Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Birding Magic of Giant Water Bugs

It was a usual morning on Friday. Drive to Jean's work for 7:00 AM, then walk 10 minutes to my work and read until my 8:00 AM start. The stretch between our buildings is all pavement and box stores and I was somewhat surprised to find a Giant Water Bug in the parking area of a grocery store. This species of insect is frequently found under street lights and the large parking lot has quite a few light standards. Luckily for the bug, I found it before the tires of a car did.

I carried the bug on top of my book as I continued the short walk to work. Though the large legs can propel the insect through water, they are practically useless on dry land. It was too exhausted to fly, so it was not going anywhere. Once at work, I placed the bug in a suitable container for the day. All morning it lied motionless at the surface, but by the afternoon it began to move around and was ready for release back into its natural environment when Jean picked me up at the end of my work day. We took it to a nearby pond, the same pond Jean returned another Giant Water Bug in April of this year.

We bird this spot throughout the year and it seems that returning Giant Water Bugs to the pond adjacent to 12 Mile Creek brings some good ticks. In April, FOY Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrush were found.

This summer evening, we spotted an Osprey flying overhead and directly across from the spot I released the aquatic insect, stood a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

We soon observed a second Osprey as the first called out to it. Jean and I watched the raptors soar overhead and disappear from our view as they headed north towards Martindale Pond and Lake Ontario. A Northern Flicker on the opposite side of the creek finished the evening's observations. What will the magic of the next Lethocerus americanus reveal?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Big Nickel Birding:Travelling North

July 17

It was only mid-morning and the temperature was already at the daytime high when we left St. Catharines for Sudbury. I was looking forward to getting away from the humidity for a few days but after only 30 minutes of driving, we stopped for a brief moment in Hamilton. It was a planned stop. An American White Pelican had been observed in a few locations in Hamilton Harbour over the last few weeks and though it had not appeared on a recent post, a quick stop to look for the pelican from the parking area of the Canada Centre for Inland Waters seemed worthwhile.

I thought our best chance would be the three small rocky islands north of the centre. In August of 2008, Jean and I observed an American White Pelican (it could be the very same one seen this summer) near one of the islands. In October of the previous year, we observed our first Ontario American White Pelican at Cootes Paradise (the west end of the bay) while walking along a Royal Botanical Gardens trail known as "The Willows" to birders in the Hamilton area. This year we would not be as lucky. Only gulls, terns and cormorants on the islands. The pelican may have been relaxing in the Dundas Marsh but that chase would have to be put aside for another day.

We continued on through the regions of Halton and Peel and I thought of some of our memorable ticks as we passed the locations of the observations. In May of 2009, Jean and I travelled to Brittania Road to tick a lifer Ruff. At this time, only 13 species are required to reach my goal of 100 for Halton County. It seems I've caught the fever to observe 100 species in each county. Further east along the 407 is the region of Peel where we had observed another lost bird in November of 2009. It was a Phainopepla. Yes, a very lost bird and only the second record for Ontario. In addition to the silky flycatcher, Jean and I have also seen a Western Grebe and Harlequin Duck in Peel County. Only 16 species on a total of two checklists, so a great deal of birding is still required in Peel County.

Once we passed through Simcoe and Muskoka Counties, Jean and I were in new territory. Our first county was Parry Sound but sightings were limited to those seen from Highway 69. We observed only 5 species while in this region of Ontario, the best being a Broad-winged Hawk perched on utility pole near Byng Inlet.

The next county came as a surprise to me once it was entered on eBird Canada. We stopped at French River Provincial Park and when looking at my road map, yes I said road map, it appeared I was still in the region of Parry Sound. According to eBird Canada and maps found online, this area of French River P.P. is within the boundaries of Manitoulin County.

The provincial park follows the routes of voyageurs from Lake Nipissing to Lake Huron and we spent a 30 minute break in a small section of the park adjacent to Highway 69. We observed a few species, including Chestnut-sided Warbler and Warbling Vireo but nothing new was found.

