Wednesday 23 December 2015

Vermilion Flycatcher - Wallaceburg

This past Friday another incredibly rare bird showed up in Ontario, a Vermilion Flycatcher!  This is a species that is typically found much further south in the southwestern U.S and into Mexico.  At this time of year, most Vermilion Flycatchers would be wintering along the Gulf Coast or into South America!  But for some reason, a young 1st year male bird showed up north of Wallaceburg, Ontario.  Because this bird is a young male, it does not show all the vibrancy of an adult male, but you can still see patches.  As the bird matures it will transform into a striking red colour covering the chest and head.  This is only the 6th record for Ontario ever!

This guy was very active, flying around constantly to catch small insects and then returning to its perch to feed.  Being a flycatcher, it is very lucky to have found itself in Ontario during one of the most mild winters.  A prolonged cold snap would be hard on this bird!

Vermilion Flycatcher

Monday 7 December 2015

Niagara River Gull Trip

I joined the annual Burrell led gull trip on the Niagara River this past weekend.  I ended up having a great day on the river with the highlights being 9 species of gulls, Harlequin Duck, Fish Crows and a King Eider on the way home in Hamilton.

Unfortunately most birds were way to far away to get anything resembling a decent photograph.

I did however manage to finally get a decent video of a Fish Crow calling.  Enjoy!  For some reason I can't seem to get enough of these guys, and I have good luck finding them pretty much every time I look.  Turn up the volume and listen for that squeaky toy sounding call.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Escalante Video Flashback

As many of you know, I went on a backpacking adventure with my 3 travelling companions this August (trip reports are below) and since things have been slow for me on the birding front this past week, I thought I would share a couple of the videos with you.  They really give a better sense of the scale of the scenery and the feel for it.  For best viewing in youtube click the HD wheel and watch in 1080p.

Trip Report Part 1

Trip Report Part 2

This first video is from 25-Mile Wash.  One of the more rugged and remote areas I have been backpacking, we saw neither sight nor sign of another person for the 3 days we were in this area.  Although the scenery isn't as crazy as in Coyote Gulch, I thought it was fascinating and wild!

The surprises within Escalante are endless. This tiny slot canyon was definitely one of them! It was very muddy but well worth the work to get inside.

 This next video is from Coyote Gulch and shows the Coyote Natural Bridge.  Although this is the most popular canyon in the area, we still only saw a handful of people each day, and the scenery made it well worth it.

This video shows Jacob Hamblin Arch.

This was one of my favourite spots and gives you a great sense of the vast roof that stretched over our heads.


On our way out of Coyote Gulch across the slickrock desert. The sun is just starting to rise.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the video tour of one of North America's natural treasures.  I can wholeheartedly say that I will be back to this area some day!

Saturday 21 November 2015

Bronte Birding Bonanza! Red Phalarope, Cave Swallows and Snowy Owl

This morning I dropped Caitlyn off at a dentist appointment in Guelph, and when she got out, I read the reports coming in from Bronte Harbour of a Red Phalarope and Cave Swallows.  We decided to get some lunch from Mucho Burrito and make the short drive down to the lake shore.  Immediately upon arriving at the marina we saw birders looking into the water, and quickly spotted the Red Phalarope right on the shore, seemingly oblivious to the birders and photographers (some within 6-8ft!).  I decided that approximately 25ft was close enough, no need to stress a bird or risk scaring it away.

Red Phalarope is a species of shorebird that breeds in the high arctic and passes through Ontario on its way to wintering grounds in the ocean off of South America and occasionally as far north as North America.  You may not be able to tell, but this is a tiny bird, weighing only 2 ounces!  Nonetheless, it is remarkably hardy and is a pelagic species that spends most of its time far out on the open ocean!

Red Phalarope

I asked some birders where the Cave Swallows had been seen, and someone said they were in the marina right behind me! We quickly walked over there and immediately saw two of them foraging for invisible flies in the sheltered side of the marina.  This is the first time I have seen Cave Swallow in Ontario!  What a treat to have two flying literally within feet of the birders present, right over our heads!  They are too fast to get good photos with my point and shoot, but that didn't stop me from trying. 

Cave Swallows are typically found in Texas and Mexico, but the past few weeks of warm south winds have facilitated their movement far to the north!  As much as I love seeing this rare bird, I can't help but wonder how much longer they can survive.  The insect populations are dwindling (it was snowing in Fergus today)!

Cave Swallow

In Bronte Harbour, a bonus Snowy Owl was perched on the breakwall.  This is a good spot for them, it is likely that they are feeding on the abundant waterfowl which are often present here.

What a day, the Cave Swallows were my 260th bird species for me in Ontario this year!

Sunday 15 November 2015

Yellow-throated Warbler and Fish Crows in Fort Erie

This weekend I went home to Stevensville with Caitlyn to visit family and had a great time! I spent a great deal of Saturday morning and afternoon birding the Niagara River from Fort Erie up to around Queenston.  I was having a pretty good day with good numbers of ducks and gulls including an adult Little Gull at Adam Beck with several hundred Bonaparte's Gulls.  At that point I got Ken's text that a Yellow-throated Warbler had been found by Barb Charlton at the foot of Kraft Road in Fort Erie, a spot I check for birds occasionally when I am down.  I jumped on the QEW and made tracks to the location and searched with several other local birders for nearly an hour.  We were just about to leave when I spotted the bird among a flock of juncos close to the water!  I was able to get a few record shots with my trusty point and shoot.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Several other highlights of the day included this adult Peregrine Falcon that I spooked from a tree along the river.  The bird then flew to and perched on the rail bridge where I snapped a few shots.

Peregrine Falcon
 I saw several Bald Eagles, which are common along the river and lake, especially at this time of the year.  This adult bird was flying really low along the surface and I thought for sure it was going to try to grab for one of the Bufflehead, but it kept right on going.

Bald Eagle
The Bufflehead were the most abundant duck on the river by far.  They could be found all over the place, often in huge rafts like this one.

 Bonaparte's Gulls were found in good numbers but have still not built up too much.  I expect there will be lots more coming to the river in the next few weeks.

Bonaparte's Gulls
This morning, I checked the river quickly and then drove through Fort Erie to see if I could find any Fish Crows!  This has been a great spot to find them the past few years.  On Bowen Road I saw a large flock of crows and stopped to listen.  Sure enough, I quickly heard the nasal calls of at least one far out in a field.  Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph or videotape.

There is a Fish Crow in there somewhere!

I've said it before and I will say it again, the Niagara River always delivers some surprise!

Saturday 31 October 2015

Pacific Loons and Little Gulls! Minet's Point Lake Simcoe

Today I decided that I would finally make my way up to Lake Simcoe to try and find the Pacific Loon(s) that has been seen there off and on the past week or so.  Caitlyn came with me and we arrived at Minet's Point on Lake Simcoe at 8:55am and within 5 minutes, I had spotted a Pacific Loon out on the water a couple hundred metres away!  It quickly dove and disappeared and two other birders spotted a second individual!  The second bird was less far along in the molt process (transition from breeding feathers to winter plumage) and still had some of that silvery nape typical of this species!  I was thrilled to see both and stayed for over an hour watching them and trying to take a few distant record shots.  An added bonus were the numerous Little Gulls that were also present!

View from Minet's Point
Pacific Loon!
Pacific Loon in the foreground showing that silvery nape and head, Common Loon in the middle, Red-necked Grebe in the back.

Pacific Loon #2!  This individual has molted into wintering plumage.  Based on the dark head and white spots on the back I think this one is an adult as well.

Little Gull! Note the white wing tips.
Bonaparte's Gull for comparison, note the black on the trailing wing edge.
Common Loon - of course the common ones always come closer!
A fantastic day of birding! I hope all the folks who drove out to Ottawa to see Ontario's first record of Pink-footed Goose are lucky and find it!

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Greater White-fronted Goose - Floradale Woolwich Reservoir

Early this afternoon Ken Burrell found a Greater White-fronted Goose at the Floradale Woolwich Reservoir north of Elmira.  On my drive back to Fergus I decided to check it out, and sure enough, I found the bird in among several hundred Canada Geese!  Not great photos but I had excellent looks through my spotting scope.  The last Greater White-fronted Goose I saw was on March 31 near Point Pelee!

This species breeds in the high arctic from Nunavut west to Alaska and winters on the west coast of the U.S, Gulf Coast and Mexico.

Greater White-fronted Goose - front and centre.
Greater White-fronted Goose - right
Also, have you birders noticed the new feature where you can now upload photos directly to your ebird checklist!?  I have been waiting for this for ages!  The winter will be a good chance to get caught up and upload some photos to old checklists I have submitted.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Hawk Cliff - Golden Eagle and Cattle Egret!

Today I spent the morning and part of the afternoon with the KW Nature Club at Hawk Cliff near Port Stanley with the hopes of seeing a big push of migrant raptors.  I was not disappointed!

Check out this ebird checklist:

Highlights included large numbers of Turkey Vultures (3,460), Red-shouldered Hawks (21), Bald Eagles (15) and the bird that many of us were hoping to see...a Golden Eagle!  No matter how many times I see this bird, it always thrills me!  This was a young bird that gave great views to those present.  Unfortunately this bird (like many of the hawks) was quite backlit, giving mostly a silhouette in the photos.

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk 

After Hawk Cliff we made our way along the lake shore towards Port Rowan where we had heard news of a Cattle Egret!  We saw it almost immediately foraging for bugs stirred up by the cows which it followed around continuously!  Ken said that this is the 3rd Cattle Egret they have seen in this same field, apparently it is a favourite spot!
Cattle Egret
Earlier in the day we also saw this nice Snow Goose!
Snow Goose
A really great day, I added 2 year birds to my list (Golden Eagle and Cattle Egret) bringing my yearly total to 255 species for Ontario.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Spotted and Jefferson Salamanders!

Here are a few more salamander photos from the most recent bought of rain which brought these guys out of the ground in southern Ontario.

Spotted Salamander
Spotted Salamander
Jefferson Salamander
Jefferson Salamander

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Stevensville Conservation Area - It's Thanksgiving!

This past weekend I was down in Stevensville for Thanksgiving with my inlaws, and although the weather wasn't great for birding, it was phenomenal for getting out and exploring!  This year we did our annual walk around the Stevensville Conservation Area and had the pleasure of taking in the sights of this lovely little spot.  Fall colours were just starting to pop!

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Cedar Waxwing

Monday 5 October 2015

The Little Things

Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for the big wildlife species, forgetting that there is a fascinating micro world beneath our very feet!  I was out at a work site this morning and snapped a few pictures of some very special (and tiny) salamanders and newts.

First up were many of these Eastern Newts, which are called "Red Efts" during their terrestrial life cycle.  They are toxic to consume and they warn predators of this with their bright colours!  

I am used to finding Red-backed Salamanders while in the woods, but the diminutive size of this one took me by surprise!  It couldn't have been much more than 1cm long!  These are by far the most common salamander in the forest and you have a very good chance of finding one by flipping small rotten logs in any southern Ontario forest.  They are unique among salamanders in that they live a fully terrestrial life cycle, never spending time in the water.  Eggs are laid under fallen logs and are protected by the parents aggressively!

I put them both on the same leaf for a nice size comparison

And finally, the best salamander of all, an Endangered Jefferson Salamander! Without genetic analysis it is impossible to tell for sure if this one is a pure Jefferson Salamander since they occasionally interbreed with other similar species.  Jefferson Salamanders belong to a group called "mole salamanders" meaning they spend much of their lives underground.  

Don't forget to enjoy the little things in life!