Saturday 26 April 2014

It's rarity season

We've started into what is arguably one of the most exciting times of the year for birding in Ontario. It's exciting because over the next week or two we should see about 1/3 of our Ontario bird species arrive back into the province. But from a birding perspective it is also really exciting because this is one of the best times of the year to find rare birds. Just check out this list from the last week or so:
Greater White-fronted Goose in Durham, Lambton, Dufferin, Kawartha Lakes, and York
Eurasian Wigeon in Durham, Elgin, and Ottawa
Eared Grebe in Chatham-Kent
Cattle Egret in Essex
Snowy Egret in Perth
Swainson's Hawk in Hamilton
Black Vulture in Northumberland and Essex
Marbled Godwit in Essex
A very early Acadian Flycatcher in Essex
Fish Crow in Hamilton and Toronto
Bell's Vireo in Middlesex
Worm-eating Warbler in Essex
Yellow Palm Warbler in Essex
Yellow-throated Warbler in Essex and Niagara
Prairie Warbler in Niagara and Norfolk
Blue Grosbeak in Perth
Spotted Towhee in Toronto
Yellow-headed Blackbird in Ottawa and Norfolk
Painted Bunting in Muskoka and Ottawa (sight report submitted to OBRC)

(species in bold are OBRC review list species)
remember this guy from last year?
And that's just the one's I know about, I'm sure there are more out there plus even more that haven't been found yet. We're prime time for all sorts of rarities, including a Swallow-tailed Kite, like the one I saw last year.

And there are lots of goodies outside of Ontario too, with European Golden-Plover and Black-tailed Godwit in Newfoundland today and a Willow Ptarmigan in New York.

Anyways, that's a pretty nice list from the past week, what will the next weeks bring? It looks like we won't be back to south winds until the 29th when we should get the next push of birds, but the nice thing about this time of year is birds move in pretty well any conditions. On schedule for the next week are the following birds:
27 April -  
Wilson's Phalarope
White-eyed Vireo
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Northern Waterthrush
28 April -  
Sedge Wren
Grasshopper Sparrow
30 April -  
Common Gallinule
Chimney Swift
Red-headed Woodpecker
American Pipit
Black-and-white Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
01 May -  
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Warbling Vireo
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Blue-winged Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
02 May -  
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Golden-winged Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Orchad Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
03 May -  
Great Crested Flycatcher
Prothonotary Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Clay-colored Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Indigo Bunting
04 May -  
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Least Sandpiper
Swainson's Thrush
Cerulean Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

That's a hefty list! Get out there and see what you can find!!!

Monday 21 April 2014

The birding mecca of Perth County

We had our family Easter scheduled for Sunday in Stratford, in the heart of Perth County. Birding wasn't on the original schedule but as it happened several nice birds turned up nearby including:
-Eurasian Wigeon at Mitchell Sewage Lagoons (AKA West Perth Wetlands) found by Jarmo Jalava on 13 April
-Snowy Egret in St. Marys (posted to Ontario Birds Facebook group by Herman Veenendaal on 18 April)
-Blue Grosbeak outside of Russeldale found by Rita Christie on 18 April and reported to eBird

So, naturally we left a bit of time before dinner to try and find some of these. Our first stop was Mitchell Sewage Lagoons, where we didn't find the Eurasian Wigeon but did find Josh and Barb (and a Horned Grebe). Here's our full list.
Muskrat at Mitchell
Josh, Barb and Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch were unsuccessful in finding the Snowy Egret earlier in the morning so our next stop was Rita and Ron Christie's place.

When we arrived Ken and Josh were pretty confident they saw the bird fly out of the crab apple and then disappear behind the house. A few minutes later I saw a bird that I was pretty sure was it fly by again, but we still hadn't nailed it down for sure (or even knew if it was still around). After about an hour of waiting it finally showed in the top of a crab apple before heading for the feeder:

It came back a few a minutes later for another look before we headed out:

We were pretty excited to see such a rare bird in Perth County. Apparently this would be record early for Ontario (the next earliest is one last spring at Ojibway Park found on 19 April 2013)

Friday 18 April 2014

Henslow's Sparrow at Pelee and more

Ken and my Dad and I were heading down to Pelee for the day to do some long weekend birding. We were excited to see the report on Ontbirds that Chris Gaffan had found a Henslow's Sparrow there last night.

