Friday, 23 May 2014

2014 Spring Migration, Part 3: Migrating to Michigan

There are several reasons to travel to Michigan during Spring migration, the Kirtland's Warbler in Grayling, the Piping Plovers in Whitefish Point and plenty of National Wildlife Preserves to both walk and drive through.  We also had plans to go  Mackinac Island to both bird and ride horses, but an "emergency" work trip to Boston had us change plans midstream, so we only had time to do a few of our planned trips.

As was he case last year, we started at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, but it was much quieter there than last year and pretty chilly too.  However there were reports of. Yellow-headed Blackbirds,(my favorite of all the Blackbirds, baked in a pie or otherwise), Nayancuing Point SWA,(not sure what an SWA is-State Wildlife Area, perhaps), so we headed over there and enjoyed watching the Yellow-headed Blackbirds along with a nice variety of other birds, including a Swamp Sparrow, along with the calls of American Bitterns.

We were up early the next morning in Grayling to join the tour, with about 15 other birders to see the Kirtland's Warbler.  Last year we were on a tour with a record 40 birders, so 15 on a weekend seemed like a small group.  Sue and I were the only ones present for whom the Kirtland's wasn't a Lifer.  Last year we never got very close looks at a male, but this year the birds were singing and providing incredible looks and photo opportunities.  We even got our "year" Ruffed Grouse on the way there and a Vesper Sparrow upon our arrival.

Our next stop was Whitefish point, where I was treated to a juvenile Bald Eagle flyover before Sue and I were treated to a little warbler-fest in the woods, near where they do the owl banding.  The first night we attended the banding they did not catch any owls, but the following night we were treated to a Northern Saw-whet Owl banding.  That day we took a drive to Seney National Wildlife Preserve and drove the wildlife route, and visited the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi and second only to Niagara Falls, along the Mighty Tahquamenon River.

On our final morning we were treated to close looks at both Semipalmated and Piping Plover, along with a Horned Lark on the beach.  Afterwards we sat at the feeders where for the previous two days we were treated to hundreds, if not thousands of migrating Blue Jays, who were not quite ready to face the trek across the lake to Ontario.  I was hoping we would see the Lincoln's Sparrow that had been reported the previous day, and we did, but not before a strange brown-headed bird popped into my binocular view.  I had been thinking, the entire time we were in Whitefish Point that it would be cool if a Boreal Chickadee made an appearance.  Except this bird had a black spot on its cheek, and Sue said, it was no chickadee, but a sparrow.  I was trying to place it, when another birder asked if we had found the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  

Now I knew what I was looking at.  I had seen them at dusk in St. Louis during my Big Year, and just the day before I had asked Sue if she ever wanted to go there to see it and was having no part of taking a trip to St. Louis to see a sparrow.  Well, the birding gods were smiling upon us this morning, as we had a Eurasian Tree Sparrow just come to us.  It was a Lifer for Sue and species number 454 for my year.

Afterwards we had to face the long drive home, but did stop at Point Pelee for a couple of hours of birding on the final day of the Festival of Birds.  In fact, by that time we had the entire Woodland Trail to ourselves.  Sue was lucky enough to return the next day, while I headed I off to Boston, where I was 5 days late for a reported Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  I did enjoy morning birding in the Boston Victory Gardens, where in 2012 I was able to see a MacGilvary's Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Eurasian Tree Sparrow far from its St. Louis Home

The world famous Kirtland's Warbler

Piping Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Thursday, 15 May 2014

2014 Spring Migration Toronto Update

With a trip to Michigan coming up, I have still been birding in Toronto and when a Yellow-breasted Chat showed up at Ashbridges Bay Park, along the lake on the east side of the city I had to go.  My only other Chat was in 2012 in Henderson, Nevada.  I wanted this bird for both my Ontario and 2014 list, so off I went.

I, along with two ladies who, though not serious birders, were avid bird photographers, searched in along the chilly and damp west end of the park, finding a great number of warblers, including a Wilson's Warbler, and I enjoyed pointing out and identifying the birds for them as we searched.  After a while they came over to me with their camera so Donna could show me the bird they she had just photographed, for identification.  Wouldn't you know it, they found the Chat.  Along with two other birders, including my birding buddy David, we went looking for and found this Toronto rarity and got great looks along with photos.  

The next morning I was witness to a veritalble swarm of warblers in Col. Sam Smith Park.  It only lasted about 15 minutes, but myself and another birder were treated to quite a show, as at least a hundred birds flew from tree to tree above our heads.  It was a task to identify any of them, but I did get a look at nearly a dozen warblers, including both a Golden-winged and Worm-eating Warbler.  And once again, neither of the birds hung around for photos.

In about 2 hours at Col. Sam I saw the following list:

2 Canada Goose
12 Double-crested Cormorant
1 Osprey
1 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Philadelphia Vireo
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
4 Gray Catbird
1 Northern Mockingbird
6 European Starling
1 Golden-winged Warbler -- Well seen in bare tree in the "bowl". Gray wings with distinctive yellow "golden " wings
1 Orange-crowned Warbler
1 Northern Parula
6 Magnolia Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
6 Yellow-rumped Warbler
2 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Blackburnian Warbler
1 Palm Warbler
2 Bay-breasted Warbler
3 Black-and-white Warbler
2 American Redstart
1 Worm-eating Warbler -- Seen during a brief flurry of dozens of warblers moving through the "bowl". Distinctive black stripes on brownish head. Pale underparts
2 Canada Warbler
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Grasshopper Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Scarlet Tanager
2 Northern Cardinal
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
2 Indigo Bunting
12 Red-winged Blackbird
6 Common Grackle
4 Brown-headed Cowbird
2 Baltimore Oriole
1 House Sparrow

Over the past two weeks I have added a few birds to my Ontario Life List and over 20 to my Col. Sam list, which now stands at 139 in just over 28 months.

This morning on the way to work I tried for a Cerulian Warbler, but it began raining before I could locate it, even though at times I was sure it was calling.

Next stop Michigan and a return to Grayling and the Kirtland's Warbler, some horseback riding and visits to Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Provinical Park as spring migration winds down.

Yellow-breasted Chat:

A Beautiful Male Canada Warbler:

Magnolia Warblers have been in great abundance this year at Col. Sam Smith Park

A Marsh Wren no where near a marsh:

Sunday, 11 May 2014

2014 Spring Migration Birding, Part 2: Toronto

Well, a very specific part of Toronto, which is Colonel Samual Smith Park, along the shores of Lake Ontario.  Within Toronto it is the migration hot spot and every birder I've ever met birding in Ontario spends a considerable amount of time walking amongst the dogwoods, and meandering the fields and amongst the trees surrounding the "bowl" to the "little bowl."

It is there where we find a large portion of our spring warblers and sparrows, as well as catch up with birders who are returning to the outdoors, just as the birds are returning to their nesting grounds.  Col. Sam is one of the stopping grounds in southern Ontario and it's where those of us who are not in Point Pelee National Park can be found looking for the more elusive spring migrants.

Over the course of the past two weeks I've been able to add to my growing spring list of migrants, which I began in Florida last month.  The first birds were not warblers, but a nice collection of early migrants:

April 21 Northern Flicker
April 21 Brown Creeper
April 21 Red-necked Grebe
April 21 Common Tern
April 23 Warbling Vireo

I took time out to check out from Col. Sam from time to time to check out other Toronto area hots spots, including Oshawa Second Marsh for the Little Gulls, Bonapart's Gulls, a Cackling Goose and a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese.  Other good spots in the area are Thickson Woods,(Hermit Thrush), Tommy Thompson Park's Wet Woods,(Swainson's Thrush, Eastern Towhee), and James Gardens,(Wood Duck, Sharp-shinned Hawk).

Back in Col. Sam I picked up my first Orange-crowned Warbler for my Col. Sam List, with my birding pal, David.  I'm not sure which one of us is the more obsessed birder, but I am sure no two other birders have been to Col. Sam more than the two of us over the last 28 months.  With the addition of many new birds for my park list, I have now seen 136 different species in the park, up from 122 at the beginning of May, including a Common Raven, American Woodcock,  Clay-colored Sparrow and just yesterday a Blue-winged Warbler, the report of which seemed to atrract every birder in the park to the dogwoods for a look.

In addtion to species I've already seen this year, either in Florida or elsewhere in Ontario, I also added the following species in the past 11 days, all in Col. Sam:

May 1 Wood Thrush
May 1 Orange-crowned Warbler
May 1 Rusty Blackbird
May 5 Winter Wren
May 5 Brown Thrasher
May 5 Nashville Warbler
May 5 Blue-headed Vireo
May 5 Field Sparrow
May 5 Bobolink
May 6 Veery
May 7 Yellow Warbler
May 7 American Woodcock
May 9 Clay-colored Sparrow
May 9 Bay-breasted Warbler
May 10 Tennessee Warbler
May 10 Blue-winged Warbler
May 10 Magnolia Warbler
May 10 White-crowned Sparrow
May 11 Blackburnian Warbler
May 11 Chimney Swift

I may still pick up a new bird or two between now and Thursday, before work, but starting Friday I'll have a week off for birding with Sue in Ontario and Michigan, including another trek for the Kirtland's Warbler, and stops at Point Pelee and the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, where 12 months ago I finally succomed to my kidney stone pain and ended out migration trip with a trip to the emergency room.  I hope to not have the same luck this year.