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:

Friday, 29 November 2019

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

Finally, after 8 years, I was able to go to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  In previous years I alternately went to either Cape May, NJ or The Yellow Rails and Rice birding Festival.  As it happened, the two ABA rarities,(and Lifers), that were reported prior to the festival, a Yellow-green Vireo and a Northern Jacana, had moved on.  However, one of the main reasons for the trip this year was to go to King Ranch and finally get to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.  Of course there were other great birds to see along the way, including Aplomado Falcon, Morelett’s Seedeater and a host of south Texas specialty birds and, of course, birders.

The first day I spent at Estero Llano Grande State Park, catching up with Huck Hutchens, the guide who helped me twice during my 2012 Big Year.  He does bird walks that are both educational and entertaining, a few times a week and I joined him and a group of birders from the festival for a few hours of entertaining commentary and a lot of great birds.

Eastern Screech Owl,(McCall’s):

Vermillion Flycatcher:

White-faced Ibis:

Day Two was the day I had been looking forward to since I began birding.  I had heard of King Ranch and the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.  I’ve made numerous trips to Texas over the years, but never had been there at the right time to go to King Ranch when the owls were present.  A group of us left on a bus at 6:00am and arrived just after sunrise in dense fog.  We could see nothing out the windows.

But not long after, the sun came out and the fog burned off and we were out listening and looking for the Pygmy Owl.  
It wasn’t long before we were hearing two of them calling on opposite sides of the road.  A few of us tried to locate the one calling on one side of the road while the rest of the group eventually caught sight of one on the other side.  The three of us ran over, hoping we didn’t miss it, but it sat around, and gave us great views for about half an hour before we needed to move on.  It was a new bird for my ABA Life List, though Sue and I had heard one when we were in Panama a few years ago.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl: ABA 683

Pygmy Owl from behind, with it’s fake eyes:

Later we were all lucky enough to have a Sprague’s Pipit land practically at our feet for a great photo op.

White-tailed Hawk:

My only other Lifer,(1135), of the trip was a Mexican Duck, newly added on eBird as a separate species.  Hopefully it will be added to the ABA List in the near future.  This was down at the Rio Grand River in Salineno at the base of the Falcon Dam.  It was a cold and rainy day and I didn’t spend much time there, but I did stop in at the Salineno Wildlife Preserve, where I saw all three of their specialty Orioles.

Mexican Duck:

Audubon’s Oriole:

Altamira Oriole:

Hooded Oriole:

Lots of other birders from the festival were there and while we were watching the orioles a Olive Sparrow came out from the bushes.

The next day I went over to South Padre Island and was treated to a fine show of migrating songbirds, including male and female Summer Tanagers.

On the way back to Harlingen I stopped along route 100 for a look at the Aplomado Falcon.  I got two for the price of one!

I spent my last full day back at Salineno, looking once more for Morelett’s Seedeater.  Before even looking for the seedeater I spotted a Gray Hawk.

But that was all we were seeing.  After a long wait, a few of the other birders went exploring and found a pair of Barn Owls in a cliff wall nest.  I left the seedeater watch and found the hole in the wall where the owls were peeking out.

Luckily, once I came back from viewing the Barn Owls, I wasn’t too late for the seedeater.  There was woman there looking for the seedeater as well, and we continued the seedeater watch together, and we were lucky to have a Green Kingfisher land practically at our feet.

It wasn’t long after that I heard the seedeater chip note.  We followed the sound and eventually found a female seedeater who posed for a couple of minutes so I could get my first photos of a Morelett’s Seedeater.

I had a great time at the RGVBF and look forward to returning again some year.