Thursday, May 30, 2013

Late May Birding - Whimbrel at Hillman Marsh

The last week or two have been busy with work and life, so its been a while since my last posting. I've enjoyed watching a Robin's Nest outside my front window, and watching humingbirds visit my hummingbird feeder in my back yard. Occasionally while I'm outside, (perhaps BBQ'ing) I am sometimes blasted by the song of a chipping sparrow on my neighbor's roof!

Three new Peregrine Falcons at the bridge...
I've also looked for some local breeders at Ojibway Park but things seem to be a little late this year. I only saw (and heard) my first Indigo Bunting on Wednesday this week. The falcons at the bridge have nested again and have three fledglings. Always neat to stop by and see them. 

I was informed that there was a Black-headed Gull at Wheatley this week, so I tried on Thursday to go find it. I figured if I missed the target bird, I should find something interesting at the Hillman Shorebird Cell.

While driving into Wheatly from the 401, I drove past Two Creeks Conservation Area and noticed a Bluebird Perched on a wire. I'm still amazed by bluebirds. They are rare to me... I might only see them a few times in a year. (Note: I just noticed on the link to Two Creeks Conservation Area... they used one of my warbler photos without asking me! I recognize that Bay-Breasted Warbler!)

At Wheatley Marina, I arrived to find hundreds of gulls and shorebirds on the beach, and just as I was walking around a sand dune to get better looks, a woman with a dog flushed every single gull... I saw many black headed gulls, but did not convincingly see a Black-headed Gull.  I found myself confused looking at the various gulls. I was assuming the Black-headed Gull would be a breeding-plumaged male, with a dark-red bill and a crescent-shaped white eye-ring. No such luck, but I did get breathtaking looks at Ruddy Turnstones and breeding plumaged Semipalmated Sandpipers.

I figured I would try the Hillman Marsh Shorebird Cell to see if anything good was around, and to my amazement, there were 23 Whimbrel! I had just done a very brief count and quickly ontbirded my finding with a conservative count of 15 birds. Jeremy Bensette and Rick had just arrived as I was leaving, and they did a better study than I did. (I only had 20 minutes there). Another cool bird seen was a treetop flycatcher, probably a Willow or Alder Flycatcher. I found myself on that path to the shorebird viewing platform, hearing a raspy flycatcher call, but being unable to find the tree it was perched on. I must have spent a minute trying to find the bird, and just when I found it, I bolted! Alder Flycatcher would still be a lifer for me.
I just can't seem to get a good photo of Whimbrel!


I wanted to go to the Carden Alvar Trip this year, but I screwed up the dates!?!?! Reading the trip report by Jean Iron was painful, as they had three potential lifers (Golden-winged Warbler, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows)... but I guess I will try again for next year.  Even Ivana (my wife) felt bad ... She has encouraged me to go to Skunk's Misery OFO Trip this weekend. Perhaps seeing an Acadian Flycatcher will be a consolation. I also wanted to go to the Napanee Trip, but getting there is almost logistically impossible from Windsor if one is unable to take time off work.

Two other trips that I'm thinking about are a Sisters Oregon Woodpecker festival in mid June. This weekend features almost every Western Woodpecker (11 species), including Williamson's Sapsucker and Lewis's and White-headed Woodpeckers. One blogger had 70 species on a scouting tour of the area, 20 of which would be lifers.  ... I think I would die of happiness attending this festival. Another dream trip would be the Gulf-Coast States... Where Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are common summer breeders.

Good birding!
A local radio-tower field often has Bobolinks, Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kirtland's Warbler at Pelee

At noon on Wednesday May 15, 2013 I had checked my email at work to find an amazing Ontbird Posting. Barb Charlton & David 'The Machine' Bell found a Kirtlands Warber in the far northwest corner of the park, not too distant from the front entrance gate. I figured there was no way I was going to find it after working into the afternoon and driving to Leamington. But, to my amazement, it was still in the area it had been reported when I arrived at the park, easily seen foraging high in the single row of trees lining Sanctuary Pond. A large group of birders (and park staff directing traffic) made finding the bird simple. It was very high in the trees during my time viewing the bird, and I just got a few decent ID shots of this rare beauty. Hundreds of people got a chance to see this rare bird so Barb and Dave... Thank You!

Migration path and the chances of seeing this bird outside of Michigan:
Even though this bird migrates from the Bahamas Archipelago through Georgia and the Carolinas up through Ohio and finally ending in the northern lower peninsula Michigan, it is very rarely seen in migration. Magee Marsh and Point Pelee though have the advantage of being a popular migrant stop, being geographically small, and having huge numbers of talented birders scouring the place. To find this one bird in Point Pelee National Park though still takes more than luck, you have to be a brilliant birder.

A Brief History of the Kirtland's Warbler:

Discovery in 1851 - A specimen was shot and collected on Dr. Jared Kirtland’s farm near Cleveland, Ohio(US FWS). The birds name obviously honours its finder . Oddly enough, 1851 was the year John James Audubon died. It must have been amazing to discover a new bird that was never described!

Wintering Grounds Found in 1879 - The winter range of the Kirtland's warbler was discovered in 1879 when a specimen was collected on Andros Island in the Bahama Islands archipelago.(Michigan DNR)

Breeding Grounds found in 1903 - It was not until 1903 that Norman A. Wood discovered the first nest in Oscoda County in northern lower Michigan (Michigan DNR).

Jack Pine Habitat Requirements:
-Requires pine habitat with trees between 6-20 years old.
-Prescribed burns (or logging) has provided more optimal breeding habitat for the birds.
-Kirtlands Warblers prefer a nesting site with Blueberry bushes as that is a favored fruit of this bird... cool!
-Michigan and US Wildlife employees have done an amazing job helping this bird's population recover.
-A successful breeding nest was discovered at Petawawa Ontario in 2007 (Drake).

Cowbird Parasitism:
Besides it habitat requirements, Cowbirds had been hurting the breeding success rates, so a successful cowbird management program has been put in place to reduce the numbers and increase the nest success for the Kirtlands Warbler. Nature lover and blogger Kristen Martin features some photos of the cowbird traps here.

Improved Outlook for the Future:
This chart below shows a trend in the number of singing male Kirtlands Warblers in Michigan. Since 1990, a continual increase in the number of singing males is evident. Props to Michigan and the US-FWS for putting resources towards saving this wonderful species. I'm just a humble birder from Ontario, but perhaps Michigan should consider changing its state bird from the American Robin to the Kirtlands Warbler? :-)

Image Source: Michigan DNR

Other birds seen on May 15th were this Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)... I have not seen a northbound breeding-plumaged Cape May since May 1st, 2010 !!! Oddly, I have seen many southbound Cape May Warblers every year since.
The Tiger-Warbler! (Setophaga tigrina)

How many Tern species do you see? Can you see the SB Dowitchers?
Blenheim SL - Finally figured out where the gate is after 4 entrance attempts!

I had missed a Worm-eating Warbler by a five minutes again after seeing the Kirtlands Warbler, but, I can't complain. My friend Rick from Leamington reminds me when I miss a rarity is that I need to "save something for retirement". So, Worm-eating Warbler... we have a date for late April 2030!!!

Good Birding!


USFWS, "Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)",January 3, 2013 , WEB, May 16, 2013,

Michigan DNR, "Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)", ND, WEB, May 16, 2013,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12202-32591--,00.html

Drake Laura, "Endangered warbler found nesting in Petawawa,, NOVEMBER 2, 2007, WEB, May 16, 2013, "

Lifer Summary: Kirtlands Warbler  -332

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Blackburnian Warblers and other Neotropical Migrants at Point Pelee

Had a great afternoon at Pelee today. The footpaths along the east side of the tip gave amazing views of warblers this afternoon. Magnolia, Blackburnian, and Chestnut sided along with others were foraging at eye level along the pathways. At times, you might have two Blackburnian warblers, and a Magnolia in the same small tree... amazing.

Happy Mother's Day to all those mama's out there...
Good birding!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Black Necked Stilts and Ontario's Endangered Species Act

Birding has been slow with the lingering low pressure system to the south of us and the gorgeous weather we've been getting but its still been pretty interesting. Saturday this past weekend, it was slow but some cool birds were seen. One was a Least Flycatcher (Empidonax Minimus) that I was able to hear calling (It makes a scratchy Che Bec sound) and watch flycatch from just one or two feet above the forest floor. This is the first time I've seen this species on its northbound migration, (a small victory for me as a birder... ) and a great way to learn its call. Woodland Nature trail gave some nice looks at Veery, Yellow throated Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Blue winged, Yellow and Nashville. The Vireo and Blackburnian were FOS and very exciting to see.

Sunday afternoon, Todd Pepper ontbirded an extremely rare (locally) shorebird, Black necked Stilts, and I couldn't help but go see it. I actually took my 3 year old son with me to see these birds, but at the time we were present, they were very distant. Still, with my new scope in tow, I had pretty satisfying looks at the birds. Later on Sunday night, the Stilts moved back to the shorebird cell giving front-lit, fetal-position-inducing views of these mega rare, mega giant shorebirds. Funny thing that happened was that I had set up my scope, found the birds, and person after person walked by wanting to see the birds, I graciously invited people to look, when one lady was like ... "Oh... they just took off... they're long gone". Note to self, don't be so friendly with scope :-)

 What's your impression of Chris Hadfield's recent photo of Southern Ontario? . One thing I noticed was the lack of forest cover. Its pathetic no? You can actually see the Pinery, Point Pelee, Rondeau and Cedar Creek amounst the farm fields. The most damning thing as well is to compare Michigan to Ontario along the Sarnia River. Wow.

A concluding link for any Ontario Nature lovers that are reading this blog: Please check out David Suzuki's link and campaign to raise awareness of new laws that will undo any laws that were made six years ago regarding endangered species protection. I have personally visited the link and signed the petition, I encourage any other bloggers to re-tweet this, and perhaps even start to follow David Suzuki's Facebook page.  Funny how the media never mentioned anything about dismantling the Endangered Species Act!?!?!?

Good birding,

Black necked Stilts - 331

Friday, May 3, 2013

Henslow's Sparrow and Other Early May Migrants

Wow, its been a great spring migration so far. Of course, work has been getting in the way of me being able to spend large swaths of time at Point Pelee, but I still have made an attempt to get out and bird every day (if only locally) for the last week or two. On Tuesday April 30th, I stopped by Point Pelee after work, mainly to try and find a Worm eating Warbler at Kopagaron Woods (unsuccessful) but then went to PPNP to walk the West Beach Footpath from the visitor center to the tip parking lot (and perhaps take the tram back). Lots of cool birds to look at. It wasn't crawling with birds, but there were some nice birds every now and then. Savannah Sparrow, White crowned, brief looks at Red headed Woodpeckers, White eyed and Blue headed Vireos, Brown Thrashers and Palm Warblers were nice birds to see. But, just as I was nearing the tip parking lot, I saw David Bell waving me over  to see what Josh and himself had found... A Henslow's Sparrow crawling through the grass! What a beautiful Sparrow. It was difficult to photograph because it was never really out in the open, and also, my lens has a 3.5m minimal focus length.

I faintly saw the white tram through the woods make its last trip to the visitor center and realized I was going to have to briskly walk the 2.5km walk back to the visitor center, (I was hungry and I knew my wife would be a little upset about me getting home late) ... but how could I complain? This is a bird I had conceded that I would probably never have found... A mega rarity... So Dave and Josh ...thanks!

According to ROM, the Henslow's Sparrow is endangered in Canada and Ontario, due to loss of old-field habitat from changing agricultural practices, urbanization and succession of grasslands to forests. I encourage anyone to read more about this bird at the following two links. Perhaps more awareness could increase the chance that suitable habitats could either be preserved or regenerated.

Josh mentioned seeing a Northern Goshawk, moments before I had arrived, and I had myself noted a few Accipiter Hawk species flying overhead... I'm not sure but perhaps we had seen the same bird? I'm inviting any corrections or confirmations on this bird... Goshawk? My caution in the ID stems in the lack of marking on the lower belly, but, it does seem to have a faint white eyebrow, as well as buteo-like wings.
I could be wrong! :-)
Another post-work Pelee walk this week (on Thursday May 2nd) had shown a noticeable increase in bird diversity. I had my own awesome moments viewing: Wood Thrushes, Veery, Winter Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Nashville Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black and white Warbler, Least Flycatcher (my first northbound), Brown Thrashers, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Kingbird among many others. Many self found!

I've noticed that Blue headed Vireos are have been abundant this year, I don't know if I have just gotten better at finding them, or if my timing was better, but I had never seen this many in any of my previous three years of birding.

Good birding!

Henslows Sparrow - 330


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