Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Birds About Town

Well, maybe around Southwestern Ontario is more accurate.  I’m hanging around for the time being, seeing that there are no real rarities to chase elsewhere at the moment.  So last Friday, after a heavy snow fall, with the sun shining and a wind chill in the air, I headed down to Norfolk County and Big Creek National Wildlife Management Area, to find me some Sandhill Cranes.  And I found a mess of them, but not at Big Creek. I saw a number of them flying north and I headed in that direction after failing to see them in the tall grass.  I found about 200 or more in a field on my way to find a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Got the cranes, not the sapsucker.

Sandhill Cranes, Including a Footprint in the Snow:

Just down the road at a feeder, where I was looking for a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, I officially added a Red-bellied Woodpecker to the year list.  I am sure I saw one a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t list it on eBird, so I will count this one as the first:

On Sunday morning, a day after heavy winds were creating white out conditions on the road, which made me turn back from birding that Saturday, I returned to Norfolk County, directly across the road from where I saw the Red-shouldered Hawk, and got to enjoy a flock of Rusty Blackbirds.  Though they can be seen through Canada in the summer and during migration, they winter mostly south of the Canadian border, except for a small pocket that winters just north of Lake Erie, not far from Long Point Provincial Park.

Today, Sue and I got to out birding together for the first time in a while.  She wanted to look at ducks and I wanted to finally find a Black Scoter.  We both got our wish!  I found a Black Scoter,(species 165), amongst the dozens of Surf Scoters and a few White-winged Scoters.

Black Scotter:

Surf Scoter:

White-winged Scoter:

After a lunch of wieners and beans, with some added cheese, a specialty of my childhood cooking, I headed out on my own to try and find a Merlin for about the fifth time this week, and finally succeeded, down the road from where I saw the Harris’s Sparrow earlier in the year.   I wonder if it’s been there all along?  Either way, I had species number 165 for the year and went home to rest up for the rest of the week.  Both Sue and I were too tired to cook, so we let Uber Eats deliver us enough Chinese food to last a week of being too tired to cook.


Thursday, 17 February 2022

One Bird at a Time

Often during a Big Year, you are going to be home for a stretch with no rarities to chase.  When that happens, I’m reminded of the 70’s sitcom of the same title and just take it One Day at a Time.  I took advantage of being home this week to venture down into Norfolk County to see a Red-shouldered Hawk.  We saw one there in January of last year and it appears to have returned, having been seen within a mile or so of where I saw it in 2021.  It was hanging out in a tree across the house from a very knowledgeable birder who let me know that someone had even come to band it.  He also told me he gets lots of Rusty Blackbirds in his yard, so I think I’ll zip back down to see them too.

Red-shouldered Hawk Photographed Two Ways:

It was then time for my annual mid-February trip to Algonquin Park.  I left the night before and stayed nearby in Huntsville, so I could get an early start.  I had high hopes for 4 or 5 species but came out with a low yield. It was a beautiful day in Algonquin, not a cloud in the sky and had it been just a hair warmer oiled have been a perfect day for birding.  I tried for Spruce Grouse on the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.  Nope. I tried for Red Crossbill everywhere, including the Visitors Centre, but came away empty. 

However, at the Visitors Centre feeders there I added Hoary Redpoll to the year list,(#158), and enjoyed Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak and some beautiful Purple Finches.  I really think they should be renamed Raspberry-dipped Finches.

Hoary Redpoll:

Purple Finch:

Next was Opeongo Road for Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees, but neither answered the door, and I moved on. I then tried, with another group of birders, to find the Black-backed Woodpecker at the Logging Musem and trail.  It was a lovely walk, but few birds and no woodpeckers of any kind.  Sometimes the Force is not with us.  Later I went back to the Visitors Centre, where I was able to warm up with a hot chocolate and finally headed back to Spruce Bog, where, near the end of the day half a dozen Canada Jays(#159), were putting on a show for the dozen or so people in the parking lot.

Canada’s Bird:


I was lucky enough to hear, through the “Birders Grapevine” of a Northern Hawk Owl hanging out in a secret location.  Due to it being a “sensitive species” I can’t publish the location.  But thanks to a little help from the community,(I had put feelers out for a hawk owl early in the year), I was able to add this beautiful bird to my Year List,(160), recently.  I also can not divulge when I actually saw it, because, you know, “secrets.”  That is a lot of quotation marks for one paragraph.  I shall ban myself from using them for a while.

