Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Own "Big Year" Review, Ticks Not Yet Posted

2011 is quickly coming to an end and year lists will soon reset to zero. Though Jean and I had some misses this year, 2011 turned out to be better than I anticipated. Currently the list stands at 216 species, 8 more than last year's personal best. No where near Barb Charlton's amazing run of 322 species, but beating a personal best is always sweet. Ticking 300+ species in one year for the provincial list will have to wait until time is more readily available (retirement).

Speaking of time. I never did get the chance to post the late summer and fall ticks. Not sure what happened. There were some really good birds during these weeks. A few required some work (hiking along a trail and climbing over fallen Willows for example) and some simply fell into my lap. Whatever the case, there was never an outing that I did not enjoy.

Looking for Orchard Oriole:

July 30

Over 30 species were observed while walking along the Dofasco Trail 2000 in Stoney Creek and only one of them was added to the year list. We were looking for Orchard Oriole and like last year, there was no sign of North America's smallest oriole. As a consolation, we spotted our first of the year Field Sparrow (#184). I should change my plans for next year. Jean and I will go looking for Field Sparrow and we'll end up finding Orchard Oriole.

August 1

It's been over two years since we last observed Orchard Oriole, even longer when specifically looking over my Glenridge Naturalization Site list. In May of 2007, Jean and I watched a female Orchard Oriole weave a nest while we were birding in the former quarry/municipal dump.

We walked 2.0 km of trails and ticked 25 species.

Still no Orchard Oriole. It's another year without this bird.

 August 7: OFO Rock Point Trip

Thankfully, it was an overcast day. Birding at Rock Point and the surrounding area can be uncomfortable when the sun is blazing down on Haldimand County. I was looking for shorebirds and Rock Point Provincial Park in August is worth your time and energy.

The group spent an hour exploring the shoreline of the park. Jean and I added Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs to the year list. Oddly, we found no Ruddy Turnstone. We've observed this species the last 4 years when birding at Rock Point. Can I really afford to miss this one in 2011?

At the evaporation ponds north of the park, 4 more ticks for the year list. Additional shorebirds added included, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Greater Yellowlegs. In the waterfowl category, we observed a Green-winged Teal. The list stood at 194 species and we had yet to scan the sod farms for Black-bellied Plover.

John Black and Dan Salisbury (trip leaders) scouted the sod farms the previous day and found nothing. The day of the trip produced the same result. No Black-bellied Plover. Two shorebirds missed.

Cottage Bound

In mid-August, Jean and I headed up to the cottage my brother-in-law was renting for a week of relaxing on the sands of Inverhuron.

Repeating last year's route, we stopped off at the Luther Marsh in Dufferin County before continuing on to the cottage. In 2010, we purposely stopped at the marsh with the intent to tick a lifer bird. Thanks to the appearance of a lost Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, the Luther Marsh is now a planned stop when travelling to the Kincardine and Inverhuron area.

One day was set aside to act as birding guides for friends and family (as per the kids' request). We hiked the Tower Trail in MacGregor Point Provincial Park and found a good selection for the aspiring birders (we can only hope).

What really caught our undivided attention (at least Jean and I) was the announcement of a future bird blind. As stated in the sign, we should be able to access a bird blind when visiting next year. Do I sense a Pileated Woodpecker tick?

There were no avian additions to the year list in Bruce County, but Jean did some good spotting on the Tower Trail when she found this Spring Peeper. The kids enjoyed seeing this amphibian up close and snapped a few pics themselves.

Heading home last year, we drove through the town of Mitchell and unknowingly let two lifers (possibly three) slip through our fingers. Godwits! This year, I was not about to let that happen again. So, we stopped in the small town that is the "Home of Howie Morenz" to see exactly what all the fuss is about these former sewage lagoons.

Tell a non-birder you visited a sewage lagoon while on vacation and they look at you as if it was a total waste of a good vacation. Tell a birder and they'll ask you, "what you get?".

Waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and gulls abound.

Including 3 Black-bellied Plover (#195), a shorebird species missed at the sod farms in Dunnville. The lagoons were a worthwhile stop on a late summer afternoon.

In late August, we stopped by another former sewage lagoon, The Wetland Ridge Trail in Niagara-on-the-Lake, after a family picnic. We were there to look or should I say hear our annual Common Nighthawk tick. I could still see my hand in front of my face, but there was not enough light to see any of the 8 Common Nighthawks that were hidden in the trees.

September 5

No luck finding Ruddy Turnstone when revisiting Rock Point for my father-in-law's birthday in early September. There were no tricks involved. He really wanted to go there!

