Saturday, February 25, 2012


As promised, here is a short post about my trip over to Kingston to visit my brother who is in first-year engineering at Queen's.

On Tuesday, I had planned on getting there around 6 as his last exam ended at 4 and then he had stuff to do, but the drive turned out to be much shorter than I'd thought (it's only 3 hours!), so I made a stop at the Whitby harbour along the way. I didn't find the Greater White-fronted Goose which had been reported there a few days previously, but there was a decent selection of waterfowl including Gadwall, wigeon, many Redhead and some Trumpeter Swans. Along the highway I also managed to kick off some of my eastern Ontario county lists with birds such as European Starling, American Crow, Rock Pigeon and Red-tailed Hawk - exciting stuff! Also, if you happen to be in Kingston, check out the restaurant called Spin on Princess St - the food was delicious!

Wednesday saw us heading up to Ottawa, mostly because it wasn't too far and there were birds I wanted to see, but also for a bit of an adventure. We got into Kanata around 11:30 or so, and after about half an hour of searching I finally managed to pick out a Gray Partridge out in the fields behind the Canadian Tire. Not sure where the other 10 were, and it wasn't a great view, but I'll take it. After that it was a quick drive over to Bate Island where a walk around provided birds such as Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gull, many Common Goldeneye, and my target - a Barrow's Goldeneye! A nice female with full-orange bill and the classic sloping head. Apparently there is also a male that's been hanging around but either it wasn't there or it was just too far for my scope. We then headed over to Quebec for lunch, where the GPS led us to non-existent gas stations and told us to go the wrong way down one-way streets. Gotta love technology... The highlight of this venture (besides eating in a two-storey McDonald's where nobody spoke English) was a flock of ~300 Bohemian Waxwings swarming a fruiting tree near the Quebec University campus. After that it was back to the Ontario side for a walk around the Parliament buildings before heading to Carleton University to visit our friend from back home. After dinner at the Works burger place (also delicious), we headed back to Kingston.

Thursday morning saw me waking up long before my alarm, so I headed out along the waterfront to see what was around. A quick stop at the Cataraqui bay yielded a few waterfowl, but nothing too interesting, so I headed over to Lemoine Point CA to see what else I could find. I spent about 2 hours wandering around this nice conservation area, finding quite a bit more activity than back in the bay. Tundra Swans, Long-tailed Ducks, Cooper's Hawks, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Pileated Woodpecker and a Winter Wren kept me company as I searched for rarities and owls with no luck. I haven't heard much about this place before but I think it could be fairly productive during migration!

On Friday it was time to head back to Guelph, unfortunately during a blizzard! There were some pretty good (almost) white-outs at times, and I saw about 9 accidents/cars in the ditch between Kingston and Cobourg, where the snow finally let up. Due to getting stuck behind three rounds of snowplows, the drive home took about five and a half hours, almost double the time to get there! I did break it up a bit, however, with a quick stop in Cobourg to search for the Townsend's Solitaire which had been reported earlier in the day. I only managed to turn up a Northern Shrike and an American Kestrel on the drive back to the highway, however.

All in all a fun few days and it was nice to get out of Guelph for a bit! A word of caution though - the Kingston parking police are not exactly tolerant! Despite the fact that it was reading week and the parking lots on campus were basically empty, I managed three parking tickets in as many just a heads-up! I also didn't take my camera out much but here's a shot of the Parliament buildings to give this post some colour.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Travel Maps - a cool idea

Recently I was inspired by my friends over at Jocotoco Wanderings (namely Ethan Kistler and Chris West, blogs on sidebar) to create a map for the United States showing all the counties I've been to. I also took it a step further and found a map of Canada that shows individual counties (although it isn't as good as the US one...). So, here they are!

Canada - 85/290 or 29.3%, 395 species

USA - a bunch...23 states, 559 species

Obviously, I don't have lists for many of these counties! This also brings me into another cool point which is that my Ontario 'total county ticks' just passed my ABA total ticks list (the total number of species in each province/state added together) yesterday with 2434 Ontario county ticks and 2384 ABA ticks. Of course, I currently only have lists for 38 Ontario counties, but have been to 48 (out of 50), so this probably happened a while ago. I'm also missing checklists for a few states from when I was younger!

Another exciting event (for me at least) was entering my 1000th checklist into eBird today, from Lemoin Point CA, Kingston. It had 36 species on it including the first Winter Wren that I've actually seen in several years (I almost always just hear them singing).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guelph Lake Barred Owl

I know, most of you have probably seen a whole lot of pictures of this bird (and maybe some of you have seen the actual bird), but yesterday was my first time seeing and photographing it! This wasn't actually my first time trying for it though...

Adrian Helmers and I headed up yesterday with bright sunshine and clear skies - a good sign for trying to photograph the owl! Last time we wandered around the entire area, searching what seemed like every last tree but with no luck. This time, however, we had barely gotten 100 yards in when we spotted a photographer pointing his camera upwards. Following the line, we spotted the owl sitting in a tree not 50 feet away! We spent the next hour observing it looking around and preening before it settled down for a nap and we decided to leave it alone.

The Barred Owl with an injured left eye

Having a bit of a preen before bed

We then cruised around some of the fields north of the lake, managing to turn up a number of Horned Larks singing away, a Northern Shrike, and a lone Snow Bunting. On the way home, I stopped by a pond that has apparently held a Great Blue Heron in the last few weeks but it was completely frozen over so no luck there.

Later today I'm headed off to Kingston to visit my brother and hopefully do some birding in a new county or two so stay tuned for a post upon my return!

Another King Eider shot from Saturday

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Niagara, again

Yesterday, Reuven Martin, Mark Dorriesfield, Matt Strimas-Mackey, his girlfriend Tina and I headed over to the Niagara river for my 5th time in the last 4 months. We had a reasonably successful day, highlights below!

Our first stop was in Fort Erie where after an hour of wandering the neighbourhood around Bowen Rd. we managed to get good looks at 2 Fish Crows and heard another. We also had Red-bellied Woodpecker and Sharp-shinned Hawk among others here. We then headed down to the end of the road on the river where there were almost no Bonaparte's Gulls (and therefore no Black-headed or Kittiwake) but there was a first-winter Thayer's among the many Great Black-backed and thousands of ducks.

We then headed downriver, stopping along the way to look at all the waterfowl - Tundra Swan, American Wigeon and Horned Grebe were the highlights among many thousands of mergansers, goldeneye, scaup, canvasback and redhead. A quick stop in Chippawa yielded no Tufted Titmice at the regular feeders but did have 2 more Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

After a quick lunch we headed to the overlook above the rapids, adding Glaucous, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed and California Gulls for the day. At Dufferin Islands we got our Titmice but no Harlequin Ducks and definitely no Purple Sandpipers as most of the rocks were frozen over.

Tufted Titmouse at Dufferin Islands

The Whirlpool was surprisingly empty (not a single Bonaparte's!), but we did have a mockingbird and a kestrel. At Adam Beck we scanned through the many large gulls, picking out a good number of Iceland Gulls along with a nice adult Thayer's and a 2nd-winter Lesser Black-backed. Since we weren't having any luck picking out a rarity, and we could see Turkey Vultures flying, we headed over to the Queenston Heights overlook, where after about a half hour of watching Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks, I spotted a Black Vulture circling in the distance. Finally! Only took me 5 visits... I also had a bit of a surprise when I picked up a passerine wayyyy over on the US side, flying towards us. About 2-3 minutes later, it passed over onto our side and I was able to ID it as a Horned Lark! Not exactly a rarity but was pretty cool nonetheless and new for my NY list.

Our next stop was in Port Weller where after less than a minute of searching, Reuven spotted the King Eider (adult male) that's been hanging out in the canal for most of the winter. We enjoyed some pretty awesome looks through the scope (unfortunately too far for my 300mm to get any good shots!) at this great bird.

The King Eider! This is when I wish I had a kayak or something...

Since we still had some light left, Mark, Reuven and I headed over to LaSalle marina where we had a bunch more ducks for the day and spent about half an hour with the immature male King Eider in view, sometimes down to <15 feet! Awesome!

 Greater Scaup male


Mallard, mallard, mallard, oh hey, that's not a Mallard!

Nope, it's a King Eider!

He was glad to pose for some pics

I got distracted by some curious juvenile Trumpeter Swans

But not for long! I thought this was a pretty cool assortment of birds in one photo

King Eider and his entourage - an armada of swans

Coming to say goodbye - this is barely cropped! I'd like to go back when there's some better light...

These longer days are proving to be pretty beneficial as we still had time after all this to stop in at Puslinch where we didn't find the Mountain Bluebird but did have an Iceland Gull and an adult Great Black-backed Gull in the quarries - a nice way to end this very birdy day. 

This will probably be my last visit to Niagara until November (unless another rarity turns up), so I thought I'd mention that 5 of my last 10 ON birds have been from the Niagara river! It's definitely a productive spot and it'd be nice to go over there during May, although without all those gulls I'm not sure it'll feel like a true Niagara visit!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quiz answer and a Congratulations

First off, the quiz for this month - I received a record-breaking 6 responses! Congrats to everyone who had the correct answer of Swainson's Warbler - from my short (5-day) North Carolina trip back in May/June 2008 on which I managed to add 33 species to my lifelist (including this beauty).

Next, I'd like to extend my congratulations to Mike Burrell who is eBird's "eBirder of the Month"! Check out the story on eBird - and check out Mike's blog (link on the sidebar).

That's all for now, been fairly busy with midterms and assignments and whatnot but next week is 'reading' week and I hope to get out birding at least a few times!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Band-tailed Pigeon

I had just settled down with my lunch to watch some Top Gear (UK version, of course) when I received a text from Josh. "Band-tailed Pigeon in Bracebridge - leaving in 20, want to go?" Of course! So, him, Reuven and I hopped in his car and off we went. Unfortunately, we arrived about an hour too late, and spent the remaining daylight hours wandering around the Sinclair's property in vain. Later that night, Josh decided to give it another try, so back we went on Sunday morning and this time our luck had turned. We got great views of the bird as it sat in a tree, eating snow. It didn't come down to the feeder while we were there so no great pics but here's what I did manage.

Eating some snow

That weird thing that pigeons do with their heads...

Anyway, a great bird (last one was in London in 2003/2004!).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Quiz

First off, thanks to everyone who answered the previous quiz! Congrats to Brandon Holden for having the best score with 2/4 - I posted it to one of my facebook groups as well and they managed to get 3/4 after some discussion. I'm thinking the last photo may not have been identifiable as nobody managed to get it... So, the answers:

1. (hatch-year) Peregrine Falcon with 2 Herring Gulls (bonus points to Brandon for getting the location as well! WPBO).
2. Northern Mockingbird (actually just down the shoreline from WPBO).
3. Osprey - if you look reeeeallly closely you can see the white over the eye.

And here's the new quiz, taken somewhere in the ABA area. Good luck!

(Click for larger version)