Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Five lined Skink and other Pelee Flora and Fauna

I've never seen a Five lined Skink before so I figured I would go to Pelee today an try my luck at finding it. I heard that they can be found on the South side of the visitor center (they like the warm bricks) and around the West Beach access paths. I think one thing that prevented me from seeing it earlier is that its size is so small. Its probably only 2" long and quickly run off the west beach access paths as you make yourself visible to them. The five lined skink is one of only five lizards that are native to Canada's geographic regions. See this site for more details: .

I walked the West Beach footpath to the tip parking lot and saw tonnes of butterflies. Most numerous today was Giant Swallowtail, Eastern tiger Swallowtail, Common Buckeye, Monarch, and singles of Hackberry Emperors and Red Spotted Purple. Summer Azure was abundant as well. There is a tonne of Common Knapweed along West Beach. This is good for the butterflies even though its a non-native species. It thrives in the dry, hot environment on the West Beach. The park wanted to remove Common Knapweed as discussed in this Windsor Star article.

Summer Azure
 Hackberry Emperor (butterfly lifer)- This actually landed on me!
 Common Buckeye
 Giant Swallowtail on Common Knapweed. Common Knapweed is abundant on the west beach...
Common Buckeye on Prickly Pear Cactus

I also kayaked the Point Pelee Marsh and headed straight to the small islands of muddy sediment that attract shorebirds. Some seen today included Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs ... and I must confess I've had a tough time identifying some of the birds. My problem with identification is the following: Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers are very close in size (6-6 1/4"), but there was a shorebird that was noticibly larger...possibly a Sanderling? Sanderlings are small, but still about 2" longer than Semipalmated Sandpipers and look very similar, at least in my interpretation of my field guides.

 Sanderling? It's more than a 1/4" bigger than the Least Sandpipers... Do Sanderlings hang out on mudflats? It was also 'running' as it chased the Least Sandpipers.
Three of these 4 shorebird photos are obvious. I have a feeling I've botched the second last photo. What looks like a Semipalmated Sanpiper but is slightly larger? Any shared identification thoughts or ideas would be appreciated. I will check out these mudflats again in August. Hopefully something good shows up!

Good birding,


Birding Pointe Mouillee and Oak Openings Metropark

Black crowned Night Heron with Fermi cooling towers in the background

Pointe Mouille is about 30 minutes south of Windsor if you were to cross the Ambassador Bridge. There are some incredible shorebirds that show up to this 700-acre manmade wetland. Its interesting to read about how this area was made and how duck hunters, birders and government use this area. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers:  "The primary purpose of the Pointe Mouillee Confined Disposal Facility is to contain 18 million cubic yards of contaminated dredged material that will be removed from the existing navigation channels in the Detroit and Rouge Rivers" (USACE).

I brought my mountain bike because the distances required to navigate this area are in the units of miles. Bring water, portable snacks and sun protection if you go. Also, print out a map. I was not feeling too good when I arived at this park, so I did not stay long. In my short time there, I did see Green and Black Crowned Night Herons, GB Herons, Great Egrets, A flyby Least Bittern (seen near the middle causeway and the long-pond and vermeet areas)... Not as good a look at one as I had last summer at St Clair NWA. Hooded Mergansers and Pied billed Grebes were seen. A recent blog posting had incredible birds here including: Little Blue Herons, American Avocets and White faced Ibis. I did not make it to Cell 3 (the shorebird cell) because the middle causeway was blocked with a gaggle of geese!

I really like Pointe Mouillee but I must say I hate crossing the border. I find the border guards to be unneccesarily rude... "Wutz a matter,,, don't they have birds in Canada no more?" is one of the nicer comments I've had in my three birding visits. Give me a break. I'm sure Americans on their way to Point Pelee are not treated in the same manner.

Oak Openings is an awesome metropark in Toledo (Swanton Ohio actually). Check out this website for more details. Its about 1 hour from Windsor, or 30 or so minutes past Point-Moo-Yee. This park is similar to Ojibway Park in Windsor but it boasts breeding species including Blue Grosbeaks, Lark Sparrows, Prarie Warblers and Yellow breasted Chats. See the chart for this hotspot for more details.

Upon arriving to the park, I birded a few fields which are highlighted on the websites' literature as hotspots but really did not see too much. I would imagine its just way too late in the season to bother seeing some of the rarities. I will try to return in June next year. Some things seen in my short time at Oak Openings were Red headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, Chipping and Song Sparrows, American Copper, and Pipevine Swallowtails.

Cylindrical Blazingstar

An interesting thing about this park is that the visitor center is unstaffed. It has some interpretive displays and nice pamphlets but nobody in the room. Great park nonetheless and the visitor center is still really nice.

A little closer to home, things have also been quiet. Holiday Beach produced my first Hackberry Emperor as well as Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Common Moorehen and the common herons and egrets were around as well.
Anyone know what flower this Giant Swallowtail is feeding on?

Good birding,

USACE, "Pointe Moullee - Beneficial Use", April 24, 2005, obtained: July 26, 2011,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Birding Banff National Park

Banff National Park could be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was ridiculous! Its a friggen' UNESCO World Heritage Site for goodness sake. But this is a huge park, and I simply focus on 3-4 spots within the park.

Lake Louise
Morain Lake
Bow River Trail
The town of Banff

Birding in Lake Louise
Lake Louise is pretty incredible. We spent two days in the park so the birding is thin. I only saw and heard the most obvious species that were around in mid-July.  There are several trails around the lake, and basically, I saw Clark's Nutcrackers, White Crowned Sparrows, Boreal & Mountain Chickadees and of course, Robins. Boreal Chickadee's are common in Banff National Park, but not easily seen. They are much shier than Black Capped Chickadee's and in my experience, stayed very high in the tree's even when investigating pishing sounds. I walked Lake Louise at 6am one morning and heard abundant Varied Thrushes (even though I heard the call, I hesitate to count it as a lifer), but was unable to visually spot one. I also saw Audubons' Yellow Rumped Warblers. I also heard the buzzing sound of Northern Parulas... but I may be mistaken on that one. Does Audubon's Yellow Rumped Warbler count as a species? (probably not)!

Waiting for a handout? I took this with a 17-55mm lens.
Wow! After birding the Okanagan Valley Area, lifers did not come so easily. Boreal Chickadee in my opinion was a huge life list addition. This is my third Chickadee Species in a week. All I need is a single Black Capped Chickadee to achieve the coveted "Chickadee Grandslam"... that is, four chickadee species in a close time proximity.

Photo taken while eating apples... hence the unsavory expression.
Birding Bow River Trail
Bow River Trail was a really nice meandering river with lots of small islands and crystal clear blue water. Signs around this path had promises of Harliquin Ducks, American Dippers, Grey Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers. None of the above were seen. A kayaker told me that the ducks are harder to see as you get into mid-summer. Still, Audubon's Yellow Rumped Warbler was seen, along with beautiful riverside flowers similar to those seen in Mt. Revelstoke. In particular, Indian Paintbrush was noted.
One trip objective was to dip our feet in the Bow River. Mission Accomplished!

Indian Paintbrush Wildflower
Birding in the town of Banff
The first bird I saw in the town of Banff is a Hairy Woodpecker pecking on a telephone pole. The town has the typical  city dwelling birds, but Black billed Magpie may have been one of the more interesting. There is a trail in the middle of the town (edge really) called Fenlan Trail. I walked this at 6am one morning and really enjoyed the beauty of the local geography and avifauna. Birds seen include:
Mountain Chickadee, Robin, Swainson's Thrush, Pine Siskin, Audubon's Warbler, Crows, Red breasted Nuthatch, unknown hummingbirds (Calliope most likely). Bald Eagle, and obligatory Belted Kingfishers were seen as well but more towards Vermillion Lakes area.

Another trail I attempted to see was the Marsh Trail Loop on the town's edge. I got lost and never really found the trailhead, but a grassy field revealed many sparrows types. I believe they were Savanah Sparrows and Lincoln's Sparrows. Swallows were abundant in this area as well. I was also scolded by a Wren at this trail.

Birding Morain Lake

Morain Lake is even more beautiful than Lake Louise. The scene in the photo above was featured on the back of an older series of $20 bills (Valley of the 10 peaks). The lakes in Banff National Park are small, glacial water lakes with a fine suspension of rock-flour which is responsible for the beautiful blue colour of the water.  Clark's Nutcrackers were around as well as White Crowned Sparrows, but I did not really bird this park. I did however see a family of 3 Grizzly Bears that were eating vegetation near the roadway near the parking lot. Large crowds gathered. A stop at a valley meadow produced a Northern Checkerspot Butterfly.


Good birding!

Lifer Summary:

273-Boreal Chickadee
274-Clark's Nutcracker
275-Audubon's Yellow Rumped Warbler (may not count as an official species!)

Birding in Calgary AB

After being in BC for a week, and enjoying sunny, 78 degree weather in Banff National Park, Calgary was comparatively just another city. I must say I thought it would be nicer than it was, considering the oil boom and low taxes and low unemployment. We had two days in Calgary, hitting the Calgary Stampede along with the Calgary Zoo. We tried to bird the Isherwood Bird Sanctuary which was discussed in Stuart's Sitta Canadianis blog but my wife and son were being eaten by mosquitoes. We did not get to really bird the site very well, but from our short time there, we did not see much beyond birds that would be seen out East. 

Birds seen include:

Black Capped Chickadee (my fourth Chickadee Species on this trip... I should receive a medal or something!)
Black billed Magpie
Cedar Waxwings
House Wrens
American White Pelican (first in Canada... pretty cool)
American Wigeon  (or Baldplate... a rare duck for me...)
Wood Ducks
I photographed a bird that I figured could have been a Cassin's Finch... Could it be? I looked at the bar charts and this species was not even on it. Also Cassin's Finch has an eyering and this bird does not seem to have one. But, it just seems that Purple Finches that I've seen are more brown/white in the face, and this is clearly not a House Finch. Is anyone voting for Cassins?

The Calgary Zoo had some Hawks and Owls in Captivity that were interesting to see. Also, on my way to the airport, I think I saw a Swainson's Hawk perched on a wire as well as a Yellow Headed Blackbird, but I think my wife would have killed me if I stopped for a better look. Speaking of wanting to stop while driving, there is a Beautiful Bow River that meanders through Calgary, and there were small gravel/mud islands occasionally that were covered with gulls. I think I could have also seen a Franklin's Gull had I been able to stop.

Painful West Coast Misses:
Stellars Jay
Gray Jay
Varied Thrush (Heard but not seen)
Bullock's Oriole
Harliquin Duck
American Dipper

Well, this concludes my BC Trip!
Good birding,

Birding in Revelstoke BC

We stopped in Revelstoke BC which is about an hour or two West of Banff National Park in BC. If the Okanagan Valley is in the middle of BC, Revelstoke is about 3/4 over from the left if that makes any sense. Revelstoke was the only two days of our trip where we had bad weather.

Multi-coloured roadside wild-flowers are easily enjoyed in Revelstoke BC

Again, birding was not the primary function on this trip, but I had a "Hello BC" tourism booklet that promised beatuful mountain-top meadows with a sea of colour in mid July. So when I pulled up to Mt Revelstoke National Park entrance booth, the lady told me: "There's a meter of snow up there. You'll have to come back in mid August to walk the "Meadows in the sky boardwalk". So I figured I would go into the park anyway, but at the 10K mark, our visibility was like 20m so we turned around and walked the first trail in the park which was not foggy. The trailhead sign featured beautiful colour photos of Varied Thrushes and Stellars Jay's so I was excited to go. The bird list for mid-summer in Revelstoke was incredible. I could of had 20 lifers if I had some time to bird the park, but that wasn't happening today. Long story short, not a single bird chirp after hiking 10 minutes so we turned around and went to the next birding destination in the park: the Skunk Cabbage Trail.

Skunk cabbage trail was really beautiful. It had many types of vegetation which ranged from grassland, then forest habitat, along with a major rushing stream, then scrubby bushes and wetland. Birds seen while hiking this trail were not overly exciting. Cedar Waxwings, Red eyed Vireo, Fox Sparrows along with some Mountain Chickadees was about all I saw. I was really hoping to get a chance to see a Stellar's Jay on this trip. Not seeing that bird may be my most painful miss.

Revelstoke is a nice little town. We had a great dinner on the main street and the Best Western Hotel we stayed at was brand new. I think we were the first people to sleep in our room. The weather was cloudy but not raining, so if this was the only bad weather on our trip, that was still a good deal in terms of luck.

No lifers in Revelstoke even though there should have been! On to Banff National Park.

Good Birding!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Birding the Okanagan Valley near Penticton BC

After seeing Lewis's Woodpecker and California Quail on the previous day, I was excited to get out and bird the Okanagan Valley. I picked up a book from a bookstore called "The Okanagan Valley Birding Trail" which was a beautiful colourful and informative book, put together by people that really love birding. If you go to the area, I recommend getting a copy.

I woke up at 5am and headed out to the White Lake Area to watch the sun come up over the mountains. As I drove, it was still cold out and I had my windows open so I could hear the birds chirping. The air was clean and crisp and was kissed by the scent of flowers and sage, just beautiful to behold. I've attempted to photograph this beautiful habitat but a photo rarely does justice to being there.

The first bird I discovered was Lazuli Bunting, which looks and sounds alot like our local Indigo Bunting. I found it by stopping my car when I heard it singing and I would pull over and pish it into view. My first shots of this bird where at 6am and in a tree. I went back later to get a better shot in better light. It really responding to my house-wren scolding call!

Next, as I drove along the road, I would just stop and inspect anything I saw or heard. I next saw a tree-full of Evening Grosbecks, birds I've never seen before either. It blew my mind to see them because I was not even expecting to see them. 

 I checked out a small woodlot that was producing woodpecker knocks... could it have been a White-headed Woodpecker? I'll never know because I was about 100m from the woodlot and there was barbed wire fencing along all the roadsides. The same thicket of trees that produced the Grosbecks had a Western Kingbird just moments later. Sorry about the quality but most of these shots are from 100m away and heavily cropped.
Oddly enough, I saw many Eastern Kingbirds and only one Western Kingbird!
 Mountain Bluebirds were seen next. I must have seen three separate occurrences of them, but did not get good photos of these beautiful birds. Say's Phoebe and Lazuli Buntings were in the same area along with Western Meadowlarks seen below:

Western Meadowlarks were perched on the telephone wires along with American Kestrels.  Western Meadowlarks were also seen perched and singing on Sagebrush. They were probably the most numerous bird out there that morning.
Driving back towards Penticton, I stopped next to a treed hillside with Ponderosa Pines and various coniferous trees. Again, I stopped because of the amount of bird song. The Ponderossa Pines reminded me of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker Habitat back in Florida.
Mountain Chickadees, Yellow Warblers, Western Pewees (which look a little like Olive-sided Flycatchers) and hummingbirds (I could not lock focus on it)... where easily seen here as well. Speaking of Chickadees, do you think I was able to get a "Chickadee Grandslam" while spending a week in BC? Stay tuned,,, You may find out that I've achieved the holy grail of birding!!!
A mid-afternoon drive in the area produced nice views of Western Bluebirds (note the blue chin as opposed to the rufous chin of Eastern Bluebirds). These Bluebirds were at a Vineyard called "See Ya Later" based on the owners deceased dog, who is prominently buried in the front of the ranch, gravestone and all. We stopped in for a winetasting and I asked the owner about the surrounding nestboxes. He new nothing about the birds except that University students were studying them. A metal plate on the nestboxes indicated a western bluebird trail/project, and sure enough, Western Bluebirds were around to be seen. This one posed nicely in the "See Ya Later" ranch parking lot. I picked up a bottle of their Gewurztraminer which was my favorite during the tasting.
Say's Phoebe ...How cool is this? Easily seen all morning!

My first look at a Black billed Magpie. Cool to watch in flight, their white wing make Sine waves as they flap.

I don't know where you are in your birding journey, but I hope you enjoyed this posting. I was personally blown away at all these life list additions, in a new habitat that I have never seen.  I blogged about this trip because without posting these images, they would get lost in a hard drive and the trip soon forgotten.

A side note about this area is that there were many signs around stating: "No National Park". I'm not too knowledgeable about the issue but if Canada was to make this area a National Park, I think they would be preserving an incredible habitat. Even the motel owner in Penticton knew little of the issue, but wants to see more development. He did not seem to agree with me that if the area was to become a park, many people for generations would be able to visit and prosperity could be had from preservation. I see it as an issue of short term interest of local landowners vs long term interests of society in general.

The Nature Conservancy had many signs around the area stating that they owned large tracts of land, but other tracts were for sale, which I find sad but probably inevitable. Some related history with Point Pelee that I'm aware of is that when the Government wanted to make it a national park, many landowners protested. They did not want change, but as time went on and the park was nationalized to protect and foster the habitat, I think everyone agrees that it was better protected as a park. I see the same tension with Rondeau Park and the Cottagers Association. Cottagers do not want to leave even though the 100 year lease agreements have expired. I hate to end this posting on a potentially political/inflamatory note, but I hope this habitat is preserved!

Good Birding,

Life list summary:
262-Lazuli Bunting,
263-Western Meadowlark,
264-Western Bluebird,
265-Western Kingbird,
266-Mountain Bluebird,
267-Mountain Chickadee,
268-Western Wood Pewee,
269-Evening Grosbeck,
270-Say's Phoebe
271-Black billed Magpie
272-California Gull

A beach on the SW corner of Lake Skaha our Motel was across the road. 


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