Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grasshopper Sparrows at Wheatley

About two weeks ago, I was informed that Grasshopper Sparrows were at a field in Wheatley. Of course, I wanted to go and see them myself but couldn't really make it out there until the last couple of days. Sure enough, from the roadside you can hear their buzzy call! I was lucky enough to find (lifer) this bird in Ottawa in late June, but seeing it so close to home (this weekend) was a real treat. Over the last two or so years, I had been trying to find this bird at Pelee during spring migration but could never seem to catch up with it!

I did not even think Essex was in its breeding range [map], but yes, its well in this birds breeding range. Its just that the lack of ideal habitat (large grassy/weedy fields) that this bird requires renders this bird to the vast list of Essex & Chatam-Kent's extirpated birds. From my understanding, one would generally need to drive from Windsor to Glencoe (1.5 hours north of Windsor) to see one [See ebird map for grasshopper sparrows in Southwestern Ontario in 2013]. Lots of Dickcissels still singing and chasing each other around as well at this site. I can't help but wonder why this 50-acre field at Talbot Trail and Campers Cove Road has been spared from agriculture? I'm thankful to whoever it is that owns this field.  I've had amazing birding moments here seeing Dickcissels, Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and now Grasshopper Sparrows.

Couture Dyke at Hillman
I walked Couture Dyke at Hillman Marsh [map] to see if there was much butterfly action going on, but not much really happening. Its still a great walk, just brimming with wildlife. Leopard Frogs scatter as you take each step, Osprey and Great Blue Herons flying overhead... Lots of biting flies as well! Some personal highlights were Bronze Copper Butterflies, Least Skippers and Question Mark butterflies!

Bronze Copper 

This image shows the sexual dimorphism of Male and Female Bronze Copper. The female has a solid bronze colour on its upper forewing.

Dorsal and Ventral view of the Question Mark butterfly. Do you see the Question Mark on the underside of its wing?

I only had two hours on this particular afternoon, so I walked the main Hillman shorebird circuit quickly. I saw a Common Buckey butterfly but not much of note other than that. Another Willow Flycatcher was seen. It was singing actually!

Out of time, I swung by the grassy meadow at the south end of Pelee's Northwest Beach for a final 20 or so minutes of butterfly watching. Some butterflies seen include two Viceroys, two fresh Question Mark butterflies and this dopey looking Tawny Emperor butterfly.
Tawny Emperor - Dorsal & Ventral
Good birding!

I dislike deer, because they are vectors for ticks... but, I rarely see an 8-pt buck!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Amazing Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Last night, I took my son for a quick nature walk after dinner to the Ojibway Prairie Reserve in West Windsor and was delighted to find a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth! (I ended up seeing 3 actually) I had first heard about this beautiful insect from Josh Vandermeulen's blog (from a few years ago). When I read about it on Josh's blog, I was blown away because... I had never even seen a photo of one or even knew of its existence! More and more though, I have heard people on the Essex Natures Sightings page and even just discussions with co-workers telling me they have them in their backyard.

Hummingbird clearwing Moth on Wild Bergamot

Tonight, I went back after dinner to the same pathway [link] and sure enough, found another Hummingbird Moth along the Titcombe Pathway which features large patches of Wild Bergamot flowers. I was wondering if these flowers were invasive, (because they're so pervasive) and was happy to see that they are indeed native flowers. The natives used this plant for medicine to treat colds and sore throats... good stuff!

Its cool to watch this moth hover and sip nectar (see bonus video below). It seems to just have enough lift from its wing-flapping to keep it hovering, but then it seem to lean on the flowers it is feeding on with its two front legs. I flies like a hummingbird, its abdomen is reminiscent of a shrimp or lobster and the colouring of olive green, off-white and redish-burgundy are really unique. I probably have walked by this insect in the past and just assumed it was a very large bee!

If you're from Windsor and would like specific directions, I would be happy to give more information about seeing this moth. This was an exciting discovery! I've said it before and I'll say it again... Nature is the greatest show on earth!

Good birding!

