Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bird-A-Day Challenge: It Was Fun While It Lasted

Yes, as you could guess from this post's title, my Bird-A-Day challenge is over. It actually lasted longer than I thought it would, coming to an end after two full months of ticking a different species each day.

To start the last full week of the challenge, I headed out on the afternoon of Family Day and checked out some areas in Thorold that could have open water. Although we had a couple of days with temperatures in the double digits, there was still plenty of ice covering Lake Moodie. In the open water on the far side of the lake, all I could see were Canada Geese and a pair of Common Mergansers.

I moved on to Lake Gibson. There are a few open sections and my favourite spot did not disappoint. As I scanned the waterfowl, dozens upon dozens of American Robins flew overhead.

In addition to the usual species, there were a number of Redhead and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks. Both species were ticked along the Niagara River on previous occasions. In fact, the Redhead was chosen the day before after a failed attempt to find wintering Tundra Swans. A recent WNY Buffalo bird report on ontbirds indicated that the Tundras are still on the river. I simply picked the wrong spot to look for them. But apparently, luck was on my side the holiday Monday. To the naked eye, it appeared there were more Mute Swans than the usual pair. A closer look through the scope revealed that the six additional swans (adults and 1 juvenile) were another Cygnus species, Tundra Swans.

I worked the rest of the week and searched for a bird at the end of each day. I attempted to find the Northern Harrier last seen on February 11 but the field and skies of west St. Catharines were empty and I continued my search on the Merritt Trail. From the trail, I spotted a Hooded Merganser on 12 Mile Creek and decided to save the House Finch viewed near the feeders with a Common Redpoll for a day later in the week. The next day, the redpoll was still hanging around the feeders but there was no sign of the species I was hoping to find. This day it was OK to miss the White-breasted Nuthatch and the House Finch. Before reaching the feeders I found 3 Red-winged Blackbirds perched in a tree. On February 24, I switched it up and increased my search area to find the Northern Harrier. I spotted 1 Rough-legged Hawk and 8 Red-tailed Hawks travelling along rural roads but no harrier. I made my way to Short Hills Provincial Park thinking I may get the kinglet Jean and I had viewed in a conifer earlier in the month. There were many White-tailed Deer in the corn fields but the birds were most likely deeper in the park. Further down the road was a private yard where Jean and I have observed Wild Turkey and I thought it was worth a try. I'm glad I did. In the back yard of the property, I saw 6 Wild Turkeys. I was given another day to search for the harrier. Try, try, and try again paid off. I've lost count how many times I drove along Fifth Avenue looking for the harrier but I survived another day when a male Northern Harrier flew across the road in front of me as I tried to identify another possible harrier in the distance. Whew! I survived another work week.

The weekend allowed for some short excursions. On Saturday February 26, Jean and I returned to Dufferin Islands. I was hoping for a Tufted Titmouse appearance or a backup nuthatch species. No titmouse in the nature area or at the Chippawa feeders.

At the west end of Dufferin Islands, the birds were overjoyed that we had seed.

Both the White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch were readily taking seed from our hands. As were the Black-capped Chickadees and a very apprehensive Downy Woodpecker. The bird stood on the concrete barrier, surveying Jean until it gained enough trust to hang from the side of her hand. The bird for this day, Red-breasted Nuthatch.

An odd looking hybrid took the place of the Northern Pintail seen amongst the Mallards on an earlier visit.

On Sunday, I thought a new spot that was not too far from St. Kitts might produce a waterfowl species I had yet to tick for the challenge.

Jean and I went to Vineland to look at the ducks on Lake Ontario, a stop for the MNR Duck Count. Waterfowl observed included White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and the species I was looking for, Greater Scaup.

A male Long-tailed Duck diving while a female Greater Scaup is content with taking it easy.

For the moment, the scaup was the bird of the day. Travelling home, I drove along the rural roads in the Town of Lincoln, up and then down the Niagara Escarpment, in search of Eastern Bluebirds. Jean and I have not observed this species of thrush since the Port Colborne CBC on January 2. That day, a Rough-legged Hawk made the list.

No bluebirds on the Sunday afternoon drive but at the edge of a field, a member of the family Mimidae stood at the top of a small tree. Northern Mockingbird replaced the Greater Scaup for the bird of the day.

On Monday February 28, I returned to Vineland after work. The Greater Scaups were still there. Aythya marila was the last species for the Bird-A-Day challenge. The next day I had an appointment in the early evening and I decided the best chance of continuing the challenge in March was to look for a Herring Gull below Lock One on the Welland Canal. I had cast the dice. On previous visits, I observed Herring, Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls but this day, all I could find were Ring-billed Gulls standing on the ice. East of the canal, Jones Beach was no different. The distant gulls appeared to be Ring-billed as well. After one last futile attempt, driving home along the empty Welland Canal (water and gulls), my Bird-A-Day challenge came to an end. Even if I had observed a Herring Gull, I could not see it lasting much longer. One or two more ticks but I'm certain I could not have taken the challenge into an eighth week.

With the Bird-A-Day challenge set aside until next year, I can now work on adding species to the 2011 Ontario list. Thankfully, there are some OFO trips and BOS counts coming up. February was slow for additions but that was due to a well birded January. Jean and I currently stand at 75 species, a number we did not reach until March 21 last year. In addition to the trips, the ontbirds report will be helpful, especially if the reported bird, one such as a Great Horned Owl, is in the Niagara Region.

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