Monday, December 31, 2012

Oh Where, Oh Where Was That Black-throated Blue?

With only the month of December left I was scrambling to add species to my 2012 Ontario list. Only 2 species were needed to beat last year's total of 216.

The most recent tick was a male Harlequin Duck (#215) in Port Weller on December 7. An eBird Rare Bird Alert informed me that the colourful diving duck was within easy reach. After ticking a Ross's Goose (#213) in Mississauga on November 10, Jean and I tried for a second FOY on the north shore of Lake Ontario when returning to St. Catharines the same afternoon.

On paper, it seemed easy. Well, we dipped on the small group of Harlequins and the subsequent postings of successful views taunted me to no end. The Port Weller sighting was in my backyard and was worth the 2.5 kilometre walk to the tip of the east pier. With less than 200 metres to go before we reached the red and white beacon at the end of the trail, Jean and I observed the Harlequin Duck sitting on the water with 3 female Buffleheads at the very tip of the spit.

#214 for my list was the most interesting bird Jean and I observed on the OFO Niagara River Gull Trip in early December. Observing a Black-throated Blue Warbler in southern Ontario at this time of year is rare and exciting. At the time of the observation, I did not realize that the warbler would also raise an issue for the eBird regional reviewer.

We observed the bird from the Niagara Parks pathway between the Engineerium and the Old Gatehouse and when I submitted the checklist, I used the eBird hotspot Niagara River-Upper Falls. Unfortunately,this was not the only location used by eBirders reporting their observation. In total, the Black-throated Blue was reported at 6 sites along the Niagara River. One was 25 kilometres down-river at a public park in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The reviewer was concerned with the multiple locations and confusion that it may cause for others that wish to search for the bird.

The locations were all eBird hotspots and it appears that some birders used only one location during their day of birding along the Niagara River. It may be difficult at times to keep multiple lists when moving from one area to the next but as the reviewer stated, there is a general hot spot for the river that can be used for a  running list. This spot is known as the Niagara River Corridor and it is located 1 kilometre north of the Rainbow Bridge. When keeping a single list for a Niagara trip or for any general hot spot across the eBirding continent, it is best to provide a detailed location for any noteworthy bird in addition to any notes you made regarding the identity. This assists others that would like to find the bird. I myself have found detailed comments helped to get a successful tick (the above mentioned Harlequin) so it makes sense to provide accurate information when using eBird.

That's it for my contribution in educating fellow eBird users. Keep those lists accurate and always be friendly towards your eBird regional data reviewer.

Back to birding in the last month of 2012. It was the final weekend of the year and the table still only had 215 species. No first of the years during the St. Kitts CBC on the 16th so it was left to the Port Colborne CBC to uncover some additions before my lists flip back to zero.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Browns Fan for A Day

There are weekends when birding has to take a back seat for other activities, quite literally on some occasions. Last weekend Jean and I spotted birds as best we could while travelling west on the I90 in her brother's van. We were on our way to Cleveland, Ohio to see the Browns play the Chiefs on the Sunday and binoculars were brought along to assist in identifying birds worthy of a closer look. Before reaching our destination, we ticked the species you would think one would see along a highway corridor. I was not surprised to find Red-tailed Hawks, American Crows and Rock Pigeons in all three states but the Wild Turkey in Hamburg, New York and Great Blue Heron flying over the highway, somewhere near Girard, Pennsylvania, helped fill my ornithological gazing needs. More surprising was that this trip was the start of the Pennsylvania list. It's a state we've only ever passed through so as of December 8, 2013, my Pennsylvania list has three species on it. It's a work in progress.

We arrived in Cleveland around mid-day and we stopped to take in the sights along the waterfront. Most importantly, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

An interesting sign in the parking garage of the Great Lakes Science Centre (Center)

Before entering the Hall of Fame and lamenting on Rush's absence, I spotted a pair of Mallards on the water.

After our fill of rock history, we headed over to the West Side Market. En route, we observed our best bird of the weekend. Swiftly soaring over the downtown core was a Peregrine Falcon.

It was a quick view but still a tick. I did a little Internet research after returning home and discovered that falcons have nested on the historic Terminal Tower.

Though I was dressed like I was about to take part in a Christmas Bird Count, there was not much chance of birding on the Sunday. It was time for some football and supporting the Seahawks was set aside for just one day.

Courtesy of Melissa Hampson

Within 12 seconds, the Chiefs scored on their first play of the game and the Dawg Pound (including my brother-in-law and his wife) was silenced for a short time. Between plays, I looked to the skies for any birds but nothing exciting appeared. The excitement remained on the field. After Phil Dawson's 300th career field goal and Travis Benjamin's 93 yard punt return for a touch down (longest in Browns' history), it was pretty well over for Kansas City. The final score was 30 to 7.

It was a great weekend. A new state list was started, species were added to the Ohio list, the Browns won, and we had some pretty good tour guides show us the sights of a city I certainly would like to return to some day. And not just for another chicken-bacon-cheddar crepe. There's still the aquarium to see and the Great Lakes Science Center but more importantly, a return visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is required. Yes, my birding and non-birding followers. It has happened. The Canadian rock trio that has been eligible since 1998 was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Now that I have calmed down, it's time to return my undivided attention to the 2012 Ontario list and I'm hoping the St. Catharines CBC has some hidden gems.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gull Watch 2012

Sunday December 2 was the annual Niagara River Gull Watch. Jean and I arrived shortly after 8:00 a.m. and the temperature was already in the double digits. We did not get away that easily however. Shortly after the arrival of trip leaders Jean Iron and Ron Tozer, it began to rain. As predicted in various weather reports, the rain stayed with us the whole day and though I was dressed in rain gear, it was not fun at times.

From the Adam Beck Power Station viewing platform, we looked down at the hundreds upon hundreds of gulls that were looking for a quick and easy meal spit out of the U.S. and Canadian hydro-electric generating stations.

While here, gull species observed included the usual Herring, Ring-billed and Bonaparte's as well as a few Iceland Gulls (adults and juveniles) and a couple of Glaucous Gulls. The Franklin's Gull and Thayer's Gull that were observed the day before were not found by our group. No additions for my year list but I made up for it by spotting a fox just north of the parking area as we stood at the viewing platform.

At the Whirlpool, hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls were sitting on the river. I was looking for a Little Gull for the year list and it seemed a possibility when our friend Nancy spotted one for a moment as it flew amongst a group of Bonaparte's. Once it settled down on the water it was not found again and another addition to the year list was denied. Standing at the marina in Niagara-on-the-Lake during a fly-by may be required before the end of the year in order to tick Little Gull.

The OFO group moved further up river to identify more gulls above the Falls. Jean and I took our time as we cut through Dufferin Islands Nature Area. Two birders from the Huntsville area needed a lifer Tufted Titmouse and we had some idea where we might be able to find one or two. Jean hand fed a female titmouse the week before while its mate preferred to take seed from a tree stump.

No appearance of the little gray birds so we moved to the other side of the Niagara Parkway to search for gulls.

We joined our friend Anne and the five of us scanned the river near the Old Gatehouse. Little did we know that the most exciting bird of the day for Jean and I was lurking in the nearby bushes and we walked right by it when moving on to the east side of the Engineerium. We looked at the waterfowl near the barge and had no luck spotting the Black-headed Gull seen through the scope of another birder. Seemed there were many gull watchers on the river this day as there will be for the next month or so.

Our small group eventually caught up to the main group on the west side of the Engineerium.

Some were lucky enough to have caught a quick view of the Black-headed Gull and we gave it try. The wind picked up and the rain continued as we stood on a concrete wall above the river (it's not as a dangerous as it sounds). Just like the Whirlpool, we searched through the flying Bonaparte's Gulls for our quarry. Another needle in the hay stack situation. This time, we were looking for a slightly larger gull with slate gray under the wings. The red legs and bill would help but with this many gulls moving about, the colour underneath the wings would be easier to spot. No addition to either the lifer or year list. With the exception of some one's umbrella being blown into the Niagara River, all was not lost.

We headed back up river with Ron Tozer in search of what had been seen in the brush near the Old Gate House. The bird was a Black-throated Blue Warbler! I quickly went through the year list in my head and as best as I could remember, Jean and I had not seen this species of warbler in 2012. A first of the year warbler in December would be a worthy consolation and a sweet addition to our Winter List. In no time, we all had great looks at a male Black-throated Blue Warbler as it moved through the bushes below the path.

After lunch (thanks for treating us Rick!), there was not much action at the feeders in Chippawa and the group returned to the river above the Falls to scope the gulls between Dufferin Islands and the Control Gates. Good views of Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Great Blue Heron on the wall near the Control Gates was a nice addition to our winter list. With the return of the rain and the wind at our backs, Jean and I decided to call it a day. A short stop at the west end of Dufferin Islands concluded the day with an observation of a Merlin perched at the top of a tree across the pond.

None of the gulls I needed were observed but the Black-throated Blue Warbler was a great find. Thanks to Rick Thornton (we owe him two lunches now?) for spotting this bird that we usually see in May. The checklist for the Black-throated Blue observation was my first entry later that evening. I wanted to confirm that it was a first of the year. Sure enough, after entering the warbler observation on eBird Canada, the total species for 2012 on "My eBird" page increased by one. The next day, the daily rare bird alert for Ontario was in my e-mail "inbox". 7 reports of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, including my observation, were listed on the eBird alert. Later that evening, all seven observers received an e-mail from the volunteer Ontario regional data reviewer. Was the validity of the sighting in question? Not at all. The reviewer was more concerned with the differences in checklist locations. Huh?

To be continued

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2012-2013 Ontario Winter Bird List

The winter birding season starts today. Last year, a record setting 223 species were observed by Ontario birders between December 1 and February 29. A difficult number to surpass but we are a determined bunch.          

Once again, Josh Vandermeulen will compile the Ontario sightings and Blake Maybank will be hosting the results on his website.

First bird to make my list, an American Robin sitting at the top of a tree in the neighbour's yard. Tomorrow's OFO trip along the Niagara River could produce some interesting gulls for the list. Will the winter adult Black-headed Gull spotted above the Falls on November 29 return for our group?

2012/2013 Winter List
As of January 6, 77 species.

January 6:
Red-breasted Merganser
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
White-winged Scoter
Bald Eagle
American Coot
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Finch

January 5:
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

January 1:

December 30:
Northern Harrier
Eastern Screech-Owl
Hairy Woodpecker
Horned Lark
Snow Bunting
White-throated Sparrow
Common Redpoll

December 25:
Sharp-shinned Hawk

December 22:
Snowy Owl

December 16:
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Brown Creeper
Eastern Bluebird
Swamp Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird

December 15:
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Goldfinch

December 7:
Mute Swan
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Common Merganser
Double-crested Cormorant
Belted Kingfisher

December 4:
American Kestrel
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling

December 2:
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Black-throated Blue Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow

December 1:
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
American Robin
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Summer Day at Wetland Ridge.

From the amount of tales I've posted recently, you would think I had given up on the birding thing and simply chose to laze around while my lists sat idle.

Well, that's never going to happen. There were some issues with transferring images from Jean's camera to the PC but we have figured it out and I no longer have an excuse not to post.

Soon after ticking the Red-necked Grebe, Jean and I returned to St.Johns CA to find a Scarlet Tanager. Despite the male's bright red colour, it's a tough species to spot in the high tree tops but luckily they were singing and we could finally move on to the next target species.

Well, first we had to ensure our target date for a group tour with some friends at the Niagara College teaching winery and brewery took place as planned. A few days later, Jean and I visited the former sewage lagoons behind the school's Glendale campus. Birders that enjoy beer can sample a variety of malted beverages created by the students after an hour or two of birding at the base of the Niagara Escarpment.

During our walk around the two cells, we ticked a total of 40 species.

Baltimore Oriole, Icterus galbula

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

There were also Tree and Cliff Swallows flying low over the lagoons.


...and mammals were also spotted.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

Other heron species observed included Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

I was hoping to add a shorebird species to the year list during our hike. Shorebirds can be found along the edges of the cells and we usually spot them in the north cell. Species Jean and I have observed in the past include Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper. Of these 5 species, I still needed a Solitary and Lesser Yellowlegs for the year list.

On this day, a Lesser Yellowlegs was roaming the mudflats.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes

A Solitary Sandpiper was ticked three weeks later when visiting the lagoons on the Civic Holiday in August.

Jean and I have visited the lagoons a number of times since 2006 and we have accumulated 82 species for our Wetland Ridge Trail list. 15 lifers were found here including a Common Gallinule (known as Common Moorhen at the time of the lifer tick). Though the chances of repeating a Common Gallinule observation may be tough, I'll still love to bird the ponds a few times a year. Knowing that there's cold beer to sample later on, makes a visit all the more enjoyable.


Monday, September 3, 2012

June Birding:You Might Be a Red-Necked Grebe

Back in June, Jean and I were returning from Guelph with our repaired spotting scope. We had dipped on a lifer Prairie Warbler so a consolation tick was needed. We stayed north of Lake Ontario and headed to Bronte Harbour in Oakville to get a look at the reported nesting Red-necked Grebes. Though this species breeds on inland lakes in Alaska and parts of Canada northwest of southern Ontario, the outer harbour at the mouth of Bronte Creek is well known for its nesting Red-necked Grebes (Robert Curry 2006)

It was an easier FOY tick than I thought it would be. A short walk from the parking lot and just in front of a group of photographers was an adult Red-necked Grebe.

From the pedestrian path, we watched the pair of Red-necked Grebes as they took turns incubating 4 eggs on the floating tire. 

While one parent sat on 4 eggs, the other was caring for one chick. We spotted two additional pairs of adult Red-necked Grebes in the marina.

Jean was glad to have the scope back to resume her hobby of digiscoping.

#188 for the year and while at the marina three species were added to our Halton Region list, Common Grackle, Chimney Swift and Cliff Swallows. Only three more species and we'll have 6 Ontario county lists with 100 or more species. Not a bad day overall.

Cliff Swallows were nesting on a nearby building.

Monday, August 27, 2012

June Birding

After ticking as many Spring migrants as possible during their stopover in the peninsula, I usually spend part of the month of June hitting specific spots for species that have chosen the Niagara Region to raise young. From the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario to the northern edge of Lake Erie, I have a few locations I return to annually. 

On June 2, Jean and I searched for two target species. The Carolinian Forest of St. John's Conservation Area was our first stop and we were looking for a FOY Scarlet Tanager. A great view of a male Indigo Bunting but the species list after walking the trails for almost 1.5 hours was limited and without a Scarlet Tanager tick. Dragonflies and damselflies were plentiful especially the Common Whitetails at the south end of the trout pond.

On to the spot where Jean and I observed our lifer Hooded Warbler last year. The Lake Erie shoreline is teeming with summer cottages owned by U.S. citizens from western New York and in order to reach the cottages, roads are required. One private road, west of Crystal Beach, allows access to a marshy woodlot filled with Skunk Cabbage. It appears we can count on this gravel road for an annual Hooded Warbler tick. Within no time, we observed a male Hooded Warbler pop out from the undergrowth to make its way to a nearby perch and sing its ta-wit ta-wit ta-wit tee-yo song loudly.

Before returning to St. Catharines, we stopped at another gem managed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). Mud Lake Conservation Area offers a variety of habitat for birding. We walked through wetland, field and woodland during our hike. Best ticks were a FOY Field Sparrow, Marsh Wren (#230 for the county list) and a Sora. Worst ticks were literally, ticks!

After completing our first survey for the Marsh Monitoring Program on June 16, we stopped at Niagara Shores in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Parks Canada owns this small parcel of land with views of Lake Ontario and a woodlot that yielded a lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in August of 2009. Jean and I visit this park a few times a year and in late May or early June, we add Bank Swallow to the year list. The swallows were not the only nesting species we found on this warm day. In one of the two conifers by the parking area, we found a pair of Pine Warblers raising 2 young. Well, the female was busy feeding her brood. The male seemed content to sing the whole time we were there.

During the week of the 18th we were on vacation and another attempt at ticking Scarlet Tanager in St. John's was planned. Three species of woodpecker, two species of vireo, a singing redstart and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird for the list but the secretive behaviour of the tanager continued so we moved on to Short Hills Provincial Park. I was hoping to find a Yellow-bellied Cuckoo in the willows near the Roland Road entrance. Based on previous visits, the further you walk into the park, the less species you find so we simply explore a small area using the Palaezioc Path, a gravel trail that allows people with disabilities to enjoy the park. The trees were without cuckoos but we did find a FOY Blue-winged Warbler. A welcomed addition since we missed this species last year. The possibility of beating our 2011 total was getting better.

Heading back to the parking area, I noticed an odd twig at the top of a post. I thought it very strange that a twig would be attached to a wooden post so I brushed it with my finger. It had some give to it but it did not move. This twig-like thing was a caterpillar and based on our best educated guess, a member of the Genus Plagodis.

We had some great news later in the week. Our scope had been repaired and was ready for pick up. We headed up to Guelph with a plan to stop in Flamborough (Hamilton County) on the way home. A number of of Prairie Warbler sightings had been reported recently and the location labelled "Flamborough--Westover Tract" on eBird Canada was too close to Highway 6 to pass on the chance of a lifer tick.

Most of the land is privately owned and the local farm animals offered no assistance so we looked for the warbler from the concession road. I studied the song (a rapid series of ascending buzzes) of the Prairie Warbler but hearing it from 500 metres away seemed highly unlikely. We would also need to view the bird to count the lifer tick. Looking at the observations on eBird recently, it appeared some walked along the gas company's roadway to get the tick but at the time I chose not to venture onto private property. No worries. The opportunity may arise again, perhaps in another location. We had one more spot to visit before returning to St. Catharines.

A bunch of rednecks had decided to join a yacht club on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Rednecks? Yacht club? This we gotta see. We had our scope back so it was the perfect opportunity for some digiscoping.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Scopeless in the Carden Alvar

Yes, it was after leaving our spotting scope for repairs to the mounting foot that Jean and I realized we would be scopeless during the OFO Carden Alvar trip. Viewing an endangered shrike hundreds of metres away could be difficult. No digiscoping either. 

There were a few birders in the group that had scopes including trip leader Jean Iron. An excellent trip leader, Jean Iron always ensures that everyone in the group has observed the target bird before moving on. If a Loggerhead Shrike or Upland Sandpiper were too far for our bins, a view through Jean Iron's scope would be available. 

After participating in and winning the Carden Challenge over a 24 hour period from 6:00 p.m. on Friday May 25 to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday May 26, Jean Iron did not look tired at all. Perhaps, it was the Carden Cup on display atop her vehicle. Her team was named the Yellow Rails and the four birders ticked 132 species during the competition. As Celebrity Birder, Jean raised over $11,000 for stewardship and bird habitat conservation by The Couchiching Conservancy on the Carden Alvar. 

The first stop for the OFO group was Wylie Road. We walked along the narrow gravel road looking for grassland species and the Prairie Smoke was in full bloom.

Grasshopper Sparrow and Wilson's Snipe were added to the year list and we had the best look at a Loggerhead Shrike, ever! Jean and I have visited the Carden Alvar twice and all our views of shrikes have required a scope. This trip, a lone shrike was resting on a pole, a mere distance from the road.  It would have been nice to capture a digiscoped image though.

Continuing north on Wylie Road, we reached the Sedge Wren Marsh. We ticked our lifer Alder Flycatcher and Sedge Wren in May of 2010 at this spot and repeated the observation in 2011. This year, an Alder Flycatcher was heard singing but the rapid chatter of the small wren was absent. Marsh Wrens (FOY) were heard and spotted but due to beaver activity in the area and rising water levels, Sedge Wren was missed for the first time in many years.

While scanning the marsh west of the road, I heard the whinnying call of a Sora. Though we had our backs to the marsh east of the road and the call was short, a few of us were still able to identify it. I asked the fellow standing next to me if he heard the same call. He did. So did his wife and Jean as well. That was the important part. Jean confirming that she heard the Sora added the small rail to our year list.

At the Kirkfield Liftlock, a FOY Cedar Waxwing tick during our lunch. Once again, we have to travel north of Lake Ontario to obtain this species for the year list despite covering a number of spots in the Niagara Peninsula prior to this trip.

At the heron rookery on Shrike Road, we had an added bonus to the annual Blanding's Turtle observation. Great Horned Owl (FOY) had no objection to using a former home of a Great Blue Heron family to raise its own young. Jean expanded her digiscoping skills by using a scope she was unfamiliar with and managed to capture a decent image.

We moved further up Shrike Road and added Upland Sandpiper to the year list as a small flock flew past our group.

Approaching Canal Lake on Centennial Park Road, we added Green Heron and Great Crested Flycatcher to our year list and despite it being virtually identical to our first observation earlier in the day, we ticked our second Empidonax of the trip, a Willow Flycatcher.

As we crossed the causeway, I was looking for our streak of repeat species to continue. In 2011, the small pond on the island produced a lifer Least Bittern. An unobstructed view of this bird occurred after playback but this year, an inquisitive bittern did not emerge from behind the reeds.

The group ended the trip searching a few spots along Prospect Road. In the marsh, we observed a Virginia Rail in flight as it popped up from the reeds  There was a second rail close to the road but it remained well hidden.

There is a variety of habitat along this road including scrub. So after ticking waterfowl, flycatchers and rails you move a bit further south along Prospect Road to look for Emberizid species hiding in the brush. We stood at the edge of the road scanning the scrubby landscape for singing sparrows. OK, there's the Song Sparrow and a Chipping Sparrow but what Jean and I really needed was the appearance of a Clay-colored Sparrow. It did not take long for the group to pick out the insect-like buzz of a Clay-colored Sparrow. No visual observation this year but it still counts.

At the end of the trip, the year list stood at 183 species. Not bad if I want to succeed in beating last year's total of 216. There are some species that I cannot afford to miss and then there are few (not too many mind you) that I'm willing to let slip by. Missing Sedge Wren and Least Bittern would be be tolerated as long as the dependable ticks keep me ahead of the game. The month of June would be spent hitting spots in the Niagara Region for the reliable species until the migrating shorebirds arrived.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Always Check Your Batteries

My nephew (a budding birder) is a huge fan of the Madagascar films so I'm sure if he was to see the title of this most recent post, he would be laughing. I on the other hand was not laughing at the start of our second survey for the Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP).

This was our second year of participating in the program that was started in 1995 to aid the conservation and rehabilitation of marshes in the United States and Canada. Last year, Jean and I surveyed our assigned marsh for birds only (there is also an amphibian survey). Unfortunately, we did not record any focal species.

For the marsh bird survey, 2 visits are required between May 20 and July 5. Though it was not necessary, we were able to add a third visit during the 2011 survey. This year, our first visit was delayed until the weather was favourable for the bird survey. In May and early June, each day I woke up early to attempt a visit to the Barnesdale Marsh, temperatures below 16 degrees Celsius along with rain and moderate breezes had me rescheduling our count.

On June 16, we were finally graced with a warm, dry day. The marsh can be described as "tiny" (between 1.5 and 2.5 hectares).

Our route consisted of only 1 sample station and during the first 15 minute marsh bird survey, no bitterns, rails, coots, moorhens, sora or Pied-billed Grebes were recorded.

The surveys must be conducted at least 10 days apart so it seemed reasonable to attempt our second survey on one of the days during the Canada Day long weekend. If the first day was not favourable, then one of the next 2 days could be used as a back-up. The morning of June 30 was perfect. The temperature was 25 degrees and there had been no rain for days.

As Jean and I walked down the embankment towards the focal point, the call of a focal species was heard. It was the "kid-dik" call of a Virginia Rail. The rail was well hidden in the dense cattails but there was no doubt that it was close and well within the 100 metre semi-circular sample area. The bird uttered its call 2 more times as I set up the boom box to play the broadcast CD. The disc has a 15 minute running time with prompts to indicate different components of the survey. I turned on the player and pressed play. No double tone to mark the start of the survey and the display screen was blank. The batteries were dead! I had left the player on after completing the first survey.

I rushed off to the nearest variety store, uncertain that there would be the required amount of batteries on the shelf. Luckily, there were sufficient packages and I was back at Richardson's Creek with plenty of time remaining before the 10:00 am cut-off. A minor hiccup. During my absence the Virginia Rail continued to call.

With the batteries replaced, we started the survey and Jean began observing the birds as I assisted to the best of my ability (paperwork). The Virginia Rail did not call during the first 5-minute passive observation period nor did it respond to the pig-like grunts of the rail played during the 7 to 8 minute section of the survey. Secondary species observed within the area included Red-winged Blackbird (4), American Robin (2), Northern Cardinal (1) and American Goldfinch (1). At the end of the survey, I made certain to turn the boom box off before we returned to our vehicle.

The Virginia Rail does get an honourable mention though. There is a column for marking focal species observed "before/after survey period" so it was gratifying to be able to place a pencil-mark in the "Focal Species" section of the survey (it was also a first for our Niagara list). Hopefully this can be bested next year by obtaining a response during the playback period. As for the batteries, they will be checked before and after each of the surveys as suggested in the MMP Participant's Handbook. Or, I should just remember to turn the boom box off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Birthday Tweet

Not that long ago, it was our nephew's birthday and we had asked him what he would like to do when we took him out for the day.

"What I would like to do is go on a birding trip." 

We had plans to take him to a comic book store in the Falls but upon hearing his request, birding at Dufferin Islands was added to the day's itinerary.

We took our nephew for lunch to the Flying Saucer and he used the back of the place mat to create this drawing of him birding with his Auntie Jean and Uncle Bob. If this was not an indication we had a budding birder in our midst, the next hint certainly confirmed it.

When our nephew finished his grilled cheese and fries, we asked him what he would like to do first.

Comics? Birding?

Yes, my avian-chasing friends. Our nephew chose to go birding. The likes of Spiderman, Batman and The Transformers would have to wait until our nephew scored another lifer.

It was during a family vacation in 2008 when I first suspected our nephew may enjoy birding more than the next kid. We were on a organized hike with a naturalist from Algonquin Provincial Park. When our nephew was looking at Cedar Waxwing through a scope, the naturalist asked him if he could see the red tip of the wing feathers. He replied, "Yes and I see yellow on the tail too." Whoa! Our nephew identified a field marking without any coaching from the adults in the group. Four years and a few introductory birding trips later, my brother-in-law's eldest still shows a keen interest to look for birds with his aunt and uncle.

Dufferin Islands is an ideal place for a beginning birder. At 16 hectares, it's not a large area but a number of species can be found while exploring the small ponds and forest. A perfect break for a birder visiting the Falls.

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Upon crossing a foot-bridge, we spotted a Downy Woodpecker at a feeder. Though it was not a lifer for our nephew, he had some great views of the male woodpecker as it moved up the branches of a tree.

We headed towards the pond to look for waterfowl.

At first, all we found were the usual gaggle of Canada Geese and dabbling Mallards but as the three of us rounded the corner of the gravel path, we came across a different species of waterfowl. One that I was certain would be a lifer for our nephew. Floating close to the edge of the pond was a pair of Gadwalls. I pointed out the gray and brown body with a hint of white as well as the black tail. Identifying features with words like coverts, scapulars and speculum can wait for now.

Mission accomplished. A new species for our nephew's list. Though it was more about spending the day with him.

After hand-feeding some chickadees, we continued our walk along a forested path.

Another lifer was moving through the branches of a conifer. Tick, Golden-crowned Kinglet. A tiny bird that is constantly on the move but luckily it was slow enough for our nephew to see the brightly-coloured crown.

And after some birding on a beautiful Spring day,

picking out some comics and having your picture taken with Han Solo has you declare to your dad, "Best day ever!"

Not sure how Jean and I can top this day but we just might have something up our sleeves.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I'm Still Here

Yes. It has been while since my last post. A little prodding seems to have done the trick and I have awoken from my slumber.

A few birds were added to the year list since posting my last tale, including a lifer on April 7. For now it's best to inform you all of a recent addition (prior to the OFO Carden Alvar trip) to the year list since it is still fresh in my memory. Though I don't think the 2012 lifers have faded just yet. Do any of them?

It was Victoria Day and it was a perfect day to go chasing a reported bird. A Snowy Egret was observed near the Grand River on the Saturday and any wish we had to add this bird to the Ontario list would have to wait until the holiday Monday. So after a long day of counting birds for the BOS May count, I checked the reports Sunday evening. The egret was still hunting in the same small pond in Dunnville.

Jean and I have birded this pond a few times so there were no worries we would not find its location. It is one of the stops during the OFO Rock Point trip and you can usually find Great Egrets and herons wading in the shallow waters.

When we first arrived, we could not see any wading birds in the pond. No splash of white amongst the green reeds led me to believe that the egret had left the area. Jean and I stepped out of the car and crossed the road to scan the pond from behind the chain-link fence. The Snowy Egret was there. It was hidden on the north side of the pond and as we approached the fence, we flushed the egret from the reeds. Its trailing black legs with yellow feet were easily seen as it flew to the south side of the pond.

