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:

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