Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Successful Evening

April 12

In her duties as an agent with the local SPCA, Jean has witnessed a variety of animals brought into the shelter and when it's a bird, she is asked to put her identification skills to work. Once the bird is identified, given a health assessment and recorded for the Migratory Bird Act, it is released back to the environment.

At times, Jean also identifies invertebrates and on Monday April 11, a large insect found in the parking lot of a shopping mall was brought to the shelter by a member of the public. It was a Giant Water Bug. Jean determined that the bug was not injured and set it free into the still water of a nearby pond. When returning to her vehicle, Jean noticed some birds flitting in the trees. One of them was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a species we did not find during the BOS count the day before. Jean and I returned to the area the next evening and began our search for the kinglet along the Merritt Trail. We visit this section of the trail often but normally start at the Martindale Road entrance, especially during the winter months.

As we started our walk, we heard a Carolina Wren calling from the opposite side of 12 Mile Creek. We soon found kinglets of the Golden-crowned variety in a tangle of branches as we approached the pond.

Moments later, along with some chickadees, we found our FOY Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It was brief but it still counts. A robin-sized bird running through the brush also caught our attention. It was moving quickly and not standing in one spot for very long. Eventually, Jean and I had enough views to confirm we observed a Hermit Thrush, another first for 2011.

At the pond, we found an Eastern Phoebe and an animal that did not seem to be bothered by our presence.

A beaver was dining on some branches, less than 10 metres from the trail. This rodent species has returned to St. Catharines and is doing very well along the banks of 12 Mile Creek. Jean and I have observed Castor, many times while birding in this area of the city.

With Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrush safely added to the year list, it was time to turn our attention to a few Boreal species. Jean and I were set for the annual OFO trip in Algonquin Provincial Park and though we have never seen a beaver in the park, including hikes on the Beaver Pond Trail, we should have no problem ticking Spruce Grouse, a species successfully found on the trip for over 20 years. All we had to do was show up. It's as easy as that. Or is it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On Our Own: 2011 BOS Spring Count Part II

After a morning of good birding along the piers in Port Weller (St. Catharines), it was time for our group to separate and cover their assigned areas. The first stop for Jean and I was at Firemen's Park in the north end of Niagara Falls.

Thunder, lightning and rain shortened our time spent in the park but we were able to view 2 Tufted Titmouse near the parking area. It seems we always get the best birds at this spot while hiking in the park. If not for this tick, we would not have seen this species. They were absent at the famed feeders in Chippawa later in the day.

We covered a few roads in the northern section of our area, spotting 2 Wild Turkeys, and moved on to our next stop, the Niagara Parks Horticultural Gardens. I was looking for a repeat of last year's Spring list but we could not find any early arriving Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the tall conifers. We added Chipping Sparrow to the year list while searching the arboretum.

House Sparrows were plentiful in the ivy on the Niagara Parks' buildings.

Spring flowers were blooming. No more snow, right?


We continued south along the Niagara Parkway, counting any species observed as we passed the tourists lining the sidewalk near the Falls. John and Dan were covering Dufferin Islands so all Jean and I had to do was count the Black-crowned Night-Herons (FOY) roosting in trees on the small islands above the Horseshoe Falls.

Not an easy task when the herons are in close proximity to one another but we counted a total of 125 with the aid of our scope.

In Chippawa, we ran into Marcie (St. Catharines CBC compiler) and exchanged sightings of the day before scanning the bridge for Barn Swallows. None were found. Hopefully they have yet to arrive. If it's the design of the recently replaced bridge, then we will most likely not find Cliff Swallows during the BOS May count.

Mostly blackbirds and House Sparrows at the feeders and a few Song Sparrows were heard along the roads north and south of the Welland River.

The count ended with us adding birds viewed to our right (to the left was not our area) as we zipped back to St. Catharines on the QEW. In all, we observed 36 species and a total of 619 individuals after 5 hours of birding. 2 more firsts of the year for the day and still ahead of last year's pace. Now all we have to do is find a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Birding With Your Piers: 2011 BOS Spring Count

April 10

Finally! The snow has gone, hopefully I have not jinxed it, and its time to start adding the Spring migrants to the year list. I can think of no better way to do this than by walking along the piers at the north end of the Welland Canal with a few of my fellow Niagara birders. Though it was our second year of assisting John Black with the Spring Buffalo Ornithological Society (BOS) count, this was the first time that Jean and I birded the west pier in April.

In all, 11 birders hiked along the treed piers on the west and east side of the canal before going to our assigned areas within John's section of the BOS count.

As we arrived at the Coast Guard station, Kayo quietly informed us that there was a Wild Turkey nearby. The bird became concerned with our presence and for a couple of minutes it forgot it could fly as it ran back and forth along the fence line looking for an opening. The turkey eventually remembered it had feathers and that it actually could fly. Once on the other side of the fence it quickly ran off into the brush. We would spot a second Wild Turkey while walking along the west pier.

Walking past the Coast Guard station, Jean and I started ticking our first of the years (FOY). Tree Swallows flew overhead and an Eastern Phoebe sitting on a branch was ready to start the day.

Our group split into two smaller groups as we walked towards the end of the pier. Kayo, Dan, Jean and I covered the western edge while the rest searched for Spring migrants along the canal side of the pier.

Yours truly, doing his best to hold a Purple Finch (FOY) for John. Thanks to Dan for picking it out.

By the time John found an opening to reach the west side of the pier where we found the bird, the Purple Finch flitted off to the opposite side of the pier. There's still plenty of time left in the year to spot one.

Scanning the species of waterfowl on Lake Ontario, Jean and I ticked a Red-necked Grebe for the year list.

At the end of the pier, more waterfowl, including a FOY Surf Scoter. Though it was distant and we had no scopes, we could still make out the colourful bill and the white patches on the forehead and nape of the male scoter. Other birds added to the year list while on the west pier included, Rusty Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler (first warbler of the year) and Caspian Tern.

On to the east pier (spit). This time we drove our vehicles to the end of the Seaway Haulage Road and stopped at the ponds along the way.

At the larger pond we found a good variety of waterfowl. FOY Lesser Scaup were observed with Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, Bufflehead, Nothern Shoveler, Gadwall (1), Hooded Merganser (1), Ruddy Duck (1), and Mallard.

Carol and Paula viewing waterfowl on the East Pier.

While stopped at the smaller pond, Jean and I ticked our FOY Brown-headed Cowbird.

We parked our cars at the end of the pier and walked eastward towards the beacon. Jean and I hike here a few times a year and in November 2009, we ticked a lifer Red-throated Loon (#287).

Many Red-breasted Meragnser were on the lake. We spotted a lone Barn Swallow (FOY) in a small flock of Tree Swallows and a Savannah Sparrow (FOY) jumping in and out of the grass near the path.

After completing our count on the piers and adding 12 species to the year list, we stopped at the Parmalat settling ponds before heading our separate ways. It was too early in the morning, not to mention too cold, for ice cream so birding was the only reason to explore the ponds on the property of the dairy. Once the weather warms, a double scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone will be enjoyed after finding some shorebirds. Though a few species were present there was nothing new for the year list.

That was some good birding on the piers. Jean and I had not even started our area and I was already thinking of May and the warblers we would find on the west pier. It's been a long winter and I cannot wait.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hits, Misses and an Annual Visitor

March 29

The ink of my Horned Grebe and Ruddy Duck ticks was still drying when I read an e-mail report sent by Kayo Roy. A White-winged Crossbill was observed in a Fonthill yard by the home owner. The only observation of this finch species for Jean and I occurred during the 2008 St. Catharines Christmas Bird Count. It was a female and not only was it a first for us, it was also a first for the CBC.

No time on Monday between work and the monthly PFN meeting. "PFN meeting?", you ask. Jean and I joined a local nature club late last year (details to follow in a future post) and at the March 28 meeting, the group was informed that the White-winged Crossbill was sighted that day. So on the following day, Jean picked me up after work and we headed to Fonthill. With little effort (I wish they were all this easy), Jean and I observed what we determined to be an immature male White-winged Crossbill feeding on berries as it sat at the top of a tree. #84 for the year and still slightly ahead of the pace.

April 2

To start the second quarter of birding this year, Jean and I were given a request. My mother-in-law had asked if we could find her some bluebirds, so on the first Saturday of April, Jean and I became tour guides. The pressure was on to spot an Eastern Bluebird and I planned a route that could possibly have us revered by my mother-in-law and her partner, though I think that may be the case already.

I commenced our hunt for bluebirds outside of the Niagara Region at a vineyard in Stoney Creek. The same vineyard Jean and I visited back in March. If we were able to spot the male Eastern Bluebird and the reported female Mountain Bluebird not only would we have done our job, we also would add the western species of bluebird to our provincial list.

The staff at Ridge Road Estate Winery have been very welcoming to visiting birders and we were once again allowed access to the vineyard behind the winery. All we could find while we stood outside was the Eastern Meadowlark we spotted during our March 24 visit. Our bluebird watch was taken indoors. While we tasted wine, we looked through large windows towards the vineyard. We left our first stop with a few bottles of great wine but without a bluebird tick.

No worries. The plan was to work eastward from Stoney Creek to St. Catharines and stop at areas where Jean and I have observed Eastern Bluebirds in the past. Slightly east of the winery, I drove down 10th Rd East. This stretch of rural road has produced some good finds and this day did not disappoint. Jean remarked that the scrub-filled land would be perfect for finding a shrike and like magic, I looked to my left as we were returning to the main road and spotted a bird I suspected to be the species Jean had just mentioned. I backed up our vehicle and all four of us had a few minutes of observing a Northern Shrike as it flew from tree to tree before it eventually disappeared in the distance. Not a bad start for the trip so far. Jean and I had found a lifer for our group.

We moved on and stopped at a few spots along the Niagara Escarpment but the nest boxes and fence posts were devoid of any Eastern Bluebird activity. I had one last spot that just might have positive results. Jean and I had observed a male Eastern Bluebird at a farm near Short Hills Provincial Park on March 29. On this sunny April day, I caught a glimpse of our quarry perched in a tree but before our apprentices could see it, Jean and I watched the bluebird disappear over the barn to never return. "Missed it by that much."

On Schedule

As the month of April approached, I would scan the trees near our yard for the return of our annual visitor. For the last three years, a member of the family Picidae stops and relaxes near downtown St. Catharines for a week or two before continuing on to its final destination. On the evening of April 3, I observed a woodpecker flying from tree to tree that did not resemble our resident Downy. The bird flew off before I could get my binoculars but its size and shape had me thinking he had returned. The next day it was confirmed. The male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had returned for the fourth year in a row. Here are a few digiscoped images that Jean and I captured later in the week.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Around the Bay

March 27

Only a few days had past since the attempt to tick Mountain Bluebird for my provincial list. With the lack of positive reports on ONTBIRDS, another try did not seem worthwhile. A report telling of the avian activity at La Salle Marina in Burlington caught my attention though. There were two species present that were not yet on the year list. So on Sunday, instead of exiting at Fifty Road to reach a winery where the only sky-blue observed was the sky itself, Jean and I continued along the QEW until we reached the marina on the north side of Burlington Bay in Halton Region. Travelling around the bay was left to those brave enough to run the 30 KM course on the sunny but freezing day.

At the beginning of the week, I listened to the local TV weatherman discuss the future forecast for the Around the Bay Road Race and then quickly forgot about the event until I approached the Burlington Skyway. "Northshore Boulevard closed?" "Oh yeah. The Around the Bay race." We had to cross the boulevard to reach the marina but it did not take that long for a gap to appear between the runners and we quickly crossed after getting the OK from a police officer.

I had not even stopped our vehicle when Jean called out the first of our two target species. "Horned Grebe straight ahead!" We were still in the car and Jean called out the second species. "...and Ruddy Duck over there."

Well, that was easy. What do we do now? There were a few Horned Grebes in the water near the boat launch and west of it, even more. The diving grebes proved very difficult to digiscope.

A male Ruddy Duck was more cooperative.

After viewing Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye and a couple of White-winged Scoter we scanned the always present gaggle, east of the marina.

We walked along the Waterfront Trail and observed a few more species before calling it a day. Ticking our target species, especially the grebe, helped keep us ahead of last year's pace. Horned Grebe was not observed in 2010.

Later that evening, I checked e-mails and read a report posted by our birding friend Kayo that caught my interest. No, it was not the Mountain Bluebird. This was for a finch species that we have only observed once and was another bird that remained off of last year's list. 210+ in 2011 is starting to look good.