I have made progress in my recovery since my last report. I can now walk several hundred yards at a time, using a cane or walking stick, as long as I carry my 3-legged stool with me to rest. Along with the regular influx of warblers, an even more special visitor showed up in Toronto at the the Leslie Street Spit. It wasn't an ABA Lifer, but it was new for my Ontario List,(310) and only the second record for Ontario: a Willow Ptarmigan. I had seen one during my Big Year at Denali National Park in Alaska, but never expected one to show up here.
Luckily the bird was still there on the Saturday of the annual bird festival, which meant there was a shuttle that took us relatively close to the ptarmigan's location. Still there was a bit of a slow, achy walk, but I had my stool, so I could sit and rest every once in a while and we finally did make it to what they call Pippit Point, and were rewarded with good looks at first, and then, after it flew a few hundred yards north, even better looks. A big crowd of birders from all over southern Ontario also showed up to see this rare visitor.
During the height of Migration we were also able to find a Yellow-breasted Chat, along with a handful of lovely spring birds...
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:
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:
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.
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.
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, birdsandbluejays.blogspot.com, 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 ebird.com 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.
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.