Thursday, March 27, 2014

Would You Plant Milkweed for Monarchs?

Monarch on Milkweed
Who in Southern Ontario hasn't marveled at the beauty of Monarch Butterfly? They were so common over the years, I would hardly bother to photograph them. But, this last summer was dramatically different... Monarchs were absent (or dramatically reduced to occasional singles). The butterfly community took notice. Even Point Pelee didn't do its Annual Monarch Count this year because, there were none to count?!?! (I think even when counts are low, they should still do a count... Wouldn't that be the scientific thing to do?) 

I hope we as a people can work to keep these gorgeous butterflies alive by ... if nothing else, raising awareness & perhaps requesting political action. I have already contacted the Essex County Field Naturalists about considering contacting our local municipalities and ask what their herbicide spraying activities are or better yet, could milkweed be planted along roadsides, hydro and rail corridors etc?

I might even get seeds myself and possibly attempt to sprout some seeds indoors to get them ready to transplant outside. Might be a fun activity to get my son Matthew involved with. 

According to the David Suzuki link listed below, the number of wintering Monarch Butterflies in Mexico has been dropping at alarming rates. The Suzuki source states some threats and remedies below:

Threats include:
  • Loss of native plants like milkweed 
  • Severe weather events 
  • Continued logging in Mexican forests 
Remedies include:
  • Increasing milkweed and native, pollinator-friendly species throughout the U.S. and Canada 
  • Reducing herbicide and pesticide use 
  • Stronger protection of monarch wintering grounds (Suzuki)

The Government of Ontario has declared Milkweed to be a noxious weed. They state: "Common milkweed can be a very difficult weed to control in many field crops thereby causing significant reductions in crop yield and quality. This can have a considerable negative impact to a grower's net economic return. In the last 10 years, new herbicide technologies have greatly improved the control of common milkweed in field crops. However control of common milkweed around field borders is essential as it minimizes seed spread into fields and therefore reduces the reliance on herbicides for "in field" control." (

But sadly, when milkweed is destroyed with amazing new "herbicide technologies" , species that depend on it as its host plant are also eradicated.

If we as a human species, in our relentless quest for growth, development, vanity and improved agricultural yield... if we let this little insect drop away from our summer and fall outdoor experience, ... deny ourselves and our kids from seeing this delightful mix of black, white and oranges... we are truly poorer as a people.

Good butterfly watching!

More Reading:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Point Pelee Birds Report 2013 & EC's 7-Day Forecast

Just in time for the arrival of Spring is the Point Pelee Birds Report for 2013. Check it out at this link here:

Some Comic Relief about the 7-Day forecast and our brutal winter:

 I also came across this cool map with many of Essex County's popular birding spots in an interactive google map. I've embedded it into this posting but might be seen better in its own page [link].

View this in own page with this [link].

View Windsor Essex Birding Sites in a larger map

The interactive map provides a google map of most Essex County's Birding Hotspots. Push pins and descriptions given for:

Point Pelee National Park
Wheatley Provincial Park
Rondeau Provinical Park
St. Clair National Wildlife Area
Hillman Marsh Conservation Area
Holiday Beach Conservation Area
Ojibway Nature Centre
Pelee Island *
Big Creek Conservation Area
Cedar Beach Conservation Area
Cedar Creek Conservation Area
Devonwood Conservation Area
Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary
Kopegaron Woods Conservation Area
Maidstone Conservation Area *
McAuliffe Woods Conservation Area *
Ruscom Shores Conservation Area
Tremblay Beach Conservation Area

Pretty Cool! * I don't think I've been to some of these locations!

Today's birding highlight was flushing an American Woodcock while walking at Ojibway Prairie today. I had a good look at it as it flew about 40m away from me but I must say I still have not seen one sitting on the ground in plain daylight.

Good birding,

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Fort Myers Birding - Part 2 of 2

Wilson's Plover at Little Estero Lagoon

My first posting focused on Bunche Beach, but this second one covers some sightings from a few other Fort Myers birding hotspots such as Harnes Marsh, Babcock Webb WMA, Corkscrew Preserve, Little Estero Lagoon, and even a few observations from Lakes Park.

Little Estero Lagoon
I really wanted to see Wilsons and Snowy Plovers at Little Estero Lagoon, a small reminant of natural beach at the south end of Fort Myers Beach, but I had only found Wilson's (life bird). Piping Plovers and a host of other shorebirds were present as well. I even tried to find Snowy Plovers on Sanibel Island but dipped again. A Magnificent Frigatebird was a nice consolation prize though.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Harnes Marsh
I had two Kite Species at Harnes Marsh (Swallow tailed and Snail Kite), as well as some good butterfly viewing as well. This marsh is well known to host Apple Snails and attracts birds such as Limpkin and Snail Kites (they have a penchant for escargot). The Snail Kite was a life bird. Butterflies seen included: Queen, Great southern White, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Checked Skipper, Firey Skipper.

Snail Kite
Queen Butterfly
Swallow tailed Kite
Lakes Park
Lakes Park is a city park that features train rides, splash pad, botanical gardens and playgrounds for the kids. I had seen a Least Bittern last year, but this year, my highlights included Ceraunus Blue Butterfly, Loggerhead Shrike and nice looks at Gulf Fritillary butterfly. I must admit, seeing a fluttering blue-gold micro butterfly while eating a picnic and discovering this new Ceraunus Blue butterfly was just as gratifying as finding a new bird species. It is a beauty! I was thinking as I photographed this butterfly... How many tourists to Florida would make an effort to find the various butterflies it has to offer? How many people have the inclination, the interest, the optics to see this tiny little gem? ...You would have to be pretty nerdy! :-)

Ceraunus Blue

Loggerhead Shrike - Always a pleasure to see!

Gulf Fritillary
Babcock Webb WMA
Babcock Webb WMA [link] is a 65,000 acre nature preserve about 30 minutes north of Fort Myers. I wanted to see a few birds there: Bachmans Sparrow, Red Cockaded Woodpecker and Brown headed Nuthatch. I dipped on the Bachmans Sparrow, but did find a Brown Headed Nuthatch in the RCW colony! It was nice to spend time at Babcock Webb and just listen for a gentle tapping of the pine bark to find the RCWs. Brown headed Nuthatch is so small, you need to be patient and just listen for their nasal toy horn call. So gratifying to witness these endemic Southeastern species of the pine forest. I had tried to find Brown Headed Nuthatches on my previous two visits to Florida, and this is the first time I was able to find it! Brown headed Nuthatches are a species in decline from what I have read.

Brown Headed Nuthatch - Using a small piece of pine bark in its bill as a tool

Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Brown headed Nuthatch nest cavity in a snag!

White Peacock Butterfly

So there you have it! Some of my personal nature viewing highlights from my trip to Fort Myers. Six life birds include:

Western Sandpiper 339
Prairie Warbler 340
Long billed Curlew 341

Brown headed Nuthatch 342
Snail Kite 343
Wilson's Plover 344

Butterfly Lifers:
Great Southern White
Mangrove Buckeye
Ceraunus Blue
Queen Butterfly

Painful Misses:
Bachmans Sparrow
Magrove Cuckoo
Snowy Plover
Little Metalmark Butterfly
Mangrove Skipper

Good Birding!
Zebra Longwing - Corkscrew Preserve

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Birding Bunche Beach in Fort Myers Florida

Long Billed Curlew at Bunche Beach

I spent the last week vacationing in Fort Myers Florida. The first few hours of my trip to Florida started with an early morning visit to Bunche Beach in Fort Myers. This little municipal preserve hosts 718 acres of natural tidal wetlands and beach [link]. I knew Bunche Beach was good, but I did not anticipate getting 3 lifers in the upcoming hour!
Great Southern White

Mangrove Buckeye - Distinguished by the orange bordering of the forewing eye

Upon arrival, I  had stopped along the road and photographed a few butterfly species. Mangrove Buckeye and Great Southern White were seen. At the beach I noted many many shorebirds particularily as you walk a 100m from the main beach access point. Mainly, shorebirds seen were:

100 Dunlin
70 Western Sandpipers (lifer!)
10 Piping Plovers
2 Black Bellied Plover
7 Semipalmated Plover
25 Willets
150 Sanderlings
1 Long billed Curlew (lifer!)

