Thursday 28 February 2013

Some Recent Birding - Raptors and Waterfowl

     It's been a few days since I last posted, but that certainly does not mean that I have not been birding! Oh, where to begin...
     On Sunday February 24, I was told about a couple of Trumpeter Swans hanging around at Lake View Park Marina in East Windsor, so my girlfriend Nadia and I picked up one of my best friends, Chris (I have been successfully pushing him into birding recently =D), and we headed to Windsor. On the highway from Leamington to Windsor, we counted 23 Red-tailed Hawks! That's a new personal record for a drive across the county! We stopped at Ojibway Park, hoping to give Chris and Nadia their first good views of a Northern Shrike, but we 'shriked out' as my friend Dwayne says when he does not find a shrike. In its place, quite literally in the exact same place as I expected to see the shrike, was an American Kestrel, who kindly gave us great close views before flying off to find his next victim. I say 'his' because he is a male, identifiable by the extensive blue colour on his wings. If it was a female, it would be mostly orange-red in colour. To the left of this paragraph is a video I captured of the American Kestrel taking off and flying away, along with a photo below from today of him holding a rather large Meadow Vole(this prey probably weighs over half of the kestrel's weight!):

     We made our way to Lake View Park Marina and the Trumpeter Swans were about as close to us as possible, which was awesome! There were many great birds there like usual, including many Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Common and Hooded Mergansers, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Greater Scaup, a few Lesser Scaup, and a Ruddy Duck! I love this location because there are always many birds to be seen, and I think diving ducks are great. Here is a short video of one of the Trumpeter Swans. Can you tell why it's called a trumpeter?

     Thank you for reading, and happy birding!


Saturday 23 February 2013

Paul Pratt's Group Birding Trip - February 23

     This morning I met up with about ten birding friends at Hillman Marsh for one of Paul Pratt's winter birding tours, the last one until spring time. Like usual with these trips, we saw many awesome birds, as well as a bunch of White-tailed Deer and a Coyote, which is always a nice treat. Upon entering the parking lot of Hillman Marsh, I spotted an American Robin flying overhead, one of few that I have seen lately. We walked part of the trail and came up with a variety of winter songbirds, including many Horned Larks and Snow Buntings, and 2 Red-winged Blackbirds, among others. Then we went to the Southeast corner of the marsh and viewed 6 Greater White-fronted Geese, one Cackling Goose, and some early migrant Northern Pintails among the Canada Geese. I am really enjoying the fact that viewing either of these goose species is becoming a regular occurrence in this area! Who knows how long they will stay here or when we will have such opportunities to see them here again. We also watched 2 Glaucous Gulls fly past over the lake. They are awesome gulls with their very light-coloured plumage and impressive size!

     At this point I picked up my girlfriend Nadia from my place and we all headed out to Woodslee to our friend Janet's house for lunch. On the way, +Kory Renaud spotted a Snowy Owl in a field which was a great unexpected treat. At Janet's house we had a great lunch and got re-energized for an afternoon of birding, then headed outside to look at both species of nuthatch and the many sparrows, American Goldfinches, House Finches, and Pine Siskin that make a living off her bird feeders through the winter, as well as a very illusive Long-eared Owl hiding up in a tree (photo on right). The Pine Siskin (photo above, taken by my girlfriend Nadia) were my hilight of the birds in Janet's yard, as this was my first time getting a good look at them. Janet also directed us to what appears to be a fully leucistic (all-white feathers with a dark eye, so not exactly but similar to albino) Red-tailed Hawk! Wow, I was nearly speechless when I saw it. I did not expect to see one of these in my first year of birding!

     Heading out of Woodslee we spotted 2 American Kestrels, a group of about 10 Wild Turkey, and we helped our friend Dwayne relocate the Snowy Owl. Nadia and I stopped at my dad's house, where he surprised me with a pretty cool rain jacket to wear in the spring! Before dark we took a trip to a known winter hunting ground for Short-eared Owls but did not see any. This was my third time looking for them since New Year's so it is starting to seem likely that they moved on. Oh well, we still had fun watching some Horned Lark sing away close by. Here is a short video clip of a Horned Lark singing:

     Like usual, today was another wonderful day of birding, thanks to great birds and great people to share them with. Thank you for reading! Happy birding!


Friday 22 February 2013

Greater White-fronted Geese at Hillman Marsh!

     Today girlfriend Nadia and I took a trip to Hillman Marsh Conservation Area in Leamington, where I have been seeing some interesting geese lately, including Greater White-fronted Geese (normally found in Western Canada, but small groups of usually 1-4 show up in Ontario during winter), Cackling Geese, 1 mostly white Snow Goose, and 2 white Ross's Geese. Today, like usual, Hillman Marsh was once again very generous to our birding appetite. On our last visit here we checked out the Couture Dyke path and found open water, 2 Cackling Geese, and 19 Greater White-fronted Geese, so naturally this was the path we chose today.

     The drive from Windsor hinted at good birding to come today, as we saw 17 Red-tailed Hawks and 2 American Kestrels! We keep a 'high score' of the most hawks we have ever seen between Windsor and Leamington, and this trumped our previous record of 15.

     Just before turning into the parking area for the Couture Dyke, we spotted a rather close Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree (I never get bored of seeing these beautiful buteos)and an adult Bald Eagle flew pretty low over the road. We walked about a kilometre out on the trail and were in pretty good viewing range of the geese on the open water in the marsh. There were very few geese here, but we spotted about 6 Redhead ducks, a couple Gadwall, a bunch of American Black Ducks, and an American Coot among the Mallards and Canada Geese. Since we walked all that way and could hear thousands of geese in nearby fields, we waited, and sure enough they came. We ended up seeing a total of 27 Greater White-fronted Geese tonight, and possibly more because we could not keep track of who was coming and going.  Above is a particularly sharp photo of the Greater White-fronted Geese that Nadia captured, and below is a short video of them on the frozen marsh:
     We were so caught up in watching the Greater White-fronted Geese that we did not take many photos. Sometimes a camera just cannot capture an experience the way a memory can. We also saw two American Robins and heard a few Red-winged Blackbirds (They are both surprisingly scarce in winter. I have only seen a handful of each since New Year's until the last week or so) on our walk back, and a surprise view of a Long-eared Owl hunting (It flew right in front of us while driving past the marsh!). Here is a photo I captured of a Long-Eared Owl at the same location about a month ago:
Tomorrow morning will be one of Paul Pratt's group birding trips, to Hillman Marsh. That should be exciting, as I have not walked the main path in a while. Maybe we will find some early spring migrants! I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on today's adventure.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Birding in Windsor - Feb. 21

     Today I spent a few hours at Ojibway Park in Lasalle, near Windsor. This is one of the main areas I bird watch, as I visit this park at least a few days per week, rain, snow, or shine. It was pretty sunny all day, making for great photography opportunities, and naturally, I took full advantage of this. I started at the Ojibway Prairie Heritage Forest (across the street from Ojibway Park Nature Centre) and got very close to singing Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, a Carolina Wren, and a Red-winged Blackbird; so close in fact that I took video of a few birds singing away. Singing birds are surely a sign of spring coming, finally! It was so refreshing that I sat down on a camping chair and watched/listened for a while. To the right is a video of a Northern Cardinal singing and below is a photo of a Carolina Wren:

     I then took a short drive to the West side of the Ojibway Tallgrass Prairie Reserve, where I have been seeing a Northern Shrike (first found by Brad Hamel on my birthday, December 10), and found it across the street, hunting from some abandoned hydro lines behind the closed Windsor Raceway. I watched it dive down a number of times, but like usual, return empty-handed. I know it is successfully hunting in the area because it has stayed for over 2 months, and a friend of mine saw it `butcher` a small rodent. The Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, is a species of songbird that evolved into a predator, so it cannot use powerful talons the way that raptors and owls do.  After making a kill using only its beak, it impales its dead prey on a barb or thorn to be tenderized by the sun for easy dismemberment and eating later on. Thus, the Northern Shrike is nicknamed `The Butcher Bird` because of the way it 'butchers' its meal. Sure, at first thought this seems disgusting, but isn`t the this bird's food preparation closer to our own food prep than any animal you know of? The Northern Shrike is probably my favourite species of bird because of its unique and intelligent method of hunting and eating! I captured some pretty interesting video of the shrike looking for prey and taking off from its perch.  Also, I am pretty sure that I saw one of the local pairs of Red-tailed Hawks copulate today. They were far away so it is tough to say for sure, especially since copulation only takes seconds and I am not sure if it is late enough into the season yet, but they sure seemed to 'land' in the way that songbirds do when they copulate. "Get a room you two!"

     My third stop in the Ojibway Park Complex was at the main woods and visitor centre, where I routinely check the feeders for birds. There was nothing particularly noteworthy (although I love looking at any/all birds) so I ventured into the forest, where I saw an Eastern Screech Owl in a known tree that usually houses it for the spring. This was nice because it was only my second time this year seeing it there. Here is a photo I captured today of the owl:

     Call me crazy, but I tried something today that many would call extreme: I went for a walk barefoot! Ah, it was only a few degrees below zero and it was only about 500m of walking haha. I did this a number of times in the summer and fall, but figured my coat, sweaters, and four pairs of pants would keep me warm enough, and they did! It was a rather comfortable walk actually. The only uncomfortable part was walking through puddles and muddy gravel right at the end. I hear 'barefoot backpacking' is a growing trend in hiking, so I figured I'd join in. I really felt more connected to the forest while walking barefoot (okay, so maybe I'm a bit of a nature-hippy, but I'm a birder! Aren't we all sort-of hippies and/or geeks in our own way?).

     I left Ojibway and picked up Nadia, my girlfriend, and we went birding along the Detroit River in Windsor. We stopped at our favourite viewing spot downtown by Casino Windsor, Alexander Park, Reaume Park, Abars Bar, and Lake View Park Marina. Between the first two stops, we tallied 5 Glaucous Gulls, which we normally do not see at all on the Detroit River! For the most part, each of these locations had Canada Geese, Mallards, a variety of diving ducks, and of course, Bald Eagles! Today we counted 32 Bald Eagles all visible at once from Lake View Marina, which beats my high score last week of 31! There were also a number of Mute Swans and Great Blue Herons at this location, and we watched a Red Fox run around on the ice on Peche Island, which is always a nice treat. I was hoping we would get to watch the local Peregrine Falcons put on a show like they did yesterday at Lake View Marina, but we did not see them today.  The photo shows 2 male and 1 female Hooded Merganser:

     Overall, it was a fantastic day of birding, like usual!

Birding This Weekend - First ever overnight birding trip!

     Hi, and welcome to my blog! Seeing as this is my first ever blog post, I figure I'll write about my first ever overnight birding adventure a few days ago! I've been birding every day in Essex County since I started last year, but this weekend I visited my friend +Josh Vandermeulen in Cambridge (many thanks to him and his family for letting me stay there) and we did a heck of a lot of birding (and driving) between Sunday, Feb. 17 and Monday, Feb. 18, adding a total of 10 species to my life list!
     On Sunday, I met up with Josh in the morning and we headed to Niagara then Hamilton, where we stopped at a number of great birding hot spots. I particularly loved seeing the male breeding plumage King Eider, hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks, high numbers of white northern gulls and thousands of gulls in general (even though most were too far away to identify). I heard Niagara Falls is one of the best places in North America to view gulls, and I quickly found out why!

Hilights, divided by location (bold font are new to my life list):

Sunday, February 17:

1. Niagara - Port Weller East Pier
  Red-shouldered Hawk - 1
  King Eider - 1
  Double-crested Cormorant - 73

2. Niagara - Dufferin Islands
  California Gull! - 1
  Iceland Gull - 2
  Belted Kingfisher - 1
  gulls - 3000+

3. Niagara Falls - Adam Beck Power Station (this spot is neat because it gives viewers a chance to look down at the top side of gulls flying!)
  Glaucous Gull - 1
  Iceland Gull - 6
  Thayer's Gull - 1

4. Niagara - Queenston
  Turkey Vultures - 4 flying over landfill in Lewiston, NY, visible from Queenston Heights
  Long-tailed Ducks - 200+  (photo on right)
  Bonaparte's Gull - 100+
  Glaucous Gull - 15+
  Iceland Gull - 30+
  gulls - 4000+

5. Niagara - St. Catherine's - 5th Ave.
  Snowy Owl - 1 (very white plumage: adult male. I unsuccessfully spent many hours looking for these in Essex & Kent Counties) Here is a photo:

6. Hamilton - Red Hill Creek
  Black-crowned Night-heron - 4
  Ruddy Duck - 1
  ducks - 10 different species!

Monday, February 18:

1. Durham - Kendal - Langstaff Rd.
  Townsend's Solitaire - 1
  Pileated Woodpecker - 1
  Evening Grosbeak - 8

2. Northumberland - Garden Hill - Hwy 9
  Trumpeter Swan - 4  (Photo on right)

3. Durham - Pickering - Frenchman's Bay
  Snow Goose - 2 (1 'Blue Goose' and 1 first-year)
  Snowy Owl - 1 (heavily barred: probably young female. Very different from yesterday's. Photo below, being mobbed by an American Crow)
  Trumpeter Swan - 10
  Cackling Goose - 1

4. Wellington - Puslinch - Ellis Rd.
  Harris's Sparrow - 1  (Photo below)
  Bohemian Waxwing - 15

     Wow, what a weekend of birding! Four new life birds Sunday and six new life birds Monday! I haven't added this many birds to my life list in such a short time since my first couple months of birding(which was not really that long ago...)! It's funny that one of the only birds I planned to add to my life list this weekend was a Barred Owl, and due to the many rare birds in the area, we did not even bother looking for one! Needless to say, I do not feel like I missed out by not seeing a Barred Owl this weekend. That's what next time is for! I cannot wait to go back and see more of the great birding this area has to offer. I'm sure most of the awesome birding and species this weekend would not have been possible had Josh not shown me around and let me stay with him, so here's another big thanks to Josh! I look forward to my next visit to that area!

Well, there is my first blog. Hopefully it saves so I do not have to rewrite it! Enjoy.