Thursday, 31 May 2012

Shore Leave

Thanks to the advance warning from Whimbrel Watchers Wayne and Tim, I was on the lookout for White-rumped and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Dunlin and Sanderling as I walked up to the now world famous Whimbrel Point in Colonel Sam Smith Park this afternoon, on my way to work.

I started the day up at Reesor's Pond in Markham hoping that the Wilson's Phalarope had decided to hang out for a few days before going off to wherever it is that Phalaropes go to in the summer.  It seemed like a perfectly good place to spend the summer, as there were lots of other birds to keep it company.  I found Swallows, lots of Mallards, a Great Blue Heron, Song Sparrows and my first Ontario Pied-billed Grebe.  It was bird number 203 for my Ontario list this year.  It's not an extensive list, as I am not chasing birds in Ontario that I have seen elsewhere in North America.

I ran into Wayne and Tim on their way out as I was walking in.  They were just ending their 10 day Whimbrel Vigil having seen 5 more before they headed out.  I asked about shore birds and they gave me a quick run down.  As I was walking to the point I ran into a Spotted Sandpiper bouncing around on the path and up at the point just the Second Year King Eider, at first.  As I rounded the tip, I caught sight of the White-rumped Sandpiper taking off from the rocks on the west side and got a good look at its distinct white rump as it rounded the hillside.  On my way back around the tip, I chatted with another birder who was also looking for shore birds, but he moved on to the marina and missed the incoming flock of assorted shore birds about 5 minutes later.  There were Dunlins and at least one Sanderling,(a new addition to my Ontario list), and at least two Semipalmated Sandpipers.

I hung out, took a few photos and then tried to find the other birder, but he was long gone.  By then it was past time that I should have been heading to work.  But I left with two new Big Year Birds, giving me a count of 371, just 29 away from 400 as I prepare for my Alaska adventure beginning Monday June 4.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The (Bird) Notebook

Notes From the Field

May 24 - GoldenBird

Happy Anniversary to my parents, today, celebrating 61 years of marriage.  My mom celebrated by wearing a heart monitor and going out to dinner with my dad, later that day.

I spent the morning at Curry Tract with Glen, a 30 year birding veteran, who has done everything from bird banding to Hawk rehabilitation.  He also has a pretty good ear and pointed out Veery and Wood Thrush and helped me learn the difference between Blue-winged Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler.  We found both, and the Golden-winged was a tough bird I finally got to add to my year, thanks to Glen.

Afterward, at Glen's recommendation, I drove up the road to a St. John's Cemetery to find a singing Mourning Warbler.  A few times I might have heard one, but it was distant and I couldn't get eyes on it.  So, another miss at the hands of that pesky Mourning Warbler.

I then drove to Rondeau for the afternoon, and was treated to a Gray Partridge,(364), in a farmer's field along Highway 401 in the Chatham-Kent area.  At my Rondeau Redux, I had a lovely time, though I didn't add any birds, especially a Mourning Warlber.  I did succeed at getting myself lost in the scrub between the South Point Trail and the beach.  I had taken a off-shoot of the path, that had been mown into the high grass, but it didn't connect with anything and after I walked out to the beach, I couldn't find it again.  I walked in circles for about half an hour, sweating in the afternoon heat, fighting bugs and grass and scrub bushes up to my armpits and would still be there had it not been for my iPhone's maps and GPS, that showed me the way out to the trail.  

I did see half a dozen warblers, and 4 types of Woodpecker, including Red-headed, an Eastern Towhee and a variety of other birds, including an unnamed Flycatcher, giving me 38 species for the day.

May 25 - Bird Cemetery

I returned, once again to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in a fruitless evening search for an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  That was mistake number one.  Mistake number two was staying until dark.  Dark comes after 8pm.  The cemetery guard locks the gates at 8pm.  I was locked in a cemetery, after dark, with no way out.  I circled around and around.  Both gates were closed, and the one I checked had a lock around it, so I assumed they all did.  I drove by the Visitor's centre, but it was dark.  I circled around and around again.  I felt a small sense of Deja Vu, having been lost in the brambles the previous day at Rondeau.  I was scared.  I called Sue.  She offered to come get me if I could find a pedestrian gate to exit through.  I wasn't looking forward to spending the night trying to sleep in my car in a cemetery.  On my third pass by the Visitor's Centre I discovered a phone box.  It had a message on the inside saying, "Locked in?" and gave a number for the night security office.  I called and was met at the east gate by a security guard who opened the unlocked gate for me.

