Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bird-a-Day During A Holiday Weekend

 When the provincial government first announced the idea of a long weekend in February, it was not appealing. I would not be gaining an additional paid holiday. The floater day used on Christmas Eve day would now have to be used on the statutory holiday "Family Day". A few years have past since then and a long weekend in February has grown on me. It helps when the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is on the same weekend.

Saturday February 18

Twitching was set aside until mid-afternoon. Jean and I visited feeders at a residential property near St. John Conservation Area. An early Eastern Towhee tick last year, has us returning to this spot from time to time and this day produced a few species worthy of my Bird-a-Day list. Both nuthatch species, Tufted Titmouse and Black-capped Chickadee were expeditious when picking seed from the feeder and though the views were short, we had no problem observing the birds from our car.

Before reaching a decision, we headed over to the Roland Road entrance to Short Hills Provincial Park. A short walk along the Palaeozoic Path and viewing of Swayze Falls did not add anything new.


So for the Saturday of the long weekend, I went with Red-breasted Nuthatch. It's a species that has proven to be elusive at times and considering I may not observe one again for a few weeks, I thought best to tick it while I could.  

Sunday February 19

The weekly Hamilton Naturalists Club (HNC) report on ontbirds had Jean and I heading to a spot just outside of the Niagara Region. Short-eared Owls were observed the previous weekend during a HNC field trip on top of the Niagara Escarpment and I relished the thought of adding a fourth owl species to the year list after last year's bleak results.  Before the prowl on 10th Road East, we stopped at a few spots along the Lake Ontario shoreline in Grimsby. White-winged and Surf Scoters as well as Long-tailed Duck were on the bench for the Bird-a-Day list if needed.

We arrived at Ridge Road shortly after 4:00 pm and walked along the trail west of Ridge Road with hopes of flushing a hidden Short-eared. We were not the only birders anxious for the tick. Some walked the trail as well while those with cameras ready were patiently waiting by the roadside.

As dusk approached, we chose our spot and began scanning the open field east of 10th Road. The small group of birders that dotted the roadside reminded me of the UFO watchers in Close Encounters of a Third Kind.

My toes were starting to feel the cold (should have worn thicker socks) when the first Short-eared Owl flew in from the south. As it soared in, I tapped (more like a loud knocking) on the car window to alert Jean that the owl had arrived. We had some great views of the bird through our scope when it landed in a tree but it took off before Jean could capture some digiscoped images. 
Then, it was like someone flipped a switch. Above the field behind us, two more Short-eared Owls circled around until they perched themselves on a branch better suited for a Northern Shrike.

Two more owls joined in and we had owls to the right and owls to the left. This was one middle I did not mind being stuck in. A total of 7 Short-eared Owls, plus 2 Northern Harriers, put on one impressive evening air show. The 10th Road observations just keep getting better and better.

Monday February 20

The holiday Monday, Jean and I viewed waterfowl from Queens Royal Park and Nelson Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

No Little Gull spotted with the few Bonaparte's by Fort Niagara so I settled for White-winged Scoter for my Bird-a-Day challenge.

It was back to work the next day and if I got through the shortened work week and survived the weekend, all I needed was another three days to beat last year's stretch. That's only 9 species. How hard can that be in a milder than usual, southern Ontario February?

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