Saturday, December 31, 2011


Since it is the last day of the year and I have no further birding plans until tomorrow, I think it is safe to make this post (although I'm still hoping something rare turns up in the next...3 hours)!

January: I got the year off to a good start with a few solid days of birding and photography whilst at home in the Sault, with some highlights of a surprising 47 species being Harlequin Duck, Hoary Redpoll, Golden Eagle, Gray Catbird, White-crowned Sparrow and Red-shouldered Hawk. After that it was back to school where I picked up a few odds and ends around Guelph and Hamilton with a Dunlin being the most surprising bird. My year list at the end of January stood at 71.

February: One of the definite highlights of my year was a reading week trip to California and Arizona with Josh, Brett and Matt - 9 days of hardcore birding around 5000km of southwestern scenery. We managed to rack up a pretty amazing 260 species for the trip! More details can be seen in earlier posts! Another highlight was my girlfriend Emily whom I have not quite converted into a birder...her life list is up to 189 though! 287 on the year list.

March was a pretty uneventful month, just getting through school and trying to find summer jobs pretty much! I did manage to get a few decent pictures of an American Woodcock though which was cool. 292 on the year list.

April: The end of my second year at UoGuelph was nice, and getting back home was even better. The highlight was an owl route done with Ken McIlwrick where we managed 6 species of owls including Boreal. 302 on the year list.

May was a flurry of activity for me, as I was out birding/biking almost every day, and at the same time trying to find a summer job! I had some success in all three ventures, managing over 250km on the bike (just around town), a few rarities (Western Meadowlark, Eared Grebe, Field Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher) as well as some good local birds (Sedge Wren, Black Tern, Le Conte's Sparrow, Wood Thrush), and scoring a job with Bird Studies Canada which will be summed up in the next few paragraphs. I also did my annual Big Day, coming up just shy of the record with 146 species. Another thing I really got into this spring was yard birding (aka sitting on the deck/roof in a lawn chair with binoculars!). I managed to add a solid 20 species to the yard list this way, cleaning up a few more of the regulars and bringing me up to Kirk's total for (possibly?) highest SSM yard list. At the end of May it was off to Long Point to begin my summer fun of birding, banding and working. 376 on the year list.

June: Once I settled in to work I managed to get out for a few mornings to help with the bird banding at Old Cut, and after a few days of training got to band my first bird: a Black-billed Cuckoo, which many of the long-time banders were very jealous of! Later in the month a Willow Ptarmigan showed up at the Darlington nuclear plant, and a few of us headed over to see it. My first lifer in Ontario for the year! The rest of the month was mostly spent working, which wasn't too bad considering I was outside on the water almost every day! 385 on the year list.

July: My 20th birthday, a Prairie Warbler (new for ON) and a trip to Sudbury to visit family and celebrate various birthdays were the highlights of this month! 388 on the year list.

August: The start of shorebird season, the end of work, a trip to Emily's cottage and getting to spend a week with the Young Ornithologist Workshop participants at Long Point were the highlights of the month. I was somewhat disappointed to be leaving Long Point just as the banding was picking up again but I was happy to be headed home for a little while before school started. While at home I made what was to be my only visit to Whitefish Point during the fall season, picking up a Piping Plover. 391 on the year list.

September was the beginning of my third year at Guelph, and also the beginning of a series of trips to Hamilton to add birds to my Ontario list! Success was had with White-rumped Sandpiper and both Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers. 395 on the year list.

October is always a good month for vagrants, and this year was no different, however most of them were in the wrong place (midwest USA instead of Ontario)! I did manage to see a few though, with Purple Gallinule, Northern Gannet and Yellow-headed Blackbird, also added Hudsonian Godwit, Nelson's Sparrow and Pomarine Jaeger to the ON list. I also made it down to Cambridge for a few weekends of banding with Brett Fried, adding quite a number of birds to my banded list and bringing my total number of individual birds handled to over 500. Well on my way to a banding license of my own! 401 on the year list.

November was mostly a quiet month with a few birding trips to Niagara (Razorbill), Long Point (Cattle Egret and held a Northern Goshawk), and Niagara again with the Wildlife Club (Franklin's Gull, Razorbill again). 406 on the year list.

December: exams, Snowy Owl, exams, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Slaty-backed Gull, the long drive home, Christmas with family, Varied's all so recent and yet soon it will be in a different year! 410 on the year list.

So there you have it, my 2011 in a rather large nutshell. I was lucky to manage a sweet birding trip, an awesome summer birding job, and a nice fall interspersed with birding adventures to make the long, gray days go by a little faster. I was also happy to add 17 birds to my ON list and 19 to my lifelist including 4 in Ontario - the most I've gotten in several years. My updated listing totals can be found on my website, along with some more photos (see link on the sidebar)!!!

Happy New Year's everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Back in the Sault

It's that time of year again - exams are over and winter is (supposed to be) setting in. This year, however, things are still pretty green! I arrived home in the Sault on December 16, and on the 17th was leading my route for the annual Christmas Bird Count. My route includes a fair stretch of the St. Mary's River and a few woodlots among the many houses, and is normally one of the most productive routes on the count in terms of diversity. This year was to be no different, and after all was said and done I managed to turn up 39 species - a new single-route record for the Sault! (previous record was 37, on this same route) Some highlights were Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Hoary Redpoll, Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings, House Sparrow (yes, that is a highlight up here...), Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, White-winged Crossbill and Snowy Owl! Seems like most of the birds I saw were highlights!

The next day I decided to get out for a few hours to see what else I could turn up. My original intention was to do a clean sweep of the waterfront, but I never made it out of my first stop at Whitefish Island! There were a few highlights here as you've probably guessed, the first of which came when I stopped to photograph a pair of Common Ravens (which I have not managed to get a picture of before apparently...). After a minute of taking pictures, they took off and made a few half-hearted dives toward the ground nearby. Interesting, I thought - maybe there is a Snowy Owl sitting there. I slowly walked over, and stopped when I got to the spot where they had been diving. There was nothing there, or so I thought until something huge and brown exploded out from behind a shrub. Great Horned Owl!!!! #194 for my Whitefish Island list and a great winter bird for the Sault. It landed not too far away, and the two Ravens were immediately harassing it. As I watched, they made a few passes at the owl before the owl got fed up and attacked back! The Ravens eventually left it alone for a while and I watched as it managed to catch some small creature and then settled down for a nap. I managed to show it to a few passers-by as well as my parents before I had to move on. The owl was still there an hour or so later when Kirk went to see it.

 One of the Common Ravens

Great Horned Owl, fresh out of the shrub

Ravens harassing the owl

The owl fights back!

Just after catching a meal

Sleepy owl

I continued on my route around the island, managing to find the resident Wood Duck for the winter list, some Black Ducks, Glaucous, Thayer's and Great Black-backed Gulls, White-throated Sparrow, American Robin and both species of Redpoll. On the way back to the car, I spotted one of the resident Red Foxes near the feeders. A family was sitting there feeding the chickadees, and when they moved off a bit the foxes surprisingly came in to the feeder and started eating sunflower seeds that had been scattered on the ground! I managed to get into a pretty good position, lying on the snow near the seed. The foxes eventually warmed up to me and came in quite close, not bothered by the constant clicking of the shutter. After about half an hour, I was getting cold and slowly got up and left - the foxes barely even flinched as I walked away! Definitely a good welcome home.

The Chickadees are quite tame, looking for handouts


Interesting Mallard...hermaphrodite maybe?

Black Ducks stand out pretty well amongst the Mallards

 My first view of the fox

After a minute or two they came right in!

The second fox was quite shy, but after about 15 minutes it came in as well

This was about 7 feet from where I was laying!

Taken at 70mm to show how close I was!

Yummm...sunflower seeds...

In all my years of going to the Locks, this is the first time I've gotten within 50 feet of the foxes - usually I just catch glimpses of them running away, or see them sitting out on the paths!