Sunday, January 13, 2013

2012 Birding in Review

In each of my three years of blogging, I've attempted to have a year in review posting. This year I was late in publishing this review... but better late than never! I find that my blogging volume has steadily decreased over the years: 2010-->103, 2011-->90 , 2012 --> 60 ... but I think the birding is getting better. My focus this upcoming year is to take better notes out in the field, and start to use ebird. I've already bought an app for my cellphone called birdlog and I've done a few test reports. Another goal is to incorporate more travel this year. I have some ambitious plans but will not promise anything before I deliver. Below I review 2012 from a monthly perspective, emphasizing personal life birds. Not to emphasize numbers, but my life list went from 290 to 315 this year.

January/ February

Orange crowned Warbler at Holiday Beach on Jan 3rd, 2012. I found it with a flock of sparrows, and I recall how the yellow-green colour on its chest really jumped out at me. Mountain Bluebird was a nice bird to see in Shetland Ontario in January. At first, it was thought to be a female bluebird, but many people after seeing more photos of it think it could have been a juvenile male. In February, I was not birding very much with my night-school commitments but I did get a chance to see an early Egret in late February near the river canard bridge in Amherstburg.

March -

A trip to Florida this year was not bird-focused, but still was able to get a few birding walks in anyway.  A stop at Orlando Wetlands gave looks at Vermillion Flycatcher, Limpkin and Black bellied Ducks, Glossy Ibis among many others. While in Florida, I was reading about long-staying Snow Geese at Ridgetown and I attempted to go see them when I arrived back in Ontario.

Vermillion Flycatcher

Crested Caracara
Snow Geese

April -
An Eared Grebe in late April was Ontbirded by Josh Vandermeulen and was not too far from the shore by the time I got to see it. I also purchased my first scope, a Bushnell Elite 80mm 20x60 scope. I've enjoyed having a scope, but did not use it as much as I thought I would. The fall shorebird show from 2011 did not happen this year in Comber... I checked.

May -
May was eerily silent this year (in my opinion). Perhaps I am not getting the lifer excitement I had in my first two years of birding, but I recall leaving Point Pelee disappointed during the first two weeks of May. Butterflies stole the show this May!

My personal May highlights were:
Red Admiral Invasion & Variegated Fritillary (is it me or is that difficult to spell?)
Twitching Whimberel at Hillman Marsh
Seeing Lark Sparrows in Ohio
Seeing American Bittern in Carden Alvar and Carden Alvar itself.

Lark Sparrow
Carden Alvar - American Bittern --- My 300th life list bird was this American Bittern.

June highlights include Willow Flycatcher and Upland Sandpiper (Glencoe) Cerulean Warbler (Skunks Misery in Newbury). I really started to appreciate butterfly watching this summer, and the Silvery Checkerspot & Baltimore Checkerspot below was a great opportunity to see some awesome butterflies. I also found some Least Bitterns at Holiday Beach in June. ... A breathtaking find!!!

Silvery & Baltimore Checkerspots... On the same plant!
In June, I wrote one of my best blog entries (in my opinion) called Pondering the Origins of Point Pelee's Onion Fields, which summarized a book I found entitled: Mans Impact on Point Pelee.

Again, butterflies took center stage as Common Checkered Skippers, Dainty Sulphurs and Fiery Skippers were seen around the Ojibway Complex in West Windsor. I also got a nice look at Cliff Swallows and Bank Swallows, which I had not formerly lifered.

Checkered Skipper

Dainty Sulphur

The two Variegated Fritillary below flew by me in August in the 'Spring Garden' area of Ojibway Park. Olive sided Flycatcher lifered and was seen on two occasions. It was very exciting to self-find this at-risk species at Ojibway Prarie Reserve. Finding a Bronze Copper this summer was downright exciting. I later realized they are abundant at Hillman Marsh but still, very cool.

Olive sided Flycatcher
Taken with Cell-phone!

Sora & Virginia Rail
In September, I found Hillman Marsh's "Couture Dyke" and ran into Josh Vandermeulen while trying to find an American Avocet, as well as try to find a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.


American Pipits & Northern Saw Whet Owl were lifered in September. Its funny that I tried so hard to see Pipits, but then after lifering them, saw them repeatedly through the fall, and as recent as new-years eve. The Saw whet Owl was one of my favorite life birds this year, although how can one chose favorites among all these amazing species? Paul Pratt had found this Saw-whet Owl near the tip of Point Pelee.

November may have been my best month of birding this year! Evening Grosbeaks, Northern Saw Whet Owl, White winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls were seen! Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast was predicting an erruption during the Winter months due to cyclical food shortages in northern forests. Thanks to Rondeau Ric & Anne for letting me stop by his Rondeau Cottage to see the Evening Grosbeaks. Blake pointed out another Saw Whet Owl which gave breathtaking looks at this species. I hope more winter birds make it down to Essex County this Winter.

Common Redpolls

These winter finches were hard to find in my opinion. I had imagined it would be easy to see them, but no, I put serious time in along migration hotspots to get brief glimpses.

A trip to Ridgetown gave my life list a boost with: Ross's, Cackling (thanks Ken Burrell), & White fronted Geese. A exciting, looks at Rough Legged Hawk and Northern Shrike gave nice looks in the Harrow area of Essex County. Purple Sandpiper & Glaucous Gulls on Dec 31st ended the year off with a bang! Thanks to Kory for the heads-up on the PUSA. Such a rare and unique sandpiper!

So... what was my favorite life bird this year? Its really hard to say but American Bittern, Virgina Rail, White winged Crossbill, Saw whet Owl and Purple Sandpiper were all incredible birds to see. Lets call it a 5-way tie for favorite bird.  November was my favorite month thanks to some hard-fought migrating winter finches. My interest in butterflies was really sparked this summer as well.

Birds I will try to find in 2013:
Alder Flycatcher (don't laugh! ... I think I heard one at Carden but I want to hear/see to be sure)
Acadian Flycatcher
Red necked Grebe
Kirtlands , Prarie &  Golden-winged Warbler
Grasshopper, Clay Coloured and Vesper Sparrow (Carden Alvar?)
Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Harlequin Duck (East Coast Trip?)
Barred Owl
Bohemian Waxwing
Pine Grosbeak
King Rail

Good birding!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Snowy Owl Mobbed by Crows & Overwintering Red-headed Woodpecker

Snowy Owl being mobbed by a 'murder' of Crows
Snowy Owl trying to lose the Crow mob. (Heavily Cropped)

A recent Ontbirds posting from Paul Pratt mentioned that a Snowy Owl was seen in Chatham. Having some time off (Jan 2nd), I ventured off to see it while checking out some other hotspots. Upon arriving at the intersection described in the posting, I did not see anything. So I got out of the car and really scanned every telephone post/tree etc but no Owl. With a fresh recent snowfall, I realized that there is probably no way I'm going to find this owl if its sitting in a snowy field. As I was about to give up,  I pointed my scope to a  large group of American Crows in the corn-stubble field Paul described and noticed a white creature in the middle of the pack of Crows. I felt bad for the Owl... but - Chatham is like the capital of Winter-roosting Crows in North America (this is un-official and off-the-cuff but I have heard similar statements from media etc). The Owl was distant in the field (200m) and very isolated from any roads allowing only scoped views. Then I noticed the Owl was trying to lose the Crows but they followed close behind. Seconds later, I lost the Owl as it went over a cedar hedge along the southern perimeter of this field.

Can you find a Glaucous Gull in this photo?? *
Prior to seeing the Snowy Owl, I stopped at Lighthouse Cove to try and get better views of Glaucous Gulls, and sure enough, I was able to find one. The lighting was better than on New Year's Eve and one was much closer. The water had really frozen up and there seemed to be fewer birds to look at. Two Great Blue Herons were present, noteworthy considering they were absent from the St Clair NWA CBC.

