Monday, March 10, 2014

Signs of spring

Well here we are, it's almost spring. Sure as hell wouldn't know it right now, even here in extreme southwestern Ontario.  Normally we would be observing flocks of Tundra Swans, lots of ducks, Killdeer, and those flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds that darken the sky....well maybe the last one is a little extreme.  Long story short we are not seeing any of it really.  (that is until today March 10th as Jeremy Hatt is out right now looking at multiple Killdeer, along with lots of waterfowl and geese in the fields along Concession C)

There have been some goodies around.  Jeremy Hatt had two Greater White-fronted Geese last week, while the highlight of the month so far were the Red-necked Grebes first located by Jeremy Hatt and Jeremy Bensette on Lake Erie off the northeast beach of Hillman Marsh on March 5th.  I went out with Mom last Friday to go for a drive around the onion fields and when we arrived at the beach along with Alan Wormington and Rick Mayos there were an estimated 36 Red-necked Grebes on the lake! As stated by many, these Red-necked Grebes are most likely (if not most definitely) over wintering birds that have been pushed out of the many frozen lakes and are trying to find open water.

When Jeremy and I went birding Sunday afternoon, we only saw 1 Red-necked Grebe on Lake Erie.  We also encountered what Jeremy is pretty confident was one of his earlier Greater White-fronted Geese. We later drove into Point Pelee and checked out Lake Erie at the end of Shuster Trail.  The lake was ice as far as the eye can see. Our highlight in the park itself was a red phased Screech-Owl near the Blue Heron parking lot.

Cute as a button red phased Eastern Screech-Owl.  Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill.

We also had our first Turkey Vulture for the year soaring effortlessly near Freddy's Park Stop and 3 imm. Red-shouldered Hawks at different locations while driving north of the park. American Crows were also migrating north, and we occasionally heard the odd male Red-winged Blackbird on territory.  As for waterfowl, the lake on the east side had many of your typical divers at this time of year but in far lower numbers (except Long-tailed Duck which have been in higher numbers) than what you would expect by this date, and it wasn't until late afternoon when we saw some Tundra Swans in the onion fields.  Other than these few tidbits on Sunday, the area still seemed like a frozen wasteland.

Luckily, today (March 10th) things are turning around with 8 degrees Celsius weather and strong southwest winds. Send in the ducks!!

In other news: Guess what comes out tomorrow?

Monday, February 17, 2014


Jeremy Hatt and I have been checking out the open water at Lakeview Park Marina the past couple of weekends for something different while staying in Essex County. There are a lot of waterfowl here clinging onto whatever open water they can find.  Our main goal has been Red-necked Grebe each visit, as they have been showing up on Ebird, but unfortunately we can only find Horned Grebe. Both Red-necked Grebe and White-winged Scoters are on the move as the lakes continue to freeze.  We did see many White-winged Scoters, and I don't think I have ever seen so many Long-tailed Ducks in Essex County (even before the big freeze) this winter.  The ducks at the marina have been providing great views for both photographers and birders alike, though it is clear that the ducks are having a hard time and we saw some dead Mergansers and Canvasbacks floating in the water. Bald Eagles in turn are taking advantage of the dead and dying as we saw many feeding on ducks as well.  We also observed Great Blue Herons standing like statues along the shores of Peche Island looking utterly miserable, though I'm sure they too would go after anything dead or dieing like the eagles.  Then there are all the Mute Swans, and there are a TON of them!  I wonder if they taste good? Seriously if they do taste good I think we should have open season on them.

Ebird list from February 15th:

 Canvasback drake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

 Canvasback hen.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Common Goldeneye drake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Another spot Jeremy and I checked out recently was the Little River corridor.  Here too puddle ducks and divers are giving great views including at the pollution control plant tanks which had a Lesser Scaup and a Canvasback among the Mallards.  The steam rising out of the tanks make it appear like a hot spring.

Ebird list from February 9th:

We are FINALLY in for some warmer weather this week starting tomorrow (after a forecasted 4 inches of snow tonight!!!)  However, it looks like old man winter will be seeing us again towards the end of the month. I wonder if we will find any remaining snow piles in the woods in Point Pelee this May?  I heard of some people who have, but I think I have only seen it snow during that month, not the actual remnants of winter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 18th: Brewer's and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, & Long-eared and Short-eared Owls

Jeremy Hatt and I decided to go for a drive Saturday morning, so we met at the Hillman Marsh parking lot, stocked our gear into my car, and drove around the onion fields while listening to alternative rock from our youth on the radio.....You know, back when music was good..(sarcasm)

A few local birders (including Jeremy the night before) had a Short-eared Owl in the onion fields this past week.  We started very early there but the owl was not to be seen. The airport was another location the owl was spotted, so we tried there as well.  Though we didn't find the SEOW, we did have a heavily barred young Snowy Owl south of the airport on Concession C.

We headed down Concession E and had a fairly large accipiter fly by us, but we couldn't get a positive ID on it .  Continuing to drive down the road we observed an adult Cooper's Hawk, a young Red-tailed Hawk, along with a male Northern Harrier.

Red-shouldered Hawk.  A species we didn't see that day, but the only raptor photo I have that is recent.  Taken on January 12th/2014  Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill

The dirt birds currently occupying the onion fields are definitely Snow Buntings, Horned Larks with a few Lapland Longspurs mixed in, while Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows are the most numerous Sparrows.  It took us a while to find a mixed blackbird species flock, though we eventually came across a group that contained Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a male and female Brewer's Blackbird.

After a look at a Long-eared Owl at the usual spot north of Hillman Marsh, we headed back to my house for vegetarian chili and we were soon back in the car again to go to Staples.  A Yellow-headed Blackbird (which Jeremy found out later actually involved 2 different individuals!!) was visiting a feeder this week.  When we arrived on the scene it looked like something out of Hitchcock with House Sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds biting and clawing at each other over the bird feeder, while the tree behind the house was dripping with more Brown-headed Cowbirds.  After two visits, we ended up seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird which stood out like a sore thumb.

A record shot of the Yellow-headed Blackbird with one of  the many Brown-headed Cowbirds. Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill.

Because I dipped out on the Short-eared Owl in the morning, I decided to try again in the evening.  This time I went with my Mom and we ended up with Long-eared Owl, the Snowy Owl, and now the Short-eared Owl all in a span of about 20 minutes! The Short-eared Owl was a lifer for my Mom, and many of the LLBs were out that evening to watch the owl hunting over the field.  I didn't manage any photos, but just watching the owl with my Mom was rewarding enough for me.


Looks like we are in for another cold snap this week.  The word "polar vortex" seems to be the word of the season.  However the temperatures this coming week (a low of -20 mid week) are going to be nothing compared to what we had a couple of weeks ago (which was a low of negative "@#^% it's cold!")

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some end of the year tidbits

It looks like we are in for a LOOOONNNNGGG winter!  Until this past weekend it has been a cold one so far, and as we turn over the calendar into January it looks like we are in for a few more cold days as we enter 2014.  Did I mention that winter just started on December 21st? .......ughhh.....

At least we have some descent birds around right now.  Jeremy Hatt called me on Monday with a Snowy Owl on the 8th concession that I might be able to see from my house on the 7th!  I put the car into warp 9 (I was currently driving around the onion fields at that time after work) sped over to find the Snowy on the 8th, and then raced to my house to see it from my property. Whooot!!  That was my #1 yard bird for the winter!  Thanks Jeremy!

Another descent find a few birders have been seeing on and off in our area is Brewer's Blackbird.  One was spotted on the Pelee Christmas Bird count, and a few individuals have been seen since then.  This morning I went for another drive around the onion fields and saw 2 birds in a field along Concession C.   I managed a few poor quality photos, but with a temperature below -10 Celsius along with a bitterly cold wind, I didn't last too long!

Two Brewer's Blackbirds that look like they are not having a good time in the barren field with  freshly fallen snow...and wind...
 Poor quality close up of one of the Brewer's Blackbirds.  Maybe one of my New Year's resolutions should be to save up for a new camera.

Today a long overdue addition to the yard list was added as well with Lapland Longspur, which was in a flock made up of mainly Snow Bunting and a few Horned Larks.

 Lapland Longspur

 Horned Lark along the road side. 
Tomorrow we flip the calendar and begin another new year.  I will probably start the day back in the onion fields to secure Brewer's Blackbird on my 2014 list, along with a long staying Ross's Goose at Jack Miner's Bird Sanctuary.  I don't really do the New Year's resolution thing (or my Birthday...or Christmas if I could)  but if I had one resolution to make it would be to work less and be outdoors more.  Whether birding, butterfly watching, camping, or working out in the garden, just being outside more would be great!!

I wish everyone who reads this blog a prosperous and birdy 2014!  Many people who read this blog have a blog of their own and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and look forward to more posts in the new year! :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rare Birds of North America: Another book to add to my library

Saw this book on this afternoon while being bored (there was a cold wind today to be outside long) Rare Birds of North America by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell. 

The book comes out in February of 2014, and it covers those species of birds that sometimes receive what you may call an "honorable mention" way in the back of some field guides, those being the vagrant birds.
From what I have viewed of the book so far (you can see quite a few pages on is actually pretty neat!  The first section talks about the causes and known patterns of vagrant species in North America.  The rest of this 448 page book covers 262 species (some that I have never even heard of!) that originate from three different regions (the Old World, New World tropics, and oceans).  The plates (275 in total) that I have seen so far online look beautiful!  The species accounts themselves includes records of occurrence in North America which I absolutely love!
I guess the only problem with a book that includes records is that once it's published there will be even more records to be added in the future.  All the more reason to keep subscribing to North American Birds!
On a different note, I hope that everyone that reads this blog has a safe and happy holiday season! :D

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sibley Guide to Birds: Second Edition

Unless you have been living under a rock, most birders know by now that the new second edition to the Sibley Guide to Birds is coming out on March 11th, 2014.  In fact you can already pre-order online at Indigo.  Here is a link showing some of the new updated plates:

When the first edition came out back in 2000, it instantly became THE field guide to me, and I even had to purchase a second book as the other one got ridiculously beat up.  Over the years though the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America has replaced Sibley's as my #1 guide given that it is more up to date.  I have the Sibley Field Guide app on my Samsung Galaxy S3, but the Nat Geo app is only available for those iSheep.

I probably don't have to mention that David Sibley is coming to Pelee during the Festival of Birds in 2014, for the weekend of May 3rd and May 4th.

This is exciting and I hope to get my new edition signed that weekend, unless there is a mega rarity to chase, then I'm sorry Mr. Sibley, you are second priority.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Glaucous Gull & Winter Wonderland

Late afternoon on Wednesday I saw a gull at Wheatley Harbour.  It was about the same size as the Herring Gulls, and although at first glance it looked like a Glaucous Gull, I started second guessing myself due to it's size, rounder head, and smaller bill. All the Glaucous Gulls I ever seen (and down here it isn't a daily event at the right time of year) were always larger than Herring Gulls, with a longish head and rather large bill. I actually started to think it was a larger 1st winter Kumlien's Gull with a bicoloured bill...and a short primary projection...?.....huh...nope...That doesn't seem right either...The bird also had no darkish band in the tail, and in flight it was overall uniform in colour.
At this point my mind started to wander, a very dangerous thing which causes many birders to just call it anything.  Maybe a hybrid?
Long story short, (and after asking the opinion of a few others) it appeared to be the painfully obvious one, a 1st winter Glaucous Gull. A small one, but a Glaucous Gull none the less. I'm actually quite embarrassed by not knowing what it was outright, but I guess we all have an off day.
 Glaucous Gull with Herring Gulls.  In this photo it actually appears larger than the Herring Gulls

 In this photo, the Glaucous Gull appears to be the same size as the Herring Gulls.  Earlier the Glaucous Gull was sitting in a row with the Herring Gulls and looked almost exactly the same size.

Definitely a snowy one for the start of this year's Christmas Bird Counts.  Windsor reported 22 cm of snow over Saturday.  Kind of reminds me of the winters of my youth when we actually had this much snow. It will probably be all gone by Friday as the forecast calls for 5 Celsius and rain.  It will be interesting to see what gets reported at feeders in southern Ontario now.  I have mine setup. If Santa could send me a Golden-crowned Sparrow for Christmas I promise to be a good really I mean it this year...
Photo out the window after Saturday's snowfall.  Hummingbird feeder in the foreground (not much action there recently), another feeder setup in the background (with a chicken coop behind it if you were wondering) and a now frozen bird bath amongst the cedars, spruce and tamaracks)