Sunday, 20 October 2013

Same Bird Next Year

It was just about a year ago, on a very cold day early in November, when a bird alert hit my e-mail Inbox informing me of a Eurasian Wigeon in the waters off a place called Thickson Point.  I had never been there, and hadn't even known about it but I was doing a Big Year and I needed that bird.  It was my 552nd species of 2012.

This year,  a couple of days ago, in fact, a report of a Common Eider in the same spot, had me planning a morning trip back to Thickson Point, only to hear that the bird had not been relocated that morning.  No worries, as the Eurasian Wigeon,(very likely the same bird from 2012), had reappeard in the same place within a couple of weeks of it's previous visit.  So, off I went in search of both birds, yesterday morning.

I walked the cliff edges, just as I had last year, hoping not to fall to my certain doom, on what turned out to be a sunny, warm autumn morning.  I spent an hour looking for the Eider, a bird on my ABA life list from Massachusetts, but one that would have been nice for my growing Ontario list, but with no success.  Eventually I came to the spot where there be Wigeons, and over the next half hour scopped the bay off the point until a redhead with a mohawk sawm into my field of view.  And thanks to the perfect angle of the sun and its relatively close distance, I was able to get a few nice photographs.

I also returne to Fort Erie and got a look at the Brown Booby from the Canadian side of the boarder, so was able to add it to my Ontario list, and I did, finally, make it to Algonquin Park and found a small flock of Lapland Longspurs, which were quite tame and allowed me close access for some nice photos.  I also  got to feed Grey Jays while up there and enjoyed the nice fall colours as the leaves were just at their peak.  In between I've been out and about as we've had excellent weather for birding.

I'm off to Florida tomorrow, just on time as the weather is turning colder and wetter here, so the nice Florida weather should be good for birding when I have some free time down there.  For now, some photos from the past week since the excitement of seeing the Brown Booby, including Lapland Longspurs in Algonquin Park and the above mentioned Eurasian Wigeon.

 Lapland Longspur:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Gannets and Bobbies: Lifers Both

We here in Toronto, Ontario are not so lucky to have Northern Gannets drop by in our air space, and never would we expect to see a Brown Booby anywhere in Ontario.  I'd be more inclined to believe Big Foot had been spotted than to believe someone saw a Brown Booby thousands of miles north it's native lands.  It's even less likely than a Pink-footed Goose in Montana.

But in two days, I was treated to both.  Here in the Toronto area, and stretching between Presqu'ile Provincial Park and the Niagara area, a wayward Northern Gannet has been spotted several times in various locations.  I hadn't really been looking for it, as I've seen plenty in Newfoundland, New Jersey and Florida, though never in Ontario.  However, a fellow Toronto birder, whom I shall call Dave, since that's his name and I actually remember it, spotted at Colonel Sam Smith Park, which was on my way home from downtown, so I stopped in to see if it was still there.

As it turned out, both the Gannet and Dave were there.  Actually, when I arrived, I was on my own and was scanning the lake when David returned.  It was very windy, the lake was very choppy, but eventually Dave relocated it in a flock of Gulls, along with two other birders who showed up after getting an Ontbirds Alert, we got to watch the bird through our scopes for about a minute before they all went their separate ways.  It was an Ontario Lifer, number 254 for the provence, and my 18th new species for Ontario in 2013.

Then, yesterday afternoon, after finding the Gannet, I received a NARBA report of a Brown Booby being seen from both a pier in New York and a shore line in Ontario.  I was tempted to rush out right there and then, but a few things stopped me.  First, I wasn't trusting that a Brown Booby was possible this far north.  Secondly, I wouldn't have got there until after 6pm.  And most important, Sue would not have been very impressed with me skipping out on dinner for a very unlikely bird.  I had missed it both in 2012 on The Dry Tortugas and twice this year in Florida, including missing an easy look at Fort DeSoto, where the closest I got to seeing Brown Boobies was a woman with too much tan and too much cleavage.

Instead, I decided to put off for a day my trip to Algonquin Park and wait until morning to see if there was another report of the bird.  As it turned out, the Booby was seen on Tuesday morning and as soon as I could I drove out to Fort Erie and the Canadian shore line where it has been seen last night.  I arrived to a full parking lot and more than a dozen birders all scanning the lake, including the above mentioned Dave.  We looked and watched for about an hour without much luck, so I decided I was going to shuffle off to Buffalo, only a 20 minute drive across the lake to Erie Basin Marina, where it has been seen around 8:30 this morning.

The boarder crossing was quick and the directions provided by the GPS perfect and I arrived around 1pm to find half a dozen birders all up on the viewing platform scanning for the once in a life time Brown Booby on the shores of Lake Ontario.  We were about an hour in to our stakeout when I received an e-mail from OntBirds via Ron Ridout, that the bird flown in and landed on the pier.  I quickly alerted all present that the bird was on the break wall and within minutes, Andy Guthrie, who was standing next to me with his scope, spotted the Booby on the break wall and seconds later I had it in my scope.  Beautiful bird, about the size of the Cormorants, but with a bright white belly, yellow feet,(the first thing I noticed), and a long, thick, white beak.

Being on the US side made a huge difference.  We were about 3 times closer than those viewing from Ontario, and while the bird was facing us, had great views.  It wasn't like that the rest of the afternoon.  After giving us a good show, it lay down on it's belly and was blocked at times by a couple of Cormorants.  As the afternoon wore on, more and more birders arrived and at one point there were about 16 of us.  Many were having trouble seeing it because it was laying down, but eventually it stood up and everyone present finally got to see it.  It was a Lifer for most, including myself, and certainly a New York State first for everyone.  Just the 3rd or 4th New York record and the first on the Great Lakes.

It was a great afternoon.  There was great camaraderie and teamwork amongst us to make sure everyone got on the bird and lots of fun and stories shared about everyone's experience looking for and seeing,(or not seeing), Brown Boobies throughout their birding lives.  It was one of my favourite birding days and on par with the afternoon hunting for and finding the Pink-footed Goose in Pennsylvania last year.  It was also my 10th Lifer of 2013, giving me an ABA Life List of 607 in just over 21 month since I began this amazing birding adventure.

Tomorrow I shall once again try to get to Algonquin Park, unless a Pink-footed Goose or Big Foot is reported somewhere close by.

Photos were not easy to get, as the Booby was at the extreme range of both my 300mm DSLR lens and my iPhone's digi-scoping ability.

The Ontario Birders:

The New York Birders:

The Location from which I saw the Booby:

If you look closely in the middle of each of the following you will see the Booby's Big Beak:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Just a Little Fall Birding

In the absence of chase-able fall rarities, after another failed attempt at a Nelson's Sparrow in a marsh behind a housing development near Peterborough, this week, I birded at all the regular spots, including another trip to Coote's Paradise, where it was hot and dry and the path was a little more well defined.  No Nelson's Sparrow, but nice looks at a Northern Harrier hunting close to the ground.  That, and about a million Yellow-rumped Warblers, scattered around all the various birding spots I visited.  But there were also some other nice birds, including a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Redhead and Ruddy Ducks.  I also had a Cooper's Hawk pose for me just outside my front door on a light post.  Probably the same hawk that killed and ate a small bird in my backyard yesterday.

But the best bird of the week was seen this morning on at the end of a bird walk in Colonel Sam Smith Park.  We had seen a good number of species already, including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Wood Peewee, and were heading to the parking lot when Bruce, a regular birder in the park, who peddles around on his  bicycle with his birding scope strapped to the handlebars, stopped us to ask if we had seen the Bittern.

In fact, we had not.  Earlier, we might had been looking right at it, while watching a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron at the pond, without even seeing it.  Though to be fair they do hide well in the reeds.  In fact, while others were looking at the Heron and Shovelers, I had been scanning the reeds for signs of rails or other such wading birds.

After a slight detour at the wrong marsh, Sue and I headed back to the pond and Bruce directed our gaze toward the far side, where we did, indeed see an American Bittern.  The rest of the group eventually found us and we all got good looks through another birders scope, and a few good photos.  For a few it was a Lifer, and for me it was number 252 on my growing Ontario Life List.

Depending on the weather tomorrow, we may get some birding in, though it looks like rain at this point, and next week I plan trips to Algonquin Park and Amherst Island, amongst other fall birding hotspots.  Oh, and of course, Florida in a couple of weeks, too.

Here, now, are some of the birds I did enjoy this week:

I also saw a few non-birds: