Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Off to Spring Birding...

Well, Spring Training to be specific.  I have the unique opportunity to be heading to Florida for the next month as part of my job, working in Dunedin during Spring Training.  But I will have lots of time to add birds to my Big Year, when not on the job.  I will be heading down to Everglades National Park, the Keys and Dry Tortugas, Fort DeSoto, Merritt Island and wherever the Florida Rare Bird Alerts send me, within reasonable driving distance of Tampa Bay.

Hopefully, with Spring Migration, I will be in the right places at the right times to see a lot of new Year birds and Lifers the next 32 days.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chasing, Not Just Birding

So, on Saturday it was back to chasing.  There was a report of a Townsend's Solitaire in Cobourg on Friday morning - it was seen again Friday afternoon - and I had wanted to drive right there, but was suffering from some kind of 24 hour bug and between the lack of sleep the night before and Tylenol Cold Pills, I was not willing to risk a 90 minute drive for a solitary bird.  The last time I drove under adverse conditions - whiplash and a concussion after being run off the road heading to Kingston - I nearly drove off the road, heading back to Kingston, and had to get off the road, call for help, and have Sue ask me, more than once, "What made you think you could drive to Kingston with whiplash?"

I decided not to go through that again.  Besides, I was driving into a snow storm, and was feeling a wee bit dizzy.   I turned around and went home and slept all day Friday.  I felt fine Saturday morning, so off to Cobourg I went, as did a few other intrepid birders from Toronto and Port Hope, hoping for an easy look at the bird.  It was not to be.

I had been keeping in constant contact with Dennis, the gentleman who had posted the sighting the previous day, via e-mail.  He had seen the Solitaire in two locations in his neighbourhood, and had also been out for two hours that morning, with no luck.  I cruised the neighbourhood for about 20 minutes, trying to not look like a Peeping Tom, looking into various yards through my binoculars, from my car.  I eventually pulled up in front of the house on Weller Court and scanned the tree out front for the elusive bird.  No bird, but Dennis was kind enough to invite me in for tea, after I e-mailed him from in front of his house.  Dennis is a kind, friendly gentleman who has a lifetime of birding experience around the world.  He's been to places I can only dream of and it was a pleasure to take tea with him, as we swapped birding stories, and watched for the bird out his back window.

After tea, I thanked him for his hospitality and continued around the neighbourhood on foot.  I ran into a carload of Toronto Birders from Toronto, a gentleman from Port hope and another gentleman, who's name eludes me now, just as the Townsend's Solitaire eluded me on Saturday.  It might have been Craig or Greg.  Not sure.  We walked around a bit together, saw crows and gulls and goldfinches, and maybe, a brief, but doubtful look at the bird, passing between two houses.  The most we could confirm, was it was grey.

We also swapped birding stories from this winter.  He had seen Bohemian Waxwings this year, but not Cedar Waxwings, and for me it was the other way around.  He had taken the drive to North Bay, returning from Montreal, to see the White-winged Dove, while I will get it without the 4 hour drive when I return to  Florida in a couple of days.  I even have directions.

So no bird.  It probably got blown away during the snow storm.  A good chase and encounters with some very nice birders who were willing to risk part of their weekend for the mere chance at seeing a good bird.  Sometimes the chase can be just as satisfying as finding the bird.  Even when you don't find the bird, you often meet some darn nice folks.

Just as Sue and I did to today at Woodland Cemetery, (I seem to return there a lot - perhaps I should reserve a river-view spot for sometime in the future).  Sue wanted a return trip to Burlington to find the Snowy Owl and Eastern Screech Owl.  The Snowy did not show himself at Bronte Harbour, but Mr. Screech was out and happy to pose for photos from the many Birders/photographers that were there this morning, birding, not mourning.  There were so many cars lined up along the roadway we thought we might be intruding on a funeral.  Nope.  I even ran into one of the men I had met on 10th Road looking for Short-eared Owls.  He began as a nature photographer but is really enjoying the Birding too.

