Saturday 30 December 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Having been busy with the holiday season, I haven't had much time for blogging.  I did get out to do some birding along the Niagara River over the Christmas break and saw a few birds of interest including Black Vultures, various gulls including a Little Gull at the Whirlpool and a good assortment of ducks and waterfowl.

Above the falls


Little Gull at the Whirlpool
Stevensville Conservation Area

Tundra Swans
Adam Beck was pretty good, with really good numbers of Iceland Gulls and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Iceland Gull
Stay warm this holiday season.  Below are a few shots of Caitlyn's mom and uncles houses looking nice in this wintry setting.

Sunday 26 November 2017

Northern Gannet - Burlington

On Friday I was in the Guelph area for an appointment when I heard that the Northern Gannet (record-breaking Northern Gannet) was still being seen in Burlington.  I zipped down to the beach and immediately had the bird fly right by!  This was a first for me in Ontario, as this species is an ocean-going bird.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Two Rare Thrushes - Townsend's Solitaire and Mountain Bluebird

It has been a good couple of weeks for rare thrushes in Ontario with a Townsend's Solitaire in Dufferin County found by Dan MacNeal and a Mountain Bluebird near Waterloo found a few days later by Anthony Vandeheyden.  I was lucky enough to see both of these birds, although both took two tries.

Unfortunately, the solitaire stayed sitting in a tangle of branches, so no great photos.  You can see the grapes it was feeding on in the foreground.
Townsend's Solitaire

The Mountain Bluebird posed another problem, by sitting at the top of a tree in plain sight against an overcast sky, the backlighting was terrible.  This is a female bird, so it is very grey with a bluish tail and some blue on the wings.
Mountain Bluebird

I also had a Northern Shrike at the same location on my first try for the bird.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Netitishi Point 2/2 - Close Encounter With a Wolf Pack

Our birding at Netitishi wasn't really panning out and we were all feeling a bit discouraged at various points on the trip.  As our extraction date got closer it seemed as if the trip would end without too much excitement.  Things changed quickly on the last day of the trip, just as dusk was starting to settle in.  Kathryn, Todd and I heard a wolf pack start howling in the distance further west along the shoreline.  Todd and I howled back, and the pack promptly responded by howling back, closer this time.  I thought maybe they were moving out to the beach and I ran to the shoreline to see if I could catch a glimpse of these elusive animals.  Sure enough, maybe 1km away, I could see dark shapes emerging from the forest onto the beach. 

Todd and I ran down the beach towards the pack with our cameras and binoculars, using the mounds of sea ice as cover.  Luckily, the wind was blowing to us, meaning the pack couldn't smell us.  We finally found a good blind behind a large chunk of ice that was just short enough for us to peek over the top.  We watched with great excitement as not one or two, but eight large Gray Wolves sauntered down the beach towards us, no doubt looking for the source of those howls they had heard earlier.

5 of the wolves, more are off to the left

A few were quite playful, rolling on the ice just like your dog at home might do.

Todd and I watched as the pack got closer and closer until they were a mere stone's throw away from us (we estimated less than 50m).

The white wolf was enormous, and I wonder if this was the alpha wolf.

I like this one, you can see the wolf in the foreground licking its chops
 The hunks of sea ice made it tricky for both of us to see each other, although the wolves still seemed oblivious to our presence.

Eventually, the wolves were so close we could hear their paws crunching the snow and ice!  One of the pack hopped up on top of a chunk of ice to get a better view and promptly spotted us!

The photo below is full frame, no cropping!

 Although I was certain that wolves do not attack people, I thought they had gotten close enough and we withdrew, buzzing with excitement that we had shared a moment with this wild pack.  As we walked away the pack howled at us. 

They seemed curious about us, and it is possible that this pack has had very little contact with humans due to the remote nature of the James Bay coastline. 

The next morning we walked back to the area to see the tracks.  Below is a photo of the ice blocks we hid behind while observing the pack.

The tracks as expected were huge.  The photo below shows my hand, which is not small.

Truly the most amazing wildlife experience of my life, and I wouldn't trade it for even the rarest of bird sightings.  I left Netitishi Point fully satisfied, but not in the way I had expected.

Netitishi Point Part 1/2

I just got back from my trip to northern Ontario, at Netitishi Point on James Bay.  The purpose of this trip was to hopefully find some really rare birds.  Getting to Netitishi Point is quite the journey.  We drove 8hrs north to Cochrane, 5hrs by train to Moosonee, and a short helicopter ride to Netitishi Point.  As expected, the cabin was not in good shape.  I will spare you the details, but it took 5hrs of cleaning by 4 people to get it in shape as bears had busted in and ravaged the inside.  Suffice to say I had to clean bear dung off the floor.

Although we birded from dawn to dusk every day, the weather was against us.  Upon arriving, the weather turned quite cold, dipping to a low of -27 Celsius (not including a vicious wind chill on some days.  James Bay iced over to the horizon on some days, although south winds helped to open things up towards the end of our trip.  Some days I saw as few as 11 species of birds...the entire day!  There were, of course, the expected boreal species such as Spruce Grouse, winter finches, Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker as well as a huge Northern Goshawk and 2 Gyrfalcon.  Other bird highlights included a flyby of a group of Sharp-tailed Grouse and a one-day high count of 11 Snowy Owls.  We also saw seals out on the ice on most days.  The real highlight had nothing to do with birds (see next blog post)

We were gone for 12 days in total, having decided to cut the trip short due to the low bird activity.  It was not unusual towards the end of the trip to go an hour without seeing a single bird out on the bay.  I am still glad that we went, we saw some very neat birds (even if they weren't exactly rare), and had some great photo opportunities.  Below are some of my favourite trip photos.

The Scenery

This was the view from the train between Cochrane and Moosonee on the way up, quite snowy!

This is the stream we got our water from each day.  We had to bash through it with a log on the colder days.

The Birds
Glaucous Gull flying over sea ice 
Northern Shrike

Terrible shot of the first Gyrfalcon

Snow Buntings

Male White-winged Crossbill

Boreal Chickadee

Hairy Woodpecker

Male Spruce Grouse

Male Spruce Grouse

Female Spruce Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Snowy Owl

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Gray Jay
On our last full day, the tide had gone out quite far from the shore in the early afternoon.  I found a path through the gauntlet of shifting, hollow sea ice to the mud flats and wandered out to try to get some photos of the birds that might be present.  I found this one very cooperative Snowy Owl that did not seem alarmed by my presence.  I was able to get quite close and left without flushing the bird.  I was quite happy with this series of photos.

On the way back I photographed another one perched atop a mountain of ice.

The cabin after it had been cleaned up (a lot)
 We also had a little fun unrelated to birds!

The helicopter we took was from Expedition Helicopter.
I have saved the most exciting moment of the trip for last.  Check the next post for the details.