Saturday 8 November 2014

Amherst Island delights

This morning Kyle Blaney and Brad Hamilton found an American Avocet in the Ducks Unlimited Pond on the Martin Edwards Reserve (Amherst Island) so when we got word of it we headed down for the ferry. Erica and I met up with Mark on the 11:30 ferry and started the 20 minute boat ride from Millhaven to Stella. The ferry crossing at this time of year is a great way to see Common Loons up close as we had 15 on the way over and 14 on the way back (and you can get many more than that). They often are quite close to the ferry, offering great looks:

Once we got across it was straight to the Martin Edwards Reserve - this property is owned by the Kingston Field Naturalists and is known by many as simply the "KFN Property". It should be noted that, for liability reasons, you must be a member of the KFN, or accompanied by one, to enter the property. As soon as we got to the pond we could see our prize waiting for us, a beautiful American Avocet!

After enjoying very nice scope views of this bird we headed out further to the end of the reserve where we were able to pick up a nice assortment of ducks including a relatively rare for the area Black Scoter. Also present was a Snowy Owl, presumably the same bird that has been seen sporadically at least since late summer.

On the way out we kept moving to stay warm with the brisk south wind in our face but we did stop long enough to enjoy some Snow Buntings on the beach:

Sunday 2 November 2014

Fall counts

Several clubs across Ontario host fall roundups in their respective bird study areas and as far as I know, these all happen the first weekend of November. I know Hamilton has a big one (I have participated many times) and so does Ottawa, Thunder Bay, and Kingston. This year I did the Kingston count for the first time.

The Kingston count covers the Kingston study area (see the Ontario Birding areas page for map) and unlike the Hamilton count that I have helped with in the past, the Kingston count covers a 24-hour period overlapping two days, starting at 3pm on Saturday and finishing 3pm on Sunday. So yesterday I met up with Mark and James and we headed for Prince Edward Point. We decided we'd spend the 3 hours of daylight on Saturday there to get our start. We weren't disappointed as within a few minutes of the clock hitting 3pm we had our first good scores:
Rough-legged Hawk

Red-necked Grebe

The Red-necked Grebe was the only one of any groups and not many people had Rough-legged Hawk either. A little further on and we had another raptors coming in adult Golden Eagle!
Golden Eagle
We got another (this time a young bird) a few minutes later so were quite pleased with ourselves! It wasn't much after that that we picked up a flock of Cedar Waxwings, our only Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrows, and Brown Creeper. Just past the bird observatory we managed to get all three scoters before it got too dark to see much. On the way back home we made a few stops for owls but the howling wind didn't help much, however we still managed to get one Barred Owl and best of all a flyover nocturnal migrant Swainson's Thrush!

Saturday morning we caught the first ferry to Amherst Island and quickly saw lots of loons on the water and started added to our 51 species from the previous day. Amherst was good to us with the best bird being a Vesper Sparrow that flushed from the road and perched long enough for James to grab a photo. We were off the island by 10 and headed for Morvin Creek to look for shorebirds (picked up both yellowlegs) and on the way back east from there we stumbled on our best bird of the day, a Cattle Egret!!
Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret and cow

From there we picked up a ton of new ducks (check out lists from Cataraqui Bay, Marshlands, and the Montreal Street apartments) but we were running out of time. We added one last species, Wild Turkey, with ten minutes left to round out our list of 88 species, not a bad 24 hours of birding in November! We did well but had some big misses: all Accipiters and falcons, Belted Kingfisher, Hermit Thrush, Wood Duck, Killdeer, and of course more than I can list here :)

Saturday 13 September 2014

Essex county rarities

I had a presentation as part of Festival of Hawks at Holiday Beach Important Bird Area today, so Ken came with me and we did some birding before and after. We started the day with the pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves on the east side of Leamington. These birds have been around for a couple weeks now (and quite possibly in the area for the past year+) and it seems like just a matter of time until they produce Ontario's first nesting of this species as it continues its spread north. I think that if you asked most birders ten years ago, they would have guessed they'd be a much more common species in Ontario by now. We saw the birds a little east of Gore Hill Public School, at Mersea Road 12, and then watched them fly further southeast to the small silo.

