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...


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