Thursday, January 26, 2017

Point Pelee January 26th. Plus the mysterious Carbonated Swamp-Warbler!

Both Aaron and I have a cold, and since I had the day off and Aaron choose to work from home with the heat set to an oven, I had to get some fresh air. I find that when I'm sick with a cold (which is like never) getting outside and breathing in some fresh air is a far better remedy over staying in bed.

I drove down to the Tip of Point Pelee first around 8:30am.  This is when I noticed that I forgot my camera but I wasn't in the mood for taking photos anyway. Lake Erie at the tip is open on both sides and almost devoid of bird life when I got there.  Just some Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls on the water, along with very few Common Goldeneye.  A Common Merganser and a small flock of Red-breasted Mergansers flew over....time to leave!

I decided to park at the Visitor Centre parking lot and walk some trails to find some winter resident birds.  I walked Tilden Woods Trail, and Shuster Trail and was not disappointed as there was quite a bit of activity for the "dead of winter".

The highlight of the walk was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that was in a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Black-capped Chickadee, a White-breasted Nuthatch and 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers.  While going through the "Butter Butts" I had a brief look at one of the birds that didn't appear to have the contrasting dark auriculars with the pale throat.  The look was very brief and could have just been the lighting or who knows what it could have been, but just like that the bird flew north with the rest of the Yellow-rumped Warblers. Something to keep an eye out for as I'm sure the flock won't be leaving the area any time soon.

I also had 2 Horned Larks flying north quite high over the trail.  I would suspect these are spring migrants.  Jeremy Hatt had the same thing happening over Leamington last Saturday when we had those record breaking temperatures. This winter has been surprisingly mild which is great...for colds and the flu....

Changing the subject completely, last year I obtained a nice hard cover book of "The Birds of North America" a well known publication which has 435 plates by John James Audubon. The paintings were produced in the early 1800s so to many today they may look crude and almost comical.  You must remember though that these paintings were created when birding was practiced with a gun, not binoculars, and specimens were collected for identification.  Audubon took these specimens and created life like poses for his works that often depicted a single bird species in it's natural habitat.  One of these plates while going through book struck me.  A plate of two birds with the title "Carbonated Warbler" also known as the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler.

Apparently Audubon created this print by using two specimens he collected from the field in the state of Kentucky in 1811.  Though Audubon is a great artist and a pioneer in ornithology, I am afraid he was also well known to stretch the truth, and exaggerate a bit. In this case it seems that no one else but Audubon himself saw these birds and they were never to be seen again.  He may have in fact painted this plate from memory, perhaps a distant memory, where he forgot some field marks and added others instead. However, it should not be completely ruled out that he did in fact see and collected what may have been some of the last remaining individuals of a species (or subspecies) that had a very limited population before going extinct.

What do you think?  Could this have been a real species long gone from the earth, or just Audubon describing a bird he saw in the field and illustrating what field marks he actually remembers?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wheatley Provincial Park. January 13th, 2017

With Point Pelee National Park closed until the 23rd of January due to the deer cull, Jeremy Hatt and I decided to check out Wheatley Provincial Park for a change.

Nothing too fancy around.  The lake from this location was wide open and most of the ducks we saw were Common Goldeneye, with around 500 individuals.  The only other waterfowl we saw were Common Merganser.

The only photo from the day was of Jeremy Hatt scanning the open waters of Lake Erie.

Other than that we had many of the regular land birds that you would find at this time of year. In just over 2 and a half hours we tallied 20 species, which I guess isn't too bad for mid January in such a small area covered.  Wish I could say something exciting happened while we were there, as this is a pretty boring blog post. 

eBird List:

One thing I never noticed before in Wheatley Provincial Park is how small the campsites are! There is no privacy whatsoever! Then again this is coming from a backcountry snob where I normally don't even hear my neighbours let alone see them.

After lunch at my house, we began to compile the December sightings for the Point Pelee Birding area.  If anyone has any sightings please feel free to send them to the following email address:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of Year Birding

With gusty southwest winds today I decided to go birding by car this afternoon to check out Hillman Marsh, and Lake Erie on the (somewhat) calmer east side.

Hillman Marsh currently has some open sections.  Highlight at the north bridge on Mersea Road 2 was a lone male Gadwall.  Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's Gulls were also present, along with a lone adult Bald Eagle that flew over.  No sign of the Ivory Gull that was found and photographed in central Ohio on the 29th.  Worth keeping an eye out for! 

