Thursday, 31 January 2013

Spring Like Day in Toronto

So, naturally, I had to be out and about birding, yesterday when the temperatures hit 14 C.  I didn't travel far, as this year there is no money to take many trips, except for rarities within a short drive of Toronto or any of my work destinations.  No flights on the agenda this year.  Have to get those frequent flier miles built up again.  Actually, it was amazing that I got 4 flights out of it at all.

So I birded around Humber Arboretum and James Gardens as I was in those areas for errands and the weather was spectacular for January, though it rained on me while I waited to get my breaks done at the Ford dealership.

I was hoping for owls, but instead got a mixed bag of common winter birds, including a White-breasted Nuthatch and a breeding pair of American Black Ducks.  I got a brief look at a Red-bellied woodpecker as well, but no photo.  A year ago I'd have not recognized the bird on sight and might not even have identified it without a photo.  So, I am making progress.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Very Common Day

I took Sue birding on Sunday.  Funny, she used to drag me out kicking and screaming into the cold, dead of winter to look at ducks, but the chance to see a Western Grebe in Ontario, at Colonel Sam Smith Park, brought us both out.  Alas, we waited until mid afternoon and the lost bird from the west had not been seen since that morning.

However, right behind the path where we were looking, on a mostly dead tree were some very lively Common Redpolls.  Quite a few of them darting about and, at times, hanging upside down like so many birdie Christmas ornaments.  Even though we didn't see the grebe, we were happy to see the redpolls so far south.  Sue didn't remember ever seeing them down by the lake, at Colonel Sam.

We did enjoy a raft of Long-tailed Ducks, along with Golden-eyes and Buffleheads, but the White-winged Scoter was nowhere to be found on this day.  Still, it wasn't too cold and though it was late afternoon, we decided to make a stop at James Gardens on the way home and were treated to a nice show of Common Mergansers, and one female Hooded Mergansers.

I had hoped to do some birding today, but with the rain and fog, the best I could do was watch the Northern Cardinals at my back yard feeder, fighting the squirrels for their dinner.  I hope the fog lifts tomorrow so I can go back down to the lake.  Trying to decide if I will go up to Algonquin Park on Wednesday for a chance to see a Great Gray Owl.  I missed seeing one late on Saturday night after visiting with my daughter, up in Ottawa, but couldn't stay the night and had to head back for a Sunday of birding at home.  I still need better photos of Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse as well as a closer photo of the Great Gray Owl than I have from Alaska last year.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Still Chasing

Yeah, it wasn't that long ago that I was at Van Wagner's Beach for a Townsand's Solitaire, but I wasn't able to get a photo of it, and this year is dedicated to getting, within reason, photos of birds I didn't capture on digital film in 2012.  So, yesterday, when word of a Townsand's Solitaire surfaced in my e-mail, just an hour or so from home, I was up for the chase.

This morning I drove out to Clarington and found about 4 birders already present, including David whom I have run into on multiple occasions in the past 12 months, mostly at Colonel Sam or James Gardens.  He had already seen the bird and it came out and perched on a branch shortly after I started looking.  It didn't stay long and moved to another tree and then vanished before I could get even one out of focus shot.

Some birders left, more arrived, including Benito, a retried gentleman I ran into at least 4 times last year.  Forty-five minutes had passed and Benito and I were exchanging e-mail addresses when someone spotted the bird just up the road.  We all congregated along the road where we could see the bird in a tree about 20 feet up and away from where we all were.  A few of us got our cameras out and, though the bird was in the shade were able to get some decent photos of it.

It was fun to be back out in the field, going after, what is a rare bird for these parts.  I never did get far enough north in Arizona, or inland enough in California or British Columbia to see it in its native habitat. Yet, I have seen one twice in less than 6 months in Ontario.  Go figure.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Small Year

2013 will be a very small year, compared to last year.  I am concentrating on seeing birds I didn't see last year, and getting photographs of birds I either haven't photographed or just have bad photos of.

I had seen but had no good photo of a White-winged Scoter, and had not taken one good photo of a Bufflehead, as they dive a lot and are not usually close to shore.  Yesterday, at Colonel Sam Smith Park, both were close enough to see without binoculars so I was able to take a few good photos.  I also had nice views of an American Kestrel, and Red-breasted Merganser, so I included those as well.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

2013 Big Year?

If I had been starting a 2013 Big Year with more freedom to travel and more money to spend, I would have started in south Florida.  Before the first week was up you would have had, with almost no trouble at all, a Western Spindalis, LaSagra's Flycatcher and a Bananaquit, all within near spitting distance of each other down in Miami-Dade.  You'd probably have been able to get, with a little time and patience, the Nanday and perhaps even the White-winged Parakeet as well.  It also seems like a boat trip out to Snake Bight would have netted you an American Flamingo, and if you got to enough McDonald's and Wal-Mart parking lots you'd have picked up a Common Myna in Florida City, just south of Homestead.

You'd be on your way up north by January 7th to get the Northern Lapwing, Tufted Duck, Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, Black-headed Gull and Common Pochard,(if you had not already bagged them prior to heading to Florida), before getting on a plane on Monday to head west for the Citrine Wagtail and Brambling in British Columbia and then down to California for the Brown Booby and Arctic Loon.

From there, probably by Wednesday of next week, you'd be heading to Arizona for the Rufous-capped Warbler and Ruddy Ground-dove.  You could spend the next week or so in Arizona and Texas and your year would have been off to an amazing start.  In addition to any regular local birds you'd count along the way, you'd have picked up at least 18 tougher birds you'd not have to think about the rest of 2013.

Oh, if only I new then what I know now.  Though, back in late December of 2012 I was already committed to California on January 7th and already had booked a trip to Florida for February and couldn't afford to change those plans had something rare shown up elsewhere.  And that is the main reason I did miss so many good rarities in my Big Year.  I didn't have the money or flexibility in scheduling to drop everything and chase what needed to be chased.  That will change when I do another Big Year.

Today, back here in good old Toronto, Sue and I went down to Colonel Sam Smith Park to find the Great Horned Owl I had seen the previous day.  No luck, but lots of ducks and I took more digiscope photos.  Yesterday's photos were done with my old iPhone 4S and this morning I made an adaptor for my iPhone 5 and it works pretty good too.  Afterward we went to Humber Bay East where we saw a beautiful Northern Pintail, my favourite duck.  It was so close I didn't need a scope to take the photos.

Later, at home I walked around the cemetery that my house backs on to, hoping for signs of our own owl, but it was dead in there.  So I contented myself with photos of a Downy Woodpecker and female Cardinal at my feeders.  Meanwhile I shall wait for some local rarities to show up and try and photograph birds I missed getting pictures of last year.  And hope some of those Florida rarities hang on until my next work trip down there.

The first three birds were very far off and the light was bad, as the sky was overcast, but if I needed a photo to identify an uncommon or rare bird I would be quite happy with the results.

The Cardinal at my feeder was somewhat closer, and this was taken through my kitchen window.

I was close enough to these two that no scope was needed:

I love the Northern Pintail!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

New Year, New Goals and a New iphone Digiscope Adapter for 2013

Welcome to the 2013 edition of my blog.  I still want to keep track of my progress in birding and it will be fun to look back on last year from time to time, and share any new adventures I hope to have this year.  Just a year ago, this week, I had spent a cold morning with a hardy group of birders in Puslinch for my first Ontario rarity, a female Mountain Bluebird.  One year ago

I am 5 days into my second year of birding and can't tell you exactly how many species I have seen, or remember the names of them all.  In some ways, that is a good thing.  It takes the pressure off.  In other ways, I am missing the list.  In 2013, though, I am just a birder.  I will try and chase any rarities that are within a short drive, and catch a look at the easy birds I missed last year.   I will make a point during the year to learn more species by sight and voice.

I have been out birding on 3 of the 5 days of the year so far and I have been able to do something I couldn't do 5 days into 2012, and that is recognize Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads and Goldeneyes, Scaups and Kestrels without aid of Sue or a field guide.   I spent today birding James Gardens and Colonel Sam Smith Park, seeing all of the above, plus a Great-horned Owl.

I created a brand new digi-scoping attachment for my iPhone, that is much improved from the juice bottle lid.  I found a small PVC plumbing thing that fits perfectly on my scope and was easily glued to my iphone case.  Another piece of PVC pipe works great with my regular digital camera.  I tested them both out today and I got the best results with the iphone adapter.  Pictures below.

So, my birding goals for this year are simple.  Become a better birder and try and add to my life list.  I missed a few easy birds in 2012 and could have used my time better to see birds such as the Kirtlands' Warbler in Michigan, say.  I also want to improve my photography skills and get a good flash, like some of the better photographers out there.  And of course, turning my 2012 blog in to a book, a roadmap/guide to birding in North America for the beginner.  

My posts this year won't be as frequent as in 2012, but I will be posting blogs and photos at least once a week, if not more often, as time permits.  

Here is my new iphone digiscoping setup

As seen through the scope

Cropped images