May 26 - An Early Mourning

I went early to Mount Pleasant, around 7:30 am and only had 10 minutes to search for the flycatcher before heading to Kitchener for work.  No flycatcher in section 39.  It was later reported in section 28.  I shall go back Monday morning.  After yet another fruitless Olive-sided Flycatcher expedition I raced along Highway 401 to get to St Jacobs by 9:30, to start work.  I had a little extra time, so what the heck, I stopped again at St. John's Cemetery in Campbellville, just north of the Currie Tract, really hoping to find the Mourning Warbler I knew was singing there.  I went to the spot that Glen suggested,(he had heard and seen it there on Friday), and played my iPhone recording of the warbler.  Each time I played it, the Mourning Warbler sang back.  I psh'd a bit and saw the bird.  It dropped down into the deep foliage, but I was able to get my binoculars on it as it jumped around.  Finally after hearing the call of the Mourning Warbler several times over the last few days I finally caught a brief look at it in the thickets at the north east edge of a small cemetery,(365).

May 27 - Carden Alvar

A great trip, over 50 people, many of whom had been in to Algonquin Park in April, including our Algonquin Guide Ron Tozer, who, along with Ron Pittaway, lent support to our Carden Alvar Guide, the one and only,(Carden Alver Challenge winner), Jean Iron.  By the end of the afternoon, the group had seen or heard 80 species and I was able to add 4 new birds to my Big Year.

To an outsider, it must be quite a sight to see a large group of people, jockeying for position around a single bird, with their scopes, binoculars and cameras.  I had all three.  We were a gaggle of geeks that I was proud to be part of.  An old quote, usually attributed to Groucho Marx, goes, "I wouldn't want to be part of a club that would have someone like me as a member."  I used to think that too.  Not any more.  I am proud to go out and be part of this group of people.  Whether they are out for the sheer enjoyment of it, as Sue is, or the competition of a Big Day,(Jean Iron), or in my case, a Big Year

It was an overcast day, so it was terrible for photographs, but great for birds.  We started on Wylie Road and walked to the end and back listening for and seeing several birds.  One of the highlights for Ontario birders was a Loggerhead Shrike.  Strange how one bird can be a rarity for birders in Ontario but a commoner for birders in, say, Florida.  I did enjoy seeing the Shrike and adding it to my Ontario list.  On the way back some folks heard a Sora, but I missed that.  Rats!  I did spot a flycatcher, and it was heard and confirmed by Jean Iron to be an Alder Flycatcher,(366).

After a nice picnic lunch at the Lift-locks, we moved on to Shrike Road, in a caravan nearly as long as a freight train.  There were so many cars, that by the time we all pulled to the side of the road, most of the folks in the lead cars were already out with their scopes and tripods.  We had a great look at a flock of Upland Sandpipers,(367), as they were flushed from the grass, and then not long after, saw a single bird on a wire.

The day ended on Prospect Road where we flushed a Virginia Rail,(368), from the marsh, with the help of a tape played by Jean Iron, but were unable to get the Sora to make an appearance.  Before we all parted company, the remaining members of the group,(it had thinned out significantly since lunch), hunted for a Clay-colored Sparrow.  This was the bird that I wanted badly on this trip.  I had hunted for a Clay-colored in the suburban wilds of Safety Harbor, in Florida and the quiet tranquility that is Mount Pleasant Cemetery, on several occasions since March.  Not only did I not see one, I never once even heard the Bzz-bzz it makes when it sings.

The remaining gaggle of birders huddled around the spot Jean had seen it the previous day, while she played the call on an iPhone.  After a while there was brief bzz-bzz response, and a few did see a bird briefly fly from one bush to another.  However, it was getting late and time for everyone to go.  However, a few of us lingered behind and we were rewarded by the bird calling several times and then landing on top of a bush, within 15 feet of the road.  Morris, a fellow birder, got a good look in his binoculars before it flew away.  I also checked it out and it did appear to be the bird we heard.  Morris checked his Sibley's and confirmed the Clay-colored Sparrow,(369).  Before Sue and I left we heard it call several more times and it made another appearance on the same bush.  The light was bad and I didn't get much of a photo.  But it didn't matter.  I finally conquered a nemesis bird.  I was happy

I had a great time birding with Sue, Jean Iron, Ron Tozer and over fifty fellow birders.  I learned a lot and am more convinced than ever, after this past week, of the power of birding by ear.  Learning the calls as best I can will be my goal over the next 7 months and in the years to follow.

Due to a problem with my telephoto lens,(which has since been replaced), this is the best photo on a tray day: Upland Sandpipers in flight:

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Social,(Birding), Network

Wednesday morning was cool and foggy, but it was the day when it comes to The Colonel Samual Smith Park Annual Whimbrel Watch.  Every year around this time hundreds, if not thousands of Whimbrels migrate through Toronto from their wintering homes in California,(where I saw my first), Mexico and Florida to their summer breeding grounds in the furthest northern regions of Ontario and all the way up to Alaska.  These birds will fly, non stop, up to 2500 miles during their migration.  And every year a group of intrepid birders, led by Wayne Renaud will sit on the tip, at the southern most point of Colonel Sam and watch for and count the migrating birds.

When I arrived just after 7am, I found a Who's Who of Ontario Birders all watching the skies for the inevitable influx of Whimbrels, along with a variety of other waterfowl and shorebirds.  Jean Iron, who's scope I looked through many months ago to see a King Eider was there.  And so was another King Eider, a second year male.  I once again got to thank Jean for kindly letting me see the Eider way back then, when I knew nearly nothing about the birds I was chasing.

There were more than a dozen birders on the point, all of which I had met at some point during the last 5 months, whether in Colonel Sam or on various bird outings or in various birding locations.  It was quite the social atmosphere.  I am not used to being social, nor do I normally enjoy it in random crowds, but here, amongst people who shared my passion and all had vastly more experience than me, it was a pleasure to talk with most of them and fun to hear of their birding adventures, built up over a lifetime, not just 5 months, as it is in my case.  Still, I must admit, I enjoyed sharing tales of my Big Year, with them and they, it seemed, enjoyed hearing of my adventurers.

To top it all off, I did see and photograph a good flock of Whimbrels as they flew over and then got to experience the wonder of nearly a thousand Double-crested Cormorants fly by in a long, nearly unending stream, and then land in the bay in front of us, like a giant raft of black birds.  It was an awe inspiring experience.  Both the birds and the people I met and got to know there yesterday morning.

The Whimbrel Flock:

Masses of Double-crested Cormorants:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Not a Good Mourning

Oh the irony of Birding.  While searching the woods at Colonel Sam Smith Park for a Mourning warbler, this morning, I stumbled upon a Canada Warbler more than a few times.  I spent all of Spring Migration hoping to find just one, and when I finally did, Canada Warblers started popping up again and again.  Oh well.  They are a nice bird to look at, even if I couldn't get a photo.

Sunday was an OFO trip to the Toronto Islands and it was quiet there, as far as birds are concerned, though quite busy on the tourist front.  Thankfully we arrived at 8am, as the line ups to get to the island in the afternoon stretched out to the street.  We were led by Luke Fazio who has a great ear and kept us entertained and moving the whole morning.  The birds that were there to be found, Luke heard and made sure we all had good looks at.  Highlights of the Island trip were the Summer Canvasback, a land based Gadwall and a fledgling Robin.  

Later in the afternoon I went to Colonel Sam, as I seem to do nearly every day of late, and enjoyed looks at a solitary Horned Grebe and a lovely close up look at an Eastern Kingbird.

Today started with a quick flyby of Whimbrels early this morning and the day concluded with the sounds of an American Woodcock emanating from the cemetery behind my house.  That gave me 48 species, seen or heard today, in about 8 hours, not including driving to and from Colonel Sam to the Currie Tract in Campbellville.    I spend about 3 hours birding the tract, again looking for the Mourning Warbler and hopefully the Golden-winged Warbler.  I got neither, as birds are quite mobile and not always where I want them to be.  However I did see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird way up on a dead tree and the Chestnut-sided Warbler put on a great show, and was in fine voice all afternoon, as were the Yellow Warbler and Common Yellow-throat.  At Colonel Sam, late in the day, the  highlight was seeing a family of baby Starlings, out with mom for dinner.

So, true, no Mourning Warblers, but in fact, not only was it a good morning, it was a great day.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Oh Canada! Warbler, that is

Finally.  I know I've only been on a Canada Warbler hunt for only a few weeks, but it seemed as though every birder out there but me had seen one.  Sue got hers yesterday at Colonel Sam and I went back there last night and didn't get it.  However, this morning, back at Colonel Sam, while searching for a previously seen Yellow-breasted Chat, I finally found my Canada Warbler in an all Canadian Maple Tree.  Quite appropriate, I think.  I also added a Blackpoll Warbler to my Ontario List.

So as of Sunday May 20, 2012 I have seen 362 species in North America and 186 species right here in Ontari-ari-ari-O.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lord of the Flycatchers

That I am not.  Not yet, at least.  But I'm working on it.

On Thursday there was an Acadian Flycatcher reported on the "sand road" at St. Williams Conservation Area.  On Friday morning I drove two hours to get it.  I watched, looked and listened for nearly an hour, part of the time with a couple who had driven almost as far as me to see it, and could neither hear nor see an Acadian Flycatcher.  The closest I got was a photo of one on the Information Board along the road.

On Friday there was an Olive-sided Flycatcher reported in Section 48 of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, atop a Spruce tree.  So, on Saturday morning, on my way to work, I stopped by MPC and spent a lovely half hour watching, listening and looking for the Olive-sided Flycatcher, only to hear and see a variety of Sparrows, none of which was a Clay-cloured Sparrow.

Down in Florida,  I had no success with either the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, in February or the La Sagra's Flycatcher on April.  However in my quest for flycatchers, my batting average is not at all bad, as I have already seen Ash-throated, Dusky-capped, Gray, Great-crested, Least, Vermilion and Willow Flycatchers, along with Black Pheobe,  Cassin's Kingbird,  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Say's Phoebe and Western Kingbird.  So, in baseball terms I am 12 for 16, batting .750.

Now, Sue has reported that a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher had been seen this morning at Colonel Sam Smith Park, where she birded,(and saw a Canada Warbler), with a group this morning while I searched the cemetery in vain for the Olive-sided Flycatcher.

So I will once again be off and running, after work, trying to catch yet another Flycatcher.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Return of the Kings

It was a rainy day.  I hoped for a Canada Warbler or Olive-sided Flycatcher, but instead, while being pelted by a cold morning rain, I finally found the King Eider at Colonel Sam, and later in the morning as the sun came out, found a cute and playful pair of Eastern Kingbirds.  Neither new birds for the year, but both nice to watch, again.

I had come to Colonel Sam Park a couple of other times the last few days, and had yet to find the Eider.  This morning I ran into one of the guys I had seen the previous day and he had just seen the Eider and gave me directions to the bird.  He said there was no Warbler activity, and I hadn't seen much myself, so I headed west and to the little bay the duck was said to be swimming in.  As I walked I heard thunder.  It got darker and started to spit.  More thunder and it started to rain heavily.  I was soaked by the time I found the King Eider.  It was a second year male and I had wanted to see and photograph it, as I only had a photo of an adult female, I'd seen in LaSalle Marina earlier in the year.

That mission completed, I headed to West Dean Park in Etoicoke to see if there was any Warbler activity there.  I enjoyed my walk in West Dean Park, and though there were not a lot birds, and the ones that I did get close to seeing were scared off by off-leash dogs, at least the sun was out and I was able to dry off from my soaking at Colonel Sam.  I eventually came upon a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, that were frolicking and fly catching all around a sunny meadow and it was fun to just watch and enjoy the show.

So not a lot of time for Birding while I work this week, other than mornings, but I am making plans for my week in Alaska.  Tomorrow I am booking a 9 hour Pelagic off the coast of the Kenai Fjords National Park and then plan for a trip to Denali and perhaps another pelagic from Seward.

It's all very exciting.  And there is still Newfoundland and South Texas to look forward to, as well.

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Few Good Birds

A few days at home and a few good birds to add to my 2012 Big Year.  Nothing Spectacular, but it has been fun to go Birding in my own backyard for the last few days.  James Gardens for the TOC walk on Saturday, Colonel Sam Smith Park on Sunday morning and, after brunch with my mom for Mother's Day, the woods behind Douglas B Ford Park just off of Royal York down the street from my own house.

Just 4 new birds: Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireo, Tennessee Warbler and the most fun bird of the weekend, a Willow Flycatcher.  The first three were just too high up in the Warbler Neck parts of the tree to photograph, but the Flycatcher was using someone's backyard water slide as a base of operations for it's fly catching duties.

As we walked in the woods, Sue heard the familiar "Fitz-bew" call and I was able to follow it around and onto a path next to a house with a back yard pool and water slide.  Just as I looked up, the bird landed on the top of the slide and stayed long enough for me to see it, but was quickly gone.  Later, on our return trip from the woods, both Sue and I got to see it a number of times going back and forth from the slide to the woods and I was able to get photos.

And the baby Robins have hatched in the nest in our front yard, weighing in at 0.1 ounce.

Oh and the last thing I saw on Sunday afternoon was not a bird, but a Vole, adding another "rodent-y" thing to my "Rodent-y Thing List," giving me, I think 8 for the year.

This week I will be working every day and doubt I'll be able to add more birds, but the Willow Flycatcher was number 361 for the year.  And so the countdown to 400 begins... 39...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Relocating to Rondeau: More Birds, Fewer Bugs

Point Pelee was great.  It's just that I didn't see any new Warbler species there.  Now, that wasn't necessarily the fault of the park, as I had been in Florida for a great Fallout and had added a couple more right here in Toronto.  So, yes, we saw Warblers, but it wasn't the migration bonanza I had hoped for.  When I was a kid and I put a little too much food on my plate my mother would say, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach."  Well, when it came to my expectations of Point Pelee, I had been guided by my experience at Fort DeSoto a couple of weeks earlier, and my expectations were bigger than the number of new warblers to see,

We began our last morning in the park looking for the Canada Warbler, but it didn't show, though we did see a lovely Yellow Warbler and a Swainson's Thrush while looking for either a Gray-cheeked Thrush or maybe a Louisiana Waterthrush.  Out next spot was the Woodland trail that turned out to be quite exciting as two good birds were spotted in short order.  The first to draw a crowd was a Red-headed Woodpecker,(I had chased one down in Florida two months earlier), and it put on a very nice show high in the canopy.  The second bird to attract a crowd was a Prothonotary Warbler that put on an even better show right next to the tree in which the Red-morph Screech Owl had its own fairly large crowd gathered on the same not very wide foot bridge.  Many times, while photographing the Prothonotary Warbler I felt like I was in danger of being cast into the abyss.

We finished down at the Tip at the south end of the Park, and got good looks at a few more Warblers and were nearly attacked and devoured by masses of Midges, gnat like creatures about twice the size of mosquitoes, that bug the heck out of you but at least don't bite.  There must have been thousands of them and in fact there were so many that you could hear a constant hum not dissimilar to an active bee hive.

After lunch we headed out of the park, but not before stopping at the Marsh Boardwalk.  Sue had mentioned the previous day that we might find Black Terns there, and it was not long before she spotted one on the marsh.  So I was able to get one more bird added to the list and only 3 new Year birds for the Park.  Along the way we saw a Swamp Sparrow in it's natural environment.  Again it was a bird I had seen in Florida, but on dry land.

All along I had been receiving e-mails from OntBirds about the Warblers and others in Rondeau Provincial Park and since it was on the way back to Toronto, I thought it would be fun to check out.  An hour and half later we arrived at Rondeau and after a brief stop at the Visitor's Centre, and a look at their feeder birds, headed off to the residential neighbourhood of the park.  Unlike Point Pelee, people still live in their own homes in Rondeau.  One house in particular is festooned with feeders and they have had the rare opportunity to host a visitor from the south, a Yellow-throated Warbler, each of the last three springs. A provincial rarity to be sure, it comes and goes from their suet feeder through out the day.

The home owners invited us, along with a few other birders, to stand in their front lawn and wait the arrival.  Some folks had been known to wait up to five hours without seeing the bird.  I wasn't prepared to stay that long, but was willing to give it time, considering all the birds that did come to their front and back yard feeders.  Turns out Rondeau is pretty much like Point Pelee, but with more birds and fewer bugs.  Just in their yard alone, we saw two other warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breaded Grosbeaks, two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and our second Red-headed Woodpecker of the day, at the backyard feeder.

After about 20 minutes, though, our patience was rewarded and the Yellow-throated Warbler flew in and had a small snack on the suet feeder, before flying into a tree and vanishing to wherever Yellow-throated Warblers vanish to after their evening performance.  We all got good looks at it, thanked the home owners and set out for some of the other park trails.

At the Tulip Trail where a Canada Warbler had been seen earlier in the afternoon Sue spotted a Warbling Vireo in a tree.  We had only been at the park half an hour and already I had added two new birds.  And it was going to get even better, as the South Point Trail at Rondeau proved to be a Warbler Wonderland.

First up was an Eastern Towhee, pointed out by a group of birders just leaving the trail.  Then we came to an area chock full of Warblers.  Chestnut Sided, Yellow, Palm, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped.  Then two of the birds we had missed in Pelee made an appearance.  First up was the Blue-winged Warbler that, at first only made a brief cameo appearance, but then came out for an encore and flitted from along the tops of some tall grass.  Our last bird was a Wilson's Warbler, pointed out by another birder.  I got on the bird quickly and was able to see its black cap clearly before it vanished into the depths of the foliage.

By that time, anyway, we were both tired and hungry and it was time to head back to Toronto.  All said and done, it was a great trip.  In we found 64 species in a day and a half and I was only able to add three to my Year list.  In Rondeau, we saw 36 species in about 90 minutes, and I was able to add five more birds to my Year's total, giving me 11 for the trip, including 3 at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Crouching Sparrows, Hidden Warblers

We arrived at Point Pelee National Park by 6am on Wednesday morning with high expectations of seeing lots of Warblers, Sparrows and Vireos, Oh My.  And though we ended the day with 46 species seen, it was not great in terms of Warbler fallout.  It was a great day of seeing birds in general and we did get to see lots of very good birds by the end of the day, but the morning was a grand disappointment.   It seemed to be for most birders out there.  It started off well enough with a male wild turkey doing everything in it's power to attract a mate, except for the fact that there were no females present.

After checking out the Turkey, we walked the 2.6 KM to the Tip, the southernmost point in Canada, where the waves will drag you under if you even think of dipping a toe in the water.  Along the way we saw lots of Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers and for a while we were wondering which of each we had seen more of.  I think the Orioles took a commanding lead in the morning, but the Yellow's had a good comeback in the afternoon.  We also saw a goodly number of Orchard Orioles, and Barn Swallows as well as a few sightings of Eastern Kingbirds.

When we got to the Tip, there were lots of people looking for birds, but very few birds to be seen.  Mostly the background music was Orioles and Red-winged Blackbirds, with a few others thrown in for an occasional change in melody.  And everywhere we looked there were birders, men and women and kids of all ages, walking the paths from one end to the other, hoping to see anything but a Yellow or Yellow-rumped Warbler.  At the very end of the Tip, as we stood as far south as one can stand in Canada without getting wet, we did get a look at a Herring Gull, mixed in with lots of Ring-billed Gulls.

Even so, there seemed to be no joy in Peleeville.  At least for the morning.  Not that we weren't seeing birds, but they were mostly birds you'd see anywhere.  People come to Point Pelee in May to see lots of migrating Warblers and the like.  The three previous days had been great in terms of numbers of birds.  Oh well.  We plugged along and the day got better and birdier as the temperature climbed.

We walked up to the Sparrow Field and got some very nice birds, including a Brown Thrasher and Chipping Sparrow.  I also got my first House Wren of the year, thanks to Sue taking a seat on a log to rest, while I hunted, yet again, for a Clay-colored Sparrow, again with out luck.  I did find an American Redstart along the way, and got a nice look at an Eastern Bluebird, as well.

As I was walking back to where Sue was sitting, she was silently waving me over.  As I crouched down next to her, she pointed at a bush where a diminutive bird was perched.  I got my eyes on it and yes, it was a House Wren.  We had seen many birds already that morning, but it was my first new Year bird of the day.  By then it was time for lunch, but not before we stumbled upon the best bird we'd see that day.

As we were walking back to the main park road to walk back to the Visitor's Centre, we heard an odd, distinctive bird call that neither of us recognized but knew was something to be seen rather than heard.  We crossed the street and within seconds spotted a big bird.  I knew the look, as I had seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Florida recently.  This was a Black-billed Cuckoo and one of the birds that was top of my list for Pelee.  It was the best, and last new Year bird of the day, but it was cool and another example of being at the right place at the right time.

An example of not being at the right place at the right time was the search for the Canada Warbler, another top of the list bird for us on our first day in Pelee.  Along one of the park paths, as we were returning from seeing the Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl at least a dozen birders were gathered round a pile of shrub off the path in the woods.  We knew they had something special.  People were saying they had just seen the Canada Warbler.  Oh boy!  Jackpot!  Nothing!  It had vanished into the thicket.  There was one moment of hope, but it turned out to be a Magnolia Warbler.  Well, it could have been worse, it could have been raining.

Claps of thunder, low clouds, cold wind and yes, rain.  Sue and I stayed a little longer, but decided to spend the rest of the thunderstorm taking an afternoon nap in the dry warmth of the car.  It was a good rest, and nice to snack on coffee and cookies as we waited, but within a half hour the rain had stopped and we headed back to see if the Canada Warbler had come out to dry off.  Again, a dozen, if not more, birders were gathered around where the bird was seen.  As I was walking up to them something darted across my field of vision.  I couldn't see it, but as we approached the group, one woman said that she had just been looking at the Canada Warbler and it had flown across the path into the other side of the woods.  Great.  Missed it by "that" much!  However I did get a nice look and photo of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, so it turned out just fine.

We waited a while, continued walking, maybe we'd at least get a Water Thrush.  But within minutes the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, the winds increased and it felt as though a hurricane was about to blow through.  Sue headed to the car for safety but I hung out for one last chance at the Canada Warbler.  It didn't appear, but I did get to have a nice chat with Justin, who was one of our guides up in Algonquin Park a couple of weeks back.  That was fun while we waited in vain for the warbler to show, and he did explain how to tell the Magnolia from the Canada Warbler, as the Magnolia has a yellow rump.

Soon the rains began in earnest and it was time to flee for the safely of the car.  By then it was late enough to call it a day. Before we had a chance to exit the park, we stopped one more time, though.  Sue had thought it we might be able to see Black Terns, but as it turned out, we got to see a baby owl.  A Great-horned Owl that looked more like Cousin It from the Adams Family than any owl I'd ever seen.

So, in the end, it was a good day, but not the great Warbler day I had hoped for.  But until December 31, there is always tomorrow and we will be up once again at the crack of dawn trying again to see if the Warblers and Sparrows might not be crouching or hidden every time we walk by.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Migrating to Point Pelee

Well a new Birding adventure has begun as we head to Point Pelee to take part in the annual pilgrimage to Point Pelee National Park. Thousands of birders from around the world make their way here every year for the Warblers and other migrating birds.

But first we stopped at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons to see a Wilson's Pharlarope.   We walked the lagoons twice over without any luck but we did manage to see about 24 species in the surprisingly nice smelling sewage lagoons and I did add 3 new birds to my year along the way: Bay-breasted Warbler, Eastern Kingbird and Solitare Sandpiper.  I also added a number of birds to my Ontario list, including a Bobolink.

We then moved on to Hillman Marsh Conservation Area where we had hoped to see some American Avocets , but we were shut out.  We did see an additional 18 species, including a Least Sandpiper, American Kingfisher, Great Egret, and Great Blue Heron.

Tomorrow we head to Point Pelee National Park, the spring "Festival of Birds," and what we hope will be a Big Day of Birding.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Day Off

Yes, I took a day off from chasing birds today.  Yesterday Sue and I Birded Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Tommy Thompson Park, and I finished on my own at Colonel Sam Smith Park.  Amongst the many birds we did see, only one was new, but it was a good one.  Both Sue and I spotted the Least Flycatcher high in a tree, but it was Sue's keen ear in identifying the call that clinched number 346.  We did get some other good birds along the way, including a Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Flicker, Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Blue and Nashville Warbler, and Sue's first Yellow Warbler of the year.

Today, I had a lot to do, including my annual visit to my accountant to get my taxes done, so chasing was out of the question.  Not that I didn't see any birds, as there were birds around my house and on the feeder, but tomorrow we head to Point Pelee and it will be three straight days of new birds.  I can't remember a day, whether I had to work or not, in recent memory that I haven't gone out, even for a short time, with binoculars and a camera.

Off to bed early tonight, and on the road even earlier tomorrow.  I have been looking forward to Point Pelee since the beginning of the year.  It was the first birding trip we had planned, aside from Florida in February, after I had decided to do a Big Year.  Reports from Pelee already make it the don't miss trip of the spring.  I doubt I'll be able to sleep tonight from the excitement of it all.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

May Means Migration

Another month and another new bird.  A second try, earlier on the morning of May 1st, at Oshawa Second Marsh resulted in the Little Gulls that I had missed the day before.  However, there was no sign of the Brant, so as it turned out two trips were better than one.  Once again, the spotting scope proved its worth, as I was able to get good looks at both the Bonapart's and the Little Gulls, for size and wing colour comparison.  Who knew that there was an annual Little Gull viewing weekend behind the GM plant?  I missed the actual event this year, but will be sure to attend in 2013.  Sounds like a good time was had by all in attendance.

May 2 was not for the birds, as I had a full day of work, but managed to get out in the evening with Sue and as often happens, you never know what you might see.  In this case it was Wood Ducks in a tree.  Very cool and my first really good look at Wood Ducks this year.

May 3rd was a bountiful harvest of Warblers and Sparrows and birds of all types.  Local birders on the OntBirds e-mails were referring to it as fallout.  It was pretty good birding, but not really a fallout.  More of a great migratory day, as I saw at a large number of birds of every description.  Since I had been present in Florida the fallout at Fort DeSoto, the only new warbler I was able to count was a Nashville, pointed out to me by a birder in Colonel Sam Smith park that evening.  Still there are plenty of Sparrows and Warblers out there that I have not yet seen, and that is the point of going to Point Pelee next week.

I started out the day on Thursday  at Tommy Thompson Park, moved on to Humber Bay East and then on to Colonel Sam, where I was finally able to find a Rusty Blackbird.  All day long there were e-mails about the large numbers of fal warblers and I wanted Sue to see a few too, so we both went back to Colonel Sam this evening, before the rain.  By then, though there were not as many birds and it was quite chilly.

Yesterday I went out again to Mount Pleasant Cemetery and ran into a nice guy name Dave who was playing hooky from work for a few minutes of birding.  With his help I was able to see a Chestnut-sided Warbler.  Later I went to Rattray Conservation Area and ran into him again.  We birded for a while and watched more than a dozen Common Tern fly by, spotted Green and Blue-winged Teal and a Spotted Sandpiper before had to leave, this time he really was going to work.

Not long after I ran into a nice lady named Linda and we birded together for the next hour or so.  She was trying to help me find the Blue-winged Warbler, that she and others had seen, but it was too quiet and too hidden to be spotted this time around.  We did finally find a Blackburnian Warbler before it was time to go, so I still added two new Year Birds and added about a dozen birds to my Ontario list for the year.

I finished the day in my own back yard, which leads into a cemetery and while walking there found 8 species including a Chipping Sparrow and a returning Sharp-shinned Hawk that Sue had found last summer.

It hit me how many birds I've seen this year,(345), when I could only add 5 new birds in 5 great days of Birding.  It looks to be a great week or two of birding with the influx of migratory birds, and 3 days out at Point Pelee.  Is it wishful thinking to think I can get 55 new species and reach 400 by the end of May  Perhaps it's not out of the question, though I'd be happy with hitting 400 in June when I go to Alaska for a week.

Photos from the last few days: