Wednesday, 29 August 2012

There's No Birding Like Shore Birding...

...There's no birding I know.  Every Sandpiper is terrific.   Every little Plover is divine.

But picking out individuals from masses of Killdeer and other ubiquitous shorebirds is not always an easy task.  Not to sound speciest, but a lot of them look alike.  As such, I have failed miserably on some occasions and have, on others, found the bird in question within a couple of minutes of my arrival, after hours of driving.

Today, at the West Perth Wetlands, I had to take my time and scan each and every bird on the mudflats.  Within a very reasonable half hour of searching, after having spotted a Baird's Sandpiper and a large handful of American Golden Plovers, I found the Hudsonian Godwit I had come to see.  I got to watch it feed for quite some time until all the birds flushed at once, due to some unseen menace, and then within minutes settled back in, though I did not see the Godwit after that.

It was a perfect day to have a day off from working at the CNE, and lovely drive out to Perth.  I enjoyed a leisurely day, slowly passing through Stratford on my way, and eating my baloney sandwich at the picnic table in the parking area of the wetlands.  I almost didn't make it today, as last night suffered through the passing of yet another kidney stone.  It wasn't the worst one I have ever passed,(and I have passed quite a few, believe me), but it wasn't a walk in the park either.

So, with August drawing to a close, it was a bonus to add 3 birds today.  I am sure there was a Pectoral Sandpiper somewhere in the mix, but I couldn't spot it.  Just too many birds and not enough time or shorebird savvy to identify all of them.   Perhaps with the help of my New Jersey birding friends next week, I will add to my growing shorebird knowledge.  Until then, I am happy to have made it just a little closer to my revised goal of 500 species for 2012.  I was thinking that 572 would be a nice number to finish with.  That was the number of species Roger Tory Peterson reported at the end of 1953, the year of Wild America and the very first Big Year.

And once again, thanks to OntBirds for the reports.  I couldn't have gotten this far without them.  So glad, though, that I had seen a Thick-billed Kingbird in Arizona, as I didn't have time to drive to both Perth and Prequile and still have make it home for dinner.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

These are more birdies in my Neighbourhood

It has not been all work and no birding.  I've enjoyed a short morning or a quick evening at James Gardens, Colonel Sam and Humber Bay East, as they are all on my route to and from downtown Toronto each day of this looooooong stretch of work before the birding begins again in earnest just over a week from now.

Reports of great and rare birds seen on some of the early fall pelagic trips have been fantastic and have just whet my appetite and got me geared up for the trips to come.

Anyhoo, I could keep rambling or share some recent photos, and since time does not allow for rambling, I shall bid you a adieu and check in again after the OFO trip to Toronto Island this coming Saturday.  My hopes are high for a Connecticut Warbler.

What I would suspect the result of a Turkey head being grafted onto a Blue Jay body would look like:

The Odd Couple.  These relationships are becoming more mainstream in recent years:

These two, though, do not approve.

There is a dead tree near the entrance to James Gardens that has had different birds every morning; anything from flycatchers to hummingbirds, Goldfinches and yesterday a lovely hawk.

And the Red-necked Grebes are still about in Colonel Sam

Friday, 24 August 2012

Return to the Chase

In this case, another chance to find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  And in this case there were two of them, and it wasn't so much a chase as a leisurely drive to Whitby, Ontario and setting up my scope in a spot that a city worker recommended as a perfect viewing spot.  And, after scanning the mudflats beyond the many Killdeer, I spotted one, then another of the Buff-breasted beauties.  On just a few occasions did both appear together, but they were constantly on the move having their morning feed and never stayed in the scope more than a few seconds at a time.  Plenty though to get good looks and share the view with a few other birders who showed up, thanks to OntBirds reports the last couple of days.

One of them was Margaret, who took the train from Etobicoke for this Lifer.  I was glad to share the scope with her and swap birding stories.   I hung around for about 40 minutes but never got a really good photograph.

So, one step closer to 500 and one day closer to my next birding trip too.  The excitement is building and I have been in touch daily with Edna, from New Jersey, who first discovered this blog while recovering from surgery and and then invited me to come to Cape May in the fall for migration.  Cape May is to fall migration as Point Pelee is to spring migration.   It will be non stop Birding from dawn Til dusk, starting September 6.

Here are the not too good photos of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and a nice photo of a juvenile Green Heron, looking rather punk-ish with his/her mohawk:

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Great Egret!

Well, a happy, happy birthday to Sue, without whom this would have been a Very Long Year and not quite as Big a Year.  She has put up with a lot of craziness this year and is still hanging on to her sanity, even when I have lost mine.

It's sometimes nice to just bird the neighbourhoods around my home and I've been to James Gardens and Colonel Sam and Humber Bay East.  The other day I saw and failed to photograph a Canada Warbler for the third time, in James Gardens.  But did see and photograph a Ruby-throated Hummingbird high in a tree just after an Olive-sided Flycatcher few off.

Yesterday a Great Egret was hanging out in one of the ponds, on one leg, on a rock near the edge, behind the Pavilion.  Everyone who walked by just stopped and looked and many took photos.  I was one of them and it was so close you could almost reach out and touch it.  My first Great Egret here in Canada, so it was a nice treat.

I'm still stuck at 488, but only 2 Weeks and 2 Days until Cape May, and resuming the quest for my 500th bird of 2012.

These are the birdies in my neighbourhood:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Birding at Home

That will be the continuing and repetitive refrain for the next few weeks.  I am in the midst of a stretch of days where I will be working 10-12 hours a day both at the ball park and my annual stint at the CNE, as I have done since I was in High School.

However, I will have plenty of chances to just go birding around the city, especially in the mornings.  Sue and I went out to James Gardens the other day, where we saw a baby Blue Jay, and sunning cormorants.  We are also getting plenty of birds at our feeders, including our first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the year.

I shall keep up with the blog, here and there until we set out for Cape May, NJ on September 6.  Here's hoping there will be a few interesting migrants coming through the city to add to my year list.

Until then, 488 and holding...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Driven to Bird Part 3: Wild Grouse Chase...

Updated: August 9, 2012 @ 7:45PM due to a Technical Error, with photos and even more amusing comments:

... and I mean wild.  From the time I left St. Louis, and drove thousands of miles through Iowa, Minnesota, Northern Ontario and Michigan, I was on the prowl for a Sharp-tailed Grouse.  I knew where they were supposed to be, and they knew I was coming.  I am sure each and every one of them ducked into the grass just low enough to evade my binoculars and scope everywhere I looked.

After weeks of birding in 95+ degrees in Texas, Florida, Arizona and even St. Louis, the 65 degree temperature in Minnesota and Michigan and Northern Ontario was both a shock to the system and a relief and made searching easier, if not any more productive.

I was given advice on numerous occasions.  While in Sault Sainte Marie E-bird directed me to a spot in Michigan just across the boarder, where someone, days earlier had reported a Sharp-tailed.  It was only a short drive away, so why not?

At the boarder the customs official told me an even better spot to find them.  He was a hunter, not a birder. so I thought I could trust him.  There were no Sharp-tails at either location.  The owner of the little Bed and No Breakfast I stayed at told me of another road to drive down that assuredly would have grouse.  Nope.  Along another road a couple of workers knew of a spot, only an hour north of where I was and I drove in a last ditch effort to find the grouse.  90 minutes later, I ended up at Whitefish Point, where the birding was very good,(and they have a tribute to The Edmund Fitzgerald), but I was still grousing over the lack of Sharp-tailed Grouse.  The two summer students at the interpretive board said they had them back at their home State Park, only an hour and a half away.  I decided to cut my losses and just head back to Toronto.  The drive was going to be long enough already.

I am sure I will trip over a Sharp-tailed Grouse at some point when I least expect it, and perhaps that is the best way to bag a grouse.  Apparently in Michigan Sharp-tailed Grouse are not for looking at, they are for eating.  Slow cooked they are quite a dinner treat.  I suspect they taste like chicken if you cook them long enough, and where I was in Michigan, they throw themselves in front of cars so they can be dinner that night.

Days earlier, in Minnesota I did have to put up with the humiliation of having a Sora laugh at me from the reeds and then flush and fly across the bog, showing me it's backside.  It was probably giving me the feather too, but I was too shocked and excited to notice.  I enjoyed a Northern Goshawk flying over as well, and finally, a west-migrating Golden Eagle.  At McGregor Marsh I had failed to see or even hear a Yellow Rail, spent a few hours driving through the Sax-Zim Bog and outside Duluth I spent a long night searching for Boreal Owl with no success, driving up and down Gunflint Road.  I had then crossed back into Canada in North Bay and had driven to Sault Sainte Marie, along the way finding Sandhill Cranes,(my first for Ontario) and Black-backed Woodpeckers

I slept three nights in a row, at one point, in the comfort of the front seat of my car.  I lost a filling.  I lived and ate at times like a homeless person, not shaving and wearing the same cargo pants for a week.  Sue doesn't ever want me as a travel agent.

I stopped at gas stations and diners where the people, at times, made Rednecks look like princes, and gave a new low to what I had thought of White-trailer- trash.  When you have tattoos of the names of your past two ex-boyfriends on your neck, you most certainly are trailer trash.  It was both sad and scary to see how some people live.  Of course, after a week on the road, practically living in my car, who was I to talk?

Back in Ontario, I spent my second straight night in a hotel, bathed and shaved, even saw a 11pm showing of The Amazing Spiderman in Windsor, before heading into Blenheim to their lovely sewage lagoons.  I was glad they were not called the Alfred Hitchcock Sewage Lagoons, as I was nearly swarmed by hundreds of swallows and would have ended up dead in the gravel road with my eyes plucked out as a tasty treat for "The Birds."  I braved the swarms and bagged the second easiest bird of the trip,(next to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow), a non-breeding plumage Red-necked Phalarope, bird number 487 for the year.  There had been some controversy as to whether it was a Red or Red-necked Phalarope, but upon closer examination it was discovered to have been toothless and living in a rusted-out trailer, so it had to be a Redneck.  Actually, it's pointier beak clinched it.

The next few weeks will be pretty slow.  I will only be able to chase what shows up in Toronto between now and September 5.  Work commitments just won't allow for anything more than an early morning or occasional late afternoon bird outing.   But that doesn't mean I am done for the year, not by a long shot.  Starting on September 6, I will be going to Cape May, New Jersey, where along with land birds, I will be doing three boat trips, including a 18 hour overnight pelagic.  A week later I will be in California birding with my buddies Eddie and Noreen and also going on at least one of Debbie Shearwater's Pelagics.  I've already booked Half Moon Bay.  If time allows, a day trip to Tucson AZ for the Five-striped Sparrow and a few other fall birds.  Lots of OFO outings in between, including Hawk Cliff.  There are still trips to Florida and perhaps back to Texas for the Rio Grande Bird festival in November.  Not going to think past that, as that would be December and the coming end of the Big Year.

# 488 for 2012, spinning in a sewage lagoon:

At one point I waded in trying to flush a yellow rail and nearly filled my boots with swamp water, and made a hasty retreat!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Paul: Master of the ETS

I wanted to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and I didn't just want to drive the city streets of St. Louis hoping I'd spot one in a tree or on a wire. So, like so many other times this year, I turned to the WWW for hints, answers and a fast track to the location of the "only in St. Louis" bird.

I came upon a sight that listed a dozen places where it could be found, the first of which actually gave an exact address of a house outfitted with a dozen bird houses that were home to the little brown guys. I drove there shortly after an abandoned search for a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and easily found the house. On the porch was an older gentleman, sitting in his chair enjoying the evening.

Not sure if I should just walk up to him I got out my binoculars and camera and started wandering the neighborhood, in search of the bird. Having no luck, I threw caution to the wind and approached the man, saying! " Either I will sound crazy to you, or you'll know exactly what I am talking about."

He looked at me with a perfect poker face as though I was speaking another language. I continued, "You wouldn't happen to know anything about the Eurasian Tree Sparrow?"

Know anything? Ha! Paul, as he is known,(don't even bother asking him his last name), bought the house 40 years ago and it wasn't long before he started noticing these strange sparrows, who want nothing to do with common tree or house sparrows. Over the years he has put up houses for the birds and they live there year round, except for a odd September vacation, where they disappear to who knows where and return in October. Many a foreign visitor has been disappointed to arrive at just the wrong time. And they do come from all over, including as far away as England.

He has kept a log book and has people sign it when he is there to greet them. He has kept these since 1979 but his original book is gone, borrowed by a reporter doing a story on him and the birds and never returned. Paul took me for a tour of the backyard bird houses, and invited me to sit and chat on his porch and even offered me a photo of the birds, he hands out to all visitors.

As we chatted the birds came in and flew out and eventually, after Paul bid me a good night and went in the house, one bird alighted in the house hanging by the front door and let me watch and photograph it before it too went in to sleep.

I was thrilled. Sure, it wasn't a difficult bird to find, but it probably was one of the most rewarding birds I've seen this year. Like so many other times before, it's not just the birds I have seen, but the places they have taken me and the people I have met along the way that has made this a truly great Big Year.

If you are passing through St. Louis, make your way to Dogtown and tell Paul, Robert sent you.

484 birds and counting. And if anyone is keeping score,(Fred), that puts me in the Top Ten on the E-bird list for 2012.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow

I will tell you the fascinating story of Paul, Master of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, when I find a hotel somewhere in the midwest tonight.  However, I flew back from Tucson yesterday afternoon and drove out to the Dogtown Neighbourhood of St. Louis and found the bird that only lives in the St. Louis area most of the year.  It has a great story and I shall share it later.  However, pictures do tell stories and here is a preface:

Arizona Birding Adventure Wrap Up

... Now where was I?

Right, finishing off in Arizona, prior to setting off for St. Louis.  I tell you, with all the travel and long days and late nights, finding time to write is sometimes a challenge.  So back to Arizona, where we drove up to Rose Canyon and enjoyed god looks at Greater Pewee, along with Olive, Grace's and Red-faced Warblers.  This was an amazing day because it never took longer than 5 minutes to find each bird.  And they say summer birding is slow.  Not in Arizona!

We then continued up the mountain, which eventually takes you to 9200 feet above sea level, where Hepatic Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cordilleran and Buff-breasted Flycatchers and a Western Bluebird greeted us with open wings and chirpy hellos.  We finished with a picnic at the very top, where we had an appetizer of Bushtit and Virginia's Warbler, a main course of Band-tailed Pigeon,(they were tough), and a Steller's Jay for dessert.

Once again, Arizona proved to be a great place to bird, even in the heat of summer and there are still more birds to find there.  I saw over 50 species on the trip and added 31 new year birds, bumping my total to 483.

Here then is a selection of photos from the two days: