Monday 31 December 2018

2018: A Year in Review

It has been quite the year.

Highlights were very numerous this year, I barely know where to start! I guess I'll go through a few in chronological order...

There was some great birding on the Thames River this January. Lots of interesting ducks, including this American Wigeon.

Later in the month I went to Hamilton, where I saw some great ducks like King Eider, Tufted Duck, and this female Harlequin Duck.

Blackbirds came back in mid-February, which is always a highlight. Spring was coming!

A bit later in the month, and we went down to Chatham-Kent in search of some migrants. This Snowy Owl posed perfectly.

I saw my first ever blue morph of the Snow Goose at Aylmer in March.

A highlight for many was a Barnacle Goose during March Break.

In late March I joined some fellow young birders and we spent a weekend birding in Algonquin Park. Tons of finches, and an American Marten was a welcome treat.

White-winged Crossbill

This American Bittern was a cool find in my local patch. I had been just thinking about the possibility of finding a bittern in the marsh, and when I turned the corner, there it was standing in the pathway!

WOOHOO!!!! After many attempts spanning four years, I finally caught up with the White-winged Dove in Rondeau!

A Prothonotary Warbler in London was a great bird for the county, and was strangely my only Prothonotary Warbler this year!

 Highlights from my big day on May 5th, where I spent the day birding in London, Rondeau, and Point Pelee (it was a long day!) I saw four birds I had never seen prior!

Summer Tanager

Long-billed Dowitcher

Louisiana Waterthrush 

Kentucky Warbler

Another fun find in my neighborhood was a White-eyed Vireo. Quite unexpected, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it!

I did another big day in Point Pelee with some friends of mine a week later.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

I headed up to the Bruce Peninsula in late May with Nature London. I am now realizing I never actually got around to doing a blog post on that weekend, I was just too busy with school!


Soon, June rolled around, which is when I started to seriously use iNaturalist. iNat has made me a way better all around naturalist than I was before. The reason for me taking up iNat (again) was for a little competition with some friends to see who could tally the most non-bird species in Ontario. I was expecting to maybe hit 500 between the ~10 of us. Amazingly, in virtually only half a year, we managed to hit over 2200 species! We had so much fun, we are going to be doing it again in the coming year (this time with birds). Looking forward to scrutinizing some more moss and lichens...

You can view the 2018 project here, and the 2019 project here.

I saw some cool butterflies during June and early July.

Hackberry Emperor

Bog Copper

Common Sootywing

 A trip down to Windsor in July proved successful for Dukes' Skipper.

Probably one of my biggest undertakings as a naturalist this year was mothing. Very daunting at first, but the struggle is totally worth it. I did the majority of it in my yard, and ended up with around 260 species in my yard over the summer! You can view the list here...I was a bit of a newbie so likely some misidentifications!

Twin-spotted Sphinx

For the first time ever, I planned a trip specifically for odes in early August, and was rewarded with some goodies, probably my favourite being Comet Darner.

Dusky Dancer

Zebra Clubtail

 This Little Blue Heron showed up not to far from home, so I went and saw it.

My wildest adventure of the year took up the bulk of August, when I went with the James Bay Shorebird Project to survey shorebirds on the James Bay coast. Honestly a life changing experience.

American Toad

LeConte's Sparrow

White-rumped Sandpiper

A Swallow-tailed Kite in Ontario, how can that NOT be a highlight? And to think, the previous morning I had been watching LeConte's Sparrows on their breeding grounds...

My first of three Ontario first records I saw (not found ☹️) this year was the Reddish Egret in Oliphant on the Bruce Peninsula in early September. Also seen on this trip were numerous darners, including a Green-striped Darner.

A two-for-one kinda day. The day after the Reddish Egret, we went down to see the Purple Gallinule in Kingsville, stopping into Keith McLean's near Rondeau for the Snowy Egret.

Snowy Egret

Purple Gallinule

This Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Haldimand county came a day after the gallinule, a very busy weekend!

For me, the best bird of the year was the Great Kiskadee in Rondeau, a first record for Ontario and Canada. My 300th Ontario bird! I hitched a ride with some friends on the day it was found, and we arrived after dark. We camped that night in the park, and got to the stakeout before sunrise the next day. After a long hour, it came out from its roost. The bird entertained hundreds, maybe even thousands, of birders over the next few months. I wasn't entirely sure if I was in Texas or Ontario for about a week there in September, as within a seven day span I had seen Reddish Egret, Snowy Egret, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and Great Kiskadee!

 In mid-November, I caught up with the Western Grebe in Bright's Grove near Sarnia.

A couple days later, I saw a Common Eider in Toronto and a Black-throated Grey Warbler in Burlington.

Common Eider

Black-throated Grey Warbler

Yet another Ontario first was the famous Calliope Hummingbird in Goderich. I had to wait a very long five days before I could go see it. Miraculously, it appears the bird fueled up and migrated!

And there you go, a small selection of the many, many highlights and stories from the year.

Thanks to all who made my adventures this year possible, especially my family, who despite not always wanting to, was there to drive me around. They also let me go off on my own (with others of course) to a very remote part of Ontario for a couple weeks, so that was pretty cool too :)

All the best in the new year. 2019 is going to be a great year!!!

Sunday 30 December 2018


As many readers may know, we are in the midst of a finch irruption year, where many northern finches have been irrupting southward in search  of food.

Pretty much all of them have avoided me like the plague. 

I have gotten lucky and have had an Evening Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill this fall, but pretty much nothing else of interest. Even Common Redpolls, which have been passing through in the thousands, have managed to elude me, and I was starting to feel like the only person to have NOT seen some. Try as I might, I could not hear their "Chit-Chit-Chit" call as they flew overhead!

On a whim, I went out today in hopes of crossing paths with some. I wasn't sure exactly where to go, but I figured west of London out near Strathroy seemed like a good spot.

Lots of Snow Buntings were around, which was nice to see, as I haven't seen any since March! There were very few of these birds around last year.

We completed a loop with no luck, and started on our way back. About ten minutes later I spied a flock of small birds fly up from a field ad into a tree. STOP THE CAR!

My suspicions were confirmed.

Common Redpolls

They eventually flew closer. A nice end to the year!

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Ontario's Next 25 Birds: Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote part 1 of what I thought the next 25 birds for the Ontario checklists were to be. I will now detail my top 10 picks, and a few honourable mentions!

10. Sooty Shearwater

Common off the Atlantic coast, with records all the way up to the far reaches of Nunavut, this is a record just waiting to happen...for those willing to venture far to get it. There is actually a Short-tailed/Sooty Shearwater from Ontario up in James Bay, which makes me think, once again, that may be your place to see one. Short-tailed and Sooty are hard to separate though, so good photos would be a must.

When: October or November, maybe following a weather event?
Where: Southern James Bay, though possibly Hamilton (Van Wagners)

9. Allen's Hummingbird

Sort of an overdue hummingbird! There are numerous records all over eastern North America. Ohio has had a record, and Pennsylvania just had it's fourth this year.  This species is hard to separate from Rufous Hummingbird, and a high quality photo of the spread tail would be needed to ID it. The species will likely show up when a supposed "Rufous" is banded and the measurements turn out to be a Allen's.

When: October
Where: Somewhere with a hummingbird feeder

8. Hammond's Flycatcher

Several records from New England, Wisconsin just got one. We have Dusky Flycatcher, we have Gray Flycatcher. This just makes sense. It would require a good look and photos to ID. Just be sure to check out all late empids!

When: October or November (December?)
Where: Somewhere is southern Ontario, but maybe banded somewhere in the north...

7. Northern Lapwing

Also a tad surprising. Somewhat annual or bi-annual on the Atlantic coast. Probably some sort of weather system will push it into Ontario. Not much to say about this than make sure to check out fields with some Killdeer running around.

