Tuesday, 31 January 2012

31 Days, 121 Birds

I was going to call yesterday's Blog, Adventures While Birding, only because I created my own driving adventure while looking for birds along the Niagara Parkway.  But by the time I got to writing of the day's events I was just too tired to write about anything but the Fish Crow, a rarity for these parts, and was ready for bed.

However, today's visit to Bayfront Park, a birding paradise, it seems, scored me 2 new birds for the year and helped me surpass my goal of 120 by the end of the month.  Of course, I only set that goal this morning, hoping for at least a few birds today.

But back to yesterday.  I started at Bowen Rd and The Niagara Parkway, in search of the Fish Crow.  There were not nearly as many Crows as in Beachville, but almost all were American Crows.  I stopped at 333 Bowen Rd, as that was where one of the Fish Crows had been heard, and indeed there was a crow in the snow on the front yard pecking away at something dead in a shallow snow grave.  I waited a while, but it did not make a sound, so I moved on.  I drove down to the waterfront, on what was a bright, sunny, but not freezing morning, and looked for gulls.  Sue hates Gulls, and I can't identify them without help.  But I need Gulls.  She just says, "No Gulls" now, every time I ask.  I did see and photograph  a Great Black-backed Gull, and a Herring Gull, and thought I had a Lesser Black-backed Gull, but had to wait until today, at Bayfront to get a confirmation from Barry, who was out looking for the Kind Eider, amongst other birds.  More on that later.

It was while looking at the Gulls that I heard the first "Caw" of what turned out to be the Fish Crow.  There was a pause, and another "Caw."  I turned around, pulled up my binoculars and spotted the crow in the park across the street.  Yeah!  I got my camera on it and saw it as it made it's single "Caw," pause and then make it again.  I even got it on video with my iPhone.  Way cool.

The Fish Crow in the bag, I began heading along the Niagara Parkway, stopping at the side of the road here and there, when I thought I saw something good.  Part of my mind that was not focused on birds knew that these little road side pull offs were not as firm as they seemed under the snow.  And I knew I was in trouble as I was pulling into the rut, but again, thought it would turn out to be fine.  No such luck here.  I had already had trouble getting off a roadside pull off and now I was stuck.  Really stuck.  Now way forward and a tree close behind me.  They key was not to panic.  I panicked.  Got overheated, floored it and then just stopped.  Turned down the heat, took off my jacket, started looking up the number for road side assistance.

How embarrassing.  And what if another birder pulled up.  I'd never live it down.  And I'd have to tell Sue and everyone else that I had to call a tow truck because I drove into a muddy snow covered ditch.  So, the key I thought was, again, don't panic.  You can do this.  I cooled down, and started a slow crawl.  Back, forth, forward, backward.  Almost backed into the tree.  Just missed the tree.  And slowly, but surely, made my way out of the ditch.  Whew!  I cheered.  No one heard me.  I whooped with excitement.  No one heard me.  Who cares.  I got out and I got the Fish Crow.

I made my way down the parkway, stayed out of roadside pull offs, and stopped again just above the Falls.  There, I saw a million gulls.  Really, I counted.  Amongst them was the Great Black-Backed Gull and the Lesser Black Backed.  I took photos and was lucky enough today to run into a long time Birder, Barry - a retired gentleman whom I spent the afternoon with at Bayfront today - who helped me identify the Lesser.

I cruised down the rest of the Niagara Parkway, stopping at a Conservation Area where I photographed yet another mixed marriage duck.  This one's cool.  See below.  I then drove past the Falls to the Adam Beck generating plant.   There were just so many gulls, and this time I must admit, I lost count somewhere north of a million.  I am sure I was seeing Bonapart's but I just didn't know them well enough to count them, due to my lack of experience.  I am sure, though I will prevail and seem them sometime, perhaps in February.

That ended my day at Niagara.  I made one more stop back at Lasalle and hoped again for a White-fronted Goose, but by then the snow was really coming down and I needed to get home.  It took me two hours in very nasty conditions, but I survived to bird another day.  And that I did.  Today.  But I will have to tell you about that tomorrow.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Fish Crow

I drove all the way out to Fort Erie to listen for a Fish Crow.  Got stuck in a ditch and nearly had to call for  a tow truck.  Got out of the ditch.  Got the Crow.  More tomorrow.  Time for bed today.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


I had to work this weekend in London, but stopped along the way in Beachville where there had been sightings of White-wiged Crossbills and a Grey Partridge.  I did get to see a flock of the Crossbills while driving the snowy streets, did not get to see the Partridge, but was amazed at the shear enormity of the Crow population.  My goodness, it was like a scene out of Hitchcock's The Birds.  There were so many crows that it's a wonder I even saw the Crossbills.  In the short drive through the town I must have seen hundreds of them.  If this is a year round occurrence, they should rename the town.  I saw no beaches, and nothing but crows.

Off to Fort Erie tomorrow to find Fish Crows.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


On a day that I had wanted to find a Purple Finch and a Northern Shrike and maybe get a photo of the White-Winged Crossbill, I ended up with a Barred Owl and Cackling Goose.  Still no White-Fronted, but there are still 340 days left in the year.

I started my day at the Kortright Centre at Major MacKenzie and the 400 walking down into the Marsh Boardwalk hoping to find the Finch by the feeders.  I did get a wonderful look at Juncos and Chickadees and entire flocks of Cedar Waxwings.  Now those are beautiful birds.  I watched them for a long time, took pictures and just enjoyed the quiet of the forest.  Later, still hoping for the Purple Finches, I ran into another birder, one whom I am sure I have seen before, who thought he might have seen the Purple Finch.  So I stayed there with him for a while until we discovered we were looking at two House Finches.  The flash of red had him, and me hoping.  But I guess, that is the thrill of birding.  Never knowing what you might see on a given day.

And, for sure, I was not expecting a second owl in two days.  After spending the morning down in the woods, I was returning to the Visitor's Centre when, at the very top of the trail, across from some feeders I was scanning, what did I see, but a Barred Owl.  It was just sitting on a tree branch, not 15 feet from the path.  Unbelievable.  I was thrilled.  I started snapping photos and checking it out through my binoculars.  As I was on my way to get warm, I spotted a group of school kids just coming out of a class and asked if they had seen the owl.  Their guide,(sorry I've forgotten his name), asked where, and in what was the most heartwarming part of the day, I guided them all to the tree where they could get this, perhaps, once in a lifetime oh so close look at the owl, right at eye level, out in the open, in the wild.  I stood there with them for nearly ten minutes, and completely forgot how cold I had been.  Birding is good.

The next most heartwarming part of the day was finding there was an open cafeteria in the Visitor's Centre and, to my delight, they had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu.  Yeah me!  That and a cup of coffee were all I needed to get a second wind and head out to Hamilton in search of an elusive Goose.  I had intended to continue on to the Niagara Parkway, but by the time I was at Lasalle Park, the freezing rain was coming down pretty hard.

At Lasalle, I searched in vain for the White-fronted Goose, but did get a great photo of a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I had seen but not yet photographed this year.  I was pretty much done for the day, but thought to take one last look near the boat launch.  As it turned out there was a man feeding corn to the swans, and it brought in quite a crowd of swans, geese and ducks, including a black duck.  And there was a noticeably smaller goose with a bit of a white ring around it's neck.  Finally, a Cackling Goose?  Everyone on the bird alerts had been talking about them, but I doubt this is it.  I thought it might just be a runty Canada Goose, but thanks to another birder, Barry, who examined my photo, he confirmed that it was, indeed, a Cackling Goose.  

So it turned out to be a pretty good day of birding.  In addition to the Barred Owl, Cackling Goose and Sharp-shinned Hawk, I saw lots of song birds, lots of crows and starlings.  And even a Red-tailed Hawk flying over James Gardens.

Now I have to go back to work for three days and hope a new flock of interesting birds shows up next week.

The "oh so lovely" Cedar Waxwings:

The "Oh so sleepy" Barred Owl:

The "Oh so proud" Sharp-shinned Hawk:

The "Oh so cute" Black Duck:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

2 Long Hours of Searching for 2 Long-eared Owls

So, back I went to Claireville Conservation Area.  I knew there was a Long-eared Owl in the woods, and this time I was bound and determined to find it.  If only this time there were kind strangers to guide me in the correct direction.  How nice it would be to run into a nice man, putting out seed for the birds, or, perhaps a kindly older woman, with binoculars from WW2, who might just know where it was.  Too much too hope for?  Well, in Big Years, as in Life, some dreams do come true.  Well, not precisely.  Turned out the nice man couldn't make it today, as his dog was ailing, and the older woman turned out to be a man.  But the binoculars were from WW2, at least.

From a previous encounter with a kindly Englishman with a camera lens as long as my leg, I knew the Owls to be out to the eastern part of the park, so, off I went.  As I got deeper into the woods I half expected to see Little Red Riding hood or the Wolf.  As it turned out I met a nice woman who was filling the bird feeders.  Well, not exactly filling.  Much easier to spread the seed on the ground below the feeders.  I am sure the regular guy had a system that worked for him.  Apparently all these dog walkers know each other, though today, it seemed, not all of them had dogs.  Long story.

So I followed the bird seed lady around.  No, I wasn't stalking her.  She seemed to enjoy the company and wanted to talk.  Again, long story.  And I figured, hang around someone putting out bird seed, you're bound to see birds.  Well, no.  Squirrels.  Cute little grey ones and big black ones and medium sized red ones.  But no birds.  Well, yes birds, if you count the Black-capped Chickadees.  I am not usually a bird counter, so I just estimate a gazillon of them.

Eventually the nice lady directed me down a very long path into the deeper depths of the forest,(you can see why this took two hours), and I was once again on my own.  At one point I did see an owl of some sort take off from a tree and fly away, but as I learned from the kindly older gentleman, it was the Great-horned Owl, he had seen not 3 minutes before in the tree he guided me to, in which was supposed to be the GHO.

As I already had one on the Big Year List, I was not deterred.  I asked if he knew of the resting place of the Long-eared Owl, as that was the one I had come to see.  And yes, this kindly older gentleman was quite willing to show me where the LEO liked to hang out, as long as I didn't use his name.  You see all these dog walkers apparently dislike all us birders coming out and spoiling the tranquility of the park by quietly training our binoculars on a bird, while their dogs loudly smash through the underbrush.  So, if I outed him, there might be a lynching.  Again, long story.

Getting back to the LEO.  That looks dumb.  Won't use short forms any more.  So, getting back to the Long-eared Owl, it was necessary to look for owl barf on the tree and and ground before straining one's neck to look for owls in the tree.  Once identified, see photo below, it was just a matter of scanning the tree with the binoculars until the owl came into focus.  And it sure did.  It was quite the sight.  Once again I forgot how cold I was, and just basked in the warmth of finding a cool bird, and number 115 for the year, as well.

At this point my intrepid guide with no name,(I know it but am not telling - I hope the mention of WW2 binoculars is not a give-a-way), left me to my own devices with brief instructions on how to get back to civilization.  I stayed for about half an hour and snapped many photos.  I was able to spot a second one, but it was mostly hidden by branches and I wasn't able to get it to pose for even one photo.

I did eventually have to head back and though I got myself going in the wrong direction for a while, I did finally make it back to the car.  Snapped a photo of a Goldfinch at the feeder on the way out.  Fingers numb with cold, my feet nearly as cold, I hopped in the car and sped to the nearest Tim Horton's and ordered the large coffee, even though that is now the size of what used to be an extra large, and with the heat blasting me on the outside, warmed my insides with the Tim's.  Though really, the memory of seeing my first Long-eared Owl, was worth any discomfort from the cold.

Moral of the story?  Non dog walkers are more trustworthy than dog walkers.  Yesterday a dog walker directed me to a Falcon that turned out to be a Hawk and today a non dog walker helped me to find a Long-Eared Owl.  But that might not be true in every case.  Don't take my word for it.

And now for your enjoyment, Owl Barf:
Okay, technically, Owl Pellets.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

No New Birds, but a New Lens, Makes Me Happy

So, no new birds for the year in the last two days, and the rare bird alerts seem to have dried up in the area.  Pooh and pooh!  But since I had nowhere to run off to chasing new birds, I decided to treat myself to a new lens for my Sony DSLR.  I've been using my Canon with the 20X zoom and it works fine, but there is nothing like using an SLR for your photography.  So, off I went to Henry's downtown, chasing extra millimetres, rather than rare birds.  Being on a bit of a tight budget, I could not go for the 500mm arm length lenses some of the pro guys use, but I felt the 70-300 zoom would do me just fine.

And so the purchase was made and I decided to just bird the neighbouring parks, Claireville CA, James Gardens, Humber East and High Park the past two days and just shoot a bunch of photos with the new lens.

Below are some of the results:  A new photo of the Northern Pintail; a Gull,(probably Ring-billed), with a chunk of something, presumably edible, in its beak; an Odd Duck,(okay, a Mallard from a mixed marriage, I suppose); a male and female pair of Long-tailed Ducks; a poor web-legged challenged female Mallard in James Gardens,(saw here early last summer too);  and a Red-tailed Hawk feeding on a squirrel in High Park.  I was alerted to a bird in the area, described as a Falcon, by a dog walker, so was slightly disappointed to find it was a Red-tailed Hawk.  But I had only previously had a "Hawk in flight" photo, so it was fun to spend some time watching and photographing it with my new lens.

Oh, and last night I also picked up my first Field Guide.  I went with The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America 6th Addition.  I didn't think I could really call myself a birder, even a bad birder, without a real field guide.  No one respects you if you only have an iPhone App.  Sue is jealous of mine, as hers is the 3rd addition and doesn't include the new Quick Find Index and Visual Index to Bird Families.  It also has neat tabs that direct you to specific categories of birds in the book.  Of course, first day out, I forgot to bring it with me.  I did have my iPhone, though.  It's like the American Express Card, in that I never leave home without it.  Except when I do, and have to turn around and drive home to get it.

I hope to be back to chasing new birds in the next couple of days.  Might go back to Hamilton and try again to find the White-fronted Goose and Cackling Geese.  I am sure they know I am coming and will be hiding just out of sight when I arrive, but it's the journey not the destination.  Ha!  Who am I kidding, it's all about the destination, the conquest and the fulfilment of a goal.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Early Birder gets the Swan

I was sure I was the only Birder from Etobicoke up and out the door prior to 7am and sunrise to seek out Tundra Swans and White-fronted and Cackling Geese, maybe even a Brant, but Etobicoke Dave was only minutes behind me and, once again, thanks to the help of a fellow and much more experienced Birder, I had extra help in my sunrise quest.  It wasn't too cold and the wind was light so an hour of searching was quite enjoyable.

It took a lot of meticulous scanning of Trumpeter Swans to finally see at least one Tundra Swan, and possibly two others amongst a group of five Swans furthest away from the main flock. Dave was gracious in pointing out specific field marks and the slightly smaller size of the bird that helped me with the identification. He also spotted a Canvasback that added a second Year and Lifer to my list.

And wouldn't you know it, who drives up but my Hamilton birding buddy and mentor Fred, also out early and looking for the Tundra Swan.  Fred tried to help us find the White-fronted Goose but it was nowhere to be seen this morning. These birds are sneaky and love to tease you with an appearance one day and a David Copperfield-esq vanishing act the next day. But, as always Fred will spot something I may have missed on my own, and helped me find the White-winged Scoter. So now I have Scoters on either side of the continent.  Surf: West, White-winged: East.  A Scoter Trifecta would be possible if I can snag the Black Scoter passing through during migration.  Now, if I can only get those damnable Cackling Geese!

Anyhow, with time running out and me having to be downtown by 10am for work, I took off for Humber Bay East where Sue had seen a Northern Pintail on an expedition to the lake Saturday morning.  Seems like Sue and Fred are my "Birding Angels."  I wouldn't be in this Big Year Game without their help. We shall see if Dave come through for me again.

When I got to Humber Bay, I was only 15 steps from the sighting of the Pintail, but completely lost in the parking lot and walking in circles as Sue tried to point in the correct direction over the phone.  I kept pointing toward the lake, even though she was guiding me in the opposite direction.  I am sure I sounded like a madman, but eventually I got the message and headed the opposite way I was going and found what I was looking for.  Down by the water,  I was able to look over the shoulder of a nature photographer with a huge lens, and see the Pintail on the ice across the little bay. Beautiful bird and though I was in a bit of a hurry, I lingered of a few minutes to enjoy the Pintail and all the other ducks hanging out on a sunny winter morning.  As I continually discover, nothing warms you up faster than spotting the bird you've chased all morning.

And now my Big Year stands at 114 birds in 22 days.

So, Tundra Swans and Northern Pintails today, and perhaps, Cackling and White-fronted Geese tomorrow.  Though, somehow, I think they will once again elude me.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Back to Blog'n

I have missed posting the last few days.  I have had limited time to chase birds, so even when I have been out - to Hamilton and Burlington Tuesday and Wednesday mornings - I got nothing more than cold fingers and a runny nose.

However, even though I missed the target birds, Glaucus Gull,(Bayfront Park) and a Greater White-fronted Goose seen at the Islands near the Burlington Skyway, I still had a great time seeing many of the birds I have since learned to identify on sight and are actually starting to stick in my not so sticky memory. Repetition really does work sometimes. Reminds me of my grade 10 math teacher who always told us "you have to do the problems a million times. If you do the problems a million times you will eventually be able to do the problems."

Well, the birds are my "problems" and I just have to see them again and again as I learn this crazy, sometimes frustrating, and mostly exhilarating past time, that is developing itself into a full time passion.  Or maybe I really should just admit, obsession.

My math teacher, who always seemed to sound like former President of the United States, Gerald Ford, giving a speech, also instilled in us that "practice doesn't make perfect, it makes better." Just when you think you're perfect is when it's time to start learning again. Birding is going to keep me learning and getting better for a long, long time

Which brings me to today, January 20, my mom's 84th birthday and Year birds 107-109. Where did 106 come from? That was a Least Sandpiper I missed counting from San Francisco.

Today I was chasing birds at Claireville Conservation Area, Near Highways 50 and 7, after reading my OntBirds alert to the White-winged Crossbills near the entrance road.

It was super-duper cold and I wore the wrong gloves when I first went out so after spotting the target bird in a thicket across from the bird feeder,(I was not lucky enough during my short visit to see the entire flock), I had to go back to the car to blast the heat and warm my hands. But it gave me a chance to check iBird and confirm the White-winged Crossbill from the descriptions and photos. I am still on a sharp learning curve here so I don't always trust myself. While out on the road I spotted a hawk overhead and was glad to have a fellow Birder on the road to help me identify it as a Cooper's Hawk.

After he went off in search of Owls - I hadn't time to explore that long - I hung around the feeder to see my third Year bird of the day, a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Later, once again with Sue's help, I added the American Tree Sparrow I had also seen and photographed for identification. Couldn't do this without the support and guidance Sue provides every day.

I also enjoyed seeing a flock of Blue Jays, enough to make an entire baseball team; many House Sparrows and Dark eyed Juncos.  Each took turns going to the feeder.  And I got a great photo of a Downy Woodpecker leaving the feeder, as seen below.  Also included are photos of the American Tree Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker and, of course, a Blue Jay.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Two new, but Easy Birds

I will keep this short as I only had a short time to go to James Gardens on my way to work, but did get my first Blue Jay of the year and a Hairy Woodpecker. Also a great photo of Starlings in their winter plumage. All in all a good morning but I was frustrated by my drive up to 9th Line in Mississauga to see a Snowy Owl, in the snow, so if it was there, it was blending perfectly into the snow so it was a no go.

Some photos for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

One King Eider down

I wonder, is that the same eiderdown from which pillows come?

I'm not sure about that, but it really is one nice duck to look at.  I took the drive out to Port Weller, and thanks to yet another kind birder, Jean Iron, and her magnificent Swarovski scope, I was able to view the King Eider, and afterward a Black-backed Gull, as it tried to swallow a fish.  Cool!

I got the report of the Eider from Ontbirds, a great website where birders post their rare sightings so others can drive endless miles at great expense to have a 5 second look at a bird they may not otherwise see again. I was able to get directions to the spot from one of the guys who had seen the King Eider, and when I arrived there were half a dozen birders all lined up on the duck. A marvelous sight, as I may have wandered too far down the path and missed it had they not been there. So, once again I got lucky.

And now, not even halfway through January, I am up to 103 on my year long quest. Of course, the first 100 are probably the easiest. So it will be slow counting, I am sure, until my next trip down to Florida in early February. Not to mention that real life is going to take over for the next two weeks and I will have to go to work, rather than Big Year Birding.

Again, thanks to all who helped me out today.  I am slowly learning.  Very slowly.  But i get a little better each day.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

San Francisco: Day 3 + Heerman's Gull = 100

After the amazing Big Day on Sunday, you might think the final day would be a let down, but even though I didn't add many birds, I did reach the century mark early Monday morning when I spotted what turned out to be a Heerman's Gull. I was actually looking at a different bird, one that turned out to be a female Brewer's Blackbird,(girls are brownish), and almost missed the gull, as it was also brown, and sitting close by,(see photos below). I took a second look and noticed the larger size body and beak, and knew it wasn't any gull I had seen the past 2 days, and I had seen a lot of gulls.  So, when Sue figured out it was the Heerman's, I had reached 100 birds in 9 days.  Not bad for a a guy, who two weeks ago, would get impatient when Sue would stop to look at birds when we went for walks in the woods.

I am back in Toronto now and really enjoyed being on the west coast for a few days. I hadn't even been there to bird, originally. I have to admit that the trip was booked months before I decided to do a Big Year. I went to San Francisco to see The Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour at the Golden Gate Theatre. They put on a great show, and I was able to kill two birds with one... Never mind, bad pun.  But had I not had that trip planned, I doubt I would have even envisioned doing this.  Pretty cool how things work out sometimes.

So, air fare to San Francisco was just $130.00 - used air miles, ticket to Mythbusters Live, $80.00 and seeing 63 birds in 3 days, well that was, as the MasterCard folks say, "Priceless."

Monday, 9 January 2012

California Bird'n on a Winter's Day

This is a recreation of the blog post I wrote following my Big Day of Birding in San Francisco, with Noreen and Edgar, my intrepid birding guides. So, it may lack the initial excitement of my initial post, but might make up for it in thoughtful memories of the day I saw 80 Bird species, 56 Birds of which were added to my Big Year, giving me 99 as of January 8. 50 were new for my Life List.

I was up prior to the crack of dawn, as birds prefer to be viewed bright and early, though it was not bright when I awoke. After a quick breakfast I was picked up by Noreen and Edgar and we were off and birding at 7:30am. We made many stops in and around San Francisco, including Fort Mason, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a public gardens in another old Fort, Golden Gate Park, twice, a park overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and ended the day at Heron's Head, a wetlands along San Francisco's southern bay waterfront, and the subject of a field guide written by Noreen and Edgar.

Our first stop was an education in birding. I was amazed at the ease with which my guides would find birds. Whether with they're eyes, binocular or scopes, they pointed out one bird after another to me. And with surgical precision they were able to guide me to a spot in a tree or in a shrub or on the ground, when I could point my binoculars or camera and see an endless variety of birds. On our first stop I was able to spot Red Crowned Parrots, Chestnut backed Chickadees, three types of Goldfinches and sparrows, and an Anna's Hummingbird. Flying overhead I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk. And that was just the beginning of what turned out to be a very big day for me. Now, I know, experienced birders would laugh at a 80 bird big day, but for me, including 56 new Year Birds, it was huge. 

Along the way I saw more types of gulls than I thought existed. It was probably not that long ago that I just assumed, as most people do, that there were just seagulls and that was it. What an eye opener. From the Western Gull I saw on my first day, I added Herring and Thayer's and Mew Gull, amongst others.And there were the grebes and cormorants, Pelagic and Brant's.But the three I was most excited about were all found in Golden Gate Park. A Great Horned Owl, only visible through a spotting scope, way up in a tree, a Varied Thrush, a beautiful orange and black bird, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, a rarity for the area, who had somehow made it's way up from south of the border. It really was exciting to find these birds, both common and rare and Noreen and Edgar were amazing teachers.

They would show me the bird we were looking for in their field guides and then have me see them though their scope or help me find them with my binoculars. And even though they have been doing this for years, I could sense they were as enthralled and excited at seeing the birds as I was, seeing many of them for the first time. It was a Big Day and a day of birding I shall never forget, which is good, since I had to recreate this blog entry from my somewhat swiss-cheese memory. 

I am not sure if I have done the original blog entry justice, but I hope I have. It was a beautiful day to be out. Warm enough temperatures, hardly any wind and a cloudless sky. 

I can't thank Noreen and Edgar enough for their kindness, attention to detail and, mostly, for putting up with an amateur Big Year Birder.And I can't wait to do another big day like that again.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

San Francisco Day: 1, Birds: 5

I arrived in SF around 12:30 pacific time and after checking into the swanky, old and, I am sure, prestigious, Whiticomb Hotel in the Union Square district of SF and after a quick unpacking, donned my binoculars, camera and Tilly Hat,(a nice rafia fedora), took a long, very long, walk down to to The Embarcadero, to look for boats. No, just kidding, birds, of course. I took a nice walk in the afternoon sun and warmth along the pier, where toothless men were trolling for crabs and tourists were inviting me to take their pictures.

Before I even stepped out on the pier, I saw my first Western Gull,(thanks Fred),and, honestly, before I started this Big Year wouldn't have given it a second look, let alone a first look and taken the time to get a photo. But I did both and was rewarded with bird 39 of the year.

Along the pier I was lucky to see lots of water fowl and was able to spot a Western Grebe and Pacific Loon, along with a juvenile California Gull.

I took lots of photos and walked a bit more, but had to sit for a while before making the long trek back to the hotel. After all, I started on the east coast, flew across the continent, walked miles with my bad back, after having walked miles in Hamilton yesterday, and I am 51 going on 97. Feel sorry for me? Didn't think so.

While I was sitting I spied a large, hawk/vulture like thing fly overhead, with what seemed like a red beak, but wasn't quick enough to swivel my head, pull up my binoculars and also somehow snap a photo. I am sure a more experienced birders would have nailed it on the glimpse of wing and beak alone. Not me. I am just too new and, well, just a little green. Turned out it was a Turkey Vulture.

Eventually I did have to get up and walk back to the hotel, even though the BART train went right to my hotel door, and was lucky enough to see some Brewer's Blackbirds nibbling seed on the sidewalk in front of the mall on Market Street.

Once again, Sue and iBird helped with the identification. I'd be lost and not even be doing a "Small Year" without them.

But tomorrow is a big day. I am off with my guide at the crack of dawn, to have my biggest birding day ever, I hope!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Long walk on an amazing day in January

I never thought birding would be easy, but i did hope it would be just a little easier than it really is, especially for a beginner like me. Day 6 of 366 was a good day for me. I drove out to Hamilton and walked the Waterfront Trail along the Great Western Railway Line and saw many, many, many waterbirds, many of which I actually remembered, though I still needed a little nudge and reminder as there are a lot of those ducky types and they do have similar looks and I don't have a great memory for names, so it is quite taxing on my mind. Yet I will keep going and keep asking for help. And that's the beautiful thing about birding. It's a non-competitive sport. And everyone loves to help, especially the experienced birders, who enjoyed taking me under their wing, so to speak, and point out the birds I'd have surely missed on my own. As I walked along, I met so many nice birders, with their binoculars and cameras, who were willing to either point out birds or point me in the right direction. And thus, I was able to spy 5 new year birds, four of which were Life Birds for me. Cool!

And so, as each day passes I am loving this more and more. Who knew? Well the birders knew. As one said to me, today, "It's awfully addictive, isn't it?" Especially for me, since almost every bird is a new bird and every day there is a new challenge. It's fun, exciting and, dare I say, cool.

And as far as cool sightings today, there was the Double Crested Cormorant,(I had help for that); Bald Eagle; Hooded Merganser,(Yes, I had help for that too); Belted Kingfisher,(Saw that on my own, thank you); And the Black-Crowned Night Heron that I didn't realize was there until after I snapped the photo of the Hooded Meganser. Speaking of which, I now have the Merganser Trifecta! Yeah me!

So tonight, it's California Dream'n for me.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

2 Days, 3 New Birds

Now, I acknowledge I am not in the same league with the experienced birders, but then again, I have only been at it for 5 days now. So, 33 birds and 14 Life birds is, for me, an accomplishment. I am sure I have walked beneath, stepped on or totally missed many more birds that were right before my eyes, that any other birder would have easily seen, but I still have 361 days to to go and a lot to learn.

It was not too cold on Wednesday, but I stuck close to home and was able to see a Mourning Dove in the morning, (well when else? Maybe i will see my first Nighthawk at night. Are there dusk birds?). I had actually not seen one around my yard for several weeks, if not longer. Anyway, I did get a nice photo, as seen below.

Later in the afternoon, I saw my first Northern Mocking Bird. Sure, experienced birders will be mocking me for not ever having seen one of those, but, well, it was exciting for me.

Today was a great day to be out. Temps above freezing, so I went out to Ashbridges Bay, on the east end of Toronto's waterfront, in search of a Brant, a small goose, and an Iceland Gull. I got the gull, but the Brant proved elusive to even the experienced birders today. Perhaps I will swing by tomorrow when it is even warmer.

From Ashbridges Bay I went to the Waterfront Trail in Hamilton and enjoyed a wonderful, quiet and relaxing walk in the woods and down by the water where I found a melodious gaggle of Trumpeter Swans, who sounded very much like my highshool band tuning up their instruments before a concert. I saw no new birds, but did enjoy looking at many of the birds I had recently seen for the first time in the previous 5 days, and I was able to get some good photos, especially of the Trumpeter Swans.

All in all, a good day. And, again, Sue was there to help me with the identifications at the end of the day.

Meanwhile I am excited about my trip to San Francisco and my 3 days on the coast seeing western birds and getting a day of guided birding as well.

Some of the photos from the last two days: