Saturday, 1 December 2018

Something's Fishy

Last Sunday I did a bit of dipnetting in one of London's creeks. I only caught five fish before my net broke, but at least they were some cool ones!

Rosyface Shiner

Striped Shiner

Creek Chub

Central Stoneroller

Central Stoneroller

Saturday, 24 November 2018

A Long Week's Payoff (Calliope Hummingbird, Goderich)

Readers may be aware of Ontario's first ever record of Calliope Hummingbird that has been coming to a backyard in Goderich. It has apparently been coming to the feeder since October 18 (coincidentally the same day the Great Kiskadee in Rondeau was refound!), but birders really only knew about it when an ONTBIRDS message came through Monday night detailing its identification and instructions on how to see it! Glenn Coady was able to negotiate with the homeowner to allow for birders to come and view the bird from 9am-4pm from November 20 to November 25. Of course, I had school all week, so I had to wait a painful four days for the weekend to come! There were a couple scares throughout the week, especially when the nighttime temperatures dipped down to -20 on Wednesday night. However, it seemed against all odds, the hummer managed to pull through, and much to my relief was seen going to roost Friday night. Was my patience (if you can call it that) going to pay off?

We arrived at the home shortly before 9:00. A flock of Common Redpolls flew over, surprisingly my first ever for southern Ontario. Before long, we were told we could come back to the yard. The hummer had been seen that morning!

After a few minutes of restless waiting, he all of a sudden whizzed out of nowhere and went to the feeders. Everyone there was very happy!

As quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared. He has apparently developed a routine of coming back every 15-20 minutes or so after feeding, and today was no exception. After a bit of patience, he came back two more times during our time there, even perching in a tree for a short moment.

Thanks to the hospitality of the homeowners, well over 500 birders have been able to see the bird in the last four days or so, and I'm sure that number will continue to increase as the weekend progresses (tomorrow being the last day of viewing). [Edit: the final number of observers over the week of viewing totaled over 700 observers!]

On the way home, we stopped in Exeter, where we were pleased to find some of the famous white squirrels (colour morph of the Eastern Grey Squirrel). I have been wanting to see one for a long time, so was very pleased with the sighting!

Hard to believe December is almost here. I wonder what else will be in store for us as the season progresses?!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

A Quick Walk

This afternoon I went for a quick hike at Fanshawe Conservation Area. I had a hunch that something of note would be there.

It was actually pretty quiet, much quieter than I expected. One surprise was had when I came across this moth. Despite the cold and snow, it was active and flying around!

Bruce Spanworm Moth

One of the birds I as hoping to come across was Evening Grosbeak. My hard work paid off when I heard one call twice. Despite looking, I was unable to find it. It was likely a flyover.

I couldn't find my other target, Common Redpoll, but no doubt there will be more to come.

There always seems to be birds hanging around this one trail head, as they get fed there.

Downy Woodpecker

Blue Jay

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

There was also a Gray Catbird, which was a but of a surprise as it is getting a bit late. They are a hardy species, so it will be interesting to see if this bird attempts to overwinter.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Blast to the Past: A Six Year Old Discovers Migration

Recently I was able to find a SD card from an old Fisher Price toy camera I had when I younger. There were many images to go through, but on set in particular brought back some memories.

Back when I was six, my parents took me to go see the Tundra Swans at the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area. It was my first time seeing such a spectacle of birds, and my first time really seeing bird migration. I have gone back every year since then, making this past year the eighth consecutive year I have gone to see the swans. I would anxiously await the arrival of the swans each year, and I still do. To me, the arrival of Tundra Swans signals spring (we'll just ignore how I now know they overwinter!) It is funny how small things like that can influence how we may turn out later!

My photo skills were sightly lacking, but what do you expect for a cheap piece of plastic (that brought me lots of joy, such a cool thing for a first grader!)

My binoculars have certainly evolved over the years.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The East and the West

Last week two rarities were found in the province. One was a Common Eider in Toronto, and the other a Black-throated Grey Warbler in Burlington. Common Eiders, although they breed in far northern Ontario along the Hudson Bay coast, are quite rare in the south. They winter in the Maritimes (the east) but seldom make their way to the Great Lakes. Black-throated Grey Warblers are warblers from western North America (the west). Although they are the most common western warbler vagrant, they are still quite a treat to come across. Lucky for me, those two rarities stuck around until this past Saturday, when I planned to go and try to see them.

The first stop of the day was Humber Bay park in Toronto. We got there early (with my friend Ethan in tow), as the eider was known to head out further into the lake as the day progressed, It did not take us long to see her.

Some other waterfowl present included Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, and White-winged Scoters.

Long-tailed Duck

There was a lingering Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I don't get to see too many mockingbirds down where I live, or any for that matter, so seeing one was a treat (despite my Toronto friends laughing when I told them that)

We went to quickly check out Colonel Sam Park afterwards. Nothing really of note was found, but Red-necked Grebe and another mockingbird were highlights (I don't see many Red-necked Grebes either!)

Northern Mockingbird

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-necked Grebe

I saw a bunch of this plant, Oriental Bittersweet, on this day.

We went down to Burlington in hopes of spotting the Black-throated Grey Warbler. As soon as we arrived we saw a group of 25 people all looking in the same direction. We figured that was a good sign.

Within a couple minutes we saw our target bird.

After enjoying the warbler, we went out to see what other birds we could find. There was a lot of waterfowl on the bay.


Ring-billed Gull

Common Goldeneye



Carolina Wren

All three species of swans could be found.

Trumpeter Swans

Mute Swans

Tundra Swan

With all the bird feeders, there were plenty of fat squirrels.

We decided to try and see if we could get any better photos of the warbler before we left. Everyone else had left by that point, so when we found him again we had him to ourselves pretty much, there were a couple other people just arriving to enjoy it as well. It took some patience, and many failed photos due to the warbler hiding behind leaf (so many perfect shots ruined!), but we left with some photos we were very happy with!

Nothing like the feeling of seeing some good birds!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Grebe in the Grove

Some readers may be aware of the Western Grebe being seen in Bright's Grove, just north of Sarnia.

It was nowhere to be seen when we first arrived this afternoon. It was very windy and wavy, which certainly didn't help with visibility. Just as I was about to give up almost half and hour into my search, I spotted it for about a second way out on the lake.

It took a little while before I re-found it again, this time it was much closer.

Soon it swam even closer, to the end of the pier where I was standing.

It dove frequently.

Can you still see it?

Before today, I had never seen a Western Grebe before, so it was particularly exciting to see it. Not bad for an after school twitch!

Thursday, 25 October 2018

James Bay 2018: Part Eight, the Finale

This past summer I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the James Bay Shorebird Project on the coast of James Bay, north of Moosonee. For two weeks from August 13th to August 27th, I was stationed at Longridge Point, the most northern of the three survey sites in the project.

James Bay 2018:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

August 26, 2018

Our last full day on the James Bay coast.

We woke up to a very rainy last day. I decided to clean up the cabin a bit and start to pack up while I waited for the rain to hopefully stop. Thankfully, after a few hours, it did. I grabbed my camera and my scope and began my solo mission to Paskwatchi Point, which was probably my favourite spot in the whole study area. I planned to do a seawatch, after all, the previous day had been so successful!

There were a couple small mammals noted on the walk, including Meadow Vole and this Meadow Jumping Mouse. 

A couple kilometers later, I made it to the point. I set up my scope, and proceeded to check out the huge flock of Bonaparte's Gulls.

The Sabine's was nowhere to be seen, but I found a couple Little Gulls. One was an adult, with the (almost) full hood and black underwings.

And the other was this juvenile. Not the best photos due to a number of factors, but still really cool!

