Friday 25 September 2020

Cinnamon Teal or cinnamon teal in the east?

**UPDATE 30 September 2020**

I added a few new photos:

6a - photo of the Toronto bird flapping which confirms it as an adult male

19-21 - three photos of a different bird at Forest (Lambton Co.)


Last Saturday, while conducting our Great Canadian Birdathon (still looking for donations - we've already raised over $10,000 for bird conservation!) we came across a distinctly "cinnamon" teal just outside of Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario. We quickly got the word out and subsequently lots of people had a chance to look for it. Since then I've been trying to figure out whether it was indeed a Cinnamon Teal or maybe just a cinnamon teal. This post is an attempt to assemble all the information I have along with photos from a variety of people (thanks to them all for sharing!).

I'll post a bit of back-story, then photos of some different birds that have been seen in Ontario this fall, followed by some discussion. Please leave comments here or if you're on Facebook on this thread at Advanced Bird ID.

Cinnamon Teal status in Ontario

Cinnamon Teal is a very rare bird in Ontario. Prior to 2020 there were 19 records accepted by the OBRC dating back to 1983. Five of those come from northwestern Ontario (Rainy River and Thunder Bay Districts) and the rest are from southern Ontario. The seasonal distribution (based on first observation) is:

Spring (18 April-11 June) plus an outlier of 4 March - 13 records

Fall (17 November-8 December) - 2 records

Summering records (4 records)

  1. 28 May-9 July 1983 (pair, nest with eggs)
  2. 23 June-21 July (pair, but the female died)
  3. 1 July
  4. 27 May-23 June

In my opinion, there is a huge gap in records in August-September (no records!) when they are exiting the northern breeding grounds. This is also the time of year when southern Ontario sees by far the biggest concentrations of Blue-winged Teal. Blue-winged Teal is a former common breeder in Ontario but has declined significantly to the point it barely breeds in most parts of the province and I assume at least some of the flush of birds we see here in August and September come from the west. 

This gap in records is evident not just in Ontario, but throughout the east.

So why the gap in records? It must be an issue with identification. Females are much harder to separate from Blue-winged Teal (the only records in Ontario of females are of birds paired with basic-plumage ("breeding plumage") males). In August to September, male Cinnamon Teal will be in alternate plumage ("non-breeding" or "eclipse" plumage) so much harder to identify.

Fall 2020 reports

Toronto - August 31, 2020

The story starts at the end of August when Paul Prior found a similar bird in Toronto. He posted it along with photos as a possible Cinnamon Teal and Ron Pittaway sent photos to Peter Pyle in California. Peter replied that it looked fine for Cinnamon Teal and that the rusty breast is typical of adult females in alternate (eclipse) plumage and rules out  Blue-winged Teal. I can't speak for other birders, but I saw  those photos and thought that it really stuck out and gave me a search image to look for. Here are some of Paul Prior's photos taken August 31, 2020:

1. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.
2. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.

3. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.
4. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.

5. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.
6. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.

6a. "cinnamon" teal at Toronto, August 31, 2020. Photo by Paul Prior.

Outside of Rondeau Provincial Park (Chatham-Kent): September 19, 2020+

With the search image of a "BWTE with rusty tones" in mind, we (Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, and Jim Burrel) found this bird on September 19, 2020. We couldn't manage good photos on the day we found it, but here are the best from subsequent days. We were also somewhat rushed as we were conducting a big day raising money for bird conservation. In the field, this bird stuck out as having really reddish tones concentrated in the breast, but extending down the flanks and into the undertail. We discussed the bill in the field as being slightly larger than the nearby Blue-winged Teal but not obviously massive. On September 20, 2020 a second bird was noted with the first as also having a reddish breast, but not as extensive reddish elsewhere on the body.

I sent some of these photos (of "both" birds) to Peter Pyle and Alvao Jaramillo for their opinion. Alvaro thought the first could be a Cinnamon Teal but had reservations about it, particularly the bill (I'm paraphrasing) but felt the second bird was more likely a rusty looking Blue-winged Teal.

Peter at first thought the more rusty bird looked fine for an adult male Cinnamon Teal (aged by evenly-shaped back feathers) and the rusty feathers could be left over from basic (breeding) plumage in spring. The second bird he thought also looked OK for an eclipse adult male (sexed based on large bill). After some back and forth with him where I asked about certain features (more on that below) he agreed that some things were inconsistent with a pure Cinnamon Teal. Note that as he pointed out it was hard to be sure which photos were of which bird. 

7. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra

8. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra
9. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra

10. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra
11. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra

12. "cinnamon" teal (note second bird) at Chatham-Kent, September 20, 2020. Photo by Mourad Jabra
13. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 22, 2020. Photo by Garry Sadler
14. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 22, 2020. Photo by Garry Sadler
15. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 23, 2020. Photo by Denise Dykema
16. "cinnamon" teal at Chatham-Kent, September 23, 2020. Photo by Denise Dykema

It should be noted that because there are at least two birds there with rusty breasts, I can't be totally sure all photos are of the same individual and I haven't been back to the site to make additional observations.

Forest (Lambton County) 
James Holdsworth, with the search image in mind, then found another teal with "cinnamon" colouring, this past week, this time at Forest Sewage Lagoons in Lambton and suggested that all these "cinnamon" teals were oddly-coloured Blue-winged Teal.

17. "cinnamon" teal at Lambton Co., September 24, 2020. Photo by James Holdsworth
18. "cinnamon" teal at Lambton Co., September 24, 2020. Photo by James Holdsworth

19. "cinnamon" teal (different from 17-18) at Lambton Co., September 24, 2020. Photo by Mark Buchanan

20. "cinnamon" teal (different from 17-18) at Lambton Co., September 24, 2020. Photo by Mark Buchanan

21. "cinnamon" teal (different from 17-18) at Lambton Co., September 24, 2020. Photo by Mark Buchanan


So we're left with an unexpected flush of "cinnamon" teal associating with Blue-winged Teal right in the time of year when we could predict Cinnamon Teal should show up. But three records of four individuals seems pretty unlikely...

Some photos of clear-cut September US Cinnamon Teal from within their range:


Those rusty feathers are pretty extreme, especially on the Lambton and Chatham-Kent birds. Could it be staining? If not, it's hard to imagine a Blue-winged Teal showing that much rufous feathering left over from basic (breeding) plumage. And it's too early for them to be molting really - the only advanced in molt September bird I could find online was this one :)

Facial pattern
The facial pattern looks pretty bold to me, especially on the Lambton bird. The Chatham-Kent bird(s) is perhaps slightly more muted and the Toronto bird is best. But I don't think any of them are "perfect" for Cinnamon Teal; all show some pale at the base of the bill and a fairly pronounced eye stripe.

I haven't seen them, but apparently "flapping" photos exist of the Toronto bird to identify it as a male (as per Paul Prior). For the Chatham-Kent bird, the one in flight sure looks like a young female wing pattern, though I could be mistaken. I'm not sure about the Lambton bird.

Age is tricky to assign with these photos. The only bird that has really good photos to see feather detail are some of the shots of the Chatham-Kent bird(s) but there is the caveat that we could be looking at different individuals in different photos. Peter Pyle aged the bird in photo 10 as an adult, possibly second year bird. The flight shots (15/16) seem to indicate a hatch year bird.

Eye colour
Adult male Cinnamon Teals should show an orange/red eye. It's surprisingly obvious. Some birds apparently can show a brownish eye in the summer but in my relatively quick search of the Macaulay Library I didn't see any obvious males with brownish eyes. Here's a "typical" male in September...I am confident that all of the birds here have brownish eyes. That's no big deal if we're dealing with females or hatch year birds, but I think it is a pretty big red flag if we're talking adult males.

Alvaro put it really well in his email to me, "I always joke that we have Blue-wing, and then the greater and lesser shoveler". And that bares out pretty well looking at photos, Cinnamon Teal has a pretty honkin' bill. Measurements given show a pretty big overlap and I wonder if the difference might be less on females or young birds, but to me none of these birds jump out as having a huge bill even with direct comparisons with Blue-winged Teal. They may be on the biggish end for Blue-winged Teal but not overly huge. However, scrolling through images on Macaulay Library you can find quite a range of variation in this feature in both species. 

Are Cinnamon Teal really this hard to pick out? Or are we just trying a bit hard here? Could these all be colour-stained Blue-winged Teal? Hybrids? The more I look at photos of Cinnamon Teal I wonder if the overall plumage colour is just a red herring! What does a hatch-year male Cinnamon Teal look like in September?

The whole point of writing this was to solicit opinions from people with experience separating the, please leave your comments below or on the Advanced Bird ID thread.

Thanks to Alvaro Jaramillo and Peter Pyle for really quick and thoughtful responses to my initial and follow-up questions. Thanks to Paul Prior, Mourad Jabra, Garry Sadler, Denise Dykema, and James Holdsworth for allowing me to post their photos here. Steve Charbonneau helped round up the photos. And thanks to all the interesting discussion on these birds I've already read - look forward to reading more!

Friday 19 June 2020

Promethea Moth love

As some of you know I have some lights up around my house for moths. This year, since I’m home all the time I’ve done more than usual and I’m also hoping to try rearing some caterpillars. The other day that I had a female Cecropia Moth and I kept her over night to see if she’d lay some eggs – she did and I’m patiently waiting for them to hatch.

Right now we’re in peak season for a lot of the big showy Giant Silkworm Moths and I had a female of another species, Promethea Moth show up at my light on Monday night:
Promethea Moth female (slightly bigger than a Monarch for size comparison)
So I captured her and put her in a paper bag overnight hoping for some eggs. She didn’t, so I gave her another night and still none, so I assumed she must not have mated yet. In most of the Giant Silk Moths, the females “call” by releasing pheromones to attract the males, which have an incredible ability to detect these pheromones from large distances (up to a kilometre!). In Promethea, the females call in a very specific time period between about four and six in the afternoon. So, the next day, I put her in a cardboard box with a screen lid. I checked on her several times but no males came. Yesterday, I did the same and was checking regularly…nothing. Then about 5:20 pm when I went outside there was a swarm of 5 or 6 males trying to get into the box! I lifted the lid and a male quickly flew in. Almost instantly she must have stopped calling because the other males dispersed very quickly.
Male Promethea Moth
Pair mating
After about 3.5 hours they uncoupled and the female laid a few eggs in the box. I let the male go and put her in a paper bag (easier to collect the eggs) and she laid some more eggs (total of about 34) by 10:30 pm when I let her go outside.
Promethea eggs
So, I’ve got some more eggs now that I’m hoping will hatch in a week or two! If you're curious about raising some yourself, I found this website which has some good info and photos:

Thursday 4 June 2020

Deluxe moth trap design

There's been a huge growth in interest in moths in Ontario over the last several years...the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America (by Ontario's David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie!!) is certainly a huge factor in that. But there are lots of other important factors, too: there's excellent photo recognition now on iNaturalist (where a lot of Ontario moth-ers are reporting their sightings), the Toronto Entomologists' Association has their moth atlas (and associated Moth's of Ontario iNaturalist project) and of course there are excellent online resources for ID, in the form of Moth Photographers Group and Bug Guide.

You can just leave a light on outside your house or go one step further and buy a specialized bulb and/or set up a white sheet. Or you can build a trap. There are many designs out there and they all are basically a big container with a light source over a funnel. The most effective live trap I have seen is the one that Mary Gartshore and Peter Carson use. I'm not sure if they came up with the design or not (might have come from Mike King and/or David Beadle), but they shared the details with me so I could make my own...and I'm going to share that with you here.

The whole trap costs about $50-100 depending on how/where you get your supplies. Plus you'll need cords and a bulb.

~18 gallon "Muck Bucket" - this is the base for the trap. They're sold mostly at hardware and feed stores. I got mine at a local agriculture supply store for about $25. Grainger Canada has them righ tnow for $18 online here.
18 gallon muck bucket
12 inch funnel. These are surprisingly hard to find. Phone around to brew your own beer or make your own wine stores. I ended up getting them at a wine store for about $10. These funnels are perfect because they're designed to sit over the mouth of a large bucket, so they have a small lip around the top edge.
12 inch funnel
Plexiglass. This is for the fins. You'll need two pieces that are about 11 x 11 inches each. I used 1/8 inch thick but 1/4 inch is recommended. I actually snapped my first piece the extra width will give you more strength especially as you weaken it with cutting. You can buy sheets at hardware stores and online on Amazon but you might be able to go to a local hardware store and ask if they have any scrap pieces big enough for you - that would be much cheaper (maybe even free).

Glass bowl. This is the rain cover and is optional if you don't plan on leaving your trap out in the rain ever, but I'd recommend it. Mary and Peter use a Pyrex #322 1 quart mixing bowl. I found something similar on Amazon for $5.

Light socket/cord. You can get this at any hardware store for a few bucks. The best is if you can find one with the cord/attachments coming off the side or off the bottom not perfectly in the centre because ideally you'll have it sitting flush along the bottom. I couldn't get in to a hardware store at the time so ordered this one from Amazon for $12. You can get the same thing off Amazon for much cheaper if you are going to order a few at a time. I was able to make this one work pretty well by unscrewing the plastic cover at the very bottom of the socket, giving a bit of flex to the cord right at the base. It wasn't perfect, but good enough.

Corrugated plastic: this is for the "lid" of the trap. The easiest thing is to find an old election sign but if you can't find one you can order them online from lots of places or you can check your local hardware and craft stores. You'll need a piece that's about 2 x 2 feet. (If you're local I have some extra sheets I could give you)
sheet of corrugated plastic
Margarine container and screen. This is for the drain and again could be omitted but is a good idea to include. I used some scrap window screen I had on hand (again, if you're local I can give you some).

Glue gun
Something for cutting plexi-glass. I used a dremel tool with a plastic cutting wheel, but you could use any number of other tools. Theoretically you could use an exacto knife but I think you'd end up  A band saw would probably be the easiest.

1. Cut your corrugated plastic for the lid. Basically, trace the top of the muck bucket and then add ~10 cm around it and cut that circle. Then you'll want to line up the handles and cut slits for them. Finally, trace the top of your funnel on the centre of the sheet. Then follow that line about 1 cm inside to create a slightly smaller circle (the exact width should be close the width of the lip on your funnel). All of this can be cut with a sharp exacto knife. You may have to do some small adjustments to make sure the funnel fits properly. Once you're finished, the lid should look something like this:

The "lid" - sheet of corrugated plastic cut to size/shape
2. Cut the narrow part off your funnel. I used my dremel tool for this but an exacto knife would work too. You want to cut it so you leave an opening about two inches across.Mine is two inches exactly and that's big enough to catch the biggest moths we have in Ontario - I caught Cecropia, Luna and several sphinxes in the first couple nights.
Funnel with narrow neck cut off
3. Next you will make your drain. Take your margarine container and cut most of the bottom out of it. Next, cut a circle of screen to cover the bottom of the container and use the glue gun to attach it. Then, cut a hole in the centre of the bottom of the muck bucket and glue your margarine container (face down) over this hole. This should be centred properly so any water that drips down your funnel will fall onto the screen and drain down. By having the screen portion elevated you'll prevent moisture from coming back up.
Margarine container with bottom cut out

drain cover installed

Another look at the drain. There's a hole right through

4. Now it's time for the fins. Peter was good enough to provide me with his pattern on one inch grid paper:
Designs for the fins. This is one inch grid paper
It fit my funnel pretty closely, but I did have to adjust the sides a bit so it would fit fairly snugly. I also had to widen the notches in the top to fit my glass bowl (mine was slightly wider than the one they use). As I mentioned previously, I used a dremel tool to cut the pattern and then used a sanding attachment on the tool to make some fine adjustments. Especially the narrow part at the bottom (where the light socket goes) you want to be quite exact to match the width as close to perfectly as possible.
The fins are cut and sitting together in the funnel
5. Now your fins are cut, fit them together and make sure the fit snuggly in the funnel. You might have to do some back-and-forth here with sanding and fitting until they fit nicely. It's also important to check that the bowl fits on the top now (in the recessed spot created by the notches). You also need to do the same for your light socket to make sure it will fit snuggly in place. Once you're happy with how it all fits, you can glue it with the glue gun, using a bead along each line the two sheets touch.

6. Once the glue is cooled, fit your light socket in place and glue it again with copious amounts. You can then assemble everything and it should look something like this:

Close-up of the light socket glued in place

The finished product.
7. Before you run it, don't forget to fill it with egg cartons so the moths have somewhere they can hide and feel safe once they're stuck inside. Don't block the drain.
The trap all set with egg cartons
In the morning you should have a trap full of moths to look at :)

Bulb: you can use any bulb you like. Mercury Vapor bulbs (like the one pictured above) are the favourite of most moth-ers, but are getting harder and harder to find. If you've got a good lead on a place to find them, please let me know! I've got a few left from an eBay order last year.

Once last tip: if you've got a dusk til dawn outdoor timer that's a handy way to save on energy.

Again, I'd like to thanks Peter Carson and Mary Gartshore for the design of this trap - without their help I'd still be using a much less effective trap.