Tuesday, 17 July 2018

I’m Just Here for the Lifers

A trip to Florida, even for work, is always welcome.  Even more welcome when I have a few extra days to find a few Life Birds.  I had two main targets, a Mangrove Cuckoo and a Roseate Tern.  Both of these birds I could have seen, even as far back as my Big Year in 2012.  Over many trips to south Florida I have been unable to see or hear the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, and only just discovered an easy location for the Roseate Tern.  Both of these species exist in small numbers and only are found in very specific locations.  I also had one other bird on my list, the Rose-ringed Parakeet, which I saw in March, but was unable to photograph well.

So, after I finished my work duties in Dunedin, I drove south.  First stop, Naples.  Using e-Bird I discovered a neighborhood where I hoped to find one or two to photograph at dusk.  I drove around the neighborhood for a few minutes before I began hearing the familiar squawk of the Rose-ringed Parakeets.  A few landed for me and though the light wasn’t great, I managed to get a few photos of these lovely birds.  Outside of Hawaii, only small pockets of these birds exist and only in a few neighborhoods in and around Naples, Florida.

The next morning I headed over to Miami and Black Point Marina Park.  It is here that, if you’re ever so lucky, you can hear and maybe even see the resident Mangrove Cuckoo.  On two previous occasions I did neither and now I was back for a rematch, as the bird had been seen just days prior to my visit.  Over the two hours or so that I hung out in the area the bird likes to hide in, I did not even get a glimpse of it, but finally, I did hear its distinctive call twice, enough to finally count it on my ABA Life List, as number 672.

Next, it was on to the Marathon, in the Florida Keys.  Back in 2012, I had searched in vain to roofs above the courthouse and other old buildings in Key West for Roseate Terns.  It was only in the last couple of years that I discovered that they nest in Marathon and are easy to get at the Municipal Buildings.  I learned about this too late in 2016 to go and 2017 was a washout due to my back surgery.  So, I drove the 3 hours south along the Overseas Highway and made it by mid-afternoon in the sweltering heat of a typical summer day in the Keys.  I wasn’t there two minutes before I was hearing the terns calling and over the next hour or so I watched several of them fly over, many with food in their beaks, likely feeding whatever young were still in the nests.  Oh, and Lifer 673, the second of the day and my third Lifer of the year, all in Florida.  That brings my total Life List to 1013.

I also made stops at Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary and Oscar Scherer State Park, where it was too late in the afternoon to spot Florida Scrub Jays. Also saw a wide variety of butterflies, which is always a good thing on days where the birds are staying hidden.

White-eyed Vireo and Thin-legged Wolf Spider at Corkscrew Swamp:

And some of the aforementioned butterflies, none of which I can identify:

Monday, 9 July 2018

Road Tripping and the Lost Whooping Crane

I finally hit the road.  I had both physical and mental health issues early in April when Iwas supposed to travel for work to Michigan and New Hampshire, but I was finally able to go birding outside Ontario for the first time since returning from Florida.  The best part was, when I arrived in Michigan, I read on eBird that a Whooping Crane was spotted only half an hour from where I was staying and I headed straight there before even checking into my hotel.

I got to Losco Rd in Webbersville Michigan early on the morning of June 21, only to find lots of empty farmer’s fields, filled with tall, yellow grass, a small number of Sandhill Cranes, but no Whooping Crane.  I was fortunate to meet a couple of locals who gave me advice on where the Whooping Crane had been seen over the previous 24 hours, and over the course of the morning searched many fields without success.  Later in the morning other birders showed up and as we were chatting, looking into the field where the Sandhill Cranes were hanging out, the Whooping Crane flew in from parts unknown, and landed about 400 yards away.  There are never any guarantees when you chase rare birds so it was exciting to see it fly in with other birders around.  A couple who had come and left earlier, also returned and got to see the bird.

The other cool bird I saw while on the trip were Dickcissels. I saw them reported on eBird and went to the MSU Inland Lakes Research and Study Area to investigate.  I got luck in that it is a restricted access area, but the woman who has the key was there and, along with the couple she was escorting, guided me to the spot where the Dickcissels were nesting and we got great, close-up views.

I finished the trip in New Hampshire where I visited a nice variety of birding locals, with names like Horse Hill Nature Preserve, Wildcat Falls Conservation Area and Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary.  Saw some lovely birds, nothing rare, but the scenery was the star at those stops.

Back home there was other wildlife to photograph, including a Double-crested Cormornant, Eastern Kingbird, Emma and Zoe:

Queen of the Castle, Emma:

Zoe finally enjoying the Catio:

Monday, 11 June 2018

Spring Migration 2018 Comes to a Close at Colonel Sam Smith Park with the Arrival of the Whimbrels

It was a great year for migration in Colonel Sam Smith Park this year.  Lots of warblers, and a few unexpected arrivals too, including a very cooperative Least Bittern who put on a show for many, many birders the last week of May.  Most had come for the annual Whimbrel show.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, hundreds of them pass by “Whimbrel Point, all of whom are counted by a dedicated group of birders who spend long hours waiting for them to pass by.  They come in large groups and sometimes even land, exhausted on the rocks by the beach, but more often circle for an hour or so before moving north to their mating grounds in Alaska and arctic regions of Canada.  Not all the final migrants were seen in Colonel Sam as there were surprises in Cranberry Marsh and Oakville’s Bronte Harbour.

Whimbrel Point, early morning, in the fog, awaiting the passing shore Birds:


Shot on iPhoneX:

While awaiting the Whimbrels, I found an Eastern Meadowlark and Wilson’s Warbler:


I did not see any Whimbrel’s that day, but a few days later, at Cranberry Marsh Oshawa, we were able to enjoy some migrating American Avocets.  I was able to get this shot only with my scope and a PhoneSkope adapter using my iPhoneX:

Back at Colonel Sam it was finally time for the main attraction of Toronto’s migration season:

This one was photobombed by a Ring-billed Gull:

A tired Whimbrel rests on the rocks before venturing further north:

Near the parking lot a Least Bittern entertained crowds for at least a week:


Gone Fishin’


I have had a number of Lifers for my Colonel Sam Smith Park list, but the arrival of a flock of Ruddy Turnstones was number 204 for my park list, which started the year at 198:


Number 205 was a Purple Finch last week.  They look like regular House Finches dipped in raspberry syrup.  Yum!


There as one last bit of excitement left as the migration season drew to a close.  An Arctic Tern showed up at Bronte Harbour and dozens of birders showed up for this rare show.  Arctic Terns are one of the most amazing migrants, traveling up to 22,000 miles round trip from Antarctica to the Arctic.  They are seen occasionally in flight as they pass through on migration, but rarely just sit for photos.  This one must have been particularly tired from the long journey.  For me it was number 319 for my Ontario Life List:

He has shorter legs than the Common Tern and no black tip on its orange beak.  Seems small compared to the close by Caspian Tern:

Another fun part of migration season are the baby birds:





So now migration is done and the fun will be spotting summer birds; hopefully my gardens will attract a few good birds over the coming months:



Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Spring Migration 2018: From Toronto to Rondeau

It’s been a great month for birding during migration this year, from many days spent at Colonel Sam Smith Park and a great few days out at Rondeau Provincial Park, including a morning in the rain where warblers were everywhere for a few hours, during a mini fallout.

After all the rarities we saw in the early days of May, was it too much to expect more?  Of course not!  During May, it’s all about the crazy birds that show up, and I was thrilled to chase as many as possible, including a Cerulean Warblerback at Ashbridges Bay where the previous day we all chased a Prarie Warbler.

Cerulean Warbler: One of the Few that are Not Yellow!


Over the next few days, at Tommy Thompson Park and Colonel Samual Smith Park, migrants began to slowly make their way north, including a Rose-breasted Grossbeak, Indigo Bunting and a lovely Blue-winged Warbler.  Also there was a rare coyote sighting at Col. Sam, which is always fun, as long as it doesn’t eat you.




Of course, it wouldn’t be spring without baby birds:


Next it was off to Rondeau Provincial Park for their Festival of Flight, one of two great migration Hot Spots in Southern Ontario.  Sue doesn’t come on all my crazy birding adventures, but migration is a different story and she came with dreams of a “magical” Fallout.  Fallouts occur occasionally during migration when the perfect storm of foul weather and large flocks of migrating birds crossing the lake intersect, forcing said birds to land, exhausted and put on a great show for birders who happen upon them at just the right time.  

We arrived early enough at the Harrison Trail leading out from the Pony Barn and in the first hour and a half had walked barely 400 feet and could still see the trailhead, the birds were so thick.  I had seen Fallouts on a couple of occasions, including a great one in Florida in 2012 and a very brief one in Toronto a few years ago.  Sue had never seen one and was finally witnessing the amazing sight of warblers sitting exhausted in trees, barely moving and birds that normally are high up in the canopy just walking about on the edge of the paths.  In all, we saw 23 warbler species on one of the most memorable days of birding for either of us.
                  Cape May Warbler:
                                                                                                                                        Finally, after 7 years, my first photo of a Golden-winged Warbler:

Baltimore and Orchard Orioles:


This poor, single White-winged Dove has returned to Rondeau for a couple of years now, in the spring, without a mate, as they are normally found in Florida, Arizona and Texas.  Even still, this sole representative of the species couldn’t help start building a nest, in the vain hope of another of the opposite sex arriving any day.


Unfortunately it chose an odd place for the nest, the windshield wiper well of a pickup truck.  Good thing there were no eggs to be laid here.


Bay-breasted Warbler:


                       Veery:                                                                                                     Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:


Blackburnian Warbler:


A young birder proved that age and experience aren’t always necessary for spotting tough to see birds, when she pointed out a Whip-poor-will high in a bare tree that afternoon.  I was able to capture the shot with my iPhone through my birding scope.

One of the prized warblers to see during migration is the beautiful Prothonotary Warbler:


       Magnolia and Canada Warblers are pretty nice themselves:


Red-headed Woodpecker and Purple Martin:


Though the Rondeau trip and the bulk of Warbler Migration was over, there was still another week or so of migration to come, which I shall update in my next installment.