well organized event. Kudos to Kurt and the gang for putting together another successful race.

Next year's convention and Grape and Wine Festival mountain bike race will occur on separate weekends so birding and cycling will once again be able to coexist during the month of September.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Thankful Count Part I

Two weeks ago was Thanksgiving. An extra day off, spending time with family and turkey dinners with a full day of birding thrown into the mix.

Jean and I did not attend the Hamilton OFO trip this year. It was a busy weekend and we decided to assist John Black with the Buffalo Ornithological Society (BOS) Fall Count on Sunday October 10.

We checked out a few spots as a group before heading to our assigned areas.

At the Parmalat sewage lagoons, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Palm Warbler were spotted in the trees. We walked along the farm road and found a sparrow species that we did not observe in Inverhuron. In the reeds lining the ditch at the side of the laneway, we observed 4 Swamp Sparrows (#197).

As we were returning to our cars, a member of our group pointed to a falcon perched on the hydro line on the west side of Stewart Road.

A beautiful Fall morning in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It was a Peregrine Falcon.

We observed the bird for a couple of minutes and followed it as it left its perch and flew north towards a residence with bird feeders. The falcon missed a Mourning Dove but quickly grabbed another bird without any hesitation. What happened next was interesting. The Peregrine Falcon did not carry its prey to the nearest utility pole. It turned around and headed south. I followed it using the scope until it reached the Garden City Skyway and landed at the base of a light standard.

The falcon had carried its heavy prey approximately 2 kilometres. The benefit of taking its kill to the skyway? On a utility pole the falcon would be in the open. The structure of the skyway offers some protection from a much larger Red-Tailed Hawk with thoughts of stealing the falcon's meal.

We moved on to the Lake Ontario shore before Jean and I set off to cover our area. At Jones Beach we found the usual waterfowl, Mallards, Canada Geese with a few Mute Swan and a couple of unidentified teal species.

Slightly west of the public beach is the Port Weller East Pier. While Kayo and Brian drove to the tip, the rest of us walked along the seaway road. Not a great variety of migrants. Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted in the brush on both sides of the road. John pointed out a couple of Rusty Blackbirds as they flew overhead and Jean, Paula and I viewed a Sharpie quickly fly by, land in a distant tree and take off as soon as I got the scope on it.

The most interesting sight while walking along the east pier was a young American Kestrel dining on an unknown passerine.

Birding was done east of the Welland Canal and it was time to cover our own areas. With only three ticks needed to reach 200 species for 2010, Jean and I set off for the Niagara Escarpment and our first planned stop. I was hoping the fall colours would not be too distracting.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Last Chance in Bruce (or more aptly named, Misses in Perth)

OK. This post is slightly out of order. We jump back to August for a moment. Shorebirds were on the move and the waters of Lake Huron were warm enough for swimming.

August 18

Three days had past since Jean and I observed our lifer Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and that's one tick I will surely never forget. We were now relaxing on the shores of Lake Huron. Hiking the Tower Trail at MacGregor Point produced no first of the years but we may have influenced a young lad from Michigan to pursue a life of birding. 9 species were added to the Bruce County list, including Wild Turkey observed in a field after leaving the provincial park. South of MacGregor Point, we scoured the rocky shoreline near Brucedale Conservation Area. No birds but the glacial deposited rocks were interesting though.

The morning of the 18th, we hiked the dunes in the nearby Inverhuron Provincial Park. Last year we observed a Swamp Sparrow on the banks of the Little Sauble River. The bird was an addition to the 2009 list and I was looking for a repeat this year.

No Swamp Sparrow north of the bridge this year. Only Song and Chipping Sparrows made appearances this fine morning.

While hiking the dunes of Inverhuron P.P. we observed many Black-capped Chickadees flying across our path. Mixed in the conifers with the chickadees were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Heading towards the park's beach, we found some Black-throated Green Warblers (3) east of the bridge.

After birding Inverhuron, it was time to take it easy at the public beach.

A relaxing twitcher reading The Reluctant Twitcher.

August 19

Our vacation in Bruce County would soon be over. A pleasant sunset was enjoyed in Kincardine the previous evening but any chance of birding Thursday morning was washed out by a heavy rainfall.

We left Inverhuron and Tiverton early in the afternoon and headed south on Highway 21.

The morning rain had flooded a small section of a field east of the highway. If I had not stopped in a construction lot to obtain an item from the back of the car we would have missed the shorebirds and an addition to the year list. A Solitary Sandpiper (#180) was wading in the pond with a few Greater Yellowlegs, a couple Semipalmated Sandpipers and a Least Sandpiper. A Wilson's Snipe was well hidden in the grass but Jean's keen eyes spotted it as if it was out in plain sight.

We reached the town of Mitchell late in the afternoon and stopped at the same picnic area we did the previous year. In addition to the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher found at the Luther Marsh, daily sightings of some exciting birds were occurring at the Mitchell Sewage Lagoons while Jean and I were at the cottage. Though it is a toy I can do without, a Blackberry would have been extremely advantageous in this situation. On the 16th, a birding friend of ours posted that he had seen a Hudsonian Godwit. The next day, another post indicated that along with the Hudsonian, a Marbled Godwit was also present. In all, a total of 14 shorebirds were hanging out at the Mitchell Sewage Lagoons while I was viewing Tree and Barn Swallows flying over Whirl Creek. Arrrgh! Not only would we be past 200 species for 2010 (as of today), the life list would have 2 more birds on it. Next year, a stop at the Mitchell Sewage Lagoons in Perth will be on the itinerary and hopefully the life list will have a couple of godwits.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Lifer in the Hand: OFO Annual Convention Part II

September 26
Old Cut and Long Point Provincial Park

It was the last weekend of September and Jean and I were attending the 2010 OFO Annual Convention. During Saturday's field trip to Turkey Point and the Townsend Sewage Lagoons, we observed a lifer Baird's Sandpiper and after ticking a total of 7 species the year list stood at 194. Last year, we did not reach 194 until November 29. 200 species in 2010 is closer to becoming a reality.

Returning to our B&B, we met our fellow lodgers as they were leaving for the banquet. We exchanged highlights of our trips, theirs being a Cattle Egret in a paddock across from the Bird Studies Canada building. That would be a sweet addition to the Ontario year list if Jean and I were able to observe it.

The banquet was well enjoyed and the Lake Erie Yellow Perch was amazing. When in Port Dover, one must have perch for dinner. The guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Bridget Stutchbury and she discussed her research in tracking songbirds. Earlier in the evening she was selling and signing copies of her two books, Silence of Songbirds and The Bird Detective. Silence of Songbirds was a finalist for the Governor General's Award and I will purchase it at a future date. We decided to purchase Bridget Stutchbury's newest book, The Bird Detective.

On Sunday morning we were delayed by another wonderful breakfast. Luckily, the Old Cut was only minutes away from our B&B and we still had time to stop and scan the paddock across from Bird Studies Canada. No sign of the Cattle Egret. The paddock was completely empty. A subsequent attempt at the end of the day was also unsuccessful.

We met trip leaders Mike and Ken Burrell on Old Cut Boulevard. Their names were familiar to me. Not only are they both well ahead of my position on the Top 100 eBirders in Ontario, Mike is also the eBird reviewer that contacted me regarding a few observations I entered on eBird Canada.

The trip was described as a morning walk around the Long Point Bird Observatory's Old Cut Field Station and the nearby provincial park. At the field station, volunteers were busy banding migratory birds and the conifers were teeming with Yellow-rumped Warblers and both species of kinglets as flocks of pipits and blackbirds flew overhead. The best spot that morning was along Lighthouse Crescent adjacent to the Old Cut. The tall trees at the private cottages were filled with avian activity.

A few birds were flitting around in the trees near the lighthouse as we walked along Erie Boulevard to reach the entrance of Long Point Provincial Park.

Checking out the beaches on the point.

I was hoping to find a Lesser Black-backed Gull but all we saw were Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.

Closed Gentian, Gentiana clausa

When the group stopped for a short break, there were some thrushes moving in the trees and brush near the campground comfort station that caught the attention of Mike. He identified one as a Gray-cheeked Thrush. This would be a lifer if Jean and I could get good looks at the distinctive features of the bird. We did not get a satisfactory view of the bird's field markings. It remained quite hidden and the presence of a Swainson's Thrush added to the difficulty of a successful lifer observation. In the open, distinguishing the differences between a Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush would be fairly easy. We have gained a considerable amount of experience over the years but the partial views were not to my liking. For a lifer, I wanted to see all of field marks. The Gray-cheeked Thrush tick would have to wait. It was sooner than I thought it would be but not without frustration. I think we've all been there.