While waiting to pay at the gate house we had our first highlight, a friendly Mink!

After a few stops outside the park we arrived at Delaurier Homestead trail where we ran into Josh - he hadn't seen the bird yet but after a few minutes of looking the bird hopped up into the open briefly:

Henslow's Sparrow at DeLaurier
While the bird allowed a few nice looks it spent most of it's time running through the grass like these guys are known to. It was amazing how it could disappear in the thatch. At one point we watched it look up at us, completley in the open (this year's grass isn't grown yet), then look down and dive into the grass and dissapear!! After we were satisfied, we walked the rest of the trail, picking up an early House Wren and a few other birds (full checklist). Just as we were coming back to where we had seen the Henslow's previously it flushed up again and allowed an even better look before doing its vanishing act into the grass
better shot of the Henslow's Sparrow

After Delaurier we checked Tilden's Woods (didn't get the Louisiana Waterthrush) and White Pine before leaving the park. Along Tilden's I saw my first few Red Admirals of the year. Be sure to enter any butterflies records you have into eButterfly or send them to the TEA's Ontario Butterfly Atlas.
My first Red Admiral of the year

On the way home we made stops at Hillman Marsh, Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons and then Laurel Creek in Waterloo. We finished the day with about 100 species in relatively little effort - gotta love this time of year!!

Thursday 17 April 2014

At least one creature had a good winter

As the snow melts we've seen repeated evidence that there was at least one animal that benefitted from this harsh winter. If you remember back to December, we had quite an ice storm in much of southern Ontario. This resulted in millions of broken tree limbs that ended up on the ground. Then, as I'm sure everyone here has forgotten, we got hammered by snow all winter, with seemingly no break. That built up a nice thick layer of insulating snow.

So, what resulted was a whole whack-load of branches being buried by the snow. This is perfect for the small mammals that live in the sub-nivean space (below the snow). They had insulation from the cold, protection from (some) predators, and an ample food supply in the form of delicious bark of small branches.

Now that the snow has melted it has revealed their presence:
This is a good reminder of how deep the drifts were!

Have you seen branches like this? We've been seeing them all over near our house north of Kingston and I assume it is mostly the work of Meadow Voles, but would be interested to hear other thoughts. The deep snow also made it possible for things like rabbits to reach branches higher up that they normally couldn't reach.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Did you enjoy spring? Good, because that's it!

Well, not really but it sure feels like we had spring and now we're back to February! There should be a distinct pause in spring migration over the next day or two and then it should gradually ramp back up. I hope you were able to get out and enjoy our first real taste of spring. Lots of birds have arrived and if you're like me, your Ontario year list has started to bulge in the last couple of weeks.

I made a trip down to Prince Edward County last weekend and it was a trip with signs of spring and signs of lingering winter:

A huge snow drift near Sandbanks PP

There are still lingering Snowy Owls
Red-tailed Hawk carrying food
Goose migration has been in high gear for a couple weeks now
This Rainbow Trout almost answered the question "what's on the other side of the road"
Since last weekend temperatures have warmed up and it has been an even more steady stream of new arrivals - check out the Ontario arrival dates for this year and you'll see what I mean.

