Sunday, 9 December 2018

Adding to the Life List, Both in Ontario and the ABA

It has been hard to add new birds to the year and or Life List, since going into the hospital for surgery and recovering over the past 4 weeks or so.  But I I have discovered, from the updated ABA Checklist, that I have two new ABA Life Birds.  In February of 2017 I drove to over 6 hours to Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania for a Black-backed Oriole.  It was a fun trip and the bird did not disappoint, though we had to view it from across the street in a neighbors driveway.  

This past February I flew to New Brunswick and drove to Miramichi to see a just as rare, Mistle Thrush and again the bird put on a great show, especially in the morning sun on my second day there.  Both were great birds for the Life List, but neither was on the ABA List at the time.  Well, low and behold, the latest update has both birds as accepted species in the ABA area.  So without flying or driving a mile, I have jumped from 674 to 676 and now only 24 species away from the joining the 700 Club.

Here in Ontario, I have had the good fortune to have a very rare for Canada, Great Kiskadee re-emerge from hiding and give me a new Ontario bird to chase.  Back when it was being seen on a regular basis, I was suffering from a nerve issue in my spine and couldn’t drive the 3 hours to Rondeau Provincial Park to see it.  But five weeks post surgery, the bird was seen again and I was ready to drive to add species 323 to my Ontario Life List.

And now begins one of my final trips of the year, to the annual Baseball Winter Meetings, this time in Las Vegas.  Back when the Jays had a team in Nevada in 2012, I was doing a Big year and I was able to do a lot of birding area, including the amazing Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. I will return there and in addition drive up to Utah, to add another state to my eBird List, and hopefully a Lifer or two.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

A Calliope Hummingbird comes to Goderich

Well, of all the rare bird alerts I might have hoped for in the final weeks of the year, a western hummingbird was not even close to being on the radar.  This little guy, an immature male from out west, where I have seen them in Arizona and California, went off the radar himself and instead of flying south to Mexico ended up on the shores of Lake Huron, in the backyard of a home in Goderich.  This is the first ever Ontario record of Calliope Hummingbird and I was finally recovered enough from surgery on my spine to make the two-and-a-half hour drive from Toronto to see this rare event and add another Ontario Lifer.

This all began the previous evening when Glenn Coady, a respected birder here in Ontario reported it on the OntBirds rare bird alert.  This bird had been coming to the feeders of homeowner Linda, along with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird for some time before it was identified and vetted by several North American bird experts.  Glenn Coady was able to negotiate a week-long viewing window, so the next morning I was up early and made the drive up to Goderich, arriving long after many of the local birders I know from Toronto were already present in the backyard, amongst the crowd, marvelling at this little wonder from out west.

The homeowners were nice enough to open their backyard to Ontario birders, even putting out welcome balloons so we could find our way in:

The Star of the Show, Calliope Hummingbird, #322 for Ontario:

With all the interesting birds that have shown up over the last few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if another rare bird or two appears on the radar of Ontario birders before the end of the year.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Fall Migration Part Three: Post Surgery, the Birding is Easy and the Rarities are Plentiful

I was barely out of the hospital 24 hours when a huge Ontario Bird Alert went out that a Black-throated Gray Warbler was being seen in LaSalle Marina in Burlington, an hour down the road from Toronto.  Not a Lifer, as I had seen them in Arizona in the past, but this would be an Ontario Lifer and would be a Lifer for most local birders, for sure. This was definitely a stakeout as it took nearly 90 minutes before it turned up, and considering I had surgery only days before, I was fading fast when it finally appeared.  I'm sure it was very tired from its flight across North America from, perhaps, British Columbia to Burlington, likely lost on his way to Mexico for the winter.

#320 for Ontario, Black-throated Gray Warbler:


Keeping with the continuing fall theme of rarities, yet another rare bird showed up in Toronto,(but again, not CSSP-rats!), a female Common Eider.  She was not quite so lost as these birds can pass over Lake Ontario on their way to wintering along the east coast of North America.

#321 For Ontario, Common Eider:


Finally, a rare bird showed up in Colonel Sam again.  This time, of all things, a Boreal Chickadee.  For the past seven years, I have closely examined chickadees in the park hoping to one day see one south of Algonquin Park.  Well, that day finally arrived.  After a few of us heard that another birder had thought she heard one, but did not see it, a few of us looked the next day and it was found by David, one of my Col. Sam birding buddies.  We chased it around the park and eventually caught up with it in several locations and I was lucky enough to get photos.  And if that wasn't enough, as we were watching the chickadee, a juvenile Northern Goshawk flew over and I even got photos of that bird.  Both were new additions to my Col. Sam Life List.

#220: Boreal Chickadee:

# 211: Northern Goshawk:

And just when I thought there could be no more rare birds around, I heard of a female Hooded Warbler out in Oakville at Sedgewick Park, where it always seems to be good for fall warblers.  I had only heard one this year in Backus Woods, so decided to take the drive out for one more late warbler.


I have hopes of adding one or two more warbler species in 2018 when I venture south to Nevada and Utah in December.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Fall Migration Part Two: The Rarities Continue in CSSP

It has been a good year for rare birds showing up in Colonel Sam Smith Park.  I consider it my local patch since I bird in the park more than any other location, having seen over 160 species there this year.  And I will jump at any chance to add to my CSSP Life List.  I had already added 14 species this year, including the Dickcissel, a Northern Harrier, Surf Scoter and Merlin before heading off to New Jersey, only to hear of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the park on the day I returned.

#212 Yellow-billed Cuckoo:

Over the past couple of weeks, I have continued to add, not just park Lifers, but Ontario Lifers as well.  It's been another exciting late fall migration in the greater Toronto area.  A few days after the Cuckoo, I was informed of a Wilson's Snipe on the mudflats in the pond, just south of the observation deck.  Cool.  Another bird for my CSSP List.  I traded this one for the Northern Shrike I seen only minutes earlier.

Northern Shrike, a definite "early bird:"

#213 Wilson's Snipe:

The CSSP Lifers kept on coming.  Less than a week later after getting a good look at a White-rumped Sandpiper, I found a Pine Siskin and then another birder asked if I could help with an identification of a shorebird, right where the snipe had been and it turned out to be a Pectoral Sandpiper.

                                 White-rumped Sandpiper:

# 214 Pine Siskin:

#215 Pectoral Sandpiper:

The very next day we had a Parasitic Jaeger come close to shore and on land the mythical bird of CSSP, a Nelson's Sparrow.  Both are notoriously difficult to photograph.  Normally I don't "sea watch" from Whimbrel Point to see distant sea birds, but this jaeger came in so close I was able to snap a few photos and it was yet another new bird for my park list.  The Nelson's Sparrow was a bird I had always felt should be here in the fall, but have never seen.  Finally that same afternoon, I saw my first for the park, after hearing about it the previous day.

#216 Parasitic Jaeger:

#217 Nelson's Sparrow:

On the way out of the park I was treated to a Long-eared Owl:

The last bird of the month was a Bonapart's Gull, just after missing a bird that would have been another park first, a Little Gull.  It was also the last bird I would see out in the field for a week, as after I took the photo my phone rang and I was ordered to report to the hospital for yet another spinal surgery.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Fall Migration Part One: From Toronto to Florida to Cape May, New Jersey

My chasing of confusing fall warblers and other rarities came to an end with a brief hospital stay to fix an issue with a previous spinal operation, but it was fun while it lasted.  I have chased a few rarities and survived much travel, to Florida and Cape May with a week of birding in what they say is the capital of fall migration.  Back home in Toronto, I spent most of the migration season in either Humber Bay East or Colonel Sam Smith Park.  Both have been great for fall migrants and I have added many new birds to my Col Sam Life List, finally passing 200 earlier this year.

Toronto, September 1-26:

Neotropic Cormorants, American Redstart, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwings, a Pied-billed Grebe and a hungry Gray Catbird:

Florida, September 27-30:

I had hoped to find an Elegant Tern, which is rare in Florida, and would have added to my Florida Life List, but was unable to find it on a beach full of terns.  Lots of other waterfowl though, and one very cute raccoon.

Toronto, October 1-6:

I returned to Toronto just on time to not miss another rarity in Colonel Sam Smith Park, a late migrating and wayward Dickcissel, that I had heard about while still in Florida.  I had seen Dickcissels in Ontario before, and this year in Michigan, but I raced to the park upon returning home to add yet another CSSP Lifer, number 209 for the Park List.  I also added Surf Scoter, Northern Harrier and Merlin, giving me 14 new species I've added this year in this amazing park.

New Jersey, October 7-13:

Upon arriving in Cape May, NJ our first stop was for a Eurasian Wigeon at one of the many Hot Spots in the area known as The Meadows.  As my back was getting worse, the walks became slower and more difficult, but we made it out to the pond along a path that leads to the State Park, for this rarity:

We next took a Back Bay Boat Ride with a  very knowledgeable New Jersey Audubon Guide and that was full of a wide variety of water birds, including Red Knots, Brants, and even a Great Cormorant.  Along the way, the thrill of the day was seeing Nelson's, Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows all atop the marsh reeds at the same time.

The next morning we were treated to a Parasitic Jaeger show on one of the many morning bird walks that the New Jersey Audubon runs every day during fall migration.  At one of the sea watch platforms, we saw the jaegers harassing gulls, with the jaegers coming in very close to shore.

There was always something going on at the Cape May Point State Park Hawkwatch platform, and not always were they hawks.  We arrived one afternoon to see that some Snow Geese had arrived.  Thousands spend the winter at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge just north of Cape May.

And there were shores full of shorebirds everywhere we went:

The trip ended with lots of land birds, on land, in the trees, in the skies and Sue rescuing my hat on a blustery day on the boardwalk:

We never did see any rarities after the Eurasian Wigeon, but we had a wonderful time and we will return again, perhaps in the spring, to see the amazing Red Knot migration!