Monday, May 28, 2012

Birding Carden Alvar in Late May

 For about two years, I've wanted to join the Ontario Field Ornithologists during their tour of the Carden Alvar, in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. According to the Ontario Field Ornithologist's Carden Alvar Birding Guide, they make the bold statement claiming the awesomeness of the main route in the area: "Wylie Road is the best early summer birding road in southern Ontario. ....its the last Canadian stronghold of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike in Canada and it has high populations of grassland and scrubland birds such as Upland Sandpipers, American Kestrels, Common Nighthawks, Eastern Whip-poor-wills, Eastern Bluebirds, Brown Thrashers, Golden-winged Warblers, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Towhees, Clay-colored Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows."(Pittaway). The OFO trip was to take place on Sunday, but since the weather forecast had 75% chance of thundershowers I hedged my bets and went on Saturday, by myself. Looking at the report by the group leader that was published to ontbirds listserve, I would have seen more with the group.

Wylie Road's infamous "Bluebird box #10" was great. Looking east, I found a Loggerhead Shrike (distant and cropped) as well as smashing views of a mating pair of Eastern Bluebirds. Brown Thrashers, American Goldfinch, Eastern Phoebe, Savannah Sparrows, and more were easily seen. I also saw an Upland Sandpiper for about 2 seconds as I was about to leave, but I'm not quite ready to claim it as a lifer, as I saw it while scanning the horizon with my bino's and it had landed behind a small hill, out of view.
Loggerhead Shrike... In Ontario... Incredible!

Sedge Wren Marsh was really nice. It was not what I imagined it would be. It was surprisingly small and had a single lane gravel 'bridge' crossing over it. Sadly when I arrived to the nature path on the south side of the marsh, four men were laying on the ground playing a looped track of sora, virginia rail and american bittern. They had tripods with whimberly heads and huge lenses. ... I was really bothered that they were doing that, but kept my mouth shut and walked away. Back on the bridge, I saw an amazing American Bittern just perched 30m west of the bridge, giving nice sun lit front views of this rare bird. Later on, the same group of photographers that were playing the looped track set up on the bridge, and started booming american bittern calls. So, I spoke up and told the guy, "Come on, the bird is 25m away... There is nowhere for him to perch even if he does come closer". These photographers assured me not to worry, that early birders shot birds and that he gives his photography on the web. I could elaborate more but will spare you the rant. These photographers didn't even have binoculars. I don't think they are very concerned about the welfare of the birds.

I was hoping to see Sedge Wrens, but only saw Marsh Wrens (and House Wrens). I did see many little brown jobs but made no definite ID any of the rare Sparrows that are known in the area like Clay Colored or Grasshopper. Many of the sparrows were Savannah or Swamp Sparrows from what I could tell. Even the OFO trip report mentioned that this year was the first year in many years that the group did not get Sedge Wrens.

Almost every birder I saw told me how I just missed Golden Winged Warbler and to just listen for them, but no dice. It would have been nice though!

300th life-list bird!
Amazingly, this was my only life bird for the day. This is my 300th bird on my life list, found basically on my 3rd year birding anniversary. American Bittern is decreasing in numbers due to destruction of wetlands.
I spoke with several birders looking for tips on seeing Upland Sandpiper and they had found them (perched on posts), and were looking for Snipe. Its funny how different people will see different things.
 Even though I've seen many Yellow bellied Sapsuckers, seeing this was one of my day's highlights. It was hammering away on this wooden post just meters from my car. I just love woodpeckers. Their behavior and gestalt is so cool. I took a 1-minute video and will post it in my next blog posting.
American Kestrel, Northern Harriers made their promised appearances, but interestingly, one bird I thought was a Kestrel was really a Merlin. I wonder if Merlin are increasing at the expense of Kestrels? Also, was the presence of Kestrels and Merlins the reason I dipped on Upland Sandpiper?
Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks, as well as Brown Thrashers were numerous and filled the air with their songs.

 Below is a picture of the famous Prairie Smoke wildflowers as well as others (Indian Paintbrush?)

One disheartening aspect of the Carden Alvar area is the number of signs around stating "Government Back off" and "This is our land" etc. It was the same thing I saw in the White-Lake area of Penticton BC. Any efforts to conserve land seem to be bitterly disputed by various groups (the local gravel companies in Carden's case). I even witnessed a run-in between a land owner yelling at birders, and then later 5 or more fire trucks barreling down Wylie Rd over the course of an hour. I can't help but think a message was being sent but maybe I'm over-reading the situation. Even last year's OFO Skunks Misery field trip had its helping of drama with a man on an off-road motocycle yelling at our group of birders about ownership and usage of the land.

Jean Iron found this Black billed Cuckoo while leaving the Sedge Wren Marsh Trail

Getting back onto the topic of birding, having only one lifer was not a disappointment for me. I really had soul-satisfying looks at the American Bittern, which I was not expecting to see. I also saw and heard so many birds it was incredible. Many other birds were seen at Carden that I did not mention such as Swallows, Indigo Buntings, Yellow Warblers, Towhees, and even a Scarlet Tanager. I had momentary glimpses at Upland Sandpiper, and believe I heard Sora and the grunting call of Virginia Rail which was exciting, but I still don't want to count them as lifered. I also saw the handywork of a Pileated Woodpecker that did major damage to a snag along a wooded part of Wylie Road. I'm disappointing also not to yet see a Golden Winged Warbler but that will have to wait for the next time. Next year, I might try to go again but for three days and hopefully bring my family along.

Good Birding!

PS: If you consider going to Carden, make sure to read the excellent resource provided by the Ontario Field Ornithologists below. It was such an impressive and well put together resource. Thanks OFO and Mr Pittaway.

Pittaway Ron, "Carden Alvar Birding Guide", Ontario Field Onithologists, ND, WEB, May 27 2012,

Bonus Video:

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