September 17 & 18: OFO Annual Convention

The annual OFO convention is held every other year at Point Pelee. Jean and I have still to visit the national park during the height of spring migration and until then, we'll continue with the biannual autumn sojourn. Being a birder that cannot take a week's vacation in May really does smart.

On Saturday morning, we hiked along the Tip. There was a moment of excitement when I heard someone call out Olive-sided Flycatcher. Jean and I have not seen this bird for over three years. It turned out to be a pewee.

After birding the Tip, the North-West Beach, and Sanctuary Pond, Northern Parula was the only FOY tick.

We travelled along Old #3 early Sunday morning for a day of birding in Chatham-Kent with trip leader Blake Mann. At Rondeau Provincial Park, every effort was made to find a warbler not seen this year. You had to be in the right spot at the right time. Prairie Warbler (a lifer tick) and Blackburnian Warbler were missed.

In Blenheim, we had a great afternoon of birding at the sewage lagoons.

Added to the 2011 Ontario list, Red-necked Phalarope.

....walking toward the sprinkler cell (our backs to the lagoon containing the phalarope) Blake turned around to see a large flock of Bonaparte's and quickly called out Little Gull. The moment Jean and I turned around, we were both on the Little Gull at the same time. #199 for the year.

A good selection of shorebirds in the shallows of the sprinkler cell, including a somewhat shy Stilt Sandpiper.

I always enjoy the convention and we're looking forward to next year's at Presqu'ile Provincial Park. An area of Ontario we have never birded.

October 8: OFO Hamilton Trip

Our last FOY ticks before the "Thanksgiving Purple Gallinule" occurred on the OFO trip in the Hamilton area.

The Windermere Basin has undergone a drastic change since the last visit.

The mounds of earth made observing shorebirds quite difficult. Luck was on our side and we ticked a FOY Dunlin. Needless to say, waterfowl were in short supply.

We hiked in the Dundas Marsh in search of a fall visitor. When we last observed this species (lifer tick), the Emberizid was known as Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. This time, the FOY tick is listed as a Nelson's Sparrow.

We continued our walk as far as we could along the creek and reached the mud flats of Cootes Paradise. Here we were treated to our lifer Hudsonian Godwit (#309 and #203 for 2011). Even after noting the size of  the shorebird in our field guide, it was still surprising to see that is smaller than the gulls it was keeping company with.

Overall, it was an exciting year. 2011 is practically over and done with. Our total for the year stands at 216 species, barring any last minute additions today. Although perhaps not a huge number with compared to some others out there, we achieved this total while working full time and staying mainly within Southern Ontario. Let the 2012 madness begin!

Happy New Year and Good Birding!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Big Nickel Birding:Recollecting

July 20

Our last evening in the region of Greater Sudbury was spent searching the marshland environments of Lily Creek Park and Robinson Lake. I had planned on birding the marsh across from Science North by using the boardwalk, but my brother let us know that it was closed until further notice. The boardwalk was built by Science North in 1991 and now that the lease has expired, they no longer wish to maintain it. Now it's up to the city to determine the fate of the boardwalk. 

Since we could not walk through the marsh, an alternative access was required. We approached the southern edge of the marsh from the sports fields of Lily Creek Park. After climbing over a large rock formation, Jean and I stood at the edge of the cattail-filled marsh. 

We observed a pair of Yellow Warblers and a little pishing roused a Marsh Wren (#41 for the county list). 

Nothing else was found at Lily Creek, so we revisited the Robinson Lake Trail and came up empty handed when trying to add to the county list.

July 21

Birding was set aside the next morning to spend time with my brother and his family before we headed back to the Niagara Region. Though I had my bins at the ready while sitting at Moonlight Beach on Ramsey Lake,  nothing special was seen.    

Before leaving, wild blueberries were purchased from a roadside vendor and a Northern Harrier spotted flying near Highway 69 was the last tick for the Sudbury list until our next visit.

While in Sudbury, only one species was added to the year list. The Blackburnian Warbler I sought could not be found nor was Pileated Woodpecker. We had one last attempt before committing ourselves to a long drive home. French River Provincial Park was our last try. Birding after that would have to be done from the car while travelling at 100 km/hr.

Both Jean and I had heard the call of a Pileated at the park earlier in the week, but I was reserving the tick until the bird was seen. After a quick check of the area around the parking lot and no success, we hiked a trail to Recollect Falls. The exposed rock and roots, and the closeness of a sheer drop reminded me of hikes along the Bruce Trail back home. 

While Turkey Vultures soared over the gorge, we quickly added Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler and Northern Flicker to the Manitoulin list. 

Further along the trail, Jean and I stopped when we heard a faint tapping to our right. What we saw next was a total surprise. I would have never guessed that the soft tapping was created by our quarry. There in open view was a male Pileated Woodpecker! This was only the second time we have observed this species. We chose to ignore the deer flies buzzing around our heads and stood our ground to watch the woodpecker as it tore into the tree to feed on any insects it uncovered. In the centre of image below, you can make out the red crest and the black and white of the Pileated's neck. The view through the binoculars was unobstructed and I continued observing the Pileated until it moved to another tree and could no longer be seen.

We still had approximately 1.5 kilometres to walk (with deer flies in constant pursuit) to reach the view of Recollect Falls.

Though it's more of a rapid than a waterfall..... would be wise to portage this section when canoeing along the French River.

Anything else upriver besides those Mallards?

With our Sudbury vacation over and Pileated Woodpecker securely ticked, it was time to start working on additional target species. A try for some birds closer to home, followed by shorebirds and then chased down with some Fall migrants would help lengthen the 2011 Ontario list. Some I expected would be easy, others required some work. Stay tuned for ticks 184 to 203. It was a well enjoyed venture.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Big Nickel Digiscoping

July 20

Jean and I were walking along the Trans Canada Trail in Sudbury and we were not having any luck locating a Pileated Woodpecker. Out on Kelly Lake however, a pair of Common Loons appeared and remained in the area long enough for Jean to capture some digiscoped images. 

Before starting our hike, we observed one of the loons from Southview Drive and I did not think we would encounter it again or even spot a second one for that matter.

We have never been this close to a loon. It was aware of our presence, but the loon showed little concern that we were watching it.

Check out that bill!

My favourite.

Being this close to a Common Loon soon had me forgetting what we were looking for and was well worth bringing our hike to a stop. I was determined Jean and I were going to find our target species though. We still had an evening of birding and the next day to find the whatchamacallit before returning to Niagara.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sun Dog Morning

December 18

Nature club members and birders from Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on any one day between December 14 and January 5. Volunteers count birds found within a circle with a diameter of 24 km (15 miles) and it has become an annual tradition for Jean and I. In the Niagara Region, we lend our assistance to 3 Christmas Bird Counts.

The first is the St. Catharines CBC. This year it was held on Sunday December 18. Our group was slightly larger this year and we required two vehicles to cover the rural roads of West Lincoln. John (section coordinator) and Katherine accompanied Dan in his car while Jean and I joined Denys in his van. Birds were spotted as we drove along and at the prime spots, we would exit the vehicles and walk for short distances to  pick off birds in the brush, in trees, and at feeders.

The morning temperatures were below freezing. There was little snow and we did have some sun during the first couple of hours of our count. Sufficient sun to create an atmospheric phenomenon known as a sun dog. John (a retired physics professor) directed our attention to the shiny light formed by ice crystals in high and cold cirrus clouds. From what I recall, I don't think I have ever noticed these bright spots in the past. So, shortly after starting the count at 8:00 am (no owl prowls for us), I had a lifer sun dog.

During the 6 hours of birding the group found a total of 34 species. The Northern Shrike was quite the sight, but even better for Jean and I, our group observed 2 Ring-necked Pheasant. A bird that Jean and I needed for the year list. I had spotted a male pheasant in west St. Catharines early in the year for my bird-a-day challenge, but the introduced species did not make the year list since Jean was not with me at the time. In addition to the pheasant, Jean spotted a chicken-like bird running along the lawn in front of us and then disappear into the tall grass. Jean described it as being similar to a Bobwhite and we waited for it to emerge from the brush. We soon discovered the wait was not needed. In a small rectangular fenced enclosure, we spotted 11 Chukars. The mystery bird was an escaped Chukar, another introduced species found in rocky terrain of the western United States. Though countable in Colorado, the free-range Chukar seen in West Lincoln, Ontario was not. I have no problem counting the pheasants for my list though. They could easily be wild birds that are attracted to the feed set out for the domesticated Chukars.

While the morning of our count was filled with a variety of birds, the afternoon was disappointing, a "bust" as described by John. Overall, the final tally currently stands at 75 species for the 2011 St. Kitts birding circle and House Wren was a new species for the count. Rather than chase after the wren once we finished work the next day, Jean and I chose to look for the Snowy Owl observed at the Jordan Harbour marina. In 2008, a Snowy Owl was recorded during the count and Jean and I successfully observed our lifer the following day.

 The light was fading fast when we arrived at the harbour and so had the Snowy Owl. There's still a possibility of seeing one before the end of the year. There have been many sightings in southern Ontario recently and when the Niagara Falls CBC occurs in less than a week, a stop at the Niagara District Airport before meeting John and the rest of the crew in Niagara-on-the-Lake just might get us #217 for the year.