Thursday 29 March 2012

March Madness!!

Nope, I don't care about college basketball.

But it has been a whacky and wild March so far and I haven't posted nearly as much as I should have given the weird weather and nature events that have happened.  Here's a mixed bag.

Barrow's Goldeneye in Peterborough County!

This morning I got an email from Scott Gibson that he was pretty sure he had found a Barrow's Goldeneye on Rice Lake.  After talking to him on the phone it sounded promising so I headed down that way after work.  I met Simon Dodsworth and Cathy Darevic (and later Don Sutherland) at the spot where this handsome fella was hangin out:
Barrow's Goldeneye at Rice Lake, Peterborough. March 29, 2012

Anyways, it was a great find by Scott!  Here's the eBird checklist from that spot.  Just down the road from here I saw my first Osprey of the year (and first one ever that I've seen in March!).
Best bird feeder in town?

Here's a look at one of my neighbour's bird feeders, so far this year I've had Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Wood Duck, Common Grackle, and Red-winged Blackbird at it!

eBird bumper stickers up for grabs!

I've got some eBird bumper stickers to give away and since my eBird contest contest didn't get much attention here's the deal.  If you want one send me an email ( with your most impressive eBird stat(s).  I'll pick the ten best and mail out a bumper sticker (only mailing to Canadian addresses).  Be creative, I know you want one!

Signs of spring

You don't have to look far (well maybe you will this weekend...) for signs of spring, but I really liked this blooming Leatherwood (Dirca palustris).  They were all in bloom on a weekend walk at Silent Lake Provincial Park

Moving time

In other news it looks like I'm moving again! Almost made it at one place for a whole year...

Friday 16 March 2012

Duck Duck Goose

Did a quick run out to a small pond on the south side of Peterborough at lunch today on a tip from Don Sutherland that there were lots of geese there earlier this week.

Simon Dodsworth and I pulled up and there were only about a hundred geese.  A bit discouraged I got out the scope and immediately noticed a Greater White-fronted Goose! Here's the full checklist.

Greater White-fronted Goose at Briar Hill, Peterborough County, March 16, 2012

Wednesday 14 March 2012

eBird contest contest

I'll cut to the chase.  You're probably about to tell me I put an extra contest in the post title. 


So here's the deal.  I've got a bunch of eBird bumper stickers to give away! I know, I know, you're dieing to know how you can possibly get one, right? Well, I thought I should have some sort of eBird contest to see who gets them.  But I wasn't sure what contest would be best - so here's where the second contest comes in (if you still follow). 

This is your chance to enter a contest to pick a contest to figure out which ten people to give away bumper stickers to.  The only requirements are that the contest has to be related to eBird and it has to be related to Canadian eBird, since I don't want to pay to send the bumper stickers in the mail outside of Canada (sorry Alvan!).

So here's your chance to get yourself one of these babies:
You gotta love the artistic licence I took with this photo..
Whoever has the best contest idea gets a bumper sticker!  Let the contest contest begin...

Saturday 10 March 2012

More on Snow Geese

Well I got the results back from my query to the bird banding lab about the neck-collared Snow Goose that Ken and I saw last weekend!  Turns out the bird was a female, and was originally banded on Bylot Island, Nunavut in late summer 2010. She was an adult then, so she was born in 2009 or earlier.  That means she has logged at least 20, 000 km and likely much more than that (if she is more than the minimum age). Here's the certificate I got back from the BBL with her digits:
Here's a map showing the banding location and "recovery" location:

Greater Snow Geese winter along the Atlantic coast in the NE US, then most of the population stages in upstate New York (especially around Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, not too far from where we found this bird).  After that the population stages along the St. Lawrence River, mostly in Quebec.  Greater Snow Geese breed in the high Arctic.  Particularly in recent years, they have moved west, reaching into easternmost ONtario, mostly still east of Cornwall.

I am in that area of Ontario for the weekend, and had a look around (didn't get east enough to be in prime spring Snow Goose territory).  There are as usual thousands of Canada Geese (I had about 12,000 today), but I was only able to find 2 Snow Geese at the Long Sault Parkway (here's my eBird checklist):
2 first basic blue phase Snow Geese
It is really amazing to see the migration route of these birds.  Check out the eBird map for this year (you'll have to zoom in) to see how widespread they are south of Lake Ontario, but after staging there they will all head mostly NE and avoid most of Ontario.

Wednesday 7 March 2012


This past weekend Ken and I had an excuse to head on a road trip to Ithaca, NY.  Our excuse was that Ken was purchasing a microphone from Old Bird for use during his Master's research (plus I wanted one to put up on my roof and record nocturnal migrants!). It also just so happens that my friend, Mothboy, just started a new job at Cornell!

So we headed down on Friday and arrived about dinner time at Mothboy's place.  On the drive we ran into a few flocks of Greater Snow Geese, right near the town of Waterloo.  One flock was right beside the road:
Snow Geese near Waterloo, NY. March 2, 2012

Snow Geese near Waterloo, NY. March 2, 2012

 There was even one neck-banded bird, which I have submitted to the bird banding lab and currently waiting to hear back where it was originally tagged:
"RX63" near Waterloo, NY. March 2, 2012
 Snow Geese are really neat birds for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most interesting are the two colour morphs, "Blue" and "White".  There is lots of great information about Snow Geese on the Birds of North America online website, which I've taken a few highlights from here. Up until 1983, Blue Goose was considered a separate species from Snow Goose.  Based on some genetic work, Blue Goose and Snow Goose were likely reproductively isoloated until about 70 years ago.  The ratio of "Blue" Geese in a population is quite low in far western North America and far eastern North America, while the mid-continent populations have fairly high proportions. There are two recognized subpecies of Snow Goose (Greater, C. c. atlantica and Lesser, C. c. caerulescens).  Overall the Lesser subspecies is more abundant and widespread, while the Greater subspecies has a smaller range.

This is all great information to have when watching for Snow Geese in Ontario.  Ontario happens to be right between two Snow Goose flyways.  Southwestern Ontario gets Lesser Snow Geese on their way north from wintering grounds in the south central US - these flocks usually contain a high percentage of "Blue" Geese.  Usually most Lesser Snow Geese show up west of Toronto, and you are more likely to encounter them the further south and west you go.  Then as you travel east through Southern Ontario you go from about Toronto to Kingston where any Snow Goose is fairly uncommon.  East of Kingston though you get closer to the core migration route of Greater Snow Geese.  If you're lucky to find some, they will be almost all white morph birds.  The Greater Snow Geese have really increased in numbers (as have most populations of Lesser Snow Geese) in the last couple decades to the point where hunting seasons have been implemented or expanded, since the increased population can do serious damage to wintering and breeding habitats.  As the population has increased we started seeing these birds begin to use easternmost Ontario along the St. Lawrence River as a staging area- it's definitely something work checking out if you get the chance. Here's a photo I took last spring near Cornwall of part of a flock of about 20,00 birds:
Big Snow Goose flock near Lancaster, ON. March 23, 2011

Anyways, I never realized how far west in New York state Greater Snow Geese came before heading north east towards the St. Lawrence River.

We got to spend Saturday exploring and doing some birding around the finger lakes, which is a really nice area.  There are really big hills, fast moving streams, and quite extensive deciduous forests all over the place (really puts into perspective how good of a job we did at clearing the forests of Southern Ontario). Here's a picture I snapped with my phone of the shoreline of Seneca Lake:
Seneca Lake, NY

It was great to experience what southern Ontario could look like if there was more forest cover.  Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were all common (we had all of them at Mothboy's house).  On Saturday we made a quick stop at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which was pretty neat to see.
Mothboy and Ken at Sapsucker Woods

We walked a short trail there (didn't see too much) and tried to identify some trees (think we got Cherry Birch).  Skunk Cabbage was out:
Skunk Cabbage!
All in all it was a really fun weekend, can't wait to go back, and can't wait to get my microphone set up and see what's flying over my house!

I bet you thought I was going to make it through a whole blog post without mentioning eBird, right? Well wrong. Of course, we submitted lots of checklists during the trip and I now can say I have 64 species on my New York State eBird list (up from the two got while sitting in a plane on the runway in New York City.

I guess I should also mention that I did an interview yesterday for a show that aired today on CBC radio's The Current.  The story was about bird migration, climate change, and eBird.  They interviewed one of the authors of this paper.  Here's the link if you're interested in checking out the whole radio show.

Monday 5 March 2012

Spring has sprung!

Well, it's been a while but I finally have some stuff to post.

I headed home to Heidelberg on Thursday night which gave me a chance to do some birding around K-W on Friday morning with my Dad and Ken.  It was really great outside with lots of new birds!

While waiting outside of the house I had several flocks of Canada Geese and my first Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles for the year fly over in a twenty minute period. 

It's been too long (107 days, since November 16) since I last saw this

Then the three of us headed "the long way" to drop Ken off at school.  As we made our way into Erbsville we continued seeing flocks of Canada Geese going over. We stopped at the main intersection to listen to a singing male Red-winged Blackbird when Ken spotted two Cackling Geese in a flock of Canadas going over.  We also had at least one small Canada, presumably an interior subspecies bird (quite possible that many or all of the Canadas going over were interior).  We moved on a bit further towards Laurel Creek when we stopped for a hawk - good decision as it turned out to be our first migrant Red-shouldered Hawk of the year, a beautiful adult:

At the same spot while standing on the side of the road we had our first Killdeer fly over and more Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, plus Horned Lark.  Here's the full checklist.

Laurel Creek wasn't too exciting but there was a single adult Glaucous Gull on the ice.  After we dropped off Ken it was off to the dump.  We had a quick look around and found one of the juvenile Thayer's Gulls that have been present for a while now, plus some other birds.  We ran into Brandon Holden as we were leaving who did a much more thorough search of the gulls.

It was then off to my new favourite Waterloo Region birding spot, Hespeler Mill pond.  We were greeted by one of the best sounds of spring, Tundra Swans! There were also a few semi-interesting ducks including Northern Pintail, Gadwall (both of which have been present for a while), Hooded Merganser, and a American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid.  We also had another Killdeer flyover here.  Here's the full checklist.

Our final stop before having to pick up Ken was the confluence of the Speed and Grand Rivers in Cambridge, which is another good spot for waterfowl.  On this day there wasn't too much but there were some Northern Pintail.  Here's the list.

After that it was off to Ithaca for Ken and I (more on that tomorrow hopefully).  On route before we crossed the border we had our first Turkey Vulture of the year in Queenston (no Black Vultures unfortunately).

All in all it was nice to see some new birds back.  A lot of them seemed to change their minds on the weekend with the return of the cold weather, but they should be back in force by Wednesday this week!
In other new how about that Heermann's Gull!!? Nice find indeed for Mark Gawn!  I had hoped to post a funny picture of my brother as a thirteen year old feeding Ontario first Heermann's Gull from 1999 but couldn't find that picture, so instead here's a boring picture of just the bird itself:
Ontario's first Heermann's Gull, a long-staying individual (14 November 1999-1 August 2000) in Toronto (and beyond).