We had walked as far as we could in the provincial park and were retracing our steps when we came across our second attempt at a lifer Gray-cheeked Thrush. Mike picked it out as we walked through a stand of pine trees. Again, a quick view for me and I observed the bird did not have an eye ring and it was gray-brown above. This species is easily disturbed and as more of the group arrived the thrush vacated its perch. Mike asked if I got it. Yes, but unfortunately Jean did not see it. No tick. It was found again by a member of the group and though the description of its location was well described, no one could see it. Despite repeating the details of the bird's location, the group (now tightly packed together on a gravel road) still did not see it. The birder that found the thrush scored a view from another vantage point. The majority of the group hurriedly advanced to his location and he warned them to approach quietly. Luckily for some, it remained in the tree to feed on wild grapes. Jean and I stayed at the original spot with a few birders that successfully spotted the thrush. I still cannot believe we could not see this bird. Were Jean and I the only ones that could not see it? Frustrating as hell. The group left the area but Jean and I remained for one last futile attempt. Still no tick.

Warblers were more apparent during the hike. In total, Jean and I observed 13 species during the 5 hour hike. None were added to the year list on this trip but we had great views of a beautiful Philadelphia Vireo (#195) in the tall trees on Lighthouse Crescent. The yellow on this vireo was brilliant.

Walking through the Old Cut, Jean and I finally got our Gray-cheeked Thrush lifer tick. As we approached some netting on the trail, our nemesis of the day flew into the net. Mike quickly grabbed it and allowed for some quick views before taking it to the banding station.

A Swainson's Thrush was soon caught in the net.

Both birds were taken to the station in cloth bags and quickly processed. The Gray-cheeked Thrush was measured, weighed and released.

Through the window of the banding station, Jean and I viewed our lifer Gray-cheeked Thrush (#302) fly off into the brush of the Old Cut.

Another OFO annual convention had reached its conclusion.

Jean and I had a successful weekend in Norfolk County. Of the 91 species we observed, 2 were lifers and 9 were added to the year list. One more tick and we will tie our personal best. What was the best find during the field trips?

Was it the cupcakes? They did have a peanut butter cup baked in the center.

Or was it the Gray-cheeked Thrush? The Baird's Sandpiper was pretty cool but after all that frustration, ticking the thrush at the end of the day was the icing on the cupcake.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Niagara Birds" Book Launch

It's here! The official book launch for John Black and Kayo Roy's book Niagara Birds will be held on Saturday October 16. Jean and I had a sneak peak at the amazing book before a day of birding for the Buffalo Ornithological Society (BOS) Fall Count this past weekend. Many talented photographers contributed images to the book that received a glowing review in a recent Buffalo News article.

Little did Jean and I know how seriously our birding would become after posting a report on Ontbirds in April of 2008. Shortly after posting a Fox Sparrow observation, Kayo contacted Jean and I by e-mail requesting that we contact him by phone. After a short conversation, Jean and I signed up as "testers" of the directions for the Hotspots and Day Trips in Niagara section of the book. We were just what Kayo and John were looking for. Jean and I were relatively new to birding and we had not yet discovered many of the hot spots in the region. Since then, we have assisted John and Kayo on Christmas Bird Counts, the MNR Duck Count and as of this year, the BOS counts held in April, May and October. There's no turning back now. We are fully-fledged, fanatical birders. Not to the extreme of Sandy Komito, Al Levantin or Greg Miller mind you but if there's a reported bird needed for the life list or even the year list that is within a reasonable commute, we are quick to react.

I would like to think that John and Kayo have contributed to our love of birding and there is no doubt that their book Niagara Birds will inspire more people to take up birding. I truly believe the book will win the awards predicted by Gerry Rising of the Buffalo News. Even if you do not live in the Niagara Region, this book will be a fine addition to your birding library.

We'll see you at the book launch but if you cannot make it, you can download an order form at the book's web site.

Friday, October 8, 2010

To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze: OFO Annual Convention Part I

Jean and I were heading home after last year's OFO annual convention at Point Pelee when she indicated there may be a conflict with the 2010 convention. During the 2009 banquet it was announced that the 2010 convention would be held the last weekend of September. The Sunday of that last weekend was the finale of the 10 day Grape & Wine Festival in Niagara and traditionally, the day the Liberty! Bicycles Off Road Squeezer is held. So, what to do? What to do?

To Squeeze.

or Not To Squeeze.

Other than watching the Tour and a few solo rides, cycling has been non-existent this year. Weekends were spent chasing birds and considering I booked a B&B in Port Rowan back in July for this year's convention, the decision "not to Squeeze" was not a last minute one.

After sharing a fulfilling hot breakfast with birders from Ottawa, Jean and I left in a hurry for Saturday's field trip to Turkey Point and the Townsend Sewage Lagoons. Mention sewage lagoons to a nonbirder and they will look at you as if you belong on Shutter Island (Yes, I watched the film recently) but we all know what great birds can be found while standing on the edge of a sewage lagoon cell during spring and fall migration.

September 25

Turkey Point Beach

We made it just in time to hear the trip itinerary and obtain some maps from trip leader Stu Mackenzie before leaving for our first stop of the day. From the pier of a boat launch, the group of 50 birders looked east towards the beach. A few shorebirds were present, including a Dunlin for our year list. In the small bay west of the pier, we viewed waterfowl. Amongst the Canada Geese and Mallards, we observed American Wigeon and Northern Pintail (another first of the year). Looking east again, a new shorebird was spotted further down the beach but a closer look was required to determine if the dowitcher was short-billed or long-billed. Time of year was telling us long-billed but the trip leaders wanted to be sure.

There were a few Canada Geese and ducks that remained motionless in front of the dowitcher. These belonged to a hunter hiding in the Phragmites. It was opening day of hunting season and our group witnessed this hunter exhibit some shoddy hunting practices. I believe I can say that the birders present were not against the hunting of Canada Geese but were more astounded by the hunter's ill preparedness. A Canada Goose was shot but only wounded and the bird flailed around as the hunter continued to shoot in its direction. We could see shot hitting the water and bouncing off of the goose. The injured goose moved away from the shoreline and the hunter had to venture into the water for a closer shot. After 6-7 shots, possibly more, the goose was killed but the hunter had to wade into water above his chest while holding his shotgun above his head to retrieve his quarry. He was aware of our presence and upon returning to the shore with the goose he "flipped the bird" in our direction. What else could one do but laugh. It would have been a lot easier if Elmer had a small boat or dog to aid in retrieving the goose.

The group walked along the shoreline, the Phragmites separating us from the hunter, until we were closer to the dowitcher. Sadly, Long-billed Dowitcher remains off the year list.

Silver Lake-Port Dover

Our next stop was Silver Lake in the small lakeside town of Port Dover. Jean and I followed an esteemed birder from Algonquin along the backroads of Norfolk County. Upon reaching the parking lot/market at Silver Lake, I followed Ron into the farmers market while Jean waited outside in search of fellow OFO members. We had arrived in Port Dover minutes ahead of the rest of the group. Our best find before birding as a group, cupcakes!

While walking the trail by the side of the lake we had an excellent view of a Sharpie and Cooper's in flight. It was odd to see during migration but the Sharp-shinned Hawk exhibited territorial behaviour and came quite close to the larger Cooper's Hawk for an easy comparison of the two accipiters.

We moved on to the waterfront. It was not summer nor was it Friday the 13th so crowds were minimal.

Birds were as well. We left Port Dover and the Ring-billed Gulls behind. It was time to look for more shorebirds.

Townsend Sewage Lagoons

The four cells of the Townsend Sewage Lagoons are located west of the town of Jarvis and were the best stop of the day for Jean and I. The water level in cell #4 was low enough to attract shorebirds and though high winds made it difficult, we had great views of some lovely birds.

Four species were quickly added to the year list. Rusty Blackbirds flew overhead as we looked at Pectoral Sandpipers (2) through our scope. American Pipits, usually only seen by Jean and I when an observer points them out as a flock of them are flying overhead, were landing in the lagoon. Previous observations of Arthus rubescens have been mediocre at best. The last being a distant lone individual at the Blenheim sewage lagoons during last year's OFO convention. These pipits were much closer and the best views occurred when we were looking at our 301st lifer. A Baird's Sandpiper!

Levels in cells 1, 2 and 3 were high and each contained waterfowl. Ducks viewed included, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler, another addition for the year list. The lagoons were the last stop for most of the group but a few, including Jean and I, continued on to Turkey Point Provincial Park.

We walked along a park road looking for migrating passerines in the trees. No lifers or first of the years to end the day. Blackpoll (1) and Palm (1) were the only wood warblers seen. The trees at Long Point would be dripping with them on Sunday's field trip and well worth missing this year's Squeezer.