Monday 30 June 2014


Check out these bonus images I took of some grassland species at a site in southwestern Ontario.  Enjoy!

Grasshopper Sparrow singing!

Grasshopper Sparrow

Acadian Hairstreak (about the size of your thumbnail)

Can you guess what open country species this nest belongs to? Nest is on the ground.
Answer: Vesper Sparrow!

Eastern Ontario Rarity Hunt

With the doldrums of June birding, Kingston has remained surprisingly active, with numerous rare birds popping up over the past month.  An incredibly cooperative Kentucky Warbler has been at Parrot Bay Conservation Area west of Kingston for most of June, and I am kicking myself for waiting so long to try for it.  

This weekend, Caitlyn and I headed home to Kingston to visit my family and on Sunday morning we tried, along with my dad, for the Kentucky but with no luck.  We then took the ferry across to Amherst Island to try for a Lark Bunting which has been there for a week or so.  This is a really rare bird for Ontario, and is a species that is typically found out west in the great plains.  We showed up at the address where this bird had been seen, and it took us longer than I expected to track it down!  I knew that it was reported to sound similar to a cardinal, and after listening for 20 minutes I heard several notes in the distance that sounded exactly like that!  However, the high wind was making it hard to pinpoint the exact location, and the bird kept dropping into the grass.  I finally spotted it sitting on a mullein stalk in the middle of the field.  I pointed it out for Caitlyn and dad and we all got decent looks.  I also snapped a few really, really bad shots of it for the record, as you can see below.  This is a small songbird that is all black except for parts of the wing that are white.  Other highlights at this spot were Upland Sandpipers and other grassland bird species.

Distant Lark Bunting

After we had located our primary objective, we turned our attention to finding a scissor-tailed flycatcher which was reported from near the same location! This has happened so many times before: a rare bird is found at a location, birders flock to the area and end up turning up other rare birds!  It really makes me wonder how many rare birds are going unnoticed!  Unfortunately, we were unable to locate this amazing bird.

Shortly after, we headed to the Kingston Field Naturalist property on the east end of the island to try and find breeding Wilson's Phalarope.  We were soon rewarded with looks at many of these elegant birds as they flew by and foraged at some small ponds.

Wilson's Phalarope

On the way back from the ponds we encountered a bizarre scene, a Snowy Owl perched in a the end of June!  This is the latest I have ever seen one of these birds in Ontario.  Right now this species should be on its breeding range in the arctic tundra, not sweating in southern Ontario heat!  It appeared to me that it was holding its right wing at an odd angle, which makes me guess that it may be slightly injured, although it has clearly been able to survive for months past when it should have migrated north!  It was also very tame, and allowed us to walk right under it as we followed the trail back to the car.

  Amherst Island never disappoints! There is always something to see at this gem in eastern Ontario.

Friday 20 June 2014

August Wilderness Trip, Site Selection: Beartooth Mountains

Every year when I a start planning our annual wilderness backpacking trip I have that "Aha" moment when I find "the right route".  After reviewing potential sites in Fitzpatrick Wilderness in Wyoming as well as a few spots in the Tetons, I cast my gaze northwards and eventually settled on a spot in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains of Montana.  The scenery and wild nature of this vast wilderness rivals nearly any spot in the lower 48.  For an idea of what some of this scenery looks like, check out the photos from this website:

After I had decided that the Beartooths were likely the best spot, I then needed to select the right route.  My travelling companions will agree that I have a tendency to pick some pretty strenuous routes, whereby we end up staring at the ground, gasping for air while we spend the better part of each day huffing it up the mountains.  This time, I'm determined to find the right balance between covering good distance and time for exploration!  I ordered and read this guide to hiking in the beartooths and started looking at potential routes:

The criteria for our ideal route is simple:
1) Great scenery
2) Isolation
3) Long enough to get away from the crowds, but short enough to allow for time to explore

Based on the guide book, I think that the best trail for us is the route from the East Rosebud Trailhead to Clarks Fork Trailhead.  Unlike our previous trips, this route is not a loop, but instead a one way trip from one trailhead to another, which will involve some shuffling of cars.  The guide book describes this route as traveling through the heart of the Beartooth Mountains and the trail is studded with sparkling blue alpine lakes.  The entire trail is just over 45km, including side trips, and if we are spending 6 nights along the trail, this gives us plenty of time to explore!

Getting to this wilderness area will be half the battle! Google Maps puts it at approximately 26hrs drive from the Guelph area, and we are gonna do this non-stop! Mike, Jensen and I will be heading from Ontario and Kyle will be doing a solo run from Victoria, B.C.

We will leave the Guelph area on Friday August 8th, arrive at the Beartooth Mountains late on Sunday night, drop Kyle's Jeep at the Clarks Fork Trailhead, drive to Red Lodge with Mike's car and stay in a hotel until Sunday morning when we will continue to our starting point at the East Rosebud Trailhead.

Here is a google maps of the approximate trail we will be taking.  Sunday morning will involve us starting from the East Rosebud Trailhead and hiking a fair distance to our first camp at Ranibow Lake.  The first half of the trail will be the most strenuous since it is mostly uphill.  On day 2 we will continue down the main trail until we reach a spot where I am planning to jump off trail for a bit to head to Medicine Lake where we will stay on Monday night.  On Tuesday we can continue on to Cairn Lake or stay at Medicine Lake if we like it.  This area is supposed to have some spectacular scenery, so we will want to spend a couple nights in the area (Tuesday and Wednesday night).  On Thursday we will continue down the trail to Fossil Lake where we will stay Thursday night, and Friday night will be halfway to the trailhead.  The last leg of the trip is the least scenic, and is all downhill, so we can make good time out to the trailhead.  We can then leave on Saturday morning for home.  The nice thing about wilderness areas is that there are no designated campsites, which gives you the freedom to select your own sites and adjust your route according to how you are feeling.

We are all excited about our third annual backpacking trip together. 2012: New Mexico, 2013: Colorado, 2014: MONTANA!

Monday 16 June 2014

Summertime Trip Planning!

June and July are the busiest months for avian biologists, and so, any trip plans that I have for the summer must wait until the end of July or August.  This year I have a few trips in mind including the annual wilderness backpacking trip that I take each year with my friends, father-son-brother Algonquin canoe trip, wedding anniversary trip and I would also like to take Caitlyn to Algonquin since she has never had a backcountry experience before!

This will be the 3rd annual backpacking trip that I will be taking with Kyle, Jensen and mountain Mike.  In 2012 we did New Mexico's Gila Wilderness, 2013 we did Colorado's Lost Creek Wilderness and in August 2014 we will go...where?  At first we were planning on doing Washington's North Cascades out in the Rocky Mountains, but we decided against it due to the high cost of flight.  Hence we have decided to do another epic roadtrip and meet Kyle (who lives in Victoria) halfway.  We have settled on doing something in Wyoming, which still leaves us plenty of options.  Right now I am thinking of either the Grand Tetons National Park which sits adjacent to Yellowstone, or the Fitzpatrick Wilderness area.  I am leaning towards Fitzpatrick which is a wild stretch of wilderness in the Wind River Mountain Range with spectacular rocky mountain vistas and little in the way of human traffic.  It is also home to Wyoming's highest moutain, Gannett Peak, at 13,804ft.  I still need to do a lot of research on trails etc. before we finalize the spot.

I haven't had much to post in the way of birding lately.  In June things slow down considerably once most of the migrants have passed through.  Right now I am stalled at 223 species in Ontario for the year, but there are still quite a few breeding birds that I could get, like Loggerhead Shrike!  Stay tuned and I will hopefully have some birding material for the blog in the coming days.

Monday 9 June 2014

Rondeau Area

I have been busy at work carrying out breeding bird surveys, which has meant a lot of early mornings!  A typical day for me now consists of waking up at 4am, completing a breeding bird survey until around 9:30am and heading into the office until the early afternoon, after which, I head home for a nap!

Today I was down in the Rondeau area for work, and after I finished up I decided to drop in at Rondeau Provincial Park for some birding! Target species were Prothonotary Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher, both of which I missed on Pelee Island!

While driving down the main road into Rondeau, I heard an Acadian Flycatcher call! I immediately stopped the car and got out to see if I could spot it, and sure enough, it was just a few metres away!  Unfortunately the lighting was not very good, but I still managed to get a few shots and a brief video.

Acadian Flycatcher

I walked the Tulip Tree Trail where I knew I had a good chance of seeing Prothonotary, and after reaching the swampiest sections of the trail I could hear the distinctive and quite loud "Zweet zweet zweet" call.  I briefly saw one fly through the swamp, but despite considerable effort, I wasn't able to lock onto one with my binoculars!  Another guy I met on the trail had great photos of several birds from earlier this morning!

I also got great looks at a Red-headed Woodpecker and Blanding's Turtle!

Red-headed Woodpecker
Blanding's Turtle and painted turtle in the foreground

Overall, a successful morning!  My excitement was dampened slightly when I discovered a black-legged deer tick embedded in my hand on the drive home! Gross!  The small size of this little sucker surprised me. This one appears to be a male.  I recommend being particularly vigilant when you are along the shoreline of Lake Erie and around the GTA, as these areas are known to have populations of this species which can carry the spiral bacteria responsible for causing Lyme Disease.  Check out the photos below that show just how small these guys can get!  I'm lucky this one was on my hand and not buried somewhere less visible!  I pulled the tick off with tweezers, washed with soap and saved the tick in a vile in my freezer.

The tick is at the lower left of my hand near the wrist