Saturday, November 27, 2010


November 21

At this time of year the amount of daylight hours we can take advantage of are greatly reduced. Throw in a 5 day work week and you find your birding limited to the weekend. On Friday November 19, I received the weekly Hamilton Naturalists Club Birding Report on Ontbirds. 2 species of scoter and Red-throated Loons were present off Lawrence P Sayers Park in Stoney Creek earlier in the week. All were needed for the year list and one would be a lifer if we were lucky enough to observe it.

Though the park is the size of a postage stamp and surrounded by the larger yards of private residences, it still provides a good view of the lake. Without public accesses, this would be a sad world indeed.

As I was setting up the scope we could see Common Merganser and many Common Golden-eye on the lake. Our first species of scoter was seen approximately 150 metres from shore. The small flock was in flight, their white secondaries easily observed. White-winged Scoter and already on the year list.

There was a strong northeast wind and at times the waterfowl would disappear between the waves.

To identify a bird we would have to wait until it reappeared near the crest of the wave. We spotted our second scoter species. This one we studied for some time since it was mixed in with a few White-winged Scoters. The scoter was all black with no sign of a white comma-shaped patch surrounding the eye. We've done it! #200 for the year list and lifer #303 was a Black Scoter. The tick was quickly followed by #201. Further out on the lake, we could see a black scoter with white patches on its nape and forehead. A Surf Scoter!

No loons were seen while at Sayers Park so we travelled east (less than 1 kilometre) to Green Road. North of the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) there are a few roads that end at the Lake Ontario shoreline that provide a good vantage point for finding waterfowl.

A few White-winged Scoter were observed close to the shoreline.

More Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks but no sign of Common or Red-throated Loons.

Our time was limited so we left the region of Hamilton thrilled to have met our goal. 40 days remain before the list resets itself to zero and we start this mad obsession once again. Can we reach 205? Possibly 210? We'll try. There are still a few target birds we need including a couple of gull species (Lesser Black-backed and California). Perfect. The next attempt at adding to the list will be the OFO Niagara River Gull Watch.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Finding #200

October 24: La Salle Marina & Park

After ticking a Fox Sparrow in the Hendrie Valley, Jean and I stopped at the LaSalle Marina before returning to St. Catharines. The marina sits on the north shore of Hamilton Harbour at the west end of Lake Ontario and is an excellent location for viewing waterfowl. Marina employees were busy putting the last of the boats away to mark the end of another sailing season but the large number of waterfowl usually seen here in the winter had yet to arrive. Less than a dozen Trumpeter Swans were found east of the marina.

In March of 2007, we viewed our lifer Eastern Towhee (#154) at the feeders near the public parking area. A day Jean and I still laugh about. We were standing with a group of photographers, all waiting for the reported towhee to make an appearance on the brush covered slope. During the winter months this species should be wintering in the southeastern United States so it had attracted a number of interested onlookers. House Sparrows were a plenty as we waited quietly. An older gentleman exited from a nearby port-o-potty, its spring-hinged door slamming shut as he approached the group. "What you looking for?" he asked in a loud voice. "A towhee." replied one of the photographers. "A what?" "A towhee." "There it is!" exclaimed the inquisitive senior. "No, that's a sparrow." the photographer responded.

The Eastern Towhee did not show itself while we stood with the photographers but as Jean and I started our walk along the Shoreline Trail, we briefly observed it visiting the feeders at the side of the trail. Since then, I think of this day every time we drive by the portable toilet when visiting LaSalle Marina.

Returning to present day, Jean and I strolled along the Shoreline Trail towards the eastern most point of LaSalle Park. No towhee at the feeders this day but we found Yellow-rumped Warbler (1), White-crowned Sparrow (1), White-throated Sparrow (5) and Song Sparrow (2) while birding the gravel path near the marina.

To get back to the parking area, we walked through the wooded section of LaSalle Park. At the west end of the park, I scanned a flock of Canada Geese with hopes of finding a Cackling Goose. None in this flock so at the end of the day we still stood at 199 for 2010.

A monument to commemorate French explorer Sieur De La Salle's landing in September 1669.

November 6: Jones Beach & the Port Weller East Pier

The first weekend of November, we birded the area immediately east of the Welland Canal.

Last November, we observed a Brant at Jones Beach and a lifer Red-throated Loon while walking on the Port Weller East Spit. This year all we found amongst the Canada Geese were a few hybrids.

Adult and immature Herring Gulls at Jones Beach.

We walked the 2.5 kilometre trail to the beacon. Many Common Mergansers were on the move and we spotted a distant Red-necked Grebe and small flocks of Bufflehead and Long-tailed Duck.

As we walked back on the east side of the spit, Jean and I found an American Tree Sparrow in the tall grass. The species has returned to the Niagara Region for the winter.

This day, Scaup species observed in the bay and in the pond appeared to be Greater one moment, then Lesser the next. Scaup species it would be when submitting the observation to eBird later that evening.

The next time I come across a similar flock, I'll call the species. I promise.

November 14: Fifty Point Conservation Area and 40 Mile Creek

Reports of a Purple Sandpiper and Lesser Black-backed Gulls led Jean and I to the northwestern edge of the Niagara Region. Both species were observed at Fifty Point Conservation Area earlier in the week. Though there was no additional reports, I was willing to make an attempt at adding 2 ticks to the year list. Only one was required to reach the goal of 200 but if we were able to observe the Purple Sandpiper, a rare fall transient in the Niagara Region, it would be a lifer.

Searching the breakwalls of the Hamilton Conservation Authority managed area we did not find the shorebird.

Jean and I then headed over to the marina to look for the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Northern Harrier flew eastward above the fishermen standing on the moorings as we walked along the east side of the marina. The only gulls found were a few Ring-billed.

On the way home we stopped at the Grimsby marina.

A Double-crested Cormorant stood on a rock monitoring the usual waterfowl species.

While a Great Blue Heron supervised from the marina's breakwall.

On more stop in Vineland at a lakeside road. A few common waterfowl (merganser and goldeneye) with some Bufflehead. The day ended with an observation of a flock of Northern Cardinal following one another through the trees on the embankment. In total, we watched 13 cardinals as they moved from tree to tree. A sight we have not seen before. Sure we've encountered one here, two there, another over there as we walked along a trail but never bunched together like this. Do I consider 13 cardinals unlucky and possibly a hindrance to my goal of reaching 200 species before the year is over? Not at all. There's still plenty of time left and no need for panic mode just yet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Niagara Digiscoping

I'm submitting this post of Niagara Digiscoping to "World Bird Wednesday". A new meme created by Springman! at The Pine River Review blog.

Since purchasing her Nikon Coolpix S220 in 2009, my wife Jean has taken up the hobby of digiscoping. These two images were taken at the Wetland Ridge Trail in the Niagara Region, in southern Ontario.

My tales of our birding adventures would be quite boring if not for images such as these two.

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
Wetland Ridge Trail, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Monday, November 15, 2010

Niagara Digiscoping: Port Weller East Pier

In early September, Jean and I hiked along the Waterfront Trail Extension on the Port Weller East Pier. In the smaller pond east of the trail and the Seaway Haulage Road we found a Green Heron.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not to be Outfoxed This Year

October 24

As some of you may know, Jean and I are attempting to tick 200 species in Ontario this year. Though not a Big Year (300+), 200 seemed a reasonable challenge for us to attempt. Currently, of the Top 100 eBirders in Ontario, only 25 have 200 or more species on their list. In 2009, we reached 197, a number we recently beat while on the Buffalo Ornithological Society Fall Count.

So the question in late October was, where to bird? During the 2008 OFO annual convention, Jean and I observed our lifer Pileated Woodpecker while walking through the Hendrie Valley in Burlington. It is a woodpecker species we have observed only once. With two full months of birding left, there was time for some long shots.

The Hendrie Valley Sanctuary covers 100 hectares and the property was transferred to the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in 1941 for ecological protection.

It was a warm day in St. Catharines with the thermometer reaching a high of 18 degrees Celsius but as you travel through the Golden Horseshoe, the weather can change quickly. 30 minutes later, we arrived in Hamilton and the temperature dropped to 10 degrees. In addition to the cooler temperature, we were greeted by a thick mist as we crossed the Burlington Skyway.

At the Cherry Hill Gate (one of three entrances to the valley) we found a flock of Cedar Waxwings containing an anomalous individual. Its tail tip was red and not the standard yellow. The undertail coverts of this odd Bombycilla were white so it was not a Bohemian Waxwing. No other member of the flock had this unique field marking.

Descending the Grindstone Marshes Trail into the valley, we soon spotted our 199th species of the year with a few White-throated Sparrows.

Despite observing it three years in a row on the Green Ribbon Trail by Martindale Pond in Port Dalhousie, Jean and I missed the species this April. The eastern form of the species breeds in the Boreal Forest and winters in the southeastern United States so in southern Ontario it can only be observed during migration. Having missed it in the spring there was still a small window of opportunity to view it in the fall.

Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca #199 for the Ontario 2010 year list

In total, we observed 7 Fox Sparrows, all kicking backward with both feet in the leaf litter and gravel in search of food.

Before reaching Grindstone Creek, we spotted an immature male Common Yellowthroat and a Red-tailed Hawk standing watch over the south side of the valley.

We started our hike on the raised boardwalk and stopped to scan the valley for our red crested quarry.

In October of 2008, Lifer #243 was seen while looking east from the arched bridge.

No Pileated Woodpecker on this misty Fall day.

The Black-capped Chickadees were certainly not shy though.

As we walked downstream....

....we observed a muskrat and some Chinook Salmon in Grindstone Creek.

More chickadees willing to pose.

I will definitely not wait another two years before returning to the Hendrie Valley trail system. There are still a few trails to explore on the RBG property, one of which may just lead us to a Pileated Woodpecker observation.

The addition of Fox Sparrow to my lists did not end with the Hendrie Valley. Just over a week later, a bird with what appeared to be a streaked or spotted breast flew low across the yard. Though late, I was thinking, perhaps wishfully, that it was a Wood Thrush. Of course it was a Fox Sparrow, the 47th addition to the yard list. A bird that was truly in our yard. Jean and I watched the fall migrant for 15 minutes as it jumped around the gravel driveway. There had been no need to drive to Burlington the previous weekend. Will I be able to sit out back with a beer in hand waiting for #200 to show itself? I somehow doubt that a Surf Scoter or a Lesser Black-backed Gull will end up near downtown St. Catharines over the next few weeks or ever for that matter. Looks like a short drive to the Lake Ontario shoreline and the Niagara River are needed and the beer will have to stay in the fridge.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Evening of Niagara Birds

Hey Western New York birders! If you love birding in the Niagara Region as much as I do, then you may want to attend an upcoming program at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.

John Black, co-editor of Niagara Birds will be at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York on Tuesday November 16 at 7:00PM. The special program requires no admission and is open to the public. Copies of Niagara Birds will be available for purchase the night of the talk.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beak Abnormalities On The Rise

My cousin shared this CBC article with me earlier today.

The increase in avian keratin disorder amongst wild birds in Alaska and the Northwest is concerning. Hopefully, they can determine the cause sooner than later.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Thankful Count Part II

October 10

During the Sunday of the Thanksgiving Day weekend, Jean and I participated in the Fall BOS count. Earlier in the morning, we birded as a group with a few fellow Niagara birders and successfully ticked Swamp Sparrow for the year list. We went our separate ways after birding the Port Weller east pier and Jean and I stopped at Firemen's Park to commence the count in our assigned area. The park is located on the Niagara Escarpment and I have many memories of visiting it on family hikes when I was a kid. Though urbanization has occurred to the southeast, the park looks the same.

The rolling landscape, large pond and trails (including the Bruce Trail) are still there and provide a habitat for a variety of birds. Wait, did I say rolling hills and trails? This would be a great spot for some cyclo-cross racing.

Image courtesy of Zoom Leisure Bikes

As we started our walk through Firemen's Park, Jean spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the trees near the parking area. That would be it for wood warblers at this location. A large number of American Robins (40+) were seen throughout the park and while walking the forest trails north of the pond, we found another thrush species, 2 Hermit Thrushes. Wood Thrush remains off the year list and will most likely not be found this year.

Approaching an open area on the east side of the park, Jean observed movement in some Sumacs. It was a large Emberizid, a family that includes the towhees, sparrows, longspurs and Emberiza buntings. Upon observing the bird, Jean quietly called out, "Towhee!" "Towhee!". At first I could not get on the bird and I feared it would leave before I could tick it for the year list. This is a species we do not see too often and though it was heard during the Carden Alvar trip, we decided not to count the bird at that time. The Eastern Towhee jumped into view and I got some great looks at a male of the species, #198 for the Ontario year list, before it continued on its way through the brush. Woo hoo! New personal best for Jean and I. Other birds observed before we left the park included Carolina Wren, Northern Flicker and Eastern Phoebe.

The following Sunday, a day of cyclo-cross took place at Firemen's Park

Images courtesy of Zoom Leisure Bikes

Steve deBoer of Zoom Leisure Bikes set up the course.....

Images courtesy of Zoom Leisure Bikes

....and like the BOS FAll Count, it was a terrific day for some members of the St. Catharines CC.

Images courtesy of Zoom Leisure Bikes

Returning to the BOS Fall count, we travelled along the northern edge of our area and then on to the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.

We walked through the arboretum and observed many Dark-eyed Juncos and Cedar Waxwings.

Above the Falls, Jean and I explored the usual birding spots. Nothing unusual spotted and unfortunately, none that required the completion of a verification report. Hopefully this will be the year a Purple Sandpiper is found on the rocks during the OFO Niagara River Gull Watch.

A bit of excitement at the control gates. I was almost done counting the gulls (Ring-billed and Herring) standing on the break wall when a Niagara Parks Police officer used a siren to inform tourists and birder to move along and leave the no stopping zone. In the winter, some good birds can be found on the break wall as well as the river and it is best to park at Dufferin Islands and walk to the overlook. You'll still be thought of as a crazy birder but at least you will not be told to move along.

The feeders in the village of Chippawa (last stop on the OFO trip) were not too active. No Tufted Titmouse or Red-bellied Woodpeckers on this day.

The best bird spotted in the afternoon was from the family Vireonidae. We drove along the north side of the Welland River adding very little to the checklist. The road turns north into an industrial area and eventually leads to a field that is now zoned for residential development. We were only one block away from a major urban Niagara Falls road when Jean and I found a solitary (I could not resist) Blue-headed Vireo in the brush at the side of the road.

A good day of birding for the BOS Fall Count. We observed 45 species and added Swamp Sparrow and Eastern Towhee to the year list during the time we birded by car and on foot. Only 2 more species and we will have reached our goal of 200. There's still plenty of time and with an OFO trip planned and a couple of Christmas bird counts, 200+ is becoming more of a certainty with every day.

Many thanks to Rebecca and Steve deBoer of Zoom Leisure for allowing their images to appear on this post.