The Majestic Northern Hawk Owl:

Friday, 11 February 2022

Owl in the City and Geese in the Country

Just 12 hours after returning home from Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, I was back on the highway from Brantford, returning to the big city, this time to Colonel Samuel Smith Park and a date with, I hoped, the resident Snowy Owl.  I had tried three previous times but couldn’t find it in its usual spot on the docks in the marina.  Because they are day hunters, it’s not always sitting on the docks waiting to have its photo taken.

This time, I lucked out.  I spotted it at the far end of the marina, and was able to get some very close looks at this large, beautiful owl.  This one had black markings, which identifies it as a female.  The males are all white, and I don’t seem to see them as often. 

Snowy Owl, #154:

Today, I headed down to Chatham-Kent to find a Greater White-fronted Goose.  I had tried a couple of times at Professor’s Lake in Brampton with a complete lack of success.  This time I hoped it was easier to pick out the goose from hundreds of Canada Geese.  There was no wild goose chase this time.  I pulled the car to the side of the road, where I could see hundreds of Canada Geese and Tundra Swans.  And right in front, less than 100 feet from the road was not one, but seven Greater White-fronted Geese.  Easy as pie.  If only all chases were that easy and fast.  Well, not all, that would take the fun out of it.  Sometimes it is the chase that is the fun part of finding a rare bird.

Greater White-fronted Goose, #155:

        One of these Tundra Swans was giving me the “stink eye.”

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Pink-footed Goose and Common Gull: The Rematch

So, just as I am deciding what to do next, after returning from Alberta, I hear of a Pink-footed Goose in Nova Scotia.  I had thought I’d be going to Newfoundland for one, since they have eased their quarantine requirements to just 24 hours with two negative tests, but I also wanted another chance at the Common Gull in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.  Of course, there was also a Common Gull reported in Newfoundland.  In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only two Common Gulls in all of eastern Canada.  What is a birder to do?  I went for the known quantity and picked Nova Scotia.

So, using my Porter Pass,(10 prepaid flight segments with Porter Airlines), I headed to the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto and boarded a flight back to Halifax.  These flight passes are great, since you don’t have to book in advance, so I could wait until I got the birds before I booked another flight.  I had planned on staying in an Air B&B near where the Pink-footed Goose had been seen, but there had been an ice storm the previous day and they had no power. I had to scramble for accommodations, as I only learned of the cancellation while driving up from Halifax, and ended up staying the night at a quaint hotel about 20 minutes from my morning destination.

In the aftermath of the Ice Storm, the trees seemed made of crystal:

The lovely vintage and antique furniture of the Heathstone Inn, Sydney, NS:

I arrived on Seaside Drive by 8:15 and started scoping the farm field that the Pinkies had been reported to hang out in.  There wasn’t anything but them Herring Gulls loafing in the field.  I walked up and down the road scanning every field, enjoyed a nice view of a Bald Eagle, but no dice on the goose.  About a half our into searching, including the frozen Lingam Bay I ran into a couple taking a walk.  The woman had binoculars hanging over her shoulder so I knew I had an instant friend to help in my search.  They introduced themselves as Monique and Len Vassallo and showed me where in the field, a little frozen pond, she had been seeing the geese.  Geese, I asked, as in more than one?  Yes, there were, in fact, four Pink-footed Goose,(gooses, geese?).  They continued on their walk and said they’d be back around in about an hour.

So, I kept scanning.  Then, on the ice, in the bay, I saw 2 lumps and thought I’d check them out.  They were, in fact, lumps.  But just beyond the first two lumps were four lumps.  I got my scope on them, and sure enough, I had had my Pink-footed Goose(s).  Just in time, Len and Monique came walking up and I got to share my Canada Lifer with them,(405).  My only only other sighting was back in 2012 during my North American Big Year: Goosed into Action.

I watched the geese for about 20 minutes, only getting a few mediocre photos before they flew off.  It was time to head back down to New Glasgow for the Common Gull.  I tried for this bird multiple times on my January trip, with no success.  This time I was determined to stay until dark and then return in the morning if I missed it.  The Aberdeen Business Centre is popular with the gulls for a couple of reasons.  There are several fast food outlets and a Cineplex.  Plus people sit in the parking lot eating their lunch and many toss a French fry or two out the window.  

There were not many gulls when I arrived and I cruised the parking lot for about 10 minutes to see where the gulls would alight.  I had thought the prime location would have been in front of the KFC, but it turns out the gulls are finicky and prefer the food found out front of the movie theatre.  They do have a thing for popcorn.  On many a west coast pelagic the crew will toss popcorn off the pack of the boat to attract the seabirds. 

Late in the afternoon, when I was beginning to think I’d have to find accommodations for the night, a small gull with an almost entirely yellow beak and yellow legs dropped in, not 10 feet from my open car window.  I got a good look, took some photos, looked again, checked the field guide to confirm and yes, finally, I had my Common Gull.  My patience and persistence was rewarded.  This was one of only two of the eastern split of the Mew Gull being reported in Canada right now.  It turns out, at least in Canada, the Common Gull is quite rare, though common in Europe.  Much more common in Canada is the western split, the Short-billed Gull, of which, I saw plenty in British Columbia.

Pink-footed Goose, #152:

(Good Bird, Bad Photos)

Common Gull, #153:

I spent the night in Halifax and hopped to get some birding in the next morning, but it was pouring rain, indeed there had been a rainfall warning, and every time I tried to park the car, or step out into a parking lot, either my tires or my feet kept slipping on the ice.  I decided to call it a day and booked a Porter flight for that afternoon and headed straight to the airport.  But I got the two birds I came for.  Both were Canada Lifers, and the Common Gull gave me 695 ABA species as I march toward the ABA 700 Club.

Check out Birders Nearby in the iOS App Store

Post and find rare and notable birds anywhere.


Sunday, 6 February 2022

Back in Ontario Again

 I am already planning my trip back to Nova Scotia, and maybe a ferry ride to Newfoundland, but in the meantime I am birding back home.  I was up early the morning following my flight from Calgary, trying to find a Slaty-backed Gull that had been reported, typically, just after I left Ontario.  I didn’t get that bird, but I did find a Northern Mockingbird, which I didn’t even realize I hadn’t seen yet this year. 

I also picked up a Carolina Wren while walking in a winter storm, I should have been smart enough to have not ventured out into.  I was looking for a Northern Screech Owl, but that would have to wait for another day.

Today, I had to head into Guelph to pick up sunflower seeds at Wild Birds Unlimited, so decided to chase a couple of bluebirds. There had been reports of Mountain and Eastern Bluebird at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre, so I figured I’d check it out. Though it was cold today, -16C the sun was out and the winds were calm, so it made for some nice birding.  I found the bluebirds on a wire next to the building, and one of them was the Mountain Bluebird, as had been reported.  I am sure to see Eastern Bluebirds several times this year, and Mountain Bluebirds out west this summer, along with Western Bluebirds, but it was nice to catch them at home in Ontario, during the winter.

Owling: And the Chickadees will Lead the way.  On Friday I went to Gilkison Flats for the first time this year, one of my favorite birding patches in Brantford, good for Tufted Titmouse throughout the year.  However we had a storm coming in and the wind and snow made it hard to see anything, so I packed it in for the day, but not before hearing a Carolina Wren on the way back to the car.  

Yesterday, however, was sunny and calm, if not very cold, and I was trying again for the titmouse and an Eastern Screech Owl my friend Andy had seen the previous week.  I checked every tree hole for the owl, but came up empty.  There were lots of American Crows, a couple of times being chased off by a Common Raven, and then I heard the sounds of some angry chickadees.  Often, chickadees will mob owls, so I searched the trees and found my Eastern Screech Owl.  Surprisingly, it was not in a tree hole at all, but sunning itself on an open branch, oblivious to the scolding chickadees.  Species 150 for the year.

Shortly after, my birding buddy, Andy showed up and together we found a small bounty of Tufted Titmouse,(mouses? Mice?), flittering around in the trees, but stopping just long enough for a few nice photos.

I am finishing off this post from the Porter Airliines flight I am taking on a return trip to Halifax for a rematch with the Pink-footed Goose and Common Gull.  I hope it turns out differently from my chase early in the year.