Friday, 16 March 2018

Parakeet Daze

I am in week 3 of my spring birding in Florida and other than a one day wonder of a King Vulture in Miami,(I did not see it), there haven’t been reports of any species I haven’t seen somewhere in North America that I’ve had the time to drive to.  Except parakeets.

There are several species in Florida, some countable by ABA standards, the Monk, White-winged and Nanday; others not so much, the Yellow-chevroned, Mitred and Crimson-fronted. I have seen them, and others, but learned recently of the ABA countable Rose-ringed Parakeet and the not so ABA Blue-crowned Parakeet, and have made it my mission to see them both while in Florida this month.

The Blue-crowned Parakeets are pinned all over the St. Petersburg area on e-Bird and I have driven the streets and gone to the parks where they have been seen, on numerous occasions, but so far, have seen just the basic Monk and Nanday variety.  Those two sure have been fruitful and mulitiplied in the years since my 2012 Big Year, as back then I was lucky to see just a few of them the entire year.

I was hoping for a different outcome last Wednesday, when I headed down to Naples and I enlisted the help of Yve, whom I met in Texas hunting a Jabiru during her 2017 Big Year.  I contacted her when I arrived and we met in downtown Naples that evening, as she knew a few good roosts for the Rose-ringed Parakeets, who have established a small population in the area.  They are officially countable in the ABA area in Hawaii, but eventually the florida population will be added to the list, just as a few other exotics have been over the years.

We got lucky.  The first street we drove down, and looked, there was a lone Rose-ringed Parakeet in a tree, just hiding behind some branches.  I got a good look and then tried for a photo.  Alas, in the dimming light of sunset, and with branches in the way, my camera did not want to focus, and before I knew it, the bird had flown.  Two others flew by, but we were unable to locate them by the time it was beginning to get dark.

One thing is for sure, being a birder over being a photographer is much more satisfying when it comes to seeing and counting birds.  As a birder, just seeing a new species is reward enough.  The photo, if good, is a bonus.  But for the photographers who go out specifically to get good photos, and sometimes take thousands of bad ones in the hopes of getting a good one, those trips often end in frustration.  I have been a photographer since I was in high school.  I have only been a birder since January 1, 2012.  Though I still love photograhy, I find birding to be the more rewarding of the two.

Alas, here is my only photo of the Rose-ringed Parakeet.  At least it was good enough as an ID photo, if nothing else.  Next time I am in Naples, I will know where to look and try to get a good photo:





Over at Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary I had a rare look at a perched Swallow-tailed kite:


Friday, 9 March 2018

Brown Booby and Trumpeter Swan in Florida

 It used to take a trip to The Dry Tortugas in the spring to maybe see one or two Brown Boobies sitting way out on a channel marker, or maybe get lucky with a flyover.  Back in 2012 I missed the Brown Booby on the Dry Tortugas and for my Big Year, and actually saw my first one in the Erie Basin, on the New York side of Fort Erie in 2013.  Last year, at this time I was back in Toronto just days away from spinal surgery.  But I am mostly recovered, working and, most importantly, birding.  Over the last year or so a large group of Brown Boobies have settled in on a power tower in Tampa Bay, as viewed from Philippe Park, and I enjoyed a good look at them as I began Spring Training 2018, a couple of weeks ago.  They are about 400 yards from shore and I was able to use my PhoneSkope iPhoneX digiscoping adapter to get some decent photos.






As for Florida rarities, a big surprise a few days ago, at Eagle Lake Park, was a Trumpeter Swan, a long way from home.  This “snowbird” brought a lot of local and traveling birders out to see, what for most, including myself, was a Florida Lifer,(263 for the state):






Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Tufted Duck

We have had at least one, but there is the possibility of two, Tufted Ducks in Southern Ontario for months now.  It's been in various places in Lake Ontario from the southwest part of Toronto,(Etobicoke), moving west along the lake and is now in the Burlington area.   Along the way, if this is the same bird, it has matured and grown a very manly tuft of feathers to adorn its head.  Normally a rare visitor to the east coast in winter, this native of Europe and Asia is showing up more and more in North America.   I just got back from New Brunswick, and if I had had time to venture to St. John's Newfoundland, on the Avalon Peninsula, I could have visited with more than 50 of them.

Here in Ontario, we have to settle for one at a time for now.   Trouble is, it is not always close and in bright sunshine for good photographs.  Yesterday, it wasn't sunny, but after an hour wait, the tufted one did, ever so slowly, drift close enough to those of us who waited in the cold long enough, to see even without binoculars.  I had heard that the duck was being seen at Windermere basin, just a bit west of Burlington Ship Yards, where I saw it last week, so I headed over, only to find out it was quite distant, under a bridge, but with patience was easy to find in a scope.

When I arrived, there were at least 30 people all lined up on the viewing platform, many with scopes, some just with binoculars or cameras, but all excited to the bird, which, it turned out, not every  birder in Southern Ontario had seen, particularly for the 2018 listing year.  I went, well, because I am eBird-ing every day this year and also need to get at least one photo for an App I am using to document the year, called 1 Second Every Day: www.1se.co  It's a fun way to review the year in just a few minutes, and will be a help with my failing memory too.

As for the Tufted Duck, it eventually floated within about 30 feet of the dozen or so of us who remained and we all enjoyed watching and photographing the bird, until some of us slowly drifted off too, as the duck eventually did, to warm up with hot chocolate or soup for lunch.

Beginning Wednesday, I will not have to worry about the cold, as I will begin my annual 5-week stint in Florida for Spring Training.  Last year it was cut short because of my back and I sat out the 2017 baseball season recovering from two spinal surgeries.  I hope this year goes better for both the Blue Jays and myself.  If I remain healthy, I will get to travel around North America the way I did during my 2012 Big year, so have the chance to get to a lot of birding habitats.

Here, now, my some of my Tufted Duck photos from yesterday:


If you look carefully you can see it somewhere in this photo.  I did find it in my scope:


After a time, it slowly drifted on its own closer to the viewing platform:



A female scaup ventured too close and he was not happy, his tuft getting quite ruffled in the process:



Once he got further away, his tuft seemed to relax:


Finally, a very close view, where the tuft, white sides and black back, along with the red eye were quite visible:



Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mistle Thrush Photos and More from the East Coast

Due to a flaw in my blogging app, BlogTouch Pro, which has not been addressed by the developer and only having my iPad, which even Google Chrom won't allow me to use to add photos, my last two posts have been photo free....

So here they are:

The only photo I took on my first afternoon, was of the house and trees where the Mistle Thrush had shown up:


The Mistle Thrush in bright sunlight on the next morning:



It went to a branch in the shadows but couldn't escape my camera as it flew behind the house:



Common Signs on the highways of New Brunswick:


Juvinile Black Guillemot in Halifax Harbour while looking for a Dovekie:


While searching for a Dovekie in Dartmouth Harbour, in the rain, I spotted a swimming Bald Eagle:


Friday, 16 February 2018

A Fine Day for a Mistle Thrush

It was actually Day 89 according to Peter Gadd, finder of such a rare bird.  Even though he said the bird hadn’t appeared until after 11:00am the last few days, I decided to come early, just in case it was the perverbial early bird.  Well, it was.  The Mistle Thrush arrived shortly after I arrived just after 8:30am and hid in the dense branches of a tree, where I wasn’t able to get any kind of good photo.  It vanished for nearly an hour and then returned just before Peter was heading home to report the arrival to NARBA.  This time, the bird did not disappoint and posed in the sun eating berries for about 15 minutes while he and I and a gentleman from St John, took photos.  The temperature wasn’t exactly warm, but it was nice enough in the sun that we all enjoyed being out on such a glorious February day, seeing a species of bird that, once it’s gone, might never be seen in North America again.

Afterward I heard to Halifax hoping to find a Dovekie, but the next two days were gloomy and rainy and though I did see a good variety of birds, I saw no Dovekie.  However I did get the rain soaked thrill of seeing a swimming Bald Eagle in the harbor near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  Apparently, eagles sometimes misjudge their attack on a fish and paunch into the water, seemingly forceing them to swim for shore.  Anoteher eagle looked on with detached interest, as its mate swam for shore.  I looked away at one point, searching for a Dovekie in the rain and fog, and when I looked back, the swimming eagle was gone.  I hope, not drowned but just climbing back to shore in a different spot from where I was looking.

All, in all, I’d say this was a successful and worthwhile trip, and when the Mistle Thrush gets added to the ABA list, that will be an added bonus.

Next Stop, Tampa Bay, Florida.  I’ll be there about 5 weeks and hope a few tropical rarities show up, especially on one of my few days off.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Long Journey of the Mistle Thrush

Dear diary,

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, @35,000 feet:

I am on my way to New Brunswick.  There is a, possibly, once in a lifetime Mistle Thrush visiting a home in a small town outside of Moncton, waiting to fly into my Life List.  My tradition on February 14 nearly every year since I started birding has been to drive up to Algonquin Park, but this year I am trying to visit Provences and States I have never been too and to add birds to my Life List, rather than just seeing as many birds as possible this year.  The Mistle Thrush has been seen for a few weeks now and I was running out of time to get to Moncton before leaving for Florida and a month in the sun.  And, frankly, the flight to Moncton is not much longer than driving to Algonquin Park.  I also waited for the weather to be above freezing with little to no chance of snow.

