Monday 28 April 2014

The Birds of This Week

I've been around to a lot of random spots lately looking for birds and thought I would post a few of the more interesting photos I've snapped.  

I was up in Luther Marsh with Ken on Sunday and we had a great time spotting waterfowl, sandhill cranes, raptors and various other migrants.  We also got up close views of these 3 trumpeter swans!

One of North America's largest birds, the trumpeter swan is HUGE and much larger than the more common tundra swan!
This morning I was able to hit up some spots near a work site in the Durham area.  Some of the highlights were numerous little gulls in full breeding plumage at Oshawa's Second Marsh as well as 6 greater white-fronted geese and a cackling goose!  For those of you who don't know, the cackling goose looks like a shrunken Canada goose, and in fact used to be considered the same species.  Recently it was determined to be a distinct species and was split from the Canada goose.  This sub-species of cackling goose is called the Richardson's cackling goose.  Note the stubby neck, short bill, overall small size and the thin white collar on the neck right below the black.

The diminutive cackling goose! 
Compare the cackling goose on the right to the Canada goose on the left
Thickson's Woods at the Whitby lakeshore.  
The resident Great Horned Owl was actively grooming himself and hooting in broad daylight

Northern Mockingbird in Whitby

Can't get enough of these birds!
Anyways, that's all for now!

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Thickson's Woods

After work the other day, a colleague and I stopped by Thickson's Woods in Whitby to check out the local avifauna.  This site is a small remnant patch of old growth forest, one of the only of its kind adjacent to the Lake Ontario shoreline.  It has many very large white pines and various deciduous trees.  The site certainly stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding lands of Whitby!

Although we didn't see anything rare on our outing, we did see a good assemblage of songbirds including hermit thrush, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warbler and the first brown thrasher that I have seen this season.

We also saw tons of red-necked grebes in breeding plumage, carrying out courtship displays with one another and being quite vocal.  

Nearby we also found American woodcock and Virginia rail.

Winter Wren
Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Grebe

Here is a short clip of the Virginia rail.  They are really skittish!  They are also very skinny, hence the saying "thin as a rail".

April Ebird Challenge

You have probably heard me mention Ebird several times in my posts, but in case you haven't, it is an online program that allows you to log bird observations anywhere in the world, providing important data for researchers monitoring bird populations.  Every now and then Ebird will suggest a challenge, this month's challenge was to carry out a 1 hr, stationary point count, and record all the birds observed including high flying migrants.

I was home in Kingston for Easter and decided to go to Lemoine Point Conservation Area adjacent to Lake Ontario to do mine.  It actually turned out to be a lot of fun! I chose a spot that was adjacent to a wetland, the lake, open fields, and forested habitat to better my chances of getting species.

In the 1 hr I was there, Caitlyn and I were able to tally 35 species.  Some of the highlights included a wilson's snipe, common loons, bonaparte's gulls and the first barn swallows of the year for me.  The complete list can be viewed here:

The 1hr point count location at Lemoine Point

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Name that Shrike!

I was finishing up at a work site near Strathroy on Monday when a quick flash of black and white materialized from out of a hedgerow.  I immediately knew the bird was a shrike, and if this was the middle of February I would have simply passed the bird off as another Northern Shrike, a species that spends its's winters in Ontario.  However, the fact that we are well into April made me excited about the possibility of this bird being an endangered Loggerhead Shrike!  Unfortunately the bird flew off around a hedge row with the wind (which was blowing at nearly 70km/h) and vanished in the blink of an eye.  I spent about 15 mins searching for the bird and eventually saw it several fields over, hunting along the edge of a fence line.

I got my spotting scope out and took a look, and although the pale colour looked good for Northern Shrike, the thick black mask stuck out and suggested the possibility of Loggerhead, which should be arriving now in Ontario.  I continued to watch the bird and eventually was satisfied that this was in fact just a late Northern Shrike.  The combined features of faint streaking on the breast, a long(ish) hooked bill, light gray mantle confirm that this bird is a Northern Shrike.  Still an interesting find, good practice, and a fun bird to watch.  Shrikes are aptly named "butcher birds", for their habit of impaling mice and songbirds that they have killed on thorns and barbed wire and returning for them later.
Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike
Northern Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike in Florida, note the much darker head and mantle and the very thick mask that covers the eye.

Long Point

On Sunday, I went with some of the other birding enthusiasts at NRSI to visit Long Point Provincial Park and area.  Our goal was to see some of the first migrants of the year and we were not disappointed! Although we didn't see anything that I would classify as rare, we did have a good diversity of birds including 15 new birds for my year list, bringing me up to 115.

Among these birds were pine warblers, yellow-rumped warblers and numerous sparrows.  I managed to get a few photos.

A pine warbler caught in and removed from the researcher's mist nets

Still plenty of ice bergs off of Long Point!

Brett knew of a spot that we could also find a rare tree, eastern flowering dogwood.  An S2 species in Ontario, making this species imperiled.

Eastern Flowering Dogwood

Eastern Flowering Dogwood

Friday 11 April 2014

Greater White-fronted Goose

For a couple weeks now I've been trying to track down the reported Greater White-fronted Geese at Laurel Creek in Waterloo without any luck.  After hearing reports from ebird that a bird was spotted near Elora, almost on my route home, I decided to check it out. I'm sure glad I did, because I quickly located this rare goose amongst a large flock of Canada geese, tundra swans, northern pintails, mallards and American black ducks.  I also found a mallard X black duck hybrid.

Again, apologies for the crappy shots, but this way you get to see it almost as poorly as I did!

This bird is the 100th bird species I've seen in Ontario this year.  I'll take that as a good sign.  Last year, the 100th species I saw in the province was a peregrine falcon in Hamilton on April 14th, so I am a few days ahead of my pace last year despite the cold, long winter! I enjoy keeping track of how many species I see each year, a fun game to try to beat my record from previous years.

Greater White-fronted Goose with the pinkish bill.

Thursday 10 April 2014

The slow march of spring

The snow is finally melting significantly in southwestern Ontario, with daytime temperatures creeping up into the double digits.  The Grand River that runs through Fergus and Elora was quite high this past weekend, and Caitlyn and I enjoyed watching huge ice floes crash over the dam.  I am also starting to see more of the hardiest insectivorous migrants returning including tree swallows and the always hardy eastern phoebe. The warblers and a significant push of other neo-tropical migrants should be just around the corner!

The mighty Grand River

Hooded Mergansers and Mallards at Columbia Lake, Waterloo

Eastern Phoebe at Columbia Lake

Saturday 5 April 2014

Swallows are back!

I stopped by several spots in Guelph that I like to check for birds in the spring, and was rewarded with very little.  The cold temperatures and northern winds seem to be holding back a lot of migrants south of the border.  However, I did manage to see my first tree swallows of the year at Riverside Park as well as a horned grebe coming into breeding plumage.  The tree swallows in particular were a nice sight for winter weary eyes, although I'm not sure how they are finding enough insects to eat in the weather today which was just above zero with frigid wind chills.  I snapped a few crappy record shots. Check it out:

Tree swallows on the far side of the river

Check out those horns on the horned grebe!

A beautiful bird once it gets into breeding plumage

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Migration is underway!

With the (slightly) warming temperatures, we are starting to see an influx of migrants into southern Ontario!  Keep an eye and ear out for tundra swans, geese and other waterfowl heading north overhead.

I stopped by the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area after work one day with Pat and we were both rewarded with as many as 300 tundra swans.  Although that may sound like a lot, it pales in comparison to the reports coming in from areas like Long Point where as many as 3,000 were observed and the Pinery area where 15,000 were reported!