[2 Marbled Godwits *Second walk]
[2 American Oystercatchers *Second walk]

1 Redish Egret
1 Snowy Egret
1 Little Blue Heron
1 Tricoloured Heron

50 Black Skimmers
50 Royal Terns
15 Laughing Gulls
2 Brown Pelicans

1 Prairie Warbler (Life bird!)
3 Palm Warbler
1 Yellow Rumped Warbler
X Fish Crow

Western Sandpiper - Not the best photo, but I had only taken my 55-250mm lens. Not my 400mm!!!

I had read on a local birding listserve that Mangrove Cuckoo's were present but I did not hear or see any. I had met a few birders on the beach and asked them if Western Sandpipers were present, and they were like - Yes, they are the most abundant shorebird out there! I was all too happy to lifer that species!  I started talking to another man about Bunche Beach and he mentioned some other highlights from the beach such as an overwintering Long Billed Curlew! He mentioned it was on the other end of the beach, perhaps 1km from where we were standing. Just as was about to leave, I heard the ascending call of a warbler I missed last summer in the Georgian Bay Islands.... Prairie Warbler! I pished for a minute only to realize the bird was right above me in a tree along the beach's edge!

Prairie Warbler at Bunche Beach
Finding this Prairie Warbler was particularly exciting because honest to goodness, I heard it singing and recognized its song. I knew its song because it was one of my target birds last summer at Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Readers may remember that I never made it to the North end of the island, and only got to 'hear' them as the ferry driver drove by the north dock but did not have time to dock and explore.

A surprise find at Bunche Beach - A small trail from the beach edge lead me to this small pond full of Fiddler Crabs!

Black Skimmers & Royal Terns

So, three life birds in the first hour of my trip. The birding gods were good to me on my first morning, but my luck would not be so great as the rest of the week continued.

Another visit later in the week to Bunche Beach resulted in views of two Marbled Godwits and two American Oystercatchers! I also had an amazing walk with my son in the low tide waters of Bunche Beach...

Marbled Godwits
American Oystercatchers
Willets - attempting to mate

I will try to limit the remainder of my trip to one more posting. Stay tuned for part two.
Good birding!

Lifer summary:
Western Sandpiper 339
Prairie Warbler 340
Long billed Curlew 341

Ebird Checklist

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Insect Stamps & Halls Birding Commercial


My brother bought a few things off Ebay for me a few weeks ago and today I obtained two separate packages from him. I was happy to get these items but pleasantly surprised at the stamps that adorned the packages! Insect Stamps! I'm not really a stamp collector, but I figured it was worthy of blogging since I've blogged about the US Raptor Stamps in the past. I noticed that these stamps were released a long time ago (2012?) on the Canada Post website so I'm not sure if these can be purchased right now at your local post office.

While watching TV a few days ago, I noticed a commercial about Halls Cough Drops that featured a birder and quickly tried to find the commercial  on Youtube. After watching the 30-second video ... I can't help but feel that the video is patronizing birding rather than celebrating birding. In particular, I think the video pokes fun at the vocalizations birders do on occasion to attract birds. I myself will try to 'pish' on occasion (or perhaps attempt a trilled whistle to mimick a screech owl call) to bring a bird into view. But this commercial really blows the whole bird call vocalization aspect out of the water. I debated even referring to this  video (in this blog posting) as it bothers me but somehow amuses me at the same time. Is it patronizing? Irreverent? Or is it an opportunity to laugh a little at our hobby?

I think its cool to see references to birding in media and advertising. It may be a testament to its increasing popularity in North America. I've also in the past noted birding related advertisements, two in particular come to mind: The "Stop Avian Obesity" (from Hungry Howies Pizza) and the "You Should Get Out More" advertisement by Subaru.

I'm looking forward to birding a little more as the weather starts to improve and migration picks up. I have not been birding too aggressively as I find the effort / reward ratio is lowest at this time of year. I did stop by Jack Miners' Bird Sanctuary today to look for a recently noted Snow Goose but did not see any noteworthy birds in my brief stay. I'm sure things will be picking up soon!

Good Birding!


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