Friday, 22 February 2013

Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker and more...

Sunday 10th - Tuesday 19th February, 2012

It's been a relatively slow couple of weeks bird-wise but that's not surprising really. February is often that month when winter gives you another little surprise before handing over to the business of Spring in early-mid March. Admittedly, the days are lengthening quite noticeably now and other than a few snow days (including a news-worthy storm), we have had mainly bright but bitingly cold weather.

Despite not seeing anything new, I've managed some great observations of commoner species and have had the time and opportunity to grab one or two fairly decent shots too. I'll never meet the standard or have the equipment of some of the other amateurs out there (let alone pros), but for me the primary experience of birding is in seeing the wildlife do its own thing and being there to experience and record it.

The following three pictures show two species of squirrel, the Eastern Grey Squirrel and the American Red Squirrel. However, here in southern Ontario most of our 'grey' squirrels are actually black. The blond one is genuinely unusual and the only one of its colour form I've seen. We do have the occasional grey form but they are probably outnumbered by at least 10:1. The red squirrel is much smaller but surprisingly aggressive towards the greys. A squirrel story follows the pictures...

Eastern Grey Squirrel stealing bird seed, My Garden

Eastern Grey Squirrel - 'Blondie', Lake Ontario Park

American Red Squirrel, Lake Ontario Park

I've now got 3 bird feeders set up in the garden, two with regular mixed grain bird seed and one with peanuts. I've had mixed success; some days with House Finch, Dark-eyed Juncos and even Northern Cardinal, but more often just Black-capped Chickadees and the occasional White-breasted Nuthatch. The nuthatches tend to give themselves away by calling constantly and just like a toy trumpet. I've also been battling with the local squirrels. They are the Eastern (American) Grey Squirrel - the same species that amazed audiences in the UK many years ago by solving increasingly complex challenges for a reward of food. Their antics even became an advert for beer (Carling Black Label) performed to the theme music of Mission Impossible. And yes, my squirrels have been learning too and are becoming increasingly competent at getting their reward. Having learnt the hard way, I now have my feeders hanging off a thin 3mm plastic line, about 4 feet off the ground and 4-5 feet away from foliage. However, one young male has taken to leaping from higher branches and landing on top of the biggest feeder. To do this he first cleared a 'jump-way' by removing twigs in his way! He usually just skids off the feeder shaking enough onto the ground to keep him and his companions going for half an hour or so. However, yesterday he learnt a new trick and managed to grab onto the line with his front paws first, leaving his hind legs dangling in the wind. He then hooked all four legs to the underside of the line and shimmied along it, upside down, to the peanut feeder which, despite being metal, provides lots of 'hand-holds'. Unfortunately the lid on this particular feeder isn't tied down, so with a little manoeuvring, he pulled it up, tipped it sideways and spilled his reward all over the ground. Being a meany, I have now removed even more branches - what will he do next I wonder?

Back to the birds then, and off to a great start with this lovely pair of Downy Woodpeckers seen at Lake Ontario Park. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest species in North America, and is about the same size as the Europe's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - that's about 15cm long, or the size of a nuthatch. The female lacks the red hind-crown shown by the male.

Female Downy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

Male Downy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

I regularly see three species of woodpecker in the local area. The next, Hairy Woodpecker is superficially quite similar to Downy, but being almost twice the size and with a much longer and stouter bill shouldn't really pose any identification problems.

Male Hairy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park
The third species is Red-bellied Woodpecker. I regularly see a single bird in the park but have yet to see this species elsewhere. I actually wrote about it in an earlier post as it was a lifer for me but as I have a bit of a woodpecker theme going, here it is again. And before you ask, 'Why isn't it called 'Red-headed Woodpecker'?', well there's another much rarer species that's already bagged that name... However, this one is easy to identify with its fine barring on the back and extensive red crown. In this species the female also shows red, but only on the nape and at the base of the bill.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park

So, to the last of today's woodpeckers. Just 2 streets over from mine, in a quiet but residential area of the city, I came across a female Pileated Woodpecker busy hammering away at a tree in someone's garden. From North America's smallest species to the largest is quite something - this species is getting on for half a metre in length. She was completely unconcerned by my presence, or by the passers-by who seemed more interested in this lanky Brit apparently staring in wonder at a tree. The Pileated is not a new species for me, and seems to have a thin but quite widespread distribution.

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park
Well, this little write-up is turning into quite an essay so, cracking on, I'll just post some photographic highlights including this cracking Barred Owl seen in Marshlands Conservation Area,...

Barred Owl, Marshlands Conservation Area
... a very photogenic female Northern Cardinal seen the same day,...

Female Northern Cardinal, Marshlands Conservation Area

...and this American Tree Sparrow, which is now a regular entertainer at the far end of Lake Ontario Park.

American Tree Sparrow, Lake Ontario Park
To round off today's blog, I just want to share my latest Pine Warbler picture (which I've not seen now for nearly a week) and an illustrative shot of an American Black Duck that shows the intricacies of their plumage.

American Black Duck, Lake Ontario Park

Pine Warbler, Lake Ontario Park
Till next time...



Friday, 8 February 2013

Some birds of Okhla Bird Sanctuary, New Delhi, India (Pt 2)

Wednesday 24th and Monday 29th October 2012

This is Part 2 of a post dedicated to some photographic birding highlights from Okhla Bird Sanctuary, visited on two dates in October 2012. A full report, with maps and a systematic list will be posted online shortly. In the meantime, you can read the same report on a separate page on my blog - Bird Report for Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Part 1 can be seen here

Till next time...


Asian Pied Myna, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Bluethroat, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Indian Spot-billed Duck, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Lesser Whitethroat, Okhla Bird Sanctuary
Large Grey Babbler, Gandhi Remembrance Museum
Striated Babbler, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Striated Babbler, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Long-tailed Shrike, Okhla Bird Sanctuary
Greater Coucal, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Green Bee-eater, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

And a couple of mammals...

Northern Palm Squirrel, Gandhi Remembrance Museum

Small Asian Mongoose, Anand Vihar ISBT Bus Station


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Some birds of Okhla Bird Sanctuary, New Delhi, India (Pt 1)

Wednesday 24th and Monday 29th October 2012

I visited Okhla Bird Sanctuary on two dates in October 2012 based around the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix. The reserve was easy to reach and provides excellent birding for both novice and serious birders alike. From my hotel in the city, I reached the site in just over an hour by making use of the very efficient Metro system. I have written a full report, with maps and a systematic list that is hosted on both Surfbirds and Birdforum. In the meantime, you can read the same report on a separate page on my blog - Bird Report for Okhla Bird Sanctuary

The purpose of this particular blog is to supplement the report with the photos that would have made the file size too large. Of course, it's also about sharing the birds.

This is Part 1. Part 2 can be seen here.

Till next time...


Sign at the Southern Checkpoint

Watch Tower, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

An industrial back-drop to the west of main lake, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Black-headed Ibis, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Indian Peafowl, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Common Kingfisher, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

White-throated Kingfisher, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Purple Heron, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Red Avadavat, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Pied Bush Chat, Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Oriental Darter, Okhla Bird Sanctuary


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Some birding in Kingston

Saturday, 26th January - Sunday 3rd February, 2013

Although birding in Kingston, Jamaica would no doubt provide a lifer or two, I'm afraid it's Kingston, Ontario where I am now based - and I've put the last couple of weeks to good use and explored locally. In terms of numbers and variety, it's been hard work to be sure, but I now feel comfortable in the knowledge that I've established a 'local patch' and can now start running up the totals as the days begin to lengthen.

It's been a mixed week weather-wise beginning with freezing temperatures and a frozen lake, that thawed again for a day or two mid-week, only to freeze up at week's end. It's been snowing now since Saturday night and doesn't seem to be letting up as we move into Sunday night.

This week, I discovered 'eBird' and have added a link both here and on my 'useful links'. eBird ( is jointly-run by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society and is a useful resource and database for birds and birders. I've been using it to add all my sightings. For those of you in the UK, it is very similar to the BTO's BirdTrack ( I discovered it through the new BirdTrax add-on that now sits on the right of my blog. If you're having trouble with that particular item, try clicking on one of the 3 tabs (sightings/rarities/checklists) to make it load. It posts recent bird news from a pre-defined area (mine is set to a 50km radius of my home in Kingston), derived from submissions to the above eBird site. And yes, I've already got my name in there - most notably for a Pine Warbler that really shouldn't be here.

Male Hairy Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park
Male White-breasted Nuthatch, Kingston

All very exciting, so onwards to this week's news, beginning last Saturday with a stroll around Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and Lake Ontario Park. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great, rather dull in fact, but I did connect with both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatch and the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees. Maybe 100 or more American Crows were in trees near the harbour, with 3-4 Northern Raven buzzing around nearby. As the lake was frozen, the only waterfowl I saw were a couple of mallard and Canada Geese.

Male White-breasted Nuthatch, Lake Ontario Park, Kingston
Sunday was a much brighter day, so off I went again to the park, this time with a packed lunch and the idea of extending my walk north into Marshlands Conservation Area. To start with, the American Crows were still present at the harbour so this time I managed to capture a couple of shots.

American Crow, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston
The park was far more productive than the previous day and right off, I was watching Dark-eyed Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatch, more chickadees and... 2 lifers! The first was a male Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is actually quite a common North American bird. However, it was new for me and showing very nicely. All these birds were associating in the same area due to, I discovered, someone leaving seed. The second bird however was far more tricky and didn't show itself clearly until later in the afternoon as I returned from my trek. All it gave away in the morning was a flash of olive and yellow, at least one white wing bar and an impression of streaks on the chest. More to follow...

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker, Lake Ontario Park, Kingston
Just a tad further on, I came across a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, again allowing good views but unfortunately very difficult to photograph. These kinglets are the equivalent of the European Goldcrest and are very pretty indeed.

Rideau Trail, Marshlands Conservation Area

Hoping to find a decent local patch, I crossed the main road and entered Marshlands Conservation Area, following the Rideau Trail. This trail then continues north over Bath Road into Grenville Park before reaching the northern limits of Kingston up near Princess Street. It is this area that I hope will become my local patch, and by the looks of all the wetland, scrub and forested areas it should prove fruitful later in the year. Other species seen in these 2 areas included White-throated Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, a pair of Northern Cardinal and a small flock of Common Redpoll.

After a good walk, I was back to the park by early afternoon where I added Downy Woodpecker and Brown Creeper. And finally, I got decent views of the mystery bird which turned out to be the latest ever Pine Warbler for Ontario! It certainly seemed very happy, so I'll keep checking on it - maybe it'll survive right through to the Spring. Anyway, it was still there on the 1st February.

Male Pine Warbler, Lake Ontario Park, Kingston - Jan 27th

Male Pine Warbler, Lake Ontario Park, Kingston - Feb 1st
The following day, I had a male Peregrine Falcon in town, chasing down the feral doves around St. Mary's Cathedral. However, further trips to the park have produced mixed results. Mid-week was mild and wet, with nothing new other than this Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by European Starlings. In case you're wondering, North American hawks tend to be what we would call buzzards (Buteo) and not our Accipiter.

Red-tailed Hawk, Lake Ontario Park

Friday was a slightly different day for me, with business up in town so, finding myself at the northern end of the Rideau Trail, I walked back south to the lake and park. With the weather once again crisp and sunny, it was very enjoyable. Many of the same species were seen again, including 'my' Pine Warbler later on, but up near Grenville Park, I locked on to several American Tree Sparrows. They were not that forthcoming for the camera but did allow good views nonetheless. These cracking little sparrows have a bright chestnut crown, offset by a mainly grey face. A couple of White-throated Sparrows were again logged in this section of the trail.

Down by the lake, 7 Ring-necked Duck, a trio of Hooded Mergansers, many Mallard, a handful of Canada Geese and 6 Tundra Swans were making the most of the still unfrozen waters in Elevator Bay. Way off in the distance, towards what I believe is called Dupont Ponds, were many more wildfowl. Unfortunately, they were much too far away for me to even guess at their identification.

Canada Geese - yes real ones...
Ring-necked Ducks, Elevator Bay, Kingston
Till next time...