Sunday 28 February 2021

Middlesex Biggish Year: February Update

Another month has come and gone! I find February to typically be the most boring month birding wise, but this past one had been fairly good. The cold snap this month brought in plenty of ducks, but certainly halted the arrival of several typical late February migrants.  After month #2 of my "Middlesex Biggish Year" my year list stands at a respectable 93 species after accumulating 11 new species, roughly 75% of the species reported in the county so far in 2021. My biggest misses this past month were White-winged Scoter (which I probably would have gotten if I hadn't missed the call by 20 minutes) and Western Meadowlark (which I did end up seeing, but it was a couple hundred meters on the wrong side of the county line!).

The breakdown: 

Code 1: 64 species (4 new)

Code 2: 17 species (3 new)

Code 3: 7 species (3 new)

Code 4: 3 species

Code 5: 2 species (1 new)

Up until this weekend (Feb. 27/28), the only code 1 I had added to my list was American Coot. Several have been reported on the Thames this year, and I finally caught up with a couple on the 24th. On the 27th, I had the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds of the year, and then on the 28th I got my first Common Grackles. 

The freezing of the great lakes brought in three new code 2 birds. Redhead, Greater Scaup, and Ruddy Duck all appeared in decent numbers throughout the month along the Thames.

Ruddy Duck

It was nice to get three code 3 birds out of the way, even though I will probably see some more of at least two of them later this year. The first was a Trumpeter Swan, which is not always a lock for a Middlesex year list. The others were a Long-tailed Duck and a few Canvasback.

Long-tailed Duck

I didn't get any new code 4s, but I did see a code 5; the second Middlesex record of Spotted Towhee! I first saw this bird on Valentine's Day, and have since then been back a few times to enjoy this rarity. I imagine that it will be around for awhile yet. I already "ticked" it last month, but the Harlequin Duck had still been around as well, and I have seen it on a couple different occasions. 

I think I am off to a pretty good start. I'm excited to see what else will show up! 

Friday 26 February 2021

Stoneflies of Late Winter

If you spend any amount of time near flowing water at this time of year, as the days start to warm up, you may notice some insects crawling around on the snow. They may just happen to be winter stoneflies (Family Capniidae)! There are 26 species of Capniids in Eastern Canada, represented by eight genera. 

Allocapnia female

Allocapnia male

I went out this afternoon and searched for winter stoneflies along the banks of the Medway Creek in London. I found quite a few! I ended up collecting some, and using a key, I identified them as Common Snowfly (Allocapnia granulata). Below is a female. 

Process on sternite 8, distinctively shaped! 

Identification of these insects is a tedious process involving a microscope, but its always satisfying when you reach a reasonable conclusion and are able to assign a name to something! 

I'll be definitely keeping an eye out for more stoneflies. Even if you don't intend to make a specific ID, keep an eye to the ground, and maybe you'll see one of these neat bugs! 

Saturday 20 February 2021

Kilally Meadows Birding (May 19, 2020)

Its cold and snowy outside, so time to reminisce about more colourful times... 

I never got around to blogging about it apparently, but last spring (May 19, 2020), I had one of my best birding days in the city of London. I birded the Kilally Meadows ESA in North London, with hopes of coming across one of the reported Golden-winged Warblers. As it would turn out, I saw everything but! 

I arrived at the park shortly before 6:30am. After locking up my bike, I began taking in the sights and sounds of spring. 

The warblers stole the show of course. I ended up with 20 species, a total that is comparable to Rondeau or Point Pelee! Conditions overnight had resulted in large numbers of birds, and I easily had close to 400 individuals. I tried to remain conservative in my counting, so I undoubtfully missed a few! The most numerous species were Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Canada Warbler

Northern Parula

Magnolia Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Thrushes made a decent showing. A few Veery and Swainson's, as well as four Gray-cheeked.


Swainson's Thrush

Gray-cheeked Thrush

I didn't have a ton of flycatchers, but my first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the year was nice to see.

Eastern Phoebe

There was an abundance of Carolina Wrens, as there were plenty of fledged young. I came up with 17 individuals.

Many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were around, with some beginning to build nests

In total, I spent nearly 6 hours birding, and tallied 76 species. Although just a few days prior I had recorded 80 species in the Rondeau campground in about an hour's time, I think that my total is awfully good for the location! You can see the eBird checklist here.

Only a few more months!

Monday 15 February 2021

Of Towhees and Trumpeters

I went back this morning in hopes of photographing the Spotted Towhee which has coming to a feeder in London for the past few days. This is the second record for Middlesex, the last being in the late 1960s.

After waiting around for close  to half an hour, it finally showed itself. We had all been staring intently at the feeder, but I happened to turn around at one point and notice it sitting in a bush behind us!

It eventually flew over to the feeder, where many people were able to enjoy it. It was tough to get an unobstructed photo, but I managed to get identifiable ones anyway.


What an exciting bird to have in London! Putting us on the map! ;-)

In the afternoon I went to Springbank Park to see the reported Trumpeter Swan. This is a rapidly increasing species in the county, but a nice one to get out of the way for my year list anyways. Quite an odd bird to see on the river.

On to another week.

Sunday 14 February 2021

A Long Walk and Other Things

Friday I decided to get out for a nice long walk along the Thames River. My plan was to start at the old dam in Springbank Park, and end up in the northeast corner of the city, past Kilally Meadows Environmentally Significant Area. A total distance of about 20 kilometers, my longest walk in quite awhile.

I started off strong with a Redhead and a Greater Scaup right at the dam. There has been a recent influx of Aythya ducks in London on the river as a result of the great lakes freezing. 

I continued down the path, and encountered a group of 16 Redheads, as well as the usual wintering waterfowl. A bit later I came across a flock of 150 Common Redpolls.

At Greenway Park, I came across a few more Redheads, as well as another Greater Scaup.

At the Forks of the Thames, I spotted the female Ring-necked Duck that has been in the area for awhile, as well as a male Redhead which was accompanying her. 

Several kilometers later I came across a Pied-billed Grebe, undoubtedly one of the couple that have been hanging out on the Thames this winter. 

I arrived at the Harlequin Duck location, but was unable to find it. It must have been hiding. I did however come across a Ruddy Duck. What an odd bird for the Thames River in February!

The remainder of my walk (about 6 kilometers) was pretty uneventful. I checked out a series of feeders that had been harbouring a wintering Red-winged Blackbird, but had no luck in finding it! 

Today, Bill Lindley and I went down to Glencoe to try and find an interesting meadowlark that had been seen on February 10th, and was posted to Facebook. The photos seemed to point to it being a Western Meadowlark, and that identification seemed to be the general consensus among everyone who saw the photos. We spent nearly two hours looking, but were unsuccessful. There had been a lot of snow the day prior, which covered up the grassy roadsides where the bird had been feeding, so maybe we will have to give it another shot once it warms up a bit.

This afternoon I was out of the house when I got another message: Spotted Towhee! Since I wasn't coming from home, I didn't have my binoculars or camera, and I was wearing running shoes, but I would have to make do. I rushed over, and we began our stakeout of the bird feeder. After and hour and a half, finally the towhee showed up. It was very skittish, but offered diagnostic looks. I was hoping to get a lifer today, but I certainly wasn't expecting it to be that!

I'll have to go back for photos. The bird has apparently been coming to the feeder for a week, so it will likely remain there for awhile.

After things being quiet for weeks, it was certainly nice to get the adrenaline pumping again!  

Monday 8 February 2021

Virtual Big Day

 A bit of a different post today. Friday evening I had a thought, "I wonder how many bird species I could see in a day using feeder cams?" I quickly checked the weather, and saw that is was supposed to snowy all weekend, so I figured I may as well give it a shot. As it turned out, both days were gorgeous and probably the nicest days we have had in awhile, but whatever, I was committed.

I found a website (click here) that had had links to dozens of feeder cams from all over the world, although the majority of the cams were from the Americas and Europe, and used that to view different remote camera. Cornell also hosts a few feeder cams, which I utilized as well. Because time zones are a thing, there was always at least one camera with day light! I will include links for the some of the better cams I used. I have very little experience with birds outside of North America, so I was looking forward to learning about some ones I may not be familiar with!

So, at 12am EST, I began my day in South Africa. I have never really given much thought to African birds (although it is a place I have always wanted to go), so everything was more or less new to me. Cape Sparrows and Southern Masked-weavers dominated the feeders, but also present were House Sparrows, a Speckled Mousebird, and a Red-eyed Dove. 

Quickly a flipped over to Japan, which is where I was greeted by Brambling, Willow Tit, Japanese Tit, and Oriental Greenfinches. 

With a click, I found myself in Australia, where I got Crested Pigeon. Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the cams in Australia, but I still managed to get a few unique species over the course of the day. 

In South Korea, I saw some Varied Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

After my initial frenzy of picking up species, I spent the next couple hours switching between cams. In South Africa, I got Dark-capped Bulbul, Southern Boubou, Cape Starling, Black-collared Barbet, Red-winged Starling, Arrow-marked Babbler, African Grey Hornbill and Karoo Thrush, to name a few. In Japan I found a Eurasian Nuthatch. Australia was kind to me and and gave me Galah and a Rock Pigeon. I made a brief stop into Israel and got a Palestine Sunbird.

