Thursday, 28 November 2013

Algonquin Park: I'm Just Here for the Purple Finches

Well, I say that now, that I didn't see either a Spruce Grouse or a Black-backed Woodpecker, two of the boreal specialties Algonquin Park is known for.  But I really wanted to see Purple Finches this year and I had been thwarted at every turn each time I set out looking for these raspberry dipped cousins of the abundant House Finches.

So, having read Ron Tozer's report of them being seen up at the Visitor's Centre, off I went on Tuesday morning.  Long drive, but norhing like going to Chambly, Quebec.  But it is an enjoyable drive once you get out north of Barrie.  It was cold, but not too much so.

Once there, it took a while to see any birds at all, but I eventually saw a nice number of birds, including a Raven that flew about 5 feet in front of my nose across the Spruce Boardwalk, where, once again I could not locate a Spruce Grouse and once again almost got lost in the woods.  If not for my own footprints in the snow, like so many breadcrumbs, I might still be wondering lost in the woods.

Up at the Visitors Centre, I was rewarded, after about 10 minutes of standing in the cold on their outside viewing deck, with close looks at two male Purple Finches, along with their female counterparts.  Another addition to my Ontario Life List, too.  And eventually by the time I left after a self-service lunch of Beefaroni, I had seen Blue Jays that were acting like Woodpeckers, Evenening Grosbeaks, Downy and Harry Woodpeckers and a Chipping Sparrow or two.

And finally, on the Opeongo Road, where I was treated to Gray and Blue Jays and lots of Black-backed Chickadees, but only the calls of the Boreal Chickadee, I was able to watch, what I believe was a Mink, eating what I believe was some kind of crab.

Closer to home I birded at Humber Bay East and in the pond found three pairs of Common Goldeneyes and three sets of Long-tailed Ducks, which were nice and close and giving great looks.

There is a Lark Sparrow in Fort Erie, and I may go look at that today, if time allows.  It's on my Life List in three states and I have decided to go to Arizona after my Orlando trip this December, and it's likely I can see one there too, for my Small Year List.

We Shall see where the migrating wind blows me.

Friday, 22 November 2013

An Elegant Tern of Events

Here I was home from seeing the Ross's Gull and lamenting the lack of rarities being reported close to home.  No worries, as the Niagara River down by Fort Erie has come through time and again this fall.  Starting with the very oddly located Brown Booby, to the, King Eider, Little Gulls, Franklin's Gull and Red-throated Loon of the earlier in the week, we have now added, by all expert accounts at the moment, an Elegant Tern.

I had a very flexable work schedule on Thursday, so I took part of the day to run out to Fort Erie and view, along with a small hoard of other birders, the Tern on a break wall  across the river in Buffalo.  We had great scope views, but a photo from the Ontario side of the river was not effective.  Great find the other day by a New York birder, and one that will have birders flocking to Fort Erie and Buffalo once again, as they did for the Brown Booby, and have been doing for the Ross's Gull up  in Chambly.

I didn't have time to go and cross the boarder to get a better view and photo, but if the Tern is still there on Monday, I think I'll take the drive down.

The View From Niagara Parkway in Fort Erie:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gulls Gulls Gulls

It was a fast and intense 24 hours of birding from the Niagara River in Ontario to a frigid Sewage Lagoon in Chambly, Quebec.  It was fun and and exciting and at the end of the day added my 11th Life Bird of the year, a Ross's Gull.  It's a Code 3 on the ABA List, but a Code 5 for places like Quebec, where it is a rare visitor, indeed.

Day One, Of Little and Franklin's Gulls and an Eider not so Common:

The 24 hours of extreme,(well, let's just call it what it is, crazy), birding began with a trip to Niagara to see what had been reported as a Common Eider, another rarity for these parts, and a chance to see a Franklin's Gull on the river.  By the time I arrived, and was searching for the Eider, I got a report that the bird was actually properly identified as a hatch year King Eider, a bird I'd have not driven to Niagara to see.

I met up with fellow birder Andrew and together we tried to find the Eider but in the meantime found a couple of Little Gulls flying close to the shore and we had a merry chase trying to get good photos of this bird, that in the spring is only seen at a distance in Oshawa Second Marsh.  We had a ball running along the edge of the Niagara River, on a warm November afternoon, clicking off lots of photos and finally seeing one less than 15 feet in front of us.

Later we met up with Len, whom I have run into twice previously this past week, looking for Purple Sandpiper and Greater White-fronted Geese.  There are a few of us who just can't get enough birding and we just keep running into each other again and again all over Ontario.  We decided to spend our time, rather than obsessing about the Eider, trying to find Franklin's Gulls.  Again, we chased birds up and down the river and while chasing a group of gulls, Andrew found a Red-throated Loon, that had not yet completely molted into winter plumage.  My first of the year and also first where I actually got to see the red throat.  Very cool.

After photographing the Loon, Len spotted a Frankin's Gull and we chased it down the river until it settled into a group of Bonapart's Gulls on the river and we got to watch it and try to photograph it until it started getting too dark to see much of anything.  Until, low and behold, Andrew spotted the Eider flying back up the river.   Again, back into the cars and the chase was on again.  Finally, as it was getting too dark to bird for anything but owls, we got to watch the Eider and concluded it very likely was a King Eider.  The great thing was, had we not been chasing a Common Eider we might not have been there for great looks at Little Gull, Franklin's Gull and Red-throated Loon.

As we were packing up our scopes and tripods and cameras and binoculars, the subject of the Ross's Gull in Quebec came up.  The decision was made to leave that night for Quebec and try to see it the next morning.  I had been unsure if I was going to go for it, but my daughter lives in Kingston, and I wasn't about to let a couple of other birders get a bird on their list that I didn't have.  Damn competitive birding!

Day Two, Quest for The Pink Gull of the North:

I awoke at 4:45am.  I spent an evening at home, cooked dinner, and went to sleep at 11, hoping to wake a couple of hours later and get a very early start on the 6 hour + drive to Chambly.  Didn't work out that way.  I was still 90 minutes away when I contacted Len and Andrew on my iPhone and discovered they had already seen the Ross's Gull and were actually on their way back to Toronto.  Well, at least I knew the bird was there.

I arrived at the Boul Industreal Sewage Lagoons just before 11:30 Tuesday morning, shot right past it, as there is no sign marking it as such.  But the number of cars parked on the road next to and inside the gates glimpsed out of the corner of my eye as I drove by had me making a quick u-turn up the road to head back.  The New York license plate on the car parked in front of me clinched it.  I loaded up with my two cameras, scope and binoculars, not to mention putting on lined cargo pants over the pants I was wearing, a sweater under my warm fleece jacket, my LL Bean Snow Sneakers, mittens and ear muffs under my brown felt fedora.  I had to run back to the car for my hand warmers, not long after arriving.

When I got out of the car another birder was getting into his and he had photographed the Ross's Gull at 10:58am, according to his camera.  He showed me the photo so I'd know what to look for.  But, he said, it had flown off shortly after and hadn't been re-found.   Before I was even through the gate, two cars drove out and when I finally arrived atop the windy hill facing the lagoon, only four shivering birders remained.  One of them had already seen the bird, but a gentleman who had driven 8 hours from New York City had arrived at 11:02 and had missed it by a couple of minutes.

And so we stood and froze and shivered and waited and scanned the lagoon for nearly 2 hours.  There were dozens of Bonapart's Gulls, lots of Ring-billed Gulls and a small number of Mallards, but no Ross's Gull.  Eventually everyone but the New York fellow drifted off.  The two ladies who only spoke french and understood almost nothing of what I said to them, headed to Fort Chambly to look there.  Another fellow left for a hot coffee.  I should have done the same.  I went back to the car to warm up, returned, kept up the vigil and then the two of us decided that maybe going to the Fort was a good idea.

But by the time we got to the cars, other birders were returning, letting us know that not only was the Ross's Gull not there, it was even colder and windier at the fort.  No thanks.  I was already shivering  down to my bones.  I spent another 20 minutes, maybe,(time is blurred when you're standing in frigid winds), and once again went back to the car, after determining from talking to another birder that it would be nicer tomorrow and that maybe I'd spend the night and look in the morning.

Just as I was warming up and deciding to go get a coffee at the local Tim's, the first birder I met that morning returned to get another look.  I told him we hadn't seen it since he left, and just as I was about to decide to run for a coffee, we heard shouts from the top of the hill that indicated they had seen something not a Bonapart's or Ring-billed Gull.  We raced up to the top of the hill and in the far right corner of the pond was, yes, The Ross's Gull.  It had probably been hiding there the entire time laughing at us silly, shivering obsessives.

No worries.  We snapped off some photos, exchanged happy smiles, added a Lifer to our list,(in my case number 608 on the ABA list in less than 23 months).  We had finally seen he bird we had come to see, and it didn't take much less time than say, a trip to Churchill, Manitoba where, if lucky, you can see them easily on their breeding grounds.  Aside from rare visits to some areas of the north east of North America, no one is one hundred percent sure where they winter, but it is believed to be at sea.

The birds took off and the Ross's landed amongst the other gulls in pretty much the same spot we had been scoping the past three hours.  We all watched and snapped photos.  The French ladies returned, the guy from New York, who didn't even have a camera to take a photo, left and eventually I headed back to the car too.

Before I could pull away, another birder pulled up.  He was a fellow Ontario birder and I congratulated him on perfect timing as he would, with a little luck, not have to stand in the ever colder afternoon wind for hours to see it.  I walked him up to the spot, introduced him to all the birders I had met and who's names I had quickly forgotten,(I should write these down more often), got another look at the bird and finally, took my leave of them.

It was a fun, exciting and exhausting 24 hours of birding that was fun to reflect back on as I drove to Kingston to visit my daughter.  We had a nice visit, and I was back in bed in Toronto at 1:00 am,  I slept in a little today and was disappointed that there were not local rare birds being reported to chase.  Well, maybe I need a day off from birding to get some real work done.

Such is life :)

 Little Gull: 

 Red-throated Loon:

Just some of the birders I encountered searching for the Ross's Gull: 

  The Ross's Gull: (The little one in the foreground with the pinkish head)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Chasing Rare Ducks and Geese

And so the birding heats up as the fall weather cools down.  Finally having free time to go birding is fun.  And between now and when I head to Florida on December 8, I've got lots of time to bird around Toronto, Niagara and where ever else the fall winds blow.

After finding the Purple Sandpiper on Wednesday last week, I was still in search of the Harlequin Duck.  At least I only had to wait a day to locate this rare visitor to Southern Ontario.   I started the day in the west end of the city, looking for Purple Finches.  These birds, other than one viewing in Newfoundland last year, are my present nemesis species.  I see plenty of postings of Purple Finch sightings on e-bird, but never seem to be able to find them.

I began my search in Rhododendron Park where I found neither Rhododendrons or Purple Finches.  I did, however get a nice look at a Greater Black-backed Gull and yet another Brown Creeper.  It was a beautiful, sunny and not too cool morning and after finding every species but a Purple Finch, I headed over to Riverwood Conservancy to continue my search.  In vain, as it turned out.  But not before I found a particularly photogenic Red-tailed Hawk.

I decided to give up on searching for Purple Finches, in hopes that if I am not looking for them, one will land, sometime when I am not looking, on the tip of my nose.  It seems that way with the Brown Creepers I keep seeing.  So I headed back east to Colonel Samuel Smith Park to search for the Harlequin Duck again.  Harlequins spend most of the summer in western Canada, Alaska and Northern Quebec.  They winter along both the pacific and Atlantic coasts and occasionally stop by along the Great Lakes in Ontario.  Very rarely do we get one down in Col. Sam, so it was a good opportunity to add a second park rarity in a week.

I actually couldn't see it from Col. Sam so headed over to Rotary Park across the bay, where Sue had seen it a few days earlier, and pretty much in the same spot found it bobbing up and down in the surf, all by itself.  It wasn't close enough for my 300mm, lens to get a great shot, and it had its back turned to me, but I was able to get a good look through my binoculars.

Saturday I birded again around Col. Sam and was rewarded with another look at the Harlequin and the first American Wigeon I've seen this year in the park.  I think I'll start a Col. Sam list, since I bird there more than any other location in Toronto, and that includes James Gardens, which is just down the street from me.

This Sunday morning was a chase of a different sort.  Wild Goose, to be exact.  Though not rare in Alaska in the Summer,(I saw many in June of 2012), and a fall migrant through the west and Midwest, a Greater White-fronted Goose in southern Ontario is cause for a chase.  David, one of my birding buddies and a friend spotted 4 of them this morning in a lake in the small village of Hillsburgh, an hour north and west of my Etobicoke home.  I decided, after breakfast, to go and chase it.  Halfway there I learnt that it had flown south shortly before I set out to find it.  No matter, I continued on anyway in hopes it would return to the lake after a good lunch in a cornfield, say.

When arrived at the lake there were a few birders present, but no goose.  Well, there were geese, hundreds of Canada Geese, but none of White-fronted variety.  I hung around for a while, then decided to go off in search of the geese in other bodies of water in the area and see what other birds I might spy.  I didn't find a recently seen Northern Shrike, but did find a pond with about a dozen Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.  I stopped by the lake again and ran into Albert, whom I have run into a number of times in a few different birding hot spots over the last two years.  He's chased this bird in Ontario a number of times without finding it, and wasn't going to leave today until he saw the bird or darkness descended upon him.

He had missed the one in Whitby Harbour I had seen in February of 2012, but had seen many of them outside Ontario.  I hung out for an hour and we chatted and swapped birding tales.  Around 1:30 I decided to run out and get some lunch and check a few other nearby locations for the geese.  I should have stayed another 10 minutes, because around 1:40 the birds swooped in.  Two other birders had returned to catch the arrival while I was running the roads in search of a sandwich and coffee.  I actually did find a wonderful little bakery cafe where they made me a nice ham and cheese to go, which I ate in the car on my way back to the pond.

And when I returned, I was greeted with the news that the goose chase was over and the Greater White-fronted Geese were indeed in the pond.  It took a few moments to locate them in my scope, but, yes indeed, there they were.  Compared to our Canada Geese, these birds are veritable runway models, with their orange beaks and svelt brown plumage.  Albert, Helena, Elias and I watched them for about an hour, reported them on OntBirds, and eventually packed up our cameras and scopes and headed out, hoping others who came behind us were also able to get a look at yet another rare visitor to Ontario.

Tomorrow, perhaps, if the weather is good, I shall head to Fort Erie yet again.  This time the hunt will be for a Common Eider and perhaps a look at the still present Franklin's Gull, both of which, though not lifers, would add to my slowly growning Ontario List.  And, if time allows this week and the bird is still present, off to Quebec on a seven hour chase for a Ross's Gull.  That would be a Lifer.


And Here, now the Greater White-fronted Geese, along with photos from earlier in the week:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Enough of this Work Stuff: Back to Birding!

Okay, for 10 straight days I was busy with work things and now I am free.  Of course, I also have a cold, so it's not as much fun with a stuffed up head.  At least it's not a Big Year.  Last year during a similar 10 day work stretch I was only able to add a Eurasion Wigeon to the list.  This past week I kept looking for and missing a Purple Sandpiper and Harliquin Duck close to home in Col. Sam Smith Park, but I only had half an hour on the way downtown each morning to look.  I did, however, find have a rare Mink sighting, and not one of the fur coat variety, but the real thing.

The last few days I have had time to look and still it took me until this morning until I finally found the Purple Sandpiper at the very southmost tip of what is called Whimbrel Point in Col. Sam.  This is the spot that, in the spring, a number of dedicated birders watch for and count Whimbrel's during migration.

Today, after a short search, I found a lone Purple Sandpiper, got some nice photos and just as quickly lost it.  I did, however, see and hear an American Pipit as I was trying to find the sandpiper.  Just after I got some photos of the Pipit, it also vanished, just on time for a number of other birders, a few of whom I have run into many times in this very park, showed up.  I told them of the two birds and soon the Purple Sandpiper was relocated on the eastern side of the point.  For about 10 minutes we all watched and at that point I decided to head over to the other side of the park to try and find the Harliquen Duck.  Sue found and photographed it on the weekend, but once again it eluded me.  We think it's the same duck that we saw in the spring, as a juvinile.

No matter, it's good to be out and about again, and in addition to Col. Sam, I've also been to James Gardens, where the winter bird feeder has mysteriously returned and also to Humber Bay East, where it's always duck watching season.


Winter Plumage Horned Grebe:

  Black-capped Chickadee at the James Gardens Feeder:

 Suet Eating Downy Woodpecker:

 A Rare sighting in these parts, A Purple Sandpiper:

 A not so rare American Pipit:

 Hooded Mergansers, Male, (top) and Female, at Humber Bay East:

 Red-breasted Mergansers:

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Florida Fotos and Some Birding Back Home

I have been birding.  Not as much as I'd like, as work seems to take a chunk of my time, which I can't complain about.  But being in Florida for work does get me to places and birds I'd never see in Ontario on a regular basis.  This trip wasn't stricktly birding, as I also went to Epcot for their annual Wine and Food Festival, which is great, as you eat and drink your way around the world.

This fall I didn't do my regular visit to south Florida, but instead headed to Northern Florida for a change of scenery.  I hoped for a Brown-headed Nuthatch, but had to settle for a lot of Carolina Chickadees.  I also birded in the Orlando area since I was going to Epcot anyway.  All in all a good trip, except for one day in particular, when I couldn't for the life of me take a good photo.  Nintey perscent of my photos up in the Osceola National Forest were out of focus, because those damn birds were too flighty, wouldn't sit still, were blocked by branches or were in the shade.  This is the reason that people who have birded for years should not take up photography, as it will only drive you crazy.  However, I was treated to a great show of Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Tit-mice,(mouses?) and a great variety of Sparrows, from Field to White-throated.

The next day I did a little better and enjoyed a wide variety of birds in very different habitats than I am used to seeing in south Florida.  I returned to Toronto to enjoy birding in Colonel Sam Smith Park and the Nonquon Sewage Lagoons, where I saw a Hudsonian Godwit with Bob Cummings, whom I run into in Col. Sam from time to time, and then, later, with Geoff Carpenter, saw and photographed,(badly), a Wilson's Snipe.  It was fun to finally meet Geoff, as we have communicated by e-mail many times over the last 22 months.

Birding will be limited because of work the next week, but later in November hope to travel up north a bit and then in December, back down south to finish off the year in Florida and then up in New Jersey, for a second year-end try for a Dovekie.

Bald Eagle:

Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Eastern Bluebird:

Golden-crowned Kinglet:

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks,(I could hear them whistling):

Brown Creeper:

Odd Semi-leicistic House Sparrow,(on the right), in my back yard:

Pectoral Sandpiper:

Wilson's Snipe:

Trumpeter Swans: