Wednesday 31 January 2018

Tuesday Tuft and Other Stuff

Yesterday my Dad and I went to the Burlington/Hamilton area in search of waterfowl, namely the rare waterfowl that had been seen in the area recently.

I noticed a couple interesting birds on the way to Hamilton, including a Common Raven (uncommon this far south) and my first Turkey Vulture of the year! The vulture caught me off guard, but it is no doubt one of the ones that overwinter in the Hamilton area.

We first visited Spencer Smith Park, where a Ross's Goose had been found the day before. Within 30 seconds, I had found this tiny white goose snoozing with some Mallards.

Eventually the goose got up, walked around a little bit, then went back to sleep.

Next stop was the lift bridge and canal on the Hamilton/Halton county border. I found the resident Peregrine Falcons right away.

There were also a number of ducks such as scaup, Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Scoters, and Common Goldeneyes present in the canal.

White-winged Scoter

I walked to where the canal opens up into the bay and decided to do a little bit of scoping to see what was out there. Within five minutes of looking, a scaup caught my eye. When the scaup turned broadside I realized that it was no was a TUFTED DUCK.

Needless to say, I sort of lost my mind because I wasn't expecting to see the Tufted, as it it hadn't been reported since Saturday. I called my friend Owen right away to get the word out. After I got Owen and my other friend Ethan (who has a blog by the way) to post the sighting, I went back to my scope and tried to find it again....turns out ducks can swim.

After all that excitement I realized something...I didn't photograph the bird. Dang it!

Next, I went over to the Halton side of the canal in search of the female Harlequin Duck that has been hanging around. I found a few other things such as more scoters and a Mute Swan along the way.

Mute Swan

It wasn't long before I found the Harlequin Duck beside the pier. I hadn't seen a Harlequin since 2016, so this was a treat!

I stopped in quickly to Windermere basin just to scope out the ducks there. There were plenty of Mallards, along with lesser numbers of Bufflehead, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Gadwall, and Ruddy Duck.

flyover Gadwall

Northern Shoveler

Plenty of Double-crested Cormorants were also around.

Green Road was the last stop, and I was in search of King Eiders. I found a female shortly after being there, later ending up with two females and two first winter males. All the ducks were very far away, so this is my best pic (highly cropped).

All three species of scoters were also present, including my first ever adult male Black Scoter.

Surf Scoter

It's not often I see all my target species, and then some! A very good day, and I can't wait until I get back out!

Saturday 27 January 2018

Some Sarnia Stuff

Today was the annual Nature London outing to the Sarnia and St. Clair region. I would say today's outing has been of my better days birding in the area!

We started off the day with a nice male Snowy Owl just outside of London.

It was fairly quiet on the drive to Sarnia, however we picked up Snow Bunting (my first of 2018...finally!), Brown-headed Cowbird, Horned Lark,  and Northern Harrier. Closer to Sarnia we checked out a creek along the road, which revealed Mallards, Common Mergansers, Northern Pintail, American Black Ducks, and a Gadwall.

Next stop, Wawanosh Wetlands! Just before leaving the car, I glanced at my camera. I decided against bringing it because I reasoned we wouldn't come across anything worth photographing. About five minutes later I regretted that decision...

We were happily looking at Canada Geese and Herring Gulls when I heard a high-pitched honk. I looked up, and saw a large flock of geese flying 50 feet overhead. It took me a moment to realize that I was looking at GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE!

The group was treated to great views of the geese, although they were gone almost as fast as they had arrived. I texted Blake Mann about the sighting, and he was able to later track down the flock just north of Wawanosh. He also managed some photos!

Next stop was Canatara Park, where we promptly saw Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Black-capped Chickadee. There were also some goats.

I was playing around with some filters, and I thought this turned out good.

Onto to the beach! We found Greater Scaup, Redhead, Canvasbacks, Long-tailed Ducks, Bufflehead, and a White-winged Scoter.

Greater Scaup

White-winged Scoter

Common Goldeneye

Further down we got on a distant eagle, which turned out to be a Golden Eagle!

Golden Eagle

We headed to the marina, where we managed to see tons of gulls, including Great-black Backed, Glaucous, Iceland, Herring, and Ring-billed.

Plenty of ducks were out on the bay as well, including Common Mergansers, Redhead, Canvasback, scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, American Black Duck, and Bufflehead.

American Black Duck

This male Wood Duck has been hanging around for a while. I heard it long before I saw it!

We drove down the St. Clair towards Sombra, stopping along the way whenever we saw something interesting. Redheads numbered in the thousands, and Canvasbacks and Long-tailed Ducks could also be found in the hundreds. We found a few other ducks in smaller numbers such as Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, and Common Goldeneye.


Common Merganser


Mute Swan

Long-tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye

On the way back home, we saw a few raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks. We also happened across five Snowy Owls within 10 minutes!

I'm off for exams this week...I'm sure I'll be out again soon!

Sunday 21 January 2018

Townsend's Twitch

This morning my alarm went off at 5:45 am, I woke up my dad, and then we were on the road towards Dufferin county. Our target today was the Townsend's Solitaire (TOSO) that has been frequenting the area. TOSO are birds of the western half of North America, however they are regular vagrants to the east. In the past few years, TOSO sightings have been increasing in Ontario, and they were recently removed from the Ontario review list (They still are quite rare though!)

The first bird of the day came shortly after the sun starting rising. It was a Snowy Owl! Soon after, I spotted another one. Ten minutes later we spotted four more! By the end of the day, we tallied seven Snowy Owls.

We arrived at the location around twenty to nine, and was surprised to find that my friend and fellow young birder Owen and his father were already there. It wasn't long until we spotted something in a fruit tree...could it be?

Nope! It was a Cedar Waxwing, Owen's first for the year.

After about another 40 minutes of searching, we heard what we thought was the solitaire calling, however we couldn't be certain. The possibility of the bird being in the immediate area gave us hope!

Some Red Squirrels gave us a scare whenever they moved in the tops of trees!

Owen and I went down to explore a creek further down the road, and we found numerous Pine Siskins, which was exciting. However, we didn't get too far as Owen's dad called him saying they had eyes on the Townsend's!!!

We ran back to the road (we had been bushwhacking), then sprinted to the others. By the time we got there however, we were told the solitaire had flown off...darn!

A few minutes later, both Owen and I caught a one second glimpse of the bird when it flew across the road, however we lost it after that. We were determined to get photos and a better look at the bird, so we stuck around hoping it would pop out. Owen had a hunch that the bird was along the tree line, so he went to check it out, while I stayed with the rest of the group and waited to see if it would come back. I don't know what possessed me to turn around, but I'm sure glad I did, because I found the solitaire on a fence post behind one of the houses!

In the excitement, I somehow set my camera to a 10 second delay, so I only was able to fire off one horrible shot of the bird's rear end before it flew away. I was actually so excited, I forgot how to use the camera, and it took me a solid minute to remember how to get it back to taking continuous shots!

Thankfully, we found the solitaire on another part of the fence further down, where I was able to get some "better" shots. It's a miracle I got any photos at all, as I was shaking so much from excitement I was unable to focus half the time!

We were all very happy with seeing that bird, my first lifer and provincial rarity of 2018!

Just as we were about to leave, this group of Cedar Waxwings flew in.

Owen and I went an checked out 8th Line, which has had some decent sightings as of late. The only "good" thing we could find were three Ring-necked Pheasants. Also of note was an adult male American Goldfinch in what appeared to be breeding plumage. Spring is coming ;-)

All in all, a very good day! It was certainly worth the two hour drive!

Thursday 18 January 2018

To See 300 Birds in Ontario (in a Year)

When it comes to year listing in Ontario, 300 is THE magic number. On average, there are 340-350 species spotted each year in the province, so seeing 300 means you have to be on top of your game. In light of my friends Jeremy and Tim's Big Years, it got me thinking about year lists. In addition, I later heard that this year, 2018, has been dubbed the "Year of the Bird" by National Geographic, in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty. That sealed it. I decided to undertake the challenge of spotting 300 species of birds in Ontario this year. For a high school student without a driver's license, this may prove to be challenging. However, I am sure with the support of my family and friends, and tad bit of luck and strategy, I should be able to reach my goal, or at least come close to it!

So, how does one go about seeing 300 species in Ontario? Each year, there are about 300 regularly occurring species in Ontario, so as long as I can catch up with most of them, along with a few rarities, 300 is an attainable goal. I have grouped birds together by family and evaluated their status in Ontario to better understand what species that will be "easy" and which ones will require additional effort and carefully planned trips.

Ducks, Geese, and Swans

There 47 species of waterfowl on the Ontario checklist, 38 of which are regularly occurring. Most are fairly widespread and shouldn't prove to be a challenge, however there are a few which will be harder to see such as Greater White-fronted Goose, Ross's Goose, Brant, Eurasian Wigeon, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, and Barrow's Goldeneye.


There are 10 species of gamebirds on the Ontario checklist, all of which can typically be found somewhere in the province at some point in the year (origin may be questionable). Obviously I can't go to all corners of the province looking for them, but I do believe with enough effort, 7 can be found. Some of the harder ones to locate will be Gray Partridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Bobwhite (if there are even any left), and Spruce Grouse (technically should be easy, but I beg to differ!).


Five species make up the Ontario grebe list, all of which can be found at least once most years. Three are super easy, while Eared Grebe and Western Grebe require a bit more effort.

Pigeons and Doves

Eight species have been recorded in Ontario. One of those species will be impossible, the Passenger Pigeon, for obvious reasons. In total, there are two species that will be easy (Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon). Based on the past few years, the likelihood of me coming across at least one additional species is great. The most likely rarities are Eurasian Collared-Dove and White-winged Dove, the latter which will hopefully take up residence in Rondeau again.

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Guelph, July 2016)


There are two species of cuckoos in Ontario, and as long as I go birding enough in the correct habitat, both should be easy to see.


Five species can be found on the Ontario list. Two are regular migrants and breeders, while a third has recently been found somewhat reliably in the province in one location (Chuck-wills-widow).


There are three species of swifts on the Ontario list. Two are rare vagrants, so that leaves me with one, the Chimney Swift, to try and find (thankfully, they are easy to locate!)


Six species have been recorded in Ontario, all of, except one, are rare vagrants. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very easy to find in Ontario, so that won't be an issue. In the extreme case we have another hummingbird species in 2018, it will likely be a Rufous Hummingbird.

Rails, Gallinules, and Coots

Eight species of rails, gallinules and coots are on the Ontario list. Six or seven are regularly found in Ontario. In my case, around five or six would be possible. The harder ones to come across will be Yellow Rail and King Rail, both of which breed in select areas of Ontario.


Two species of cranes have been recorded in Ontario. Sandhill Cranes are regular migrants and breeders, while Whooping Cranes are very rare migrants. I am most likely to only come across Sandhills in 2018.


There have been 52 species of shorebirds recorded in Ontario. Around 35 are found on a regular basis in Ontario each year. Many of these are common to uncommon migrants and breeders which should be found pretty easily if I bird the right habitat at the right time if year. Of some of the regular shorebirds in Ontario the following will be among the hardest to track down; Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Ruff (assuming they show up!), Purple Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, and Red Phalarope.

Black-necked Stilt (Tilbury, April 2017)


Three species of jaegers are found in Ontario each year, and with enough luck, I should be able to see all of them.


Seven species from this family have been recorded in Ontario. I personally don't expect to see any in Ontario this year, but I do expect at least one species to occur in 2018.

Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers

34 species have been recorded in Ontario, 16 of which regularly occur in Ontario. Many are easy to find in the right place, however will require a little extra effort to see such as Franklin's Gull (summer territory in Rainy River), Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Arctic Tern. Gulls are also pretty famous for showing up in weird places, so I am also expecting a few vagrants such as Black-headed Gull and Laughing Gull to show up.


Four species of loons have been spotted in Ontario, three of which are regular breeders and migrants. Common Loons will be easy, whereas Red-throated and Pacific Loons will require a bit more effort to spot.

Albatrosses, Shearwaters, Petrels, and Storm-Petrels

Amazingly, 10 species from these families have been spotted in Ontario. As with the alcids, I don't expect to see any of these birds this year. If I do happen to be extremely lucky and spot one, it will most likely be a Manx Shearwater, which has a history of showing up occasionally.


One species has been spotted in Ontario, the Wood Stork. This is a bird that I don't expect to show up in 2018, but the chance is always there! The last time one showed up was actually six months ago in Point Pelee, but the time between that bird and the last one was 16 years!

Frigatebirds, Gannets, Cormorants, and Darters

Seven species have been recorded in Ontario, only one of which is regular, the Double-crested Cormorant. In recent years Neotropic Cormorants have become semi-regular, so it is a possibility. Anhigna and Magnificent Frigatebird would be very rare, but are a possibility of the weather is right.


Two species of pelicans have been recorded in Ontario. American White Pelican will be common and easy in the correct location (Rainy River, recently Pelee area), whereas Brown Pelican is a rare vagrant from the ocean coastline of further south.

Herons, Bitterns, Ibises, and Spoonbills

16 species have occurred in Ontario, and about 8 occur with regularity in a year. Of the regular species, Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret will prove hardest to come across. Rarer species that are a possibility include Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, and White-faced Ibis. What species of rarities show up, and how many, will depend on the condition of the habitat in their normal range.

Cattle Egret (Blenheim, October 2016)

Vultures, Osprey, Hawks, Kites, and Eagles

17 species have been seen in Ontario, 14 of which show up on the regular. I should be able to catch up with 12 species reasonably easily, while Black Vulture and Swainson's Hawk may prove more difficult. While Black Vultures are regularly seen in Niagara, seeing one on the Canadian side will be the challenge!


12 species of owls have been spotted in Ontario. All of the recorded ones breed except for Snowy Owl (regular winter visitor), and Burrowing Owl (very rare vagrant). With enough effort (and luck), I should be able to observe 10 species this year, however I will only have one or two chances throughout the year for certain species (assuming I can even make the trip due to a whole bunch of other factors). Some of the species that will be hardest to find include Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl. Of course, every species will be difficult in it's own right...except Snowy...I have already seen one this year! :-)


Only one species, the common Belted Kingfisher, makes up the Ontario kingfisher list.


10 species have been spotted in Ontario. I should have a shot at 9 species (Lewis's Woodpecker is a very rare vagrant), with all but two being easy. Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers will require a winter trip up north.

Caracaras and Falcons

Six species have been recorded in Ontario, three of which will be easy (Peregrine, Kestrel, and Merlin), one of which will be unlikely (Gyrfalcon), and two of which are very, very unlikely (Prairie Falcon and Crested Caracara)....heck, throw in one more "very" for the caracara.


25 species of flycatchers have been seen in Ontario, 11 of which breed, and one which is a regular spring/early summer rarity (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher). 10 of the regular breeders will be pretty easy to find. Western Kingbird is breeder that is a rarity here in southern Ontario, but it may be possibly found in the Rainy River area.


Two species make up the Ontario shrike list, the Northern Shrike that is an uncommon winter visitor to southern Ontario, and the Loggerhead Shrike, a breeder that can be regularly found at a few sites.


9 species have been recorded in Ontario, 6 of which are regular migrants. 4 are easy to see in a single day during spring migration, while the other 2 will require a little bit of extra effort (Yellow-throated and White-eyed).

Crows and Jays

8 species have been found in Ontario, 6 of which are found regularly on Ontario. Three will be easily found, and three (Gray Jay, Black-billed Magpie, and Fish Crows) will be reasonably easy with enough effort.


Only one species, the Horned Lark, is found in Ontario. This species if very easy to find.


8 species of swallows have spotted in Ontario. 6 are regularly found in Ontario, and they all are fairly easy to find. One species, the Cave Swallow, is a semi-regular vagrant in late October to early November.

Chickadees and Titmice

Four species are found in Ontario, three of which are regular in Ontario. Tufted Titmouse and Black-capped Chickadee are very easy to find, whereas Boreal Chickadee will require a bit more effort.


Two species of nuthatches are found in Ontario, both of which are very common in Ontario.


One species, the Brown Creeper, is found in Ontario. This species is very easy to find.


Seven species of wrens have been recorded in Ontario, five of which are regular. None of the species should cause an issue when it comes to locating them.


The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a common migrant and breeder, and is the only species of gnatcatcher in Ontario.


Two species of kinglets, the Golden-crowned and the Ruby-crowned, are found in Ontario. Both are very common.


Thirteen species of thrushes have been seen in Ontario. Seven of these are regular migrants and breeders, all of which are common enough to easily be found. Three additional species, the Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, and Varied Thrush are prone to vagrancy, and often will show up in Ontario during the fall and winter months.

Mountain Bluebird (Waterloo, November 2017)

Mockingbirds and Thrashers

Four species have been recorded in Ontario, three of which are regular and should present no issue.


Only one species, the European Starling has been recorded in Ontario. This species is common.


Two species have been recorded in Ontario, the Cedar Waxwing and the Bohemian Waxwing, both of which are common enough to be seen this year.

Old World Sparrows

Two species of old world sparrows have been seen in Ontario, the House Sparrow and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. House Sparrows are very common, while Eurasian Tree Sparrows are a very rare vagrant.


Two species of pipits have been recorded in Ontario, one of which, the American Pipit, is a common migrant and will be easily found.


Fourteen finch species have been recorded in Ontario, ten of which are regular to Ontario. Seven of those species should be relatively easy to spot, while the other three, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, and Hoary Redpoll will be harder to see. While those three show up in traditional locations each winter, it is a matter of me making it to those locations at the right time!

Pine Grosbeak (Algonquin, February 2017)

Longspurs and Snow Buntings

Five of these species have been recorded in Ontario, two of which are regular winter visitors, and one, the Smith's Longspur, is a breeder of extreme northern Ontario, but it a rare vagrant in southern Ontario during migration.

Wood Warblers

Forty-four warblers have been sighted in Ontario. On average, somewhere around 36-38 species are seen during the average year. 35 are regular migrants or breeders. Louisiana Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Kirtland's Warbler, Cerulean Warbler,  and Prairie Warbler will likely prove to be the hardest of the regular warblers just due to either they have very specialized breeding habitat that may be remote, or their window of migration is very small. Each year there are typically a couple vagrants or spring overshoots, the most likely being Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler.


Twenty-nine sparrow species have been seen in Ontario, twenty one of which are regular. Fifteen of those species will be very easy to find, the remaining six (Lark Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, and Harris's Sparrow) will require a bit more effort and some luck.

Yellow-breasted Chats

Only one species, the Yellow-breasted Chat, has been recorded in Ontario. This species can be hard to find, however if one was to put in enough time during the spring, at least one should be found.

Cardinals and Allies

Thirteen species have been spotted in Ontario, six of which are regular. Of those six, only Summer Tanager may cause an issue, as there is only a small window during spring migration of which I will be able to "easily" see this bird.


Fifteen species have occurred in Ontario, eleven of which are regular. Yellow-headed Blackbird and Western Meadowlark will prove to be the most difficult because they are only found in a few locations in Ontario (though the Yellow-headed is prone to vagrancy).

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Mitchell, August 2017)

As you may have noticed, I haven't really mentioned many rarities. Dozens of rarities show up in Ontario each year, many of which are completely unexpected (Wood Stork, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Townsend's Warbler in 2017 for example). I hope to come across a healthy number of them this year, which should, ideally, make up for any of the "regular" species that I miss.

In the end, 300 is a nice idea, but when it comes down to it, I just hope to travel to some new places, see some cool birds and met some new people (and spend more time with old friends!)

I think if anything this year, I will become a better birder, not only with identifications, but on gathering a deeper understanding of the species themselves. Things such as a knowledge on the status and distribution of the species are almost necessarily to not only see, but appreciate, the birds I will encounter over the next year.

Of course, my endeavour over the next year depends on three things...luck, weather, and support from my family. The last one is the most important because as a 14 year old kid, I can't exactly drive and ultimately financially support an entire year of birding. Heck, I would go broke after the first twitch (which is in the works by the way...those who follow the Ontario rarity scene  might know what I am scheming!)

So there you go....2018 is going to be one very fun and hectic year!

I should go study for exams...

Sunday 14 January 2018

Seeds and Sparrows

This afternoon I went back to Fanshawe Conservation Area with my aunt. We didn't go back on any of the trails, so no interesting mammal sightings today, but we still saw some awesome stuff!

We started out feeding the Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Yesterday we forgot to bring some seeds, but today we remembered! About 20 chickadees came in right away!

We wandered around a bit before heading back to the parking lot to get picked up by my grandfather. While waiting, I noticed a flurry of activity near a trailhead. I went over to check it out, and was pleased to see numerous tree sparrows, juncos and cardinals.

While photographing some of the Dark-eyed Juncos, I noticed a larger, sparrow-like bird. It was a Fox Sparrow, which is an uncommon winter visitor in Middlesex!

I also found a couple White-throated Sparrows, which are my first for the year.

It was a great finish to an otherwise quiet outing. Time for school again!