At the Northeast Beach parking lot Lake Erie was pretty rough.  Common Goldeneye, Scaup (that were almost absent for the CBC), a few Bufflehead, and a couple of White-winged Scoter were present bobbing up and down on the waves.

I arrived at Wheatley Harbour pretty early in the afternoon at around 2:30pm.  Most gull activity seems to be in the later part of the day.  The break wall had no gulls, but the lake had a ton of the usual suspects of ducks.  Inside the calm harbour there were also a few ducks, that included a beautiful male Canvasback.  I haven't had the chance lately to do some photography, so I shut my car off and just waited for the ducks to get comfortable with my presence for some photos.  It was actually kind of nice to relax and just observe the daily ritual of the ducks diving for food, while the ever present gulls waited for them to bring up something to steal.  Most of the time the ducks did keep their prize.

The most cooperative subject was this little Ruddy Duck.
I wish everyone that reads this blog a Happy New Year!  Let's hope 2017 is a good one! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Point Pelee CBC. Highlights from our area on December 19th

Yesterday was the Point Pelee Christmas Bird Count and probably the coldest I have ever participated in with temperatures around -10C.  Luckily in the morning the winds were calm.  Our group consisted of Ian Woodfield, Matt Timpf, Jeremy Hatt and myself. 

Matt Timpf scanning for waterfowl.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt

Our area included the onion fields east of County Road 19 up to the Essex County side of Wheatley Harbour.  I had to go to work for a few hours in the afternoon, but managed to make it back for the roundup at the visitor centre in Point Pelee National Park. Our total was 59 species, with possibly our Green-winged Teal and Canvasbacks for count week being the only ones for the CBC, though the results haven't been completely tallied yet.

Some of the best birds in our area include the following:

Long-tailed Duck: 2 off Marentette Beach

Killdeer: 1 on the beach just north of Coterie Park (Unfortunately it's tail was frozen)

Dunlin: 2 NE Hillman Beach (most likely the same 2 individuals Jeremy and I had on Friday. See previous post)

Glaucous Gull: An immature/1st winter bird at Wheatley Harbour

Double-crested Cormorant: 1 Wheatley Harbour

Eastern Meadowlark: 2 at Hillman Marsh

American Pipit: 15 birds total at various locations

Brewer's Blackbird: 1 at Hillman Marsh

Glaucous Gull at Wheatley Harbour.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt
Eastern Meadowlark at Hillman Marsh.  Photo by Jeremy Hatt

We had a few misses, though they were found in other areas.  Probably our most embarrassing misses were Lapland Longspur, American Robin, and White-throated Sparrow.

Definitely with all the CBCs going on there are some noticeable trends.  One of those is the amount of Fox Sparrows and American Pipits still lingering in the area. This fall into winter has also been a pretty dismal year for Pine Siskins.  In fact we were commenting during the count how we saw more Pine Siskins in May then this fall/winter, though this is a species that is not always guaranteed every winter. Another interesting note these past few weeks is the mass movement of Northern Harriers beginning around December 12, which was just after our first big snow fall. Last Friday, during our scouting for the count, Jeremy and I had quite a few birds flying east to west at the Leamington Marina, clearly on the move.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Scouting for the Pelee Christmas Bird Count

This coming Monday, December 19th, is the Point Pelee CBC.  Jeremy Hatt and I decided to scout our area today which included the onion fields east of County Road 19 up to Wheatley Harbour on the Essex County side. 

We had a few reasons to scout our area today:

1. Count week starts today and we may find something today that might be missed on Monday

2. It's nice to know where those bird feeders are in advance that attract a lot of icterids and sparrows

3. Are we dressed warm enough? (Probably the most important one...It's @##$* cold out!)

Today's temperature, that hovered near -10C, is to be similar to Monday's high, though Monday is supposed to be sunny. Today we had clouds and even some snow.  However, as another blogger has stated, the long range forecast is usually wrong.

Jeremy Hatt posing in his possible wardrobe for this Monday's CBC that will be very useful with the forecasted cold and wind. Will we see Storm Troopers and the Death Star that day?  Anything is possible in Pelee.
We had a few neat species that we may actually miss in our area on Monday.  One of those is Long-tailed Duck, with a female found on the lake with a raft of ducks (that also included a few Canvasback which may be missed as well) from the northeast beach at Hillman Marsh. 

