Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sanderling Sings the Blues

I have been hearing bits and pieces about a decline in the population of Sanderlings and decided to search the internet for some authority on the subject.


Here is what I found. The report does indeed signal population declines. I kind of like this photo because it depicts a Sanderling in the process of molting from the warm, brown tones of its breeding plumage to the cool, grey tones of its non-breeding feathers. I took this photo last weekend at Turkey Point.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BBS 68-902


I have been assigned to Breeding Bird Survey Route 68-902 for the past five years, so I thought I would post a brief synopsis of the results over that time period.

Date range
June 4 – June 27
Cumulative species total
Average # of species
Maximum # of species
Minimum # of species
# of species recorded exactly once
# of species recorded in all years
Noteworthy species unrecorded

The 40 km route commences in south Cambridge and zigzags down the Grand River to Paris where it terminates. After five years, I have decided to retire from this route so it is available next year if anyone wants to take it over. For more information about the Breeding Bird Survey and its almost 50 year history check this link. To search for vacant BBS routes check here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Wren House and a New Yard Herp

House Wren

When I installed a bird house on our fence this spring, I thought it would be merely ornamental. To my surprize, a House Wren has occupied it and he appears to have a mate. Since House Wrens are known to build multiple dummy nests, I am not totally sure whether there is an actual nest inside, but the behaviour of the birds suggests that it might. I guess there is one easy way to find out (i.e. open up the box) but we don't want to disturb it if in fact there are eggs/nestlings inside. We will just have to pay attention and see what emerges.

Dekay's Brownsnake (Storia dekayi)

Hannah was seeing a Brownsnake in the garden a few mornings in a row, which is a new snake for our yard bringing the total number of snake species to two.

Above is a distribution map from the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, showing that Dekay's Brownsnake is unevenly distributed within southern Ontario.

A Jamaican Lep

I was only able to get one decent photo of a butterfly in Jamaica.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

I would have liked to get a photograph of the Jamaican Giant Swallowtail (the largest swallowtail butterfly in the Americas) but it is extremely rare. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Pair of Jamaican Near-Endemics

Jamaica has 28 endemic bird species, but several more are range restricted to only one or a few other Caribbean islands.

Vervain Hummingbird

For example, Vervain Hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) is range restricted to Jamaica and the island of Hispaniola (Haiti & the Dominican Republic). Vervain Hummingbird has the distinction of being the second smallest bird in the world, being only slightly larger than its sister species the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), a Cuban endemic.

Another Jamaican near-endemic is the Jamaican Oriole (Icterus leucopteryx).

Jamaican Oriole

This one really ought to be considered a Jamaican endemic since the only other place it occurs is the island of San AndrĂ©s, a small (57 km2) Columbian possession 800 km southwest of Jamaica.

Jamaican Oriole (a.k.a. "Baird's Banana-bird") also formerly occurred on the island of Grand Cayman; the last known individual was collected as a specimen by ornithologist James Bond on March 6, 1930.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jamaica, West Indies

Jamaica is not a major birding destination, but because of family connections as well as a life long involvement with visiting and at one point residing and working on the island, it is one of my personal favourites. 

Streamertail (Jamaican endemic)

Studies of island biogeography have revealed that the more distant an island is away from its nearest neighbour, the fewer species will inhabit it and the greater will be its rate of endemism.  Jamaica illustrates this theory nicely: according to the Clements Checklist, a modest 327 bird species have been recorded in Jamaica of which 28 occur nowhere else in the world. That is an endemism rate of almost 10%.

Jamaican Woodpecker (Jamaican endemic)

With a land mass of a mere 11,000 km2 that is a high rate of endemism indeed. Consider that the Province of Ontario, which has a land mass of 100 times that of Jamaica has a bird endemism rate of 0%.

Sad Flycatcher (Jamaican endemic)

The pattern is similar across the islands of the Caribbean; a modest number of bird species to be encountered, but with comparatively high precinctivity.

Jamaican Crow (Jamaican endemic)

In addition to the large proportion of species that are unique to one particular island nation, there are a large number of regional endemics, native to only a few islands in the West Indies.

Arrowhead Warbler (Jamaican endemic)

Given the amount of time I have spent in Jamaica, you might think I would have seen all of the endemics by now, but alas I have not; Crested Quail-Dove, Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Jamaican Pauraque (likely extinct), Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Vireo, Blue Mountain Vireo and Jamaican Blackbird have all eluded me so far. All the more reason for a return visit!

Jamaican Euphonia (Jamaican endemic)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Peninsular Florida

Just got back from an 8 day trip to Florida. I have birded Florida a few times now, and it is always fun.

Florida is perhaps most renowned for its wading birds, and it isn't hard to see why.

Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron

Some of the largest concentrations of herons on the continent are to be found in the coastal mangroves and estuaries of peninsular Florida. One of the best known of such sites is the J.N. Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island. Unfortunately, I can't really recommend this site, since the island itself is overrun with tourists.

Perhaps less well known about Florida is its population of Burrowing Owls.

Burrowing Owl

Most people (rightly) associate Burrowing Owls with the mid-west, but there is a disjunct population in Florida that persists despite intense development pressure on its preferred habitat. We observed this guy in the area of Cape Coral which boasts the highest density of Florida Burrowing Owls, though they can be found elsewhere such as Tiger Tail Beach.

Barred Owls are another bird that you might not associate with Florida despite the fact that they inhabit Cypress swamps in high densities. Florida Barred Owls seem especially cooperative for photographers!

Barred Owl

On this trip we visited the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for the first time. This site has hosted the largest colony of Wood Storks in the past, and is also known as the site where visitors can observe the rare Ghost Orchid (though they bloom during summer). We didn't see too many birds here, though the sight of Painted Buntings was a highlight of the trip.

Painted Bunting

Florida is also known to birders for its Psittaciformes (parrots). There are no longer any parrots native to Florida (Carolina Parakeet being extinct) however there are a wide assortment of exotics in the State, some of which have established themselves and are "countable" for your life list. Chiefly among these are Nanday Parakeet and Monk Parakeet.

Nanday Parakeet

Beach birds are, of course, one of the attractions here, particularly the wintering and resident larids and shorebirds.

Royal Tern

Ruddy Turnstone

What would Florida be without its gators! This is just a little guy.

American Alligator