Later at Wheatley Harbor, I followed up on another recent Ontbirds posting about a long-staying Iceland Gull. Upon arriving at the Harbor, I saw another birder with scope, Richard Carr.  We both made an effort to find "white-winged gulls", and one that we found seemed to have a dual-toned bill, so I 'ignored it' until I found one with with a solid black bill (which is consistent with a first year Iceland Gull). So I believe the leftmost gull in the photo above is an Iceland Gull.  In hindsight, could the other white-winged gull have been a second-year Iceland or a first year Glaucous? I did not really make size comparisons of this second gull we found so I guess its not worth deliberating over. I had to call it a day so I did not have time to re-find the other gull for further study.

Today, the family went out to Colasanti's in Leamington, so after we left, we took a quick detour through the Onion Fields to see a recently reported owl. I dipped on the owl, but found an overwintering Red-headed Woodpecker! Its undulating flight caught my eye as I was driving and it landed in a tree right next to the road. I was in total amazement!

Good birding,

Lifer Summary:
Iceland Gull #316

Bonus: A few random photos from the last week of 2012...Just for fun...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Purple Sandpiper and Glaucous Gull a Nice Finish to 2012

***Happy New Year!***

Yesterday, I had been birding in the late morning, near Kingsville.  I wanted to see some Snow Buntings and knew of a great field where they tend to be easily seen. I had good luck with them, I had amazing views of Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs when I finally decided to drive home and do some chores. I happened to check my email and read about Blake's posting about all the great birds at Lighthouse Cove, including a potential lifer, a bunch of white-winged Glaucous Gulls! ... But then, I noticed on my phone that I had a text from Kory Renaud... "Purple Sandpiper at the tip"...!?!?!? To my dismay, the message was about 3 hours old!  Long story short, I twitched the Purple Sandpiper. I was at some crossroads in the county so I used a GPS to get me to Point Pelee in the least amount of time.

While I was writing this posting, it was funny for me to read two blog posts below share this same story but from two different perspectives, if you have time, check out Kory & Jeremy's take on this  awesome bird!

Upon arriving to the tip, I had brought my camera and a my scope. Nobody was around at the tip so I was going to have to find this amazing sandpiper myself ... if it was even still there! The wind at the tip was brutal, it must have been 50+KM... It was difficult just to stand, even my scope would be blown over if I did not hold onto it. After picking up my sand-encrusted scope off the beach for the second time, BOOM... I had found it, surprisingly close actually on the East Beach.

This was an amazing lifer. To think I've been looking at this bird in my birding field guides for three years, wondering if I would have to travel great distances just to see this bird. Further, I had read about this bird in Ontbirds postings from hotspots around Lake Ontario: Presqu'ile Provincial Park in Brighton, Bronte Beach, Niagara Falls, Kettle Point (Lake Huron)... But finally, Point Pelee hosts this excellent bird if only for an afternoon before it heads off. ... Who knows, it might stay for a while, I was thinking about how the west beach has lots of mossy, wave-washed rocks that is ideal habitat for this bird.

The sandpiper was associating with a few Starlings and a few (4) American Pipits. The wind was brutal so I did not linger at the tip. Blake's Ontbirds posting about Lighthouse Cove was on my mind. My GPS calculated a trip from PPNP to LC in less than 30 mins... So I was off!

Upon arriving at Lighthouse Cove on Lake St Clair, it was nice to see Jeremy Bensette as well as a few other familiar faces. Lighthouse Cove had lots of great birds to look at, including Pied-billed and Great- Horned Grebes. I've never seen so many Greater black-backed Gulls... (50+???) they were abundant!

Can you find Glaucous Gulls in this photo? This was the best I could do for an identification shot... It was cool to debate with Kory and Jeremy about the gulls. Some were pure white (from 200+ meters away) and others had light-grey backs ... which caused some debate about what we were looking at, we decided juvenile and adult birds in winter plumage respectively. See Cornell's online bird reference for more info about Glaucous Gulls here:

Good birding!

Lifer Summary:
Purple Sandpiper: #314
Glaucous Gull:  #315


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