Friday 31 December 2021

Ontario Big Year in 2022

No, this isn't me making ground breaking announcement about my attempt at one of the most grueling ventures in birding, but rather me highlighting two individuals who are about to undertake this exciting task. Starting tomorrow, two of my good friends Ezra Campanelli and Kiah Jasper will begin their Ontario Big Years, and attempting to achieve a new record. These two will be joining forces for an attempt that has been in the work for some time now...and it is finally time to act. Using never before seen tactics, these two are sure to excel. 

Ezra Campanelli

Kiah Jasper

Although in my younger days (yes, even younger than I am now), all I could dream of was doing a big year, I no longer have that desire. Plants have really changed me it seems, That being said, I still love the strategy and excitement behind it all, so I for one am really looking forward to following along with these two. I'm sure I'll get roped into some adventures along the won't take much convincing. 

Ezra and Kiah will sure have a great start to their year, if all goes to plan, as there are a number of lingering rarities that appear as though they will make it to the new year. Some of their top priorities which will keep them occupied for the first few days, at least, include a long staying Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Razorbill(s) in Niagara, Harris's Sparrow in Hamilton, Golden-crowned Sparrow in Toronto, Mountain Bluebird in Wellington, and the possibility of a Prairie Falcon in Durham (and literally as I was writing this, news of possibly even an Arctic Loon in Algoma). Of course, they would certainly take that Glaucous-winged Gull in Barrie if it were to ever pop back up! Townsend's Solitaire and Varied Thrush are two species that are also of high interest, and there a couple options to choose from for both.  

Once they get a number of these rarities, their attention will turn to some of the harder winter species in the province, such as Gray Partridge, Purple Sandpiper, finches, sea ducks, and northern owls. 

Northern Hawk Owl (Cochrane District, March 2020)

The current big year record for Ontario is 347, set by Jeremy Bensette in 2017, so it will not be an easy feat, but it sure will be a rewarding one. 2021 was a super year for rare birds, with Geoff Carpentier seeing 343 species (and not starting his serious big year attempt until May!), so here's hoping that 2022 is even better. 

If you wish to follow along with their big year progress, check out Kiah's blog and Ezra's website. If you are social media savvy, check out Ezra's big year Instagram account @bigyearbirdxbird where he will be posting photos of each year bird he sees. 

Best of luck to you both, and Happy New Year to all!!!

Sunday 19 December 2021

Christmas Bird Counts 2021

Time for my annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) blog post, which shrinks in content and length every year since I hardly carry a camera anymore...that's why I have friends who take pictures! 

I arrived in London late Friday night, and was up early the next morning for the London CBC. This is my fifth year doing this count, and my route covers about a 5km stretch along the river. Some years it can be dynamite, but others, like this year, it can be quite poor.

It was so poor in fact that I got my lowest species total ever on this route with 28 (average 32), and lowest individual total with 323 (average 685). Averages are only based on five years of data, but still...

Highlights? Not much! A couple Winter Wrens, nine Swamp Sparrows, and 47 Northern Cardinals were all nice. Lots of misses though. I did add Great Blue Heron to my all time list for this route. 

eBird checklist here:

Today I got to do a slightly more exciting count, the Rondeau/Blenheim CBC. This is my sixth year doing this count. This time around, I was joined by Nathan Hood and Ezra Campanelli. 

We started with a lakewatch at the VC beach access (which apparently is beach #10, never noticed the number before). It was slow at first, but quickly picked up. Highlights were Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, and lots of Red-breasted Mergansers. Took a bit for the loons to start, but ended up with 47 Red-throateds and a Common. Although I guess the place to be was off South Point because Blake had 217 Red-throats! I'm happy though, my perfect streak for Red-throated Loon on this count continues!

Eventually we had to pry ourselves away from the lake, and begin walking up Lakeshore towards the campground. Lots of redpolls around (we ended up with 95, a new Rondeau bird for me). Tufted Titmouse and several Carolina Wrens were real treats for me, having not seen either in months. A Fox Sparrow that was pished in was another real highlight for our trio of dedicated counters. 

A quick check of the beach at the traffic circle revealed a Great Black-backed Gull, a new one for our list. 

After walking the maintenance loop, which was pretty birdy, although nothing really of note, we began our way down Harrison. I thought for sure we'd get a Pileated Woodpecker, but it was not to be. What we did get however was a pair of singing Great Horned Owls, the screech-owl along Bennett Ave, and a flyover Eastern Bluebird at the group campground. 

We finished our route with 45 species, which we were quite happy with. Nothing too rare, and plenty of misses, but that is to be expected on a CBC.  

eBird checklist here:

After finishing our area, we went to walk around the campground for a bit. Although it was covered by others earlier in the day, always a good place to look around. It did not take us long to locate several Yellow-rumped Warblers, and the Blue-grey Gnatcatcher that has been around. The gnatcatcher is new for the Rondeau CBC if I am not mistaken. 

We scoped the bay before leaving the park. A few Canvasback among other ducks were nice to see.

One last stop was Keith McLean's CA to look for a couple lingering birds. After a bit of searching, we spotted the continuing Nelson's Sparrow. As we were in pursuit of the sparrow for a better look (which we got), we also saw the continuing Least Sandpiper, another new species for the count. The sandpiper also has the honour of being the only photo I took all weekend.

Rondeau has so far recorded 117 species this year, a very high total. It is still a developing situation, and will be interesting to see what the finally results are.  Edit: final tally is 124 species, setting a new record for Ontario if I am not mistaken 

And that just about wraps it up! An enjoyable weekend birding back in Southwestern Ontario. As much as I love Algonquin (to which I am just about to begin my journey back to), I sure have missed these locations! Although in past years I have only done these two counts, this year I have the Algonquin CBC coming up on January 3rd.

Today it was Least Sandpiper, Nelson Sparrow, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, and Red-throated Loons, tomorrow its Evening Grosbeaks, crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, and Canada Jays...

Monday 13 December 2021

Barrie Birding

Last Tuesday I ventured back down to Barrie to search for the Glaucous-winged Gull. I felt a little bit robbed after only seeing it for a few seconds my first time, so I wanted redemption. Barrie is only about two and a half hours from where I'm living, which is certainly one of the shorter drives I've done on my days off as of late :)

I got a late start to the day, as the weather was a little bit iffy. There were also a couple of delays on 11 heading south. As such, I didn't get to Barrie until a little bit after noon. I certainly didn't need to be in a rush however, because the Glaucous-winged Gull wasn't there when I arrived!

I spent the next freezing few hours watching gulls the and waiting. There certainly was some nice variety, with a few Glaucous Gulls and a couple Icelands, including two Kumlien's and a Thayer's. 

Thayer's Gull

A couple nice wintering passerines made an appearance in the form of a White-crowned Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler. 

Finally, just past 4:30, the Glaucous-winged Gull flew in. I don't know enough about cameras to have photos turn out in such low light, nor was I keen to play around too much as my fingers were frozen solid. At least it proves I saw it!

Nice to get out of the park every once in awhile to see some birds! Although, perhaps I shouldn't venture too far until I have that pesky Merlin that has been hanging out around the Old Airfield on my winter list! :P

I'll be back down home this weekend for a couple of Christmas Bird Counts that I usually do. Will be nice to see some rarities (House Sparrows). 

Wednesday 1 December 2021

One Long Drive, Two (?) Lifers

Yesterday, I drove back down to London from Algonquin to visit home for a couple of days. On my way south, I made a couple stops to look for some ongoing rare birds.

My first stop was the Barrie waterfront, where I was going to look for the putative Glaucous-winged Gull, first found on November 27th by Justin Peter, Peter Mills, Lyndsey Friesen (and I'm not sure who the fourth observer was). This is the second record for Ontario, pending acceptance. Out west, where this bird is from, they hybridize widely with a few species, most notably Western Gull. There is some concern that this bird, a second cycle, may be a hybrid, although several gull experts think it looks within reason for a "good enough" Glaucous-winged. Justin collected a stool sample to sequence the DNA, so we'll see what that turns up. Given the extent of the hybrid mess out west (coming from someone who hasn't been there before), I won't be the least bit surprised if its great-grandmother was a Western Gull.  

I very briefly saw the Glaucous-winged Gull on the docks shortly after I arrived, but as soon as I took my eyes off it to get closer, it disappeared into thin air. I think I may have saw it flying away, but the bird was quite distant, and certainly not getting any closer. No doubt the individual in question, but I sure am bummed not to have gotten any pictures. 

Regardless of what it "turns out to be", it is a gull that came from the west coast, so that's pretty cool! 

A few hours later, I pulled up to a Rufous Hummingbird stakeout in Lambton. Within a few minutes, the bird appeared at the feeder, and I was able to get some photos. With at least three Rufous Hummingbirds in the province this fall, I'm kind of feeling desensitized to this species (even though this is the first one I have seen haha).

I looked in vain for a Cattle Egret on my way home from the hummingbird spot. Would have been a nice county bird, but oh well.

Nice to see some new birds. Its been a pretty great fall for lifers for me. I saw Razorbill in Ottawa, Black-legged Kittiwake in Algonquin, Barrow's Goldeneye and Say's Phoebe in Ottawa again (right place, right time for that phoebe, I was literally right around the corner from where it was found), and of course Glaucous-winged (??) Gull and Rufous Hummingbird, as detailed above. I'm certainly not huge on chasing birds, but its fun when it works out!