Thursday 18 February 2016

Shrewsbury Geese: Ross's, Greater White-fronted and Snow!

Today I was down in the Essex area for work with Heather and we swung by Shrewsbury to see what all the fuss was about with the rare geese being seen.  We showed up and got the spotting scope out since a mass of geese and swans was huddled around a small patch of open water quite far out on the ice. Unfortunately after watching them for only a few minutes the whole flock of Snow Geese took off and flew off several kilometres to the east along the shoreline.  We decided to see if we could track them down and after a few attempts of going down some dead end roads we found a way to get close to the water.  This was the scene we were greeted with:

All those white and brown specks are geese, swans and ducks!
We dared not go any closer for fear of flushing the birds, so we sat on the edge of this berm and got some good looks through the scope.  Shortly after scanning the flock we spotted a few Ross's Geese, numerous Greater White-fronted Geese and gobs of Snow Geese!  Unfortunately the photos are not great due to the distance and because I was basically shooting at random to try and get some shots of the rare birds.  We had pure Ross's Geese with the very stubby bills and smaller size, several birds which could have been hybrids and true Snow Geese as well.

Ross's Geese dead centre, Snow Geese to the right, Greater White-fronted Geese in bottom left

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Grand River Surprises

I was out at a site along the Grand River today for work and had some interesting sightings!  As I was by the edge of the river I heard a commotion among the waterfowl and saw this Coyote jump right into the water and begin to wade across!  I quickly snapped a few photos with my camera that I had thankfully brought with me.

Coyote - fording the Grand River
He quickly popped out on the bank at the other side and disappeared into the undergrowth without so much as a shake.

That's one wet puppy!
I scrambled up the bank myself to see if I could spy them cross the adjacent field and quickly realized that there were two Coyotes!

They eventually noticed that they were being watched from afar and made a dash for it across the field.

Another great and unexpected sighting!  Coyotes are one of my favourite examples of urban/rural wildlife that continue to thrive despite human encroachment into their habitats.  Despite massive eradication programs back in the day, this species has increased in abundance and refuses to stay down!

I had a couple of other good observations too:

Trumpeter Swans

Bald Eagle pair
First of the Year - Northern Pintail
Tomorrow I'm off to Belle River.  Here's hoping I see something else interesting, I will have my camera at the ready!

Monday 15 February 2016

Amherst Island Trip Report: Snowy Owl Bonanza!

To celebrate family day weekend, Caitlyn and I made the trek home to Kingston!  Besides spending a great time with my side of the family, we also made it out to Amherst Island on Sunday afternoon to do some owl watching.  Saturday was a bit too cold, but Sunday warmed up to -18 Celsius, and with the bright sun and low wind it was almost balmy!  It was Valentines Day, and I tried to play off the trip as a boat cruise to a romantic island getaway, but Caitlyn wasn't buying it.

Nonetheless, we caught the 130pm ferry over to the island along with two of my friends, Heather and Patrick, and reached 'owl woods' quickly.  Highlights on the way to the woods were numerous Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks and a couple Northern Harriers as well as the Northern Shrike shown in the pictures below.  This is one of my favourite birds.  They are called butcher birds for a reason, as one of our truly predatory songbirds, they often capture and kill prey such as mice, voles and small birds, after which they will often look for a small thorn to impale the prey on while they feed.

Northern Shrike

Below is a shot of a light phase Rough-legged Hawk dining on some small rodent.  It was right beside the road and gave great views and photo opportunities!

Rough-legged Hawk

We also saw this beautiful adult Bald Eagle fly by over head.

Bald Eagle

We scoured owl woods for an hour and a half and had a brief glimpse of one Long-eared Owl as it flew away.  Unfortunately, none of the other small owls made an appearance.  If they were there, they were likely very well hidden!

Not to be deterred, we made our way back to the cars to see if we could see a Snowy Owl or possibly even a Short-eared Owl.  On the walk out, we spotted our first Snowy!  This was followed quickly by another...and another and many more!

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (male)
This one had caught a rodent of some sort off the side of the road and gave great views!  I believe this bird to be a female or young bird due to the dark barring on the back and wings.

I like the shot below, it really shows how well camouflaged these birds can be.  Can you spot the owl in flight?

Snowy Owl -in flight
The sun was just setting, giving the trees and snow a pinkish hue.  This owl was huge! Likely a female, as lady owls are typically bigger than the boys.
Snowy Owl
As we were watching this Snowy Owl, we spotted our first Short-eared Owl flying around at the back of the field!  These smaller owls are fascinating to watch, as they actively hunt the fields.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl 

We decided to make one more pass around the east end of the island on the way back to the 6pm ferry, and saw many more Snowy Owls, bringing out total for the day to 15 individuals!  This is the most that I have ever seen in one day and there were almost certainly as many more that went unobserved.

Heather and Patrick looking at another Short-eared Owl that I drove right past!
Sunset on Amherst Island 
Snowy Owl -ghostly in the fading light
 I like this last shot of this Snowy Owl perched at the top of the tree as the sun goes down on Amherst.

Overall, a very fun day out, and I can hardly wait until my next day on the owl island.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Niagara River - Little Gull, Black Vultures and More!

This weekend I had the pleasure of paying another visit to the Stevensville and Fort Erie area to see some family.  Had a great dinner with the birthday twins (Terry and Chris), Fred and Skip at the Old Bank Bistro and I of course had some time to go birding on the river on Saturday afternoon.

Even though I saw much of the typical Niagara River rarities, I never get tired of seeing them again, especially in February when they are new for the year!

I started out at Mather Park and had great looks at the thousands of ducks flying, diving and resting on the water.

Mather Park ice
Many of the ducks were in full mating swing and were beginning to court.  At least the males seemed to be into it, this female seemed rather annoyed and outnumbered.  You can see the brown-headed female in the middle of the male Common Mergansers below.

Common Mergansers
I stopped at Dufferin Islands to see if I could pick up any interesting song birds and came away with great looks at this Tufted Titmouse.  About the size of a stocky chickadee, these birds have a lot of personality!

Tufted Titmouse

Iceland Gulls were all over the place on Saturday, I saw several near the Control Gates above Niagara Falls and a stop at the Whirlpool revealed this nice adult.  Unfortunately the tram wire got in the way of a clear shot.  It was neat to see one here, as I don't recall seeing them at this spot before.

Iceland Gull - note the clean white wings
The Whirlpool from above
 A stop at Adam Beck resulted in at least 6 Iceland Gulls, but not too much else except for a small herd of White-tailed Deer right along the road.  They seemed quite tolerant of my presence as I snapped off one obligatory photo.

I stopped at the Queenston overlook to see if I could spot the resident Black Vultures and was quickly rewarded.  I counted at least 8 birds circling and flying around although I think there were probably several more.  I never get tired of seeing this awesome bird.  The only spot in Ontario you could reliably find this species at almost any time.  In addition to Black Vultures, I also saw nearly a dozen Turkey Vultures as well.

Black Vulture
 I watched them for some time.  I really like the shot below.  Not bad considering the bird was likely at least a kilometre away on the American side over Lewiston, NY!  My trusty Sony HX-50 came through again!

Black Vulture
I then went down the hill into Queenston to the marina to look for gulls in hopes of seeing our smallest species of gull, the aptly named Little Gull.  I sifted through at least a thousand Bonaparte's Gulls and finally saw the dark underwings signaling that I had found an adult Little Gull. Unfortunately no photos, but I enjoyed watching it fly among the swarm of Bonapartes Gulls, occasionally dipping down to snatch a fish from the surface.  As I was preparing to leave I spotted some more Black Vultures, this time on the Canadian side flying quite close.  I managed to get a few decent shots!

Black Vulture
Black Vulture - incoming!
Black Vultures soaring
Black Vultures with gull photo bomb!

In this shot you can see a Black Vulture above and a Turkey Vulture below, note how the Turkey Vulture holds its wings in more of a V pattern whereas the Black holds them nearly flat.
Long-tailed Duck
Another enjoyable day on the river! Next weekend I hope to get some owl watching in on Amherst Island near my parents home!