Friday, 31 October 2014

Two Lifers - Two Days

Thurs 23rd - Fri 24th October, 2014

OK, they weren't both lifers for me but between birding buddy James Barber and I, we each scored a lifer on consecutive days during a week devoted very much to birding the local area and catching up on late (or if you prefer, early) migration.

The weekend before started well with an OFO trip to Amherst Island, led by Mike Burrell, where the group hooked up with some early winter migrants/visitors including a snowy trio of Snow Goose, Snowy Owl (an individual that forgot to go home last summer) and a handful of Snow Buntings. However, the highlight for many was a small migration of raptors that included almost 100 Turkey Vultures, several Red-tailed Hawks (including a classic 'northern' abieticola), Sharp-shinned Hawk and bird-of-the-day, an immature Northern Goshawk. No pictures from that day I'm afraid, but this shot of the same Snowy Owl was taken back in September at the same location.

Snowy Owl - Martin Edwards Reserve, Amherst Island, ON
So moving forward to Thursday and my lifer. Now it's not such a big deal if you've been living in Canada all your life but when news of 4 Evening Grosbeaks at Mike's feeder came through, I 'knew' the wait was finally over. This species, as with many other seed-eaters, irrupts during years of poor crop further north so it was really just a matter of time before I hooked up with this cracking species. In the same genus as Hawfinch, I knew what I was in for and was not disappointed! With a supporting cast of Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and Rusty Blackbird, we were provided great views of one of the females at the feeder and slightly more distant views of a couple of males and another female up in one of the trees. The males are quite spectacular - you really should check them out - but here she is...

Evening Grosbeak (female) - Washburn Road, ON
When we got home, we were pleased to hear that a Golden Eagle had been seen that day at Prince Edward Point, along with plenty of other migrating raptors. There was admittedly a twinge of regret but with winds looking very favourable for the next day (NW), James and I decided we would spend the day at the Bird Observatory and see what the winds would bring.

Even as we were driving to the Point that next morning, we were seeing signs of a potential raptor movement with a handful of Red-tailed Hawks hugging the shoreline. After setting up (we actually brought camping chairs), we sat back and let the action begin. It was relatively slow at first, with a mix of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks coming through, though until about 10:30 Sharp-shinned Hawks made up the majority of sightings. And then it happened, the first eagle came through at 10:50 - unfortunately it was the more common Bald Eagle but we were ready, and at 10:55 our first Golden Eagle of the day came through, really low, and James had just bagged his lifer, with a record shot to boot. Ten minutes late, the second bird came through and we both got photos and great looks at this one. And that was it - the flood gates opened and over the next couple of hours we recorded 14 different individuals; on 2 occasions we had a minimum of 4 birds in the air at the same time. We even got to see a couple of birds talon-grappling and spiralling out of the air - amazing. Reviewing our photos later, there could actually have been even more birds...

None of my photos were great, but here are a couple of the highlights.

Golden Eagle (imm) - Prince Edward Point, ON
Golden Eagle (imm) - Prince Edward Point, ON
Golden Eagle (sub-adult) - Prince Edward Point, ON
Here also is one the Red-shouldered Hawks:
Red-shouldered Hawk (adult) - Prince Edward Point, ON
Oh yeah, almost forgot to say we had a flock of 17 Evening Grosbeaks earlier in the morning, followed by a single near the observatory. Weird how that works but I was still glad to have bagged that species at Mike's the day before. So, by 14:00 and chuffed to bits, we 'retired' to the lake with our chairs, lunch, and a cool drink and spent an hour or so lake-watching in the glorious sunshine. Not too much to report, but later on we encountered a nice flock of 23 Sanderling and 2 Dunlin out near the lighthouse.

