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.

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