Thursday 26 March 2015

Signs of Spring...and Winter?

Just when you think spring has sprung, you get a late March snow shower to give you a bit of doubt! Today while doing field work down near Lake St. Clair, the flakes started to come down thick, covering the ground and making the roads slick.  The Tundra Swans are starting to return, and after work we spotted some 4,000 near Hillman Marsh.  Other highlights of the trip included Rusty Blackbirds, Lapland Longspur and a plethora of ducks and waterfowl.

The ice is starting to come off of the Great Lakes, although some bays are still really jammed up.

Down near Niagara Falls, the Tufted Titmice have started the nesting process and I saw several going in and out of tree cavities.  These are the famous birds of Dufferin Islands.  These cute little birds, the size of chickadees are still a novelty to me, having grown up in Southeastern Ontario where they are scarce.

Hang on! Next week they are calling for double digit temperatures!

Saturday 21 March 2015

Resort Birding in Playa Del Carmen Mexico!

I just got back from a great stay in Playa Del Carmen Mexico.  We stayed at the beautiful Sandos Playacar Beach Resort, and I can easily say it is the best resort I've ever stayed at!  The grounds were immaculate and had lots of natural vegetation which attracted lots of really cool birds!  I have included a few shots of the wildlife and scenery that we saw in and around our resort in the Mayan Riviera!

We saw numerous mammal species on the resort grounds including Spider Monkeys, Deer, Coatimundis and Agoutis.

White-tailed Deer (a familiar face)
Common birds on the resort were Great-tailed Grackles, White-winged Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Great Kiskadee, Yucatan Jay among others.

Great-tailed Grackle
Eurasian Collared Dove
Melodious Blackbird
Yucatan Jay (male with the yellow bill on the left, female on the right)

I was also happy to see several of our own neotropical migrants on the resort including numerous warblers such as Yellow-throated, Magnolia, Yellow and Black-and-white as well as others such as Summer Tanager.

Yellow-throated Warbler!
Summer Tanager!
Other birds I was really happy about seeing all within a stone's throw of my hotel door were the following beauties:

Yucatan Woodpecker
Black-headed Trogon!
Black-headed Trogon 
White-fronted Parrot
White-fronted Parrot
Plain Chachalaca

Probably one of our favourite birding moments came while biking around the resort area when I heard a funny sound up in one of the trees along the sidewalk and stopped to investigate.  Here we found 2 tiny Ferruginous Pygmy Owls!  We had great views and got a couple of shots!

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl!

A couple of other species around the hotel grounds included Cinnamon Hummingbird, Clay-coloured Thrush, and Black-bellied Whistling Duck.

Cinnamon Hummingbird
Clay-coloured Thrush
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
 We did one main excursion where we went ziplining, rappelling into a cenote (a cave with fresh water at the bottom) and also visited a huge ancient mayan city called Coba.  The Coba temple is the tallest one in Mexico.  It was also here that Caitlyn discovered her fear of heights.

View from the top of Coba Temple

There were numerous interesting birds around the ruins including this King Vulture which soared overhead.
King Vulture
Also several songbirds such as Social Flycatchers and Yellow-throated Euphonias

Social Flycatcher
Yellow-throated Euphonia

Flying out of Cancun Airport
We flew out of the Cancun Airport hoping that the weather had improved back home, another great trip in the books with my wonderful wife!

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Harris's Sparrow, Duck Murder and Snowy Owls

It feels good to be outside, especially because it is that time of year when you can sense that winter is winding down!  The temperatures are warming, the birds are starting to sing and the snow banks are receding like my hairline.  Today I was in Hamilton to do some work and managed to squeeze in a little birding before (and after) the site visit.

My pre-work stop involved twitching the nearby Harris's Sparrow.  This bird has stayed in this location for weeks now, and I haven't gotten around to seeing it.  I generally prefer to combine twitching birds with other nearby activities (unless they are super rare!).  This sparrow breeds in the high arctic of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and typically winters in Tornado Alley from Texas north to Nebraska.  This species is a regular vagrant to Ontario, showing up every year.  At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to find it since it wasn't around for a bit when I arrived, and some lady had waited for 1.5hrs prior with no luck, but then it promptly showed up and I snapped a few pictures.  This species is our largest sparrow and this individual appears to be a 1st winter bird.

Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
 After I finished up at my field site in Hamilton, I checked a couple of spots along the Lake Ontario shoreline.  I stopped at a small park near Brandon's condo and saw some more duck murder taking place (check out Brandon's story on the Bald Eagles hunting ducks).  I watched as a Great Black-backed Gull mangled and slowly drowned an adult Surf Scoter, which is a type of diving duck.  The battle continued for several minutes until the duck seemingly escaped by diving under water, but the gull followed him from above and every time he tried to come up for air the gull dove on him until he was exhausted.  When he came up for air, the gull finished him off quickly.  A gruesome reality of winter life for ducks on the Great Lakes.

A little further up the shoreline I had some great views of a Snowy Owl to cap off the day.  This one was perched along the shoreline on the mounds of ice that have piled up.  I like the starkness of these photos, they could just as well be taken in the arctic.

Sleepy Owl

Thursday 5 March 2015

Life in the Undergrowth- Spring is Coming

It has been too long since my last post, but I am determined that I will keep my blog somewhat active as this winter begins to wind down.  Believe it or not, but within the next few weeks and months, Ontario will come alive again with all of the species that have laid dormant for the better part of 4 months.  Insects, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals beneath the snow will emerge and things will start to get very interesting for the nature lovers again!

Northern Short-tailed Shrew

Dutchman's Breeches
Bombus ternarius (Tri-coloured Bumblebee)
Northern Map Turtle hachling