Monday, February 28, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge:Time Management

A birding friend recently posted the comment, "wow-what did we all do with our time before we discovered birds?" An interesting look at life without birding can be found at a well known Carolinian birding blog. As for myself, even though I kept myself busy with cycling and hiking, I must have had a large amount of free time on my hands.

Now that I'm a twitcher, my time spent birding has increased with each passing year. No matter how filled my calendar is, it seems that I can find spare time when required for a birding related activity. This year, I took on the challenge of observing an avian species each day and I still managed to find time or more accurately, I arranged my time to allow for a daily tick.

After ticking a surprise Carolina Wren on Super Bowl Sunday, I started the sixth week of my challenge using whatever spare time I had available. On the first day of the work week, I surveyed the large drainage ditch adjacent to the parking lot at work. Tranquil calls of American Tree Sparrows were coming from the ditch and it was a possibility that another species could be there. A bit of pishing produced a Song Sparrow.

On Tuesday morning, I heard the calls of Black-capped Chickadees while I stood in my back yard. The next day, I went to Port Dalhousie after work. Once again I avoided ticking Mallard and Canada Goose. This was the 40th day of my challenge and I finally added Mute Swan to the list. My selections at the marina are dwindling. It's looking like a ubiquitous species will be ticked during the next visit.

Prior to starting work on February 10, I planned on searching the fields approximately one block west of where I spend 8 to 9 hours of my day. Perhaps the Northern Harrier would be out and about while I drove along 5th Avenue but before I could descend the slope to the area that was once the ancient Iroquois Sea, I spotted a species that totally caught me by surprise. Roosting in a tree, caught in the spotlight of the morning sun, was a male Ring-necked Pheasant. I don't observe this species often. Urban sprawl (box stores) has pushed Ring-necked Pheasant out of west St. Catharines. Jean and I have only had three observations of pheasants and all have been in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Jean grew up approximately two kilometres north of the spot where I viewed the pheasant. She lived in a farm house with vineyards in the back yard, when the 406 extension to the QEW was still an idea and Ring-necked Pheasants were plentiful. Houses have replaced the vineyard and Jean's dad no longer owns the house. As the farmland disappeared, so did the Ring-necked Pheasant observations. This observation will only be on my Bird-A-Day list. Jean was not with me the morning of the 10th and since it is a species we rarely see, it will remain off the year list until we both see one.

Thankfully, the next bird for the Bird-A-Day challenge was observed by both Jean and I. While I stood in the parking lot at work waiting for Jean to pick me up, I watched a male Northern Harrier fly eastward until it disappeared from sight. That was an easy tick but let's see what else can be found once Jean and I start scanning the fields around 5th Avenue, followed by a quick search at the marina in Port Dalhousie. Turning on to First St, we spotted a large flock of birds in the field between Regional Rd 81 and 5th Avenue. There were at least 200 birds in this flock and we watched them move from one side of the road to the other. Some were feeding from the tall grasses sticking out of the snow while others preferred to feed from the ground. The flock contained more than one species! We were looking at Snow Buntings, American Tree Sparrows and Horned Larks. We did our best to spot a Lapland Longspur in the flock but none were found. The harrier seen earlier returned to its favourite hunting ground and buzzed the flock but did not take any prey. This was the first observation of Horned Larks this year so it seemed worthy for the Bird-A-Day list. Besides, Snow Buntings and American Tree Sparrows were already on the list. The Northern Harrier? Save it for tomorrow.

On the Saturday, Jean and I hiked on the Merritt Trail. The weekend before produced a Carolina Wren for the challenge and this day was just as fruitful. There were a few species to choose from, including Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and House Finch but Jean's sharp eyes assisted me yet again. She spotted a Merlin perched at the top of a dead tree in the valley of 12 Mile Creek. Another addition for the year list and great bird for the Bird-A-Day challenge.

Sunday involved searching for a reported bird. Usually it's the ontbirds report that has us chasing the reportable bird but this time we received information via the family tree.

Jean's uncle had seen a bird we have only observed once and it was in a park we visit often during the month of May. Uncle Gordie had seen the bird while jogging along the wooded trails in the park. Though Jean's mum was not informed of the exact location, she knew this would be a big deal to Jean and I and passed on the luke warm tip over the telephone. So the next day, we went searching for a Pileated Woodpecker in Malcomson Park.

There are many trees in the eco-park that have been poked and prodded by woodpeckers and we monitored every excavation hole we found while hiking the trails.

Jean and I searched from one end of the park to the other but all we could find were Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The red-crested member of the family Picidae seen by Gord was not cooperating.

Leaving the park, I turned my attention to the gulls and waterfowl in the Welland Canal. There were a few Glaucous Gulls but that species was already on the list. Long-tailed Duck, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser and White-winged Scoter were also on the list. The selection is starting to get difficult but a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls floating in the canal allowed me to set aside Herring Gull, House Finch and White-breasted Nuthatch for another day.

The seventh week, I would not be as lucky.

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