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,