Sunday, 28 April 2013

Rough Weather, Rough Boarder Crossing, Easy Ruff

Last Wednesday I was in Buffalo for work, so decided to see if a Ruff was still hanging out in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge,(Still not sure the difference between a refuge, sanctuary, reserve and preserve).  By the time I arrived at the parking area it was windy and raining pretty hard.  But I had driven a long way for this bird and I wasn't about to give up on a Ruff because of rough weather.  There were other birds I could have seen too, such as a Wilson's Snipe, so I donned the rain gear and headed out with my scope only to get soaked and not see either of the birds I had hoped for.  I was glad I brought along a change of dry clothes and it felt good to get dry before heading home.

I stayed home and birded locally on Thursday, and while out at Tommy Thompson Park Wet woods, taking another look at the White-eyed Vireo, I got an RBA Buffalo bird report that the Ruff had been re-found around 10 miles from the original location, in a pond in the town of Shelby.  I made plans to head out the next morning and was making good time when the good folks at Homeland Security decided that something must be fishy when a lone man wants to cross into US territory just to photograph a bird.

Was I going to sell the photos?  How did I manage to get a day off?  How long would I be staying in the "Land of the Free?"  Crazy questions and I don't think I answered a single one to the boarder guard's satisfaction.  I had to pull up and go inside and be reexamined.  After about a 20 minute wait I answered all the same questions to the supervisor in charge of obsessive birders and luckily, he "likes the birds too," and after he searched my car, I was free to go.

45 minutes later I pulled up to the pond, behind a man who was just putting his scope in the car.  He had seen the Ruff not 5 minutes ago and I pulled out my scope and quickly found it and had ABA Life Bird number 603, my sixth lifer of the year.

Yesterday Sue and I went to Oshawa Second Marsh for the annual Little Gull Bird Viewing Extravaganza, and enjoyed Little Gulls and Bonapart's Gulls, Brown Thrashers and a House Wren.  Afterwards we went to Thickson Woods where we saw a Saw-Whet Owl, baby Great Horned Owl, Blue-headed Vireo and Black-throated Green Warbler.  After lunch I took Sue to Ashbridges Bay for the Eared Grebe and the Wet Woods at Tommy Thompson Park to find the White-eyed Vireo, but we no had luck in either location.  Still it was a great day out and we both added lots of birds to our year list.


Little Gull

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Ontario Lifers

I have not had any North American Lifers lately, though that could change if I get a Ruff tomorrow in New York State.  However, I have been out and about and found many good birds right here in Ontario, that I had not yet seen in the provence.  These include a Yellow-bellied Sapscuker, White-eyed Vireo, Marsh Wren and Pectoral Sandpiper.

The White-eyed Vireo has been showing quite well in Tommy Thompson Park here in Toronto, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made an appearance in Humber Arboretum, along with a late Bohemian Waxwing, the Pectoral Sandpiper was in a farmer's flooded field west of Toronto and the Marsh Wren did a song and dance in Colonel Sam Smith Park.

The weather hasn't always been the best, but it has shown signs of warming up of late.  This morning I got some nice looks at the Vireo with some other birders, and I was able to direct them to the spot I had found it the previous day.  Some other birders repaid the favour by directing me to a spot they had seen a Winter Wren, and I found and photographed it.  It took me until fall last year to find a Winter Wren.

So, birding has been more about seeing the birds than counting the numbers and it's been fun.  I'm also running into birders I met out in the field on almost a daily basis, and it's also fun renewing old acquaintances.

Friday, 12 April 2013

You Don't Always Get What You Want...

... but should be happy with what you see. For the most part.

I did get the Tufted Duck, but lost out on the lifer in Florida, the Swainson's Warbler, and left Florida on the same morning a Bahama Mockingbird was seen down in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Had it been seen and reported yesterday morning while I was birding in Fort DeSoto, I would have driven straight down and seen the bird by dinner time. Last year I'd have been frustrated at the missed opportunity. This year, I can look back on my day at Fort DeSoto with memories nearly as fond as the Fallout of 2012, last April.

There was a fallout of sorts. Birders were there in great numbers. I saw and birded with nearly as many birders as I saw species yesterday, and I saw at least 34, though I wasn't keeping strict track of them all, especially the shore birds, or the birders. However, by the end of the afternoon, I had seen male and female Hooded Warblers, a Loggerhead Shrike, a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds, an Orchard Oriole, two Prairie Warblers, heard the call of, and had a brief look at a Wormeating Warbler,(no photo), a White-eyed Vireo,(got my first photo of one), a Scarlet Tanager and best of all, a close up look at a Prothonotary Warbler, with lovey photos.

And now, I am in cold, rainy Lansing, Michican, with not too much on the birding radar here. Even the Barnacle Goose I had hoped to photograph while in Michigan is gone. Yes, you don't always get what you want, but when not doing a Big Year, it's nice to just be happy with what you see.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tough photos of the Tufted Duck

Today I got a second shot at a shot of a Tufted Duck on Johnson's Pond in Groveland, MA, just outside of Boston. Going back to last December, I staked out a female Tufted Duck, and watched it diving continuously, without having even a shot at a photo.

Today, I found the male Tufted Duck very quickly, at the east end of the pond, but again, it was moving amongst a group of Scaup, back and forth, feeding and diving, not staying in my scope and too far for my SLR to get a clear shot. It was Maryland all over again, except, the male is much easier to spot as it emerges from the Scaup from time to time.

I had been watching it for an hour, trying to get a photo, when a couple showed up looking for their lifer Tufted Duck. I told them I had just seen it, but they need a scope to re-find the bird amongst the Scaup. The man,(I never got either of their names), ran and got the scope from the car, but as he was setting up the scope, the 20 or so Scaup, for no discernible reason, took off and flew away. I could see they were nearly heartbroken, but a few moments later, the birds circled back, and about half a dozen of them landed very close by.

I quickly scoped them and by sheer luck the male and female Tufted Ducks were amongst them. The couple got their lifer, number 500 for him and 400 for her. A cool moment, as I know how it feels to lose and then find an "important bird," as the gentleman described it.

And I finally got my Tufted Duck photos. I may not be traveling and chasing nearly as much as last year, and birding is much more relaxed this year, but I do enjoy the occasional chase. Next, a trip to Florida where I hope to locate the Swainson's Warbler at Fort DeSoto, and then maybe get myself a photo of a Barnacle Goose in Michigan before heading home on Sunday.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Harris's Sparrow, and Birding with Old Friends

I had seen a post about the Harris's Sparrow a few weeks back when I was in Florida and figured there was no chance it would still be there when I returned and I had forgotten about it until yesterday's post on OntBirds, that it was still there.  It's a bird I didn't even have on my radar during my 2012 Big Year, as one of the few places I didn't get was the midwest during, where it makes it's way from north Texas, in the winter, to northern Canada in the summer.  This one overwintered here in Ontario and was still here as of a report yesterday.

I decided to head out there this morning and, in the cold, early spring morning, was able, with the help of a couple from New Westminster, find the bird perched atop a pine tree right next to the house and feeders it has been frequenting this past winter.   But more than finding the bird, which was 602 on my ABA Life List, was meeting birders I had seen elsewhere in Ontario over the past 15 months.  The first birders to arrive after I did, were Doug and Marilyn whom I had met nearly a year ago on the "sand road" at St. Williams Conservation Area, a section of the Bruce Trail near Longpoint.  We didn't find the Acadian Flycatcher we had come for that day, but had a good time looking.

Another gentleman arrived shortly after Marilyn and I found the Harris's Sparrow,(alas, husband Doug missed it), and though we had never introduced each other to the other, I recognized him from another chase last year.  Finally, Fred, whom I had met many times in Hamilton, dropped in on the party and said hello.

Getting back to the Harris's Sparrow, I saw it but did not get a photograph.  Now, I can't say this for certain, and it's only a theory that cannot be proven scientifically, but I am beginning to believe that some, hyper-sensitive birds, the ones that would score high on intelligence tests, say,(chickens that can play tic-tac-toe excluded), can somehow sense when a camera is about to be pointed at them.  Sure I have photographed many hundreds of birds, but they are just of average intelligence.  But there is a large handful of birds that, no matter how long they stay still while I have the binoculars on them, fly the nanosecond I reach for my camera.

And it was too cold and I had to eventually leave for work, so if the bird is still here a week from now, when I return from a work road trip,I shall return and and see if the Harris's Sparrow will pose for one good photo.

Aside from that, the folks on Ellis Rd have a nice selection of birds coming within sight of their front yard.  I don't often make day lists, but in about an hour I saw:

Harris's Sparrow, House Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Mallard, American Crow, Hairy Woodpecker, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow and unexpectedly, a flyover of a Great Blue Heron.

I am heading out on the road next week to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan, so hope to find at least one new lifer along the way.