Some bonus video:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Birding Algonquin Park in Late June

Algonquin was amazing, we spent three days there during the last week of June as part of our summer vacation. It was our first time there actually!  I can't complain, but again, just like Georgian Bay Islands National Park, it was too wild and undeveloped  for my two kids to really appreciate (or they are just at a bad age 1 & 4). I really wanted to walk the Mizzy Lake Trail in its entirety, but only walked 1/4 of it. The Ontario Field Ornithologists have a great article about this trail here: http://www.ofo.ca/ofo-docs/Mizzy.pdf . The 1/4 of the Mizzy Lake Trail circuit is still 6-8 or so kilometers (round trip), a challenging walk with 35llbs on your back, mosquitoes, biting flies and at times, muddy/slippery/flooded trails. Hardly a bench is offered to a weary hiker, but again, who am I to complain!
West Rose Lake was gorgeous. It offered the best birding as well, with Black Backed Woodpecker, Alder Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher as well as a bunch of warbler, sparrow and blackbird species.

Wolf-howl Pond Algonquin Park
The Amazing Resilience of the American Robin
At times, I would see a bird along the Mizzy Lake Trail, and put up my binoculars to see which majestic boreal species was greeting me. While focusing on the bird, I would anticipate the rareness of this unknown avian species of the north. I would think about driving 11km off the Hwy 60 corridor (along Arowhon Road) into the real wild, then hike 6 km into the deepest depths of the wild, undisturbed Algonquin. As I follow the bird, I wonder... would it be a Ruffed or Spruce Grouse? Gray Jay? Boreal Chickadee or Black backed Woodpecker?  Finally, I focus in on this avian subject and come to realize it was just a Robin....

Brief looks at Black backed Woodpecker
While walking along the Mizzy Lake Trail, I had just passed West Rose Lake, and I was at the end of my walk. I was looking at my map for "Flycatcher Bog" which I think has been filled in with natural forest succession. Giving up and starting to head back, a dark bird flew over my head through the old railway corridor that makes up this part of the path, then the bird flies back into the forest and alights (in the manner that woodpeckers do) onto a trailside tree. I was not sure what it was, but I briskly walked up to the area that it appeared to land in, and after searching for a moment, found it! The woodpecker worked its way up the side of a lichen encrusted tree flashing some yellow into my eyes in the process. Amazed, I realized that this might be the 10th woodpecker species that I've seen in my short apprenticeship of birding. I tried to take a few shots, but just couldn't seem to get focused on the subject. Then boom! Gone!

Diagnostic photo of a Black backed Woodpecker -Lifer!
I don't have to worry about anyone stealing this photo! .... 
10 Woodpecker Species:
2-Red bellied
3-Red headed
5-Northern Flicker
6-Yellow bellied sapsucker
9-Red Cockaded
10-Black backed

Do you see it?

Alder Flycatcher...In its northern Alder Swamp habitat... Lifer! (#337)

White Admiral. A colour morph of the Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The Red-spotted Purple lost its white stripes by  mimicking the (bad-tasting) Pipevine Swallowtail.
I was a little disappointed with the butterflies at Algonquin, I mainly walked Mizzy Lake trail and Spruce Bog Trail. I would have walked the old airport fields -at Mew Lake (which is well reputed for butterfly watching), but on my last day, I did not have a park pass to enter those grounds as I drove highway 60 one last time towards Ottawa.

Olive sided Flycatcher - Finally heard the "Quick three beers" call!
Oxtongue Rapids near the West Gate of Algonquin Park
A walk to Oxtongue Rapids at the west entrance of Algonquin Park had some easily seen birds. Winter Wren, Veery, Black throated Blue Warblers came out to great me as I walked the beautiful area.


The sloping pathway gave eye-level view of local breeders, such as this Black throated blue Warbler.
While on this walk, my wife told me a funny joke that I will share with you. My wife told me that a birch tree was bragging to the trees in the forest about how green it was getting, then from nowhere, an evergreen interupts and says "birch, please" (botany humour?).   LOL... sorry that was bad.
The Fam
After hearing the Olive sided Flycatcher calling "Quick three Beers!" and the Alder Flycatcher calling "Free Beer!"... I felt I should head back to the cabin... and... have a beer!

Good Birding!

Lifer Summary:
Grasshopper Sparrow #335
Black backed Woodpecker #336
Alder Flycatcher #337

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Birding Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Landscape near North boat dock on Georgian Bay Islands National Park. 

I went to visit relatives in Ottawa back in late June, but before going to Ottawa, I planned to visit Algonquin Park for 3 days and, even planned for a stop (on the way to Algonquin) at Georgian Bay Islands National Park [Link]. Even though the trip was not primarily a birding trip,  I was hoping to see a  Prairie Warbler which is did not see (but heard). The park was absolutely beautiful, our cabin on the island was great, but the experience was too rustic, too untamed, too ??? I'm having a hard time finding a word to describe it.

