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