Returning to our car, we heard a loud call that could only be from a member of the Picidae Family. Based on the woodpecker calls we have heard, I quickly eliminated all but the Pileated Woodpecker. This was a species we have observed only once. Though lifers are exciting, it was a distant view through the scope while on a birding-walk through the Hendrie Valley during the 2008 OFO Convention in Hamilton. I wanted to get a good look at this Pileated Woodpecker before committing to the tick. There were some dead trees with large holes near the parking area that suggest the woodpecker could be found at this spot. The bird disappeared deeper into the woods so we planned a return visit later in the week.

Once across the French River, we entered Sudbury County and upon reaching the city limits of Sudbury, we were in the region of Greater Sudbury. The county where the majority of our vacation ticks would occur.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

May Birding: A Change of Scene

Species encountered in the region of Greater Sudbury will soon be revealed but first, I still have some May ticks to discuss.

May 14

Rain was forecasted once again for Saturday morning. After two weekends in a row of birding in the rain I was looking for a change of scenery and an area that did not have me walking too far from the car.

Jean and I decided to try the the southern end of the region. Our first stop, a lane in Fort Erie we birded for the first time while checking the hot spot routes for John and Kayo's book, Niagara Birds.

It was mid-May, surely we would get more migrants than we had earlier in the month. Of the 20+ species observed in the trees north and south of the lane, we added Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo and Rose-breasted Grosbeak to the year list. A surprise fly-by Osprey was a last minute addition before we headed east towards the Niagara River.

Our next stop was a Fort Erie municipal park and beach to find a woodpecker species that continues to elude us along 12-Mile Creek in St. Catharines. The tick proved to be just as easy as it did last year. The pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers were quickly found as they foraged for insects in the branches above the park. At the western edge of the park there is a narrow stream (it could also be described as a ditch) that flows into Lake Erie. Occasionally, it produces some good birds and on this overcast morning, we spotted White-crowned Sparrow for the year list.

In the corner of the park, I noticed some birders we knew from the counts we have done over the past few years. We then found ourselves birding the woods east of the park with Marcie (St. Kitts CBC compiler), Peter, Tim and Rick. Birds were zipping through the branches above during our search of the forested area that was once an amusement park many years ago. The only reminder of the park are the concrete steps and footings that can be found in several locations of the wooded area.

With a little help from our fellow Niagara birders, Jean and I ticked Scarlet Tanager, American Redstart, Tennessee Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Swainson's Thrush for the year list. Tim picked out the song of a Hooded Warbler as it moved quickly through the brush and fallen trees but it proved difficult to capture in the field of view of our binoculars. This was a possible lifer for Jean and I, so in order to tick it, we needed to see it. The bird appeared to be taunting us at it circled the area where we stood. We would change position as it moved, anticipating where it might stop next. The warbler remained out of sight for Jean and I so Marcie suggested a spot known to produce Hooded Warbler.

We followed Marcie and Peter to a road west of Crystal Beach. The road is another spot of many along the Lake Erie shoreline that can be found listed in Niagara Birds.

A Black-throated Blue and Green were heard and seen as we walked along the gravel road. In addition to the 2 warbler species, we added Great-Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo and Wood Thrush to the 2011 Ontario list.

We stood at the edge of the road listening for the song of a Hooded Warbler. Though the floor of the damp wooded area was entirely covered with Skunk Cabbage, we could still see a fair distance into the woods. Our chances of spotting a lifer had increased slightly.

As we did at the last location, we had no problem hearing the song of Wilsonia citrina. Based on its appearance, you would think a bird with a bright yellow face and underparts would be easily observed. Not this day. Playback of this species' song could not coax it into the open.

Finally, there was a glimmer of hope. Peter spotted a male Hooded Warbler and began to describe its location. Jean was able to get on it as it stood on a Skunk Cabbage before it quickly moved on. A little too quickly. The four of us had spent a little more than an hour looking for this bird and I was the only one unable to view it. Marcie and Peter's effort to find my next lifer was appreciated. The Hooded Warbler is known to breed in this area of the region so there was still a chance if a subsequent attempt was made.

Ticking a lifer Hooded Warbler would have to wait until the following weekend. The next day, Jean and I would assist with the May Buffalo Ornithological Society Count. Of course rain was forecasted for the Sunday. A rainy weekend in Port Weller was becoming a very unlikeable trend.