Monday, February 20, 2012

Carden in Winter

It's official: Shrikes love the Carden Alvar; Loggerhead Shrikes in the summer, and Northern Shrikes in the winter. On a quick drive through Carden Alvar today we saw four Northern Shrikes. Maybe that's not unusual for some people, but last year I only saw one Northern Shrike in total, and that wasn't until the end of December.

Northern Shrike

We didn't have time to drive up Wylie Road, and Alvar Road was too snowed in for us to risk travelling on, but just by driving south on Victoria Road and then west on McNamee Road, we picked up a few new birds for the year. This included our first Snow Buntings that with the mild weather have been scarcer than usual.

Ruffed Grouse
White-winged Crossbill

Sunday, February 19, 2012

On the Birding Circuit

I'm the first to acknowledge that there is a birding circuit that many Ontario birders follow, and that I am on it much of the time. There are certain places to go, during certain times of the year, to observe certain birds. It's as big a cliche in the birding world as Tilley hats and photography vests. So it will come as no surprize to any Ontario birder that Hannah & I decided to do some winter birding in Algonquin Provincial Park this weekend. We weren't alone either. I saw some semi-familiar faces at the Visitor Centre, the Spruce Bog trail and the Opeongo Road. We were all on the circuit.

Pine Siskin
Gray Jay
I wouldn't say the birding was easy, but we invested some time and came away with some nice winter birds. In the winter finch department we scored Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin & Evening Grosbeak (not relying on feeder birds).

American Marten

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Rare Dove in North Bay

Every birder has their own personal twitching thresholds. Whether I am willing to chase a given bird will depend on distance, degree of rarity, special interest in the particular taxa involved, what else I have to do that day, etc.

A White-winged Dove was reported at a feeder in North Bay earlier this week. According to the report, the bird had been present since the middle of January, but its identity only became known to the homeowner (and the birding community) a few days ago. North Bay would normally be too far from Cambridge to justify a road trip to see it. However, it just so happens that this was a long weekend, and Hannah & I had previously planned to spend it in the vicinity of Algonquin P.P. While North Bay may be too far to twitch from Cambridge, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from Huntsville.

White-winged Dove
To make a long story short, we decided to start off our long weekend in North Bay, searching a residential subdivision for this rare bird. As the photograph reflects, we were successful. This represents a new Ontario bird for us both, though we have seen them before in the Southern United States and the Caribbean (where you would expect to see them).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


It seems so often the case that when an unusual bird shows up in Ontario it just happens to be hundreds of kilometres away. Ontario is, after all, a big jurisdiction. Every once in a while, however, something turns up close to home (or work). A Ross's Goose was reported to Ontbirds by Bob Noble last Saturday at Professor's Lake in Brampton, which is only a few kilometres from my office. I was not at the office on Monday so my first chance to check the lake was yesterday, but when I arrived at approximately 9:45 a.m. most of the geese had already departed for nearby farmer's fields or wherever. So today I arrived bright and early at 7:55 a.m. and lo-and-behold it was out on the edge of the ice, about 250 metres from shore.

Ross's Goose
Now this photograph is not what you would call "portrait quality". In fact it might rival photographs of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But honest, it's a Ross's Goose.

Similar in appearance to the larger Snow Goose, Ross's Goose is most often seen in small numbers in Ontario as a passage migrant in Spring. It breeds in northern Canada and winters in the Southern United States and northern Mexico (notably in Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Are you a Mod or a Rocker?

Um, no I'm a Mocker.

Today I took a day off from work. As an extra bonus, Hannah was "working from home" so we got to spend the day together. Since it was sunny and mild outside, I convinced her to take a break from writing the environmental report she was working on and we took a quick drive over to Guelph Lake Conservation Area where there has been a Barred Owl overwintering in one of the woodlots. We dipped on the owl, but were chided by a Northern Mockingbird when we passed too close to its berry bush.

Northern Mockingbird

If you are having trouble understanding the title of this post, Ringo can explain...

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Today we sojourned to the Haldimand plain, in search of winter owls, rare geese and a new corvid for our Ontario list. Wouldn't you know it we were mostly successful.

Snowy Owl
We departed at 8:00 a.m. with a full agenda and not much wiggle room if we wanted to fit everything in. Our first stop was Rock Chapel Golf Centre, north of Hamilton, where yesterday a Greater White-fronted Goose was reported with a healthy flock of several hundred Canada Geese. Perhaps we arrived too early, because there were very few birds present. A handful of Canadas and three American Wigeon (new for the year list).

Our next stop was Townsend where another Greater White-fronted Goose had been reported earlier in the week. Again we were unsuccessful, and the thousands of Canada Geese that had been present only a few days ago were nowhere in sight.

Next we headed for Fisherville in search of Short-eared Owls. We weaved back and forth along the concession roads but could turn up no owls (though we did see two albino Wild Turkeys, a nice variety of winter raptors as well as a flooded field with 41 Northern Pintails).

Onward to Cayuga where we investigated the bridge over the Grand River for old Barn Swallow nests (reconnaissance for Hannah's project at work for MTO). After that we did a little bit of reminiscing at Ruthven where we enjoyed the company of the (Eastern) Bluebird of happiness.

Next we did some target birding. The plan was to seek out the Fish Crows that have been regularly observed in Fort Erie for the past few weeks. Marcie from Fort Erie telephoned just as we pulled into town to tell us that she was at that moment looking at two Fish Crows and to give us directions. We arrived a few minutes afterwards and had good up-close looks at the pair, both of which were vocalizing nicely.

Fish Crow
Now it was crunch time. We still hadn't seen any owls, so off we went to the mouth of the Niagara River at Fort Erie where we quickly found the Snowy Owl reported there. The only problem was it was out in the middle of the river on the roof of the pump house and technically it was not in Canada, but rather the United States. However, it is a major irruption year for Snowy Owls (the largest ever documented) and another had been reported from Vineland, which was on the way back home. A quick detour off the QEW and we had our target.

With the time approaching 4:00 p.m. we booted it to Stony Creek where there is a reliable spot to see Short-eared Owls up on the Niagara escarpment at dusk. Three came out at about 5:15 p.m. and we watched them happily for about 15 minutes before calling it a day.

Today we added seven new bird taxa to the year list: American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Cooper's Hawk,  Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Fish Crow, Horned Lark, Eastern Bluebird and Northern Mockingbird.