Sunday, December 20, 2009

Local Snowy

While temperatures this last week have been typically wintry here in southern Ontario, the lack of snowfall hereabouts is perhaps less typical. This does have its advantages though; scanning brown, deadened fields for Snowy Owls is much easier than squinting across barren, frozen wastes. Such was the case yesterday, when I drove a few minutes up the road to check out some local fields for raptors and other winter denizens. Almost as soon as I turned off the main road, a white blob caught my eye. Always wary of plastic bags and buckets, I honed in on it with my bins and waited for a movement that would confirm it as an animate object, it duly obliged.

I continued on my loop and bagged a pale Rough-legged Hawk, two sub-adult male Northern Harriers floating about together and a handful or two of Red-tailed Hawks. When I returned three quarters of a hour later, the Snowy was in the same place, but looked shifty. Shortly it flew up into a nearby tree and sat, buffeted by the breeze, until I left.

The obligatory festive shot of some, none-too-worried looking, Wild Turkeys.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Duck Time

It's been a little while since I was down at Lake Ontario, so I guess I missed some of the autumn waterfowl build-up, but build-up they certainly have. As usual the bulk were Long-tailed Ducks. I didn't attempt to count them, they stretch to the horizon and beyond; many thousands. Amongst them I picked out 44 Surf Scoters, a few White-winged Scoters, 50 or so Common Goldeneye, 3 Red-throated Loons, 100 Red-breasted Mergansers plus a few small rafts of Greater Scaup. On Burlington Bay the Scaup were dominant. I didn't count them either and they were too distant for me to bother allocating them to species, but certainly 2000 or 3000, with smaller numbers of Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck and Redhead thrown in.

Adult Long-tailed Ducks actually have four different plumages each year (winter, spring, summer and autumn), a result of undergoing three moults. These photos of four different Long-tailed Ducks illustrate some of the seemingly myriad plumage variation seen at this time of year - when the birds are either in 'autumn' plumage, 'winter' plumage or transitioning between the two (these photos were taken on December 3rd 2008).

To be honest, the more I try to work out what age and sex they are, the more baffled I become. I would have thought the one above was a male judging by the long grey scapulars, but if females have bluish bills and males have pinky bills, then this must surely be a female. I know that in some duck species, older females can start to resemble males, so perhaps this is an example of that phenomenon and it's actually an adult female?

This one also has quite long pointed scapulars and a couple are also grey. It has the male type bill colouration and a few black breast feathers starting to emerge, so perhaps a 1st-winter male?

These two both seem to have female type bluish bills, although the bird above has some grey colouration on the scapulars and an overall darker brown appearance, so perhaps an adult. The bird below is the only one with no grey on the scapulars at all, a 1st-winter female? Tricky.

This one is just itchy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Belted Kingfisher

I was out today scouring the local farmland for corn (maize) stubbles and geese. Didn't have much luck with geese, just a few American Pipits and 3 Horned Larks. I was lucky to come across this female Belted Kingfisher though. Often kingfishers are flighty and difficult to approach. This bird was close enough to the road for me to get a few snaps. It even came and landed on the rail of the bridge at one point.

Shame about that tangled fishing line in the tree!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pick 'n' Mix

A mixed bag presented here; the slim pickings from the last few days. This was the most exciting thing I saw, if only because in obtaining a photograph I was finally able to put a name to a a darner other than a Green. It is a male Shadow Darner, seen today in Burlington.

A little montage of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeder mounted conveniently outside our kitchen window. Last year very few visited, but over the last couple of weeks there have been almost daily records, often late in the evening.

A young House Wren which drew my attention with its scolding from the roadside shrubbery and finally a few sub-par raptor silhouettes. Raptor migration is well underway, with the first big movements of Broad-winged Hawks being noted along the north shore of Lake Erie this week.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

Same bird, different angle.


Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lake Ontario & Kittiwakes

Despite being almost 600km from the nearest open ocean, the west end of Lake Ontario does surprisingly well for several species of migratory 'sea' gulls and jaegers (skuas). Over the past three weeks there have been some impressive tallies. These have included at least 2 Pomarine Jaegers, 7 or more Long-tailed Jaegers and in excess of 45 Parasitic Jaegers! In addition, at least 10 Sabine's Gulls and 5 Black-legged Kittiwakes (in one flock) have been recorded. Throw in the odd Red-necked Phalarope or Surf Scoter and you have the kind of list most actual seawatchers would be proud of. Ok, so you're probably not gonna see any shearwaters or auks - or whales for that matter, but in terms of anticipatory excitement, it's hard to beat. Don't competely rule out those real seabirds either, there have been recent records of Manx Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Gannet, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Fulmar, Razorbill and Ancient Murrelet!

Most of the birds seen during lake-watches are well beyond my camera's reach - for some fine jaeger shots by a proper photographer, have a look here. However, this weekend's influx of five Black-legged Kittiwakes have been much more photogenic. The last few days they have been cruising along the shoreline, often within 15 metres of the beach. This one was at Confederation Park today.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I was lucky to be out in the field last week, listening and looking for breeding birds on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. The area is fairly sparsely populated (at least away from the lakeshore) and has a rich and diverse avifauna, with many species near the southern limit of their breeding ranges in Canada. I encountered several species of warbler in suitable breeding habitat, including Canada, Magnolia, Mourning, Black-throated Green, Ovenbird, Nashville, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Blue, but the most common by far is American Redstart. Whilst After Second (calendar) Year (ASY) males are easily discerned, Second Year (SY) males closely resemble adult females, although they usually have richer yellow colouring and often some black feathering coming through on the head. This bird (above) looks like a SY male.

This is clearly an ASY male.

Striking a pose.

Looking for the intruder (me)

Bobolinks can be quite numerous in suitable hay fields, with little groups of males rising out of the grass to enthusiastically pursue any female that crosses their airspace.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird enjoying apple blossoms.

Upland Sandpipers have been steadily declining over much of south-west Ontario and even on the Bruce Peninsula, where there would appear to be plenty of suitable habitat, they are considerably less numerous now than they were during the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas in 1981.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The North Country

I spent three days last week driving up to the north country of Ontario, with my friend Eric, on an errand. I didn't need too much of an excuse to go, despite the 1800km round-trip because I'd never been up there before. Specifically we were headed to Kapuskasing, which is on the Hudson Bay Frontier. The forest is truly boreal: lots of White Spruce, Black Spruce, Tamarack, Balsam Fir, Jack Pine and Trembling Aspen. This is also lumber country, so I was curious to see how it looked. We camped at Greenwater Provincial Park just outside Cochrane and were lucky to see this Great Gray Owl in the gloaming.

This view is from the Esker Trail at Greenwater. Two things that were immediately noticeable were the absence of both bugs (black flies or mosquitos) and leaves. Despite the early spring-like climatical conditions, there were a number of typically late spring migrants already in residence on their breeding grounds, like this male Bay-breasted Warbler.

I was particulary impressed by the dawn chorus as I lay in the tent. First Ruffed Grouse, followed by Loons, Sandhill Cranes, Wilsons Snipe, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and finally Robins.

Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk by the roadside.

Broad-winged Hawks were the most numerous large raptor. There were also many Kestrels in the cultivated areas.

This pair of Common Loons covered several hundred metres to check us out as we shattered their tranquility.

Bull Moose just getting started on his rack.

I think it sounds a bit more impressive than it actually is, but the place marker is pretty smart nonetheless.

A Raven nest on an electricity pylon, with two almost fledge-worthy young occupants visible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Point Pelee - 9th May

Last weekend I was down at Point Pelee for a day with some friends. This is the first time I've been in spring since 1996. It was a good reminder why I don't go...LOTS of people. The other reason I'm not that keen is that although, inevitably, with so many sets of eyes looking, good stuff is turned up - it is also quite hard to actually re-find rare birds. I think our highlight was a male Prothonotary Warbler and (for me anyway) a flock of 16 Willet in the evening at Hillman Marsh. I also didn't take my camera around much as there were so many folk with monsterous 500mm f4 setups that one feels quite inadequate with a little 400mm f5.6. However, I do want a flash and 'better beamer' as getting warbler pictures, even with the leaves only partially open, is pretty much impossible without one.

Loads of orioles down there. Above is an 'After Second Year' male Orchard Oriole (Second Year males are yellow-olive coloured with a black face mask) and top is a male Baltimore Oriole.

Male Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Male Northern Parula.

Male Cape May Warbler singing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Afternoon at the Arboretum

Now we're into May, there's new stuff arriving every day. Yesterday I saw the first Chimney Swifts zooming around over Dundas and today at the Royal Botanical Gardens Arboretum I added a few more 'firsts for the spring' to my list: Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This smart male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was most cooperative.

This female was keeping a lower profile.

Northern Flicker.

Rather dull looking female Ruby-throated Hummingbird - my first this spring.

Warbling Vireo. Several singing or calling on my walk today, another new one for the year.

Okay, I fibbed about yesterday's Yellow Warbler picture being the last one, they're so nice though...

And finally, just for fun, a naughty little male Brown-headed Cowbird in the midst of his explosive 'song'.