Tuesday, 29 November 2022

The Steller’s Sea-Eagle Saga

 Sea Eagle Wars

The Seven Foot Swing Span

Episode I: The Phantom Eagle

This battle of a man vs a colossal, Siberian bird of prey began back in July of 2021 in Ontario. For me.  For the Steller’s Sea-Eagle, the journey to celebrity status in Eastern Canada and the United States, began much earlier in, perhaps, Russia. They are normally found in Russia, Korea, China and Japan.  It was a bird that was rare even in the Aleutian Islands, which are not that far from Russia, but spending time on the North American mainland was not expected.  

This particular Steller’s Sea-Eagle, one of just about 4000 remaining birds, has been on North American soil since at least August of 2020, nearly a year before I drove to Quebec to try and see it for the first time.  In August of 2020, it was first reported along the Denali Highway in Alaska.  Certainly far from home,(about 4700 miles), but not so far from the Aleutians as to be a total surprise.  But that was only the beginning of this incredible, giant eagle’s story.

I have pinned every state and province where it was reported. 

The highlighted one is where I finally saw it in New Brrunswick 

Episode II: Attack of the Rare Bird Alerts

The biggest surprise was still to come.  In March of 2021, after a winter storm blew through Texas, the Sea-Eagle had found its way to the Barnhart Nature Retreat outside San Antonio, Texas. Birders there were stunned. They had never seen anything like it.  They assumed that it was likely the same bird that had been seen in Alaska.  It had made its way, unseen for months, to the far south.

And then, it vanished and was all but forgotten.  It was probably stealthily making its way north, again, somehow evading binoculars and birders all the way to Quebec, Canada.  On June 28, 2021 it was reported from the Gaspe Peninsula.  It was shortly after that when I came into the picture.  I heard about it at the beginning of July and so began my odyssey to see the Steller’s Sea-Eagle.  I was unable to go in July and then it went unreported for a while.  In August I heard that it had been re-found, not so far from the original location and I drove the nearly 15 hours to Quebec, only to get there a day late, and a few dollars short, as the saying goes.  I headed back to Ontario, disappointed, and figured that I had lost my one and only chance to see this once in a lifetime bird.  It also showed up in New Brunswick for a bit, and would one day return there,(just for me?).

In November of 2021 it was spotted in Falmouth, Nova Scotia and in December, as I was planning my Canada Big Year and thinking I had another shot at getting this bird for the 2022 year list, it suddenly turned up in Massachusetts.  Oh, no, I thought.  It’s migrated back to the US. Would it fly south for the winter? Of course, this was during the pandemic and US birders weren’t able to cross into Canada, so they were rushing to the scene to see it for themselves  For myself, any other time, I would have driven directly there, as I had once done for many a rare bird, including a Black-backed Oriole.  

Episode III: Revenge of the Steller’s

With just weeks before the official start of my Big Year, I had to accept that the bird was gone, at least for now, and concentrate on where to go for January 1, 2022.  Would the Steller’s have plans to return to Canada, or was he just continuing south for warmer temperatures?  These questions would be frustratingly answered over the next 10 months.

While I was spending the first week of 2022 in Nova Scotia, adding a Lifer Dovekie, one of the smallest sea birds, one of the largest, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was tantalizingly close in Sheepscot River, Maine.  Question: Would the winds change and send this sightseeing sea bird back to Canada before I headed back to Ontario?  Answer: A Big Fat NO!

And so, I continued on with my travels, adding new birds and Lifers to the year list, occasionally checking e-Bird to see if my nemesis ignored Covid travel restrictions and returned to the country that had so generously hosted it in 2021.

Episode IV: A New Hope

And so, I continued with my Big Year, traversing the country from St. John’s Newfoundland to to Victoria, British Columbia, just waiting for a report that would send me back to the east coast for another once in a lifetime shot at this Dark Lord of the avian world.  I was Luke Skywalker up against Darth Vader.  I did have my own personal Jedi Council, so to speak, an Obi Wan and Yoda in the Maritimes, Jason in Nova Scotia and Jared in Newfoundland.  Both have been instrumental in helping me get rare birds this year.

Jason let me know that the wandering eagle was seen in Nova Scotia, at the Wallace Bay National Wildlife Area.  I booked a flight and was there at dawn on April 6, hope in hand, and searched, in vain for two days.  Once again, this flighty bird got the best of me.  I did add one species to the year list, a Swamp Sparrow.  Nothing against sparrows, but seriously…  I was losing the battles but hoped I still had a chance to win the war.  At least Luke got to blow up the Death Star at the end of his New Hope, while I had the fate of Porkins,(deep cut for all but the most die hard SW fans).

