Sunday, 24 December 2017

Twitching... Again!

My twitching has been pretty prolific this year (especially compared to others), and surprisingly succesful. When a Tufted Duck was found by Luc Fazio last weekend, I knew I had to get over to Mississauga as soon as possible. But plans didn't work out as well as I planned, and I endured the long wait of the last week of school before Christmas Break. The bird kept giving me mini heart-attacks, and disappearing for a day, only to be refound farther East, farther away from me... But thankfully the day before I was going to go, it was found again, this time in Cliff Lumsden Park, where it stayed with it's Scaup friends until sunset.
          I planned to be there at 8:30 and meet up with my friend Isabel Apkarian. By the time I got there, she'd already sifted through the Scaup for me, and located it only a couple meters offshore. It was surprisingly hard to get onto, as it dove frequently and moved around a lot. But finally I laid eyes on it.

This male only had a few tufts grown in, but as the winter progresses it will develop into a full tuft. As I was watching the Tufted Duck, a few other duck species swam by, including smaller numbers of Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Long-tailed Duck and Bufflehead.

American Wigeons

Greater Scaups

Female Greater Scaup

Common Goldeneye

Long-tailed Ducks

The Tufted Duck kept moving around a lot, and I could only get some mediocre comparison shots of it with the Scaup.

Backlighting doesn't help! Greater Scaup on the top left, Tufted Duck in the middle, and a female Common Goldeneye on the bottom right

The easiest identifying feature for this bird is the jet black back, as opposed to the dark smudging or barring on the Scaup's back

The day before, a hybrid between a Tufted Duck and Scaup sp. had also been found. Determined to add it to my list, I scanned through the flock of diving ducks, while also counting them. I located it close to the end of my count (approximately 1500, almost all Greater Scaup). It didn't stand out as much as the Tufted Duck, with it's dark back, but it's oddly shaped head gave it away.

The left-most duck. The pointy head, and the smudgy back and sides gave it away. 

Luc Fazio (the original finder of the Tufted Duck) suggested it to be a Lesser Scaup, which I agree with. The tuft peaks at the front of it's head, the bird is noticeable smaller than the surrounding Greater Scaup, and although this photo might not show it, scope views showed the smallness of the bill and nail (bill end). A cool bird either way, and likely the same one seen in Tommy Thompson Park earlier this year (which I still have never been to!).

Can you find the hybrid? 😉

The day before we were making Christmas cookies, and I found a duck shaped cookie cutter. A few adjustments and a little bit of icing later, I came out with this:

My new strategy is to make a cookie of the bird I'm chasing, who knows! Hope ya'll get to see this beautiful bird, I might try and go back once it's full tuft is grown in.


Good birding,

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Kitchener CBC

Christmas Bird Counts (from this point forward referred to as a 'CBC') are an annual event that happen around the Christmas time (hence the name), where volunteers try and count all birds in a 24km diameter circle. There's thousands of counts across North America, and even more in the UK. The CBC has been running for over a hundred years, and is therefore one of the longest running standardized counts ever.
          I usually do at least two counts per season, one Kitchener (my hometown), and Meaford (where my chalet is. This blog post will just be about the Kitchener count, because the Meaford count hasn't happened yet! I might write another post about it in the coming Christmas weeks, but it depends on how it goes, and how my Tufted Duck twitch goes tomorrow...

I (like to think I) co-run my CBC section, with Fraser Gibson, a very good local birder. At 5:30 on (last) Saturday, the 16th, me and my mom set out to meet Fraser on his owling run. Our section is in the South West corner of the circle, and is comprised of mostly farmland, with a few woodlots, and a few small rivers. The combination makes for surprisingly good owl habitat, or maybe my perception of owl numbers is skewed.
          Anyways, at the first stop we were successful, and got two Eastern Screech Owls to respond to our tape! We moved farther up the road, and heard a lone Great-Horned Owl hooting up a woodlot. We made a few more unsuccessful stops, and the world began to wake up. We decided to make one last stop, and a good thing too, as a Barred Owl called back! I was so close to missing this owl for the year (along with quite a few other species it seems...). They are fairly uncommon in the area, but occasionally turn up. There well known call 'who cooks for you, who cooks for you, who cooks for you all', is quite recognizable. Quite content with the day already, we proceeded to our first stop. Little did I know, we were for a big day for rarities...
          The first stop we usually make is at a large wooded property, with lots of mixed hardwood and also plantation style forests. Immediately upon arriving, we heard a Raven call, and I also later saw it, a 3rd count record! There wasn't much else at this spot, besides some chickadees and kinglets, so we moved on.
Our next stop is a walk between Oxford-Waterloo Road to Bridge Street. It follows one of the only open waterways in our section, and normally yields the most (and best) finds. As soon as I got out of the car, a small, thrush-like bird flew up into a snag. I got a quick look at it before it flew off. A Bluebird! I didn't think it was overly rare, as Bluebirds are known for overwintering. But everyone wanted to get a good look at it, which I was perfectly fine with! As we were watching it, it was joined by a female! They were quite active and kept hidden, which made it hard for photos. But I did get one:

Obviously cropped and lightened pretty hard. But it's definitely a Bluebird!

Content with this sighting, we started down the path. A few mallards were taking advantage of the flowing water, and a few kinglets were also around. We decided to split our group again, I continued to follow the river, while the other group veered off into the woods. We'd only walked a 100 meters or so, when I saw a small brown, roundish object on some exposed rocks on the creek. I doubled back, and even with my eyes I could tell it was a shorebird. I quickly got my bins up, and I was greeted by  a beautiful Wilson's Snipe! We called the other group to come back.
          Shorebirds are my favourite group of birds, and Snipes are no exception. Snipe (along with woodcock) prefer grassy fields, with some dense busy cover. They both do flight displays in the spring and summer, and are quite fun to watch! But this Snipe had made some poor life choices, and had ended wading through a freezing river, feeding on whatever it could find in the near frozen mud. 

So cute!

It bobbed up and down as it fed, maybe stirring up stuff with its feet? It seemed to be oblivious to us, but I didn't want to get too close, in case it flew away from the only water it has. Thankfully my 500mm lens had no problem with that!

My mom texted Mike Burrell about our find, as he had said to contact him about anything decently rare. I also mentioned the Bluebird, just in case that was of interest.
          Turns out the Bluebird was of more interest! The Snipe represented the 9th record, but incredibly surprising to me, the Bluebirds were a 1st count record!!! Apparently Eastern Bluebird is the most common thing missing from the Waterloo list, and has evaded counters for 82 years! Interestingly enough, the Cambridge count just South East of here gets them pretty much every year! Boy am I glad I took that picture 😃
          We continued walking as a single group, and managed to pick up 2 Red-bellied Woodpecker, a species that has been very quickly expanding into Ontario, a Brown Creeper, and American Tree-sparrow and a single Great Blue Heron. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

When we rounded another bend, a medium sized bird flew up from the creek, a Snipe! Very very likely the same one, just weird how it got ahead of us without us noticing! Right after the Snipe had flushed, 19 all white geese flew over, Snow Geese! Another rarity, and my first for the region! Thrilled with our walk, we split up to check our separate places.

Despite driving many backroads, I couldn't manage to turn up any Snow Buntings, which we have always gotten in the past few years. There was a few sizeable flock of House Finches around, as well as all the common backyard birds, and some Red-tailed Hawks.
          Our final stop for the day was the Williamsburg Cemetery, which turned up an overwintering Eastern Towhee last winter. No Towhee was to be had this year, but there was a few sizeable flocks of American Tree-sparrows, as well as some Robins. Amongst the flock of Passerines, a female Purple Finch appeared! Another county first for me.

American Robin - Yes, they do stay the winter sometimes!

American Tree-sparrow - One of the prettiest Sparrows in my opinion, their rusty tones and bicoloured are some of the best field marks for this species, as well as their 'stickpin', a small dark central dot on their chest (not visible in this picture)

And that concludes this CBC. I would definitely recommend them to any level of birder, whether you're a birder just starting looking for someone knowledgable to bird with, an advanced birder looking for rarities, or not a birder at all (but if you're not a birder I'm not sure how you'd be reading this). Good luck on your CBC's, and Merry Christmas!

Find one near you at this link

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Niagara Weekend... Part 2!

Notice above how I said the my 'original' favourite gull was Ring-billed. That was all about to change.
          There had been a juvenile Black-Legged Kittiwake reported just upriver beneath the falls over the past week, and we were told it had been seen less than an hour ago. We speedily walked over, but I only got on it for a split second before it disappeared into the mist. Because I wasn't content with my view, I decided to stay until it reappeared, hoping for photo opportunity, and also lending two more eyes to the the many others searching. In Niagara, and birding in general all it seems to take to find a rarity, is time, and a concentrated number of people looking.
          Sure enough, about a half-hour later, someone (not sure who) called it out, circling at the base of the falls. It was surprisingly easy to pick out, and it's diagnostic black 'M' stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone watched as it cycled around in the falls, soaring 50 meters or so below us. Occasionally it would glide up to eye level, and then dive back down into the depths. Made for an amazing experience, and some awesome photos! It may not be a lifer, or a yearbird, or even an Ontario yearbird (see here), but it was still incredible, and much better views than my Hamilton bird, and I suppose you could call it an Ontario 'photograph lifer'!

See the black 'M' pattern? Similar to a toned down version of a juvenile Sabine's Gull I think

The black neck collar is something that Bonaparte's also lacks. The water at the bottom of the falls is intense!

Proof that I was in Niagara, the control gates are in the back

A juvenile Great Black-backed Gull also caught my attention briefly, before I was pulled back to the Kittiwake.

So despite seeing these birds on they're breeding grounds in Newfoundland earlier this year, Ring-billed Gull was still my favourite. But this lil' cutie managed to change my mind. And that was after seeing them like this:

Juveniles cuddled up in the (extremely) thick fog, in Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland

Crazy how different the adults look, very plain but also really pretty!

Just before I left, I turned around to see a Peregrine Falcon fly by with a bird in it's talons! I got some pretty bad pictures, but Jack Farley's picture made it clear that it was a Bonaparte's Gull!
          Our next stop was the Control Gates. Immediately upon arriving, Josh Vandermeulen pointed out a large all white gull flying North over the gates. A Glaucous Gull, my last expected gull yearbird! I quickly scanned through the massive duck flock that always seems to gather in this exact spot, and found that it was a good mix of Greater and Lesser Scaup, Redhead, and fewer numbers of Canvasback. I didn't have too much time, as we needed to be back in Kitchener relatively early, so I quickly walked back to the car, not knowing that a Snowy Owl and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were seen while I was there! Guess nobody felt like telling me... That's fine.
          Just as I opened the to the car, I heard a croaking call coming from behind me, I turned around and a Common Raven came into view! It was soon joined by another, which landed on top of the gate building and was immediately bombarded by crows.

I see Ravens pretty often up at my chalet, but I think that this is the first photo I've ever taken with a Raven and Crow together!

From the gates, we drove to our second last stop in Niagara, Adam Beck (again). There wasn't much to see except 2 more Iceland Gulls, so we continued to our last stop in Niagara.
          The Queenston Heights Overlook is a pretty controversial birding spot, at least in my opinion. It's the most reliable spot for Black Vultures in Ontario, but the thing is, it's not in Ontario. The Vultures roost on a church on the American side, but since you can see them from Ontario, people list them on their Ontario list. I also do this, but if I did a big year I definitely wouldn't count them.
          Every time I go, I also get deja-vu, because I visit this spot every year, and take pretty much the exact same picture. See:



As you can tell, I got a new lens in 2017, and the lighting was pretty bad in 2016.

And that's it! Overall a great trip!

Gull Species: 7 (plus Thayer's)
Waterfowl Species: 16
Vulture Species: 2

Until next time, Ethan.

Niagara Weekend

The well known OFO Gull Trip was happening this weekend, so me and my mom made the (not so long) trek down to the falls for some much needed birding. I felt like I hadn't gone birding in weeks, but the reality was I had chased the Mountain Bluebird only a few days earlier... What can I say, I'm addicted!
          On the way down, we stopped in at Stoney Creek, to catch up with my long overdue yearbird Surf Scoter. On the first we were successful, and were also treated to large numbers of the other scoters and long-tailed ducks.

The early morning made for some nice lighting

There was also some pretty good numbers of Black Scoter, all females!

Common Goldeneyes were also plentiful

Despite the lack of King Eiders, I was content with the stops, and we continued on.

We arrived at Adam Beck just after 9, where the group of nearly 100 birders were waiting. The Niagara trip draws a lot of people, and is one of OFO's most popular trips by far. I think it's because most people can't ID gulls, and jump at the first gull trip they see... Which can be a good strategy because the trip normally gets around 10 species of gulls, counting Thayer's (a subspecies of Iceland). A quick scan of the rocks turned up 2 first cycle Thayer's in with the usual Herring and Bonaparte's Gulls. 3 species down. An adult Thayer's also made a brief appearance flying up the river, but the overall low numbers forced us to move upriver, to where 5 Harlequin Ducks had been seen over the past week.
          We parked in the Dufferin Islands parking lot, and walked through the park to the river. There was lots of mallards, gadwall and the odd Hooded Merganser.

Out at the river there was a tame Redhead, and also a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a yearbird!

Makes one think 'ooh, pretty'

Right in the center. Not the best view but a view nonetheless!

The Harlequin Ducks were hiding behind a rock pretty far out on the river, but provided fantastic scope views! I managed to see all four adult males and the one immature male/female all together! A great yearbird, and one I hadn't seen in a while. 

Likely these same birds have been coming back to this exact rock to roost on for a few years now.

My original favourite gull, the Ring-billed Gull. I find their bill and face so nice, and they're always tame enough to photograph too.

Part II coming!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Another Twitch

I've been really lucky twitching wise this year, and I know that I'm going to jinx myself by saying it.
          But recently I was hit with a streak of bad luck, missing the Solitaire in Shelburne, than being unsuccessful with Greater White-fronted Geese in Owen Sound, and then this morning with the Mountain Bluebird in Waterloo.
          This morning me, my mom and (weirdly) my sister decided to take on the exhausting (16 min) drive to Snyder's Flats, to try and relocate the Bluebird. About an hour and a half later, we were already leaving the flats with nothing to show except for a slightly out of range Raven. But I was determined to get this first county record, so convinced my mom to (again) drive my up to the flats. As soon as we got there, I noticed two people off on the flats with massive cameras pointed in the same direction, always a good sign. We hurried across the field to find the Bluebird perched on top of a bush. It sat there for a few seconds, eyeing us up with it's ringed little eye, before flying to the ground, catching an insect than flying a few yards away to the top of a tree. It repeated this pattern, and I managed a decent shot:

Pretty little thing! Too bad it's not a male... Ah well, I can't complain!

It continued it's little flight routine, and worked it's way in an arc across the flat. I guessed where it was going to perch next, and lucked out when it landed in the top of a tree only a few metres from me!

A very grey individual I thought, although the sunset colours don't make it appear that way!

We followed it around a little more, until it settled in top of a tree on the opposite side of the road, and preened. We crept up closer and closer until we were right underneath the tree! It barely seemed bothered by our presence and continued preening.

Preening it's wing

Too bad this picture doesn't bring out the blue more in it's wing and tail!

And there we left it with the quickly dying light... And I might go again tomorrow in better lighting!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Duck Dynasty

Totally stole this blog post title from my friend, but it's accurate! This weekend I went up my family's chalet in Grey County, very close to Kimberley. I had a PD day on Friday, so we headed up earlier in the day. I convinced my parents to make a quick detour to Shelburne, which had been housing a Townsend's Solitaire for the past few days. I would have called this post Townsend's Twitch Part II, but unfortunately there was no Part II to be seen. Nonetheless, I still saw a lone male Northern Harrier cruising around the fields. Hopefully it's last meal hadn't been the Solitaire!

The 'Grey Ghost' of winter

So on to the ducks. I started off the weekend by checking on my patch. There was a good number of Buffleheads (48), a single female Goldeneye, my first ever actually on the ponds, and a couple mallards. As I was scanning, I noticed a larger duck popping in and out of view at the back. I got my scope on it, and it turned out to be a female wood duck! Wood Ducks are really common here in the summer and spring, my highest count ever 96 birds! But this female was quite late.

A low quality picture indeed, but at least it's identifiable!

Amazingly there was only one male in the mix of Buffleheads! Lucky guy...

Goldeneye n' Goose

Later we went to the Collingwood Harbour, and my parents left me there with my sister, before going off to look at X-Country skis. 
          The main part of the harbour was quite productive. There was a few white-winged scoters, the first I'd seen here in a while, as well as high numbers of Goldeneye and Bufflehead. There was also a few Long-tailed Ducks and Horned Grebes.

Horned Grebe - So different in their non-breeding plumage

Long-tailed Duck

Another scan of the East side of the harbour turned up all three Merganser species - Common, Hooded and Red-breasted. There was also a lone American Coot hanging around on the West side. Occasionally these birds stay the winter, in fact last year on the Meaford Christmas Bird Count we had one at the harbour there!

Female Red-breasted Merganser - Nothing like their male counterpart

Lighting was already pretty low, so I did a quick scan through the gulls, turning up 3 Great Black-black Gulls, as well as the usual Herring and Ring-bills. Satisfied, I headed home with 12 waterfowl species, plus Coot!
          The next day I got a ride with Lynne Richardson to Owen Sound, where we unsuccessfully looked for some continuing (60 some) Greater White-fronted Geese. There was a few Goldeneye and Bufflehead around however, and we even saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker climbing up a dead tree by the lakeshore. Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of a handful of species that would have been impossible to find this far North 20 years ago.
          Back to Kimberley we went, and I checked the ponds one more time, turning up even more Bufflehead, but no Wood Duck. 

All in all, a great weekend (as usual!), and tomorrow I'm skipping first period for 'good reason' to see a continuing Mountain Bluebird in my own county!

Good birding, Ethan.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Townsend Twitch

Not a twitch to Townsend Sewage Lagoons, but a twitch to see a Townsend's Warbler!
          Yesterday (Saturday) James Burk found a Townsend's Warbler near Rondeau Provincial Park, specifically at Center Street and 2nd Avenue. I was assuming that I wasn't going to be able to go, but I found a ride for Sunday with my friend Isabel Apkarian and Nathan Hood.
          My alarm woke me up an hour early because I forgot to change it to daylight savings time, so I went back to asleep and woke up at the correct 6:05 am. My dad drove me out to meet Isabel, who picked me up, and then Nathan, and then we headed to Rondeau. As we were driving, Nathan checked and found the that the Townsend's had been seen only ten minutes prior. A really good sign!
          We arrived and quickly located the small group of birders, strung out across the road. We got out and found out that it hadn't been seen for almost half an hour. They reassured us that it would come back, as it had been doing a loop around the block with the neighbourhood Chickadees. We walked the road when Barbara Charlton got a text from Steve Charbonneau that he had the bird just a few blocks up the road. We sped walked as fast as we could, turned the last corner and voila! The bird appeared at the top of a Juniper tree, which this bird had been favouring. It flitted around for a few moments before flying off with it's Chickadee pals in the direction of where we had come from. I managed two frames, but neither were very good. We headed back in the direction we had come, and relocated it briefly again, before it flew off in the opposite direction again. We spent a while trying to find it again, and eventually another group found it, and it stayed in one spot for long enough to get decent photos.

The bright yellow on the face and body and bold dark facial marking mean that this bird is a hatch year bird - meaning that it was hatched this year

This little warbler is normally found on the western side of North America, but they do occasionally stray over to Ontario. There is a total of 9 records on eBird for Townsend's although there is a few that aren't on there. I was surprised to find that 4 of the 9 records were all in Rondeau!

Here's a range map that I stole from What Bird, but it showcases how lost this poor guy is!

I managed to get a few more decent photos, and I was very satisfied with my lifer! Interestingly, this is the first fall record of Townsend's Warbler for the province! At least on eBird...

After satisfying ourselves with the warbler, we decided to check out the beach. We scanned the water and found good numbers Ruddy Ducks, as well as some Greater Scaups, Horned Grebes, and Long-tailed Ducks mixed in. 

There was also some photogenic Ring-bills flying around

We noticed some shorebirds moving up the shoreline, and found them to be 6 Dunlin, and a Sanderling.

Dunlin and Sanderling are our two latest small shorebird migrants, and are often found in small groups. The Sanderling is on the right in this photo, it's pale white plumage contrasts to the Dunlin's smudgy grey

A female Common Goldeneye also made a quick flyby

All in all, avery successful trip well worth the drive! I've been having some really good luck recently birding wise, so I'll try my luck agin next weekend birding around in Grey County, and see what I can turn up!