Monday, 18 January 2021

Owls and Hawks and Eagles Everywhere - Oh My

 As I get to know Brant and surrounding counties, one thing has become clear, Bald Eagles rule the roost, supported by hawks, American Crows and owls.  Just in the past few days I have seen both adult and juvenile Bald Eagles just about every day.  And you can’t drive a mile without seeing American Crows.  But the real score this past weekend were the owls.  On Saturday I was able to find, with the help of a long time resident and local birder, a Long-eared Owl and following another report, got to see, not one, but five Short-eared Owls on Sunday evening.

The Long-eared Owls are only easy to find during the day, often high up in evergreen trees, and the Short-eared Owls are only visible at dusk as they take off from their hiding places to hunt mice and other prey during the night.  Both are from a family of “eared” owls, but what we’re seeing are not ears but tufts of feathers that to our human eyes just appear to be ears.  Both are often difficult to photograph, as the Long-eared Owls are usually high in the trees, in the shadows, obscured by branches.  The Short-eared Owls, coming out at dusk, leave you with little light to capture them as the fly, quickly changing directions as they hunt.  As a bonus while watching for the Short-eared Owls, I heard a Great-horned Owl calling and watched Northern Harriers, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawk hunting before they turned in for the night.

Earlier in the week I saw a huge flock of Common Redpolls and one Hoary Redpoll, which is hard to pick out from a giant flock and even more difficult to photograph. This morning I birded along the SJ Johnson (Wax) Trail and spotted a female Canvasback that eBird says is rare for this area and my first Bufflehead of the year. Yesterday morning, after seeing the Long-eared Owl, I saw my first American Tree Sparrows for the year and I enjoyed watching two juvenile Bald Eagles spreading their wings and learning to hunt.

So, another productive week of birding in and around Brant County.  Though I miss birding in Colonel Sam Smith Park back in Toronto, I am quite enjoying myself here on the edge of the country where there is no shortage of open roads and birds to see every day.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Getting to Know Brant County

A week into my Brant County Big Year and I have seen a few nifty birds already, including a Cooper's Hawk right outside my front door,  a Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk at the Mohawk Street Dump and Common Redpolls and a Rough Legged Hawk up in Paris,(Ontario, not France).  I've also been hunting, unsuccessfully. for a Hoary Redpoll and Peregrine Falcon, both of which have been reported by other birders in the first week of 2021.  

Driving around the county, I am finding quiet farm roads and an abundance of nature trails, not to mention ditches at the sides of the farm roads, where I saw a couple of Song Sparrows a couple of days ago.  Yesterday in a crystal white field of snow I found a flock of Horned Larks and an American Kestrel on a wire, while looking for a Northern Shrike.  Seems I don't always get what I want, but sometimes get what I need, which is a new bird for my year list.

Today, I added a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Common Goldeneye, Pine Siskin and a Mute Swan on the SC Johnson Trail.  Back in Toronto a Mute Swan would be nothing special, but apparently are rare on the Grand River during the winter in Brant County.  The last time I had a Mute Swan come up as rare on my eBird List was a few years down in Florida.

Common Goldeneye:

Mute Swan:

Brown Creeper:

Horned Lark:

American Kestrel:

Rough-Legged Hawk:

Friday, 1 January 2021

January 1, 2021: A New Beginning and a,(smaller), Big Year.

 I did not keep up with my blog in 2020, sticking mostly to Instagram.  I ended 2019 and began 2020 in bad shape with a cracked vertebrae in my spine and finally had surgery on January 22 of 2020.  It was a slow recovery and then there was Covid, so it wasn’t a normal year, even for birding.  Then both Sue and I found ourselves out of work and it was time to pick up and move from Toronto.  We have landed in Brantford, Ontario, an hour west of Toronto in a new home, town and country.  Brant County, that is.

I know pretty much nothing about Brant County and in order to get up to speed on the best places to go birding in my new, local patch, which also includes Long Point, Selkirk and Turkey Point Provincial Parks, I figured, since travel outside Ontario, at this time, is not a thing, why not do a Tri-County Big Year.  This will include Haldimand to the southwest and Norfolk Counties to the southeast, along the shores of Lake Erie.

So, once again, I’m just here for the bird.  First up was an Evening Grosbeak, at the crack of dawn this morning.  I had visited the feeders at a home in Glen Morris last week, shortly after we moved here, and seen a few females, and figured it was a great bird to start 2021 with, as Evening Grosbeaks are not regular visitors to this locale and I didn’t want to miss a change to get them on my 2021 Brant County List.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  Just as I arrived, I could see 3 or 4 males at the feeders and then, a whole bunch more flew in, roughly 21 to the best of my counting ability.  It was early, and cloudy and the light wasn’t great, but I did get a few photos.

Next, it was off to Mohawk Lake, where, earlier in December my timing was off and I missed the Mew Gull.  I am hoping it makes another appearance this year, but in the meantime I counted five gull species for my morning trip: Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, the most species of gull I’ve seen to begin a year.

My back yard feeders are beginning to attract a few birds now too, including a regularly visiting Red-bellied Woodpecker, to go along with the basic cardinals, chickadees and juncos.  

I will stick close to these three counties for most of the year, but I will still be chasing Lifers whenever I get the chance, and will get to  Rondeau Provincial Parks and and perhaps Point Pelee NP in the spring.  Maybe by fall we will be able to take trips outside of Ontario.  Now wouldn’t that be nice.  But in the meantime, Ontario and Brant County in particular, are mine do discover.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

2019 Ends with a Northern Hawk Owl and 730 Days of eBirding

It’s been a great year for birding, in that we started the year heading way south to go birding in Ecuador for tropical species and finished a rare visit from a Northern Hawk Owl about forty minutes north of Toronto.  I finished 2019 adding 121 birds to the world Life List and 7 ABA Lifers giving me 685,(for a total of 695 in the ABA area on eBird).  Speaking of eBird I submitted a list every day of the year for the second straight year and am on a streak that,(including New Years Day 2020), is at 731 days.

2019 ABA Lifers:
      Date:                        Species;                                                  ABA Code:            State:                              Notes:

Apr 16, 2019
Colima Warbler
Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains South Rim
Apr 18, 2019
Crimson-collared Grosbeak
Quito Mazatlan WBC  Female
Jun 23, 2019
Little Egret
Gilsland Farm Audubon Center - Cumberland
Jun 24, 2019
Bicknell’s Thrush

Okemo Ski Area Mount Holly calling at Ludlow Overlook
Jul 11, 2019
Pacific Golden Plover

British Columbia
Delta Peninsula scope view only 
Sep 16, 2019
Curlew Sandpiper
Bellwood Lake, Wellington County
Nov 7, 2019
* Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
 King Ranch RGVBF 
* The Pygmy Owl was already on my list from Panama as heard only.

However, that streak may soon end, as I am going into the hospital next week for spinal surgery and expect there to be days where I can’t even look out the window.  Once I am home I will be indoors for about a month, birding through the windows at my various bird feeders.

So, a few weeks ago, word got out of a Northern Hawk Owl and it had been since 2012 since I had seen one, way up north in Hillardton Marsh.  I had actually thought to go up there for possible boreal species, but, once again, back issues made it a difficult drive.  I drove up as soon as I got the news and was rewarded with great looks at the owl as it sat perched atop a light pole, and the later in a bare tree.

That weekend I brought Sue up and she got to enjoy it during a rather heavy snow fall, befitting it’s “northern” designation.  The drive home was a bit slippery but worth it for Sue adding another bird to her Life List, edging two ahead of me. The blobs in the photo are from the snow.  
I shot this with my iPhone through my Vortex scope using a PhoneSkope Adaptor:

In other rare bird news, closer to home, a Brown Thrasher has been coming a suit feeder in James Gardens, down the road from my home.  With my spinal issues and pain it’s harder for me to take long walks and the feeder is a short walk from the parking lot.

Other photos from the park, including the return of the beautiful Common Mergansers:

Friday, 6 December 2019

700 Days of Birding... and Counting

December 1, 2019 marked my 700th consecutive day of submitting an eBird list.  I have gone birding almost everywhere in Canada and the US along with Panama and Ecuador since I started my list on January 1, 2018.  Sometimes it was a full day of birding in the rain forest, and other times it was the regular visitors to my feeders in my back yard.  There were days where I didn't see a bird until near sunset and other where I counted pigeons and crows outside my hospital room windows.  I'm hoping to make it to the end of the year without missing a day, but that depends on my surgical recovery later this month.

Since returning from Texas, I have birded mostly at home and out in Hamilton, as I was preparing  for a trip to Southern California, in and around San Diego.  Unfortunately I have suffered a little spinal injury that will require surgery in the coming weeks, so for now I will just be taking short day trips for birds.

Down at Colonel Sam I was able to see a late migrating Eastern Meadowlark and a Long-eared Owl:

A few days later I headed out to Hamilton/Burlington to see if I could find a Barrow's Goldeneye.  They are not rare by any means, but they are certainly uncommon in these parts, so any chance to see one without too much of a drive is always welcome.  On the way to Grays Road, I stopped at LaSalle Marina to see what was there and was greeted by a leucistic mallard,(which according to eBird, someone mistook for a Garganey):

At my next stop, I was able to find the Barrow's Goldeneye, but my only shot of it with his head up was in bad light though my scope, and when the sun did finally come out, he was much closer, but was fast asleep:

Getting back to owls, about a week later the first Snowy Owl of the season arrived at Col. Sam, meaning winter had officially arrived, even if the previous week's snowfall had all melted.

Yesterday was not just for the birds, but specifically for the gulls.  There was a Black-headed Gull down in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which I was unable to see last year, through no lack of trying, and a returning Slaty-backed Gull which I had seen at flying over the Mohawk Landfill in Brantford a year ago, but had a lousy photo of.

With the help of fellow rare bird chasers Garth and Nancy, I was able to see both.  The Black-headed Gull was number 333 for my Ontario Life List, though a photo was not really possible as it could only be seen in flight over the whirlpool rapids on the Niagara River.

I was luckier with the Slaty-backed Gull this time, getting a photo with my DSLR after getting a good look at it though Garth's scope: