Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge:On Ducks and Creepers

A previous visit to the marina in Port Dalhousie revealed a few good birds that could be easily added to my Bird-A-Day challenge list during the work week. So the plan for the third week of the challenge was to stop at the Dalhousie Yacht Club, pick a species and go home. From Monday to Thursday I ticked American Coot, Canvasback, Common Goldeneye and American Black Duck. On the Friday, I was scheduled to close the building so no chance of adding another marina pick. I settled for a visitor at the backyard feeder, a Dark-eyed Junco. For the weekend, I had a target bird in mind. The bird was reported on ontbirds earlier in the week and observed at Dufferin Islands Nature Area in Niagara Falls. The bird was a Northern Pintail.

On the Saturday, Jean and I went to the Falls to observe the reported duck. As we approached the pond in the west end of the nature area, it appeared the Northern Pintail was not there. No open water and I suspected that the ducks sitting on the ice were most likely all Mallards.

To my surprise, the Northern Pintail flew across the road in front of our vehicle as we arrived at the parking area near the pond. The male pintail was not afraid of the people feeding the Mallards nor of us and we could approach it closely after it returned to its original location to feed with the Mallards by the frozen pond.

We turned our binoculars towards the birds on the wooded slope but the Northern Pintail wanted to be the center of attention.

I have never seen a duck, other than a Wood Duck, resting on such a narrow perch.

The many birds seen on the slope were also looking for handouts and at times were in your face. American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were on the ice as well as the slope. It seemed they were everywhere.
Mourning Dove

Black-capped Chickadee

Northern Cardinal

Downy Woodpecker

"Hey, where's that Northern Pintail?"

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Jean and I left Dufferin Islands and parked the car at the nearby Niagara Parks Greenhouse. We crossed the Niagara Parkway for another attempt of scanning for the nemesis bird on the Niagara River.

What a shocker. No Purple Sandpiper. In the large trees near the Engineerium though, Jean spotted a Brown Creeper and heard a second calling from a neighbouring tree.

Both the Northern Pintail and Brown Creeper were added to the year list and if I Jean had not observed the creeper, the somewhat tame pintail would have been added for the 22nd day of the Bird-A-Day challenge. I selected Brown Creeper because I planned on returning to Dufferin Islands the next day. The Northern Pintail would still be there, right?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Anna's Hummingbird Spotted in Newfoundland

Last week, an Anna's Hummingbird was seen at a hummingbird feeder in Brownsdale, Newfoundland and Labrador. My brother passed on this CBC News link of audio from an interview with birder and newspaper columnist Bruce MacTavish.

Anna's Hummingbird is normally found on the west coast from California to southern British Columbia. It's amazing that this species of hummingbird is visiting a feeder in Newfoundland at this time of year. Well worth the two hour drive to see the rare visitor and until now, I had never heard of the Duchess of Rivoli. I wonder if there's some Screech mixed in the feeder to help keep the bird warm?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge: A Week of Alternatives

During the week of January 10, it was back to ticking a bird species for my Bird-A-Day challenge after a full day's work. At times it was nerve wracking but I managed to survive the obstacles thrown at me during the work week.

On the Monday I planned to head to Lake Moodie on top of the Niagara Escarpment with hopes of making a selection from the waterfowl found on New Year's Day. Unfortunately, a road block occurred. I had to travel in the opposite direction on a work related errand. Rather than back track and lose valuable daylight as I travelled, I continued heading north towards Lake Ontario. Hopefully some waterfowl seen from the west pier during the duck count were chill'n in the Welland Canal below Lock One. No such luck but I scanned the distant birds as I looked down the canal towards the lake and waited until a Double-crested Cormorant popped out from the bank. The warm waters from the nearby sewage treatment plant attracts a number of cormorants that lack the intelligence to head south for the winter months.

No errands on Tuesday so I was able to stop at Lake Moodie. Went with the American Tree Sparrow that popped out of the brush after some pishing. I was hoping for Golden-crowned Kinglet. I returned to the man-made lake on Wednesday and ticked Common Merganser. On the Thursday, it looked as though the Mute Swan observed on Lake Moodie was the choice for the 13th but with less than 200 metres to reach my home the birding gods shined on me. A Cooper's Hawk, carrying prey, flew over the car and headed for the trees near my home. I was able to get additional views of the accipiter from the driveway.

The work week ended with celebrating my mom's birthday so a Mourning Dove spotted on the way home before heading out for dinner was the best of choice of the limited options.

On the Saturday, Jean and I birded at two spots along 12 Mile Creek. At the marina in Port Dalhousie there were a number of waterfowl to chose from. The usual hybrids were present as well. The hybrid Mallard we nicknamed "Blondie" has been a fixture for 2-3 years.

"Sylvester", another unusual hybrid, is new to the Dalhousie Yacht Club.

It appeared Canvasback was to be the tick for the 15th or possibly, American Coot.

But before writing the chosen species in my little notebook, we headed upstream from Martindale Pond and Port Dalhousie to the Merritt Trail.

From the trail we observed the feeders in the adjacent yards of the condo community that overlooks the valley of 12 Mile Creek.

Downy Woodpecker and Mourning Dove are on the list.

Two more choices for the day though. Hairy Woodpecker and Pine Siskin. It was time to decide. Waterfowl are always at Port Dalhousie so I went with Pine Siskin. There were no guarantees I would have another observation of this small finch species.

The third week of my challenge did not start well. Birding from the yard lacked the variety needed and I had to settle for American Crow. Another work week was here and I planned on stopping at the marina the next few days. Those ducks had better be there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Duck Count: The Lower Niagara

January 9

It was our third year of assisting John Black with the annual duck count in the Niagara Region. For our first count, we covered the Lake Ontario shoreline from Fifty Point Conservation Area to Vineland. Last year, we stopped at a number of locations between Vineland and the Port Weller west pier. This year we would cover an area that is not on the official MNR list, the lower Niagara River. Kayo's group was counting waterfowl from the east side of Port Weller to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL).

Before going to NOTL; Dan, Paula, Jean and I accompanied John and the Vineland crew at the west pier. John's presence was necessary for the granted access to the west pier in Port Weller. En route to the Welland Canal, three cars containing birders turned around to get a better look at a bird perched on top of a brush pile. It was a Northern Shrike! Only the second observation of this species for Jean and I. Was this to be another count where the best bird was seen at the beginning of our day?

Only a few winter resistant Double-crested Cormorants perched in branches above the canal as we drove along the west pier. Many more can be found in the spring and summer.

Over 100 American Robins were feeding on berries.

I beared the cold long enough to tick White-winged Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser for my lists.

On the way to NOTL we stopped at the Niagara Lake Shore Cemetery, a spot we covered during the Niagara Falls CBC. In the field south of the cemetery we found a flock of approximately 200 Snow Buntings. It was an amazing sight, watching the flock feed and take off in one large mass then return to the ground seconds later. Quite the sound too.

Our group started moving up river upon reaching NOTL and at the marina we ran into Kayo's group and a Glaucous Gull. We scanned the river for waterfowl from Nelson Park, a spot from which Jean and I counted Bonaparte's and Little Gulls flying towards Lake Ontario during the Spring BOS count.

We stopped at a few sites along the Niagara River, observing a few hundred Long-tailed Ducks before reaching the small village of Queenston. Several Mute Swans and a few Bufflehead were observed as well. Interesting observations that were not of the duck variety included Belted Kingfisher and a total of 17 Great Blue Herons, all seen in one location on the riverbank.

At the Queenston boat launch, more Long-tailed Ducks, the usual gulls and a visiting birder from the D.C. area.

Continuing south along the river, we climbed the Niagara Escarpment. We no longer had access to the river. It's a sheer 60+ metre drop to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge.

Quick stops at Adam Beck and the Whirpool. This was a duck count so only a few minutes could be spent looking for gulls. Jean and I added Iceland Gull to the year list at Adam Beck. A couple of Greater Scaup were snuggled close to the U.S. side of the river at the Whirlpool but due to the large amount of ice, the Bonaparte's and one or two hidden Little Gulls were absent. We checked out a few more spots at overlooks before reaching one of the world's most popular tourist attractions.

No ice bridge below the American Falls yet. In the open water between the Falls and the Rainbow Bridge, we found Mallards, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye and an American Wigeon. We spotted a Common Loon where the Maid of the Mist boats carry tourists and the occasional rock band during the warmer months.

Hey, is that a Peregrine Falcon down there?


Yes. Another tick for the year, winter and January lists.

After counting ducks below the Falls we went searching for Purple Sandpiper near the engineerium.

A few ducks above the Falls.

The possibility for spotting Purple Sandpiper sounded promising. John and Dan observed the shorebird on New Year's Day and Paula found it two days later. She remarked that the water level was lower on the day of her observation. A few days had past since it was last seen and the rocks were layered with ice.

Looking through our scopes it appeared there was something present behind one of the rocks. A partial head and beak was all that we could see. There was definitely a bird there. Both Jean and John observed movement while looking through the scopes. If in fact it was a Purple Sandpiper, there's no way it was conclusive enough to tick it as a lifer for Jean and I. We tried setting up the scope at different locations but the views did not improve. A second attempt by Jean and I after a late lunch was no better. We have stood at this spot many times (including OFO trips) and have had no luck. Everyone else seems to find it. The reports on ontbirds have become rather annoying. This species can be rightly tagged as a nemesis bird! Not by this definition (parents strongly cautioned) but still a nemesis.

A great day of birding! 18 species added to our year list and only 4 were waterfowl, White-winged Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck and Gadwall. Jean and I surpassed last year's total for species observed in the region during the month of January and we still have some time to add a few more. The best bird of the day? Well turns out that the first sighting was it and without any hesitation, Northern Shrike was selected for my Bird-A-Day challenge. It's back to some quick birding for the next few additions during another work week.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snowy Towhee

January 8

Ah, the weekend. No shortage of time to add birds to the year list or find that unique species for the Bird-A-Day challenge. During the shortened work week, I would leave work and zip over to a planned location for a quick find before the last of the afternoon daylight disappeared.

No hasty pick on the Saturday. At the feeders in St. Johns I could wait and wait, as the snow collected on my shoulders, for the Eastern Towhee to show up at the base of the feeder as it did on Christmas Day.

When we arrived at the property, the owner was filling the feeders with seed. He soon approached Jean and I and informed us the towhee had returned with the snow and that we could park at the bottom of the driveway.

From the car we could see the feeders and Jean spotted the male Eastern Towhee first but my view was obstructed by a birch tree. The bird left before I could adjust my position.

The snow started to fall heavily so we stepped out of our vehicle to observe the birds visiting the feeders and flitting in the trees.

Some good birds were seen. Both species of nuthatch, American Tree Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse and a Pine Siskin. When the Eastern Towhee returned, I was standing in a much better position. A great tick so early in the year.

Three species were added to the year list and I picked the Eastern Towhee for my Bird-A-Day challenge. The next day was the duck count. Maybe this time I would be able to choose a waterfowl species but a lifer Purple Sandpiper would certainly have me changing my mind once again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge 2011

In a post from early February 2010, I indicated that I would attempt my own Bird-A-Day challenge in 2011. Well 2011 is here and so far so good (birds to be added with every post). For the challenge, a new bird seen or heard is added to the list for that date. No repeats or skipping of days allowed.

From January 4-7, additions to the list were seen or heard while on the property of my employer or at a planned location after work. The Downy was heard from the parking lot as I walked into work Tuesday morning. The next two days involved stopping at the marina in Port Dalhousie. The Trumpeter Swan was interesting, it had a yellow tag on its left wing. I submitted the number to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and received a certificate of appreciation from the USGS and CWS for informing them of Trumpeter Swan C14. The male swan hatched in 2009 and was banded in Erin, Ontario. Thanks to Jean for spotting the swan and to Marcie for providing me with the link.

The Red-tailed Hawk was seen perched in a tree across the street from work. It was either the hawk or American Crow since I was closing that Friday and there would be no daylight at the end of my work day. I thought it best to save the crow for another observation when time did not allow for a quick stop at a park or body of water before heading home for the evening. Hopefully my weekends will allow for the addition of a unique species. I don't want to burn House Sparrow or European Starling this early in the game.

February 28-Greater Scaup
February 27-Northern Mockingbird
February 26-Red-breasted Nuthatch
February 25-Northern Harrier
February 24-Wild Turkey
February 23-Red-winged Blackbird
February 22-Hooded Merganser
February 21-Tundra Swan
February 20-Redhead
February 19-Red-bellied Woodpecker
February 18-Sharp-shinned Hawk
February 17-Canada Goose
February 16-House Sparrow
February 15-Rock Pigeon
February 14-Mallard
February 13-Great Black-backed Gull
February 12-Merlin
February 11-Horned Lark
February 10-Ring-necked Pheasant
February 9-Mute Swan
February 8-Black-capped Chickadee
February 7-Song Sparrow
February 6-Carolina Wren
February 5-Hairy Woodpecker
February 4-Blue Jay
February 3-Long-tailed Duck
February 2-European Starling
February 1-Ring-billed Gull
January 31-Red-breasted Merganser
January 30-Ring-necked Duck
January 29-Glaucous Gull
January 28-White-throated Sparrow
January 27-American Robin
January 26-Belted Kingfisher
January 25-Northern Cardinal
January 24-American Kestrel
January 23-Northern Pintail
January 22-Brown Creeper
January 21-Dark-eyed Junco
January 20-American Black Duck
January 19-Common Goldeneye
January 18-Canvasback
January 17-American Coot
January 16-American Crow
January 15-Pine Siskin
January 14-Mourning Dove
January 13-Cooper's Hawk
January 12-Common Merganser
January 11-American Tree Sparrow
January 10-Double-crested Cormorant
January 9-Northern Shrike
January 8-Eastern Towhee
January 7-Red-tailed Hawk
January 6-Bufflehead
January 5-Trumpeter Swan
January 4-Downy Woodpecker
January 3-Bald Eagle
January 2-Rough-legged Hawk
January 1-Common Redpoll

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Birding the Upper Niagara

January 3

The first Monday in January was a holiday for Jean and I so we spent the afternoon birding along the upper Niagara River. A variety of waterfowl are found along this corridor during the winter months and I needed only one for my Bird-A-Day challenge. This day, I was leaning towards Tundra Swan.

We stopped at the feeders in Chippawa before starting our Parkway drive. It's great to see that the house on the north side of the street has returned to filling their feeders.

If the ducks and swans were not found due to some odd or unlikely event, I could always use one of the feeder visitors for my January 3 observation. The usual suspects were seen, including Red-bellied Woodpecker and the ever-so-cute Tufted Titmouse. With the backups ticked, it was time to scan the Niagara River for waterfowl.

Travelling along the Niagara Parkway towards Fort Erie we found our first group of Tundra Swans (22) close to the river bank near Service Road #17.

A pair of Redheads were sticking close to the flock.

A few more Tundras at Baker's Creek as well a small float of Greater Scaup and a modest amount of Canvasback. The numbers of Canvasback increased to staggering amounts as we continued our journey up river. The horror! I don't think I'll attempt to count that massive float of Canvasback. There were hundreds upon hundreds of this species. Nearing Service Rd #7, Jean spotted a large raptor flying above the river. As I pulled into a parking area, the bird headed inland but we were able to observe the white tail feathers and white head of an adult Bald Eagle. Oh yeah, more swans seen here as well.

Looking for new waterfowl for the year, we found a few Common Goldeneye with 40 Tundra Swans.

A greater number of Tundra Swans can usually be found near Miller's Creek. There were a variety of waterfowl on the south side of the marina but Jean still managed to pick out a greatly outnumbered American Wigeon amongst the Canvasback, Mallard and Bufflehead.

Upon sighting the southern tip of Grand Island we turned around and headed back to the Falls. The birding day was almost over and I had a decision to make. Should I mark Tundra Swan as the next species for the Bird-A-Day challenge? That lone American Wigeon would be a good choice. The Tundra Swans will be on the river next weekend.

But there was no way I could pass on the Bald Eagle. Jean and I observed this species only 5 times last year so it could be weeks, possibly months before I see another eagle. Without further debate, Bald Eagle was selected for the third day of the challenge. I returned to work the next day and though the work week was shortened, the challenge of not to select House Sparrow or Starling too soon just got interesting.