Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Looking Back on the Stratford Area CBC

Last Monday I took part in my first Christmas Bird Count in the Stratford area.  I had never been part of a count before and so did not know exactly what to expect.  However I was hoping to meet some other local birders and hopefully see some species of interest.

The count was divided into seven zones and I met my fellow group members in a parking lot along the Avon River by 8:30.  We started our morning with a walk along the river where we picked up the usual geese, mallards and ring billed gulls.
The usual residents

  Things were looking up as we came across the long staying ring-necked duck.  I made reference to this bird in my previous post and it was great to add it to the count, definitely not a normal CBC bird.

Not far from the river, we caught a glimpse of a large bird circling over the trees, turkey vulture.  We would come across another large bunch later in the day bringing our count total to 14 vultures.  Based on past records, this is a first time they have been seen on the count.  Likely the mild weather has been a factor.

Surprisingly the common rock pigeon had eluded us all this while and we spent some time driving before picking up a flock.  That species seems to be all over when we aren't counting them.

We then walked through a residental area along the edge of Stratford and added most of the expected species at feeders along the way.

At noon, we stopped for a quick lunch at Tim Horton's and met the fourth member of our group.  Steve had been doing a solo walk along a rural section of the Avon.  We added his sightings to our list and then the group of us headed off for a drive along the rural sideroads of our zone.

We didn't pick up a lot of raptor variety, but managed northern harrier, and four rough-legged hawks.

Our last sighting of the day was horned lark and we headed back into town to regroup and put together our sightings.

Aside from our group's turkey vultures and ring-necked ducks, there were several other species of interest as well.  Notable gulls included a greater black-backed in St. Marys as well as two iceland and a thayers.   Cackling geese were also picked out at one location.

As in any count, we had some species that were higher than expected and some that were lower or not seen at all.   In general raptor numbers were lower, particularly red-tailed and coopers hawks.  No sharp-shinned this year.  No one managed to pick up any owls although a group had been out early in the morning trying.   However three great horned seen a day earlier managed to make count week.

Overall I really enjoyed my first CBC and hope to take part again next year.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Avon River Ramblings

Finally I'm putting out a blog post again.  I've been decently busy lately and haven't done as much birding as I would like. The forecast had predicted rain today, but fortunately it held off long enough for me to head into Stratford to the Avon River.  There was decent fog cover which made long range birding difficult, but it turned out to be an interesting day anyway.

The Avon has had several seasonal rarities lately and I was interested to see what I could find.  The mallards were certainly out in full force (no surprise) and I arrived as they were enjoying a late afternoon meal.

I headed off along the river and could soon see that the fog would present some challenges.
I was pretty sure photography would not be great, but attempted it anyway when the birds would let me close enough.

At one point I managed to pick out a female lesser scaup alone in the middle of the river.  She had also been reported on eBird this morning.  It wasn't a new species for me, but still great to see. 

I was scanning the canada geese when I noticed something odd.

In this zoomed in version of the above photo, I had my first good look at cackling geese.  Not much larger than nearby mallards and with their short stubby bills, it was a treat to see them and add them to my life list.

There were lots of eastern gray squirrel around both in black and gray morphs.

  A recent article in the local newspaper predicted a higher squirrel survival rate over this winter and into spring for much of southwestern Ontario.  The mild temperatures we have been having mean that they can harvest more nourishment for the winter and will go into the cold weather with more fat reserves.  If interested, the article can be found here.

In other Stratford birding news, a strange ring-necked duck has also been hanging around the river for most of the year.  It seems that he arrived with a group of ring-necks during spring migration and for some reason never left.  I caught a glimpse of him early last summer and according to the eBird updates I received, he stayed over summer and was reported again just yesterday although I did not see him today.   We are normally in their migration path but there isn't much reason why one should hang around this long.  It appears to be in good health.

As many of you probably know, we are approaching the time of year for Christmas Bird Counts.  I am looking forward to participating in my first count this year in the Stratford area.

That's all for now.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Some Snowy Sunday Sights

My area was hit with our first decent snowfall of the year today.  I didn't get the opportunity to go out birding, but there was plenty of activity at the feeders which was pleasant to observe from in a warm house.

dark-eyed juncos
mourning doves
downy woodpecker

blue jay, northern cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker
I'm hoping to get the opportunity to get out tomorrow and do some more local birding.  Southern Ontario has been seeing some interesting birds lately so I'm hopeful for some good sightings.  A cave swallow would be nice.  There have been multiple sightings over the last few days along the lake according to other bloggers and eBird (see map below).

Cave swallows are occasional visitors to Ontario and would be a great sighting for me considering that they commonly reside along the southern end of North America.  This cold and snow will likely finish them off. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Down to Norfolk County

The pleasant weather today made it a great day to get out and do some birding.  I hadn't had a chance to return to the Long Point area for a while and decided today would be the day.

First stop on arriving in the area was to check out the Bird Studies Canada headquarters property, not far from the park itself.

I took a quick look around inside the building.  This was the closest that I got to tundra swans today.

The trail leading up to the waterfront viewing area was fairly quiet.  A few small birds, mostly juncos were fluttering around.

It looked quite quiet at the lake when I first arrived.

  I began scoping and soon found most of the waterfowl was well off in the distance.  A lone pied-billed grebe was the closest, working through the reeds along the waters edge.

American coots were out in full force.  I estimated at least 275 but that number could easily have been 300 or more together in one large group of birds.

Several bufflehead and redhead were also seen.  There was another large raft of ducks even further out which I could not see well enough to identify even through the scope.

From there it was on to Long Point Provincial Park.  The park is technically closed but public access is still allowed.

 Entering the park I spotted several swans which I assumed were tundra.  When I got the scope on them, they turned out to be mute swans.  They were in the company of an active group of waterfowl consisting of mallard, canada goose, redhead, bufflehead and gadwall.

Juncos and american tree sparrows were actively moving through the brush and along the edge of the road.

I also spotted this guy.  Not sure if it is unusual to see them around this time of year or not.

It moved into the defensive stance when I nudged it.

Sandhill cranes could be heard in the distance as we headed out of the park.  As we left I noticed a butterfly fluttering by, a monarch.  This is the latest that I have seen one.  It must have been late hatching and it seems unlikely that it will make it to Mexico.

We decided to make a final stop in the town of Port Dover before heading for home.

I spotted three winter plumage horned grebes swimming in the harbor as well as a group of relatively tame mallards and black ducks along with a single bufflehead.

Cormorants and ring-billed gulls were quite numerous.  I scanned the gulls in hopes of maybe a Franklins.  Franklin's gulls seem to have invaded southern Ontario in large numbers over the last few days, but I couldn't find one.
Ring-billed gulls

It was rather dissapointing when I got home and realized that I must have left my field guide sitting on the bench along the harbor in Port Dover.  If any of my readers are from that area and find a battered field guide on one of the benches, you know who it probably belongs to.  It isn't too hard to order a new one, but I kept some notes in there that I will have to recreate by looking through old eBird lists.

Otherwise it was a great birding day and definitely an area worth a visit if you end up down that way. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Potential of Digiscoping

The method of digiscoping (taking photos through a spotting scope with a digital camera) is something that has recently been extremely interesting for me.

I often carry my scope around when birding and attempt to use it to capture outdoor shots with the one camera that I usually have with me, my cell phone camera.  I really enjoy this method of photography mostly because I don't have to carry a lot of extra equipment around to take photos.

It is definitely a learning process for me taking photos this way.  I need to hope that my target stays still long enough to line up the scope and then hold the camera steady enough to take a picture.  I am seriously considering purchasing an adaptor that would allow for steadier shots.  There have been several excellent blog posts by Prairie Birder reviewing a couple different companies that manufacture such adaptors.

Here are the results of some of my latest attempts of photography though my scope. 

This ruddy duck stopped by one of our ponds last week.

And some pictures from the feeders.

Hairy Woodpecker

House Finch
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Red Breasted Nuthatch

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

More Mitchell Birds (And Some From the Farm)

The fact that I was off evening chores, made it an ideal time to hurry out to the Mitchell Sewage Lagoons (West Perth Wetlands) before dark.  I had been a couple weeks since my last visit there and this time of year it is constantly changing as migrants come and go.

I arrived at the lagoons about 5 pm and started my walk.  I was anxious to cover what ground I could in the remaining daylight.    Some of my first ducks of the day were a small group of green-winged teal. 

Continuing on I came across many of the usual mallards.

I don't usually consider canada geese to be unusual, but there were massive numbers on the soccer field.  I estimated 600, but that number is likely an undercount.  It was impressive when most of them took off at once.

The cells farther from the parking lot held more variety in ducks.
Northern shovelers

Mallards and pintail

I picked out black ducks, wigeon and gadwall as well.

Shorebird activity has started to slow down.  The huge numbers of white-rumped sandpipers seem to have mostly moved on and I only counted a handful of them today.

Dunlin seemed to be the dominating shorebird on this occasion.

Nearing the end of my walk, I caught sight of a bird that from a distance looked like a lone green-winged teal.  I got it in the scope and instead found this.

The light was starting to fad and these phone scoped photos aren't the clearest, but I believe this is likely the black-bellied plover found here two days ago by Jarmo Jalava.  It was a first for me and a great find for my evening at the lagoons.

I spent last weekend birding the farm, but didn't turn up anything particularly unusual, except for a butterfly that I wasn't expecting this time of year.
Eastern Comma
Hidden Heron

It sounds like southern Ontario is expecting a decent rainstorm overnight and into tomorrow so I'm glad I got some birding in tonight before it hits.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

West Perth Waterfowl

Well it's definitely fall now and the days are getting shorter and cooler.  However this is one of the best times of year for birding.  I admit it is true that it is a challenge identifying many of the species that change to a more dull winter plumage.  The warblers for example are much duller in colour and don't sing the way that they do in the spring.  But, I consider that all part of the fun of birding and there is one group of birds known for turning into their breeding colours this time of year, the ducks.

I've always enjoyed birding in general, but waterfowl has for some reason always proved particularly interesting to me.  This is the time of year when it is fun to watch those plain brown ducks transform into colourful breeding plumage.

I have been experimenting with taking pictures through my spotting scope.  The quality is still not great, but it allows me to capture somewhat decent images and today I got a chance to try it out again at the West Perth Wetlands.

The tundra swans were interesting to see.  It is a rare sighting according to Ebird.

Snow geese have not been reported at the wetlands for a while so it was interesting to spot the birds among the Canada geese.

A large number of white-rumped sandpipers were also present.  The species seems to be present in unusually large numbers across southern Ontario right now.

It`s definitely a sign that fall is well underway when wood ducks and blue winged teal start disappearing from the Ontario landscape.  The odd individual still shows up occasionally, but I didn`t see any today.  The pictures below were taken a couple weeks ago at the wetlands when both species were quite common.

A couple drake wood ducks just starting to show colour.

Canada goose and friend.

Overall today was a great day for the wetlands and I left with several new life species.