Sunday 29 January 2012

Local birding

I didn't get out to do much birding this weekend but I did get to enjoy my feeders.  We got a good dump of about 25cm of snow on Saturday so there was lots of activity, including a new high count for us with 15 Purple Finches. I set up my camera and took some shots through the windows...
Everyone loves Blue Jays...we've got about 20 of them now!

Some really nice adult male Purple Finches are showing up

Female or young male Purple Finch with an American Goldfinch

Adult male Purple Finch

Adult male Purple Finch
Purple Finches are fairly easy to count because the adult males are red while young males and females are brown, so in today's example I had a high count of 6 adult males and 9 females/young males.

This afternoon I headed into Bancroft and took a bit of a detour hoping for something cool.  I found a Wild Turkey at the SW corner of Baptiste Lake in a seepage area and then shortly after I got a quick look at an eagle being chased by a Raven.  I drove up to a clearing and saw a young Bald Eagle land in some trees, at which point I noticed there was an adult already there.  A couple minutes later I was talking to someone and he told me the eagles had been feeding on a wolf kill earlier in the day!  I went back and found what was left of the wolf kill (pretty much nothing) but there were only a few Ravens on it.  That's it!

The quest for 6000

Birders love numbers.  It's a scientific fact. Well, OK maybe not but most birders sure do love numbers a lot. We've come up with lists for almost everything.  Sure everyone has a life list, probably an Ontario list (or whichever state/province you call home), and my personal favourite is always the year list.  Then there are the whackier lists that we've all heard of, like the shit list (bird's seen taking a deuce) or the "gettin' it on list", or one of my personal favourites, a twist on that first one, the "bird's that have shit on me" list (easy for banders). Well, since I started using ebird, I have become a little interested (no, not obsessed) with my "total county ticks" list.

For those ebird users reading this, you probably know what I mean.  For the rest of you, it is quite simple: It is the sum of all of your individual county life lists for a given province or state.  Since I spend 99% of my time in Ontario I really don't care about any of my other total county ticks list, but I am very interested in the Ontario one.  I think it is a great stat because it shows you how much you've birded across the province, not just how many birds you've twitched.  Without ebird doing the work, I never would have taken the effort to calculate my total. I think I have a pretty good total so far, since I have birded (and submitted checklists) around much of Ontario - growing up in Waterloo, spending lots of time around Hamilton and Long Point. Since then I've spent lots of time in Algonquin Park, around Kingston, Peterborough and Bancroft (hence the blog title). So I was happy when I passed the 5000 mark last year. I'm currently sitting at 5312 with my most recent additions being Tundra Swan and Red-breasted Merganser for Frontenac County on January 21, 2012.  That works out to an average of  106 species per county in Ontario (50 counties).
Tundra Swans at Long Point, March 15, 2008
I've set my 2012 sites on 6000, although that could be pretty unrealistic considering I don't plan on going out of my way.  Still, it's a fun challenge. I think a good total would be 8000 (200 in 10 counties and 150 in the rest), and 10000 (200 in each county) would be the ultimate goal, but a loooonnnnngggg way off for me...A neat twist on this would be a county tick year list, since it would really force you to just bird everywhere and not just focus on rarities.

Here are my top 10 counties:
Norfolk - 284
Essex - 249
Waterloo - 228
Lennox and Addington - 197
Hamilton - 181
Northumberland - 175
Leeds and Grenville - 174
Nipissing - 172
Durham - 169
Frontenac - 159

And of course my worst 10 counties:
Algoma - 0
Kenora - 0
Thunder Bay - 0
Grey - 10
Greater Sudbury - 22
York - 23
Brant - 28
Huron - 36
Parry Sound - 40
Dufferin - 45

I'm planning a trip to Rainy River at the end of May, so I should be able to seriously boost some of those 0s this year. Of course, I know there are some gaps  since I've been in all of the counties even doing some birding but I just don't have the data for ebird).

Anyways, I'd be curious to know how other people are doing on their total county tick list for Ontario! Post your total in the comments, unless you are ashamed at the low total.  If that's the case, consider this your excuse to get out and explore more of Ontario this year!

Friday 20 January 2012

ebird presentation for Kingston Field Naturalists club

Something I have been working on a lot lately has been getting naturalist and birding clubs in Ontario interested in using ebird as a tool for sharing and keeping club bird records.  To this end I was invited to give a presentation to the Kingston Field Naturalists club about ebird.  It was a great opportunity to "spread the word" about ebird, especially since the KFN has created a group ebird account and is now asking ebirders and club members to share their ebird checklists with the club account. (For more about checklist sharing in ebird check out the news item from ebird Canada). If you have ebird checklists for the Kingston Birding area to share with the KFN ebird account, contact Mark Conboy, you'll see his weekly posts on Ontbirds.

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the things I showed in my presentation, so here they are:
Number of ebird observations for Ontario by year 2002-2011
This is a pretty impressive figure showing how ebird is growing in Ontario.  By these figures, since 2006 the number of observations has had an average annual increase of 50%, with over 1000 different users submitting almost half a million 2011 observations in Ontario. This is more impressive when you consider what the figure really shows isn't actually the number of observations submitted by year (i.e. in 2011 users might have submitted 200 000 observations for the year 2010). Unfortunately I wasn't able to get this data by submission date, so we can only guess how quickly ebird use is actually growing in Ontario, but this represents a bare minimum.
All-time checklists per county across Ontario

The ebird team recently released updated stats for all of the counties (or equivalent in Canada) in Canada and the US, and for all of the countries in the world showing number of all time checklists. It is with the hope that ebirders will take on those areas that are lacking data. Ebird did a story about this, but it was limited to the US
All-time checklists per county across southern Ontario.
 Not surprisingly, most of northern Ontario has relatively little effort.  But the trends in southern Ontario may be a little more surprising.  Of course not surprising is the high number of checklists in traditionally birded areas like Toronto, Ottawa, and Essex (although Essex has a very high proportion of checklists only from May).  There are perhaps a couple of surprises though - Algoma, Waterloo, and Northumberland
 all show up higher than you might expect. The reason? Those areas have had large databases uploaded from a person or organization (for example Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists Club for Waterloo) that have kept historical bird records.  The same is true for Toronto (the Toronto Ornithological club uploaded almost 9000 checklists in 2011).  I am a big supporter of this since it makes that data available for anyone- including the very people that have been committed contributors of records over the years. The KFN is dedicated to getting their data onto ebird too, but it has to first be digitized.  I'm hoping to convince more clubs and organizations this is a great place to store records.

Frequency of detections of Cerulean Warbler at Erica's cottage
I showed this figure to illustrate how simple observations in ebird can add up to show neat trends.  At Erica's cottage, we are lucky enough to have Cerulean Warblers breeding and anyone who knows Cerulean Warblers knows they are almost impossible to find on the breeding grounds when they stop singing.  But when does that happen? Well, from the figure you can see they are easy to detect (80-100% of checklists) from mid-May to mid-June.  From mid-June to mid-July the are less easy to detect (about 50% of checklists) and after that time they pretty much shut up and are usually missed.  You can see from the sample size at the bottom that it wasn't a lack of effort on my part that resulted in missing them.

A portion of the barchart for the three counties around Kingston
Here's a sample bar chart from a search I did for the three counties surrounding Kingston (Lennox and Addington, Frontenac, and Leeds and Grenville).  It's a nice summary of the seasonal status for different species. Here's a link to the full bar chart.
Frequency of Cerulean Warbler observations in June by county in southern Ontario
I popped some frequency data out of ebird and put it into a GIS to produce this map which gives you a good idea of where to look for Cerulean Warblers in Ontario during the breeding season.  Your best bet? Kingston area or else Lambton/Middlesex or Norfolk.

White-winged Crossbill sightings on ebird December 2008-May 2009
The same thing but for the period September 2009-May 2010 (for comparison)

This is my favourite example of ebird data exploration. It shows the massive White-winged Crossbill irruption into the lower Great Lakes and northeast US during the winter of 2008/2009 compared to the following winter.  Pretty awesome! You can see a similar trend from CBC data, but ebird allows you to refine your searches and look over a longer or shorter period of time.  Try checking out the maps in ebird during this time for White-winged Crossbill and restrict it to a single month and watch the progression of the irruption through the winter.

There were lots of other ebird features I shared, including some new things like the rare bird, year needs, and all-time needs alerts (you can subscribe down to the county level for any of these), the ebird top 100, patch and yard games, and ebird animated occurrence maps.

If you aren't using ebird yet, what are you waiting for?

Sunday 15 January 2012

The little things...

Well, when you are spending the winter near Bancroft you can't exactly expect to be blown away with bird diversity so I find other ways to be entertained by our feathered friends.  My brother always laughs when I talk about the other winter I spent in Bancroft because I became pretty obsessed with getting as high of counts as possible with my feeders (my highest count of a species was 286 American Goldfinches).  This year has been much slower though and I am going through much less seed as a result.  However, this weekend's cold weather (-27 this morning) has brought some more activity.
Part of a flock of at least 144 American Goldfinches.  My secret? That tray of fake crab meat and shrimp on the right- keeps 'em coming back for more!

I was happy to see a big flock of goldfinches both days this weekend, with my highest count on Saturday coming in at 144, just over half my highest count from winter 2009-2010. Today the goldfinches were also joined by a couple nice adult male Purple Finches and 3 Pine Siskins.  The big highlight of the day was an American Tree Sparrow - I haven't seen one here since December 3.
A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers adds a little variety..
The other regulars this weekend were a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers and a male Downy Woodpecker, plus the usual Blue Jays (max 10), Black-capped Chickadees and both nuthatches.

Here are my ebird checklists from Saturday and Sunday.
The other bird-related thing I did this weekend was try a new technique for recording birds for ebird on a drive.  I needed the help of Erica for this one.  We had about a two hour car drive heading to White Lake for a post-Christmas get-together at her Aunt and Uncle's so we thought we'd do a survey of the winter birds on the southern Canadian Shield- with a twist.  We recorded in 10km intervals to get a better representation of the frequency different species occur at.  In two hours, we managed a whopping 63 individuals of 9 species (a bit higher than I would have guessed...).  Here's the list with the frequency of checklists for each species:
Common Raven - 55%
Blue Jay - 35%
American Goldfinch - 25%
Black-capped Chickadee - 20%
Wild Turkey - 10% (two each near Denbigh and MacArthur's Mills)
American Crow - 5% (Burnstown)
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 5%
American Robin - 5% (near Calabogie)
European Starling - 5% (in Bancroft)

Anyways, I thought it was a neat twist and provided more information than just doing a single list for the entire car ride.

Friday 6 January 2012

Peterborough gulls

Yesterday I got a call from Don Sutherland telling me he had a bunch of "good" gulls on Little Lake in Peterborough so today I brought my scope with me to work and made a detour on my way home.  When I pulled up on the south side of the lake I could see a handful of gulls out on the ice but I figured I was in for a dissapointment because there were only about 100 gulls.

However, once I started scanning I was pleasantly surprised by the variety.  I managed: 3 Iceland, 1 Lesser Black-backed, 5 Glaucous, 2 Great Black-backed and 4 Ring-billed, with the rest being Herrings - not bad for Peterborough! The first four species were new for my ebird Peterborough county list. While I was there the gulls were pretty active and one of the Glaucous Gulls flew right over me and I managed a couple crappy shots:

What do you think the age of this bird is? I thought third winter, but I know it is hard to see very well from the photos...

I also had a gull on the ice here that I felt was likely a Nelson's Gull (Herring x Glaucous) although it seemed a bit darker than I would have liked.  It was similarly sized to the first winter Glaucous Gull it was standing beside, but appeared similar in plumage to a first winter Herring Gull (although on the darker side of the spectrum).  The bill was heavy and discinctly bicolored like a typical first winter Glaucous Gull.

Anyways, after I left Little Lake I found some more gulls just south of Trent University on the river and sure enough there were some more white-winged gulls - a single first winter each of Glaucous and Iceland.  It was getting late so I headed for home.  The only other thing of note I had was a Northern Shrike just south of Apsley.

Here are my two ebird checklists in case you want to see the details or the locations:
Little Lake
Trent University

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Linwood CBC and a slight detour

Yesterday was the final event in my lineup of the 2011/2012 Christmas Bird Count season. It was the Linwood count, which you can view a map of the circle here.  I started the Linwood count in 2004 mostly because I was tired of hearing about people driving to Amherst Island to see Rough-legged Hawks when I knew we had the best place to see them just north of Waterloo.  After five counts (2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) I can safely say I was right with the Linwood CBC finishing in the top five counts for Rough-legs every year (I think there was one year it was sixth but I can't figure out how to check that on the Audubon site).  This year I passed on the compiling duties to my brother, Ken and I am happy to say the count's in good hands! You can read Ken's post about the overall count results on his blog.

The day was pretty crappy weather-wise for the but it didn't matter as we still did well.  Some of our highlights included 2 Common Ravens, 4 White-winged Crossbills, and 3 Bald Eagles below Conestogo Dam, a Merlin in Glen Allen (first count record; Ken's got a picture up on his blog here), 5 Great Black-backed Gulls in Glen Allen (second count record), and 28 Rough-legged Hawks in our area.  My highlight of the day came late in the morning when we were all (my Dad, Ken, and our friends John and Tony, and I) standing on the bridge in Glen Allen when I heard a distressed Northern Cardinal.  Just after a young Northern Shrike popped up.  A couple minutes later I heard the same sound and looked over to see a Cardinal flying across a yard with the shrike in close pursuit, with someone's cat a few feet behind! Another couple seconds later and the shrike nailed the cardinal, only to have the cat jump in and scoop up the shrike's hard-won meal. Anyways, here's a copy of our ebird checklist from our area for the day.

The other highlight of the count for me was the Red-shouldered Hawk.  This bird has been coming back to winter along the Conestogo River in Hawkesville since the winter of 2003/2004. When we first saw it in December, 2003 it was already an adult so it is at the youngest born in 2002, coming up on its 10th birthday.  Here's a shot from a sunnier day of the returning bird taken on February 13, 2005.
Late in the afternoon I also did a quick detour.  The day before, a female Mountain Bluebird had been found south of Guelph, so I made a quick run over there and got some absolutely spectacular pictures:

Sunday 1 January 2012

Happy New Year (list)!

I started 2012 needing to get from my house in Bancroft to my parents` place in Heidelberg so naturally I made a few stops on the way :) Before I left I was happy to see an adult male Purple Finch coming to the feeders, a nice start to the year!

My first stop was Whitby Harbour, hoping for a miracle in the form of re-finding the Smew found a week or so earlier, but I wasn`t that lucky. There was still a nice selection of waterfowl present including lots of Redheads and Gadwall.  Here`s the full ebird checklist.  Just as I was walking back to the car it started raining pretty hard so the plans for the rest of the day were in doubt.  I was supposed to meet up with Ken and my Dad in Hamilton to look for the long-staying Black-throated Gray Warbler (BTYW) that none of us had tried for yet but the rain scared them away.  I decided to go anyways and got lucky with the weather, being there for the only 2 hours of the day without rain.

As soon as I got to Bayfront Park I saw some familiar cars so I texted Barb Charlton to find out where she was.  She called me to say she was with Cheryl Edgecombe, Rob Dobos and Dave Don and they were watching the Orange-crowned Warbler! So, after taking one wrong turn in the park I found them, and the Orange-crowned! They then gave me directions to where they had just seen the Wilson`s Warbler and where they had had the BTYW earlier.  So I headed down the waterfront trail and after about 30 minutes of searching the target bird came out near the 1600m mark along with the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Yellow-rumped (myrtle) Warbler. I didn`t get any pics of the BTYW because I left my camera in the car fearing the rain.  It has been a well photographed bird though and you can check out Josh`s and Brandon`s blogs for photos.  Here`s my ebird checklist from Bayfront Park today. I do have a couple photos of the Black-throated Gray Warbler that was at Port Burwell December 10-16, 2007. Those photos aren`t great but are special to me because they were the first bird photos I took with my current camera. Here`s one (note the Port Burwell bird was a female):

After seeing the BTYW I ran into several other birders and discussed the age of the Hamilton bird.  After getting to my parents`place tonight I did some reading in Pyle and BNA and some searching online and came to the conclusion that it is a young bird (as expected with vagrants). Here`s the contents of the email I sent to one of the birders I had talked with today:

I looked for some good pictures of the BTYW from Bayfront and I think we can age it as a young (now in its second calendar year) male.  It looks like it has retained all of its juvenile (greater) primary coverts which are greyish brown with no edging, while the (greater) secondary coverts appear to have all been replaced (very black). The alulas are also brownish grey  The primary and secondary coverts on an adult should be more uniform in the shade of black, although the secondary coverts are naturally slightly blacker (pseudo limit). On some photos you can see the shape of the rectrices which look relatively narrow and tapered for a Setophaga warbler - also indicative of retained juvenile feathers.  I was initially bothered with this being a young male by the extensive black in the throat, mask, and crown, but on photos it is apparent that there are plenty of feathers that aren't glossy black and the black is mostly absent from the chin.  The best photos I found for ageing the Hamilton bird are Mike Veltri's:

I did some searching online for photos of male BTYW to compare the Hamilton bird with and here are a couple I found (with my ageing of them): (this one's really good although it doesn't say when the photo was taken. Based on the flowering tree it is in I would guess this is a spring bird, in which case this would be a second year male.  This bird has a molt limit in the greater secondary coverts (inner three are retained juvenile). The primary coverts and alulas are all worn, brownish and contrast sharply with the fresher outer greater secondary coverts. It may have also replaced the innermost tertial. (this one looks like a young male from Tennessee in November 2009.  It has retained juvenile primary coverts and the inner greater secondary covert also looks retained. (looks like an adult male. taken in february in California - the alulas, and primary coverts look evenly dark black and the throat, mask, and crown are even black in colouration)

I`d love to hear your thoughts on the ageing of this bird!

All-in-all not a bad start to 2012, especially considering I spent a good chunk of daylight hours in a car.