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.