Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hurricane birding, take 3

(see my posts from Hurricane Sandy in Oct 2012 and Tropical Storm Gabrielle in Sept 2013 (Hammond's Flycatcher) for takes 1 and 2)

Ok, I finally have a day off and can write a post! A bit of backstory has to be told first though. Back in late March, freshly arrived back to frigid Canada from the tropical paradise of Panama, I headed down to Long Point to start what has been an interesting season of setting up radio telemetry towers for the MOTUS Wildlife Tracking System. This is basically a network of towers (about 200 total) strung across eastern Canada and the United States to monitor bird and bat migration. See here for more: As of a few days ago I've been involved in setting up over 100 of these! This work has taken me all across southern Ontario, to most of the corners of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and now to the St. Lawrence region of Quebec. In a few days I will be heading out to Prince Edward Island and Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine on another deployment round. Over the course of this I've had some luck in finding rarities and adding some regional specialties to my life (and Canada) lists! The Northern Wheatear and Western Wood-Pewee featured in my last post were certainly highlights, as were hearing/seeing at least 7 (lifer) Bicknell's Thrushes in QC (and 1 in NS), finding my lifer Ruff in with some Lesser Yellowlegs (in flight, no photos unfortunately) in QC, and spending time studying the regional specialties of the Atlantic Provinces that so rarely make it to Ontario.

Back in late June I said goodbye to my coworker Daniel as he headed back home to SK and headed out on a week-long trip around southern Nova Scotia to check on existing towers, download data, and find new inland sites for towers later this year or next. About this same time a weather system off Florida started making the news, and built up steam to become Hurricane Arthur. With a well-defined eye and Category 2 status it hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina, after which time radar images showed large numbers of birds stuck in the eye, and the track was headed straight for Nova Scotia, toward where I was working. All of this lined up perfectly (for me anyway) and I got July 5 off work to do some storm birding. I stayed at my friend Alix's place in Pubnico the night before and in the early morning I made my way to Cape Sable Island, where 100km/h + southeast winds were ripping through and presumably pushing seabirds into shore. Unfortunately for me, heavy fog limited the visibility to about 200m offshore, too close to really see anything! As the storm passed and the winds shifted (but definitely didn't weaken!) the fog moved out a bit and improved visibility to ~1km, at which point I could see Storm-Petrels heading past, moving south - mostly Leach's but with a couple Wilson's mixed in. I spent pretty much the entire morning staked out at the Hawk (southern tip of the island), seawatching, and was rewarded with Forster's, Caspian, Roseate, Arctic and SANDWICH Terns in amongst the Commons, along with the aforementioned Storm-Petrels, a single Parasitic Jaeger, several Purple Martins and a few Laughing Gulls. By the early afternoon, the show was slowing down so I decided to wander the island a bit to see what else was around. A Royal Tern had been reported up at Daniel's Head, so that was my logical first stop. A few Laughing Gulls were on the beach and a Purple Martin flew over, but no Royal Terns were to be found on the beach, so I moved further up and wandered down a small cliff to get out of the wind when bam! Royal Tern cruising by not 30 feet away from me!!! I sprinted back to the car for the camera but when I returned it was a few hundred metres down the beach and still going... My further wanderings turned up this same individual on another part of the island, at which point I got some photos though! I also found two Harlequin Ducks here later in the day which were a very special bird for a different reason. My original plan was to update the little list on the right of my page after every post on my Central America trip (which I will still do), but since it's been so long that may have to wait a while. I will just go ahead and ruin the surprise to say that Harlequin Duck was my 1000th species for North America (AOU area) in 2014, far surpassing my goal of 779 that I set back in January when I planned my trip!!!! Why 779?? That was my AOU lifelist as of December 31, 2013, so it seemed like a good goal. Now my AOU list is up to 1258!

Anyway, continuing on - late in the day I went to a small beach on the east side of the island and found 3 terns patrolling the beach (flying over the sand, not the water). Since they were very white, my brain thought hmm that's odd behaviour for a Roseate Tern (which I had seen a few of earlier in the day) until I got my bins up and saw that they were GULL-BILLED Terns!!!! My third new-for-Canada tern of the day! After watching them for a while I moved on (at which point I refound the Royal Tern) before leaving the island and checking every harbour and inlet on the way back to Pubnico for the night. In Shag Harbour I had brief looks at what I think was probably a Least Tern, but my views were not good enough to clinch the ID - agh... There were a few others reported in the province with the storm so it very well could have been!

The next day I had work to do, checking as many towers as I could to see if Arthur had taken any out. One of these was at Cape Forchu, which is right beside where two Black Skimmers had been reported the night before. Naturally I started there, and found 5(!) Black Skimmers resting on a gravel bar (right where I thought I might find them after they were not in the original location ~2km away!). I also found a tower that had been knocked down by Arthur, unfortunately. Luckily this was the only one (that I know of), and for the rest of the day I worked my way from Yarmouth up to Halifax, alternating checking on towers with checking inlets and ponds for hurricane waifs before heading back to New Brunswick for the night. I had some success in this as well, finding more Royal Terns and others - see below for totals.

All in all it was a pretty successful storm search, adding 4 new birds to my Canada list and getting some new self-found birds in (along with a bunch of Nova Scotia ticks)!

Storm birds list:

Harlequin Duck - 2
Leach's Storm Petrel - 8
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 3
Red-necked Phalarope - 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Laughing Gull - 211
Gull-billed Tern - 3
Caspian Tern - 1
Roseate Tern - 5 (presumed not from the local breeding population, as they were not near known colonies - also had 9 on July 4 in Pubnico at the colony)
Arctic Tern (some locals) - 91
Forster's Tern - 21
Royal Tern - 7
Sandwich Tern - 1
Black Skimmer - 5
Chimney Swift - 1
Purple Martin - 19

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


A post? Wow! Must be something important...

I am still working on photos from Central America, so when I get a chance I will sit down and get those (along with the trip report) up and running on here. In the meantime, I thought I would post a bit of a 'highlight reel' from the last little while. With the exception of the Lark Sparrow, these were all taken with my cell phone. More details on my recent adventures (April-June) whenever I get a chance...

My lifer Northern Wheatear, May 17, Taylor Head, NS

Lark Sparrow, June 17, Seal Island, NS

 Western Wood-Pewee, June 22, Seal Island, NS

One of a few videos I got of the bird singing - be sure to watch full-screen in HD!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Back in business - sort of

Well I've been back in Ontario for a few days now so maybe it's time to make a post. I had a pretty amazing trip, and other than getting sick for a few days in Costa Rica, nothing major went wrong! I hope to do an in-depth series of posts detailing my trip (with pics, of course) over the next little while (or maybe few months), but how quickly I finish these will really depend on work. In a couple of days I am heading down to Long Point to start the field season, which in my case will last until at least December. This means I won't have a huge amount of time to work on blog posts, but I will do my best! I am currently slogging my way through a couple hundred checklists and submitting them to eBird (if you still haven't heard of it, go to and check it out!). I've made it through the first 5 weeks of the trip in the 4 days that I've been home, so I expect I will be done in the next 2 days. In the meantime, since I won't know how many species I actually saw until that's done, here are some other trip stats:

Distance travelled: ~16 000km
By plane ~ 9050km
By car (rental) ~ 4200km
By public transit ~ 2000km
By foot ~ 650km
By boat ~ 120km

High temp: >50C humidex on a few occasions (38C without humidity) - Osa Peninsula, Juan Hombron Rd, Darien lowlands
Low temp: 7C on Cerro de la Muerte in Costa Rica (3450m elevation) - doesn't include windchill

Butterflies seen - way more than I could even begin to count, will do a post on these guys at some point.

Photos taken - >6000...I have a lot of work to do...

Ok that's enough for now, I'm sure more will pop up later on. I think I will be updating that little box in the top-right corner of the blog as I go, rather than just putting my current year total. If you really want to know how close I am to my goal of seeing 779 species this year, you can always check the Top 100 for the AOU area on eBird in a few days when I finish putting in my checklists.

Since I haven't edited any of my photos yet (other than these), here's a quiz! Leave a comment with your thoughts (don't be shy!). The first 3 photos are of a single bird, the last one is a different bird. I will even help out a bit and say these were taken in Panama.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Let the games...begin!

Most of my posts this month were pre-written as I was busy preparing for a long adventure. Long story short, I have been wanting to go to the tropics for a long time (since before I got back from Costa Rica in 2006), and since I had no plans for this winter I figured it would be the time to do it. So, I started scheming, one thing led to another, and here I am, on my way to the tropics. Unfortunately since it was pretty short notice I failed to get more people to join me, and lost out on some opportunities while waiting to hear back, hoping someone would join! It is looking like this will all work out though - even if it is a bit more expensive than I originally bargained for.

Anyway, here's the basic route:

(image from Google Maps)

You'll notice there is a straight line between Guatemala City and San Jose - my original plan was to go a bit earlier and take the bus through the three other countries, making a stop in Nicaragua to pick up some dry-forest species and an extra endemic, but I ended up being short on time and so opted to skip them. Some day I will get to Honduras and Nicaragua (and maybe El Salvador) but for now the other 5 countries will have to suffice! My original plan was to copy (with a few changes) the route that Ethan Kistler et al. did last winter through the Yucatan, Belize and northern Guatemala. It turned out that Josh was planning a trip to Panama starting a little over a week after I was planning on ending my trip and had an extra space, so I decided I would join him and fill in the gap with some Costa Rica birding.

I am mainly hoping to see a good chunk of the regional endemics in the various places I will end up, but obviously a lot of the more common birds will also be lifers since this is only my second visit to the region! I still don't feel completely prepared (especially for the songs), but I guess the only real test is to go there and find out right? Anyway, I probably won't be posting on the blog for quite some time as internet access will be spotty (and I am leaving my computer here) but if I get a chance I will post an update or two. In the meantime, have a look at some of the locations where I will be birding! All times listed include travel days

Part 1 - 15.5 days in the north with Janice Chard
Rio Lagartos
Isla Cozumel
Camino Vigia Chico
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Mountain Pine Ridge
Los Tarrales
covering the dry scrub of the northern Yucatan, the humid broadleaf forests of Belize and Tikal, the highland pines in Belize and the cloud forests in Guatemala

Part 2 - 9.5 days in Costa Rica on my own
Virgen del Socorro
Braulio Carillo
Cerro de la Muerte and the adjacent highlands
Osa Peninsula
covering the Caribbean foothills and lowlands, the central highlands and paramo and the South Pacific lowlands

Part 3 - 21 days in Panama with Josh V, Steve Pike and maybe some other people for various parts!
Chiriqui highlands
Cerro Santiago
Altos del Maria
El Valle de Anton
El Cope
Darien (El Real, Rancho Frio, Cerro Pirre)
covering pretty much the whole country with a few notable exceptions due to time constraints!

Here is a shot of what I am taking - not in this pic are my cell phone, passport and toiletry stuff+sunscreen and bugspray.

(Solo lightweight tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, binoculars, DSLR+lens+charger+memory cards, field guide (birds of Central America by van Perlo), clothes (merino T-shirt, quick-dry fishing T-shirt, 2 pairs of quick-dry pants, merino underarmour, lightweight longsleeve, lightweight fleece, rain jacket, socks+underwear), umbrella, pack towel, Lifestraw water filter, notebooks, iPod+mini speaker, headlamp+extra batteries, car GPS with preloaded maps from Open Street Maps, glasses and sunglasses and some protein bars)

This all more or less fits into a travel backpack (45L) and a dry bag (13L) - total weight of about 30lbs. The heaviest single item on this list is my camera gear...I debated leaving it behind but decided that wasn't an option!

Assuming everything goes well I will be back in mid-March to post a summary - wish me luck!

PS - not sure if anyone noticed but I put up a little gadget on the right-hand side of the page to track my year list. My goal of 779 species in the AOU this year would match my current AOU life list. I think it is going to be a tough goal to achieve but it all depends on how well this trip goes! Depending what else happens this year I may update it with a new challenge but we'll just have to wait and see on that one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Ok, so I forgot I had to post these and my last post wasn't the last BP-themed one - oh well.

My other 'lifer' on the island was Ipswich Sparrow - currently recognized as a subspecies of Savannah Sparrow and probably not a good candidate for a split, but I like subspecies so it gets it's own post! I was actually pretty excited to try to find some of these guys while I was on the island, and managed to find my first one on September 3 while out on census during a bad-weather day. We had great close-up looks at this individual but it wasn't until a little over a month later that the real show began. From October 8-November 3 we saw Ipswich Sparrows at least a few days per week and ended the season with 90 sightings (some likely involving the same individuals) and a single-day high count of 14 on November 2. Below are two of my favourite photos of them!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Southern Ontario meanderings

Back on January 10 I made my way down south, to visit friends I hadn't seen since last April/May and to pick up some birds for the year. I had success with both endeavours, although I think I would've needed about a week to do everything I wanted to! Oh well...

Friday - long drive down to Guelph to visit the old house, stayed over at Brett and Erika's where we ended up not going to bed till 3AM! Well at least Brett and I...Erika passed out well before I got there.

Saturday - up 'early' and after getting our stuff together we spent the afternoon birding with Barb in Hamilton. It was a rainy and foggy kind of day so we didn't see a whole lot (by Hamilton standards) but I did nail down a few target species such as Long-eared Owl, King Eider and about 28 other year birds. After a nice dinner I spent the night at Brandon's catching up (but not on sleep!).

Sunday - up early again and once Brett and Erika arrived we were off to Niagara! The river was actually pretty slow for this time of year (other than the masses of ducks in Fort Erie - where were all the gulls???) but there is always stuff to see. See Brandon's blog for a rundown of our sightings since he decided to put up all of our eBird lists! haha. Highlights were two Thayer's Gulls at Adam Beck in amongst the numerous Kumlien's and a total of 9(!) Black Vultures at Queenston. Since we had pretty well scoured the river and come up empty in terms of rarities, Brandon and I decided to cut our losses and head back to Hamilton while there was still some light. This proved to be a good strategy as we got to the lift bridge with perfect evening light to view a Snowy Owl being harassed by gulls, 3 King Eiders including a 1st-winter male that swam right up to us and the usual hordes of diving ducks. Then we did a quick check at Windemere Basin but came up empty on our targets before heading back to Brandon's for the night.

Monday - did some last-minute target birding around Hamilton. I had success with most of my targets, picking up Black Scoter at Millen Rd (plus 2 King Eiders at Brandon's condo), Black-crowned Night-Heron at Windemere, did some duck photography at the lift bridge and finally went to LaSalle Marina. I missed the Eastern Screech-Owl that roosts in the parking lot but did get Trumpeter Swan (a little over 200 of them) and 2 cooperative Carolina Wrens. Then it was back to Guelph for a quick MarioKart session before driving up to Sudbury to spend the night at my grandparents' house. It was a pretty uneventful 4 hours other than a Moose eating a tree about 15 feet off the side of the highway somewhere between Parry Sound and Sudbury!

Tuesday - I had plans to search for the Gyrfalcons this morning (made on the Thursday before I left), and it turned out that Brett and Barb had teamed up with Amanda Guercio for a bit of northern birding and had the same idea as me! So we planned on meeting at Kelly Lake for 8:30 to search for these mythical beasts. I was a few minutes late in heading out the door but this proved to be a bonus. Just as I was getting on Highway 17 I noticed a largish gray bird flying parallel to the highway about 300-400m south of me. I immediately pulled over and grabbed my bins - holy $#*& that's the Gyrfalcon!!! Luckily it landed on a power pole, and after a quick call to Barb I got the scope on it and managed a few shots with my phone. Brett, Barb and Amanda pulled up and each got a quick scope view before the bird decided it was time to go and headed off toward the lake. We spent a little over an hour searching for it (and hoping for the white-morph as well) with no luck and decided to call it quits as we all had more driving to do before the day was out. After saying goodbye I made my way back to the Sault, checking out some back roads and hoping to find a Hawk-Owl with no luck (see previous posts for comments on this species). The Gyrfalcon was only the second one I've ever seen, with the first also being a gray-morph back in December 2002!

All in all a great extended weekend, spending time with friends and only missing a few targets while adding 51 species to my year list, which has since stalled out except for a Merlin. There hasn't been anything reported around here for some time so who knows if I will add anything else until January 28.

Ducks packed in the ice at the lift bridge in Burlington on Saturday's foggy morning

Not a black&white photo!

 King Eider on Sunday evening - no photos from Niagara

2 female King Eiders made for a total of 3 birds here!

Better lighting was had on Monday morning - Long-tailed Duck


 This guy surfaced right underneath me after I watched him swim around underwater for a bit - thought this was a cool photo even if it isn't all that sharp

Long-tailed Ducks bounce on the water when they land...or faceplant

White-winged Scoter

Trumpeter Swans at LaSalle

An inquisitive Carolina Wren at LaSalle

Worked its way down the railing toward me until a squirrel chased it off when it was only about 4 feet away!

The looks we had at this gray-morph Gyrfalcon were much better than my phone-scoped shot would have you believe!