From there, we headed for Point Pelee (another globally significant Important Bird Area) and walked out to the tip. The winds were quite strong from the northwest, really whipping the lake up. We spent some time at the tip keeping an eye on the water for anything interesting flying by but also kept pretty busy with hawks overhead and passerines flitting in the bushes. Nothing too unusual but some Black Terns were getting later. Here's our full checklist.

From Pelee we made our way to Holiday Beach, where we got to witness a decent hawk flight, lots of warblers, and best of all a flock of 15 American White Pelicans overhead (left my camera in the car). It was a great few hours enjoying the birds and festivities. Here's our full checklist. The Festival of Hawks continues tomorrow and again next weekend and is definitely worth checking out!

After leaving Holiday Beach we checked a few adjacent areas hoping for one of the at least four Snowy Egrets that have been around. We finally got lucky with one where Big Creek crosses Highway 20:

These photos don't show it, but Snowy Egret have bright yellow feet. Here's a photo I took in Florida that shows that feature well (and shows the normally hidden white leg):

All in all, it was a great day!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

White Ibis in Napanee!

This morning I got a text message from Mark Read, who collects bird sightings for the Kingston Study Area on behalf of the Kingston Field Naturalists. It had details that a juvenile White Ibis had been seen in Napanee. Re-reading the text now it alludes to the fact that I was expected to already have known about this bird and once I got home and checked the Ontbirds archive I see why - Terry Sprague had reported the details first thing this morning. For some reason his Ontbirds post never made it to my inbox (and not even into my spam folder...strange, but luckily Mark sent me the text...).

Anyways, I jumped in my car and made it to the spot where it had been reported and there it was!
juvenile White Ibis in Napanee, Lennox and Addington
Here's my post to Ontbirds:
Jeff Haffner found a young White Ibis this morning at 7 am in Napanee. I arrived at 935 and found it in roughly the same location. However, while I had my glasses off trying to get a phonescoped photo it disappeared. I didn't see it move but when I couldnt find it in my scope and put my glasses on I couldn't see it. I wasn't looking down for long so I don't think it flew but rather walked around a bend in the creek and out of sight. I did manage a couple photos that I will post on my blog when I get home.
Directions. Get off the 401 at exit 579 and go south to Jim Kimmet blvd and turn right (west). Just before the Wal-mart there is a bridge over the creek. Park before the bridge but be sure not to block the fire hydrant. The bird was north of the bridge in the creek before the bend.
Will post if I can refind it.
I should clarify that it wasn't Jeff Haffner who originally found it. Apparently (according to Terry Sprague) it was Robert Lane who found it on SUNDAY (24 August). I'm kind of glad that I didn't see Terry's post though since it sounded from his message like the bird had disappeared and I might have waited until someone re-found it.

White Ibis is a really great bird in Ontario, with just five previous records accepted by the Ontario Bird Records Committee. And of those, only one of them stayed in one place for more than a day. Here are the previous records as published by the OBRC:

  1. 1, juvenal, 27 September 1970, Point Pelee National Park, Essex. Found by Joseph P. Kleiman, T. Dennis Coskren, Dennis F. Rupert, Alfred H. Rider, Jeffrey A. Greenhouse, William W. Smith, Norm Chesterfield, Ray Knight
  2. 1, second-year, 12-30 (but only seen 12-14 and 29-30) October 1990, Turkey Point, Norfolk. Found by John Lamey
  3. 1, 27 June 1998, Pelee Island, Essex. Found by Ethan J. Meleg, David Hodare
  4. 1, juvenal, 3-6 October 2009, Whitby (3 October), Durham and Prince Edward Point (6 October), Prince Edward. Found by Harvey Gold, Daniel S. Kaczynski, Karl Jennewein
  5. 2, first alternate, 11 May 2012, Long Point (Old Cut), Norfolk. Found by Stuart A. Mackenzie, Fanny Senez-Gagnon

Anyone who has traveled to the US southeast knows that White Ibis are abundant there, so it's always a bit surprising to me that we don't get more of them here, especially given the propensity for northward post-breeding dispersal by herons in general. It seems likely that this bird made its way north on the same system in the last week or so that has brought at least 2 Snowy Egrets, a Eurasian Collared-Dove, a Violet-green Swallow, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher to southern Ontario (not to mention the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that's still around). What else it lurking out there to find?

Here's my favourite shot of a White Ibis (this is an adult) from a trip to Florida several years ago. I'm still blown away by it!
White Ibis in Kissimee, Florida

Thursday 21 August 2014

Great Blue Heron eats a Gartersnake

Yesterday while working away I noticed a Great Blue Heron in the pond I can see from my desk. I quickly noticed it had something in its beak and a look through my binoculars revealed it had caught an Eastern Gartersnake. I grabbed my scope and took a couple shots through my phone:

I even managed to catch it on video. I like how once the heron finally gets it into its throat it takes several gulps of water to help wash it down - must be a bit squirmy still!!

The gartersnake isn't the only tasty treat I've seen a Great Blue Heron catch recently. Last week my sister and I watched as a (the same?) Great Blue Heron walked through the pasture across from my house and captured then swallowed a small mammal - possibly a meadow vole.

Friday 1 August 2014


A couple weeks ago when I went to check my black light (for moths) first thing in the morning I noticed a Mantidfly on my trap (that's just a fancy word for a cotton sheet). I got pretty excited because I had only seen two previously, so I carefully moved it onto a more natural background to get some pictures:

I even remembered to take a video of it (seemed to be preening, possibly trying to rid itself of the piece of spider web). The video is nice because it gives a better sense of its true colours, as it was taken without the use of a flash:

As you can tell, I was pretty excited to find this Mantidfly. In my experience they are a rarely seen insect, but very cool to see. Not only are they bizarre-looking and generally rare or uncommon, they've got a pretty cool life history as well. I didn't know much about them before so did some research and came across this excellent paper by Rob and Syd Cannings. All of the following information comes from this paper and should be credited to the authors, not me.

Like many insects, Mantidflies (Order: Neuroptera; Family: Mantispidae) are at the northern edge of their range in Canada with only four species in all of the country (all of which are found in Ontario). Only one species, Climaciella brunnea (the "Wasp Mantidfly"), is relatively widespread. The Wasp Mantidfly is, you guessed it, a wasp mimic and is the only species I had seen (twice) before in Ontario:
Wasp Mantidfly at Deloro, Hastings on 15 June 2008
Wasp Mantidfly at Backus Woods, Norfolk on 3 July 2010
The Wasp Mantidfly is not only the most widespread species but the easiest to identify. It's fairly large and its body is striped brown and yellow similar to that of many species of wasp. The other three Canadian species are quite similar and require very good photos, preferably showing close-ups of the pronotum and the wings. My most recent observation is clearly one of the remaining three and judging from my photos, it looks to me like the pronotum is mostly smooth (lacks "numerous short setae over its entire length") which means it is one of the two Dicromantispa species.

The separation of those two species is done by the presence/absence of dark spots on the "wing tips and some crossveins of radial cells", which my specimen appears to lack. That puts the ID tentatively as Dicromantispa sayi. This is exciting because, according to the paper referenced above, this would be a (known) range extension for the species in Ontario, which, based on examined specimens, was restricted to the north shore of Lake Erie. I'm waiting to hear back from some folks who know more than I do to see if I can get that confirmed or find out more.

As I mentioned earlier, Mantidflies have a pretty cool life history. Their raptorial forearms give them away as predators as adults (feeding on a variety of other insects). As larvae, most develop in spider egg sacs where they feed busily on the individual spider eggs. In some species the larvae actively search out spider eggs sacs, but in others they board adult spiders and enter the egg sac during the construction phase. The eggs are stalked, similar to these Green Lacewing (Chrysopidae) eggs:
Green Lacewing eggs at Heidelberg, Waterloo, 12 August 2005


Cannings, R.A. and S.G. Cannings. 2006. The Mantispidae (Insecta: Neuroptera) of Canada, with notes on morphology, ecology, and distribution. Canadian Entomologist 138: 531-544.

Bug guide Mantidfly (Mantispidae) page

Update: I received confirmation from Rob Cannings that my identification was correct. Apparently there was also a record of this species near Tweed, Hastings County last summer, so it is probably worth looking for south of the shield in southeastern Ontario.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Northeastern Ontario Breeding Bird Surveys

A couple weekends ago Ken and my Dad and I headed north to do some Breeding Bird Surveys. Two of the routes Ken and my Dad had done last year and the third was a new one we were going to set up. Our three routes were all in northeastern Ontario - two northeast of Cochrane and one northwest of Elk Lake. Here's a map showing all fifty stops of each route:

As you can see, we got pretty well as far north as roads can take you in northeastern Ontario. We even made a "detour" to see the end of the road:
The Detour Lake Mine
This was a great chance to get up to some real boreal habitats and enjoy some of the birds (and a few other things). Here's my Dad and Ken setting up for our first night:

And here's a shot of a beautiful boreal wetland. Last year Ken and my Dad had a pair of Greater Yellowlegs here (not this year, though we did have some elsewhere).
Photo: Ken Burrell
The photo above is a bit deceiving as that was the only nice sunny time we had. The rest of the trip was quite grey with frequent rain. Luckily the weather cooperated for the the bird surveys each morning.

Most of the birding on the BBS is done by ear, but we did see a few birds too :) below is a female Ruffed Grouse that was carefully guiding her young across the road.
Momma Ruffed Grouse
 We saw several females with young of Ruffed and also Spruce Grouse. Here's a momma Spruce Grouse:

Momma Spruce Grouse
female Spruce Grouse close-up
And here's a shot of a young Spruce Grouse. I'm always surprised to see such small grouse chicks fly.
young Spruce Grouse
There are a couple species of shorebirds that breed in the boreal forest (besides Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers that also breed in southern Ontario). We were lucky to find several pairs of Greater Yellowlegs and even one Solitary Sandpiper. Both species were extremely vocal/agitated suggesting probable nests/young nearby.
Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Despite the mostly crappy weather I did see a few interesting insects too. I saw several large "ringed" type Somatochlora emeralds, but unfortunately wasn't successful in catching any (I did catch a Williamson's Emerald but that was pretty disappointing considering all the other species it could have been). Here are a couple highlights for a southern Ontario guy:
Western Tailed Blue
Greenish Blue (upperside)
Greenish Blue (underside)
All through the trip I was checking out the flowering Evening Primrose, hoping to find some primrose moths. Finally, near Elk Lake we found a few:

This was early in the morning and quite overcast, so the flowers hadn't shut yet. Normally, the flowers of Evening Primrose close during the day, providing a convenient day time roost for the moths that bear the same name. At night, when the flowers open, the moths feed on the nectar and serve as important pollinators for the plant.

Anyways, here are the combined results from the three BBS surveys. The top five species were White-throated Sparrow, Nashville Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and Magnolia Warbler; all of which were detected on more than 50% of the stops.

Species Name Frequency
Canada Goose 0.67%
Mallard 0.67%
Common Goldeneye 1.33%
Hooded Merganser 0.67%
Ruffed Grouse 2.00%
Spruce Grouse 0.67%
Common Loon 8.00%
American Bittern 0.67%
Broad-winged Hawk 0.67%
Wilson's Snipe 1.33%
American Woodcock 2.00%
Bonaparte's Gull 2.67%
Common Nighthawk 0.67%
Belted Kingfisher 2.67%
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3.33%
Downy Woodpecker 2.67%
Hairy Woodpecker 6.67%
Northern Flicker 19.33%
Pileated Woodpecker 4.00%
American Kestrel 1.33%
Merlin 0.67%
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 5.33%
Alder Flycatcher 11.33%
Least Flycatcher 10.67%
Eastern Kingbird 0.67%
Blue-headed Vireo 15.33%
Philadelphia Vireo 0.67%
Red-eyed Vireo 63.33%
Gray Jay 6.00%
Blue Jay 1.33%
American Crow 8.00%
Common Raven 14.67%
Black-capped Chickadee 8.00%
Boreal Chickadee 1.33%
Red-breasted Nuthatch 6.67%
Brown Creeper 0.67%
Winter Wren 40.67%
Golden-crowned Kinglet 12.00%
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 14.00%
Eastern Bluebird 0.67%
Veery 14.00%
Swainson's Thrush 25.33%
Hermit Thrush 58.67%
American Robin 34.67%
Cedar Waxwing 28.00%
Ovenbird 19.33%
Northern Waterthrush 0.67%
Black-and-white Warbler 16.67%
Tennessee Warbler 8.00%
Nashville Warbler 68.67%
Connecticut Warbler 0.67%
Mourning Warbler 26.67%
Common Yellowthroat 9.33%
American Redstart 24.00%
Cape May Warbler 0.67%
Northern Parula 5.33%
Magnolia Warbler 51.33%
Bay-breasted Warbler 5.33%
Blackburnian Warbler 2.00%
Chestnut-sided Warbler 22.00%
Black-throated Blue Warbler 2.00%
Palm Warbler 4.67%
Yellow-rumped Warbler 28.67%
Canada Warbler 4.00%
Chipping Sparrow 37.33%
Vesper Sparrow 0.67%
Fox Sparrow 3.33%
Song Sparrow 5.33%
Lincoln's Sparrow 9.33%
Swamp Sparrow 6.67%
White-throated Sparrow 93.33%
Dark-eyed Junco 4.67%
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0.67%
Red-winged Blackbird 0.67%
Rusty Blackbird 0.67%
Common Grackle 4.00%
Purple Finch 5.33%
White-winged Crossbill 2.00%
Pine Siskin 2.67%
American Goldfinch 2.00%
Evening Grosbeak 2.67%

Saturday 28 June 2014

Luna, Io, Sphinxes and more!

It was a warm night last night so I set up my black light and sheet for the first time in a week. I got lots of new stuff at the light and my yard moth list continues to grow. I think about half the species I identified were new for my continually growing yard list.
That's one seriously covered sheet...
I thought I had likely missed them for the year but two Luna Moths were my first for the yard. Like most of the giant silkmoths (Saturniidae) these are big and showy so people get excited about them (myself included) but they're actually quite common:
Luna Moth (Actias luna)

Also in the big showy category was a nice male Io Moth:
male Io Moth (Automeris io)
And sphinxes as usual put in a showing:
Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis)
Give the abdomen a good tap and they'll show you their scary eyes!
A less showy sphinx, the Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmiae)
But there were also some pretty cool less showy species out:
Sharp-lined Yellow (Sicya macularia)
Streaked Ethmia (Ethmia longimaculella)
Putnam's Looper (Plusia putnami)
Grape Leaffolder (Desmia funeralis)
And this little guy had to be my favourite. Looks like someone drew an angry/sad face on it!
Angry-face Moth AKA Elegant Grass-veneer (Microcrambus elegans)
A closer look at that sad, sad face :(
And if the moths weren't good enough entertainment, I had a Virginia Rail calling all night and my first Eastern Screech-owl for the yard as well!