Monday, 19 November 2018

Summer Tanager in Sault Ste. Marie!

On Thursday, I received an email late in the afternoon that a Summer Tanager was visiting a backyard in Sault Ste. Marie. Unfortunately, I had gone to my parents' house after work and there was no way I would make it there in time before it got dark. Then next day, I headed there straight after work, but the bird didn't show. A few other birders had tried for it during the day, but none of them had any luck either. Only the homeowners saw it on Friday.

The next morning, I headed back once again before my Sault Naturalists bird walk I was leading. Two fellow birders were already there, but had not seen it yet. To my luck though, it flew in probably only a minute after arrived! This was my 254th species within the Algoma District.


This bird is the second ever record of one within the Algoma District on eBird, but I know of at least one not on eBird.

The homeowners are welcoming to birders if anyone wants to go see it. It's being seen at 24 Ford Street. If they're home, feel free to knock and introduce yourself. They will then likely allow you access their backyard, but I feel as though it's best to just stand at the white fence and watch the backyard from the driveway so that you don't accidentally spook the bird and ruin it for someone else. It's also a good idea to park safely on the street and approach the house on foot, especially if they aren't home at the time so that you're not blocking their way in if they return. The bird isn't always present so some patience will likely be required. 

Good luck to anyone who goes for it! Make sure to be respectful so that us birders can continue to visit rare birds in people's backyards!

Monday, 10 September 2018

2018 Fall Migration Birding Big Day

A big thanks goes out to everyone who participated in The Kensington Conservancy's Birding Big Day on September 8th! We had eight teams consisting of nineteen participants record a total of 101 different bird species over the course of nine hours in the Central Algoma area.

The idea behind this Birding Big Day was for each team to go out and see how many different species they could find. There was no prize attached to first place, it was just a friendly competition. Birding could begin at 7:00 am and go until 4:00pm.
The event was participation by donation, with all the proceeds going towards a future bird conservation project in the Central Algoma area. We raised a total of $550, which is awesome! If anyone would like to still make a contribution to this fund, click here and make sure to choose "Birding Big Day" from the drop down menu when selecting a campaign. There are no concrete plans as to what the bird conservation project will be yet, so if anyone has any ideas, pass them along to me!

For me personally, it was a very fun and busy day. I was teamed up with my dad, Ron, and we left my house bright and early in order to make it to the Echo Bay viewing platform before the competition officially started at 7:00am, with a target of getting 60 species for the day. We arrived about ten minutes early and it was hard to just sit and wait and not start counting all the birds we were seeing and hearing. As soon as 7:00am hit, we added American Bittern to our list, as one had been sitting nearby since we arrived. A couple minutes later, the Virginia Rail we heard at 6:59am called again, allowing us to count it. We managed to add Sora and Marsh Wren here as well, two species I wasn't counting on getting.

Next, we made our way through the Bar River Flats then on to Pumpkin Point. We were quickly adding species to our list as we went, which was great. It took about five seconds to hear the resident Red-bellied Woodpecker call at the end of Pumpkin Point and there were nine Pied-Billed Grebes all together in the open water visible from Centennial Park, something I don't think I've seen before. We hurried over to the Bruce Mines sewage lagoons, where we picked up Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead and Blue-winged Teal. We took the back roads back towards Desbarats, where we saw over 100 Turkey Vultures near Northern Quality Meats and a Brown Thrasher on Government Road, just east of Gordon Lake Road.

It was then time to hit up St. Joseph Island. We raced down to Fort St. Joseph and walked around there for a while, where we finally got our first and only Bald Eagle of the day. We worked our way back north along the west end of the island and back towards Desbarats, arriving at the TKC Conservation Centre just before 4:00pm. In total, my dad and I ended up with 79 species.
Once all the teams arrived back at the TKC Conservation Centre, we dined on some great potluck food and tallied up all the birds that we saw. It was great to hear about all the birds that the other teams got, as everyone had a fantastic day and saw a lot of species.

There were no real rare birds observed throughout the day, but there were a couple birds a little late heading south: Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird and Marsh Wren.
Here is a list, in taxonomic order, of all 101 species that were observed by all the participants:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruffed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Virginia Rail
Sora
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Bald Eagle
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Merlin
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Ovenbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
House Sparrow

Monday, 11 June 2018

Echo Bay Viewing Platform - June 10, 2018

Wow, the wetland in Echo Bay sure does have some good birds in it right now.

On Saturday morning, two other local birders had Yellow Rail and Least Bittern calling from the Echo Bay viewing platform. I was busy all day Saturday doing some private guiding, so I wasn't able to get there until yesterday morning.

I arrived at the platform at 5:45am, over an hour later than I wanted to get there, but I was up past 2:00am so I slept right through that 4:00am alarm. Luckily, I still arrived in time to hear the Yellow Rail call once, only about six minutes after I arrived.  Soon afterwards, I heard the Last Bittern call and then I saw it fly. Then I saw it emerge from the reeds and I was able to get some decent photos of it.




The Yellow Rail was a lifer for me and it was my first record of a Least Bittern in the Algoma District.  There was also an abundance of American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, American Coot and Pied-billed Grebe calling from within the wetland.

From there, I went over to the loonie boardwalk to conduct my MMP survey for that route.  I got Sora and Virginia Rail, but it was nothing compared to the viewing platform.  I then went on a canoe adventure in the Hay Marsh on St. Joseph Island in search of Sedge Wrens, which were successful in finding.

While I was out there, I got an eBird alert of a Common Gallinule from the Echo Bay viewing platform.  Common Gallinules are very rare up here, with only two previous records of one in the Algoma District.  On my way home, just after 7:00pm, I stopped back in at the platform, hoping to hear the gallinule.  It didn't take long before I was successful!  It was actually really close to the platform, but I never got a visual. I did manage a few recording of it calling though.

Yellow Rail, Least Bittern and Common Gallinule. Not a bad day!

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Whitefish Point Day Trip

On Sunday, my friend and coworker Nathan and I traveled up to the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory near Paradise, Michigan in search of late migrating birds.

We arrived on location just after 6:00am to a very heavy fog cover.  Obviously, this wasn't ideal for finding birds, but nothing we could do about that!  It became quickly apparent that the most frequent bird we were going to see that day was Blue Jays.  Hundreds were flying around overhead and among the trees.

We went straight to the beach in search of any shorebirds we could find among the fog.  Since the Piping Plovers were back, most of the beach was blocked off, but they left a small strip right along the shoreline to walk along.  Before we found the shorebirds, six White-winged Scoters came flying out of the fog, practically right into our faces, then turned right back into the fog.  It was pretty cool to see them so up close, even if it was very brief.

We caught up with the shorebird flock, which had many Sanderlings, some Dunlin, a Semipalmated Plover, a couple Black-bellied Plovers, a Least Sandpiper, a Semipalmated Sandpiper and this White-rumped Sandpiper, a lifer for me:


We were hoping to catch up with the Piping Plovers, but no luck this go around.  We headed back to the feeder behind the gift shop.  No much was going on there (other than a ton of Blue Jays), but this Philadelphia Vireo was cool to see.


There was also a Snowshoe Hare visiting the feeder area.


We explored around some of the other areas of the point, but didn't see much of note, so we headed back down to the beach.  This time, we came across a flock of shorebirds almost right away.  It was a group of basically the same species we saw early, but this time, there were three Ruddy Turnstones in with them!  Unfortunately, the fog cover was so thick that my photos of them are very terrible.

Further down the beach, we finally came across the Piping Plovers, another lifer for me.   The male was actively searching for food while the female just sat and watched.



We headed back up to the parking lot, where we quickly learned that a Connecticut Warbler was just seen.  In about five minutes, we found it again and I managed an okay shot of it.


Most of the fog had cleared by now, so we headed up with the hawk watch platform.  A decent number of Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, Broad-winged Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks were moving past, so we sat and viewed them for a while.

Before we left, we made one more pass at the beach, in case we could find one or two more shorebird species.  Sadly, we did not, but with most of the fog gone, the photo opportunities were better.   

Semipalmated Sandpiper with Sanderling behind

Sanderlings
Here is just a small fraction of the the Blue Jays scene looked like throughout the morning.


Our full checklist of species from the morning can be found here on eBird: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S46071877.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Point Pelee 2018

I had a fantastic trip to Point Pelee National Park and the surrounding area last week.  I again camped at White Pine within the park with 14 other members of the Sault Naturalists.   Here is a quick summary of the trip:

I left Sault Ste. Marie at 5:30am and by just after noon, I was already on my first lifer of the trip.  Just as I stopped at Pelee Wings to check out their feeders, I received word of a Little Gull at Hillman Marsh Conservation Area.  When I arrived, it was actually to the very left of all the other gulls, so it was very easy to see.


After spending about an hour and a half there, I headed to the park and set up my tent, then got right back into the birding.  It didn't take me long to get my second lifer of the trip, a Kentucky Warbler.


A little rain came down, but luckily it happened during supper time.  After it stopped, I was straight back to birding.  The park was basically empty at this point, but the birds were everywhere.  By the time I arrived back at camp, as it was getting pretty dark out, I was up to 97 species since I arrived within the Point Pelee Birding Area.  The challenge this year was to get 100 species in one day, so I knew I couldn't quit yet.  I drove up to DeLaurier Homestead and it took all of 15 seconds to hear an American Woodcock.  Up next was the Marsh Boardwalk, where in the first 100m of the boardwalk, I managed to hear both Marsh Wren and American Bittern.  100 species!

The next day produced two lifers as well.  First, I got this Hooded Warbler.


And later in the day, I got a Golden-winged Warbler, but not a good picture.


After my first full day of the trip, I ended up with 125 species.  Other than the two lifers, I didn't really see many birds of note, but I did see a lot of birds!

Day number three started out with a sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker.  I believe this was only the fourth sighting of one ever in the park.  It was crazy to see all the people running to get a look at this bird, considering I see them almost everyday at home.  There was also a Prairie Warbler, a species I'd only ever seen before in Cuba.


In the early afternoon, word got out that two American Avocets were back at Hillman Marsh, so I raced over there and got them, a lifer for me.


I also got a decent photo of a Willet.


And there was a Great Horned Owl across the pond, roosting in a tree.


The excitement for the morning of day four was a pair of American White Pelicans at the tip of Point Pelee.


In the afternoon, I went to Wheatley Harbour to see a Snowy Owl that was hanging out on the rocks there.  It was so cool to see on so late into the spring.


So, after three and a half days, I ended up with 170 species within the Point Pelee Birding Area, including five lifers.  The Sault Naturalists ended up smashing their combined group record, with 197 species, beating the previous record, which was set only last year, of 175 species.  It was a great trip and I'm already looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Sault Ste. Marie's Western Kingbird

A Western Kingbird showed up at Whitefish Island in Sault Ste. Marie!.  It was first found by Elijah Rodgers on Friday morning (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45557804).  He wasn't able to get the word out about it until the afternoon, so right after work, I raced back into town and headed straight for Whitefish Island.

It took me about 10 or 15 minutes to track the bird down and I sure was excited when I did.  I definitely did not expect that I'd be seeing a Western Kingbird, a lifer for me, here in Sault Ste. Marie.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get any really great photos of it.


I got the word out that it was still around and few more local birders arrived to get a glimpse of this rare bird.  This was only the second record of a Western Kingbird for the Algoma District, with the first one coming only last September (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S38960845).

On Saturday morning, there was sign of the bird and I didn't hear of any reports from anyone else.  I assumed the bird only stuck around for one day, which is the case for many rare flycatchers.  However, while I was birding at Whitefish Island early Sunday evening, I received an eBird alert that the Western Kingbird had been reported earlier that day.  I walked over to the location it was hanging out in on Friday, and sure enough, there it was.  I was able to get a better photo this time!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Ruddy Duck in Sault Ste. Marie

A Ruddy Duck showed up in Sault Ste. Marie!  While these ducks are commonly found in Southern Ontario, they rarely make it this far north.  There have been only a handful of previous eBird records of Ruddy Duck in Sault Ste. Marie.

This bird was first found by Euan Aitken in the St. Marys River, out from City Hall.  Luckily, it stuck around for the rest of the day and many people got to enjoy it.  It was extremely windy, which made it cold, but it was worth it.  It was also hard to photograph because it was going up and down in the waves, but I managed some alright shots.




Monday, 16 April 2018

Cuba 2018

So, last month, my girlfriend, Lindsey, and I took a vacation to Varadero, Cuba.  It wasn't a bird watching trip, but I still got to see lots of cool birds.

We stayed at a resort called Muthu Playa Varadero.  We didn't arrive to the resort until well after dark, but that didn't stop me from getting my first bird.  As we explored the resort in the dark, we spooked a Short-eared Owl, who started barking at us.  We got a very crappy look at it too when it flew off. This was definitely one bird I was not expecting to get here!

I woke up bright and early to explore the resort for birds.  There were birds calling left and right but none of them were visible.  Then, I looked up and four Magnificent Frigatebirds were flying over! Here's a bad photo of one of them:

Magnificent Frigatebird
It quickly became apparent that House Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds and Greater Antillean Grackles were going to be the abundant species.  I also got a distant flyby Wood Stork, two Yellow-throated Warblers, a Zenaida Dove, some Neotropic Cormorants, a Cuban Blackbird, a few Eurasian Collared-Doves, some Laughing Gulls, Antillean Palm-Swifts, Cuban Martins and Cave Swallows.  Ten lifers in just over an hour!

Later in the morning while down at the beach, a Royal Tern went flying by.  After lunch, we went for a walk at the nearby Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. Here I got Cuban Emerald, Yellow-headed Warbler, Gray Kingbird, and Cuban Vireo.  My last lifer of the day was Brown Pelican, back down at the beach.

Day two was a bus trip down to the Zapata Peninsula to a beach and crocodile farm.  I figured I'd get some cool birds down there, as it's one of the prime birding locations in Cuba.  If only I was able to actually concentrate 100% on birding!  The first lifer of the day was a Glossy Ibis flying in front of another resort.  On the ride there, I saw countless Cattle Egrets in the fields, as well as a Cuban Crow. 

Our second spot was a place called Cueva de los Peces.  Here I got Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, and Red-legged Thrush. Not bad for a 20 minute stop!

Terrible photo of a Red-legged Thrush and Cuban Green Woodpecker
Blue-headed Quail-Dove
The next stop was at a beach.  We hung out here for almost two hours.  There wasn't much for birds, but I did managed lifers White-winged Dove, Little Blue Heron and Loggerhead Kingbird here.  We headed back north towards the crocodile farm and we passed a Swallow-tailed Kite sitting on the wore along the road. Neat!

The crocodile farm, Criadero de Cocodrilos, was a birding hotspot.  I really wish we had more than half an hour of free time here.  I got Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Oriole, Red-shouldered Blackbird and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, among a bunch of other birds I'd already seen before.

Cuban Oriole

West Indian Woodpeckers

Red-legged Thrush

Common Gallinule

Great Egret

Cuban Pewee

Green Heron

Purple Gallinule

Cuban Emerald
Our last stop of the day was at some place that also had quite a few birds, but the only lifer was a few Smooth-billed Anis

Smooth-billed Ani



Just before we got back to the hotel, we saw a few Anhingas sunning themselves on the rocks along the shoreline.

On day three, I took a walk off the resort in search of birds.  It ended up being pretty successful!  The highlight was definitely seeing another Swallow-tailed Kite, and getting photo proof this time, although very distant shots.  I also got Gundlach's Hawk, Cuban Black Hawk, Common Ground-Dove and Western Spindalis, plus some great up close look at some Cattle Egrets.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Cattle Egret

Anhinga

Cuban Black Hawk

Gundlach's Hawk

Common Ground-Dove

Western Spindalis
Upon returning to the resort, I got photos of a Yellow-throated Warbler, Cuban Blackbird, Royal Tern, plus a lifer Prairie Warbler.

Cuban Blackbird

Prairie Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Royal Tern
Day four didn't produce any lifers as we just hung out at the resort.  On day five, we took a boat tour out to an island called Cayo Blanco.  There was a Reddish Egret right at the beach when we got off the boat, a lifer.  There was some great gull photo ops here.  Plus I got my only shorebirds of the entire trip here, two Ruddy Turnstones.  On the ride home, there were 43 Magnificent Frigatebirds over a little island.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Laughing Gull

Magnificent Frigatebirds
That was a wrap on the new birds for the trip, but I did get some good Brown Pelican photos over the last two days.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican
In total, I observed 76 species over the course of a week in Cuba, 44 of which were lifers.  Here is the complete list of birds I saw:


Helmeted Guineafowl
Wood Stork
Magnificent Frigatebird
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Swallow-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Gundlach's Hawk
Cuban Black Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Purple Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Ruddy Turnstone
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Blue-headed Quail-Dove
White-winged Dove
Zenaida Dove
Mourning Dove
Smooth-billed Ani
Short-eared Owl
Antillean Palm-Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Cuban Emerald
West Indian Woodpecker
Cuban Green Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Cuban Pewee
Gray Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird
Cuban Vireo
Cuban Crow
Purple Martin
Cuban Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cave Swallow
Red-legged Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Western Spindalis
Yellow-headed Warbler
Cuban Oriole
Red-shouldered Blackbird
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird
Cuban Blackbird
Greater Antillean Grackle
House Sparrow