Sunday 30 March 2014

Niagara River

Caitlyn and I headed down to Stevensville on Friday to visit the in-laws, and I was able to squeeze in some time to bird the Niagara River.  This is definitely one of my favourite spots to bird watch in Ontario, mainly because of the great diversity of birds present as well as all the different spots to stop and look for them along the river.  This time of the year the birding is not as good here as during the fall, however, I was still able to spot a bunch of migratory harbingers of spring including killdeer, sandhill cranes, northern pintail and many others.

Highlights of the trip included a good assortment of ducks and a red-necked grebe on the river, tufted titmouse at Dufferin Islands, glacous gull at Adam Beck and little gulls at the Queenston Marina (skunked again on the black vulture at Queenston overlook...).

I unfortunately wasn't able to get any good shots that you would want to see.  I did manage to snap a distant photo of one of the adult little gulls. 

This adult shows off the characteristic pale wing edges that separate the similar bonaparte's gull
The dead give away for this guy is the dark underside of the wings that shows up at a great distance.  Bonaparte's gulls will show white below.  Try not to get motion sick, this guy was really far away!

Thursday 27 March 2014

Brown Creeper

Here are some pictures of a brown creeper that I saw in Waterloo a little while back.  I thought I would post the pictures since I think it's a neat little bird!  As the name suggests, it creeps vertically along the trunk of trees searching for any bugs that might be hiding in the bark.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Murder on the Grand! **Warning Graphic Nature Scene*

I was out the other day with a friend of mine after work near the Grand River and we came across this scene.  Warning, some of these images are graphic, the circle of life sometimes isn't so pretty.  This white-tailed deer was killed by Coyotes.

I find it interesting to look at the tracks of the wildlife that were consuming the deer.  We even found that the friendly little eastern chipmunks were feeding on the carcass and dragging little bits of the deer into their holes.

We also discovered a rare plant in the area, American columbo.  Credit to Andrew for spotting and identifying these plants.  This species has an S-rank of S2 meaning that this species is imperiled in the province.  This status is typically reserved for species with 20 or fewer known occurences in Ontario.

American Columbo remains visible as this dry stalk in the winter

Here is another rare plant (S3-vulnerable in Ontario) that we found to be present in good numbers along the Grand River, Pignut Hickory:

Some cute chipmunks leaving their den after a long winter!

Thursday 20 March 2014

Florida Part 3/3; Dry Tortugas National Park

One of the most exciting parts of our trip to Florida was visiting Dry Tortugas National Park.  Dry Tortugas is a tiny island that is 110km and a 2.5hr boat ride from Key West.  We took the high speed catamaran 'Yankee Freedom', and we were not disappointed!  Dry Tortugas is well known for its beaches, world class snorkeling, pelagic birding and the massive Fort Jefferson which is the largest masonry structure in the US, containing 16 million bricks!  The fort was later used as a prison, and even once housed some of the men who conspired to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Arrival at the Dry Tortugas dock
Entrance to Fort Jefferson

You can walk all around the fort on the moat wall

Some of the clearest water I have ever seen
We went snorkeling at various locations on the island and were amazed by the numbers of colourful fish and coral! We kept our eyes out for hammerhead sharks, sea turtles and the resident American crocodile, but didn't see them.

The snorkeling was amazing! 

Caitlyn walks down the beach, Yankee Freedom is in the background

Dry Tortugas is well known as a birding hotspot, in particular for the massive colony of Sooty Terns, Brown Noddys, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Masked Boobys
Swarm of nesting birds

After snorkeling, birding and lounging on the beach, we decided to take a walk around the historic Fort Jefferson.

We took the spiral staircase to the top of the wall
View from the top
View inside the walls from the top of the walls

Walking path along the top of the fort wall

One of many fort cannons.  Range for these beasts was 3km!

A nice quiet spot inside the walls

Great Egret hunting on Dry Tortugas
After checking the fort out, I had to go get another look at the bird breeding colonies.  I tried to get a few closer photos of the subjects buzzing around.

Brown Noddy gathering nesting material
Brown Noddys
Sooty Terns!

Researchers trying to catch Sooty Terns to make some measurements

Researchers measuring/banding terns
Breeding male Magnificent Frigatebird with his throat pouch inflated

Ruddy Turnstones on the beach

Heading back to the ferry after an amazing day on Dry Tortugas!
Check out this video of the Dry Tortugas nesting colony!  I just noticed how bored Caitlyn looks in this video, I guess she didn't enjoy the birds as much as me hahaha!

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Florida Part 2/3: The Keys

After a great day in the Everglades we decided to head down from Florida City to Marathon, a large island in the middle of the Florida Keys.  Along the way we stopped at several spots in Key Largo including one of our favourites, John Pennekamp State Park.

Kayaking in the mangroves in John Pennekamp!
Mangroves! We saw a sting ray right near this spot, but it was too quick to get a picture

Palm Warbler was the most common warbler in the keys
John Pennekamp had some really neat walking trails
The grove trail

The grove had lime trees!
Unidentified lizard.
Crappy shot of a breeding Lesser Black-backed Gull
Marathon keys sunset
We hiked the short trails at Crane point on Marathon Key, which is a beautiful nature preserve that encompasses some of the largest intact forests in the keys.
Crane Point Marathon key
Hammock Skipper
Thatched Palm?, common in forests within the keys- Caitlyn's favourite plant of the trip!
The Crane Point
After Marathon Key, we visited the nearby Bahia Honda Key State Park, renowned mostly for its beautiful white sand beaches.

Rated the best beach in America in 1993.
Bahia Honda Beach
One of our favourite, less crowded parks was Curry Hammock State Park.  This spot boasted awesome beaches and much more wildlife than Bahia Honda.

Curry Hammock State Park
Semi-palmated Plover, should soon be on his way up north to breed

Sanderlings and Black Skimmer
Beautiful sand and water of Curry Hammock

Jellyfish sack
Curry Hammock Trail
Whiptail species.  I find these guys hard to tell apart. 
One day we visited the historic Key West, renowned for its shops, night life and sight seeing.  The town itself is beautiful, with massive trees and vines encircling large, beautiful, southern style homes.

Key West

Ernest Hemingway's house.  He doesn't live there anymore

St. Mary's Star of the Sea Basilica

Key West Marina

My apologies for all those pictures of buildings and towns.  We will now get back to the important nature stuff.

Black Skimmers having a good time at the Key West docks

Two of three White-crowned Pigeons we saw in the keys.  Very rare outside of southern Florida

And of course a Brown Pelican!
Part 3 of this blog will show photos from what was arguably the most exciting part of the trip, a 70 mile boat journey to Dry Tortugas National Park! I should have that up in the next couple days.  Stay tuned!