Tuesday, September 27, 2011

May Birding: Long Weekend

The Victoria Day weekend, aka "The May Two-Four", was established as a legal holiday in Canada after the death of Queen Victoria. In my much younger years, I would watch the firework displays on a Sunday or Monday evening, but now that I'm a birder, I take the opportunity to add an extra day of birding to my weekend. There were still warblers to be found, including another attempt at the Hoodie. Can Hooded Warblers be called "Hoodies"?

Saturday May 21

Jean and returned to Malcomson Eco Park in St. Catharines. Something was odd though. It was sunny.
The precipitation encountered the last three weekends was nowhere to be seen.

Nashville and Yellow Warblers were observed, but still no Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Cape May or Canada (all species observed last year) for the 2011 list. We did get one treat though. A FOY Yellow-billed Cuckoo sat in a tree, very close to the trail. We've seen one in Ontario every year since we started birding and I would have to say this was the best observation of the bunch. It was very close and the view remained unobstructed as the cuckoo moved slowly from tree to tree.   

Sunday May 22

The sunny weather continued the next day and we went to Niagara Shores in Niagara-on-the-Lake for an easy tick. As expected, hundreds and hundreds of Bank Swallows were excavating nesting cavities along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

The fence line at the eastern edge of the conservation area is one of my favourite spots to look for migrants in the Spring. You may pick up the occasional tick or two (the eight-legged variety) while walking along this path but chances are good that flycatchers, vireos, thrushes and warblers will be found here or in the neighbouring property (formerly owned by the Department of Defence).

Warblers seen this day included, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow, Chestnut-sided and Wilson's. Blue-winged are not easily found but the absence of Blackburnian from our year list was starting to annoy me. Before leaving Niagara Shores we added Gray-cheeked Thrush to the year list. This was only our second observation of this thrush species and a first for our Niagara list.

Monday May 23

For the holiday Monday, Jean and I headed to the southern end of the peninsula for a second attempt at observing a lifer Hooded Warbler. It could be a firecracker day. There was the possibility of an additional lifer in Fonthill. A Greater White-fronted Goose was reported on ontbirds. It seemed slightly odd that this species would be at the St John's Conservation Area trout pond but I was not about to pass by the area without a quick look.

At first, all we could see were Canada Geese.

We walked along the path an spotted the reported goose standing near the edge of the pond.

Jean' suspicions were confirmed. It was a domestic Graylag. Though the goose had a slight white band at the base of its bill, it lacked the black belly markings found on the Greater White-fronted Goose.

A variety of birds can be found while hiking the trails in the conservation area but we returned to the parking lot after walking around the pond and heard a song Jean and I suspected was a Pine Warbler. The song was coming from a cluster of pines at the top of a slope, above the parking lot. What else could it be? It continued to sing but the warbler did not make an appearance. We've seen this species a few times, so hearing its song without seeing it was good enough for a tick.

Once at our destination, we walked along the gravel road to the spot where we had heard the Hooded Warbler the previous weekend. It did not take long for us to hear the song again and this time, we both got on the bird as it moved above the Skunk Cabbage. The lifer Hooded Warbler moved towards us and placed itself on a branch hanging over the road. Its yellow face, black hood and bib and yellow underparts were easily observed as it sang from its perch. An excellent view for a lifer tick! A female Hooded Warbler appeared and the pair moved on. 

After viewing the Hooded Warbler pair, we stopped at a couple of spots in Fort Erie and found nothing new for the year until we started our drive back along the Niagara Parkway.

7 Great Egrets (FOY) and 2 Great Blue Herons were hunting in Frenchman's Creek. Fish travelling upstream from the Niagara River did not stand a chance.

Overall, it was a great weekend of birding. The Hooded Warbler was the third lifer of the year and I expect them to occur less often, now that we are above 300. The days of adding 10 or more species at a time in southern Ontario are gone. Until Jean and I can plan a road trip out of the province, we'll continue to peck away at the lifers while birding in the Niagara Region and on OFO trips. Last year we picked up 5 lifers while on the OFO Carden Alvar trip. I was looking to repeat these species for this year's list on May 29. Adding a lifer or two would be an added bonus.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Big Nickel Birding: A Sudbury Sunday Night

July 17

It was our first evening in the region of Greater Sudbury, not quite as exciting as a Sudbury Saturday Night but it would do just fine. After dinner, my brother returned to work and he suggested Jean and I check out a neighbourhood trail for an evening stroll. The Robinson Lake Trail is an easy one kilometre of gravel path and boardwalk.