When: April/May and December/January
Where: Random field in southern Ontario, probably near a birding hub if a spring bird. Not sure about James Bay potential, but hey, that is always there

6. Red-necked Stint

Annual on the Atlantic coast, the closest record to Ontario is one in Indiana. This species is very likely just overlooked, although once you know what to look for, they should (maybe) stand out a bit. They have likely been up on the James Bay coastline, but coming from someone who was lucky enough to go up there, it would be very difficult to pick out a rarity due to the conditions and sheer amount of little peeps running around. This species was once on the Ontario list, but was later removed.

When: May or July/August/September
Where: Sewage lagoon in southern Ontario or James Bay

5. White-tailed Kite

We have Mississippi Kite, we have Swallow-tailed Kite, so where is our White-tailed Kite? This species is prone to some vagrancy, with records from Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York to name a few. Will likely be found by some hawkwatchers, or as a surprise bird flying over the heads of unsuspecting birders at the Tip of Point Pelee.

When: May
Where: One of those traditional funnels in Lake Erie

This is a juv, adult more likely?

4. Bar-tailed Godwit

Prone to some vagrancy, with records up and down the Atlantic coast, and some inland records as well. Look for a Hudsonian Godwit with white underwings! While I think this bird could be found down here in southern Ontario, our best bet may to keep scanning the Hudwit flocks up on the James Bay coast.

When: May or July/August
Where: James Bay or a sewage pond in southern Ontario

3. Hepatic Tanager

As crazy as it sounds, I believe Ontario is due for a Hepatic Tanager. There are two records for Northern Michigan, and one for Quebec and Saskatchewan. I have no clue what weather events would effect it, but many birds like to wander. Hard to say for sure how one will be found. Likely either banded (Long Point, Thunder Cape) or coming to a feeder somewhere Here are a couple lovely examples:

It just has that "weird factor"

When: October or November
Where: North shore of Lake Superior most likely, but somewhere on Lake Erie would make sense

2. Glaucous-winged Gull

With records from New Hampshire, Minnesota, Michigan, Newfoundland, Illinois and Wisconsin, it is only a matter of time before one is detected here. There may be an observer bias, as I know many people don't like to tackle those messy Larus subadults. Hybrids would also have to be taken into consideration. I can find four records of Glacous-winged/Herring Gull hybrids in Ontario. Nevertheless, keep and eye out at your local landfill!

When: November-April, Michigan bird was in May
Where: Anywhere in the Great Lakes region (emphasis on Niagara and Toronto region), Eastern Ontario, northern Ontario someplace (Sault Ste. Marie? Thunder Bay?) and of course, the good ol' James Bay potential

1. Clark's Grebe

My pick for the most overdue bird is Clark's Grebe. Sure, there are limited records for eastern North America, but just look at this bird. Just on the wrong side of the border. It was very likely in Ontario at some point! In addition, I can find about 10 records of Aechmophorus sp. (Western Grebe/Clark's Grebe) from Ontario, meaning they weren't identified to species. These two species can be hard to separate without good enough looks, and hybridization exists. Just west of Ontario, in Manitoba, this species becomes much more common.

When: Late February/March in southern Ontario, May to early June in northwest
Where: Lake Ontario, maybe Huron. Later in the spring, Rainy River and Kenora districts, likely in a sewage lagoon or marsh.

Some birds I had on my "shortlist" but decided to cut include Boat-tailed Grackle, Yellow-legged Gull, Western Gull, South Polar Skua, Temminck's Stint, Bronzed Cowbird, Short-tailed Hawk, Lesser Frigatebird, Arctic Loon, Pacific Golden-Plover, Acorn Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Baikal Teal, Common Pochard, Masked Duck, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Black-whiskered Vireo, Eurasian Skylark, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail. A few may be pushing what may be reality, but hey, Slender-billed Curlew is on the Ontario list.

This is birding of course, and there is no way to accurately predict anything. Maybe I'll get some right, maybe I won't. It seems just as likely that a Terek Sandpiper or Wood Sandpiper will show up before my number one pick!

Anyways, that was my take on the whole thing. It certainly opened my eyes to what we need to be looking for!

 Note: all photos from the Wiki Commons