Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If a Thick-billed can do it...

...why not a Dusky-capped or Brown-crested Flycatcher? All three Tyrannidae are from the southwest, but the Thick-billed has the most limited distribution in the ABA area. So why not?

Thick-billed Kingbird

No reason, that's why not. Maybe they have occurred in Ontario, but have so far escaped detection because of their similarity to other Myiarchus species, in particular Great Crested Flycatcher.

It is interesting that the Province's first Thick-billed Kingbird was found in the exact same location (Calf Pasture, Presqu'ile P.P.) that the Province's first Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was found in 1986. Also, Doug McRae mentioned today that he found a Western Kingbird in that same location. Very weird. Why do the vagrant Tyrant Flycatchers love the Calf Pasture so much?

For my family who are probably the most loyal readers of this stuff, but who are not as up-to-date on the birding news, Ontario's first Thick-billed Kingbird was found at Presqu'ile Provincial Park last evening. Instead of going to the office this morning, I got up early and drove 2 hours to see it. It was well worth it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Isaac is Coming

Heads up stormwatchers! Isaac's trajectory looks very promising. The tip of Point Pelee this Sunday morning would be a good place to set up a vigil. Here's hoping that Isaac deposits storm-entrained pelagic/tropical birds to a lake watch near you!

[Image of 5-day forecast and coastal areas under a warning or a watch]
Courtesy of NOAA

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chimney Swift Migration

I captured some video of the Chimney Swift roost at Dickson Public School, 65 St. Andrews St., Cambridge. You can hear one of the neighbours taking orders for coffee. Everyone likes a catered event.

The numbers were pretty impressive; about 300. On the other side of the ledger, the roost that I identified three years ago in Hespeler (Ernie's Roadhouse) is totally inactive this year. I believe the chimney was modified last fall (e.g. capped or a liner installed) making it unsuitable as a roost. This could account for this year's apparent increase in numbers at the Dickson Public School. Migrating birds may be bypassing Hespeler, or birds that bred/fledged in Hespeler might be vacating the area sooner than last year and moving south to join up with the higher concentration of birds in Galt.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

AOU 53rd Supplement

It's that time of year again when the AOU's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature - North and Middle America publishes its supplement to the Check-list of North American Birds. These guys just love to mix it up, doggedly pursuing the chimera of a perfect taxonomy.

This year's supplement lacks some of the pizazz of last year's reorganization of the wood warblers. On the other hand, the rearrangement of the Falconiformes (caracaras & falcons) and Psittaciforms (parrots) to a position immediately before the Passeriformes is intriguing. This is consistent with the thesis that there are two independently evolved lineages of raptor, rather than one as is traditionally believed. Also, there is the exciting addition Bryan's Shearwater; the first newly described (rather than merely split) North American species in recent memory.

The most relevant change for Ontario domestic birders is probably the change of genus for Purple, Cassin's and House Finch.

An editorial criticism I have is the committee's use of the term "resurrect". A more objective choice of terminology would be "reinstate".

A "typical" Savannah Sparrow exhibiting obvious dissatisfaction
with the committee's failure to recognize its distinctness from its
"Large-billed", "San Benito" or "Belding's" conspecifics.

One item that was not approved for this year's supplement was the proposal to modify the species-level taxonomy of the Savannah Sparrow by recognizing up to four separate species. We have seen variations of this proposal before, but for various reasons the committee has so far declined to split this species. I must admit, I was kind of rooting for committee member (and U of T prof) James Rising on this one, but it was not to be.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pelee Island Butterfly Count

Over the long weekend we participated in the Pelee Island butterfly and dragonfly counts. It was really great being in the field again with Bob Bowles who not only possesses the skills of a great all-around naturalist, but is also a really swell guy with a willingness to teach. He started and later incorporated a really great not-for-profit organization called Kids for Turtles that does a lot of education and conservation work. Bob has been the organizer of the Pelee Island counts for the past 10 years or so, but this year he had some help from Kristyn Ferguson from the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Pipevine Swallowtail

The island was split into quadrants, and we were assigned to the southeast portion with Bob and some really great people from the Nature Conservancy. I wish I had a group shot - oh well.

As far as the results of the count, I don't have a comprehensive list, but I personally tallied 24 butterfly species and 7 dragonfly species. I was not too much help with identification, but I did bag the only Pipevine Swallowtail of the day (I actually thought it was a Spicebush Swallowtail). It was nice to see Hackberry Emperors and American Snout in abundance. A sighting of Tawny Crescent was the cause of much disputation. I'm really not sure who most of the other participants were, except for Bob Yukich. Everyone seemed nice though, and I overheard the mention of the 'Burg Birder on more than one occasion although he wasn't there in person.

Question Mark

It was very interesting to learn about some of the properties being managed by the Nature Conservancy on the island, and interesting to hear about some of the restoration work being conducted. Pelee Island is definitely a unique part of Canada.

NCC Property

It may be worth mentioning that there was an unconfirmed sighting of a Black Swift near the ferry dock when we arrived on Friday evening - I really don't have any further details.