Tuesday 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Have yourself a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

One of my Christmas gifts today was this little Screech Owl sleeping away the day from his own cozy house.

Friday 21 December 2018

The Owl Island Delivers Again!

I was out on Amherst Island this past week and had a chance to view the incredible abundance of raptors wintering on this island!  Snowy Owls were in abundances that I have never seen before (despite growing up in Kingston and birding the island often).  I counted 35 Snowy Owls in a single day, and this was likely a conservative estimate.  If I had to guess I would say there are likely between 50-75 Snowy Owls on the island.

The owls were everywhere, sitting in fields, perched on telephone poles and construction equipment and hunting voles.

It was also obvious what is attracting and keeping these birds on the island.  Vole populations are amazingly high.  Walking around the island it is hard to avoid stepping on them at times as they scatter from clumps of grass, running along their narrow tunnels.

I was able to get a lot of decent pictures with my super telephoto P900, allowing the birds to remain undisturbed.

In addition to Snowy Owls, I also had the great fortune of finding other species including a few Barred Owls and a single tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl!

Saw-whet Owls can be difficult to find due to their tiny size and habit of perching in dense clumps of cedars and other conifers.  This little guy looked me over for a few seconds before going back to sleep.

I found this Saw-whet a few hundred metres from a pair of Barred Owls.  Hopefully it doesn't end up a meal!

What a wonderful chance to view these birds on one of my favourite birding locations!

Saturday 15 December 2018

A Dump Bird but not a Dirt Bird! Slaty-backed Gull

Today was the day I finally caught up with a Slaty-backed Gull!  A species I have tried for a few times now, but always came up short. Amazingly, two Slaty-backed Gulls have been down near the Brantford dump for a few days, so I decided to make the trip down today to try my luck.  I signed in at the weigh scales and drove to the designated viewing area.  I ran into Dan Riley and Josh Vandermeulen as I was pulling in and we went looking for the birds together.  We quickly picked one out among the hundreds of other gulls.

This is a very rare (but increasingly more regular) vagrant from northeastern Asia! 

I snapped a few photos.

bird on the left is Slaty-backed, bird on the right is a Great Black-backed

In addition to the star attraction, there were a few other interesting species including several Glaucous, Iceland and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Backyard Birds - Common Redpoll

Although I have yet to get a bird feeder up and running at my new place in Fergus, I still have seen a few birds of interest out the window.  Yesterday, I had a flock of 16 Common Redpolls that were foraging right at the edge of my lawn in some weeds.  This winter has already been a really exciting one for winter birds, including finches.  These Common Redpolls all appeared to be of the most common subspecies: The "Southern" or Flammea subspecies that breeds in the low arctic.

I snapped a few pictures through the window, so they didn't turn out too clear, but still fun to watch!

Friday 30 November 2018

Late Fall Birding

Last weekend I was down in Niagara to pick up some furniture for the new house, and squeezed in a bit of bird watching along the Niagara River.  The gull watching was not as good as I was expecting for this time of year.  I had no white-winged gulls and overall abundance was lower than I would expect for this time of year.  Hopefully it is better for this weekends gull outing for OFO.  I still had a few interesting observations, including a Dunlin out on the rocks above the falls - I was surprised and disappointed when I looked closely and saw it was not a Purple Sandpiper!  I also had  Red-necked Grebe on Lake Erie near Point Abino.

Lots of Horned Grebes were present along the river and on both Lake Ontario and Erie

Tundra Swans were present in good numbers along the river
The area near the falls was coated in a thick layer of ice from all the freezing mist, it was quite scenic.

Point Abino
Yesterday I went up to Luther Marsh before work to look for some winter birds that Dan MacNeal had spotted.  I found the Bohemian Waxwings, as well as this Northern Shrike and some Common Redpolls but did not find the Pine Grosbeaks unfortunately.

Northern Shrike
 I have never seen so many Bohemian Waxwings at one time before.  The flock was easily at 200 birds.
Bohemian Waxwings

Thursday 15 November 2018

Balcony Birds: Cackling Geese

It is always a bonus to see interesting birds without even really trying.  While up at the Latornell Conference this week I scanned a flock of Canada Geese from my balcony and low and behold found 5 diminutive Cackling Geese!  A fun game of 'Where is Waldo'.