Views of the Snowy would have to be distant. We were without our spotting scope. Yes, no scope to get a closer look at #266 on our Ontario list. I'm relieved to say the glass is fine. The scope was sent to the U.S. for repairs to the mounting foot and we'll be without it for approximately 4 to 6 weeks. Ouch! "Scopeless in the Carden Alvar" sounds like a fine title for a future blog post.

We watched the Snowy Egret as it continued to hunt on the far side of the pond. The movement of a small rail-car at the nearby factory did not disturb the egret. I was hoping it would fly back to the south side and allow us a closer look.

A few friends arrived and the small egret was a lifer for one of them.

Before leaving the Dunnville area, we tried looking for a reported adult blue morph Snow Goose at the Mosaic ponds down the road. It was observed with a group of Canada Geese and though one of our friends had seen it the previous day, we could not find it.

Jean and I have visited the Mosaic ponds during OFO trips and we have observed our lifer Stilt Sand Piper and Marsh Wren at this Haldimand County hot spot.

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During the trips, the gates are opened by an employee of the company that owns the property and OFO members are allowed to explore a large area of the wetland. This day, our views were limited to a few spots along the roads, north and south of the ponds. If the Snow Goose was there, it was hidden.

No worries. I left Dunnville satisfied with the Snowy Egret tick. In a few days, Jean and I would be travelling to the Kawartha Lakes. Hopefully we would have a repeat of last year's observations while birding the Carden Alvar.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

He's Back!

Since the beginning of April, I've been waiting with anticipation for the return of a migrating species I've observed from our yard for the last 4 years. As the days past, I became concerned that it was not returning this year. Had something happened while the bird was wintering in the south-eastern United States?

Well, though 9 days later than its latest arrival, the male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Jean and I  have come to rely on for a FOY tick has returned.

I spotted it earlier this morning, in the trees, south of our yard.

I ran back inside to alert Jean of the sighting. When we scanned the trees a few minutes later, we were surprised he had company. There were 2 female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers travelling with him. That's one sweet observation for a yard that's a stone's throw away from downtown St. Kitts.

Based on previous observations, the sapsucker should rest in our neighbourhood for approximately a week before moving on to its breeding ground and with a bit of luck, I hope to have a sighting for John to add to tomorrow's BOS count.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

World Bird Wednesday: April 10, 2012

Wow, WBW LXXIII! It has been a while since I contributed to this meme. Check out the images from around the world posted at The Pine River Review.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Niagara Digiscoping: Easter Sunday Eagles

A nice way to end a holiday weekend!

After ticking a few firsts of the year at the Niagara Hawk Watch Open House on Good Friday and then successfully finding one sweet and extremely rare visitor at Jaeger Rocks on Saturday, Jean and I headed to another spot within the Niagara Region after receiving a tip from a friend.

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier Look

It was not too long ago that the population of Bald Eagles was greatly reduced in eastern North America. With the banning of pesticides and the implementation of recovery plans, the stunning raptor can now be observed year-round in the Niagara Region.

At our last Peninsula Field Naturalists meeting, it was announced that a nesting pair was found near Lake Erie. Though we have seen photographs, Jean and I have not had a chance to view the Port Colborne nesting pair.

So with no spare time to stop in Port Colborne after the Jaeger Rocks lifer tick, we pocketed the tip and went for a Sunday afternoon drive the next day. After picking up a steak from my favourite butcher shop we travelled along rural roads familiar to the Nishiki. Near the start of the Moyer Street t.t.,  we found a FOY Eastern Phoebe.

We descended the Niagara Escarpment on a winding road (another cycling memory but usually going the opposite direction) and continued towards the area where eagles dare (high school memories of my younger brother's record collection). As we approached the "spot", both Jean and I scanned the trees without the aid of binoculars. We were not sure of its exact location and for a brief moment, I actually thought we may not find it. I did not want to "dip" on the tip. That would just be downright embarrassing.

Finally, there it was. It was one huge nest and not only did it contain two adults. It also contained two eaglets.

I'm sure we'll revisit the spot so I'll keep you updated on the chicks' development. But before then, there's the hawk watch and a lifer to discuss.