Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 birding year in review

2011 was a fine year for me and since I didn't have a blog for 360 days of the year I figured I'd fill you all in on my birding highlights month by month.  First, some quick stats (thanks to ebird). I finished the year with 296 species in Ontario, which is quite good since I was only down on Lake Erie for a total of about a week this year and missed a bunch of "easy" warblers (chat, prairie, connecticut, kentucky, worm-eating). I also didn't do a ton of twitching especially for a few long-staying birds (White-faced Ibis, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Smew to name a few).  Besides the warblers I already mentioned my biggest misses were probably Western Meadowlark, Great Gray Owl, and Harlequin Duck.  2011 was also a great birding year for me because I did my first trips to Central America and the southwest US, so I saw 551 species this year. Anyways, here is the quick summary:

I started the month living at Long Point where I had a nice surprise- Brewer's Blackbird in early January and picked up the long-staying Spotted Towhee at the Finney's feeders. I did a trip early in the New Year with Ken and Brandon to Hamilton and Niagara where we picked up Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese.  Erica and I moved to her cottage (on Charleston Lake NE of Kingston) mid-month and so we did a trip to Amherst Island with some of the folks who helped us move, which was great since we managed to find a Boreal Owl despite some bad weather.
Boreal Owl with prey, Amherst Island, Lennox and Addington County, Ontario. December 17, 2008

January continued to be action-packed with my first trip to Central America.  Erica and I left for our honeymoon January 21 and woke up on January 22 at Hotel Bougainvillea in Costa Rica's central valley to the sounds of Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds and Clay-colored Thrushes.   From there we headed to the Almonds and Corals Resort on the Caribbean coast for a few days and finished off the trip at Savegre Mountain Lodge in the central highlands.  It was a pretty mind-blowing experience and I can't wait to go back! Here are a few highlights, and you can check out the full album on my flickr page.
Me the first morning at Hotel Bougainvillea

Blue-crowned Motmot

Collared Aracari

Went all the way to Costa Rica to have Broad-winged Hawk as most common raptor!

The Savegre River - great habitat for Torrent Tyrannulets!

Yellow-thighed Finch

Resplendant Quetzal
White-throated Mountain-Gem (female)

Sooty-capped Bush-tanager

Costa Rican Pygmy-owl

Flame-colored Tanager

Collared Redstart (whitestart)

I didn't do a ton of birding in Ontario during February, but I did celebrate my birthday with a Northern Hawk-owl on Amherst Island.  The real excitement for the month was a pure birding trip to southern California with my Dad and Ken. It was an awesome trip, and we only really cleaned up getting most of our target species.  You can read a detailed trip report here and check out my flickr album from the trip here.
Western Scrub-Jay

California Condors

Mountain Plovers

Vermilion Flycatcher

Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Black-throated Sparrow

Costa's Hummingbird

Heermann's Gull

March as always brought the beginning of migration in Ontario and I was treated to some great flocks of Snow Geese on a couple trips to Eastern Ontario while working in Erica's family sugar bush.  The biggest flock I saw had an estimated 300 000 birds roosting on the St. Lawrence River and at least 1 Ross's Goose! I also picked up a couple good ducks (Eurasian Wigeon and Barrow's Goldeneye) on different trips to Presqu'ile Provincial Park.

April was pretty non-birdy mainly because Erica and I moved (again) mid-month to the Bancroft area. I did do some birding over the Easter long weekend. One of the trips was to the Long Point area where we had really nice views of a singing Louisiana Waterthrush.  Near the end of the weekend Brandon found a Neotropic Cormorant at Wheatley Harbour, so Ken and I booked it down and got it before going back home for Easter dinner!

I ended April and began May down at Pelee Island with Ken and Brandon for the weekend, picking up a few nice birds including some nice migrants like Summer Tanager and Cerulean Warbler. On the way home to Bancroft that weekend I lucked out because a black Ruff was found in Oakville just as I was passing through. I made the short detour and easily found it for my second Ontario bird of the year! May was a bit tough for me because I had just started a new job with the MNR in Bancroft so I couldn't really take off much time but I did manage a few days off for our birdathon on Pelee Island with my parents and Ken. Despite the weather forecasts we ended up getting really lucky and had a big "reverse migration" at Fish Point during the day of our birdathon so we really cleaned up, getting 143 species on the Island which is a really awesome day's birding for Pelee Island.  Lots of great birds that day, with the highlight being a Kirtland's Warbler that we had at the tip for great looks before it flew off to the south.  Here's the ebird checklist for that day: The non-bird highlight was also really good, coming in the form of a Grey Fox den!
Kirtland's Warbler from Point Pelee, May 12, 2005

Grey Fox kits!
 I closed out May with a wedding just outside of Ottawa.  I took advantage of being in eastern Ontario and did a big circuit collecting a lot of goodies: I visited Alfred Sewage Lagoons hoping to see some Red-necked Phalaropes found the previous day by Bruce Di Labio.  I got them, plus found a Purple Sandpiper! Then it was off to Ottawa where I picked up Arctic Tern along the river (this spring saw a really good grounding of them in Ottawa).  Then, I decided I might as well keep birding, so I headed for Amherst Island.  Just before the ferry I noticed some Black-bellied Plovers in a field near Amherstview. I turned around to scan them "just in case" and noticed some Red Knots! Sweet! Then I noticed another shorebird pretty far away in the field - it looked like a dowitcher, but I figured I better get the scope out to be sure.  I was glad I did because it turned out to be a Hudsonian Godwit!  Anyways, needless to say it was an awesome day of birding to end the month.

June was fairly slow, I was very busy doing species-at-risk surveys across central and eastern Ontario for work. But I did happen to find myself in Toronto when some big birding news broke: the Willow Ptarmigan at the Darlington Nuclear Station! So, Erica and Ken and I made the trip for it and were happy we did!
There's the Willow Ptarmigan with some of the huge crowd!

July was also pretty slow, but Erica and I did a canoe trip to Killarney where we had some boreal birds, with the highlight being a young Northern Goshawk chasing squirrels and daily Eastern Whip-poor-wills.  August was also pretty slow bird-wise for me, but I did manage one trip around the south west of the province with Ken to check out some shorebirds. I think I spent more time oding in July than birding, which was great! Erica and I did two oding trips, including the Algonquin Ode count and the Butterfly and Dragonfly festival at Long Point.  At Algonquin we lucked out with a couple nice finds, including a few Azure Bluets (rare in the park) and a Kennedy's Emerald:
Azure Bluet (Enallagma aspersum)
Kennedy's Emerald (Somatochlora kennedyi)
Highlights from Long Point were expected, with Unicorn Clubtails and Rainbow Bluets common at the Backus Mill pond:
Unicorn Clubtail (Arigomphus villosipes)
Rainbow Bluet (Enallagma antennatum)

September rolled around and Erica and I made a trip to Presqu'ile having a great shorebird day with some Red Knots and Buff-breasted Sandpiper highlighting our list.  Here's the ebird checklist for that: Then, with strong NE winds predicted I used some of my banked time to head down to Van Wagner's beach for some lake watching and was not dissapointed! The first Sabine's Gulls of the year showed up and we had constand jaeger action! Here's my ebird checklist for that day:  September continued to be busy with the OFO convention at Point Pelee. Birding on the Saturday was a bit slow in the park for passerines so we decided to head to Holiday Beach for some raptors.  We were a bit disappointed to find out we missed a Swainson's Hawk earlier in the day but still had some hawks moving. At the end of the day we also found out there had been a Snowy Egret near Lake St. Clair that we had missed so that was also too bad.  After a fine banquet we were up bright and early the next day to head home.  We first stopped in Leamington to twitch some butterflies and were successful in getting Fiery Skipper and Checkered Skipper:
Crappy shot of a Fiery Skipper
Lifer Checkered Skipper
Then it was off to try our luck with the Snowy Egret.  Sure enough just as we were driving towards where it had been seen it came flying down the river! We watched it fly away then jumped in the car to try to catch it.  No luck but when we stopped the car it appeared again flying over! Ken managed a picture on his blog, but here's one from Florida:
Snowy Egret crapping! Florida in February 2009

October was mostly quiet since I started a new job in Peterborough with MNR, but I did get down south to see the Purple Gallinule at Port Weller! Ken got some nice pics on his blog.  At the end of the month it was off to Netitishi Point with Brandon Holden, Barb Charlton, and Ken Burrell.  I won't belabor the findings, since it has been reported elsewhere, but it was a great trip despite the lack of rarity-inducing weather we had hoped for.  Check out Ken and Brandon's blogs and our Ontbirds post for all of the details. I highly recommend Brandon's video compilation!
Foxy the camp fox!

The first half of November was still Netitishi Point, but I did make it to Niagara in late November to do some gulling for the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists club outing that my Dad and Ken and I lead.  We weren't disapointed, with Black-legged Kittiwake, Franklin's Gull, American White Pelican, and Razorbill being some solid highlights!  The Razorbill was especially satisfying because we had missed the one there in 2006 and obviously didn't go for the one earlier in the fall in Ottawa.

December was mostly spent getting ready for Christmas, but I did make it to Presqu'ile for "Purplepalooza" which was successful in finding a Purple Sandpiper on High Bluff Island and a few Snowy Owls. Other than that, I did a bunch of CBC's including (besides Algonquin) Kitchener, Cambridge, and Cornwall.  Click the links to see my ebird checklists for those counts.  All of them were really good this year because of open water.
Phonescoped at the Tip of Long Point, fall 2010

So that's the end of 2011.  I'm starting off 2011 with the Linwood CBC tomorrow, so you'll hear about that soon enough. Happy New Year!

Algonquin CBC

Yesterday (December 30) Erica and I headed up to Algonquin for the annual Christmas Bird Count.  It was my 11th year doing the count and by now I am pretty familiar with the routine: walk a lot and see a few birds.  It's been a while since it has been a good finch year in the park so we've had a few slow ones the last few years.  My worst year was when Erica and I snowshoed all day long and found a whopping 12 birds (10 Black-capped Chickadees and 2 Gray Jays)!

Well, I guess that proves that's not the real reason 75+ people do the Algonquin CBC every year...there are always a few new people doing it for the first time expecting to have birds everywhere but it is mostly returnees coming back for the chance to get out and ski, snowshoe or hike for the day and get to do some socializing after the count (not to mention Ron Tozer's awesome jokes). This year's compilation was a little quieter than normal since the heckling of Doug McRae was absent...

Anyways, on with the results. Erica and I tied my best year with 17 species, so that's pretty good!  Overall numbers weren't what you get in a big finch year, but we had birds all day long, which is more that I can say some years. We started the day off at the VC just dropping off Mothboy.  Doing that we got 2 extra species: Blue Jay and Evening Grosbeak.  The grosbeaks are putting in a good show at the Visitor Centre feeders, with a total of 80 seen on count day (none in the rest of the circle!).  Here's one from my feeders a couple year's ago:

male Evening Grosbeak at Paudash Lake, Haliburton County, Ontario on December 23, 2009

It was then off to the area we would cover, so Erica and I parked our car at the entrance to the trailer sanitary station (just across from the entrance to the Outdoor Theatre).  We spent the rest of the day walking the portage to Blackfox Lake and back again (same area we did last year).  It was a really nice walk since we didn't even need snowshoes.  We got off to a good start with Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay just north of our starting point.

Gray Jay along Opeongo Road, Algonquin Provincial Park, Nipissing District, Ontario. December 4, 2009     

The rest of the day slowed down a bit but we had really good numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglets (no doubt because of the late warm fall) and scattered finches.  Most numerous were Common Redpolls with a single flock of about 50 feeding on Yellow Birch seeds and about 40 White-winged Crossbills, mostly in small numbers.  Highlights in the finch department were a single flyover Purple Finch and a flock of 7 Pine Grosbeaks.  The Pine Grosbeaks were the biggest flock seen on the count.

male Pine Grosbeak, Algonquin Park Visitor Centre, Nipissing District, Ontario. December 29, 2007.

The other highlight of the day came with the sighting of a Northern Shrike flying by us at one of our stops.  All in all a pretty nice day!  Here's a link to our ebird checklist for the day:

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

I got a blog!

Content to be added...but I took the first step!
Rainbow Bluet (Enallagma antennatum) at Backus Heritage Conservation Area, Norfolk County, Ontario. July 10, 2011.