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.
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."
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.