Brown Creepers and other typical April migrants are really moving
Golden-crowned Kinglets are hard to miss these days
Pied-billed Grebes are now back in many areas

even Ring-billed Gulls look good this time of the year!
It's not just birds declaring spring has arrived - I heard my first frogs (chorus, peepers, and leopard) this past weekend and insects and plants are showing now too.
Hepatica will be blooming soon
My first butterfly of the season!
Firefly out and about
But the great thing about spring, is that we're just starting and arguably the most exciting stuff is still to come! According to the spring arrival dates I calculated using eBird we've got the following to expect in the next week:

15 April - 
Surf Scoter

Barn Swallow

Chipping Sparrow

American Goldfinch
16 April - 
Broad-winged Hawk

Brown Thrasher

Yellow-rumped Warbler

White-throated Sparrow
17 April - 
American White Pelican

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
18 April - 
Virginia Rail
19 April - 
Purple Martin
20 April - 
Cliff Swallow
21 April - 
Yellow-throated Warbler
22 April - 
Black Scoter

Upland Sandpiper

Yellow-throated Warbler...just getting started?
More to come this week?
Every thing on that list made an appearance in Ontario in the last few days with that push of warm southerly air, we'll see if we can get more of them as the week progresses, then it's just a short wait to the big push of late April/early May when almost everything happens all at once!

Thursday 3 April 2014

How to use your eBird data to plan your next birding trip.

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about all the great things that eBird can do but the truth is there is tons that it doesn't (currently!) do that I would like it to. However, people much smarter than me have often figured out how to work with eBird data to do some of them. A good example is the BirdTrax gadget to the right of this post, which was developed by Zachary Debruine.

Denis Lepage of Bird Studies Canada runs an amazing website called Avibase that if you haven't checked out you should - it has all sorts of things you'll find handy like bird checklists, bird taxonomies, bird species synonyms and way, way more (all of those features covers the whole world!). But one of the things I like most about Avibase are the My Avibase features. Here you can import your eBird lists and/or manage your various lists and then of course view them with whatever global taxonomy/language you want. More importantly, you can then use the power of Avibase to generate all sorts of reports.
The range of reports Avibase can generate
I'll let you check the screenshot above to see the types of reports Avibase can generate - they all have their own strengths/purposes. But here I'm going to talk about my favourite, the species list reports.
The species list reports are incredibly handy if you are planning a trip locally or abroad because you pick the location (country, state/province, and for some regions "county" level), the time of year, and the length of stay and Avibase can use eBird frequencies to calculate what species you are most likely to see and what the chances of you seeing it are. In the example below I chose the "species list" option in step 1 and then in step 2 I specified that I wanted to use the newest eBird taxonomy and wanted to see eBird probability scores for three days in April. (note: if you want to get rid of all the spuhs and slashes you can use the Clements taxonomy).

The above is the output generated in Avibase - it shows you that if you spent three random days any time in April birding in Frontenac County (Ontario, Canada) you could expect to see 56.8 species based on the cumulative probability scores from eBird. You can go through the species list and see how likely you would be to see each individual species. For the example above, you have a 77% chance of seeing a Great Blue Heron but only a 3% chance of seeing a Great Egret, good to know! I've found it handy when travelling to unfamiliar locations to copy the results into Excel and then colour-code the results based on likelihood and then to have that as an insert in my field guide. It makes for a really great "quick reference guide" when trying to decide between two or more similar species.

But you can go a step further and use My Avibase to create your life list for a region (let's use Frontenac County again) by importing your eBird records. Once you make a list in Avibase you can add records manually if your eBird life list isn't complete (for example, you know you've seen a Snowy Owl in Frontenac County but you haven't (yet) submitted one to eBird). Once you have a regional life list into Avibase you can make a slight modification to the query:

In the above screen shot you can see that I switched to see Frontenac (targets) (you can do this using a world, country, or province/state life list too). The result will show me what species I am most likely to add to my Frontenac County life list in three random days of birding in April:

Now, I've spent a fair bit of time in Frontenac County so there aren't too many "easy" birds left for me to get but there are still a few. eBird "expects" me to get 2.7 species but that doesn't take into account the fact that I will very likely modify my behaviour to maximize the return on my "investment". My most likely species are Pied-billed Grebe (20% - got it this morning, just haven't entered it into eBird yet), Fox Sparrow (20% - I have an area in mind), and House Wren (16% - I'l have to wait 2-3 more weeks for them to arrive) but I can go through the full list to essentially find out which species I should think about trying for this month.
Token bird photo...Pied-billed Grebe
Anyways, I hope you check out My Avibase. It is super handy for planning your birding trips whether you're into life listing, county listing, or just getting an output of the species most expected for an area (and much more!).

Here are the links again:

Avibase homepage:
My Avibase:

Here are step-by-step instructions for generating a species list report (either a full species list report or just a list of species you "need"):

  1. Create a My Avibase account
  2. Click the “manage or create lifelists” button
  3. Click “create new checklist”
  4. Give the checklist a name and then pick the options. For instance if you are interested in generating a list of birds you have never seen in your life (anywhere) you’ll want to create a world lifelist by select “worldwide” as the continent and then “world checklist” as the region. If you are more interested in finding out which species you could add to your St. Louis County (Minnesota) list you’d want to select “North America” as the continent and then “Saint Louis” as the region. To get the list of counties you have to select the “eBird checklists only” or “show all checklists” option first. You can create many different life lists if you want. 
  5. Once you have created a life list, click the “more” button and then “import from eBird” and follow the instructions. Note that if you only want a particular year you can specify that too.
  6. If you want to add some species that you don’t have in your eBird records, you can then click the “more” button and select the “edit observations” option to add those species in.
  7. Once you have the appropriate list updated, you can click the “reports” tab and then select the “species list” option in step 1 and then in step 2 pick the appropriate options:
    1. Taxonomic authority: pick the taxonomy you want to use. (if you use Clements instead of eBird you will get rid of all of the spuhs, hybrids and slashes).
    2. Region: countries/world, etc. This is where you pick the region you are going to visit.
    3. Subregion: states/provinces and counties. Refine the area you are going to visit.
    4. What score do you want to use: pick eBird probability scores.
    5. What species to include: total species counts lists the probability of each species according to eBird (regardless of your life list). If you want to compare it with one of your lifelists pick it from the list. If you choose your world lifelist it will tell you which species you could add to your lifelist, if you pick your St. Louis County lifelist it will tell you which species you could add to your St. Louis County Lifelist.
    6. eBird filters: pick the time of year, and duration of your planned visit (works best with a shorter time frame).
  8. Click “view report” and you’ll get your results.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Will the winter ever end? The first week of April

It's finally starting to feel more like spring every day, though slowly. But if you check the weather as frequently as I do or you're reading Brandon's weather bird blog you'll know that we're still going to be getting at best seasonal temperatures for the next while. I'm OK with seasonal temperatures at this point.

Thankfully, the worst is likely behind us and we are into April. The birds that will arrive over the next 3-4 weeks are a bit less dependent on weather than March migrants, so we'll probably stay pretty much "on schedule" from here on out, despite cooler weather.

Personally, I had a great start to April with a big movement of birds all day going past my office window. Check out my eBird checklist from the morning - I tried my best to work but almost 10,000 Canada Geese going by is a bit of a distraction! I've got my yard list up over 50 species now with my first Tree Swallow this morning.
10,000+ Canadas and 152 Snow Geese passed by on April 1

Two Snow Geese right over my house!
This is 1 of 2 (the ugly one) Red-shouldered Hawks from 1 April
I had a meeting in Prince Edward County yesterday evening so on the way made a quick stop at Kaiser X-Road. This place is great all spring because there is a big flooded field that attracts waterfowl and later on shorebirds and Little and Bonaparte's Gulls. It was still mostly ice covered but there were loads of waterfowl including Snow Goose and Tundra Swan. Here's the full list.

Anyways what do we have to look forward to arriving this week? Lots! Many of these species have already begun arriving in the extreme SW part of the province (and beyond) so keep an eye out for them this week:
01 April -  
Bonaparte's Gull
02 April -  
Double-crested Cormorant
Tree Swallow
03 April -  
Great Egret
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
04 April -  
06 April -  
Common Loon
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Greater Yellowlegs
07 April -  
Cooper's Hawk
Hermit Thrush
Osprey on nest
One of my favourite signs of springs is when Ospreys show up back on nests. They are always really amazing because it seems like one day there are none and then the next day all of a sudden almost every nest  is occupied.