Besides that stubby beak and smaller size, the white collar really helps clinch any questions about the ID.  I also find Cackling Geese in Ontario are paler overall than Canada Geese.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Black-throated Gray Warbler - LaSalle Marina

Well it has been a busy time the last few weeks with the move to the new house, but today I found some time to zip down to LaSalle to see the celebrity bird: the Black-throated Gray Warbler!  People were watching the bird as we walked up and had great views at quite close range. Photography was challenging in low light and the tangles the bird liked to frequent.

Most of my shots look like this!

A new Ontario bird for me and one I have always wanted to see!

Sunday 14 October 2018

Guelph Lake Outing

I unfortunately have not had much time to enjoy birding or nature much this fall due to a very heavy work schedule combined with the sale and purchase of our house in Fergus (I am staying in Fergus).  However, I decided to head over to Guelph Lake this afternoon since I had heard that there were 4 Brant reported yesterday.  I scanned the shoreline for about 15 minutes with no luck.  After leaving and wandering around the trails for a bit, I returned to the parking lot and saw Elaine and Ethan Gosnell who tipped me off that the birds were back! I'm not sure where they were hiding, but I went back out to the beach and there they were in plain view.

I was on my way out when I came across a large mixed flock of sparrows and other passerines foraging along the roadway.  I stopped and had a great time enjoying the variety and abundance of songbirds present.  The highlight was probably the lone Orange-crowned Warbler I found.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Field Sparrow

Orange-crowned Warbler

The White-crowns seemed to enjoy foraging around my car.
A great day to be out enjoying the fall colours and some good birds too!

Thursday 13 September 2018

A first for Ontario and Canada: Great Kiskadee + a surprise!

I had work down in the Rondeau area on Wednesday and made the wise decision to swing by the park to see the celebrity bird that was found there on the weekend, the Great Kiskadee!

This is a bird that anyone who has spent some time in the tropics would be very familiar with, but is virtually unheard of in the northern latitudes, and this is the first time one has been found in Canada!

As I was pulling up to the park I got word that it was being seen again, and I hurried toward the marsh boardwalk.  I was able to get some great views of the bird as it foraged for frogs and other food along the edge of the water.

A bird I didn't expect to see on the way to find the kiskadee was this poor loon marooned on the side of the highway!  As I was flying by I spotted it sitting on the side of the road and pulled over to help it out.  Loons have legs that are so far back on their body that they can't take off without running along the water - great for swimming, useless on land.  A nice lady also stopped to help and gave me gloves which were very helpful as he enjoyed stabbing me with his long beak.  I wrapped him in a towel and put him in the trunk after seeing he was unharmed and drove to the lake to release him.  He seemed in good health and immediately disappeared under the water!  I was glad to help this bird, which is a special species to me, as I have spent a lot of time up in Algonquin where the loon is synonymous to me with wilderness and great times with family and friends.

Thursday 30 August 2018

Ontario Life Bird Double Vision: Reddish Egret and Swallow-tailed Kite

Well the saga of southern rarities continues in southern Ontario with two fantastic birds kicking around for our viewing pleasure.  Ontario's first EVER Reddish Egret showed up in Oliphant in early August and has given phenomenal views for birders, and a cooperative (!) Swallow-tailed Kite has been present in Wasaga Beach for at least a week as well!

On Monday afternoon I made time despite my crazy hectic work schedule to risk the drive to Wasaga to chance finding the kite.  I arrived to see a few birders on the roadside, and as I got out I was told it was soaring super high in the air.  I found it with a Turkey Vulture, a mere speck in the sky.  I waited around for 25 mins and it wasn't making an appearance so I turned to leave and immediately Barb Charlton yelled at me that it was right out in the field!  I ran back and got incredible views! My first ever for Ontario!

The Swallow-tailed Kite was gracefully cruising over the soy bean fields catching insects!

After this 2hr drive I thought, what the heck, you've already screwed this day for work, lets do another 2hr drive to Oliphant to see the Reddish Egret!  I arrived at 6pm and started scanning the shoreline wetlands of coastal Lake Huron.  After around 15 minutes I had the bird, all to myself quite close!

Reddish Egrets have a fascinating foraging strategy unlike many of our other herons and egrets.  They are very active, often running around like an insane person trying to startle fish and then grabbing them.  This is a young bird, so not very reddish.

A very rare day indeed when I get 2 Ontario "Life Birds"!