After Sue got her owl, we took a walk down to the Valley Inn trail hoping to see a Winter Wren, (we did hear it), and perhaps a Field Sparrow.  Apparently the Valley Inn Road/Trail is where Christmas Trees go to die and are reborn as Carp Barriers.  Who knew? We did see a Tree Sparrow that had not been reported.  It does look a bit like a spring/summer plumage Chipping Sparrow, but the Winter Chipping Sparrow is quite different, and our photo was not close enough for a positive "Chipping" ID.  So I could not count a new bird for the year, while Sue got 3, giving her 113 for the year.  I remain stuck on 210.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Just Birding, Not Chasing

Not very long ago, on a walk in James Gardens, in Etobicoke, or Colonel Samuel Smith Park, down by the lake, I would have just seen birds.  Sure I knew there were ducks and song birds, geese and gulls.  But that's about it.  Today was different.  I walked for an hour or so in James Gardens and another hour down in Colonel Sam, and actually saw the birds.  No rarities or new birds for my list.  But today, that wasn't the point.  I just wanted to go Birding.

I ended up with a nice little day list and really enjoyed the walk, on what was a very calm day before tomorrow's "reported" snow storm.   12 birds, one or more of each, in James gardens:

Cardinal, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Mallard, House Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker and Canada Goose.

In Colonel Sam, I saw an additional 7 birds:

Ring-billed Gull, Gadwall, Redhead, Mute Swan, including a juvenile, Red-breasted Merganser, American Coot and Long-tailed Duck.

Maybe tomorrow there will be something new to chase.  Only a few days until I am back down in the sunny south.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

No Fool's Mission, Finding the Harlequins

I awoke early, dressed quickly and fired up the GPS in my car, inputting the location of Collingwood Harbour and with a Tim Horton's coffee in hand, drove the 135 kilometres in about 90 minutes, while listening to morning talk radio, to see if I could see some fancy-pants ducks in a harbour I've never been to.  Thanks to Alan Wormington's post last night I was saved a drive for a chancy look at the Harlequins 4 hours away in Prince Edward County.

It was almost too easy.  I drove down to the end of Heritage Drive, parked the car, grabbed my binoculars and scanned the bay.  It took less than a minute to find two of the Harlequin Ducks, as they were actually very close to rocks.  Had I arrived a few minutes later they would have been more difficult to spot without my scope.  I rattled off a few photos as they drifted away, then grabbed my scope and got some really nice looks.  I spent more time talking to Roy, a casual birder who comes down there to walk his dog and look at the birds, including the Peregrine Falcon, than I did looking at birds.  I did, however, get a nice look at the Peregrine before I left.

I had the rest of the day to bird at Kortright Centre, where most of the trails were closed due to ice, and the Hamilton/Burlington/Bruce Trail areas, and if my goal was to see Gulls, Canada Geese and Black-capped Chickadees, my day could be considered a success.  It was actually more comfortable in the cold and wind of Collingwood Harbour than walking in the rain and trying to see birds through wet binoculars in Hamilton.  But I survived the ice of Kortright, braving the sleet and walking in the muck of The Bruce Trail, as well as the rain at Bayfront Park and Lasalle Marina.  By the end of the day, in addition to the Harlequins and the Peregrine Falcon, I did see Hawks, Ravens, Crows, Swans, a large variety of ducks and many Black-capped Chickadees.

So, the Harlequin Duck was bird 210 of 2012.  And I may still yet drive out to Prince Edward County, or back up to Algonquin Park this week.  I still have 7 days before heading down to Florida.

And as an added bonus for the day, I got to wear my LL Bean Snow Sneakers, which had arrived Monday evening.  I love 'em!

Monday, 20 February 2012

From a Peaceful Lake to an Even more Peaceful Place

A nice sunny day and a good day to just take a leisurely walk out at Humber Bay, down by Lake Ontario in Toronto, and look for Ducks.  And maybe even a Northern Shoveler.  It was a good chance for me to see and photograph some of the standard winter ducks I had already seen and work on my identification skills.  I am still learning.

We did run into a lot of Birders and photographers and even ran into a fellow Birder/photographer I had met in Brampton on my Ross's Goose chase.  This time he was looking for Ruddy Ducks and they were there in large numbers.  Rafts of them, in the birding vernacular.  I finally got a good photo of them, rather than one taken from hundreds of yards away.  There were also Buffleheads and Goldeneyes, Mergansers, Mallards and even a white fronted mixed duck.

The payoff for the morning walk came just before we headed home for lunch.  I wanted to get a better look at the Ruddy Ducks through my scope, and while doing that, Sue spotted a pair of Northern Shovelers splash down close by.  Bonus!  The promised Shovelers,(they were the bait to get me down to the lake), arrived just as we were preparing to pack up and leave.  I got the scope on them and a few photos to go along with the ones I got of the Ruddy Ducks.

After lunch I headed off on my own, in search of a few more birds to wrap up the long weekend.  I was supposed to be working, not birding, this weekend, but getting Sunday and Monday off was great.  I decided to retrace my route from yesterday and see if I could pick up a few birds in the Burlington/Hamilton area.  I went back to Bronte and low and behold, if Barry wasn't there looking for yet another hybrid duck, the Redhead/Ring-necked cross-breed.  It was in a great location, in the harbour right out in front of where the Snowy Owl was soaking up the sun.   We had missed it yesterday.  So two birds with one stop.  I got myself a nice photo of the snowy and a look and photo of yet another interesting hybrid.  Neither were additions to my year, but it was nice to get another chat with Berry, who seems to be everywhere.  But then again, he probably thinks that about me.

There was a gaggle of other Birders present at the end of the pier in Bronte and we got talking about the birds seen in the area the last few days.  The topic of owls naturally came up and I inquired as to the location of the Eastern Screech Owl we couldn't seem to find yesterday.  With Barry providing me with a much better set of directions, I headed back out to Woodland Cemetery, after briefly and unsuccessfully looking for a Ring-necked Pheasant up in the Stoney Creek area.

Barry did not steer me wrong.  I quickly found the correct tree next to a sign marked "Section 25" and to the right of a headstone with the appropriate name of "Gardener," three trees to the right of the Green Bench on the west side of the cemetery road.  I identified the broken branch, and immediately spotted the owl.  Before I checked it out with my binoculars, I spotted a bird I didn't recognize hopping back and forth between a headstone, where some seed had been left, and a close by tree.  I snapped a few photos and later learned it was a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I returned my attention to the  Eastern Screech Owl and snapped a few photos and then had a more leisurely look through my scope.  I wanted to hoot with joy, but silently pumped my fist, a-la Tiger Woods and rejoiced in my 8th Owl of 2012.

That was my 88th bird species of February.  9 Days to go and 12 birds for another Century month.  There won't be many more hundred bird months, as it just keeps getting harder and harder to add birds as the year moves along.  Wait and see, I guess.  But not bad for a know-nothing amateur Birder.

So, as the sun set in the peace and serenity of Woodland Cemetery, it was time to head home with my 209th Year Bird in hand and a smile on my face and a long drive ahead of me tomorrow.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Odd Bird, Young Bird and the Bird on the Bridge

Another day following in the footsteps of greatness.  Or at least other great Birders.  Sue and I decided to spend Sunday Burl-Oak Birding.  Sue wanted to see the Saw-whet in Oakville's Bronte Creek Provincial Park, I had seen earlier in the week, and we both wanted a look at a fancy hybrid duck under the Burlington Skyway and a First Winter King Eider in Burlington's Lasalle Park Harbour.  I was just hoping to add one new bird today, but as it turned out, Sue got six birds for her year and I did get one.

We started at Bronte Creek where it was a short walk to the tree I had seen the Saw-whet Owl in on my last visit.  There he was, cute as ever, wondering what all the fuss was about.  I'm sure if the owl had been counting, he'd have a life list of over a hundred humans by now.  We got our look and moved on in search of other owls.  We did find an owl pellet under a tree near the Frisbee Golf Course, but that was it. We walked a large portion of the park and saw quite a few species, including Robins, Black-capped Chickadees and an Eastern Blue Bird.  We also saw pigs and goats in the children's farm.

From there it was down to Bronte Harbour in search of the Snowy Owl, but the owl was MIB,(missing in Bronte).  So, after a brief lunch break, we headed to the Burlington Skyway where Barry had seen, and  Jean Iron had reported the Golden-eye/Hooded Merganser Hybrid.  Very odd looking bird, with a big greenish head and gold eyes.  As we parked below the Burlington Lift Bridge, we got our first look at the Peregrin Falcon who roosts near the top.  And, as an aside, bird number 206 for my year.  But we were more interested in the hybrid and who was there with his camera, but Barry, my birding acquaintance from Bayfront Park.  He had his eye on the bird and with his direction I got my scope on the odd duck.  Sorry I don't have a photo, but I was enjoying the view so much, I forgot to snap a shot.  We dubbed it an Uncommon Hooded-golden-eye.

Back in the car and off to Lasalle Marina to see if we could find the First Winter King Eider, Jean Iron had reported yesterday.  And, for a change, the bird was quite accommodating and was hanging out close to the shore with some Gadwalls and a Canvasback, close to where the honking, snorting Trumpeter Swans congregate.  We got some good looks and photos and then moved on to one last bird.  An Eastern Screech Owl that was supposed to be in Woodland Cemetery.  And I am sure it is, most of the time.  But by the time we arrived, it was either in a different tree from where we were instructed to look, or just out and about, for an early dinner.  So, a miss on owl number 8 for the year, but all in all a fun day of birding, with temperatures just high enough to make the time outside quite bearable, at least for a little winter wuss, such as myself.

Thanks again to OntBirds and all the Birders out there that make it such a pleasure to be out on a cold day in February.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Owl's Well That Ends Well

"Your patience will be rewarded."
Alton Brown, TV Chef, "Good Eats"

As I walked and walked, in endless circles, following the footsteps in the snow of a Birder from the previous day, searching and searching for a small owl hidden within any one of a hundred evergreen trees, those words kept me going.  Each time I looked in a tree and didn't see an owl, or thought I saw an owl and it turned out to be tree bark or a pine cone, I thought "patience, patience."  That was on Wednesday in Bronte Creek Provincial Park.  I walked a large part of the park near the parking lots, hoping for a Saw-Whet or any old owl, for that matter, but with no luck.  I did see a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, including a juvenile, but not much else.

Today, I decided to go back, since I had a few hours free this afternoon and even though it was damp out, the rain had stopped, it was warm enough, at 7 degrees C.  The snow was gone, so there were no footsteps to follow in, but I just decided to take my time and examine every tree, one by one, knowing my patience would eventually, hopefully, be rewarded with a glimpse of the elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl.  No owl.  Don't give up.  Keep looking.  I saw a lot of bark, some pine cones, some things that looked like owls until I focused the binoculars.  Still nothing.  

I was then distracted by a small blue bird that flew by outside the little pine forest I was wandering.  I decided to check it out.  Low and behold, an Eastern Bluebird.  See, my patience was rewarded.  I stayed long enough to see a new bird for the year.  I followed the bird and soon discovered at least half a dozen.  I chased them into a larger tree, that was chalk full of both male and female Eastern Bluebirds, some Gold Finches and even a Downy Woodpecker.

I wandered the park a little longer, found an ice rink and a farm and old barns and buildings from seemingly the 1800's, but didn't spot anything more than some House Sparrows on the roof of one of the animal enclosures.  It was getting late in the afternoon, I was starting to get a chill and I decided to head back to civilization: The Tim Horton's across the way, with the new lounge and inviting fire place.  But first, I thought I'd take one more stab at the Saw-Whet.  There was still a cluster of trees I had yet to examine.  As I walked up the path a figure emerged from the mist.  Are those binoculars around his neck?  I told myself not to get too excited, and casually approached the man.

"Hi," I said.  "Seen any Owls?"  

Yes, he had.

"You've seen the Saw-whet?"

He had.

"Today?" I asked, hopefully.

He said he had.  He was on his way out.  It was late.  It was getting cold.  But I wanted that owl.

So, I asked if he'd mind showing me the bird.  With a shrug, Mark, as he is known to those who know him, took me back to a stand of trees I had yet to examine, past the tree with the strange bits of kleenex tissue tied to the branches, to the very tree where the Northern Saw-Whet Owl stood, motionless, watching us as we watched him.  I had to admit a bit of a thrill.  Prior to this year, I had not seen an owl anywhere other than in a zoo.  Now I had just seen my seventh owl of 2012.  

And in case any of you are concerned I might have forgotten, I have ordered my LL Bean Snow Sneakers and they are being shipped to me, even as I type.  To give credit where it is due, Sue has a pair and recommended them to me after I came home with my feet half frozen the other night.

And here, for your viewing pleasure is the Eastern Bluebird, along with,(my patience was rewarded), Northern Saw-whet Owl:

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Algonquin Bound and Bounding Toward 200

What started on January 1, 2012 as a bit of a lark, inspired by the book and movie, The Big Year and John Vanderpoel's nearly record breaking Big Year, has turned into a full fledged quest and a real challenge.  I only wanted to learn how to bird, and seeing 300 species in 12 months was the number I had in mind when I began.  I think, at the time, 200 would have been pretty satisfying.  I knew nothing about birding other than what little I had paid attention to when out with Sue, while she birded.  And that was precious little.

At the end of the day, yesterday, February 13, I had 196 species in less than a month and a half.  I wanted to get it up to 200 today, and with little going on in the Toronto area, bird-wise, I decided to drive 4 hours north to Algonquin Park, as a number of good birds had been reported lately,(Thanks Kevin and Ron).  4 hours for 4 birds doesn't seem unreasonable now that I really am going after a much bigger number.  I won't say what that number is, quite yet.

After a lengthy morning of driving, I entered the park around 10:30am and after seeing a Turkey Vulture flying overhead, stopped at the Gate to get a park pass and some directions.  Shortly after, though, while heading out on Hwy. 60, I met a couple stopped on the side of the road.  Had to be Birders.  Yes, they were also birding.  I didn't know it then, but I would run into Gene and Linda many times throughout the day, and as usually happens, the meeting was fortuitous.  Through our open car windows they told me they had just seen some Common Redpolls.  Redpolls?  I had missed them up in Uxbridge a while back.  I wished them luck, and continued driving, scanning the sky and trees for birds, hoping to not drive off the road.

A short distance further up the road, I spotted a small flock of birds across the roadway, atop some trees.  I pulled over, stopped, pulled out my binoculars and had my own Common Redpoll sighting and my first Year Bird of the day.  Continuing on, I made another stop where many birds were congregating in the road and either mourning the loss of one of their feathered friends, or eating it.  Not sure which.  Either way it was a great place to stop.  Lots of bird activity.  And wouldn't you know it, Gene and Linda pulled up right after me.  Together we got some White-winged Crossbills and another Year Bird, a Pine Siskin.  I do have pretty good luck with meeting just the right people.  They were up from the states and had planned some cross country skiing or snowshoeing today, but ended up mostly birding.  I just hoped I would keep running into them.

At next stop, Spruce Bog, I was greeted by flocks of hungry Blue Jays.  I had a bag of bird seed with me, and let them help themselves.  I was hoping to find the Red-breasted Nuthatch and Boreal Chickadees there, and had to use my iPhone App to call the Nuthatches in, as not much was going on when I got there, and even my seed was only making the Blue Jays happy.  I heard the Nuthatch before I saw it, but eventually a few arrived, along with a half a dozen or so Black-capped Chickadees.  I got some nice photos, but my feet were staring to tingle with cold and I felt the onset of hypothermia settling in, so decided to make a quick run to the car, and head to the visitors centre before I lost a toe or two to frostbite.

Note to self:  Get warmer winter boots.

And who do I run into at the Visitors Centre by new good buddies, Gene and Linda.  Not only that, but the good folks at the Visitors Centre had the pantry well stocked with lunch items, snacks and hot and cold beverages, purchased on the honour system.  I got a great look at the Evening Grosbeaks at the feeders, and had bird number 200 for the year.  I celebrated with Kraft Dinner, washed down with fresh coffee from the Keurig Coffee Machine.  I chatted with Gene and Linda as they finished their snacks.  We talked about Big Years and they shared their birding stories, along with some of their friend Greg Miller, one of the greatest Big Year Birders ever.  They took off again, but I lingered longer, hoping my feet would defrost again before I left.  And I got another look at the Grosbeaks and some nice photos, too.

My final stop was down at the closed gate near the Opeongo Store, where rumour had it there was a Blacked-backed Woodpecker.  Lucky for me, Gene and Linda showed up again.  They sure knew how to show up at just the right time.  Would I have found the woodpecker without them?  Not sure.

Along with Gray Jays, who would eat out of your hand, and an odd albino, white faced, Black-capped Chickadee, Gene also showed me the Red Crossbills, high in a tree.  I was worried I was getting Warbler Neck and I hadn't seen any Warblers.  We were then able to stalk, hear the pecking of, and finally see the Black-backed Woodpecker beyond the gate at the end of the road.  Now that was fun.  In my wildest dreams in the last week of 2011, I could not even have imagined myself standing in the cold with binoculars, a camera and two American strangers, looking at a woodpecker 4 hours from home.  My feet were so cold they were numb, but I didn't care.  That was bird number 203 for the year and I probably didn't thank Gene and Linda enough for their help.  So, thank you, Gene and Linda.

We also got to see a cute little weasel-thing, called a Pine Martin.  A nice bookend to the Hispid Cotton Rat Sue and I saw in Florida last week.  So, Birds: 203 vs Rodent-y things: 2.  Rodent-y things need to make a huge comeback.  Maybe "Hail-Mary" sighting at the end of the hear with a Naked Mole Rat will complete the comeback.  Maybe not.

We went back to the Spruce Bog for one last shot at the Boreal Chickadee, and athough we heard it a couple of times we did not see it.  Since I do not have it on my Life List as a sighting, I will hold off on counting it in my Big Year until I actually see one, even if the rules allow me to count it.  I just think counting a bird I've never seen is stretching the spirit of the rule.

My only other miss for the day, besides actually seeing the Boreal Chickadee, was the Pine Grosbeak.  Something for another day, I guess.  And so I drove home with about a dozen species spotted in Algonquin, seven new ones for the year and perhaps can take the day off from Birding tomorrow.  Or maybe drive out to Kanata to see the Gray Partridges or up to North Bay for the White-winged Dove, or maybe to Niagara Falls for a few more gulls.  Or maybe, just order good, warm winter boots from L.L. Bean.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hamilton Birding, Eh?

Once again, OntBirds to the rescue.  I seem to be better at spotting and identifying birds if:

1. I know what I am actually looking for before I set out to a location.


2. If there are other Birders in the area when I arrive at the location.

And thus, today was a perfect example, as I drove/walked in the footsteps of the previous days Birders, Ken and Angie Williams.  Ah, the luxury of advance bird reports for the beginning birder.

I headed up 50 Rd to where it turned into 10th Rd, north of somewhere, I am not sure where, and observed the Northern Harrier flying over the fields just south of the railway tracks.  I think it was south.  I get directionally challenged around the lake in Hamilton/Niagara.  I then just GPS'd my way to a dead end road where I found a gaggle of 48 Wild Turkeys,(and this time I really did count them).  Of course they kept trotting off,(if turkeys indeed trot), behind a large bush, then after a short time reemerging in a kind of conga line of wild turkey-ness.  Kind of cute.

I stayed a while, scoped the birds and hoped to find the Ring-necked Pheasant, but to no avail.  Now, if I had seen the Pheasant, would it have been to avail?  Never mind.  I had my second bird of the day and now decided to cruise the roads in a hopefully non-suspicious manner and find some of the other birds recently reported in the area.  I had plenty of time before sunset, when I suspected that the Short-eared Owls would be out hunting mice in the fields along 10th Rd.

I drove along Green Mountain Road and up to Mud Rd, where I saw a pair of Northern Shrikes flying into a field east of the Tim Horton's, where I had just enjoyed a coffee and Chicken Wrap.  I also saw Starlings and an American Kestrel enjoying his lunch of a dead mouse on a tree branch.  And to think, I chose the chicken wrap.  Oh well.

Next up was forgetting to drive along 8th Rd and search for the Screech Owls that had been seen yesterday.  Drat.  Well, at least Screech Owls aren't that rare.  Of course, the way things go, I won't find one the rest of the year and will regret not upgrading my swiss cheese memory to something with a little more cheesy-memory matter.

No worries.  I headed back down to 10th Rd and with the help of birders who were spending the day there, waiting for sunset and the appearance of Short-eared Owls, I got a great look at a pair of Eastern Meadowlarks.  I never got a great photo, but did get one of them in my scope as it rested in a nearby tree.

While there I met a very nice birder, a retired gentleman by the name of Clive, who was great at spotting birds in flight and soon he soon spotted the Horned Larks in flight over the nearby fields.  I got a quick look in my binoculars, but just fuzzy photos.  Darn those quick moving, flighty and uncooperative birds.

With lots of time still to spare, we walked along the path next to the railway tracks, where we saw more Harriers, both male and female, some hawks, but not much else.  There was still lots of time until the owls came out, so Clive offered to buy me a coffee at the local Tim Hortons.  Nice guy.  Pretty much all birders have been quite friendly and helpful to me, but this was the first time I got a free coffee.  Cool.

We arrived back just on time to see the first Short-eared take flight.  I tried to get some pictures, but the owls moved too fast to get a clear shot.  However, though the binoculars they were amazing to watch.  It was really cool to see the owl dive bomb, what I assume was a local mouse, who never knew sunset meant dinner time.  And not for the mouse.

Now it was really getting cold, so time to pack up and head home with 6 new birds for the year and now just 4 away from 200.  Thanks again to all the kind birders out there today.  Not sure I could have done it without them.

Tomorrow I may just be on my own, though.  Heading up to Algonquin Park for the day.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Anyone Up for a Wild Goose Chase?

Who knew you could chase wild geese, literally?  Last week, in Florida I had a figurative wild goose chase, as I twice drove to the middle of nowhere in Hillsborough County in search of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  Normally when you are on a wild goose chase, I don't picture anyone actually chasing geese.

So, on my return to the cold of Canada and Toronto, why not just go out and chase wild geese, for real?  And so I did.  It was bitterly cold, the wind was blowing, so naturally I stood outside freezing, with tears running down my cheeks from the cold as I scanned the icy waters as my binoculars fogged up.

I spent the morning at Professor's Lake in Brampton in search of a Ross's Goose.  Scanning hundreds of geese, ducks and gulls for the elusive white goose with the orange beak.  I hoped I could just hop out of the car, walk over to the spot where the goose had been seen last, grab a quick picture and be back in my warm car in no time.  No such luck.  They don't call it a wild goose chase for nothing.  So I scanned the water from one end to the other.  The goose was not close.  Do I go back to the car and get my scope?  Wait, is that something white across the way?  Well, maybe I will walk toward it and see if I can get a closer look.  There seemed to be a large field at the edge of the lake, so I figured I'd just walk across the snow, slowly so as not to alarm the geese.

I took a few short steps.  Okay, good.  Getting closer.  Then I heard a slight crack under my boot.  Not good.  I was on ice.  Perhaps thin ice.  Okay, bad.  It wasn't a field, it was a frozen lake.  Oops.  So, I slowly, lightly, retraced my steps and decided that chasing geese on the ice was a little too wild for me.  I walked around the bike path this time, trying to get a better angle on the bird.  Now it appeared that there was a lump of snow with a carrot sticking out of it, about a hundred yards away.  I focused the lens, tried to shake away the fog and wipe the tears from my eyes.  Focus... focus...  Yes, that indeed was my goose.  But too far away to get a good photo unless I got my scope.  So I decided to get closer.  I spied a photographer across the way with a super-duper long lens, and figured no one would be crazy enough to be out here with a camera just to look at regular old Canada Geese.  No chasing required for them.

I jumped in the car, blasted the heater and drove around to the other side.  Except, I really only moved myself about halfway closer, so I had to jog the rest of the way around to the two other birders.  Now I had my bird.  Except it was asleep, with it's head tucked away from us.  I had seen its beak from the opposite side, so could only get a photo of a sleeping Goose.

Oh, and low and behold, who was there but the birder I had met in Kortright Conservation Area at the end of January, searching for the Purple Finch.  And he was there in Puslinch the day I found the Mountain Blue Bird.  Hmmmmm.  Someone else doing a Big Year?  Very interesting.  Well, it's fun to have competition.  It will be fun to see if we keep running into each other.

Anyway, I had a brunch to get to, so couldn't wait for the goose to awake.  I got my bird, got my photo and rushed off to lunch.

After a very good Sunday Brunch with Sue, and with a full tummy and warmed insides, I got back into my layers of long underwear and lined cargo pants and 2 shirts and a warm fleece jacket, my scarf, toque, gloves and magic hand warmers,(they heat up in your pocket when you squeeze an aluminum disk inside the secret liquid packet).   I got back in the car for the third time today, and drove to Whitby Harbour where my Year began on another unsuccessful wild goose chase, that time for a Smew.

And wouldn't you know it, this one was pretty easy.  Sort of.  I arrived as another birder was leaving, and yet another birder had the Greater White-fronted Goose in her scope.  Oh, had I mentioned that the White-fronted had eluded me on 3 or 4 other chases to Lasalle Park in Burlington?  Well, this wild goose chase ended after a few seconds as I got a great look at the bird through the nice lady's telescope.  Yes it was actually a telescope, not a spotting scope and it worked quite well.

Now for the picture.  Not so much.  The moment I took my eye off the scope the bird seemed to dematerialize into the late afternoon mist.  Actually, it just tucked its head in and went to sleep.  And slept, and slept.  I found it again in the scope, then put my camera up and found it, sleeping again.  This time I had it centred in my camera lens.  Sleeping.  My fingers started to burn with cold.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I lost the bird.  My new friend, a school teacher, had to leave to grade papers.  I was on my own.

And the bird still slept.  And it drifted and drifted, behind some trees.  Now I had to reposition myself.  I cut through the dead trees and bushes.  My movement behind them pushed the birds back out into the harbour.  Score one for me.  And yet another birder arrived.  This gentleman was fresh from seeing the Ross's Goose in Brampton.  This was a day for chasing wild geese.  Who knew?

We both stood there in the cold, tears streaming down our cheeks, our lenses fogging up yet again, and my new companion spotted the goose.  Yah!  Head up, great.  I got it in my binoculars.  Beautiful bird.  Got the camera up to my eyes.  Head down.  Sleeping again.  I had activated my hand warmers.  I warmed my hands.  Kept my eye on the goose.  I would not be beat.  I got the sleepy goose in my camera lens and finally, finally, he raised his head for just a few moments, as I rattled off some photos.  Whew!  He went back to sleep.  I left the new gentleman to wait for it to awake once more.

As a bonus, I got a good photo of a Cackling Goose, to go along with the hundreds of Canada Geese.  If I was doing a Canada Goose Big Year, I'd be in the thousands by now.  So birds in the hand and photos in the camera, I headed back to my car, but no need to blast the heater.  I was pretty warm from the fun of the chase.

One day, four geese, lots of wild goose chasing fun, and 190 Big Year Birds.

Some Photo Memories of Florida