Monday 30 May 2016

Bruce Peninsula Big Day 2016

Saturday was the annual NRSI Bruce Peninsula Big Day where a group of us try to see as many birds on the Bruce Peninsula area as possible from pre-dawn until dusk.  We started at Macgregor Point Provincial Park and worked our way right up to Tobermory.  Overall, we found the day started out slowly, with many of the warblers not making an appearance.  Hence, our overall total was lower than the last time I did it when we had 143, but we still finished with a respectable 134.5 species (I added the 0.5 since we had 1 hybrid duck - Mallard x Pintail).  The highlight for me was definitely hearing the Least Bittern calling at the Ducks Unlimited Pond!  Songbird photography is getting progressively harder as the leaves start to fill out, but below are a few shots I was able to get from the day.

We tracked down both Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler. I have seen both species singing each others songs, and I can't in good conscience call it one or the other without visual confirmation.
Golden-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler.  Would be a great shot except for that branch!
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Indigo Bunting
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker
Sedge Wren - as the light was fading
Sandhill Crane
American Bittern hiding in the grass.
Upland Sandpiper
Once again we saw the Endangered Piping Plovers at Sauble Beach.  These exclosures have been put up to keep people from trampling the nests and scaring the birds away.  You can see the exclosure fencing that covers the nest and keeps raccoons and other nasties from eating the eggs.  An adult was sitting right on the nest.

The gang at Malcolm Bluffs
Malcolm Bluffs overlook
Black Creek Provincial Park
Next week Caitlyn and I are up on the Bruce again where I will be leading a guided hike for the Huron Fringe Birding Festival on birds and bugs.  It should be a good time as long as the weather cooperates!

Wednesday 25 May 2016

More May Migrants

May is my favourite month of the year.  Spring has sprung in earnest, and birds are everywhere!  The past couple of weeks the rare bird reports have slowed down, since it is a lot harder to find songbirds among the thickening foliage.  Here are a few of the birds I was able to capture on film the past little while.

Blue-winged Warbler - Cambridge
Blue-winged Warbler
Finally saw some Whimbrel today a Waverly Beach!

Great-crested Flycatcher
Scarlet Tanager
On Saturday I will be doing the "Bruce Big Day".  My friends at NRSI and I will try to see how many species of birds we can see/hear in 24hrs on the Bruce Peninsula!  A tiring, but satisfying day.  Last year, I recall that I saw 143 species!

Monday 16 May 2016

Two Rare Warblers for the Price of one: Worm-eating Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat

This morning I had some work down in Essex Region and decided to wake up early to do some bird watching at Point Pelee National Park beforehand.  I'm really glad I did, because I was able to re-find the Worm-eating Warbler which had been on Chinquipin Trail for the past few days.  After searching around in the area for a while I eventually heard the insect-like trill of this species and tracked it down.  I had incredible views as the bird climbed up the trunk of a tree right in front of me!

Worm-eating Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
After wandering around the tip of Pelee waiting for the tram to come pick me up, I spotted a bird hopping along on the edge of a bush.  A beautiful Yellow-breasted Chat!  I was thrilled, not one but two great warblers!  This guy hung around for a minute or two and one other person saw it until it vanished into the undergrowth as only chats can do!
Yellow-breasted Chat - Peek a boo!
Orchard Oriole
 I stopped very quickly at Hillman Marsh and had hundreds of Black-bellied Plover (pictured below) as well as American Golden Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone among others.
Black-bellied Plovers
 Can anyone guess what species these eggs belong to?  Spotted in a wet hedgerow.  I will post the answer shortly.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Canatara Park Prothonotary Warbler

On Friday, I had work down in the Strathroy area, and got word that some rare birds were being seen at Canatara Park in Sarnia.  Since it was only an extra 35 minutes away I decided to get up early to see if I could find them.  I was specifically looking for the Worm-eating Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler that were seen there the day before.  Having never been there before, I wandered through the large park until I came upon habitat that looked good for Prothonotary (they like swampy areas).  After seeing many different warbler species, I saw a small yellowish bird hopping from stem to stem just above the water: Prothonotary Warbler!  The name Prothonotary comes from the clerks in the Roman Catholic church whose robes were bright yellow.  No luck on the Worm-eating Warbler, but if I saw everything on the first try, it wouldn't be so interesting!

Prothonotary Warbler
 I also saw this curious Raccoon foraging in the woods.

I have been doing a fair bit of work in Fort Erie lately as well.  As many of you know who follow this blog, that area holds a special place in my heart, and I always enjoy the chance to visit.  This Semipalmated Plover was another "first of the year" for me.  I get to go down there 3 more times this week!

Semipalmated Plover

Friday 13 May 2016

Short-tailed Weasel and Local Odds and Ends

This past week I went out bird watching before work for an hour or so.  The highlight on this particular day was of the non-feathered variety, and quite a surprise to me and my friends!  This Short-tailed Weasel (also called Ermine) ran across the trail in front of us.  I have had good success in drawing them back by making squeaking noises on my hand (which imitates a dying mouse or rabbit), and this one was no exception.  He was so hyperactive, that I had trouble getting a shot, and was a little surprised that I actually got one!

Short-tailed Weasel
  I also had my first of the year Clay-colored Sparrow in Guelph!
Clay-colored Sparrow
 Another surprise was this Eastern Ribbonsnake.  Although it may look like a Garter Snake at first blush, if you look closely you can see the white colouration under the chin, neat lines and chocolate brown on the underside.  This species is designated as "Special Concern" in Ontario by the Endangered Species Act, although I see based on the Ontario Herpetofaunal Atlas that it has been observed in this spot before.

Eastern Ribbonsnake

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Point Pelee and Pelee Island

Last Monday I made the 3hr drive down to the Pelee area to begin my annual week long bird watching trip.  I spent Monday night to Thursday afternoon at Point Pelee National Park and surrounding area and then caught the Jimaan Ferry to Pelee Island until Sunday.  Migration started out slow, with north winds really bogging down the nocturnal flights of songbirds to the area.  We needed south winds at night, and we just were not getting them!  Nonetheless, quality birds were still seen at Pelee.  I have posted a few of the highlights below.

The best bird of the trip was this Black-necked Stilt, a very rare species from the southern U.S that found its way to Hillman Marsh outside of Point Pelee.
Black-necked Stilt


Black Scoter

American Avocet
American Avocet
 A non-bird highlight was seeing Ontario's only lizard species, the Five-lined Skink.
Five-lined Skink

Dekay's Brownsnake
Marsh Wren

Blackburnian Warbler
 Below are some photos of a few landmarks of Point Pelee National Park
The so called "Serengetti Tree" often the location of rare bird sightings

Boardwalk through Prothonotary Warbler habitat

The west beach of Pelee, you can just see the tip far out in the distance

Sunrise from the southern most tip of Canada
I caught the 2pm ferry across to Pelee Island on Thursday, hoping for a break in the weather. Unfortunately, it didn't really materialize until Saturday.  However, Saturday almost made up for the poor birding prior to this.  I saw 21 warbler species including Hooded, Cerulean, Canada, Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler among others and a total of 102 species on this single day. 

I was quite happy that I was able to get a couple of shots of my favourite warbler species: Hooded Warbler.  As its moniker suggests, this species does indeed seem to wear a black hood or balaclava, contrasting sharply with the yellow face.  Me and the NRSI crew were thrilled to see not one, but two separate Hooded Warblers!

Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Baltimore Oriole
Orchard Oriole

Two oriole species in one shot!  Orchard in the upper left, Baltimore in the bottom right.  The Baltimore picked up a piece of my orange and wasn't sharing with the other guy!

Least Flycatcher
 One of my favourite things to do on Pelee Island is to walk out to Fish Point to see the birds that have collected on the tip.  The highlight of this day was seeing a small flock of Black-bellied Plovers. Looking more closely, we could see a couple of American Golden Plovers.

Black-bellied and American Golden Plovers
 As usual, it wasn't just the birds that were of interest to our group, the reptiles and amphibians also put on a show.  Prior to this trip I had never seen a Foxsnake in or on a tree.  This one seemingly defied gravity and climbed straight up this tree!  It was around 4ft long I would estimate.
Eastern Foxsnake
Foxsnake is probably the most beautiful snake in Ontario, look at that pattern!
 Bryan and I came across the disturbing mating rituals of toads at the pond behind the winery.  The poor girl couldn't get any rest!

 Below are a few scenic shots of the island.

Lighthouse Point
The "Prothonotary Swamp" at Fish Point
Middle Point -watch out for poison ivy!
Sheridan's Point
Sheridan Point Cemetery.  Caitlyn asked if this was where they buried birders...
Well, it was another successful trip to the point and the island, and I cannot wait to get back there again next year!  I rolled into Fergus on Sunday afternoon exhausted from mornings of getting up before dawn and birding until sundown.  It's funny, but I didn't feel a hint of fatigue while I was birding, it is an adrenaline rush!