Sunday, January 29, 2012


Yesterday, Brett Fried, Erika Hentsch and I headed over to the Niagara region for my 4th time in less than 3 months - I can officially say that I have (almost) gotten over the falls - I barely even gave them a second glance!

The day started off nice and calm with a slight drizzle as we left, which cleared up by the time we got to Port Weller. We spent about an hour and a half walking out to the pier and back but were unable to turn up either the King Eider or the Snowy Owls that have been hanging out. We did have some interesting finds though with a wintering Northern Flicker, a few Double-crested Cormorants, an Iceland Gull and a Northern Shrike giving some very strange calls that none of us had ever heard before. I can't find any recordings that sound like it, but my best description is that it sounded like a police whistle.

Our next stop was the Queenston boat ramp where heavy snow nixed any hope we had of finding the Black Vultures - this is quickly becoming an Ontario nemesis for me! We also struck out on Little Gull although we did not spend a whole lot of time sorting through the thousands of Bonaparte's.

We then headed upriver a ways to the Adam Beck lookout where there were at least 11 Iceland Gulls of various age classes in with the numerous Herring and Ring-billed. We didn't turn up any Thayer's despite looking at quite a lot of Herring Gulls.

Our next stop was at the Dufferin Islands, where it was still snowing quite heavily and the raging river was almost completely covering most of the roosting rocks on the Ontario side, so no Purple Sandpipers (again). We then drove on a little ways to the hydro dam where the breakwall was covered in gulls - many Great Black-backeds in with the Herrings but nothing else surprisingly! Since it was still snowing we couldn't even see the other side of the river (or the table rock out in the middle for that matter) to search for rarities, we decided to call it a morning and headed for lunch.

Afterwards we made another stop at the breakwall lookout, where a first-winter Glaucous Gull and an adult Lesser Black-backed had joined the hoardes of gulls on the breakwall, but the Harlequin Ducks were nowhere to be found, and since the visibility was even worse we decided to head upriver to Fort Erie.

Along the way we stopped at a few little parks to scan the ducks, getting most of the regulars including Canvasback, Redhead, both Scaup and Gadwall along with some coots and a Belted Kingfisher.

We arrived at Bowen Park around 12:20 where we decided to wait out the snow, hoping for some crows to fly by or a break in the weather so we could scan the gulls on the far side. Around 1, Stu Mackenzie showed up, probably hoping for the same thing as us, and then headed off to look for crows. After a few minutes he sent us a text saying he'd found the quarry - Fish Crows just up the road! We met him at 333 Bowen Rd. where he had a bead on the birds. After a few minutes we started hearing their 'uh' calls, and one bird even gave a triple 'uh-uh-uh' call, confirming the ID. We spent a little while trying to pick out which birds were actually making the noise, and eventually found 2 birds that were considerably smaller than the rest. Score! Ontario bird 311 for me.

 Fish Crow - bottom right - note tiny size, longish tail

Fish Crow takeoff - small size, note p9 (furthest right in this pic) much longer than p5 giving 'triangle' look to wing

We thought this (very obliging) bird was a Fish Crow due to its small size (there was an American Crow sitting beside it shortly before this pic was taken), but were unable to get it to call and after doing some research I am not so sure - any thoughts?

It looks small, long-tailed, has a frilly throat

But...there is definite 'scaling' on the back which is apparently not shown in Fish Crows?

We then headed back down the road to the park where we spent a very cold 2 hours or so scanning the gulls as the weather had (finally) cleared up! Our task was made fairly difficult by the fact that there were 5000+ Bonaparte's in this flock, constantly moving up and down the river. I eventually managed to pick out an adult Little Gull, and then a few minutes later the entire flock took of, swirling down the river. During this little flight I managed to get brief looks at the Black-headed Gull, and although they weren't as good as I would have liked, they were good enough to count this as my first ABA lifer of 2012! After a bit more searching I got a brief glimpse of the Black-legged Kittiwake before it dissolved back into the mass of Bonies. Since we were all frozen by this point we decided to head out.

The drive back was fairly interesting as gusting winds + truck with a cap on it = the truck wanting to go into the ditch! I did manage to get us to the Saltfleet flats in Hamilton for dusk though, where we watched as 10 Northern Harriers and 5 Red-tailed Hawks fought the intense winds and searched for their bedtime meal, and just after the sun set, a Short-eared Owl joined them. A nice way to end the day!

We ended up with ~50 species for the day, not bad considering the weather! Winds apparently gusted up to 104km/h in the Niagara region while we were there, which I could definitely believe!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A checklist a day

One of my goals this year is to enter a checklist into eBird for every day of the year, meaning that by the end of the year I will have at least 365 checklists for 2012 (but probably far more than this), hopefully from numerous locations! Another goal (although this will be a bit more difficult as the year goes on) is to not enter a single 'X'! So far I have been doing well, but we aren't even a month in yet so we'll see how that holds up.

If you are wondering 'What's eBird?', I urge you to check out (link on the sidebar)! It is a great website for entering and viewing data, and the fact that you can keep track of your lists (for free) is an added benefit! Since I am now officially a volunteer for eBird (reviewer for a few Ontario counties), I thought I'd do some advertising here.

I mostly bring this up as I have been encouraging birders in the Sault area to enter their sightings to eBird, and as Mike Burrell pointed out on his blog (link on the sidebar), Algoma has an abnormally high amount of checklists entered. In light of this, I'd just like to thank everyone who's entered checklists, and if you haven't yet, please do! Maybe we can get into the 'red zone' by next year.

Oh yeah, the quiz - please give it a shot! I'll put up the answer at the end of the month. My hint to you is that the best score so far is 2/4 (1/3 for people that don't like gulls).

Here is a picture of the Toronto skyline (from Jan. 7) to add some colour.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


That's probably the best word to describe my birding (or lack thereof) in the past little while! On Sunday, Emily and I went over to Hamilton (Bayfront Park) as a packing break to get her to 200 - a venture in which we succeeded with Ruddy Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Cackling Goose. She's now in England for the next 6 months and has already seen two birds that would be lifers for me...

Anyway, some pics to keep you all interested - nothing too spectacular but always nice to get out in the sunshine!

PS - give the quiz below a shot! I'll give a hint on my next post.

This tame Northern Mockingbird greeted us 

Showing off that nice wing pattern

Surprisingly my best cormorant photo...too bad he's missing some primaries!

A photographer stopped to let us know there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree just up ahead...when we got there this is what we found - Black-crowned Night-Heron (juv)! I guess it looks hawk-like?

Common Merganser takeoff sequence

A nice male Hooded Merganser that wasn't too friendly

Most of a flock of 168 Ruddy Ducks

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quiz time

Well, it's been a month since I posted the Bird Song Quiz, and since it didn't fare so well, I'll try the more traditional photo quiz this time!

But first, the answer to the last one. First of all, thanks to Alvan for answering! The birds that I can hear in the background are White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Magnolia Warbler. They are a little hard to hear over the Goldfinch though - maybe next time I will pick a species that doesn't sing so often!

So now for the quiz - since I am running out of 'good' quiz shots, here are some specks for you to try to ID! I think they should all be identifiable...

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Christmas Break (pics)

Well, here's the photos, as promised - enjoy!

 Red-necked Grebe (deceased) at Gros Cap

 Gros Cap - it was pretty windy!

Dead mouse (deer mouse??) - I saw almost as many dead things at Gros Cap as alive.

Hermaphrodite-ish female Mallard - note green in head, dark lore, dark rump, sprays of whitish feathers along flank - on a side note, the bird from my other post turned out to be just a late bloomer - I saw the same male Mallard later in the break and he had filled in quite a few adult feathers!

 American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid (green head, whitish feathers on flank, odd coloured rump)

As you can tell, I was quite proficient at finding dead birds that would be rare for the area in winter - this is a Double-crested Cormorant

 Herman got right in there to fight for food!

 Oh hey there.

A species I have surprisingly few 'good' photos of...Rock Pigeon

This Downy Woodpecker allowed me to approach within 3 feet - camera stops focusing at 4.5!

Cedar Waxwing at Dunbar Forest

A Red-winged Blackbird in January? What global warming? Note the three robins in background.

American Robin checking me out

Female Pine Grosbeak pigging out on berries

Her partner

Emily's shot of the Snowy Owl that she spotted (taken with my camera)

A real American Black Duck...none of that hybrid business

Another shot of Herman, just because...

White-throated Sparrow - another late lingerer

The famous Mountain Bluebird in Puslinch, and her Eastern companion

Looking for bugs - they were quite tame, actually flying closer to me!

Some Wild Turkeys I found while driving the backroads

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Break... now over as I am headed back to school tomorrow. As you can probably tell from the lack of posts, it was quite busy so I'll sum it up here! Photos to be added soon (once I get them all uploaded and edited...).

I got home on the 16th and did the annual Christmas Bird Count, as mentioned in a previous post. I then managed to get out birding a few times (one trip to WPBO, highlight: Chipping Sparrow) before my grandparents came over on the 23, and the next 4-5 days were mostly spent with the family. On the 26, a female Varied Thrush turned up at a feeder on the outskirts of town, so on the morning of the 27th I went out to see it. I did manage to get some decent views of it skulking around the bottom of a spruce tree, but unfortunately it didn't stick around so I didn't get any pics of it! On the 31 my girlfriend came up to spend a week in the Sault, and we managed to get out birding a fair amount in between exploring the Sault, skiing, and visiting with friends and family. Then on the 6th it was pack up and go, as my brother joined us on the long drive back to Southern Ontario, where we spent the night in Oakville before heading to Toronto for the day on the 7th. As expected, there wasn't much in the way of bird life in the big city but it was a pretty good day nonetheless. Then, just this morning, I finally got out to see the Mountain Bluebird that was reported from south of Guelph while I was up in the Sault. A very nice bird and my first new ON bird of the year!

Rare birds for winter in the Sault that I saw/found (total of 65 species while I was home!!!):
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Loon
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
American Robin
Varied Thrush
Lapland Longspur (new for my winter list)
Chipping Sparrow (new for my winter list)
White-throated Sparrow (new for my winter list)
Red-winged Blackbird (new for my winter list)
House Sparrow

As you can tell it's been a good winter for lingering birds!

Other highlights:
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Thayer's Gull (nice adult)
Snowy Owl
Bohemian Waxwing
almost all the winter finches including Hoary Redpoll