Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Squeezerless Wine Festival

Say it ain't so! Ce n'est pas possible! The 2011 Liberty! Bicycles Off-Road Squeezer has been cancelled. Though I've heard rumblings of the Niagara Wine Festivals organizing the race (yet to be listed on the events calendar), it is certainly a sad day knowing that Kurt and the rest of the Squeezer organizing group are not involved. I have yet to get on a bike this season and any plans I had of riding in this truly memorable citizen race have been stomped on.

As demonstrated in this video, the past 16 years have been fantastic and like any fine Niagara wine, it just gets better with every passing year.

Up until last year (there was a conflict with a birding convention) , I had ridden in every Squeezer since 1999. No matter the conditions and the flats encountered, I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this fine event. Starting and finishing near Montebello Park fits so well with the final day of festivities held in the municipal park. With this change, the mountain bike race as we know it, will be corked. I, for one, hope that Liberty! Bicycles will return in the near future to re-establish, what was, a damn-good mountain bike event!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Perils of Nesting Killdeer x2

The four Killdeer eggs I've observed every morning since early June will soon hatch, so I thought Jean and I should return for one last chance of digiscoping the Killdeer while it sat motionless on the eggs.

Even with its back turned to us, the Killdeer kept a close eye on our movements.

The breeding pair watching over their clutch have demonstrated great care and dedication while incubating the eggs. Whether it was a hot and humid afternoon or a thundering down-pour of rain, the adult Killdeer have held their position over the eggs.

It was recently brought to my attention that there is a second Killdeer nest on the property. Another reason for returning with the spotting scope and digital camera on Tuesday evening.

It's a holiday weekend, so somewhere between a final survey for the Marsh Monitoring Program and visiting family, I'll be at work, running from one side of the property to the other, in order to determine which clutch hatches first.

Stay tuned. The next posting of The Perils of Nesting Killdeer, may contain baby Killdeer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

May Birding:After the Storm

Summer has arrived and firsts of the year have not been observed for over two weeks but it won't be long before I'm out looking for shorebirds, especially a lifer Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Until then, it seems a suitable time to reflect on the May ticks as I never did get around to posting last month.

On May 1, Jean and I searched for spring migrants at a St. Catharines 'hot spot'. It was mid-day and it soon became apparent that Malcomson Eco-Park was not spared from the recent storm that passed through the region. On Thursday April 28, very strong winds toppled down trees in our neighbourhood, some falling on power lines and leaving us without hydro for a couple of days. This pales in comparison to the extreme weather and tragic events that occurred in the southern United States.

At the eco-park, tall trees that once sustained migrating warblers in their boughs were now stretched across walking-trails in the park.

The tree that we spotted a male Cape May Warbler in last year was now reduced to logs.

If not for hearing a Gray Catbird (#111), we would not have had any firsts of the year.

We returned to the eco-park the following weekend and added a few more species to the year list. Earlier in the week, Chimney Swifts (#113) were observed flying above our backyard. The swifts are a daily sight during the summer and Jean and I plan on participating in the annual swift count this year.

A light rain was falling the morning of May 7. We spent a couple of hours walking through the park, at times using fallen tree trunks as bridges when searching for migratory birds. Despite the rain, we observed 36 species and added Baltimore Oriole, Green Heron, Blue-headed Vireo, House Wren, Nashville Warbler and Palm Warbler to the year list. Where were the other warbler species? At this time last year we ticked, Cape May, Black and White, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green.

The next day we birded on the west bank of 12 Mile Creek. The Merritt Trail has been productive in the past and it was possible that there would be some warblers spotted, may be even a waterthrush creeping in the brush. Only the ubiquitous Yellow Warbler (ticked earlier in the week) singing its sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet song was seen in a number of locations along the creek. Though we added Warbling Vireo and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher to the year list, it seemed that warbler species were not in St. Catharines.

Mid-may was only a week away and warbler migration would be at its peak. The ticks had been slow over the past week and I was eagerly looking for a change of pace. A change of scenery might help as well because the rain certainly was not helping.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Niagara Digiscoping: The Perils of Nesting Killdeer

At the start of my work week last week, the perils of nesting Killdeer near the employee parking area began and by Thursday June 9 there were 4 eggs resting in a small depression in the gravel.

There was no point lamenting the fact that I would be unable to attend the Darlington ptarmigan viewing on Sunday morning. So instead, I placed the scope in the car and after dropping Jean off at work, I went to observe the progress of the nesting pair of Killdeer and try a bit of digiscoping.

One of the Killdeers was sitting on the eggs when I arrived and did not raise a fuss as I walked by to enter the building. After checking on a few things I emerged from the building and the Killdeer left the nest as I started to setup the scope. The main reason I was there was to capture images of the bird sitting on the nest. Now I would have to wait as the Killdeer strolled the area near the eggs.

Eventually the Killdeer returned to the nest and resumed its position on top of the eggs.

Its mate was on sentry duty and remained alert while I stood in the parking area deciding on the best location from which to capture additional digiscoped images.

I was mindful of ethical birding practices and kept my disturbance of the birds to a minimum.

After capturing a sufficient amount of images, I left the Killdeer pair to enjoy the quiet of an empty parking area and loading dock.

Incubation will take 24-26 days so we should see the first of the young emerging at the end of the month and then the parental duties of both adults will increase greatly. Until then, check out these other images of birds from around the world that were recently posted for World Bird Wednesday 30 at The Pine River Review.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Long Line of Birders at Darlington

A Willow Ptarmigan, a possible lost migrant or an extreme overshoot from last year's irruption, was found at the Darlington Nuclear Station on Lake Ontario east of Toronto on Wednesday June 8. The ptarmigan, normally found in the Arctic Tundra, was observed again two days later at the same site.

On Friday June 10, an ontbirds e-mail sent by Jean Iron informed all subscribers that the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) would kindly allow birders to visit the site the morning of June 12. Instructions were given and all interested were asked to meet at the Darlington Nuclear Visitor Information Centre Sunday morning. Unfortunately for my wife and I, her work schedule was changed recently and prevented us to share a rare opportunity with our fellow Ontario birders. Yeah, it does suck!

On Sunday morning the OPG bussed 150 birders to the secure site and they were not disappointed. Details of the viewing can be found at Jean Iron's web site.

Video of the molting male was captured by Luc Fazio and posted on YouTube.

Many thanks to the staff at the OPG and Beacon Environmental for allowing this to take place. Events like this will continue to happen when they run this smoothly and hopefully the next one will occur on a day that both Jean and I are not working.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Perils of Nesting Killdeer

Killdeer will nest in a variety of open areas especially in gravel or on gravelled rooftops. During the breeding season I usually observe Killdeer peering down at me from the roof of my company's building but this year a pair selected a site at ground level. Arriving at work earlier this week, I noticed a Killdeer standing on the grass near the rear of the building and as I continued walking towards the door, the bird became alarmed and started its dee-dee-dee call. I am accustom to this species of shorebird frequenting the parking area and loading bay at this time of year and continued on my way to start another work week.

Later that day, a coworker informed me that the Killdeer laid two eggs in the gravel at the back of the building. Killdeer are known to nest in areas near human activity and this site is no exception. It's right near the warehouse entrance to the building. Not only do I and a few of my coworkers enter and exit the building here, couriers making daily deliveries also drive up the ramp that is adjacent to the narrow strip of gravel beside the building.

As of today, there are three eggs on the nest and until the eggs hatch and the young are ready to fly, I'll be greeted by the Killdeer's alarm call and injury-feigning display every morning during the work week. And so begins, the perils of nesting Killdeer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Marsh Monitoring Program

Back in February, I received an e-mail through ontbirds that was not the usual alert of a reportable bird in the province of Ontario. Bird Studies Canada was calling for volunteers to assist with the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program. The program was established in 1995 and provides long-term monitoring of marsh birds and amphibians in marshes throughout the Great Lakes Basin. So with little hesitation and a brief discussion with my birding partner (she always finds the lifers first so it's best to include Jean), I sent a reply to the Ontario Volunteer Coordinator.

After reviewing a map of available marsh monitoring routes, I indicated that Jean and I were interested in monitoring birds in a marsh we are quite familiar with. The marsh is in Richardson's Creek and we have walked along the trail located in Port Dalhousie many times. We've seen Fox Sparrow in early April, warblers in the spring, Caspian Terns flying overhead and herons during warm summer evenings. It seemed a perfect spot to monitor marsh birds because it's not too large and was easily accessible.

In early April, we received an e-mail containing information on our assigned route and we went to check out the area Jean and I would monitor 2-3 times between May 20 and July 5.

All we needed after that was our survey material and then the real planning would begin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Really Good Friday

Niagara Hawk Watch Open House

From March 1 to May 15, the Niagara Peninsula Hawk Watch monitors raptor migration from the top of a steel tower at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area in Grimsby, Ontario and though it is only minutes away from St. Catharines, Jean and I have never spent a day birding at the conservation area atop the Niagara Escarpment until this year's open house.

Visitors were not swayed by the overcast and cool temperatures on Good Friday. Many cars lined the roadway near the entrance to Beamer so I drove to the end of the road and parked near the Bruce Trail. The trail led us to the wide open space on land managed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Although only mid-morning, the event was already busy with families and birders browsing the displays of various conservation and nature groups while counters had their binoculars fixed skyward.

We wandered around, talking to the birders we knew, including John Black and Kayo Roy. They still had a few signed copies of their book Niagara Birds available for sale.

We did look up to the skies occasionally while we were there. It was the Hawk Watch after all. I was looking to add Broad-winged Hawk to the year list and Red-shouldered Hawk to the life list. During the first hour, Jean and I observed migrating Turkey Vulture, Cooper's, Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks. Daily reports from the hawk watch are sent on ontbirds and the previous couple of days did not promise a positive result for Broad-winged Hawk. Only two of the small Buteos were observed. All we needed was just one to fly over. The one we viewed during the Mountsberg Raptor Centre demonstration would not suffice as a tick. This species of hawk is surprisingly small when not in flight.

The centre also brought a Merlin for their raptor talk.

Though we would see no migrating Merlins, a few Broad-winged Hawks eventually soared overhead. Now all we needed was a Red-shouldered Hawk to fly by.

There were some feeders along the forest edge that attracted a few passerine species and Kayo informed us that a Fox Sparrow was seen at the feeders earlier in the morning. Jean and I needed this species for the year list and after a few minutes of patiently waiting we observed the migrating sparrow before the much larger Blue Jays frightened it away. I prefer to tick Fox Sparrow in the Spring as it passes through the Niagara Region for another breeding season in the far north. If missed, then we would have to wait until Fall as it returns to winter in the southeastern United States.

After a quick lunch break at our car, we found both species of kinglets along the trail. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet seemed to be annoyed with something. Its ruby crown appeared to be set to permanent display.

We returned to continue our watch for a lifer Red-shouldered Hawk. The Canadian Raptor Conservancy was holding a demonstration and we joined the circle of onlookers as a Swainson's Hawk was returned to its carrier. The next raptor brought out was Rocco, a Bald Eagle.

The conservancy left the best to last. Two owlets. The Barn Owl is listed as an endangered species in Canada and it's great to know that we have programs in place to help remove species from this list.

Once again we gazed skyward and observed a dramatic change from the last two days. Kettle after kettle of Broad-winged Hawks were flying above the Niagara Escarpment. It seemed endless and I counted over 300 for my eBird checklist. At the end of the day (7 hours of observation), the observers standing on the tower counted a total of 1749 Broad-winged Hawks. As I looked at another group of Broad-winged Hawks, OFO trip leader Dave Milsom called out a Red-shouldered Hawk. Both Jean and I were able to get on this lifer bird mixed in with the Broad-winged Hawks. Before leaving, we observed a second Red-shouldered Hawk and added Purple Martin to the year list. Only 2 Red-shouldered Hawks were observed on Good Friday and overall, a total of 581 were counted between March 1 and May 15. For this year's count, the majority of the Red-shouldered Hawks were observed in March, so for next year, I'll plan on multiple visits to Beamer Memorial Consevation Area to ensure the addition of Red-shouldered Hawk to the 2012 list. Who knows, maybe I'll assist with the count on one of the days.

For Jean and I, Good Friday turned out to be better than good. The raptors I sought were ticked and the added bonus of two unexpected firsts of the year kept me ahead of last year's year list by a week or two. While at the hawk watch, I picked up one of Dave Milsom's Flora & Fauna Field Tours calendar for 2011-2012. There are a few trips that catch my eye and even if we don't book one next year, there is always the year after that. We have too many birding friends that have gone on trips here and there and have seen this species and that species. Hopefully, we'll get to share our trip ticks and for once, we'll be the envy of the birding clique. Link