Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Eastern Ontario Boreals

Every now and then you get on a hot streak and can't seem to miss.  My friend and co-worker James Barber and I had one of those streaks from Monday-Tuesday while doing some field work in eastern Ontario in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (near Cornwall).  

Our luck began when we stumbled across a Great Gray Owl perched on a road sign!  It was completely indifferent to our presence, and I manged to get a few decent shots out the window of the car.  It eventually flew from its perch to a nearby fence post where it perched.  We watched it for a few minutes and then continued on our way, finding another just a few hundred metres down the road!  We decided to press our luck and actually made a few wrong turns in our state of 'owl fog' before coming back to the honey hole.  We discovered possibly a third Great Gray a bit further down the road.

Great Gray Owl

The third (or second) bird hunting as it was getting dark
The next day we got an early start, and checked the owl spot on our way up to our work site.  We were unable to locate any of the owls.  I think that the best time is between 4pm to dusk.  However, we did find a Northern Shrike (one of two we saw that day).  Shortly thereafter we discovered a flock of robins and starlings eating crab apples beside a quiet road and found three Bohemian Waxwings! 

Bohemian Waxwing

Our luck continued as James picked out an Evening Grosbeak among a flock of several hundred robins flying over!

As we were standing there looking for the grosbeak, a Northern Shrike flew right up to us and perched in a nearby tree!  It eventually flew off over head, making the nearby starling nervous.  

Northern Shrike - note the hooked beak

After work we decided to press our luck further by driving 20 minutes up to the Lafleche Landfill to look for Gyrfalcon.  Although unsuccessful, we did see over 100 Glaucous Gulls!  What a spectacle! Our hearts skipped a beat as we saw a large falcon perched way off in the distance, but upon closer examination it turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon.  It treated us to an entertaining few moments after it flew from its perch, taking a swipe at a nearby Rough-legged Hawk before gaining serious altitude thousands of feet in the air before plummeting down to the earth, splitting a flock of starlings in half and narrowly missing its target.  A great cap on a wonderful 24 hours of birding!  

Lafleche Landfill
We also came across some interesting winter tracks in the snow, anyone want to take a guess what made them (we saw the animal that made it).

What made these imprints in the snow?

Friday, 27 January 2017

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Lark Sparrow

I had the pleasure of doing some field work in Eastern Ontario this past week and stopped at a few places to see what I could find.  The highlights of the day were a Northern Saw-whet Owl, (the) Lark Sparrow and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk near Napanee!

This Northern Saw-whet Owl that I located after some searching definitely stole the show!

Northern Saw-whet Owl

This is our smallest owl in Ontario, standing only about 7 inches tall.  This cute little guy was sleeping, with half a dozen chickadees chirping at him angrily from nearby branches, which definitely helped in locating it.  He only half opened his one eye to have a look at me.  

Can you see the owl in the zoomed out shot below?

Seeing the Lark Sparrow in Toronto was also exciting, and harder to find than expected.  This bird has been around now for quite some time, often offering excellent views.  But on this day, it was hunkered down on the wrong side of the fence in some dense shrubbery.

Not an award winning shot of a Lark Sparrow...
 I was also pleasantly surprised to see a Northern Mockingbird at the Lark Sparrow spot.  It was aggressively chasing off the House Sparrows!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

What's that gull with it's head tucked in?

Pat and I were in the Niagara area for some field surveys on Wed-Thurs and had some time to do some birding along the Niagara River.  We had some good numbers of gulls including Iceland, Thayer's, Glacous and a Little Gull at the Queenston docks.  This afternoon we also stopped by the Control Gates to see if the Slaty-backed Gull would show up.  We sifted through the numerous Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls and could not come up with anything convincing.  We did find one interesting dark mantled gull out on the shoal that kept it's head and legs largely hidden for the entire time we were there.  I snapped some digiscoped shots of this bird, and although there is not enough for a definitive ID from what I can tell, I would be interested in your perspective.  So...if you had to guess, what is that gull and why?

If only this bird was as close as the Lesser Black-backed Gull we saw in Thorold at the Welland Canal!

Lesser-black Backed Gull

Monday, 9 January 2017

More Waterfowl - Barrow's Goldeneye and a Blue Goose

I was up in Ottawa this past weekend, and while the main purpose of the trip was to see family and friends and take in the Sens-Oilers game, I often have ulterior motives.  One bird that I really wanted to see was the Barrow's Goldeneye, a bonafide rarity pretty much anywhere in Ontario besides Ottawa in the winter.  I checked the Hurdman's Bridge on the Rideau on Sunday morning and was immediately rewarded with this beauty of a bird!

Male Barrow's Goldeneye

I also stopped on the way up to Ottawa with my friend Jensen where we located the "blue morph" Snow Goose which had been spotted earlier.  There was also apparently a Greater White-fronted Goose, but we could not find it among the hundreds of Canada Geese.
Blue morph Snow Goose

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Great Day of Birding - 10 gull species, Harlequin Duck, King Eider, Black Vulture, Pine Warbler

If you are in the birding loop these days, then you can probably guess where I was today.  I decided to start 2017 off right and do some serious birding on the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.  I arrived at the Whirlpool at around 915am to see if I could spot the Black-headed Gull again, and after a bunch of us had been searching for a while, Josh Vandermeulen walked up and quickly picked the bird out at the rapids above the Whirlpool! Everyone present got to see the bird quite close as it circled over the water.

After this I headed directly to the Control Gates where unfortunately I was not able to add Slaty-backed Gull to the days tally.  I did however see Glacous, Iceland, Thayer's, Little and Lesser black-backed Gull among the usual suspects.  It was nice to meet David Pryor here as well!

Above the falls I had another Little Gull and 3 male Harlequin Ducks!  I stopped by Dufferin Islands afterwards and saw the Pine Warbler and the numerous Tufted Titmice as well as some birding friends Todd Hagedorn and Reuven Martin.

Tufted Titmouse -Dufferin Islands
After this I swung by Adam Beck quickly and scoped a few Iceland Gulls before moving on to the Queenston Overlook where I had to be patient to finally see 2 Black Vultures soaring over Lewiston New York.  They were not on their usual perch atop the church or other buildings.

Perched bird on the chimney is a Black me.
After a great morning and early afternoon on the river I decided to head north to Lake Ontario to do some duck watching.

At the Burlington shipping canal I was hopping to see the King Eiders that had been previously reported.

Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser

Nice male Long-tailed Duck
 Eventually I located the pair of King Eider at the very end of the pier.  They eventually swam even closer and I had great looks at both of them!
Young male King Eider

The female seemed quite sleepy, but even with her head tucked into her feathers she was able to follow the male through the water.  Even in the shot below she looks kind of sleepy!
Male left, female King Eider right

Make way for the King...and Queen.  White-winged Scoters to the left.
 A quick stop at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters rounded out the waterfowl list for the day.  I saw several tagged Trumpeter Swans as well as a few Tundra Swans (bird on the left in the photo below).

Overall it was quite a memorable day!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Christmas Birding

I had the pleasure of spending several days with the in-laws in Stevensville over the Christmas break and of course had some time to do some bird watching! Highlights for me included re-finding the Black-headed Gull at the Whirlpool!, seeing multiple Little Gulls, Harlequin Ducks and a close encounter with a Screech Owl with Caitlyn.  As usual on the river, most of the interesting observations were beyond camera range.

Whirlpool - note the hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls, photographing the Black-headed Gull on the wing was next to impossible at this range.
 I followed the Black-headed Gull in flight for quite a while and eventually saw it sitting on the water. I tried to snap some shots of the bird but the bright sunlight washed out my photos. In the shot below I think the Black-headed is the centre-top bird that looks slightly larger.  It was great watching it through the scope for so long, what a treat to see!

 Above the falls was loaded with gulls including numerous Little Gulls (at least two adults were present) although there could have been three. I may have to go back to try to find the Slaty-backed Gull!

One of many Tundra Swans
Common Loon at the fly pass in Niagara-on-the-lake
 On boxing day it poured rain all night in Stevensville and the creek in the conservation area was swollen and almost burst the banks.  We saw lots of birds including Tufted Titmouse, robins and lots of Eastern Bluebirds!

The bluebirds were very accommodating and perched in the trees right beside us, offering excellent views!

This female was happily munching on grubs and worms in the grass

While at my folks in Kingston, Caitlyn and I did the Amherst Island Christmas Bird Count with some of my good friends from NRSI.  It was a great day spent with great people but the birding was lackluster.  I have never seen so few raptors on the island.  I was on the island most of the day and didn't find a single owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk or Northern Harrier and we had a large group of birders.  I think the ferocious winds kept a lot of stuff low, but the numbers were still surprising nonetheless.  Last year I observed 20 Snowy Owls in a single day on the island, what a difference a year can make!

I also had lots of fun with my niece and Caitlyn at Lemoine Point in Kingston on New Years day feeding chickadees!  Thanks Emma!

Happy New Year!

Smith's Longspur

I have been on the road the last week or so in Niagara and Kingston and so haven't had a chance to post lately.  On my last day of work on December 23rd, I went down to Long Point area, with a few friends, to see the celebrity bird that was found on the Christmas Bird Count a couple of weeks ago.  We quickly found the Smith's Longspur hanging out with a group of Snow Buntings and a few Lapland Longspurs.  The Smith's Longspur is a very rare bird for Ontario and a "lifer" for me.  I snapped a few shots of this obliging bird.

Smith's Longspur

Snow Buntings on the wire

Lapland Longspur among Snow Buntings

Sandhill Cranes