Wednesday 31 December 2014

One more for 2014- White-winged Crossbill, Waterloo

I got a Wellington County bird alert in my inbox this morning about a White-winged Crossbill in Waterloo.  When I got into work this morning I told my friend Pat about it and at lunch he headed out to see if he could find it.  Shortly after he texted me to let me know he was looking at it near someones backyard feeder.  I quickly jumped in my car and when I got there it returned to some nearby shrubbery to perch.  This will be the last new bird species that I will see in 2014, #251!

This is a beautiful species of winter finch that shows up in our region irregularly during the winter.  It has a really neat "crossed" bill that helps it pry open conifer cones such as hemlock and spruce.  This bird was hanging around with some House Finches at this feeder.

The bird finally returned to the feeder and I got a few closer photos.

I quickly stopped at Columbia Lake but only had time to quickly look at the gulls out on the ice before the bitter wind forced me back to the car.  I did see a single Glaucous Gull among a Great Black-backed Gull, numerous Herring Gulls and a couple Ring-billed Gulls.  Can you spot the white Glaucous Gull in the photo below?  

Glaucous Gull- middle top

Tuesday 30 December 2014

2014 Year in Review Part 1: The Birds!

Well 2014 was another fantastic year with a lot of good birding, nature and adventure moments.  Lets take a moment and look at some of the highlights that made the first full year of my blog so fun! This is Part 1 of a 2 part post.  This one will focus on the exciting birds that I was able to find and photograph in Ontario, the next will look at the exciting adventures and locations I visited! In 2014 I saw 250 birds species in Ontario, in 2015 I'm going to be ambitious and shoot for 270.  Perhaps a bit lofty for me, but it will force me to get out more!

In chronological order:

Red-shouldered Hawk- January 14, 2014- Hawkseville
Why it was Memorable: This bird has been coming to this small town for 11 winters, and I have always wanted to go see it but never got the chance.  A beautiful bird and a neat story too!

King Eider- January 17, 2014- Burlington Ship Canal
Why it was Memorable: I rarely see King Eiders, so this was a nice treat in the dead of winter.  It was also fun to drag my two non-bird watching friends along with me. 

Varied Thrush- February 4, 2014- Guelph Lake Dam
Why it was Memorable: This bird was reported in Fergus a few days before and was refound at the dam a few days after.  The sting of missing it in Fergus where I live was greatly lessened by finding this beauty!

Greater-white Fronted Goose- April 11, 2014- Elora area
Why it was Memorable:  Although not super rare, it was the first Greater-white Fronted Goose of the year for me and provided great viewing right near my house in Fergus!

Chuck-will's Widow- May 20, 2014- Prince Edward County
Why it was Memorable:  For one thing this bird is very rare in Ontario! For another, I was able to find and listen to it while at a work site!  

Piping Plover- May 24, 2014- Sauble Beach
Why it was Memorable:  This is an Endangered species in Ontario and I have never been up to Sauble Beach to see this population struggling back from the brink.  This was definitely one of the highlights of the Bruce Peninsula "Big Day". 

Lark Bunting- June 29, 2014- Amherst Island
Why it was Memorable:  Although a horrible photo, this was a fun bird to "twitch".  For one it was located on Amherst Island, one of my favourite birding spots near my hometown and for another it was shared with two of my favourite people, my wife and my dad.  Oh and it also helps that it is probably the rarest bird I saw and was able to "photograph" this year.

Snowy Egret- September 2, 2014- Waterloo
Why it was Memorable: Snowy Egrets are a truly rare bird in Ontario, especially in the Waterloo Region.  This bird was extremely cooperative and stayed in the area for weeks.

Yellow-crowned Nightheron- September 3, 2014- Colonel Samuel Smith Park, Etobicoke
Why it was Memorable:  This was an exciting lifebird for me believe it or not and also a first for my Ontario list!  2014 was a good year for rare herons in Ontario.

Snowy Owl- June 29, 2014- Amherst Island
Why it was Memorable- Although not a rare species in Ontario during the winter, this bird on Amherst Island in June was completely unexpected and downright weird! 

Parasitic Jaeger- September 12, 2014- Van Wagner's Beach Hamilton
Why it was Memorable- I must confess that I spend very little time jaeger watching, as much fun as it is, so when I got the chance to go down to Van Wagner's Beach to watch for these amazing ocean birds, I had the camera ready.  These are difficult birds to photograph, so I was quite happy to get this shot!

Black Vulture- October 8, 2014- Queenston Overlook, Niagara
Why it was Memorable- I finally was able to break my streak of missing this bird at this spot in Niagara!  This Black Vulture put on a show over the gorge.  I think they are a truly beautiful bird!

Hudsonian Godwit- October 10, 2014- Comber 
Why it was Memorable: This bird was a delight to watch, and at relatively close range as well, allowing for decent shots like this one.  This big shorebird is very elegant.

Yellow-headed Blackbird- October 10, 2014- Comber
Why it was Memorable: I have had luck seeing this species in the same area in previous years, but this is the first time I had the camera in hand.  I find it thrilling coming across a huge blackbird flock with the expectation that there could be something more than cowbirds and red-wings in there!

Cattle Egret- October 28, 2014- Tilbury Sewage Lagoons
Why it was Memorable: I missed this bird by mere minutes while carrying out work near Tilbury in October, and on subsequent searches for it at Lighthouse Cove. So when I discovered this bird back at the lagoons it felt like sweet victory!

Red Knot- November 8, 2014- Redhill Storm Pond, Burlington
Why it was Memorable: Red Knot is one shorebird species that I rarely encounter, and to see this bird so late in the season was very exciting!

King Edier- November 29, 2014- Port Weller Marina
Why it was Memorable:  The picture says it all, this bird provided amazing views for me relatively close to the shore near the marina and it was a stunner!  Most of the King Eiders I have seen have been young birds or females, which look nothing like this adult male.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Coats and Hats Optional

It's not very often that you can leave the winter clothing at home while birding the Niagara River at Christmas, but that is exactly what happened this past week while I was down near Fort Erie with family as the temperature soared to near 10 degrees.  I managed to get a bit of time to go birding along the river, and although I didn't find anything out of the ordinary, I did have some interesting observations including an adult Little Gull at Waverly Beach on Christmas day!

American Black Ducks
I checked all the usual spots including Adam Beck and had numerous Iceland Gulls as well as a bird that I thought looked to be a good candidate for a Thayer's Gull.  Edit**After looking at the photos the bird in this picture may be just a lightly marked Herring Gull, I'm not sure if this was in fact the bird I was looking at or not. Any ideas?

Out on the river I also spotted this Common Loon just hanging out,

Common Loon
Red-breasted Mergansers
On Christmas eve a big wind storm blew into the Niagara region with gusts of near 90km/h.  On Christmas day I checked Waverly Beach and watched the birds struggle with the strong wind.  After watching for a half hour I was rewarded with a Little Gull! 

A Bufflehead struggles against the wind at Waverly Beach

Merry Christmas!

Monday 22 December 2014

Owl Island

This morning my wife and I visited my favourite birding spot near my hometown of Kingston, Amherst Island.  Amherst Island is a world renowned owl watching hot spot, and I check it at least once every winter.

We caught the 9:30am ferry over and saw our first Snowy Owl within minutes of arriving!

We spotted another one soon after, perched at the Martin Edwards Reserve (formerly the KFN property), sitting in the same tree as the bird we found here in June.  Could be the same individual!

After this we trekked into the 'Owl Woods', a really great spot full of pines and spruces where you can often find some of the smaller owls such as Northern Saw-whet Owl or Long-eared Owl.  We quickly found a Long-eared Owl perched in this pine and I managed to get a very quick shot before it flew off.

Long-eared Owl. Can you see his ears poking up through the branches?

We looked hard in the rest of Owl Woods but couldn't come up with any other owls here so we headed back to the road and made another lap around the island.  We saw several other raptors including some Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers as well as a couple more Snowy Owls.

Here is a light morph Rough-legged Hawk

Dark morph Rough-legged Hawk
This Snowy Owl was quite cooperative.
If you look closely there are actually 2 Snowy Owls in this shot, both on fence posts!
Amherst Island never disappoints! A great morning on the owl island!

Friday 12 December 2014

Snowy Owl, first of the season

Well it looks like the winter of 2014/2015 is shaping up to be another doozy for Snowy Owls which have once again left their frozen haunts to travel to the balmy weather of Southern Canada and the northern U.S.  The summer of 2013 was apparently a great breeding season for Snowy Owl up in the arctic tundra, and tons of offspring were born and dispersed across the south.  This year is an echo of that, and we are once again getting plenty of reports from across the province.  I had my first of the winter season today driving home from work with my buddy Steve.  The bird was out in a field just north of Conestogo on some old farm equipment.  I quickly stopped the car and snapped a few pictures.  Not great shots, but a nice surprise on the way home!

This bird has very limited black markings and is almost pure white indicating that it is an adult male
On a related note, I seem to be finding interesting white birds on my drive to and from work.  I have had Snowy Owls, Snowy Egret and Snow Goose, what will be next?

Monday 8 December 2014

Bird Photo ID Quiz #2

Well I know that you viewers enjoy photo quizzes. How do I know this? I read my blog stats and the photo quiz was my 2nd most viewed post for November (after the King Eider)! So here you go, here is another one! I have arranged them from what I would consider the easiest to the hardest.  Post in the comments section if you've got the guts!

Bird (s) #1

Bird #2
Bird #3
Bird #4
Bird #5
Bird #6
Bird #7
Good luck and enjoy!

Sunday 7 December 2014

Purple Sandpiper and Gull Roundup- Niagara River

Well this weekend I had another chance to get some "gulling" in on the Niagara River.  I met up with the Burrells who were leading a trip for the Kitchener-Waterloo Naturalist Club and we had a great time working the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake down to above the falls. We managed to find some of the interesting species such as Glaucous, Iceland, Thayer's and Lesser Black-backed Gull as well as an albino Bonaparte's Gull.

Although boring to some people, gull watching is a fascinating challenge to me, and one that I am far from mastering.  It involves sifting through countless subtle features such as mantle colour, shade of the legs, amount of black on the wings and overall size and shape, so much of which is dependent on the conditions available.

If you were sorting through the countless Herring Gulls on this breakwater you might miss the adult Glaucous Gull sitting at the back of the photo below.  But looking closely you can see it is actually quite a bit larger, has a slightly paler mantle and just looks a bit cleaner than the others.  If you could see the wing tips it would help, since this species has pale wingtips.  It is like a giant game of "Where is Waldo", and I loved those books when I was a kid!

Glaucous Gull- back middle
Iceland Gull on the left sits with a few Herring Gulls
Iceland Gull in flight, note those clean wingtips.
By far the most exciting bird of the day for me was this Purple Sandpiper that Ken quickly spotted just above the falls.  You can just see him sticking up at the top of the rock.  It amazes me that these birds select such a tumultuous site to rest and forage, the water was crashing by in massive waves, but none of this seemed to phase this little guy!

Purple Sandpiper
This Purple Sandpiper was  #249 for my Ontario year list!  I think I am going to get to my goal of 250 before the new year!  But what will be number 250??

Saturday 29 November 2014

Eurasian Tree Sparrow and King Eider, also Photo Quiz Results

This morning I decided to get up good and early in Fergus and jet down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see if I could spot the rare bird that has been making an appearance at someones front yard feeder.  So what is this rare bird you ask?  A Eurasian Tree Sparrow!  This species is not native to North America, and was introduced into the St. Louis area in 1870.  Unlike the pesky and invasive sister species, the House Sparrow, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow never really took off, and today it has populations mostly in Illinois.  From what I understand from talking to other birders, there are 8 records in Ontario, 4 of them from this year alone.  I arrived a little before 8am and got a prime watching spot in front of the house where the bird was seen.  Long story short, the bird appeared in the top of a nearby tree away from the feeders and I got a good look at it for 5-10 seconds before it vanished.  I was able to see clearly the black spots on the whitish cheeks which separate this species from House Sparrows.  Most other people seemed to have missed it and/or were too busy chatting! Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of it.  So overall a success, but I would have liked to see the bird for more than a few seconds after waiting for 2.5hrs!

The scene along Niagara Pkwy as birders wait to see the Eurasian Tree Sparrow
On the way home I checked Queen's Royal Park and also Port Weller marina where a King Eider had been spotted yesterday.  I found it as soon as I walked down to the shore and was thrilled to get great views of the bird as it swam towards me with a group of Common Mergansers.  I have seen females and young males before but never an adult male, so it was a real treat to see one so close!

One of the most beautiful ducks around, Adult Male King Eider!

Here are the bird photo quiz results from last week:
Bird #1: Wilson's Phalarope- Amherst Island
Bird #2- Golden Eagle- near Arthur
Bird#3- Bohemian Waxwing- Guelph Arboretum
Bird#4- Solitary Sandpiper- Strathroy sewage lagoons
Bird#5-Bald Eagle- Harrow
Bird#6- Canada Warbler- Waterloo

Congratulations to Benjamin Oldfield for getting 5(and a half) out of 6!

Thanks for playing and please play again!