Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bohemian Waxwing Invasion

Bohemian Waxwings were definitely present on Whitefish Island in Sault Ste. Marie.  I had been seeing a few hundred each time I went there and others were reporting as much as 800. 

On January 14th, 2017, it was crazy.  They were everywhere.  I didn't even know where to begin counting.  It was so loud and so hectic, they were flying in every direction.  It really is hard to discribe what it was like.  Then, all of a sudden, almost all of them flew simultaneously into the air.  I was able to snap a quick shot of them before they the flock flew off into the distance. 

I realized I'd be able to count them from the photo so I quickly found them ones that remained and counted them.  There was only 106, definitely a manageable number to count compared to the group that had just left.  I found the time to count them from the photo a few days later and got a total of 1924 birds in the flock for a total of 2026 Bohemian Waxwings.  This is a new record high for the Algoma District, based on eBird data.

1924 Bohemian Waxwings taking flight

Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowy Owls in Michigan

Yesterday, I experienced the Rudyard Loop for this first time.  The Rudyard Loop is a 14km rectangular route, just west of Rudyard, Michigan and is where many Snowy Owls can be found during the winter months.

In the morning, seven of us traveled down to Rudyard from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is about about a 30 minute drive.  I was joined by Rob Routledge, a professor at Sault College, and five students (one of which was my girlfriend Lindsey) from various Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies programs at Sault College.  We made our first pass around the Rudyard Loop and we lucky enough to come across 13 different Snowy Owls.  Unfortunately, none of them provided any good photo opportunities.

Next, we traveled a variety of back roads in search of more owls and what other interesting birds we could find.  While we didn't find more owls, we did see a good variety of birds, including Wild Turkeys, Evening Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches and a Rough-legged Hawk.  Just before stopping in Pickford, Michigan for a break, we saw the non-owl highlight of the trip, which was six Horned Larks getting grit from the road.  This was a lifer for me, so I was very excited.  I tried to get a good picture, but they flew away before I could get close enough.

After Pickford, we drove throughout the surrounding farmland in search of Sharp-tailed Grouse, but were unsuccessful.  We did manage to see another Rough-legged Hawk though, which was a dark morph, the first one of those I'd ever seen.

Our next stop was at the Dunbar Forest, located just north of Barbeau, Michigan.  This was definitely a very interesting spot.  There is a residence that has put up dozens of bird feeders and allows visitors to come onto the property to see all the feeder birds they attract.  This is where I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker high up in an oak tree, which was only the third one I've ever seen.  There were also many finches, chickadees, nuthatches and sparrows enjoying the free food.  A few Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers were around as well.

We then started heading back towards the Rudyard Loop.  On the way, we saw our third Rough-legged Hawk of the day and a Northern Shrike.  Our second stop at the Rudyard Loop, didn't provide as many owls, but it did provide many photo opportunities!  I managed to get shots that I liked of five different Snowy Owls, which can be seen below.  At this time, there were many other people driving around and looking at the owls.  A couple people had camera setups that looked more expensive than my car, so I'm sure they were getting better photos than me.

After we had got enough photos of the owls, we made our way back north to Canada.  I definitely had a great experience and it's a day that I'll never forget.  Hopefully I'll get back down there soon to see the Snowy Owls and other birds again.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Desbarats Christmas Bird Count

It was a lot of hard work and effort to set up and organize, but the first Desbarats Christmas Bird Count was a great success!

I got the idea for starting a Christmas Bird Count in Desbarats while scrolling through the Bird Studies Canada website one day this past summer while looking for event ideas I could use for the Kensington Conservancy, which I am the Land Stewardship Coordinator for.  I got everything organized with Bird Studies Canada, picked out the exact location of the count circle and chose the date of December 29, 2016.  I then advertised the event and the interested stated pouring in!  I had way more interest than I expected, which made for some more work, but I wasn't complaining.

There was eight of us in my group for the actual count.  I was joined by my girlfriend, my mother, Cheryl from the North Channel Current and three members of the Sault Naturalists.  Our job was to cover the Desbarats area of the count circle, which included all of the Kensington Conservancy's 893 acres. 

Our first stop was for a snowshoe around the Kensington Conservancy's Archibald Homestead, a 170 acre property that used to be farmed.  We snowshoed around, seeing nothing but some ravens and chickadees.  We got down near the water and finally saw something a little more interesting.  Two medium-sized birds were hoping around in the trees, but they were far away and hard to see.  Finally, I was able to get a decent look at one through my binoculars and realized they were Pine Grosbeaks.  Next, we started making our way back to our cars to complete the loop.  We saw a Bald Eagle fly overhead, a Ruffed Grouse among the trees and a Red-breasted Nuthatch with some chickadees along the way.  Just before we reached the cars, we saw about 17 Pine Grosbeaks gathering grit from the road and a Hairy Woodpecker in a nearby tree.

Next, we traveled along a few back roads before stopping at the next property and saw a House Sparrow and some European Starlings and Rock Pigeons in addition to the regular crows and ravens.  We strapped on the snowshoes again and took a walk around the Kensington Conservancy's Foster Parkland and Walking Trails property.  This portion of the day barely produced at all.  I think we saw one crow fly over and maybe a couple chickadees. 

After lunch, our group was now down to four people, as some had to take off.  We drove around again and manged to see some more chickadees, some Blue Jays and an American Goldfinch at some feeders in Desbarats.  Just before arriving at our last property of the day, there were five Wild Turkeys on the side of the road.  We snowshoed into the Black Hole Preserve, another Kensington Conservancy owned property.  We thought we weren't going to see any birds at all, then all of the sudden a hawk flew overhead.  We all threw our binoculars up to our eyes and quickly determined it was a Red-tailed Hawk.

By now, it was 3:00pm and the last three members of the group called it quits for the day.  I decided I wasn't done yet, so I did some more driving around to see what I could find.  The only significant thing I managed was a small flock of 19 Snow Buntings in a field.  The snow and wind then started to really pick up, so I finished and went home.

In total, my group was able to record 16 different species for a total of 126 birds.  Add that to all the other groups and feeder watchers, the Desbarats Christmas Bird Count saw 35 species and 1532 birds.  This event had a total of 34 people participate, which made it the best field work event that the Kensington Conservancy had all year.  I'm already looking forward to next year and hopefully it will be even better!

To see the full results from the Desbarats Christmas Bird Count, click here.

A group of fielder observers on The Kensington Conservancy's Archibald Homestead
Bohemian Waxwing photographed by Barry Lyons