Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Farewell 2013...

Tuesday 31st December 2013

And so another year comes to an end and another starts tomorrow. For us birders that means being up and out by dawn ready to start our new 'Year Lists'. All things considered I did pretty well here in Canada this year and just managed to sneak in a final 'County Tick' a couple of days ago with Glaucous Gull (see below) in Lennox and Addington County. That was a personal achievement, reaching exactly 200 species for the county. I also managed to get 202 for Frontenac County, so new targets need to set for next year. Trouble is that without a job, I'm short of funds but on the flip side I certainly have the time.

So to round off the year, here are a few random photos from the last week or so starting with this Barred Owl I saw on Christmas Eve at Marshlands Conservation Area. I particularly like the one of it regurgitating a pellet - nice one!

Barred Owl - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON
Barred Owl - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

Barred Owl regurgitating pellet - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

Barred Owl - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

Maintaining the predatory theme, this is a Rough-legged Hawk (Rough-legged Buzzard) that decided it didn't want to be photographed over on Wolf Island a couple of weeks ago when on the Kingston Christmas Bird Count.

Rough-legged Hawk - Wolfe Island, ON
Ontario has seen an impressive influx of Snowy Owls this winter - on just the one day of the aforementioned Kingston CBC, 22 Snowy Owls were recorded. Yesterday, I ventured out to Wolfe Island again and personally connected with 13 different birds. With the 3 on Amherst Island the day before and this one near Kingston Airport, that's 17 Snowies in the last couple of days!

Snowy Owl - Landings Golf Course, Kingston, ON

Snowy Owl - Landings Golf Course, Kingston, ON
And to round off today's blog, here are a couple of 'record shots' of the Glaucous Gull (actually there were 4) that helped me achieve my 200. Yet another seasonally appropriate bird.

Glaucous Gulls, Herring Gulls & Great Black-backed Gull - Heritage Point, Bath, ON
Glaucous Gull - Heritage Point, Bath, ON

'Till next year,


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Not a bad couple of days!

Tuesday 3rd December - Friday 6th December 2013
So Tuesday morning started out with a quick trip out to Cataraqui Bay to see what was about - maybe an interesting gull (Glaucous had been reported the day before) or the dark phase Snow Goose I'd found the day before. No such luck, so I trundled down the road to the Invista Plant and came up with pretty much the same result until I bumped into local birder Bruce Ripley. Bruce is going all out as a 'Winter Lister' this year (within the Kingston region) and certainly came up trumps with an extremely late Baltimore Oriole, that I caught up with a few minutes later. Leaving the site, I met another birder, Paul Mackenzie, who was also able to add the bird to his winter list. Little did we know what would transpire later in the day.
Lesser Snow Goose (dark phase juvenile) - Lake Ontario Park, Kingston, ON
At almost 2:30 in the afternoon, I was called by Janis Grant, former President of Kingston Field Naturalists informing me of an unusual bird in the bay fronting her garden. She suspected a Dovekie (Little Auk) so I immediately found my coat, bins and scope and was out of the door driving the full half kilometre (haha!) to her house. Knowing any Alcid would be a goodie, I was shown what I immediately recognised to be a Thick-billed Murre (or in the European world a Brünnich's Guillemot). As one viewer of my uploaded pictures and news later commented, 'Holy Crap!' - my sentiments exactly. This was the big one, a MEGA, right here in Kingston. With just two previous Ontario records since the 1950's, this was going to be big. These are the two shots I posted that day.
Thick-billed Murre - Kingston, ON

Thick-billed Murre - Kingston, ON
I immediately starting calling local birders and first on the scene was Paul Mackenzie, my mentor and fellow birder over the last year. However, by the time Paul showed up (it only took him 10 minutes or so) the bird was already swimming east along the lake front. With local birders beginning to show, I decided it was best to get home and put the news out through ONTBIRDS. Paul stayed with it until dark and later let birders know where to begin their morning search. Well, the bird stayed for the next day but then disappeared overnight on the 4th. A few undoubtedly well-intentioned locals mistook a Common Loon for the Murre on the 5th causing some birders to waste hours travelling to (or in some cases back to) Kingston but the bird was gone.
Common Loon - Kingston, ON
Here are a couple more shots of the murre taken on the 4th. One of these shows how close it was to the observers!
Thick-billed Murre - Kingston, ON

Thick-billed Murre - Kingston, ON

Can you see the Thick-billed Murre? Kingston, ON
On Thursday 5th and Friday 6th, I was down in the Niagara region and unfortunately had zero success looking for Red Phalarope, Lark Sparrow and Purple Sandpiper on both days. By Friday lunch time, I was beginning to think that I was going home with an empty bag. However, I had a couple more birds lined up so I tried for the Black-legged Kittiwake seen just below the Falls and Bingo! There it was, performing well and allowing for some half-decent photos.
Black-legged Kittiwake (juv) - Niagara Falls, ON

Black-legged Kittiwake (juv) - Niagara Falls, ON
Coming back through the Grimsby/Hamiliton area, a stop at Fifty Point Conservation Area for a reported Common Eider also proved successful with the female bird showing very well close to shore. Didn't do quite so well with these pictures as the light was starting to go but good enough I reckon. A failed search just up the road for King Eider meant that the day was over and the hoped-for finalé, a staked-out Eared Grebe (Black-necked Grebe) would have to wait for another visit.
Common Eider (female) - Fifty Point CA, Grimsby, ON

Common Eider (female) - Fifty Point CA, Grimsby, ON
All-in-all, not a bad couple of days!
'Till next time,

Monday, 14 October 2013

Lemoine Point Conservation Area

Saturday 12th and Monday 14th October 2013

Well, Autumn is in full swing and here in Kingston, the leaves have already turned. In fact, many of the trees are actually now looking fairly bare. The weather though has been great with lots of bright sunny days and above average temperatures. Many of the summer residents have now left, replaced by numerous winter wildfowl. Migration is also coming to an end, though a few species are still coming through and taking advantage of the good weather before continuing further south.

Lemoine Point Conservation Area is located just west of Kingston's airport and is a great spot for seeing the wildlife within just minutes of the city centre. Bordering Lake Ontario, it includes 136 hectares of mixed forest and grassland and can be quite a migrant trap in the Spring and Autumn as well as hosting a wide range of breeding species during the summer. Personally, I tend to visit Marshlands Conservation Area more than Lemoine Point because it is closer to home, is far-less visited and is definitively my 'home patch', but over the last couple of days, Lemoine Point has held a variety of interesting species and colours.

Autumn Woods - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, ON

To get the ball rolling, I saw yet another addition to my life list on Saturday. To make it even better, it was an owl - namely an Eastern Screech-Owl. Some species, owls included, are always just that bit more exciting to see so I was very pleased with this one. Its presence was given away by a host of chickadees, juncos, cardinals and sparrows mobbing the poor thing as it was trying to rest. It was certainly well-hidden and this photo is as good as it gets.

Eastern Screech-Owl - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, ON
Lemoine Point is visited by many people, all there to enjoy the nature. However, they all seem to do it in different ways - cycling, jogging, dog-walking, and so-on. This means the wildlife is quite habituated, with birds like chickadees accustomed to feeding from the hand. Nuthatches and even woodpeckers will do so too and I know of at least one Northern Cardinal that does likewise. White-tailed Deer are the largest mammal present at the site and, they too, will actually approach people to see what's on offer. Add to this the squirrels and chipmunks and it is pretty hard to leave Lemoine Point without having an encounter with nature.

Eastern Chipmunk - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, ON
Other birds that often have birders excited are the thrushes. Here in Canada, the commonest thrush is the American Robin, though it doesn't tend to hang around for long during the winter months. The American Robin is in the same genus as many of the 'typical' European species and is about the same size as the European Blackbird. However, it is the much smaller Catharus species that have had me excited over the last month or so. The first to come through is the Grey-cheeked Thrush, followed by Swainson's Thrush and then Hermit Thrush. Of course there is overlap (for example I saw two late Swainson's today) but it generally holds true. I've been fortunate enough to see good numbers of all three of these shy species this year but have only managed to get photos of Hermit Thrush and, bizarrely, a single leucistic Swainson's Thrush (see my Flickr account). The following shot, as all pictures on today's blog, was taken this weekend at Lemoine Point.

Hermit Thrush - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, CA
Red-winged Blackbirds and lesser numbers of Common Grackle are flocking at the moment (often with the resident European Starling) in preparation for their onward southerly journey. It is also possible to see the much less common Rusty Blackbird at this time of year and this morning I had a single female high in a tree looking for its buddies. Most striking is its white eye, a classic indicator of this species.

Rusty Blackbird (female) - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, CA
Finally, here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler of the eastern 'Myrtle' form. This is really the only warbler still to be seen in any numbers yet, for some reason, I just can't seem to get a decent shot...

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, CA
Till next time...


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Lifer or Two

23rd March - 9th June 2013

What a crazy couple of months it has been, only slowing down (almost to a standstill) about a week ago. Yep, I'm talking about the birding of course - what else is there? Since my last post, more than 2 months ago, I've been out almost daily, either locally to Marshlands Conservation Area here in Kingston or slightly further afield to (in particular) both Amherst Island and Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area/Bird Observatory. I've even 'chased' (the North American term for 'twitched') a cracking male Garganey near Montreal, despite it being of less interest to me (being a birder of British origin) than my fellow chasers.

So the subject of today's post is, 'A Lifer or Two'. For those who don't know what that means, then I need to ask, "Why are you reading this?" Just joking... For a birder, a lifer constitutes the sighting of a species of bird for the very first time - this is then added to their 'Life List'. Many birders also keep lists of birds seen in the various individual countries they've visited, as well as provincial/county lists, all the way to down to local patch and the back garden. To spice it all up a little, many birders keep 'year lists' too, thereby allowing a yearly competition to try to beat their own (and of course other birders') totals. If this all sounds too competitive, it really doesn't/shouldn't have to be. The priority is still being out, enjoying the birding, and reporting sightings. However, it's hard not to enjoy a lifer, of which I've had 31 since my last post on 23rd March. This truly goes to show how the Spring migration has brought change to this part of the world. Prior to that date, I'd added just 4 lifers since my arrival in Canada in early November 2012.

So you can probably see why these last couple of months have been 'crazy'. Thirty-one lifers come from some pretty intense birding, though most are no more than expected for these parts. If not for the fact that I 'did' California in April of 2008, and then spent 6 weeks in Eastern Canada in the summer of 2010, there'd have been many, many more. For the North American birders reading this, there's probably nothing too unusual here but for the Europeans or those further afield, some of these are real gems. As this particular blog is about lifers, I will focus mainly on those that I've managed to photograph. Some of the pictures are no more than record shots, others are a little better - but every one of them shows an addition to my life list...

24th March - Canvasback. Two birds on the Cataraqui River/Inner Harbour, Kingston. My only sighting so far this year.

27th March - Cackling Goose. The first was a single bird in with a migrating flock of Canada Geese and 11 Snow geese at Beechgrove Complex, Kingston. A further three birds at Marshlands Conservation Area, also in Kingston were seen just an hour or so later. Flight shots were obtained but are not worth posting here. If you really want to see them they're on my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markdread/ which I currently use solely for the purpose of supporting the documentation of rarer species for eBird (more about that in a forthcoming post). No further sightings.

6th April - Black Scoter. An immature female seen at Beechgrove Complex, Kingston. This bird stayed for less than a day and is a good record for Kingston (the only one this year). It was 'recently' split from the Common Scoter, a species more familiar to us Brits.
Black Scoter (immature female) - Beechgrove Complex, Kingston, ON

8th April - Eastern Bluebird. My first sighting was at South Bay, Prince Edward County. Cousin to the Western Bluebird (seen in California in 2008), I've now seen this bird half a dozen times. There don't appear to be any within Kingston itself. This (poor) picture was taken in Lanark on 10th April.
Eastern Bluebird - Lanark Health Centre, Lanark, ON

8th April - Harlequin Duck. Yeah!!! Really, really wanted to see this and I got to see four - two stunning males and two females, all together at Prince Edward Point (PEPt). Despite the great views, no photos I'm afraid. Look it up on Google to see why this was a definitive highlight of the year. Never easy, PEPt seems to be one of the best places in our region to find one.

8th April - Field Sparrow. First seen at Prince Edward Point, this species has been fairly regular up until recently. Sightings have dropped off mainly because it has stopped singing and is therefore harder to locate. Superficially similar to the wintering American Tree Sparrow, this species differs by having a pink bill, plain grey 'face' and strong white eye-ring. This picture was actually taken at Marshlands Conservation Area, here in Kingston.

Field Sparrow - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

10th April - Hoary Redpoll. Finally caught up with a classic example of this 'frosty' little bird up near Lanark, in with a large group of Common Redpoll at a feeder.

17th April - Brown Thrasher. Quite the songster, this bird was first seen (and heard) at the KFN property on Amherst Island. Relatively common, sightings have dropped off now that territory has been established. Again, this picture was taken at Marshlands.

Brown Thrasher - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

19th April - Eastern Towhee. These lovely little birds are also quite common and, as well as being one of the earlier migrants to arrive, remain relatively easy to find despite their often skulking nature. This individual was proud to be holding territory up at Elbow Lake and put on quite a show.

Eastern Towhee - Elbow Lake, Frontenac Arch, ON

20th April - Louisiana Waterthrush. On the very northern edge of their range, the Kingston area has a few breeding pairs of this delightful species. Best seen earlier in the season whilst singing, I was lucky enough to get two singing males on this very early date on Canoe Road, not too far from Westport. However, they rarely stay still for long and I'm afraid there are no pictures.

22nd April - Great Horned Owl. Owls are always something a little bit special and this species most certainly fits that bill. Having tried a couple of sites earlier in the year, it now becomes evident that I have a probable pair on my local patch at Marshlands. I'll try some evening excursions during breeding season next year for further proof.

Great Horned Owl - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

5th May - Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. This dainty little species was added to the tally on a day out at Prince Edward Point, with no less than 4 different birds seen. A couple more sightings later in the month, also at PEPt, produced this shot.

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher - Prince Edward Point, ON

5th May - Blue-winged Warbler. The second of three lifers on the same trip to Prince Edward Point, indicating the start of migration. Although four birds were seen and some half-decent record shots obtained, this one at the Owl Woods on Amherst Island yielded better results. Any birder flicking through a 'Birds of North America' can't help but drool over these 'Wood-Warblers'. Not a bad start to migration season...

Blue-winged Warbler - Owl Woods, Amherst Island, ON

5th May - Cerulean Warbler. Third lifer of the day, the Cerulean Warbler is a local breeder north of Kingston and a much sort-after species. Very distinctive blue plumage with blue breastband and streaked flanks, though this picture doesn't do much to show that!

Cerulean Warbler - Prince Edward Point, ON

8th May - Grey Catbird. This very common species was first picked up on a bird walk with Kingston Field Naturalists to Lemoine Point Conservation Area, Kingston. As the name suggests, its alarm call is cat-like. Its song however is very rich and musical. This one was photographed at Marshlands.

Grey Catbird - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

9th May - Golden-winged Warbler. Remember the UK's only ever example of this species; Maidstone, Kent, 1989? Well, I never managed to catch up with it but hey, it just shows that with a little (24 years) patience, all good things come to those who wait. This bird (I've only had one this year) was seen at the Owl Woods on Amherst Island. It actually shows a touch of hybridisation, as pure Golden-wings shouldn't have the yellow on the chest that this birds has.

Golden-winged Warbler - Owl Woods, Amherst Island, ON

Need a break? No chance - I certainly didn't get one...

10th May - Grey-cheeked Thrush. Well, unsurprisingly I didn't manage to get any shots of this one. However, after a great year for seeing good numbers of both Hermit (34) and Swainson's Thrush (8), this one stuck out like a sore thumb. Yet another lifer ticked off at my local patch, Marshlands Conservation Area.

12th May - Tennessee Warbler. The first of yet another three lifers in a day at Prince Edward Point. Unfortunately, it was about this time that he leaves began to come out and I'm afraid the quality of photos drops right off - beginning with this example of Tennessee Warbler taken, once again, at Marshlands. It's also quite a 'boring' one compared to many of the others but it was still good for me, particularly when I found it here in Kingston.

Tennessee Warbler - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

12th May - Bay-breasted Warbler. So to the next poor shot - and again this wasn't taken at Prince Edward Point where this lifer was seen for the first time but at Marshlands. You're probably seeing a pattern here. PEPt is great for migration, but Marshlands isn't too bad either - especially considering that it is right here in Kingston and just a couple of kilometres down the road.

Bay-breasted Warbler - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

12th May - Scarlet Tanager. This is one I really should have got during the summer of 2010 but for some reason it eluded me. It has also managed to elude my camera, so you'll just have to imagine an entirely bright red (scarlet?) bird with black wings and tail - and that's it! Oh, it was at none other than Prince Edward Point of course.

14th May - Sora. I saw a Sora! Well actually, this is a slightly contentious one as I'm quite adamant about not 'ticking' a lifer without seeing it. Now that seems obvious of course but some birds (those of marshlands in particular) are particularly hard to see but do reveal their presence through call/song. Now for surveys and records, 'ticking' a singing bird is fine as there is no doubt about its presence but it's morally much harder for me if it's a potential lifer. So, the problem with this particular one is that despite hearing it's characteristic calls, I only had brief flight views: in reality, barely enough to clinch a conclusive ID but a lot more than the other Sora 'sightings' I've had to date. This picture is NOT a Sora - it's a Virginia Rail taken the same day, at the same location. Now why couldn't the Sora, also a rail, perform like this?
Virginia Rail - Yarker Road Marsh, Yarker, ON

15th May - Philadelphia Vireo. Again picked up at Prince Edward Point, this has, unfortunately, been my only sighting of the year to date. With a similarly delicate build to the Warbling Vireo, this species has a more contrasting head pattern and fairly strong yellow wash to the chest. No photos.

18th May - Blackpoll Warbler. From 3pm on the 18th May to 3pm the next day, the Kingston Field Naturalists (KFN) held their annual Spring Round-up, a 24-hour birding adventure within a 50km radius of the city. In teams, we tried to see (and hear) as many bird species as possible within 'the circle'. Our team didn't win but it was lots of fun and it did add five more lifers to the scoreboard. Blackpoll Warbler is quite a late migrant, and I have still been seeing the odd one until just last week. However, they are tricky to photograph. This shot 'shows' a black-and-white bird with distinctive bright orange feet; the only other similarly plumaged bird would be Black-and-White Warbler but even a reasonable view should easily separate the two. First seen at Prince Edward Point, this picture was again taken at Marshlands Conservation Area.
Blackpoll Warbler - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

18th May - Clay-coloured Sparrow. This is a relatively common bird in its favoured habitat of scrubby grassland and has been regularly since my first at Prince Edward Point. Despite some cracking views later the same evening at Newburgh, I still haven't managed to get any photos. They look quite like the Chipping Sparrow but the red crown of that species is replaced by black. Their facial pattern is also far more defined with a strong moustachial streak and dark 'ears'. They have a very distinctive 2-3 note buzzy call.

18th May - Common Nighthawk. This species was an easy addition at Newburgh where a calling individual flew right over our heads. Being a night bird, this species isn't one I'd expect to photograph. However, I missed my chance a week or so later when a migrating 'flock' of 6 flew over at 6pm on a sunny evening in Lanark.

19th May - Willow Flycatcher. Still on the Spring Round-up, I added this and the following species to make 5 lifers over 24 hours! The Willow Flycatcher used to be known, together with Alder Flycatcher, as Traill's Flycatcher. Willow and Alder are best distinguished in the field by their very different calls. Willow seems to be the commoner of the two locally but both are frequent at Marshlands CA. This bird was photographed just yesterday and is right where I saw my first, near the Owl Woods on Amherst Island.

Willow Flycatcher - Marshall 40Ft Road, Amherst Island, ON

19th May - Grasshopper Sparrow. Ironically, like the preceding Willow Flycatcher, this photo was also taken just yesterday and also at the exact same location as my first sighting, on Marshall 40Ft Road - the access road to Owl Woods on Amherst Island. As its name suggests, this species has a very high-pitched reeling call, reminiscent of a grasshopper. Unfortunately, as many of my fellow birders have already discovered, the call will one day be out of my hearing range.

Grasshopper Sparrow - Marshall 40Ft Road, Amherst Island, ON

21st May - Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Picked this one up at Prince Edward Point whilst trying (unsuccessfully) to find a reported Chuck Will's Widow (a type of nightjar). Unfortunately, the views weren't great and it didn't hang around for long.

23rd May - Alder Flycatcher. The end of May is flycatcher season. For me, that has meant (including one to come) 4 lifers. However, there are more than just 4 species of flycatcher and on any one day it is relatively easy to also see Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird and the occasional Least Flycatcher. Not a bad haul!

27th May - Prairie Warbler. This was a somewhat unexpected bonus whilst on the hunt for migrating shorebirds on Amherst Island. Glancing up into a willow, I found this cracking bird flitting around near the canopy. Not a particularly easy one to get, we were all rather pleased with this addition.

Prairie Warbler - Martin Edwards Reserve, Amherst Island, ON

9th June - Olive-sided Flycatcher. A bit of a blocker (hard to find) in this area, I finally picked up Olive-sided Flycatcher at (wait for it) Marshlands Conservation Area just a couple of days ago. I went again yesterday but it seems to have moved on to its breeding grounds further north. Unfortunately this last picture is going to be one of the worst, but today's blog is about the lifers, not the pictures.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON

So, there we go. A marathon of lifers, with one or two good shots mixed in for good measure. Now that the season has turned to summer and that things are slowing down, I'll try to put together some retrospective pieces starting, I think, with a favourite of mine - shorebirds.

Till next time...


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Some Canadian Goodies

Saturday 23rd February - Thursday 21st March, 2012

Once again, it's taken a while to get back to the blog. I guess things have been relatively slow in terms of new pictures and that has held me back. However, the birding has been pretty good and signs of Spring are definitely here, even though the last week has seen a further cold spell and more snow. Ironically, as I look at my choices for new photos, I find I may actually have more than I thought, so here goes...

...starting back in February with an improved variety and number of birds on my feeders. White-breasted Nuthatch has always been regular, but I now get the occasional Red-breasted Nuthatch as well. These two are clearly different but you may be surprised to know the Red-breasted Nuthatch is only the size of a chickadee. Both these birds are males, showing black rather than grey crowns.

White-breasted Nuthatch (male), Kingston, ON

Red-breasted Nuthatch (male)

Likewise, Downy Woodpecker is occasional, with the odd Hairy Woodpecker putting in an appearance too. I talked about woodpecker ID in the last post, so to see them both on the feeders has been great. House Finch (actually a type of Carpodacus 'rosefinch') is here most days too, along with Dark-eyed Junco and, of course, Black-capped Chickadee. The male House Finch has vivid red on its head and upper chest. The female lacks this colouration and is quite heavily streaked on the flanks. Juncos are easily the commonest seed-eater in the garden. They have distinctive dark grey (male) or brown (female) upperparts, white bellies, white bills, and white outer-tail feathers that are easily seen in flight.

House Finch (male), Kingston
Dark-eyed Junco (male), Kingston
At the end of February, I was informed that the roads around 'DuPont Lagoons', now owned by Invista, are actually accessible to birders and dog walkers despite all the 'no entry' signs. This was good news for me as the site is only half an hour's walk from the house and the water stays open all winter due to, I assume, warm water coming out of the factory. My first trip there provided a lifer in the form of Redhead, a duck species superficially very similar to the European Pochard. As well as many other common wintering ducks, I picked up an immature White-crowned Sparrow and a cracking pair of American Kestrel - both new for the year. Since this first visit, the lagoons have yielded other goodies such as Wood Duck, Greater Scaup and Hooded Merganser, though now that Lake Ontario is mainly unfrozen, the typically high concentration of Mallard, American Black Duck and American Coot has dropped right off.

American Kestrel (male), Invista, Kingston

I have also started seeing a few mammals, though these have been much harder to photograph. Invista has yielded Musk Rat and a mating pair of River Otter. A Red Fox was seen near its den in Lake Ontario Park chased, unfortunately, by a dog let off its lead by an irresponsible owner. I certainly shared my views with that particular dog walker. I have also seen a few Eastern Chipmunks, as well as two 'new' mammals, North American Porcupine and Raccoon - the latter in my garden. However, the only mammal I managed to photograph is this White-tailed Deer, seen at another new location for me, Lemoine Point Conservation Area.

White-tailed Deer (female), Lemoine Point Conservation Area, Kingston
Lemoine Point Conservation Area is a large 136 hectare area of forest, marsh and grassland near the airport, just west of the city. I first visited it on a Kingston Field Naturalists meeting in early March where I finally got to meet some of the local birders. The time of year didn't help with bird sightings but I have managed to get back once more and picked up my first 'true' Spring migrants, Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird. These two species now seem to be in every bush and garden and have even been investigating my feeders. The following two pictures were actually taken at another location, the Old Davis Tannery in Kingston's Inner Harbour. The grackle has a white stain on its tail - a gift from another bird.

Red-winged Blackbird - Old Davis Tannery, Kingston

Common Grackle - Old Davis Tannery, Kingston

My second trip to Lemoine Point also allowed further sightings of White-tailed Deer, which it turns out are quite tame. I guess they either get fed or have taken to foraging around the bins and car parks. I was also lucky enough to see this female Ruffed Grouse pretending to be a dead twig high up in a bush. Fortunately it's disguise didn't fool me and I got a couple of interesting shots before it gave up and noisily flew off through the undergrowth.

Ruffed Grouse (female) - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston
I have been doing a fair bit of birding in Kingston's Inner Harbour, particularly since the ice has melted. My first returning ducks were Green-winged Teal, spotted on the only open patch of water in early March. Since then American Wigeon, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe and Hooded Mergansers have all returned. Large numbers of Lesser and Greater Scaup have also been present, with a fair number of Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck and a few Bufflehead. These birds normally seek more open waters but the scaup have been putting on quite a show at both the Inner Harbour and my local patch, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.

Green-winged Teal (male) - Old Davis Tannery, Kingston

Long-tailed Duck (male) - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston

Tundra Swan - Old Davis Tannery, Kingston
The Tundra Swans pictured above are the same species as Europe's Bewick's Swan. This Nearctic subspecies is often called Whistling Swan (Tundra Swan covers them both) and shows very little, if any, yellow at the base of the bill, whereas the Bewick's shows quite a large round patch. In fact, on these birds, I could barely pick out anything more than the slightest hint.

It has been fantastic to see so many scaup lately, and often close to shore. Apparently Greater Scaup is the commoner of the two species in this area, but earlier in the month this was reversed and I was seeing between 150-200 Lesser Scaup in the Inner Harbour, with just a handful of Greaters. Since then the number of Greater Scaup has increased - a couple of days ago I had over 500 at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, with only 30 or so Lessers in with them. Head shape is one of the key features to separating the two species, along with Lesser's smaller size (tricky), a noticeable greyish wash to the white flanks and according to some a more purplish, rather than green, iridescence to the head. I didn't find this latter feature to be very helpful at all, and at times even head shape was difficult to judge. In flight, Lesser Scaup can be told from Greater Scaup by a much shorter wing bar that does not extend into the primaries. Can you see the difference?

Greater Scaup (male and female) - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston

Greater Scaup (male and female) - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston

Lesser Scaup (male) - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston
This Lesser Scaup shows a more peaked crown that is flat at the back of the head, a small black tip to the bill (slightly larger in Greater) and distinctly greyish flanks (compared to the crisp white of Greater). While seeing these birds so close has been great, it does highlight the challenge of more distant birds, which may have to be left as simply 'scaup sp.'

To speed things up a little, here are a couple of the 700 Bohemian Waxwings that showed up for a day early in the month...

Bohemian Waxwing - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston
...one of the many Ring-billed Gulls that grace the harbour walls,

Ring-billed Gull - Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston
and two shots of American Robin. I can see why 'robin' springs to mind, but just get over it - they're thrushes, and real cracking ones at that too.

American Robin - Marshlands Conservation Area, Kingston

American Robin - Marshlands Conservation Area, Kingston

Finally, I come to the end with a brief account of a very enjoyable morning over on Wolfe Island earlier in the week. I went with a fellow birder, Paul, who kindly picked me up at home. His main goal was Lapland Longspur (Lapland Bunting) and, good on him, we found a male coming into breeding plumage within minutes of being on the island. It was associating with a flock of 20 or so Horned Larks (Shore Larks) but unfortunately didn't hang around for long. Horned Larks turned out to be quite numerous as we progressed around the island and we also got to see perhaps 45 Snow Buntings too. We later found another flock of 8 Lapland Longspur. Here are four of them for you, with a closer shot of the male just below.

Lapland Longspur, Wolfe Island

Lapland Longspur (male), Wolfe Island
And so to the subject of this post - a Canadian Goodie. At long last I've seen a Snowy Owl. Yes, I did see one on Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms, Scotland back in the 1987 but that is some time ago! This one was also much easier; it was sitting on a telegraph pole right beside the road!

Snowy Owl, Wolfe Island
Other highlights and additions to my year list included a male Northern Harrier, Northern Shrike, and the year's first Killdeer. Back on the mainland, at Violet Dump, we also had three Iceland Gulls, a first winter, a second winter and adult winter. For the gull watchers out there, this was actually Kumlien's Gull, a subspecies new to me and therefore very agreeable despite the bitterly cold northerly wind whipping across the open landfill. Thanks Paul for a great morning.

Till next time...