We accessed the trail from a municipal park and ticked Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch and Song Sparrow as we walked towards the boardwalk.

Common Yellowthroat were calling from all directions in the marsh and a family of Mallards had found a spot for the night in the stream that empties into Robinson Lake. Yes, I was ticking birds for a new county list. Mallards, Double-crested cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls were not overlooked. 

Walking through the stand of birch, I hoped to find a more worthy tick. No FOY warblers or a much sought after Pileated , but the Northern Flicker and Hairy Woodpeckers (2) were a nice accompaniment to the robins spotted in the small patch of wild in northern suburbia.  

After a couple of incidentals and some birding on a Sudbury Sunday Night, the county list stood at 13 species. Jean and I would have 3 full days available for Big Nickel Birding so adding birds to the list was not going to be a problem. Finding the target species was another matter. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

May Birding:2011 May BOS Count

So I find myself obtaining more tales but I'm slow to post them. After spending a few days at a cottage with family and friends, I now have some Lake Huron tales to share. For the time being, I'll continue with the month of May and my visit to Sudbury.

May 15

It was time for the May BOS count. The previous day, we added 17 species to the 2011 Ontario list and came close to ticking a lifer Hooded Warbler while birding spots along the Lake Erie shoreline. After a couple of slow weekends at Malcomson Park, it felt good to finally get out of our birding slump.

An overnight rain continued at the start of our count while birding the Port Weller West Pier with Kayo, Dan and Brian.

We spent almost two hours scanning the brush on the pier and observed a total of 36 species. Warblers added to the year list included, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Wilson's, Orange-crowned and Northern Waterthrush. Dan pointed out the songs of an Ovenbird and Lincoln's Sparrow. Two species needed for my life list. The warbler was hidden deep in the brush and we had a quick glimpse of the sparrow but it was nowhere near enough to observe its field markings. No lifer ticks if they're not seen.

Before leaving for our assigned area in Section 2 of the BOS count, Jean and I added Veery, Swamp Sparrow and Least Flycatcher to the year list. The weekend haul was looking good.

The rest of our count was a mixture of travelling along roads and walking through parks within the the city of Niagara Falls. We found a Spotted Sandpiper while driving along a rural road on the Niagara Escarpment and then moved on to Firemen's Park. The wind storm that occurred in late April uprooted a few trees on the Bruce Trail.

Even though a tree fell as we approached the wooded area of the park, we ventured onto the trail, determined to find additional FOY warblers.

Birds of interest found in the Niagara Falls park included, Baltimore Oriole, Hermit Thrush, Magnolia Warbler (the only warbler species found in the park during our hike), Eastern Bluebird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a first-of-the-year Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Before starting our drive along the Niagara Parkway towards the Falls, Jean and I usually check a stretch of road that runs along the base of the escarpment. From the road-side, we observed Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows (FOY) flying over a small pond.

We continued up the road and found a few of the usual species, but upon reaching the dead end, we spotted an unusual bird in the vineyard. The bird was almost entirely white! Its head was speckled grey, the beak yellow and from the shape of the body, it appeared to be a species of thrush.

It was a leucistic American Robin. Leucism (caused by a genetic mutation) occurs when the pigment is not properly deposited in the feathers. Since the beak and legs had colour, this was not an albino bird. Though it was cool to see our first leucistic bird, it still only counts as an American Robin at the end of the day. Time to move on.

From Queenston to Chippawa, we travelled along the Niagara Parkway with stops at the Lilac garden and the arboretum at the Niagara Parks Horticultural Gardens.

No more firsts-of the year until the bridge in Chippawa. It's a reliable spot for Cliff Swallows and after standing in the rain for what seemed a rather long 10 minutes, I spotted a Cliff Swallow for the 2011 year list amongst a few Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I needed that after finding a disappointing number of species at the Peter Street feeders. The rural roads near the Welland River did not produce much either. Once back on the QEW, we soon concluded another BOS count.

The third weekend in May turned out to be very productive. No lifers, but a total of 30 species for our year list. The next weekend in May was the Victoria Day weekend. An extra day to find FOY's in the Niagara Region and another chance at ticking a lifer Hooded Warbler. My glass was starting to look half-full again.