Tuesday 31 December 2019

5MR Birding 2020!

This year I am trying a fun new birding challenge called the 5 Mile Radius or "5MR" challenge.  The concept is simple, it is to see how many species you can see within the calendar year within a 5 mile radius of your residence.  My hope is that it encourages me to get out and bird locally more often - something that I don't do as much as I would like!

My 5MR includes some decent habitats including small woodlands, wetlands and portions of the Grand River and Belwood Reservoir in addition to urban and agricultural habitats.  Below is my circle.

If you want to join this challenge, it is easy to sign up and not too late!  Just search for the 5MR Birding Challenge on Facebook and join!

There will be monthly updates on the facebook page, and I will give occasional updates on how I am doing on my blog.  Especially if I find anything interesting!

My best bird of the first day was this juvenile Bald Eagle!

Saturday 28 December 2019

Christmas Birding

I am currently right smack in the middle of my glorious Christmas holidays and I have had the pleasure of birding both near Kingston while at my parents as well as in Niagara while at the in-laws!  While in Kingston, I made a quick trip to Amherst Island.  It certainly is a different year on the island compared to last.  We only saw 1 Snowy Owl, and it appears the vole population is really down this year.  It will be interesting to see what happens on the Amherst Christmas Bird Count.

While in Niagara, I did the usual circuit of the river, focusing on trying to find the Black-legged Kittiwake that has been seen at the Whirlpool and other spots occasionally the last little while.  I checked the Whirlpool once in the late morning without success on Boxing Day, and then went back that same day on a hunch that it would eventually show up.  My persistence was rewarded, and I spotted the familiar field marks - black 'M' shaped wing markings, black collar and slightly larger size to the surrounding Bonaparte's Gulls.  I found it while it was still sitting on the water!  I even managed to get a photo of it among the Bonaparte's Gulls!

Black-legged Kittiwake- the best I could do with my point and shoot from way up above the Whirlpool!

Can you spot the kittiwake among the flock?  Where is Waldo?

Note the slightly larger size, heavy bill, black collar and dark wing markings
 The last kittiwake I saw was on September 30, 2016 at Van Wagner's Beach in Hamilton...certainly a long overdue re-acquaintance!

Monday 9 December 2019

The Niagara River Circuit

This Saturday I decided to head down to the Niagara River with a couple of friends for the gull pilgrimage.  My main target was Black-headed Gull along with some of the other goodies like Little Gull and white-winged gulls.  I enjoy the challenge of sorting through thousands of mostly similar looking birds to find the odd one out.  At the Whirlpool some folks who got there before us did the finding for us.  The Black-headed Gull is superficially similar to the numerous Bonaparte's Gulls but is slightly larger with wing and back colouration that is ever so slightly lighter than that species, and the clincher is the black colouration on the underside of the wing.  This is a European species that shows up in this part of Canada very rarely, although likely this same adult bird has been found annually on the river for several years. 

Black-headed Gull (top middle bird) with Bonaparte's Gull

Black-headed Gull - note the black under the wing
 While in Niagara we also stopped by to see the Black Vultures across the river in Lewiston NY (viewed from the Queenston overlook).  They were keeping warm on the usual church chimney.

We stopped above the falls and had 2 Little Gulls.  The biggest surprise was this crazy deer marooned out on an island right above the falls!  It must have swam out there and somehow made it to the island.  It is likely to either perish on the island or go for a ride over the falls...

As always, a great time on the river and I can't wait to spend some more time birding the area over the Christmas break.

Monday 25 November 2019

A Young King...Eider

Today I was down in the Hamilton area for some field work and decided to make a quick stop at the lift bridge/shipping canal to try to see the continuing King Eider.  This bird has been seen regularly at this location for a few days, and after sifting through the copious Long-tailed Duck and scoters I spotted this young male, a first of the year for me!  I think this is my favourite duck species - rare enough to be exciting but not so rare that I hardly ever see it!

Certainly a far cry from the adult male King Eider (see below photo from previous year/location), but still a beautiful bird!

Monday 4 November 2019

Hamilton Unchained! Western Kingbird and Black-throated Sparrow

Great birds have been popping up left, right, and centre in Hamilton following the fall count that went on over the weekend.  This morning I decided that enough was enough and I would take a morning off to go see what I could find!  My main targets were Barrow's Goldeneye, Black-throated Sparrow and Western Kingbird.  My colleague, Josh Pickering and I looked for an hour for the goldeneye but to no avail.  Hearing that the sparrow was seen again in Oakville, we drove up and quickly found the bird!

I believe this is only the 4th record for Ontario for Black-throated Sparrow.  The last time I saw this species was in Joshua Tree in California!

After great looks at this little beauty we headed out to find the Western Kingbird, which was refound in Hamilton just before we arrived.  We got great views again!

Tuesday 29 October 2019

South Meets North Meets West - Summer Tanager in Thunder Bay

I am on the road doing an epic work road trip from Waterloo to Caribou Falls (north of Kenora).  We just arrived in Kenora after a snowy drive today from Wawa.

We stopped this morning in Thunder Bay to try to find a reported Summer Tanager coming to someones side yard feeder.  We had great luck when upon speaking with the homeowner this beautiful male appeared as if by magic right in front of us!  I certainly didn't think my first Summer Tanager of the year would be in Thunder Bay at the end of October! This is a species much more common in the southern US and should be on its way to wintering grounds in the tropics!

I also had the pleasure of seeing some western birds (Black-billed Magpies) and northern species (Black-backed Woodpecker) on our way to Kenora today.  An eclectic collection of birds indeed!  Tomorrow he head north again, to Caribou Falls.

Monday 14 October 2019

It's Thanksgiving 2019! Kayaking, Peregrines, Shorebirding, Lake Watches and Marcy's Woods!

This weekend I was down in Niagara (Stevensville) for another wonderful Thanksgiving.  While I was there, I took the time to do a little bird watching and hiking. 

On Saturday, there were really strong west/southwest winds on Lake Erie, which in theory could have resulted in some rare birds.  It didn't really pan out, but I still had fun seeing what I could turn up over a few hours.  I did have a few Surf Scoters, Bald Eagles, lots of Bonaparte's Gulls to keep things interesting.

The behemoth: Great Black-backed Gull.

Bald Eagle
We also got out again to Marcy's Woods for another great hike!  This is a really awesome spot, and we are grateful that access was granted to walk the beautiful forests and sand dunes of this area.  This spot certainly has one of the nicest beaches that I have seen!

On Sunday morning I also got out to do a little more bird watching before church.  I walked one of my favourite trails in the area: Centralia Park near Crystal Beach.  I didn't have anything really interesting but I did see a young Peregrine Falcon dive bombing on a bunch of soaring Turkey Vultures, pretty entertaining:

The weekend before Thanksgiving I was able to get out to do some kayak birdwatching on Belwood Lake to look for shorebirds.  I didn't find anything crazy, but had a good time!

One nice thing about kayaking is that the shorebirds let you get much closer when in the kayak than when walking.  These are the best shots of Greater Yellowlegs that I have ever got!

Some early Bufflehead