There was a fairly large number of Common Terns as well.

After a bit, I gave up on my seawatch, and turned my attention to the shorebirds. I spent a couple of hours watching the birds feeding mere feet away from me in the wrack. It was super cool to see how they interacted with one another. One such instance that really stood out was the interaction between an adult and a juvenile Semipalmated Plover. My photos don't truly convey the drama that was going on, but I think you sort of get the picture!

Semi Plovers are one of the cutest shorebirds if I do say.

Also feeding in the wrack were a number of Sanderlings.

Ruddy Turnstones also worked the seaweed. Both adults and juveniles were present. 

Hudsonian Godwits were also feeding relatively close.

After awhile, I decided to get up and go wander around the flats beside the point to see what was around. White-rumped Sandpipers were numerous. This one in particular was cooperative.

White-rumped Sandpipers are named for, you guess it, their white rump! This field mark is easily visible in flight.

While looking at the above White-rumped, this Black-bellied Plover flew by. They can be identified easily in flight by their black "armpits".

In flight, Hudsonian Godwits show black under their wings. I made it my mission to try and capture some in flight photos, especially ones showing this field mark. After a few failed attempts, I got some photos that I am happy with!

There were five Baird's Sandpipers at Paskwatchi. It was an incredible Baird's day, with something like 38 found throughout the site! We had a Baird's, usually multiple, on almost every survey.

After a while, the Red Knots started to fly in. This was likely due to the tide.

Not huge numbers, but there were some individuals that allowed for close study.

I had a couple Whimbrel fly past during my time at Paskwatchi. They are often heard before they are seen!

Waterfowl-wise, a small group of Snow Geese flew over, as well as some Canada Geese and Northern Pintails. Pintails are one of the most common dabbling ducks up there at that time of year.

Snow Geese

Northern Pintail

Another Hudwit picture. My camera seemed to like them a lot (with good reason!)

Here are some miscellaneous shorebird pictures that I liked.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Ruddy Turnstone

Lesser Yellowlegs


White-rumped Sandpiper

Ruddy Turnstone

Before I knew it, it was almost dinner time, and I had to start heading back to camp. The final day on the coast was coming to a close.

For the first time in two weeks, I paused to watch the sunset. It would the last one I'd see from where I was for awhile.

August 27, 2018

We woke up just before 7:00, about two hours before the helicopter was scheduled to pick us up.

We finished packing and cleaning up our cabin, then put our stuff out my where the helicopter would land. Time passes super weird up there. It felt like we had all the time in the world to enjoy everything that there was to offer, but now, with less than an hour left at camp, we all realized just how fast it went. It seemed like just yesterday we had been at the airport in Moosonee loading our gear into the helicopter, and eagerly awaiting arriving on the coast.

My "last" bird of the trip was a LeConte's Sparrow. Very fitting, considering it was how I started this great adventure.

It wasn't too long before off in the distance we heard the helicopter. It soon cleared the tree line, and it made it's way to land in the marsh.

I was on the first flight out (we made two flights, the guys got to go on the second one. Of course, as soon as I left they had a Bohemian Waxwing, which would have been a lifer for me!). After saying good-bye to everyone who was going to be sticking around for the final session, the pilot revved up the helicopter, and we were off.

The pilot was nice enough to swing around camp and few times.

Longridge Point and West Bay

Longridge base camp

We took the scenic route back along the coast. The study site seemed so large, however from the air you can really see it is just a very small component in the whole landscape.

Soon, we reached the mighty Moose River.

And not too long after that, civilization.

We managed to get on the train that evening.

At 10pm, we pulled into Cochrane. Southern Ontario. Our northern adventure had come to an end.

Volunteering for the James Bay Shorebird Project was one of the coolest things I have ever done. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to see a part of Ontario that very few will ever have the chance to see. It has definitely made me a better birder, and a better overall naturalist.

I will be back.