Episode V: The Kidney Stones Strike Back

Spring turned to Summer and though I was criss-crossing the country, the Steller’s Sea Eagle had gone into hiding.  Early in August, my Birding Master, Jared in Newfoundland, informed me that this frustratingly flighty bird was seen in his province in the northern peninsula.  I was on vacation with Sue, birding in Nova Scotia and the southern tip of Newfoundland and it was not possible for us to get up there. 

In September I was back in Nova Scotia for a pelagic with Jason, and had the gnawing suspicion that the kidney stone pains I had been going through as far back as August, were coming back to haunt me once again.  I was okay on the pelagic out of Briar Island, and had another one scheduled in New Brunswick.  That one was cancelled due to weather, but the Sea-Eagle was still in Newfoundland.  I found the person who had been taking people out on his zodiac tour to see it, and booked a trip with him.  

I had also booked the 18 hour ferry crossing from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and was on my way there when I realized that even having the chance of seeing the bird was overpowered by the pain of passing kidney stones.  I am no stranger to the ailment.  I am a kidney stone manufacturing machine and have passed at least a couple of dozen and undergone mutliple surgeries, so I knew what I was up against.  So, I arranged to drop my rental car off in Halifax, put the dream on hold, and flew home.  I was right to listen to my body and not my Big Year brain.  A few days later I was rushed into emergency surgery in Brantford to have the menacing stones removed.

Episode VI: Return of the Sea Eagle

Late in November I was trying figure out my next destination.  There was a Whooper Swan in British Columbia I wanted to chase, but there was also a Fieldfare in Quebec.  Five hour flight to the west coast, with a ferry ride to Nanaimo, or a seven hour drive to Quebec?  I opted for the Fieldfare and it turned out to be the right decision, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I drove until after dark and stayed in Trois Rivières for the night and was at the spot where the Fieldfare had been seen early the next morning.  There were lots of birders searching, including Martin, who had driven up from New Jersey.  We searched all day, but the bird was already long gone. 

However, I received an e-mail from Edna, another New Jersey friend, who had been following my adventures since discovering my 2012 Big Year blog. We got to meet at the Meadowlands in New Jersey that summer and birded around Cape May together, along with her family and Sue.  Well, she was excited to report that the missing Steller’s had turned up in New Brunswick.  I was worried about getting my hopes up too soon, but since the Fieldfare was a no-show and Bouctouche was “only” about seven hours away, the decision to go was this time made by my Birder Brain and off I went.

I spent the night outside of Miramichi, where I had seen the Mistle Thrush, another rarity, years before, and was in Bouctouche first thing in the morning.  Shortly after I arrived I was told the bird just flown off a few minutes earlier.  Of course it did.  Thanks to Facebook friends,(more of my Jedi Council), Angela MacDonald and Mitch Doucet, I was put on the NB Birding Live Chat on Messenger and had access to all the updates. It was a chilly morning and quite foggy and it was easy to miss the bird as it flew along the water and dunes.  In fact, a few minutes later, just after 10am, someone saw it fly, got a record photo and then it was gone.  I had missed it again.

As the day wore on, the fog lifted, the temperatures rose a bit, and the 20 or so birders kept traversing the area searching, and searching and searching.  But the bird was in hiding, perhaps having found a tasty morsel of mouse, and had gone off somewhere to eat in private.  By midafternoon I was despairing of ever seeing this bird and messaged Sue that I might have to cry.

Then, around 3pm word got out that the bird was seen across the water from Rotary Park.  I was unsure of where it was and accidentally headed in the wrong direction at first.  However there were two birders, whom I had met on two previous boat trips this year, scoping the water and I jumped out of the car and told them the Sea-Eagle had been found.  They both piled into their car and followed me, now that I had directions punched into my GPS.  

Many people were already there and others were arriving right behind me.  Our cars were haphazardly strewn all over the parking lot and people were lined up with cameras, scopes and binoculars excitedly tying to get eyes on the bird.  Finally, using a borrowed scope, I saw, over 16 months from its initial appearance in Quebec, the object of my burning, Big Year desire.  The Steller’s Sea Eagle was finally, finally in my sight.  A beautiful, larger than life eagle, dark brown with white on its wings and an unmistakable, large yellow beak.  I ran back to my car, got my scope and took some videos of the bird.  After about 10 minutes of sitting, the bird flew off and I got some nice photos of it in flight.

We all milled about excitingly sharing the excitement of seeing, what for nearly all of us, was a Lifer.  We all agreed this was the best day of birding ever.  But we were not done yet.  Even though we all saw it and got distant photos and videos, we weren’t exactly seeing the bird up close.  Then someone said that the bird had landed a short drive away on top of a tree in a nearby neighborhood.  We all raced over, and found the bird less than 50 yards away posing atop a tree,  Just when we thought the day couldn’t get better, it did.  For me, it was species 447 for the year, and 707 for my ABA Life List.  If I don’t see another new bird all year, I can’t complain.  Still, with 32 days left, perhaps I can finish with 450.  We’ll see.

I stayed the night in Bouctouche at the lovely Le Gite de la Sagouine boutique hotel and had a celebratory and traditional Lifer Steak Dinner at the Restaurant La Sagouine next door.  I was asleep early and well rested the next morning for the long drive back to Brantford.  I spent the night in Cornwall, Ontario and awoke to news of a Tundra Bean Goose just outside Montreal.  I drove 2 hours back the way I had come to the Bassin sud Pont Marchand and was greeted by 10,000 Snow Geese when I arrived, but after an hour of searching, no Bean Goose.  I missed two birds on this trip, but got the ultimate prize in the charming maritime town of Bouctouche in New Brunswick.  

I am resting back in Brantford now, and will take a few days to plan my next adventure.  Three more species in 32 days,  It could happen.

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Cave Swallows Purple Gallinule: Story at 11

…and the Rarities, they keep a comin’

Cave Swallowers

Above, in the Purple Jacket, Marcie recorded her 400th species for Ontario!

So, the past 30 days or so since I returned from British Columbia, have been pretty good for birding here in Ontario, making me hesitant to leave for parts unknown chasing birds that may have flown the proverbial coop by the time I arrived, possibly at great expense.  Here in Ontario I had already taken day trips for a Magnificent Frigatebird, who was not in magnificent condition, a Tropical Kingbird that was far from The Tropics and a Cattle Egret who was hanging out with, well, cattle.

This weekend it was time for Cave Swallow migration.  These birds are late migrators and have an odd migratory route, passing over the Great Lakes from on their way from their breeding grounds in Texas and then back down to Mexico.  It’s a long way north just to go south of where you were born.  But it also might be that their love of nesting under bridges has helped expand their range north of Texas and the ones that do show up in Ontario could be from that population, riding the warm north winds up before turning south again.

For whatever reason, these birds have a habit of turning up this time of year and 50 Point Conservation area in Grimsby, Ontario is one of their known flyways.  I got a message the night before from fellow birder Ezra that the winds were favourable for these birds and though I arrived after two big flocks had already gone by, I was on time for a smaller flock of about 6-8 birds.  However I was concentrating too much on seeing them that I was too late for photos that day.  The Cave Swallows were not just species 445 for the year but another Canadian Lifer, bringing that list up to 476. I had begun the year with 390 species on my Canada Life List and have added 86 Lifers.

The next day I returned early and was able to get photos of these lovely swallows.  Not good ones, but I am happy enough to get any record shots.

Later that morning we were all treated to another rarity, a Northern Gannett on its migration.  They spend their winters at sea off the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but occasionally a few wayward birds pass through the Great Lakes regions too. For Ontario Big Year Birders this was a big deal.  For me, though I had seen many this year, it was still a treat to see this juvenile gannet entertain the birders on the shores of Lake Ontario.

That made for a pretty good weekend, but Monday had another surprise in store for us chasers of wayward birds.  A juvenile Purple Gallinule was seen Sunday in Oshawa, Ontario at the Oshawa Second Marsh.  I’m not sure if there is a First Marsh, but if there is, I have never heard of it.  The Durham region has been good to me this fall, with birds such as the Ruff and Glossy Ibis, along with the Cattle Egret sightings.

I rushed out there first thing in the morning with just a coffee and nutrition bar and arrived to see a nice gaggle of birders looking, though by the time I had arrived it had not been seen for a couple of hours.  But people were staked out along the creek where it had been seen and we hoped it was just a matter of time before it showed itself.  Late in the morning I was feeling hungry and needed a comfort break, so I figured a 15 minute round trip for something to eat and another coffee from the Tim Hortons Drive-thru might help get me through the rest of the morning.  

Upon my return, just moments before I arrived, the group I left behind to watch, had spotted it again.  However it had once again vanished and I could only hope my full bladder and empty stomach hadn’t cost me seeing this bird.  I needn’t have worried.  Less than five minutes later it was seen again, walking in the cattails and reeds and finally emerged for some photos and made everyone present smile with the pleasure of a successful rare bird chase.  For me, this one was a biggie. Species 446 for the year and just a step closer to my stretch goal of 450 species for 2022.  It was also nice to just take a breath and enjoy the company of all the birders that showed up, many of whom I have known for years and see at many a rare bird stakeout.  Good times had by all.

53 days remain in 2022.  Plenty of time to add 4 more species to the list.  But either way, 450 or 446, I have succeeded beyond my expectations.  I have seen some of the most amazing parts of this country, seen birds that were both Lifers and new for Canada, chased rarities both near and far, with mixed success along the way, and have enjoyed nearly every minute of it.  

Now, where to next?

Monday, 31 October 2022

Another Rare Bird in Whitby, Ontario: A Cattle Egret


Well, this has been a “fun” week!  That kidney stone issue that plagued me on the east coast came back to haunt me just 8 days before All Hallows Eve.

I’m writing this the morning after surgery to have a kidney multiple stones removed from my body, after spending 12 hours in the emergency ward of Brantford General Hospital on the night of Friday, October 22. It was almost four years to the day that I was having surgery on my spine, in Toronto, on Halloween night.  It certainly felt spooky, that’s for sure.  After eight hours of poking and prodding, a CT scan and a bladder scan, fluids being removed from and put into me, I was wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery.  

The staff of Brantford Hospital, from the cleaners to the orderlies and nurses and the Urologist who performed the delicate operation, were, to a person friendly, kind and helpful.  Even the recovery room nurse who happily stayed with me and Sue at the front doors for 15 minutes while we waited for a taxi.  That was my fault.  I left my 4-way flashers on all day in the parking lot and killed the battery.  CAA came this morning and boosted it, so we could get it home before paying for another day.  I’ll rest up today, and enjoy a little backyard birding. 

Download Birders Nearby Today

Meanwhile, last Monday I decided to head out to farm country to look for a Cattle Egret.  They seem to show up all over Southern Ontari every fall, and like fields with cows.  While driving the farm roads of Norfolk and Haldimand County looking checking all the fields, especially those with cows, I received a report that Charmaine Anderson had seen one over two hours away, on a cattle farm in Whitby. Well, a little driving never stopped me from seeing a year bird, especially during a Big Year, so off I went and what a good time it was.  I ran into several people I knew from the southern Ontario birding community, including MC, Garth and Nancy, all of whom I often see at rare bird sightings.  Ezra, who is doing well during his Ontario Big Year was there too. 

Of course, the star attraction, the Cattle Egret was also there, standing, appropriately, behind a cow.  Cattle Egrets love fields with cows because they are full of flies and bugs and every time a cow swishes its tail to remove the pests, it is an airborne buffet for the egret.  They will also follow along harvesters, combines and lawn mowers, as the food is plentiful as the bugs are swept up from the blades.

Shortly after I took that initial photo, the bird took flight and vanished for a few minutes before returning and landing close to the road in a tree.  While it was gone we got to talk to the farm owner and she was thrilled to have such a rare bird come visit her cows.  It was the first time one has shown up on Maureen’s property.  She even invited us to walk a short way up her driveway to get a better view, as long as we didn’t get too close to her dogs, who are not fans of strangers on the property.

I even a digiscoped video with my PhoneSkope adaptor and iPhone when it landed on a fence post close to the driveway.

The Big Year List now stands at 444, a nice round number and honestly more species than I ever expected to get this year.  I was going to be happy with 400 but Canada is a big country and there are over 500 possible species to see.  With just over two months left, I might just six more. And 450 species would be a very big year, indeed!

Friday, 14 October 2022

A Magnificent Week of Birding Ends in the Tropics?

 Fresh off a week which saw me add a Connecticut Warbler, Sabine’s Gull, Ruff and Glossy Ibis, I was looking for yet one more challenge out west.  A trip to British Columbia to hunt for the last ptarmigan on my wish list.  I had seen Willow and Rock Ptarmigan in the Yukon and was unable to complete a mountain hike that may have resulted in seeing the White-tailed Ptarmigan.  I was determined to do what I thought would be an easier hike in BC to add this one to my Life and Year list.  Boy, was I wrong.

My first stop, after landing in Vancouver was to drive up to the small town of Merritt and search for a Dusky Grouse.  Even before I became a birder, the Dusky Grouse was one the first birds I identified, on a cycling trip to Montana, and the first species on my ABA List.  I had previously seen them in BC and now needed to find at least one for this year’s list.  I took a drive up the quite interestingly named Midday Valley Road, not early in the morning, or at dusk, when grouse might be more likely out on the road, but around midafternoon, or well, midday.  The road lived up to its afternoon promise and provided me with a lone Dusky Grouse, just sitting, biding its time enjoying the, ahm, midday sun.

I saw it ahead on the road from my car and was worried that it would duck into the long grass before I could stop and get a photo.  However this guy just hung out, let me drive by, grab a quick photo thought my open window and then watch it from a distance down the road.  That was species 438 for the year.

After a long day of flying from Toronto, after an early afternoon appointment with my gastroenterologist, and driving up to Merritt, I headed to my Holiday Inn Express for an early bedtime and was well rested the next morning, fortified with a good breakfast, for the three mile hike to the mountain lake where the White-tailed Ptarmigan were last seen.  As has been the case previously this year, I was reminded that my legs, though capable of walking long distances on gentle slopes, were once again unable to cope with steep mountain paths.  Just too many sandy and rocky slopes and tree limbs to climb over.  It is the trade off I had to accept after surgery to repair my damaged spine and live a pain free life.

I made it just over half a mile before admitting I would have to turn back.  Another group of hikers, coming up behind me, gave me encouragement and one even offered one of her walking poles to assist me.  But I knew I would not be able to keep up with them and couldn’t accept the her offer of the pole, as I didn’t want to have to abandon it if I had to turn back.  With some cheerleading from the group I gave it another go, but within 5 minutes they were long gone, and I knew it was hopeless, so cut my losses and turned back.  You can try, but you can’t get every bird and, as I have learned this year, you have to listen to your body and not be too proud to admit there are some things you just can’t do.

 I next headed over to Victoria on the ferry that afternoon to search the outer fences of the airport for a Eurasian Skylark.  I had seen one back in 2014 and though they hadn’t been reported in the past month, I was willing to give it a try.  But, typical of how my concussion damaged brain works, by the time I got there, I had completely forgotten about the skylark and spent the rest of the day looking to pick up a few missing birds from my year list.  I had a nice time birding that evening, and a surprisingly good steak dinner at a Denny’s near my Bed and Breakfast.

The next morning after a lovey night at the Dashwood Manor Inn, I went on a hunt for the small population of Indian Peafowl that I recently discovered had a thriving breeding population on the island.  On my way to one particular Hotspot for them, I had to slow down because at the park adjacent to the St. Ann’s Academy, about a dozen peacocks and peahens were leisurely crossing the road.  Unexpected, but quite spectacular.  I slowly maneuvered around them and found a place to park. The Indian Peafowl were species 439 for the year.

I had a ferry to catch back to the mainland, so after spending the rest of the morning enjoying birding on the island,(once again forgetting to look for skylarks), I headed back and spent my last night in Vancouver, enjoying a nice dinner at Boston Pizza and was up early the next morning heading for Cypress Provincial Park and a date, I hoped, with a Northern Pygmy-Owl. 

I had a general location to look, but as always, I failed to read the map correctly and ended up spending an hour in the wrong spot for Northern Pygmy-Owls. However, I was in the wrong place at the right time as I headed back down the trial to my car.  I paused at a turn and a treee full of birds flitting around.  And Lo and Behold, a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckser!  I could hardly believe it and and my dumb luck.  I had spent hours on every trip to British Columbia this year combing the forest habitats for this bird.  The one that I had thought harder, the Red-naped Sapsucker, I had had seen on a previous trip.  This bird had frustrated me for nearly ten months, and finally I was seeing them.  Eventually one even flew down to eye level and stayed long enough for a few photos.

Afterwards I recalibrated my map and discovered that I had turned one road too early for the the Pygmy-Owl habitat and with a few hours left before heading to the airport, drove to the parking area and began my hike up to the Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Lodge.  This was an easy hike, on a smoothly ascending slope.  Thankfully.  When I got to the top, I began looking and listening for the owl.  I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to find it when, out of nowhere, the owl flew a few feet in front of my face and off into the woods.  Seen, identified, counted.  Species 441 for the year.  

I kept looking, trying to get a photo when from across the woods I heard one calling.  Then the first one I had seen began hooting too.  They tooted back and forth to each other for quite some time, and by that time my time was up and I had to call it a day and head back to my car and make my way to the airport and my flight home to Toronto.  I got three of the four birds I had come for, plus the  Indian Peafowl.  All in all a great trip.

When I got home I was barely unpacked when I heard that a Magnificent Frigatebird was being seen in Essex County, Ontario and early the following morning drove out to Lighthouse Cove to see it.  It wasn’t in good shape, either from exhaustion or perhaps Avian Influenza.  Likely this bird was blown off course by one of the recent east coast hurricanes and was not in great condition by the time I arrived.  It was sad to see a bird in distress even while counting it for my Big Year List. I have seen plenty of these magnificent sea birds in Florida, as pictured below the Essex bird, but this was yet another Canadian Lifer and would not be the last one this week.

And as happened a couple of weeks ago, when I went to Ajax, Ontario on back to back days for a Ruff and Glossy Ibis, no sooner did I get settled back in Brantford then a report went out of a Tropical Kingbird not far from where I saw the Frigatebird, near Windsor, Ontario.  It was about a two-and-a-half hour drive and it was close to 3:30 so I decided to take a chance and wait until the next morning, so I could have dinner with Sue and not be told, after saying I had to go see this bird: “You don’t HAVE to go!”  

So I waited and the next morning got to Brock-Mills Park along the Detroit River just on time to see the second tropical bird in three days make an appearance.  Many birders I knew from the Greater Toronto Area were there and even a CBC reporter who interviewed a couple of us for a feature on the rare bird.  The reporter turned out to be a birder and wanted this storm blown vagrant on his Life List too.

Rare Tropical bird sighting has birders flocking to Windsor this week

So, I am now back home for the next few weeks hoping for a few more rarities and vagrants to show up wihin a few hours drive from Brantford.  With multiple appointments near home, including an MRI to assess my various brain injuries over the years, and Sue heading to Florida for a week at the end of the month, this is a good time to relax, recharge and prepare for the final stretch of my Canada Big Year.  

At 443 species I am pretty happy with my total, so far.  Only a pair of birders, Neil and Andrea MacLeod, have ever seen more, 457 in 2018, species in Canada in a single year.  And I am okay with that.  Second all time is pretty good.  I still have competition for top spot in 2022, and though it would be nice to finished first, I never set out to or actually thought I would.  This was and always has been a race with my self.  A personal journey.  I just wanted to see the entire country I was born in and try to see at least 400 species. I have already accomplished that goal and much more.  If I don’t add another new species the rest of the year, that’s just fine with me. But, seeing seven more species would hurt, either.  450 is a nice round-ish number.

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Big Year Birds in Ontario

 Having had to return home with a kidney stone was not my idea of fun and though I may have missed some birds on the east coast, my body needed time to recover.  After a few days of rest, I was back to birding and chasing down year birds here in Ontario.  I started with a trip up to the Lambton Shores, on the shores of Lake Huron, looking for Sabine’s Gulls and Long-tailed Jaegers.  I did see a distant jaeger, but couldn’t be sure of the species, but I did have good views through my scope of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull.  No photo, but I did take a nice one once, down in California on a pelagic:

Two of the birds I had missed in Ontario, early in the year were a Ruff and Glossy Ibis.  I had been in other parts of the country when they had shown up and I was not expecting to have a second chance at a Ruff, but hoped for a fall migrating Glossy Ibis.  Amazingly, I got both on consecutive days, in the same park in Durham, Ontario.

The first one was a Ruff.  It was being seen in Rotary Park in Ajax.  Not in the actual kitchen cleaner, but on some mudflats as viewed from a bridge not far from the parking lot.  It was a rainy day, but not nearly as rough as they had it on the east coast, so I wasn’t complaining about birding in the rain.  As it turned out, I didn’t have to spend that much time outdoors, as the juvenile Ruff made an appearance less than 10 minutes after I arrived.  Another birder, who was already there, spotted it first, then a few others arrived and we all had super close looks at this rare shorebird.  It was only the second time in nearly 11 years I’ve seen one here in Ontario.  I got the share the sighting with some birders I met earlier in the year at the White-winged Dove sighting.

No sooner than I got home, after a two hour plus drive back to Brantford in heavy Sunday afternoon traffic, than reports came in that a pair of Glossy Ibis were being seen within the same park.  I was too tired to drive back after a long day of travel and birding in the rain, so put it off until the next morning, hoping these wayward ibis would stick around for 24 more hours.  Just as I was heading out the door the next morning, I received a reminder that I had an inspection for my car at my local Ford dealership and had to head there first.  Luckily it didn’t take too much time out of my morning and I was on the road and back in Ajax before noon.

I wasn’t familiar enough with the park to know where the “corner marsh” was, but fortuitously I ran in to Jean Iron on the very same bridge from the previous day, and she did know where the marsh with the ibis was and gave me very good directions to get there.  Another birder joined me for the walk and we made it there in short order.  A few other birders were already staked out and searching, but not seeing much other than Great Blue Herons and lots and lots of Wood Ducks.  

I had the only scope at that time, so while the others scanned midrange with binoculars and telephoto lenses, I concentrated on the distant cattails.  Ten minutes into scanning I thought I had a pair of Glossy Ibis in the scope.  I wanted everyone to see, but just in case I was mistaken, I said, “I need y’all to check my scope, just in case I am imagining this.”  In turns, everyone got to the scope and yes, lo and behold, the sought after ibis were seen by all.  They quickly vanished into the cattails again, but a little while later, re-emerged and everyone was able to get even better looks.  I was able to get a cool digiscope video with my iPhone and PhoneSkope adaptor.

So, today is Tuesday September 27 and I have counted 436 species in Canada this year.  Based on eBird Totals over the past 10 years, only a pair of birders, having counted 451 species, have ever seen more birds in a single year in Canada.  I won’t break the record, though that was never my goal, but second all time is not bad.  There are more birds to see and trips to make before the end of the year, but there is more time than money left in my budget.  More rarities showing up in Ontario would be nice!

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

From Nova Scotia to Calgary and back to Nova Scotia… with a Kidney Stone…

My adventures south of Calgary to Wild Horse, where I saw my first Thick-billed Longspur, was spectacular and the following journey to Nova Scotia and a pelagic that had me see my first South Polar Skua in Canada was amazing too.  But ever since Sue and I were on our vacation in Nova Scotia in August, I have been in moderate to severe pain.  I suffer from chronic kidney stones and these past few weeks have not made birding fun, all the time.  Medication helps and I managed to avoid the hospital because of the special meds I have on hand, but I ended up leaving the Atlantic provinces a week early to come home and take care of myself.  I listened to my body, and my body said, “Go home, dummy!”

I am beginning to feel better and enjoying the fact that I returned having added 11 species on the trip, including Lark Bunting and Thick-billed Longspur in Wild Horse, on the Alberta-Montana border; a Rock Wren in Drumheller; a Gray Heron,(Lifer), in Prince Edward Island National Park; South Polar Skua and  Leach’s Storm-Petrel,(Lifer) on the Bay of Fundy pelagic and a Tricolored Heron at Saint’s John Rest in Newbrunswick.  I have reached 433 species and am pretty happy with that number.  Originally I was thrilled to have hit 400 and had a stretch goal of 430.  Maybe I’ll get to 440 before the end of the year.  I also passed 700 species on the ABA List. And, yes, there are a few things I may have changed along the way, but overall I can say I am quite happy with the results.

 The pelagic, lead by my friend Jason, and Amy from Bay of Fundy Whale Watch, was the highlight of the trip.  We saw tons of seabirds, even a few songbirds and all 40 plus of us had the excitement of the South Polar Skua.  The boat was headed to see a huge raft of phalaropes, both Red and Red-necked, when Jason spotted the skua and told Amy to direct the boat over there.  She then shouted to the pilot, “Abort the phalaropes!  Abort the phalaropes!  Head to the skua!” We all had a good laugh and were rewarded by the skua putting on a show close to the boat.  It reminded me of when I saw my first ever South Polar Skua, on a Debbie Shearwater pelagic in California.  She saw it off the front of the boat and shouted, so all could hear,(even those on the mainland, I think), “Skua!  South Polar Skua!” It wasn’t until this trip that I finally got a photo.

Since I am still in recovery mode and focusing on thinking and typing is a little difficult right now, I am going to let pictures from the trip tell the rest of the words. 

Abort the phalaropes!

Skua!  South Polar Skua!