Eventually, the sun started to come up in Europe, and I got a Eurasian Blackbird and Eurasian Siskins in Slovakia. In Poland, some European Goldfinches, European Greenfinch, Blue Tits, Great Tits, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were coming to a feeder. On another cam in Poland, there were some Coal Tits, Crested Tits and European Robins. Ring-necked Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, and Eurasian Wren were found in England. In the Czech Republic, I was treated with Eurasian Jays, Hawfinch, and Eurasian Collared-Dove. I gave Scotland a try, and saw Long-tailed Tits, Common Chaffinches, and a Common Buzzard, a big surprise. 

After a few more birds coming from Africa (Cape White-eye, Hadeda Ibis, Green Wood Hoopoe etc.) and a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo from Australia, I decided to go to sleep for a couple hours (it was 4am by this point). I figured I wouldn't add too many more birds until things started waking up in the Americas.

A couple hours later I broke up, and the first birds I looked at in Scotland were Eurasian Bullfinches, my only ones all day. I tuned into the Panama cam, and saw a Rufous Motmot in the dark. I found a cam in Brazil that was pretty low quality, but I had Saffron Finches, Ruddy Ground-doves, Picazuro Pigeon, and even a Boat-billed Flycatcher. One of my favourite cams of the day, despite not being the most active, was in Ecuador, where I saw Golden-naped Tanager and Thick-billed Euphonia (?). Back in Panama, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Clay-colored Thrush, Blue-grey Tanager, and Dusky-faced Tanager made an appearance, all of which were fairly reliable all day. 

Clay-colored Thrushes and Blue-grey Tanagers in Panama

Finally, the sun started to rise in northeastern North America. The first cam I tuned into was New York, which resulted in a bunch of the typical winter feeder birds we are familiar with here. A cam in Alabama was pretty fun, which has Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebird, and Eastern Phoebe. 

Back in Ecuador, some hummingbirds were starting to show up, including White-whiskered Hermit and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. A Grey-cowled Wood Rail came to check out the feeder in Panama.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

I spent the next few hours flipping back and forth between cams in South/Central America and North America. In Ontario I added Hairy Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak, and Common Redpoll. Ohio brought my only American Goldfinches of the day. I checked out Texas, which was very kind to me throughout the day, giving me things like Bushtit, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, and Woodhouse's Scrub-jay. I made a quick stop in California, where I picked up Allen's and Anna's Hummingbird, as well as an Orange-crowned Warbler. In Alberta, I saw a Northern Flicker.

Ecuador came through with a few more things, including Summer Tanager, Swainson's Thrush, Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail, and Silver-throated Tanager.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Summer Tanager in Ecuador

After waiting for hours, I finally got on the Western Meadowlark that has been coming to the feeder in Ontario since November. A virtual "twitch".

By mid-day I had managed to rack up a whopping 130 species. 

The afternoon was pretty quiet, but here and there I managed to spot a new bird.

In Panama, Crimson-backed Tanagers and Black-chested Jays began to show up. I looked over at my screen for a brief second and managed to catch a Chestnut-headed Oropendola for a couple seconds.

I had a couple new additions in Texas, in the form of a Bewick's Wren and Wild Turkeys, which I saw running around in the background.

I found a cam in Florida, which gave me my first Chipping Sparrows of the day, as well as my only Baltimore Orioles.

I heard some rustling coming from Ontario, and when I switched to that tab I was surprised to find a Canada Jay. A bit later I also got a Common Raven.

Canada Jay in Ontario

By late afternoon, it was Sunday in Australia, and I added a Little Corella.

I staked out the Ecuador cam for awhile, and added several species, including Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Violet-tailed Sylph, Red-headed Barbet, and Flame-rumped Tanager. 

Golden-naped Tanagers and Red-headed Barbet

Violet-tailed Sylph

I figured I was bound to get some Collared Aracaris in Panama sometime in the afternoon, and sure enough some showed up, my last new species to come from the Americas.

It was getting dark, so I flipped over to the same cams with which I started my day. I was surprised to see an Oriental Turtle-Dove in South Korea, and was pleased to add Japanese Grosbeak in Japan. My last new bird for the day was a Common Myna in Australia. The sun rose in Africa when it was 10:30pm here, but despite my best efforts, no new birds came from there.

All in all, I barely slept all day and I was very tired, but it was quite fun. I ended up with 146 species, all viewed live visiting bird feeders. I definitely didn't expect to see that many! Hopefully one day I will get a chance to observe all of them in person.


Here is my list (I took screenshots of the spreadsheet, easier than typing it out!)