As for Hillman Marsh itself, besides a strip of open water near the south side, the whole marsh is frozen.  It was amongst a big group of Canada Geese and 3 Tundra Swans, we also had 3 Green-winged Teal. If the marsh is completely frozen, we may also miss this species on Monday.

Jeremy Hatt scanning for ducks.  Not too many photos today. Fingers numb.

The highlight this morning was also found at the northeast beach parking lot along the shoreline.  While I was counting ducks Jeremy spotted 2 shorebirds flying in.  Hoping they were Purple Sandpipers, they were in fact Dunlin, which is still a great bird that may be missed on Monday. 

A zoomed in photo of Dunlin that Jeremy took with his phone and binoculars.  He did a way better job than I could ever do taking a photo the same way!
Arriving at Wheatley Harbour near noon the only bird of note was an American Coot. Not the greatest time of day to visit Wheatley Harbour for gulls but it couldn't be helped. There were also a few other spots that we missed, but those areas required getting out of the car and walking.  Today's scout was just a drive around our area before we went to work for our Christmas lunch, which was excellent!

Merry CBCing everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dusting off the old blog: Recent events, a bit of rambling and nostalgia to end the crappy year that was 2016

It's been almost 2 years since my latest blog post on this particular blog.  This is actually 1 of 3 blogs that I own, with this one always being placed on the back burner over and over and over again.  The other 2 blogs are both my husband Aaron's and mine, with one being journals of our backcountry camping trips in Ontario , and a recent upgrade to an older blog that illustrate how we are slowly turning our 3 acre property for the past 4 years into something of a  homestead .  This particular hobby we share takes up a lot of our time during the late spring to late fall months.  The PeleeChickadee blog, being my own project, seems to be the one that gets repeatedly neglected.  Now that it is winter and work and "the farm" is at a slower pace, I'm going to try to keep up with this blog again. So here goes....

A lot has happened in the past couple of years down here in the Pelee birding area. This year in particular has probably been the worst year of birding for me since I first started back in the mid 1990s. Spring was sort of a let down, as work was very busy, so I barely got out except for a few days armed with my new camera in the less crowded north end of Point Pelee National Park to try it out. Here are a few of my best photos.

 Chestnut-sided Warbler
 Blue-headed Vireo
 Black-throated Blue Warbler
Common Yellowthroat

Like almost everyone else, I missed the Grace's Warbler, to which probably the greatest birder in all of Ontario told me later that summer "That ruined my spring.", which is understandable.  One very interesting, and positive event happened this spring. I got the opportunity for some sub contract work for BSC in their Black-bellied Plover survey with my area covering just over what was once known as Mersea Township.  This brought forth a bit of  nostalgia for me as the area included the 11 concession where I grew up and would ride my bike looking for Black-bellied Plovers during the weekend in recently tilled fields.  It also made me sit back and think about the younger days of birding, when everything was so new and exciting!  I remember during the month of May before I got my license, my Mom and I would get up at 4:15am on Saturday mornings, pick up Jeremy Hatt down the road, and head down to Point Pelee and the tip during the predawn hours. Jeremy and I were as excited as kids on Christmas morning!  I still remember our first Prothonotary, Hooded, Connecticut and Kirtland's Warblers as if it was just this spring. We even found a Henslow's Sparrow one spring, which we still haven't filled out an OBRC report for as we figured it was too long ago now to even fill one out. 

It was also during those early years that Jeremy and I met a lot of great birders and made new friends and acquaintances.  There were those who were serious birders, others that earned a living taking photos, and others that worked for the park and for the Friends of Point Pelee during the Festival of Birds leading hikes.  Some of those individuals no longer come down in spring, either having to move away for work, or have aged over the years and can't come down anymore. Flash forward to this year with the passing of Alan Wormington whom I have known since around the year 2000.  For me, (and others as well) this loss feels particularly painful.  There is now this huge void whenever I go out birding knowing that I won't run into Alan at the tip or on a trail, or even outside of birding at the Roma Club for all you can eat "Fish Fridays" that we both frequented a few years back. (I just go by myself now). To be honest, I actually don't remember the first time I met Alan.  I probably met him while birding with Steve Pike one spring when I was almost 20 years old.

Flash forward to now as we near the end of this shitty year, and there appears to be a silver lining.  A group of us Pelee regulars are now carrying on where Alan left off in compiling sightings for the Pelee birding area.  Jeremy Hatt and I are doing the winter reporting period from December to February, and I gotta say I am beginning to get that spark again that I had when I first started birding back in the 1990s.  Though the thrill of birding itself has never waned, it is now the idea of starting something new with a group of passionate individuals that will help remove the sorrows and negative impacts of the year that was 2016, and move forward with a renewed sense of excitement! 

So far the winter season has had some great birds in this area! Perhaps the highlight during the first week was a Red-necked Phalarope at the shorebird cell at Hillman Marsh (which is now frozen over as of today).  An Iceland Gull at Wheatley Harbour that I found on November 29th, was found dead on the beach on December 1st by Jeremy Hatt.  Most likely this bird died of botulism as it exhibited the symptoms of droopy wings and a saggy eye.  After an overnight stay in my freezer in an extra large ziplock bag, Jeremy took it on a field trip to the ROM where it will now stay.  Part of me wishes that I kept it and got it stuffed. This bird was absolutely beautiful! Though it would make for some interesting and awkward conversations here with guests wondering why there is a stuffed "seagull" hanging over them with it's wings spread out. The only other bird I have helped deliver to the ROM was a Harris's Sparrow that hit my parent's window during a winter when I was in college.  I gave it to Alan Wormington to take to the ROM.  I remember Alan saying to me "Why didn't you see it when it was alive?"...I wasn't even living at home at the

 Detail of Iceland Gull wing
Iceland Gull beginning to show drooping wings which may in fact be a symptom of botulism. I took a series of photos of this bird.  Others show wings even more droopier and an unhealthy look to it's right eye as well.

Well that's enough rambling for now.  For anyone that actually still follows this blog, I have a question to throw out there... "How did you become interested in birding?"  Was it an individual? Was it seeing a particular bird that sparked the interest?  I'm not sure how long of a reply you can leave in the comments section, but type as long or as short as you want.  Heck if you own a blog feel free to make a post about it. After reflecting on my own early years of birding, I am very interested in knowing how others became part of this hobby/obsession that only those who are also lovers of nature can truly understand.  I will be sharing my own in the near future.

-Marianne Reid-Balkwill

Friday, January 23, 2015

Canada's National Bird: You Vote!

The Gray Jay, one of the many species that is in the running for Canada's National Bird.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Hi, it's been a while since I've posted on this blog (over seven months now).  The truth is I haven't been out much this past year.  During the summer and early fall months Aaron and I have been working on our nearly 3 acre farm, trying to turn it into something of our own which is a lot of fun, and at times a lot of hard work.  We also went to Quetico Provincial Park for two weeks back in September and paddled/portaged the Hunter Island Loop, a 300+ kilometre loop that, so far, has been our best route yet!

We've done a few backcountry trips now since we've been married, and since I don't have a facebook page to share photos with family and friends, I've taken notes and photos from the trips and slowly posting them on my other blog:

Birding wise for me around here has been kinda slow.  We've had two Snowy Owls hanging out just north of the house this winter, and after work last week I raced to Sombra to see the Barrow's Goldeneye from the cozy home of the Bowman's.  I've been hoping for something rare to show up at my bird feeder this winter as we work on the inside of the house on the weekends, but so far the best bird has been a White-crowned Sparrow that is still hanging around.

Yesterday in the news (Globe & Mail) I noticed that the Canadian Geographic Society has a system set up for the public to vote for Canada's National Bird. I knew we had birds representing each province and territory, which honestly I thought was good enough, but I guess by 2017 we will have a national bird as well. Click on the link below to see the candidates:

Not surprisingly, Common Loon is in the lead, a bird many people recognize as it appears on our 1 dollar coin (the loonie) and formerly on the $20.00 bill. Not only that, a heavy majority of the Canadian population lives in southern Ontario, so this is a species many people have either seen or heard wailing on the lake at their cottage or campsite, and earning it as a symbol representing "The Northern Wilderness".  This bird is also the provincial bird for Ontario. 

I honestly think our national bird should be a Boreal species myself, perhaps the Gray Jay (and then get it changed back to Canada Jay. HA!)

What bird do you think deserves the title as "Canada's National Bird" ?  (I'm afraid a guy wearing a hockey jersey, while drinking beer and flipping the bird doesn't count.)

Whatever wins it will be able to stand along side the beaver and the maple leaf on the pedestal of Canadian national symbols, while below them sits the provincial/territorial species of birds, mammals, flowers, trees, and......minerals?  Does all this seem a little excessive or is it just me?