Its a beautiful natural  gem of a park, but simply traversing the main North/South path (Huron Trail) on bike (with child in child seat) was too challenging for me. Our cabin was at the Cedar Springs area (Red lines on map below) and the target bird was found at the north end of the island. I just could not get to the north end of the island on bike!

The paths were strewn with boulders, tree limbs and roots, puddles and swarming biting insects. I got as far north as the Sandpiper Beach camping area about 2/3rds of the way up to the north end of the island.  I realize that some natural areas need to be left in their natural state, to remain un-commercialized and undeveloped so that they can be discovered by future generations of campers, hikers and nature lovers. I would argue though that if the park offered gravel or paved paths along its Huron Trail, I would have been able to make it to the north end of the island.

One highlight from the trip was hearing the call of a Common Loon while sitting at Sandpiper beach. We were able to see Common Loons when we were brought back to the mainland on boat. Our boat driver went out of his way to show us a pair swimming near the north dock. I had never seen a Common Loon that close, and I was amazed at how large they were. They were as large as Canada Geese! They also have white speckles in their face, and a green iridescence in their necks! I watched them preen and swim under our boat through the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay!
Common Loon

Eastern Phoebe
This Eastern Phoebe woke me up with its call. At sunrise, I walk out of my cabin to see this guy singing "Fee-bee" at the docks!  Other birds seen were Brown Thrashers, Red eyed Vireos,  Winter Wrens (heard) and Ovenbirds (heard).
Brown Thrasher
Gray Comma ??

Birding Oxtongue Lake- 
Since my birding experience was not the best at Georgian Bay Islands National Park, I figured I would post two highlights from my cottage at Oxtongue Lake, at the west entrance to Algonquin Park. I was bbq'ing one night when in the corner of my eye, I saw a large black bird on the ground, gesturing and hopping from side to side... Pileated Woodpecker! This is only the second time I've seen a Pileated Woodpecker in Ontario.  The first and only other time was at the Pinery a few years ago (actually, one flew our group at the Skunks Misery OFO trip this Spring). My wife pointed out a Yellow bellied Sapsucker, again feeding on the ground near where we parked. On occasion, you could hear the yellow bellied sapsuckers drumming in their distinct pattern. (Click here to hear a yellow bellied sapsucker drumming)

Yellow bellied Sapsucker

Pileated Woodpecker
Alpha and Omega - Birding the the Ottawa Airport Grasslands
Finally, the last leg of our trip (after Algonquin and Georgian Bay Islands National Park) was Ottawa. I wanted to bird several areas, but I never had the time. I had planned to go see:
I only made it to the Airport Location, as that was only 10 minutes from where I was staying. Amazingly, I did pick up a life bird... Grasshopper Sparrow! Some Ontbirders had seen Vesper and Clay colored Sparrows, as well as Song Sparrows and others... but I didn't have the time, (nor the skill) to find these.

Notice the large Air Canada Jet in the background!

My next posting will be about Algonquin Park!

Good birding,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Duke's Skipper and an unlikely Little Sulphur (Eurema lisa) -v2

Dukes Skipper on Chicory

I stopped by Brunet Park in LaSalle this morning, and to my amazement, photographed a skipper species that I had never seen, but recognized. This skipper had a long streak (or ray) on the underside of its hindwing that hinted of Duke's Skipper. Duke's Skipper and Dion's are quite similar, but the forest-edge habitat that Dukes frequents hinted that I had a pretty rare butterfly on my hands! Thankfully, I emailed the experts to get confirmation. Alan Wormington and Blake Mann confirmed the identification for me. 

More on Dukes Skippers:

Another rarity (in my opinion anyway) was a "Little Yellow" I saw at Point Pelee yesterday. I saw it for just 5 seconds... I obtained this crappy but diagnostic photo.  Very cool! Just to get a sense of how rare these two are, neither of them were on the Ojibway Butterfly Count tally results [Link]... So pretty rare butterflies! 

I've never seen a Little Yellow in Canada. I had seen some along the road during my last trip to Florida, but was unable to get out and really look at them (I was stopped at an intersection). 

Hickory Hairstreak - Another Brunet Park Gem

Back to some more common butterflies...

Good butterfly watching!


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