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:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Birding Pelee with the Ojibway Birding Group

This is a late posting, since this walk took place last Saturday (May 19th), but I figured I would do a quick write-up anyway. Our walk started off at the tip, because a California Gull had been seen the day earlier, but the most noteworthy birds were small flocks of Rudy Turnstone and a Lesser Black backed Gull.
Lesser Black Backed Gull... Can you find him?

Red eyed Vireo. Difficult to photograph!
Our walk between the Tip and the vistors center had the following birds: (off the top of my head)
Northern Parula
Eastern Wood Pewee
Common Grackle
Tennessee Warbler
Black throated green Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Eastern Kingbirds
Black billed Cuckoo (heard)
Blackburnian Warblers (several duller females)
Chimney Swifts
Great crested Flycatcher

Plus the birds photographed below:
Poor photo of one of my favorite warblers. Just a few meters from the trail. Backlit with sun behind this tree. Thanks Kelly and Paul for getting me on this bird!

Philadelphia Vireo singing at waist level in a thicket. I saw two more later on in the day on Shuster Trail.

Coin Series 2012: "Our Legendary Nature"

 I've been looking for these quarters that have been recently been released from the mint but have been unable to find them. So I stopped by a small collectables store on University today and picked up a few. My first hunch was that the bird coin was a Snowy Owl, but it turns out to be a Peregrine Falcon. Canada Mint as a pretty cool advertisement on Youtube for this series.

Speaking of Peregrine Falcons, there are four babies nesting at the bridge in Windsor. Two are poking up in this photo below. Click here for more about the Peregrine Falcons:

The media (and the former youtube video) really make a big deal about these birds and how amazing our environment must be that this extremely rare birds are making a comeback. To a certain extent, yes, its good news that DDT was banned, but we still have a long way to go. I must admit that seeing four fledglings grow up just minutes from my house will make June a little more exciting.

Ojibway Walks

Ojibway walks this week had:
Ring necked Pheasant
Blue Grey Gnatcatchers (nesting)
Green Heron (Being Mobbed by a Blue Jay)
Indigo Buntings
Eastern Towhees

Hobomok & Silver Spotted Skipper as well as many duskywings.

Hobomok Skipper on Blue Flag Iris

The grassy antenna field in LaSalle that I visited last summer has a few grassland species again. The most prominent bird is Red winged Blackbird, but there are a few Eastern Meadowlarks and singles of Bobolink and Savannah Sparrows.
Amazing bird. Only the second or third time seeing this in Ontario in my life. Very skittish though. I could only get within about 60m before it would move to a distant tower support line.
The song of a male Bobolink is really incredible. It might be the coolest bird song I have heard out of 300 I have on my life list.

I think I will be going to the Carden Alvar OFO Field Trip... I'm 70% sure I'm going. Very exciting... I could be seeing potentially 5 or more life birds.  

This migration season, in my humble opinion was a little bit of a let-down. Butterflies stole the show.  I came across a good article about the butterfly explosion that took place in early May. Read here for more:

Good birding!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Days ... Three Lifers

Chimney Swift over a Chimney!
Were you expecting something more rare? :-p
Saturday: Chimney Swift (#298)
Don't laugh, but this spring, someone had posted to Ontbirds that Chimney Swifts had arrived, and I thought to myself, do I have those on my life list?... The answer is NO! This Saturday, a birding friend from Kingsville (after chuckling at my desire to see a Chimney Swift) said to go to Kingsville and look up! lol... Thanks Kory! Now that I have officially acknowledged them, its interesting to read a little about them. They are at risk in Ontario due to the change in design of Chimneys (open brick design vs covered natural gas style). Also, they spend all their time in the air, eating and even bathing by dipping into water in flight. You never see them perched (like you see tree swallows) because their feet are not designed to perch. They have small claws that allow them to hang against the inner wall of a tree or chimney. So thats it, they are either in the air or in a chimney... pretty cool!

Friday: Whimbrel (#297)
As you may have read already, I lifered Whimbrel on Friday after work this week by twitching this bird at Hillman Marsh. Click here to read more on this bird.
Ten or so Whimbrel at Hillman... Did you know that a group of shorebirds is sometimes called a contradiction of shorebirds? I read this on my IBird App and thought to myself,... only a group of Solitary Sandpipers should be called a contradiction!!!

Sunday: Lark Sparrow (#299)
This weekend, my wife and I decided we would make a day trip out to the Toledo Zoo. Toledo is about an hour south of the Windsor so it made for a good trip. But since we were going to be in Toledo, I figured I would try to sneak in a little pre-zoo birding walk at Oak Openings Metropark. Oak Openings is known for some cool breeding birds such as Summer Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeck, Pileated Woodpecker (see here for more).  Since the zoo trip was the days' focus, we only had about 30 or so minutes to bird this park, so I decided on the Girdham Road Sand Dunes area. Lark Sparrow was easily found (conspicuous), and I took a few photos of these beautiful birds and headed off to the zoo with the family.
Two Lark Sparrows, one banded and the other not.
This is an amazing sparrow. Very distinct plumage in the face, and a very nice song. I was really happy to see this bird today.

Regarding butterflies, I also saw an American Copper as well as many Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies during my brief walk at OOMP. I was hoping to see a Karner Blue Butterfly, but dipped. Here is a link to a Butterfly Checklist for Oak Openings in Ohio.

Oak Openings Habitat @ Girdham Road Dunes
Wild Lupine
I would really like to make it out to Carden Alvar for the OFO Field Trip in early June. I am going to try my best to make that happen. That amazing trip would probably give me a few lifers (Upland Sandpiper and Sedge Wren to name a few)... The logistics of getting there and back are killing me though... We'll see.... Virginia Rail or American Bittern would be really nice to see as well.

Good Birding,

Life List Summary:
Chimney Swift #298
Lark Sparrow #299

Friday, May 18, 2012

Whimbrel at Hillman Marsh

Whimbrel with their decurved bills... life bird! 

Friday as I was getting ready to leave work, I checked my email and noticed an ontbirds posting from Jean Iron that mentioned ten Whimbrel at Hillman Marsh.  I'll be honest, I completely twitched this bird! I've found that my lifer stream is asymptotically approaching 300. I know... its an arbitrary number and there is so much more to birding than life lists...

Here is an interesting fact about the decruved bill of Whimbrel, as stated by "In many regions, the primary winter food of the Whimbrel is crab. The curve of the Whimbrel's bill nicely matches the shape of fiddler crab burrows. The bird reaches into the crab's burrow, extracts the crab, washes it if it is muddy, and sometimes breaks off the claws and legs before swallowing it."( Nature is amazing isn't it? This really is the greatest show on earth.

Thursday night, I walked Sunset Beach in the deep SW corner of Ontario (and Amherstburg). Did not see as much as I thought I would, but some nice birds were there. Kingfishers, Kingbirds, Waxwings, Carolina Wren singing and perching was nice. As I left, I noticed Black-crowned night Herons, Great Egrets & Great Blue Herons, then, looking further I saw several duck species, Wood Duck and American Wigeon were of note. Then, I noticed many shorebirds, at a distance. With my scope, I had noted that there were many Dunlin ... but I did notice what I believe is a Marbled Godwit (actually, it may just be a Long billed Dowitcher). It was just far enough to be teetering on the edge of my honest perception. My scope seems to lose focus between 45-60x magnification.

Phosphates and fertilizer runoff from agriculture are creating algae booms in our local waterways.

Good birding!

Sources:, "Whimbrel-Life History", ND, WEB, May 18th, 2012,

Lifer summary:
Whimbrel #297

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nice looks at Yellow & Black billed Cuckoos

Birded Pelee again today (Saturday), really hoping to see more variety in warblers but left the park disappointed. As I left Pelee, I thought about going to Rondeau, but I realized I had a conscientious objection with paying $17 to walk around a park and bird. But much to my chagrin, upon arriving at home, I read the the daily report from Rondeau (which is about 1 hour north of Point Pelee) describing the warbler concentration as: "Warblers were dripping from the trees" ... Should of went there! Also, other birding reports today from Ontario have small municipal parks in Toronto (Colonel Samuel Smith Park?) with seemingly better numbers than I've been experiencing at Pelee.

On a good note, I did see lots of non-warbler passerines. Indigo Buntings, Cedar Waxwings, Rose breasted Grosbecks, both Cuckoos  (black billed self discovered). Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos were seen and heard. Another highlight for the day was watching a Red-eyed Vireo preen for several minutes in Sparrow Field.  Regarding shorebirds, Semipalmated Plovers were seen in numbers at Hillman, but not much else has changed in the mix there.

Is it just me or are things slow this year? Where are the warblers this year? Wilson's Warbler was nice to see today, but, not as nice as a Canada, Cape May or Bay Breasted Warbler. Maybe it was early leaf-out, or I'm getting lazier, not looking up as much, or the ban on pishing!


Last year on the 15th of May, I had an incredible birding trip to Hillman Marsh. That may have been one of the best warbler viewing days in my short three years of birding. Click here to revisit that amazing day...

Good Birding,

PS: St Lawrence Islands National Park is using some of my photography in their printed materials!
PSS: I took these sunrise shots with my latest lens, the Canon 10-22mm!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Mid-week Birding at Pelee

Dropped into Pelee on Thursday after work. The first stop was Hillman Marsh, where earlier in the day it was reported that a Marbled Godwit had been seen. What an awesome bird.  It was quite close, but the harsh, mid afternoon sun did not provide optimal lighting for photos.

After Hillman, I stopped by PPNP, first stopping at Tildens Trail, which was quiet, but my friend Rick pointed out this red-morph Eastern Screech Owl. We saw a few other birds, none that are very rare, but a faint glimpse at a Wood Thrush was nice to see.
After Tildens, Woodland Nature Trail provided looks at Prothonotary Warblers. One photographer told me he saw two pairs, inspecting various cavities for nesting locations. While waiting for the warblers to re-emerge, someone pointed out another Screech owl. Not a bad way to kill 15 minutes!

This Prothonotary Warbler bounced around for a while and landed on the elevated boardwalk. This photo is handheld, with no flash, uncropped. No ipods or tripods.

On the way back to the Visitor Center, I met (Silvatica) who pointed out some awesome birds that I was just walking by. First was a FOY Scarlet Tanager (Male and Female) as well as some Red breasted Grosbecks (male & female).  It was 7pm and the sun was starting to set, and it dawned on us that there must have been 10 or so Scarlet Tanagers. At one point, I saw two in my binoculars at the same time! The colour of Red that hits the retina of the eye is awesome. This is what birding is all about!

Good birding!


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