The Mistle Thrush in question, has taken an even longer journey to get to Miramichi, NB.  This native of Europe and Asia took a wrong turn at some point and flew hundreds of miles off course to end up at the feeders of a couple who, luckily, are birders and recognized that they were looking at was no regular visitor.  After being unable to find it in any Birds of North America field guide, they posted photos for experts to study and now birders from the US and Canada are, pardon the pun, flocking to their neighborhood seeking a Lifer that is providing quite the show.

That’s it for now.  We are preparing to land and, as we do, I wonder if I am not the only one on this plane flying hundreds of miles to see a single bird...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, Miramachi, New Brunswick:

After an on-time arrival at the Moncton Airport I am leaving late, since I somehow forgot to finish off my Enterprise car rental reservation and they had no cars available when I arrived at the counter.  Once again, luck was on my side as Avis/Hertz did have one car, just returned from an oil change, so I am heading out about half hour later than I had hoped.

After a nearly 2 hour drive I finally arrived in Miramachi and met a retired couple who drove all the way from Michigan and had spent the last 4 hours watching the Mistle Thrush.  I had arrived at my GPS coordinates about 10 minutes earlier and was watching some bird feeders at the house of Peter and Deana Gadd, who had first discovered the bird, before realizing that the thrush in question had moved on to another street.  Before I could even get back in the car, another car drove by, asked if  I was looking for the bird,(no need to ask which bird), and he offered to have me follow him around the corner to MacMillan Drive where the bird had been hanging out the last few weeks, of it’s now 68 day stay.

That’s where I met the couple, who had seen it about 30 minutes earlier.  Missed it by that much.  They hung around another 15 minutes or so, but the bird didn’t show up again, so they headed off to their hotel for the night, suggesting they’d be back in the morning for one last look and some photos.  I figured I could hang around until sunset, as it was nice enough out, and I had nowhere else to be.  I do hope it shows up tomorrow, but if the only look I get of the Mistle Thrush was the one I just had, then I will go home happy, with species 1010 for my Life List.  I was sitting in the car, warming up, when I bird flew in from left to right and landed in a bare tree.  I jumped out of the car, got my binoculars on the bird, and low and behold, I saw the pale, speckled breast and knew I had the Mistle Thrush.  It only stayed around 30 seconds before retiring for the night, and I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

A short while later another car pulled up and it was Peter Gadd his own self, checking on any last remaining birders in his neighborhood.  We had a nice chat about how he discovered the bird, and sent photos to experts before discovering what a rare bird he had on hand.  Likely the rarest bird in North America right now, the Mistle Thrush is common in Europe and Asia, but not so much on this side of the pond.  A storm may have sent it west over the ocean, where it may have stopped in Iceland or Greenland along the way, before ending up on Manny Drive in Marimachi, over 2 months ago.  That is a accidental detour of over 2500 miles.

I signed Peter’s guest book and he gave me tips on seeing the bird tomorrow, which was not to come too early, as it hasn’t been seen before 11am the last few days.  I hung around a little longer, and as the sun dipped below the horizon, headed off to my hotel for a well deserved rest and will go try for longer looks and photographs in the morning.   But I did accomplish two of my 2018 goal, the first being to add more Lifers, and the second to travel to states and Provences I have not had the pleasure of birding in.  Littlerally and figuratively, killing two birds with one, ahm, trip.
                                                 









Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Return of the Tufted Duck and Finding Ring-necked Pheasants

Late last year we had a Tufted Duck visit us in Toronto, down by the lake.  Over the next couple of months, it had been spotted in various bodies of water as it moved west toward Niagara.  Last week it showed up at the Burlington Ship Yards and I was lucky enough to have time to go see it up close.  It was very windy and the tuft was actually blowing up over his head, as my pictures show.

A couple of days ago I saw that some Ring-necked Pheasants were being reported in the Hamilton area and I had never seen one really close, and also hadn’t seen them in Ontario, so took a drive to find them as well, and after a brief look at one in some bushes, I finally found a beautiful male, giving me 317 species for Ontario.

The tuft seems to have grown since seeing it in Toronto,(if this is indeed the same duck):



Great comparison between the Tuffted Duck,(top) and a Greater Scaup:


Ring-necked Pheasant: