Sunday, October 27, 2013

Caspian Tern Band Encounter

Back in August, I saw a banded Caspian Tern at Ellacott Lookout (a.k.a. Hespeler Mill Pond). This is the location where I discovered Great Egrets roosting a few years ago during their post-breeding dispersal.

I snapped these two crumby phone camera shots of the bird through my scope. You can just barely make out the letter band combination on the bird's right leg ("AEA") in the cropped frame below.

I submitted it to the banding office and I just received a reply on Friday.

The bird was banded as a nestling in 2008 at Gull Island (Presqu'ile Provincial Park). According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the longevity of a Caspian Tern on the Great Lakes is 12 years, and the longest lived Caspian Tern on record is 26 years. So this guy is still a youngster!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Confessions of a Recovering Chase-o-holic

Brown Booby in Fort Erie. I decided I wasn't going to chase this one.

Brown Booby - Offshore Waters, San Diego, CA

After almost two weeks of daily email updates about the bird my self-restraint was weakening. Voices began telling me that it would be easy to leave work a few hours early on a week night or postpone some of the housework. Almost unconsciously I started to dream up justifications and search for gaps in my calendar.

Ultimately, I caved in. We went last Sunday afternoon. We arrived in Fort Erie at 4:45 p.m. just in time for an email alert that the bird was standing on one of the footings of the railway bridge on the US side. Ten minutes after arriving, we watched as she took flight, soared over Canadian waters close to shore, and disappeared towards Lake Erie.

I'm so ashamed of myself.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sh*t Birders Say

I first watched this video when it appeared online a year or so ago. I thought it was pretty funny and accurate.

What I didn't realize until I watched it again recently, was that it is actually part of a trilogy.

I found them all to be insightful and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rattray Marsh Receives Restoration Funding

Great Lakes wetland habitat protection got a boost this week with the announcement that Rattray Marsh will receive federal restoration funding. The announcement was made by Credit Valley Conservation, the authority responsible for management of the conservation area. In addition to the federal funds, Rattray Marsh has received funds from other sources for the restoration work (including funds from Peel Region - my employer).

Rattray Marsh is one of a chain of important lake shore parks that provide migrating birds with important stopover habitat. For birders, Rattray Marsh is a migration hotspot, and in recent years there have been some rarities sighted here as well including Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler.

The restoration work seems to relate mostly to marsh/fisheries, so perhaps this announcement is more significant for marsh birds and shorebirds than songbirds. Hopefully they don't damage the woodlands during the marsh restoration!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Carden Alvar Trail Map

The Carden Alvar is becoming more accessible to birders. With a number of trails now open to the public, gone are the days of being restricted to the limits of the road right-of-way. Couchiching Conservancy has even produced trail guide for visitors which is reproduced below.

Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 OFO Convention

I won't beat around the bush; the birding was slow last weekend at Pelee. That's not to say there weren't some good birds on display (Brown Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, Eurasian Collared-Dove) but the birding was characterized by long periods of no activity occasionally punctuated by a mixed flock of songbirds, or alternatively you could go on the hunt for the known rarities in the area. I actually had two new birds for the year (Sanderling and Cape May Warbler) so I guess the birding wasn't that bad.


I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I don't remember ever being at a convention where the birding was particularly exciting (and I've been to 6). I have actually come to regard these conventions more as a social opportunity than a birding opportunity.

The highlight by far for me was hanging out with and getting to know our guest speaker, Greg Miller on both Saturday and Sunday.

Best Buddies

What a fantastic guy! His narrated screening of the film version of "The Big Year" was a lot of fun. During his presentation at the banquet he was able to keep the attention of the audience without the use of any photographs or powerpoint slides. He was able to rely purely on the strength of his character - very impressive. He invited us to come and visit him in Ohio sometime which I hope to take him up on. Did I mention he is a fantastic person? He was so friendly with the crowd and took an interest in everyone he spoke to. Greg Miller: the humanitarian birder! I've met quite a few birding "celebrities" at various festivals and events across North America but none has impressed me more than Greg.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ostrander Point Wind Farm

In early July, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal released its decision to revoke the approval of a proposed 9 turbine wind energy project in Prince Edward County (or as I like to call it, the "turtles trump turbines" decision). To summarize, the tribunal held that the environmental concerns raised at the hearing (but not the human health concerns) were enough to defeat the proposed development. I think we can anticipate either an appeal, or a resubmission of a modified proposal.

The full text of the decision is appended below.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fast Times at Carden Alvar

Birding is not the only thing to do at Carden Alvar; the botany is also dynamite.

Dude, Where's My Binoculars?

This newspaper article from 2010 might explain why some locals in the Kirkfield area are so sensitive to birders snooping around with binoculars... they are afraid we will discover their stash!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The Big Twitch

In The Big Twitch, Aussie birder Sean Dooley goes to extreme lengths to see the most birds of any person in a singular calendar year.

The year is 2002 and the Australian big year record stands at 633. Dooley sets for himself an ambitious goal of 700 species and then proceeds to go full tilt for the entire year.

As I've mentioned before, the "big list" premise is not original, and perhaps even a little cliché. Obviously the novelty with this book is the geographic locale; reading this book is a great first step to becoming familiar with the birds of Australia and their distribution. The book is well planned out and well edited, making it enjoyable to read. The pace of the book is very even; no big gaps are left in the narrative, and the author shows a lot of discipline by allocating the 300 pages of writing equally throughout the year. Dooley has a self-deprecating humour which makes him likeable, and also reveals some very sad aspects of his life. His humour, though sometimes crude, shows great wit and insight. Dooley also possesses something very rare in an accomplished birder: modesty and self-awareness. Unlike many birders, Dooley has a realistic grasp of the bigger picture outside of the birding sub-culture.

Overall, this was an extremely fun read, and a useful introduction to Aussie birding. On the binocular scale, I rate The Big Twitch as a Kowa.

Friday, July 19, 2013

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Description from Dennis Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East:

Eyes reddish-brown over pale greenish; face pale-yellowish.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Thorax brown in front, lighter brown on sides with pale yellowish areas below.

White-faced Meadowhawk ()

Abdomen tan with wide black ventrolateral stripe from S4-9, covering larger parts of segments towards rear.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Wings have some orange suffusion at base.

White-faced Meadowhawk (♀)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dragonflies Up Close

Last Friday the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington held its annual dragonfly count.

Blue Dasher (♀)

I have participated on other odonate counts in the past (e.g. Carden Alvar and Pelee Island) but its nice to be able to do one a little closer to home.

Blue Dasher (♀)

Close-up photos reveal a lot of interesting detail, which is fun.

Unicorn Clubtail (♂)

Many of the dragonflies we encountered had only recently emerged from their larval phase; wings are not yet stiff and body parts have not hardened completely.

Unicorn Clubtail (♂)
Unicorn Clubtail (♂)

Males and females of the same species often appear quite different, especially with respect to coloration.

Common Whitetail (♀)
Common Whitetail ()

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The ABC Guide to Bird Conservation

According to the publisher, The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation is "the most authoritative book on bird conservation in the Americas ever published".

It's true: this book is comprehensive. Within its pages are species accounts of all conservation "WatchList" species from the United States. Its American bias is perhaps unfortunate, but nevertheless the book remains substantially applicable to Canada as well. Also, the treatment of Hawaiian birds was very eye-opening (Hawaii has the most endemic bird species and has experienced the most bird extinctions by far of any US State or Canadian Province/Territory).

Although I read it cover-to-cover, this is really more of a reference book. Many of the threats and issues of concern to bird conservationists are common to many species, so you will find that if you read it in a linear fashion the book does become repetitive. On the other hand, the information provided is thorough and some of the repetition allows you to draw connections and see commonalities where they exist between different bird species. This book also includes a discussion of the Neotropics, which is not only a location of conservation concern for our migratory species, but also for its own resident bird species and populations.

On the binocular scale, from Tasco on the low end to Swarovski at the high end, I rate The ABC Guide to Bird Conservation as a Nikon. Not really necessary reading, but innovative and well done.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cambridge Bank Swallow Colony

While we were doing our breeding bird survey ("BBS") route last week we noticed at one of our stops that there was a steady stream of Bank Swallows going back and forth across the road. We were in the middle of a 50 station survey, so we didn't have time to investigate, but we returned today to search the area.

We found the colony in no time. There were approximately 200 nest cavities excavated out of the sand bank. As well, we estimated 200+ Bank Swallows circling and foraging overhead.

The birds were quite nervous at our presence. When we approached too close, the nestlings retreated deep into the nest crevices where they were not visible and the adults would not enter the nest cavities. We had to maintain a distance of about 50 metres before the birds returned to normal.

According to BBS data, populations of Bank Swallows have declined significantly in Ontario in the past 40 years. Federal and provincial government committees continue to debate whether or not these birds should be deemed to be "at risk". In the meantime, Bird Studies Canada and some of its partners have initiated the Ontario Bank Swallow Project to document the locations and characteristics of Bank Swallow colonies and roosting sites.

Bank Swallow is a cosmopolitan taxon, and is known by Europeans as the "Sand Martin" (though some eager taxonomist could probably make a case for splitting the North American population into a separate species). On a worldwide scale Bank Swallows are abundant and not considered to be a conservation concern.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Silver-spotted Skipper

Well, it's that time of year again (summer!), and since I am still very much a novice at lepidoptera and odonata identification (and may always be), I notice species that may be common to some but haven't yet caught my eye. Take for example the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) - I was out doing some breeding bird surveys in Pickering the other week and spotted this individual on my wanderings. I don't recall ever seeing one before, so I snapped a shot (albeit poorly on my point-and-shoot work camera) and Rob and I spent some time trying to figure it out with my ID books. Nothing seemed to show the yellow on the upper wings so I kept thinking if it wasn't in my books perhaps it was a rare sighting!

After a bit more searching, this time online, we discovered its identification. It turns out the ID books I was using (both photographic and artistic renditions) just do a poor job of showing all of the proper colours for this butterfly.

Silver-spotted Skipper

As one of the larger skippers in its family, this particular species has a wider range further south in the US but is fairly common in Southern Ontario - typically not found north of the Great Lakes though. It utilizes various legumes as host plants, which means they aren't really specialists and therefore fairly widespread. As this photo demonstrates, they have a preference for flowers that are blue, pink, red, purple, or white-coloured but tend to avoid flowers that are yellow.

Now that I've seen one I'm sure I'll start seeing them everywhere! There's something to be said for being out there on your own trying to identify species (whether they are birds, insects, etc.) - often these kinds of self-learning adventures help the identification of the species stay in your memory better than when someone finds them and identifies them for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Rabbit Hole

A couple of weeks ago we found a strange hole dug into our backyard, and not long after we found the culprit: Eastern Cottontail.

It took us another week to figure out what she was doing though. The hole was in fact a nest, and she was returning in the evening to feed the babies.

You can just make out the head and eye of one of the feeding young in the above photo.

We didn't disturb the nest too much, but we think there were five babies. According to the literature, the mother only feeds them twice a day. Our mother rabbit has consistently arrived for a feeding at about 5:30 p.m. for the past several evenings.

The nest is well-concealed despite the fact that it is situated in the open in the middle of the lawn. Before realizing it was a nest I ignorantly ran the lawn mower over it. Luckily no harm was done - I would have been traumatized if... well you know.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mt. Washington Auto Road

Okay, my last post about the Catharus thrushes was a bit of a set up for our trip to the Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire, which is of course synonymous with the only breeding bird endemic to the northeast: Bicknell's Thrush ("BITH").

Formerly lumped together with Gray-cheeked Thrush ("GCTH"), BITH has a distinct life history in that populations breed at lower latitudes than GCTH, and BITH winters exclusively in the Greater Antilles while GCTH winters in Central and South America. BITH is also a habitat specialist, breeding only at elevations above 3000', making it vulnerable.

Our first attempt at finding BITH was on a recommended trail which leads to the summit of Mt. Jefferson. No luck, although it was interesting to experience what is essentially a boreal forest habitat transitioning into alpine barrenlands. Also interesting were the breeding warblers (primarily Blackpoll) and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

Our next attempt was the Mt. Washington Auto Road on which you can drive all the way to the summit of the tallest peak in the northeast (6288'). At this location we were successful at elevations between 4000' and 5000'. We heard the birds singing, and saw several birds, although admittedly better views would be desired. We had only glimpses of birds diving between cover, as well as one bird perched in the mist.

The View From Mt. Washington

Did I mention the mist? After seeing the birds we continued to the peak where visibility was very poor.

I didn't get any worthwhile bird photos, but Hannah spotted a bear on the return trip. He seems to be missing an ear!

America's National Dish

Another highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to do some fine dining.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Thrushes Compared

I thought these two photos I took last month provided a nice comparative illustration of the differences between two of the common Catharus thrushes; Veery and Swainson's Thrush.

Veery (Catharus fuscescens)

Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

The VEER shows a lesser amount of chest-spotting in comparison with the SWTH. Although the SWTH is not posing well to show the mantle, it is still obvious that the SWTH has an olive-brown colouration compared with the red-brown tones of the VEER. The prominent eye-ring and "spectacles" is also apparent on the SWTH, while these features are absent on the VEER.

On a related point about aging these birds, the VEER is showing some white tips in the greater coverts which if I remember my Pyle correctly indicates this is a second year bird.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Nemesis Defeated

Ticking birds off a list is not the reason I go birding (or so I tell myself). On the other hand, I have to admit I get a sense of satisfaction from the tick. When the tick is overdue, other emotions come into play. I suppose it is a subtle variety of anxiety or shame, and some must feel it stronger than others because it motivates some birders to go to extremes.

So it is more with a feeling of relief than of victory that I report my first Ontario Worm-eating Warbler at Point Pelee on May 14. I don't know who the original finder of the bird was, but it hung around on the Woodland Trail at Point Pelee where it was intermittently seen during most of last week.

My last Worm-eating Warbler was May 16, 2007 at Cape May, NJ.

Last week I also put to rest this Ontario nemesis:

Yellow-headed Blackbird

I have searched for this bird on numerous occasions in the known spots in southern Ontario, and chased a couple of them in unusual spots but have always come up empty until now. Thanks to Andrew Don who provided some key information that enabled me to finally track this one down for Ontario.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Week Off

I was at Rondeau P.P./Pelee N.P. from last Saturday until today which was a nice stretch of birding.

Yellow Warbler

The weather was unseasonably cold from Saturday night until Tuesday with three chilly nights in the tent, but it sure warmed up today.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

There were no big pushes of migrants during that time, which was a bit of a let down, but quality made up for quantity in certain respects. No life birds, but I did see three (!) new Ontario birds, defeating a nemesis in the process.

Blackburnian Warbler

It was really great to be at Pelee with lots of familiar faces, even if the trails did get a bit crowded at times. It's great fun to be around others who share the same love of nature.

What's this one called again?

Frank Morley did a great job of reserving a group campsite in Point Pelee N.P. From what I understand, he has to phone in the reservation in the middle of the night in early January to confirm the booking.

Piping Plover

It won't be long now before breeding bird season starts in earnest.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

National Geographic

Cover Story: Luckiest Man Alive Contest Winner Declared

Friday, May 3, 2013

Warbler Therapy

This winter was painfully long. Last Sunday afternoon was the first time I felt like winter was finally over. This week was pretty nice, but I was stuck in the office.

The weather forecast for tonight is for the winds to shift to the south and clear skies. Not what you would call "fallout" conditions. Too bad its not calling for a little rain shower first thing in the morning to slow those migrants down.

I'll bet there will still be plenty of recent arrivals tomorrow. Seeing those first warblers of spring is always good for a boost after a long winter.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Children Are the Future

Finding ways to encourage kids to pursue their talents and interests is an important and worthwhile task. Making sure that kids are socialized to their peer group is also important. So what should be done when these two important aspects of childhood flourishing conflict?

Are we helping this kid?

Pictured above is the 2013 ABA Young Birder of the Year. He looks like a bright, inquisitive, promising young naturalist. He also looks like he might have some social difficulties on the playground.

I don't mean to be judgmental, and obviously it is difficult to come to any conclusions based on a single photograph. I could be way off here. Perhaps he is well-adjusted amongst his classmates, has many friends and interests outside of birding and enjoys gym class. However my honest first impression when I looked upon this bespectacled, Tilley clad, pastel bird print t-shirt adorned kid, my reaction was that this young man is a pair of Crocs and a binocular harness away from irreparable social harm.

This young individual seems to have more than enough birding influences in his life right now. For his sake I just hope that someone is looking at the bigger picture.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Shared Nemesis

Recent reports of two Worm-eating Warblers, one at Pelee and the other today in Peterborough, highlight a painful reality for me; I have only ever seen this species in the USA.

I should have seen one in Ontario by now... way overdue by my reckoning. It is indeed one of my nemesis birds. I am at least glad to see that Dwayne Java shares in my pain.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Product Review: BirdLog eBird App

BirdLog is a bird checklist app for your mobile device. According to its advertisers, BirdLog is a breakthrough because it is the app which "for the first time allows quick-and-easy data entry directly from the field".

Let me get straight to the point: BirdLog is a rip off. The burn is twice as intense because I broke one of my own rules when I was considering the purchase of this app: I believed the hype about it. I read the glowing reviews on eBird as well as other praise lavished upon this app around the internet. I should have taken it as a warning, but instead I uncritically jumped on the bandwagon.

There are two deceptive aspects of the way this product is marketed. The first one is that the developers have not made it sufficiently clear that this app is only useful in the field if you have an data plan on your device and you are in proximity to an available cellular network. I have an iPad that is WiFi only. Perhaps I should have realized that I needed a data plan for the maps to work correctly away from a wireless connection, but I didn't. My second complaint is that the folks at eBird who provided such glowing reviews have an undeclared (or at least insufficiently declared) conflict of interest in that a portion of each sale is donated to them. The eBird endorsements were the most influential on me in terms of my purchase decision, however I did not realize at the time that eBird and BirdLog were in cahoots. Not only did I make an improvident bargain, I have also been disillusioned.

In conclusion, BirdLog only does one useful thing that the regular eBird doesn't, namely it enables you to enter your location using the GPS capability of your mobile device. If you only have access to WiFi you will find this feature to be unavailable in the field.

For someone with an iPhone with a data plan, eBird might be mildly helpful. From my perspective, BirdLog is an over-hyped waste of money.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Affirmative Action at Beamer Hawkwatch

Future Hawkwatcher?

It was with interest that I read today's Ontbirds post calling for volunteers at the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch, especially the part where it said "f
emale birders of all ages and young birders of both genders are particularly encouraged to come out". Ahem, what about visual minorities and the LGBT community?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Those Lovely Gulls

For you larophiles out there, getta load of these...

Kelp ("Cape") Gull

Most of the gulls we saw in South Africa were in the coastal areas of the Western Cape. Kelp Gull was the most conspicuous. According to some authorities, the southern African race is a distinct species (Cape Gull).

Hartlaub's Gull

Hartlaub's Gull is an elegant gull, about the size of Bonaparte's Gull. It was split not too long ago from the similar Silver Gull.

Gray-hooded Gull

Gray-hooded Gull was not on my radar at all, so we were pleasantly surprised to see several. The bird pictured above was along the coastline, but this is the only gull you are likely to find inland in South Africa.