Sanderling and Dunlin - Prince Edward Point, ON
Planning to stay into the evening for owl banding, we were pleasantly surprised to get back to the station and 'dragged' 20 metres down the trail to where a Northern Saw-whet Owl had recently been found roosting. This was a real bonus as we were privileged fantastic views of this diminutive species in late afternoon sunshine, rather than having to accept one hanging upside down in a mist-net or in the hand. Thanks must go to the staff at the station for putting us onto this bird.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Prince Edward Point, ON
All-in-all a grand day and overall a fantastic week.

Till next time,

Sunday, 22 June 2014

BioBlitz at Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island

Friday 13th - Saturday 14th June, 2014

Last weekend saw Kingston Field Naturalists hold their 16th BioBlitz in the Kingston area, with naturalists from an array of fields congregating on the 404 hectare Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) for 24 hours of fun-filled survey work. Of course, I was there for the birds but still learnt a lot along the way, particularly with regard to some of Canada's dragonflies - do I see a new hobby on the way?

This year, I have been working at surpassing 200 species (of birds) in Frontenac County. With a late start last year, I managed 202 species with a lot of help from local birders; Paul Mackenzie and Bud Rowe in particular. So, reaching 200 again shouldn't really be a problem but having missed most of the Spring shorebird passage and already entering the summer, I was at 198 before heading over to the island for the weekend.

Ring-necked Pheasant (male) - Wolfe Island, ON
#199 - With a slight diversion, I immediately started adding to my tally with this unexpected male Ring-necked Pheasant. I know they have been seen on the island but, personally, I have never recorded one there. I assume this population is supplemented by released birds but will have to check the records.

#200 - Yay! Just around the corner, I then came across the 'big one', the one to crack 200. This Upland Sandpiper was doing just what Upland Sandpipers are supposed to do - sitting on a post. It was so relaxed, it even had one leg tucked away. I've not had too much luck with Upland Sandpiper this year, though the Napanee Plains have usually been reliable when I've been up there. This too was a new bird for my county life list - so a double bonus...

Upland Sandpiper - Wolfe Island, ON
Shortly after arriving at Big Sandy Bay, I actually saw a lifer - and an exciting one too. This Blanding's Turtle, a species listed as 'Threatened' under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, was calmly walking past the car park allowing cracking views for all those present. The second picture is of another Blanding's Turtle, though as this one is beginning to excavate a nest, it is a little more tricky to identify. It was seen further along the 'beach' in the dunes near Black Lake.

Blanding's Turtle - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON
Blanding's Turtle (nesting) - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON
And on to Bear Point, reached after a long hike along the shoreline of Lake Ontario where I was checking out the grassland for the slim possibility of Henslow's Sparrow. No sparrows unfortunately but plenty of breeding Bobolinks were seen. The highlight at the point though was this solitary, and rather lonesome, Brant, right at the tip. Last year, one bird stayed for much of the summer on Amherst Island, though that bird didn't appear to be in such fine condition as this one. Note, however, the drooping wing.

Brant (Atlantic) - Bear Point, Wolfe Island, ON
#201 - Back at camp, James Barber showed up after work having just seen a Northern Mockingbird less than 1km down the road. Deftly packing two extra birders into his already full car, we trundled back to Reed's Bay where, sure enough, the bird was performing well right beside the road. Northern Mockingbird is seen yearly in the Kingston area, though is by no means common. Needless to say, this was another double tick for me.

Northern Mockingbird - Reed's Bay, Wolfe Island, ON
#202 - Another uncommon bird in these parts is Least Bittern. It is sometimes heard from the region's marshlands but it is rarely seen, let alone photographed so I'm quite pleased to have captured this next shot, even if it is not that great. This was, once again, my first sighting for the county; however, I'd already seen one 'across the border' at Moscow Marsh in late May.

Least Bittern - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON
So, the weekend brought me 4 Frontenac ticks, and all of them counted to both my year and 'life' lists. Yesterday, I added #203, a Common Tern, so I've already beaten last year's total. Perhaps I can reach 210 this year, maybe even 215. My Frontenac Life List is only 221 so that needs some work too...

To wrap up here are some of the Odonata I was introduced to over the weekend. Definitely something I could get in to. Please let me know if I've got any of these incorrect (thanks David Bree for correctly identifying the bluet for me as Taiga).

Dot-tailed Whiteface - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON

Eastern Pondhawk (female) - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON

Four-spotted Skimmer - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON

Taiga Bluet - Big Sandy Bay, Wolfe Island, ON
'Till next time,

Thursday, 12 June 2014

May Madness

It has certainly been a pretty good Spring here in Canada, nothing too outrageous on the rarity front but lots of goodies and unusual sightings none-the-less. With a long weekend excursion to Rondeau/Pelee in early May with James Barber and a couple of bonus birds more locally, I picked up an impressive 7 lifers in May alone with several more as additions to my Canada (and Ontario) list.

Yellow-throated Vireo - The Tip, Point Pelee, ON
Of course it's not all about the rare birds - though they do add a little spice to the day. For me it's about learning the subtleties of a new song, unusual plumage or just plain and simple good views of a more common bird, such as this Yellow-throated Vireo at Point Pelee. Likewise, being able to study Forster's Terns at Rondeau was certainly a pleasure, as was watching the 70+ Black Terns hawking for insects over the local sewage lagoons.

Fortunately, I was able to get photos of some of these lifers too, beginning with these Henslow's Sparrows seen at Point Pelee. To see just one is good these days but to have a second is a real bonus - with portraits of both to boot...

Henslow's Sparrow - Bird 1 at the 'Serengeti Tree', Point Pelee, ON
Henslow's Sparrow - Better views of Bird 2 at the Tip, Point Pelee, ON
On the same day, we also had great looks at my second lifer, Hooded Warbler, though my pictures of that bird are not quite so good...

Hooded Warbler - The Tip, Point Pelee, ON
The real rarity of that particular trip though was Smith's Longspur. These birds were in a muddy field just north of Hillman Marsh and with some concentrated effort we both got some reasonable looks. James even snapped a couple of record shots - you should take a look at some of his work at Try his Rare Birds gallery for the Longspur, as well as my 4th lifer of that trip, Yellow-throated Warbler. We also added Willet, Marbled Godwit and Lesser Black-backed Gull at Hillman Marsh but the only half-recognisable shot is this one...

Marbled Godwit - Hillman Marsh, Leamington, ON
These next few pictures are of some of the other birds encountered on that particular trip. Again nothing special - some day I'll buy a proper camera and have to lug that around too!

Black-throated Green Warbler (male) - Rondeau Provincial Park, ON
Forster's Tern - Rondeau Provincial Park, ON
Hermit Thrush - Rondeau Provincial Park, ON
American Woodcock peenting - Rondeau Provincial Park, ON
Eared (Black-necked) Grebe - Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, ON
Wood Thrush - Rondeau Provincial Park, ON
Of course there was much more seen on this trip, with Acadian Flycatcher being perhaps the biggest miss. May also brought another 3 lifers but I should probably save them for next time. I also got shots of two more species of Catharus thrushes, so perhaps a comparison is on the cards too - just missing that elusive Bicknell's...

Till next time,

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bits and Bobs - before the rush?

January - March 2014

As the title suggests this is really just a catch-up on some of the highlights of the winter so far. I say 'so far' because there's still a foot of snow (or more) in the back garden. The first few Spring arrivals have been showing up over the last week but there's certainly not a great deal to be singing about just yet.

To kick off, this is how cold it was. Brrrr...

It's cold out!
However, there have been some birding highlights of course and to get the ball rolling is this Great Grey Owl I saw in Prince Edward County back in January. It hung around for a few days but was apparently quite elusive at times for others trying to find it.

Great Grey Owl - Wellington, Prince Edward County, ON
And staying on the owl theme, this Snowy Owl up near Perth certainly wasn't elusive and, in fact, put on bit of a show. Shame the weather was so poor...

Snowy Owl - Perth, Lanark County, ON
Waterfowl have been understandably scarce due to the extreme cold but a few goodies still managed to be found. The highlight for me was 4 King Eider at Prince Edward Point that were present for about 2 weeks from late February. It has been over 27 years since my first (and only) King Eider at Scolt Head in the UK!
King Eider (immature male) - Prince Edward Point, ON
King Eider (2 of the 3 females) - Prince Edward Point, ON
King Eider (immature male and female) - Prince Edward Point, ON
King Eider (immature male) - Prince Edward Point, ON
This next one though was a lifer and one long overdue. This male Barrow's Goldeneye had been hanging out near Bate's Island in Ottawa for most of the winter so James Barber and I trundled up there in late January and were rewarded with good looks at both the male and a female. Unfortunately, the female was more camera shy, though James did manage to get a shot of her in flight.

Barrow's Goldeneye (male) - Bate's Island, Ottawa, ON
Barrow's Goldeneye (male) - Bate's Island, Ottawa, ON
The following Red-tailed Hawk is, I believe, of the 'Northern' subspecies. Now whether B. j. abieticola is actually valid as a subspecies is currently a topic of debate but this bird shows all the described characteristics (extensive belly band and dark throat, just for starters).

Red-tailed Hawk (B. j. abieticola) - Amherst Island, ON
Well, that's all for today. Hopefully the southerlies we're currently experiencing will bring in more than just snow...

'Till next time,


Thursday, 6 March 2014

KFN Field Trip - Kingston

Sunday 23rd February 2014

Following an almost identical format to the trip held a couple of weeks earlier, six members and two guests joined me for a fruitful morning visiting a few of Kingston’s birding locations. We met at Marshlands Conservation Area where three of us kicked off the day with a very large immature female Cooper’s Hawk flicking through the trees. She was first seen perched just up the trail with the remains of an American Red Squirrel. Upon the arrival of three more members, the car park area became alive with chickadees, a couple of Northern Cardinals, 3 Downy Woodpeckers and American Robin. The highlight however was a flock of 15 Red-winged Blackbirds, including an immaculate male pronouncing his presence with his characteristic song. The other birds were a mix of age and sex suggesting a wintering flock rather than newly-arrived migrants.
Cooper's Hawk (immature female) - Marshlands CA, Kingston, ON
We then headed to the Wolfe Island Ferry Dock where waterfowl again provided some cracking views on this bright and considerably milder morning. Birds included Greater Scaup, Goldeneye, Mallard and single male Redhead and Long-tailed Duck. The highlight for many though was the opportunity to photograph some of these species so close to shore – favourites being the Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. A scan of the ice however, revealed the second bonus species of the day – an immature Glaucous Gull, way out in the channel. Thoughts of getting everybody on the bird were dashed though when it took off with the 20 or so Herring Gulls also present that day. As fortune would have it, the bird actually flew in towards us and passed right in front of the ferry dock allowing everybody present to see the bird in flight.

Greater Scaup (male) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON
Greater Scaup (female) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON
Red-breasted Merganser (male and female) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON
After an unsuccessful stop in town for the resident Peregrine Falcons, we continued to Invista with 2 guests and another KFN member bringing the party total to 9. Almost immediately, we located the ‘resident’ immature Snowy Owl. As a bonus, a female American Kestrel sat up on a wire allowing us all good views through the ‘scope. Never knowing exactly what we’ll see at the pool, we began to scan the birds and soon located the Red-necked Grebe that had first been located a few days earlier. We also locked onto 2 male American Wigeon, certainly a ‘new’ species for the month. We also saw the usual Mallard, Gadwall and American Black Duck, though numbers of other species were way down. We then moved to the Ball Diamond in order to get better looks at the outfall and quickly located another bonus bird, a male White-winged Scoter – not an easy bird to find in the Kingston area. Also present here were a handful of Greater Scaup, a single Mute Swan, lone female Goldeneye and a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers. As last time (but by no means guaranteed), a Northern Shrike put on bit of a show, allowing us all great views through the ‘scope. Two Red-tailed Hawks were seen on the way out.

At Invista (photo by Gaye Beckwith)
White-winged Scoter (male) - Invista, Kingston, ON
Northern Shrike - Invista, Kingston, ON (photo by Gaye Beckwith)
We then continued to Lemoine Point, exploring the trails at the southern end of this Conservation Area. Almost the first bird encountered was another Northern Shrike, though the ‘ever-present’ American Kestrel could not be located. The woods were busy with birds; chickadees as ever hoping for a free hand-out of sunflower seeds. On the ‘Feeder Trail’, we also saw a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches and their larger, more common, cousins White-breasted Nuthatches. Both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers allowed comparison and a few American Robins added a splash of colour. A Brown Creeper was heard but not seen.

Returning to the car park, we added Northern Cardinal, Eurasian Starling, Red-tailed Hawk and Blue Jay. In total, we saw 38 species, a very respectable count.

'Till next time,


Thursday, 6 February 2014

KFN Field Trip - Kingston

Sunday 2nd February 2014

Four KFN members joined me for an enjoyable morning visiting a few of Kingston’s birding locations on a day with vastly improved weather compared to the bone-numbing cold experienced during the previous few days. To get the day rolling, we headed up to Princess Towers where I had seen the resident pair of Peregrine Falcons just that morning. Of course, we missed seeing them but at least one member of the group stopped in later during the day and actually observed one of the pair take a Feral Pigeon.

We then went down to the Wolfe Island Ferry Dock where waterfowl, though not numerous, are restricted to the ice-choked channel, there-by allowing for some close looks. Mallard numbered about 40 and in with them was a leucistic female, quite unusual. Of more interest though to those present were the two 1st winter drake Long-tailed Ducks allowing us very close views right from the dock. Also present were Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, a single American Black Duck and both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers – these allowing close comparison of the females.

Long-tailed Duck (1st Winter Male) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON

Common Merganser (Female) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON

Common Goldeneye (Male) - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON

We then decided to call in at the Invista plant to check out the open pool on Cataraqui Bay. Immediately upon our arrival we were greeted by an immature Snowy Owl. Up to 3 have been seen here but it was still nice to see this bird so quickly and easily. Scanning the pool, we logged 15 Mute Swans, 5 American Coot and the usual Canada Geese, Mallard, Gadwall and American Black Duck, albeit in lower numbers than typical. We then continued to the Ball Diamond where we could get better looks at the outfall, often a better area for diving ducks. Here we were rewarded with 9 Greater Scaup, a single Common Goldeneye and just one Common Merganser. However, the highlight for all was a Northern Shrike that first gave itself away with its scratchy yet melodic singing. We all enjoyed great views through the ‘scope; Polly actually seeing the bird regurgitate a pellet as she was watching. With one of the party needing to head off to work, we decided to continue to Lemoine Point but not before seeing a Red-tailed Hawk on the way out.

Black Duck and Mallard - Wolfe Island Ferry Dock, Kingston, ON

We spent just over an hour at Lemoine Point and, although the wind was ‘fresh’ near the car park, enjoyed the birdlife in the shelter of the woods. However, one bird that was enjoying the open grassland was a female American Kestrel sitting on a pole observing us walk by. We soon began seeing numerous Black-capped Chickadees, all hoping for a free hand-out of sunflower seeds. We obliged and quickly attracted both Hairy and Downy Woodpecker to the vicinity but not to the hand. However, a diminutive pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches did come to the hand, allowing those with a fast shutter to snap a few shots. White-breasted Nuthatch, not to be usurped by its miniature cousin joined in the show and later came to the hand as well. This opportunity allowed us to compare the male and female of each species, with males having black crowns and females dark grey crowns.

Red-breasted Nuthatch (male) - Lemoine Point CA, Kingston, ON

Looping back to the car park, we added a few more species to the trip list including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco and Blue Jay. In total (including Peregrine), we saw 35 species – not too bad for a cold winter morning in Kingston.

Till next time,