Saturday, 29 April 2017

Back to Birding, After Extensive Back Surgery

For the past six weeks my birding has been limited to looking out windows, either while in the Toronto Western Hospital, where I spent three weeks recovery from two surgeries on my back, or my kitchen window, which looks out on my back yard feeders.  Near the end of February I began to realize there was something very wrong with my back and while in Florida saw a specialist who recommended I fly directly home and have it taken care of as soon as possible.  I was fortunate that the doctor in Florida was able to talk to my doctor in Toronto and get me in for surgery within 10 days of my initial diagnosis.  Up until then, as of February 28 I had birded and submitted an e-Bird List on 424 consecutive days.  I had really wanted to submit a list every day of the year in back to back years, but it was not to be.

I just wasn't up to e-Birding pigeons from my hospital window, though occasionally a gull, crow or starling would fly by.  But once I arrived home, after the monotony of the hospital, I set up my swivel bar stool by my back window, facing the feeders and have back yard birded every day since April 5.  Even got out the other day for some birding in James Gardens, just down the road from home.  I am hoping to be cleared for driving next week, even though I am not 100% fit for doing but else than sitting, standing and walking a couple of hundred yards or so at at time, but after six weeks of recovery, I am ready for some variety in my birding spots.

Photos from the back yard:

A Fox Sparrow was one of the early highlights:


This pair of Mallards have returned to our ponds for the fourth consecutive year:



One rainy day the only bird present was a Mourning Dove that looked cold and miserable:


Thursday, 9 February 2017

Black-backed Oriole: From Mexico to Pennsylvania, no Passport Needed

There aren't any walls blocking Mexico from the US just yet, but no matter how high Donald Trump tries to build them, some Mexican migrants will still find their way into America.  In this case, a vagrant Black-backed Oriole, endemic to Mexico and chief predator of the Monarch Butterfly, found its way to a quiet residential street in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, to the delight of over 800 - and counting - happy birders who have traveled wide and far to see a bird so rare in the United States it is not yet on the list of the American Birding Association.

I had been following the NARBA reports since it was first reported on February 3, but work and other commitments have kept me from chasing anything more than a Harlequin Duck here in Toronto.  There are birds in California and Arizona that I'd love to find time for, but at the moment, a one day there and back driving trip is all I can fit into my schedule.  So, I drove the 7 plus hours from Toronto, and arrived early Wednesday morning at Indiana Ave. in Sinking Spring, Pennsyvania and joined the 20 or so other birders on a driveway of a local resident, and awaited the Oriole.

Short wait, as it turned out.  Less than 10 minutes and the Black-backed Oriole alighted a top a tree in the distance and within another five minutes came closer and eventually landed on the feeder in the back yard across the road, where it enjoyed a lovely breakfast of fresh cut oranges.  After all the hours I've spent looking for and waiting to find other rarities, it was nice to just arrive and see the bird.  There was probably more socializing on the driveway than there was bird looking.  I actually recognized one gentleman, a birder and nature photographer whom I've run into at least one other time chasing rare birds, likely in Florida.
The bird was discovered by Susan and Richard Hybki and they quickly discovered it was not your average oriole.  It took a few days after she shared a photograph of the bird for it to be identified on an Advanced Bird ID Facebook page by a Mexican birder who was amazed that people in Pennsylvania were seeing a Black-backed Oriole before even he had seen one for himself.


The Homeowner across the street is happy to have birders come and use his driveway to view the Black-backed Oriole.  Just remember to sign in, please and not block the driveways.  And he is not, nor does he intend to become, a birder as a result of this experience. 


On the way to the oirole I had to stop to watch a flyover of somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 Snow Geese:



Monday, 23 January 2017

Tropical Rarities in South Florida

Last year in south Florida I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for the Code 5 Zenaida Dove, an ABA Lifer and also have my  second look at at female Blackd-faced Grassquit.  But I also experienced the frustration of not finding a Smooth-billed Ani, on about half a dozen attempts.  I also missed both male and female Wesetern Spindalis, though the spindalis would not be an ABA lifer and I have seen Smooth-billed Ani outside of the ABA Area in Costa Rica, 2014.

Last week was a different story.  I had time to scoot down the east coast from the Viera Wetlands to South Beach and pick up a trio of rare birds: 
Smooth-billed Ani, Western Spindalis and a Bananaquit.  The ani and Bananauit were ABA Lifers numbers 657 and 658.  The first day I stopped in Viera Wetlands, a short drive from Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach.  This was the easiest bird of the trio as it was hanging out near a brush pile on the entrance road, and was a 30 second walk from the parking lot, even though a number of birders just parked on the road.  However, the bird didn't seem to mind and posed for lots of photos, but objected to one photographer,(no binoculars, so not a birder), who actually walked into the grass and tried to get within a few feet of the ani, which, of course, flushed it from the brush pile for a while.

Smooth-billed Ani:



Next stop was Crandon Park in South Beach, a few miles north of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  It was at Bill Baggs late in 2016 where I spent a couple of hours along the bird trail, getting rained on and not finding a Western Spindalis.  I have seen the bird down in Key West, during my 2012 Big Year but wanted it for both my Bird and Blue Jays Big Year List and for the photograph I failed to get back in 2012.  This time around it had been seen frequently, likely the same bird from Bill Baggs, in the trees around the south parking lot.  My late afternoon visit failed to turn up the bird, but I arrived early the next morning and found it and got my photo within an hour.  That left me time to go back to Richardson Historic Park and try for the Bananaquit.

Female Western Spindalis:



From South Beach I drove drivectly to Richardson Historic Park, where the previous evening I stayed until sunset without seeing the Bananaquit, but had heard it was more of an early bird, so arrived by 10:30am and within half an hour the half dozen or so of us were rewarded by wonderful and close views of the Bananaquit.  Even better looks here than I had back in Costa Rica in 2014.




Sunday, 1 January 2017

Now, where did I Leave Off?

So, I began writing my first Blog of 2016 before I new I was going to be travelling most of 2016 and started a new blog,, and chronicled my 2016 year of travelling around most of the Lower 48.

So back to a slower birding pace.  In 2017 my goal is not to see hundreds of species.  Aside from submitting just one eBird List a day, as the folks suggest,(there is a contest too), my two goals for this upcoming year are to take trips for Lifers only and try to get photographs of birds I've seen but failed to capture digitally, and get better photos of some of the birds that have eluded good focus or composition along the way.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Catching up on the New Year

I'm writing this mostly for myself, adding reports as I feel the need, as I know I will forget most of what has happend in my life over time.  Since adding the Painted Bunting as Ontario species 292, I have been to Arizona, Algonquin Park and now am back in Florida for my fourth season of Spring Birding.

This was seventh trip to Arizona for birding since April of 2012 and I was able to add 15 new species for the state, but only one Lifer, the Williamson's Sapsucker.  However, it was really Sue's chance to once again pass me on the Life List, as the majority of these western birds were new for her.  She has rightfully taken the lead in this "friendly" competition, with 839 to my 799.  However, I finally got photographs of Montezuma Quail, in two different locations, and once again found the Elegant Trogan in Patagonia Lake State Park.  We saw 124 species in 6 days, visited Tombstone, saw thousands of Sandhill Cranes and a Barn Owl at Whitewater Draw, and Sue saw the Sinaola Wren I had seen last year.  I missed it this time.

Monday, 12 January 2015

New Year, New Birds!

I have now been a birder for 3 years.  I still love it and am still, somewhat obsessive about it.  I still go out most days and have spent more days outdoors standing in the cold in the last 3 years than I probably did in the previous 25.  My ABA List is now at 633 Species, all but the Dusky Grouse seen in since I started birding in January of 2012.  My World Life List, which includes a trip to Costa Rica this year is 2 shy of 800.  I hope to get to and pass 800 in Arizona later this month.

So to wrap up 2014, I saw 555 total species,(including over 200 in Costa Rica), and added 15 ABA species to my North American List.  In 2013 I added 20, so based on the progession, 10 Lifers might be a good target to reach and surpass in 2015

Here are some of the birds from early this year, including a few local rarities

 The Evening Grosbeaks hung around into the New Year in High Park:

As did the Painted Bunting on Oakville's Arkendo Drive, along with a few friends:

 Painted Bunting:

Female Nortern Cardinal:

 Carolina Wren:

White-breasted Nuthatch:

Snowy Owls are back again in 2015, along Lake Ontario:

And the First Year Male King Eider has also hung out into the New Year:

Saturday, 27 December 2014

American Three-toed Woodpecker

I took the day, yesterday, to drive to Ottawa, then across the river into Gatineau, Quebec on the news that a close cousin of the Black-backed Woodpecker had been seen in the wooded areas of a residential neighbourhood, that borders on a Golf Course.  I had missed this bird previously in Alaska and north of Timmins, Ontario.  Of course, I had to hope for better luck, as last week I had crossed the border into the US looking for Barnacle and Pink-footed Goose, and had come up with the preverbial Goose Egg.  This time, however, after an hour or so of searching, with the help of local birders Ken and Richard, I did find the target bird and notched my 555th bird of the year and species #633 for my ABA Life List, in just a week shy of three obsessive years of being a Birder.

 American Three-toed Woodpecker:

 Piliated Woodpecker Close by,(I also saw Downy and Hairy on the same street):

Northern Saw-whet Owl at Col. Sam Smith Park today,(#155 for the park list):

Snowy Owl #72 at Col. Sam Smith,(2nd Owl of the day):