Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dickcissels in Wheatley

A recent discussion with Jeremy Bensette informed me that some cool birds were back on location in Wheatley. I had some time off work today and was able to swing out to Wheatley to see these beauties myself. The huge weedy field near Campers Cove Road hosts some Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows and 4-5 Dickcissels, just in the most accessible quadrant of this field.

Males were singing and chasing each other as a few female/juveniles looked on. They are easily observed as they seem to like using last year's Dense Blazing Star plants as perches.  Nice to see them back again!

The harsh mid-day sun made photography difficult, but these were a few that I managed to capture before heading back to Windsor.  The photo below was taken from a path mowed into this weedy field which had some cylindrical black oil containers creating a perfect black gradient behind the subject.

Quick note: Not to sound preachy --- but I wanted to state that these photos are not "staged". No ipods or tripods used here. These photos are heavily cropped from a handheld telephoto lens - using ambient light, and taken from a safe distance. I know most people reading this blog know this already, but (as ROM Field Guide Author Janice M. Hughes puts it): Ontario's native birds are "clinging to their ancestral breeding grounds" which have  (south of Toronto) been almost completely disseminated. Particularly during breeding season, we need to simply put the bird's interests first. See this excellent OFO article on birding ethics: http://www.ofo.ca/site/page/view/aboutus.ethics  .

Good birding!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Skunk's Misery OFO Trip

This posting is about the Skunk's Misery OFO Trip that took place on June 2nd, 2013. I'm a week late posting about this trip, but it just so happened that my Rondeau Trip the following day (Monday June 3rd, 2013) was a little more blog-worthy. Skunks Misery [map] is a one of the largest remaining tracts of Carolinean Forest in southwestern Ontario. According to Thames Talbot Land Trust: "The heart of Skunk's Misery is a 1200-ha complex of old-growth hardwood forest and swamp in Middlesex County, connected by wooded ravines to the Thames Canadian Heritage River to the south."(TTLT)

Our group met up at the Newbury Hospital and quickly proceeded to the first Skunks Misery forest path (Near Concession Dr and Sassafras Rd). Our first hour seemed to be the most productive. Some highlight birds seen were:

Chestnut sided Warbler
Golden winged  Warbler
Blue winged  Warbler
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Eastern Towhee
Indigo Bunting
Ruby-throated Humingbird
Black billed Cuckoo
Yellow billed Cuckoo (heard)

Scarlet Tanager
Hooded Warbler
Mourning Warbler (heard)
Red eyed Vireos
Pileated Woodpecker (flyover)
Acadian Flycatcher (heard, but not seen)


Our group did not see a Cerulean Warbler this year.  We heard but did not see an Acadian Flycatcher, although I ended up seeing one the following day at Rondeau.

I had a chance to meet two birders on this OFO trip:

Paul Nicholson, who writes columns for the London Free Press:

And Tianna Burke who expertly found a Tree Wood Frog and showed the OFO group. She was mentioning that she has a blog. Check it out! http://ramblingofawildflower.blogspot.com/ . I was pretty amazed to hear that both Paul and Tianna were fans of Nerdy for Birdy!

Out-of-focus Tree Wood Frog
After the Skunks Misery walk, the group went on to Ridgetown and Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. I believe they saw White winged Scoters which was really late and out of place for that species. Blake and I agreed to break away from the group to try and find some grassland species from an area near Strathroy Ontario, just 20 minutes northwest of Newbury.  We were hoping to find Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper Sparrows, but no such luck on this trip.

Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlard, Horned Lark, Eastern Kingbirds, and lots of Rock Pigeons were around. I was hoping to see Grasshopper Sparrows, but no such luck this time. I must have looked at 100+ sparrows through my binoculars or scope... But this is how birding goes...There are no guarantees. If you want guarantees, you need to go to the zoo or an aviary. :-)

There were thousands of Rock Pigeons around... I wonder why?

Our group leader had a summary report mentioning about 75 species seen during the afternoon. A good day with some great birders! Be sure to read Paul's Writeup on this trip, and Blakes!

Good birding!

TTLT, "Skunks Misery", Thames Talbot Land Trust, ND, WEB, June 9, 2013, 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Acadian Flycatcher & Some Other Rondeau Gems...

This is an Olive-sided Flycatcher at Ojibway Park.  Great bird!

After work on Friday May 31st, I went for a walk at the Ojibway Tallgrass Prairie. I was hoping to find an influx of Indigo Buntings, but I still have not heard or seen many this year. I did see an Orchard Oriole, male and female Eastern Bluebirds and a few other expected residents. As usual, I had photographed a few skippers, Wood Nymph Butterflies and a few birds I had seen. A distant, tree-top bird that caught my eye was photographed, but seemed too far, too distant to even bother identifying while in the field. The white sky behind the subject made even visually recognizing it a little difficult.

Long story short, I was looking over the weekend at the bird on my computer and realized it was an Olive sided Flycatcher! This is my third Olive sided Flycatcher, and my first "northbound". A quick study of the pictures shows a white patch on the birds lower back (not its rump), dusky wingbars, dark face and white throat, short but notched tail, and a sharp contrasting 'vest' on its chest. I didn't hear it sing "Quick, three beers" but its tree top perch was telling as well.

This weekend, I attended the Skunks Misery OFO walk, and was saddened to not see my one target bird, the Acadian Flycatcher. (More on that trip in my next posting). Blake had told me during that trip that our missed target bird is pretty easily seen at Rondeau...

So on Monday June 3rd,  Jeremy Bensette and I decided we would meet up (after work) at Tilbury to do an Acadian Flycatcher trip to Rondeau. In a cruel twist of events, I had planned on talking with Blake over the phone about the bird's location, but he had his phone off that afternoon. That meant Jeremy and I would have to find  this elusive flycatcher on the 32 -square kilometer park. Well, we knew it was on Spicebush Trail, which rounded down the area we had to search. Luckily, the explosive Ka-ZEEP! call was heard soon after we started our search!

According to ROM, there are fewer than 40 pairs of Acadian Flycatchers in all of Canada. The Carolinian zone in Southwestern Ontario is the northern fringe of this bird's breeding territory. There are fewer than 20 sites that meet the Acadian Flycatcher's demands of a flooded forest floor or ravine, with a large amount of forest surrounding its breeding grounds, as much as 100m away from any forest edge! This bird will not nest in a forest with less than 25-30 acres in size (Ohio DNR).

The Acadian Flycatcher has a call that sounds like an emphatic "peet-za" or sometimes an explosive "ka-ZEEP" (ROM). Tonight, Jeremy and I heard and recorded the call. This bird must be identified carefully as it looks like many others in the flycatcher family. Its best identified by sound and habitat. Also noted was the birds quick, agile flight from perch to perch.

According to I-Bird, the name of this bird has an interesting origin. Fifteen species of flycatchers were at one point thought to be all the same. But slowly, the flycatchers were all sorted out and separated by subtle details in plumage, and more obvious details in their calls and habitat preferences. The original flycatchers were discovered in Acadia yet the Acadian Flycatcher is found more in the southeastern corner of the US, and not in the northeast. (I-Bird)

Flycatcher Calling Mnemonics:
Willow Flycatcher - Fitz-Bew (Brushy wet areas, more southerly range)
Alder Flycatcher -  (Raspy) Free-Beer (Alder Marshes, more northerly range)
Acadian Flycatcher - (Explosive) Peet-ZA or ka-ZEEP (Deep forest, with watery areas)

It was an amazing moment of birding when we saw this bird. In the background, Eastern Wood Pewee, Pileated Woodpeckers and Wood Thrushes were calling.  Wood Ducks and White tailed Deer came into view as well. 

Later, Jeremy and I found this Prothonotary Warbler. We watched a female forage for 5 minutes, then all of a sudden, the male came by and mated with the female right there in front of us! Jeremy saw the 2-second spectacle, but I missed it as I was 'chimping' my camera (chimping is when a photographer looks down at his/her DSLR screen and looking at their recent photos and pressing various buttons).

Jeremy Bensette heard a Chuck-wills-Widow calling near the visitor center.  Him and I both have the audio of it singing, but a curious aspect of his find is that it was only 6pm when we heard it. Another birder that frequents the Rondeau area checked for its call on and verified that indeed, there is a Chuck wills Widow singing near the Rondeau Visitor center around dusk. It took much effort, but I created a short video below documenting some of the sounds of today's trip...

As we left Rondeau, this Traill's flycatcher made an appearance. I feel it was either an Alder or Willow Flycatcher. Willow would be more common, but Alder's range does overlap at Rondeau. It didn't call, so we'll call it a Traill's Flycatcher, the name of the mix of Alder and Willow Flycatchers before they were distinguished as a separate species.

I was hoping this bird would call, but ... no luck it was silent and quickly dashed out of view

Other highlights today at Rondeau included: Pileated Woodpecker (heard drumming and singing), Red bellied Woodpecker, Downy, Hairy, (Red headed for sure but not seen in our short time). Woodthrush and Veery heard often. Black billed Cuckoo (heard). Scarlet Tanager and a nice female Indigo Bunting were seen close to the visitor center parking lot. We were really excited about this brief but productive visit to Rondeau!

Ebird Checklist by Jeremy Bensette: eBird Checklist – Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario – Mon Jun 03, 2013 – 51 species http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14336472

Good birding!

Lifer Summary:
Acadian Flycatcher 333
Chuck wills widow 334

Sources and more reading:


I-Bird, "Acadian Flycatcher", ND, WEB, June 5, 2013, http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/687/_/Acadian_Flycatcher.aspx

Ohio DNR, Acadian Flycatcher, ND, WEB, June 3, 2013,

ROM, "Ontario's Biodiversity: Species at Risk - Acadian Flcatcher", Oct 2008, WEB, June 3, 2013, http://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/risk.php?doc_type=fact&id=121


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