Monday, February 20, 2017

Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a four day citizen science event that takes place each year in February, this year from February 17-20.  The idea of the event is to get a snapshot in time of where all the birds are across the world.  Obviously, I wanted to participate and try to see the most species for the Algoma District.  All the data is entered through eBird, but the data for the Great Backyard Bird Count can be viewed separately from the rest of the eBird data.

Day One started when I left work a little early and headed to nearby Bellevue Park.  There haven't been many birds there lately, but I managed to get my first nine species for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The usual Rock Pigeons, Black-capped Chickadees, American Crows and Common Ravens were all there.  The Pine Grosbeaks that had been hanging around were still there, as well as two of the Purple Finches that I've commonly seen there this winter.  Two White-breasted Nuthatches and a single American Goldfinch rounded out the stop.  I then headed over to Whitefish Island and the St. Mary's Rapids.  Here I added Mallard, American Black Duck, Common Merganser, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, American Robin, European Starling, Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker.  This put me up to 17 species on the day, but that left me in second place in the Algoma District after Day One, trailing by two.

Day Two was a much better day.  I awoke to an email saying a Canvasback was seen the day before in the St. Mary's River.  Despite the fog, I was able to track it down.  This was really exciting since it was a lifer and a rare bird for the area.  I had to go to Desbarats for a Sault Naturalists outing on a Kensington Conservancy property that I managed, so I headed there, adding a Merlin along the way.  The Sharp-tailed Grouse were present again and the resident Red-tailed Hawk flew over, this time with a mate.  After spooking a Ruffed Grouse, I was able to add three more species over the course of the hike.  I then went over to St. Joseph Island where I stopped at Barry Lyons' to try to see the Red-bellied Woodpeckers he had coming to his feeder.  Barry was actually the one who stopped the Canvasback first.  Over the course of half an hour or so, two Red-bellied Woodpeckers stopped by and I also added Blue Jay to my weekend list.  After driving past an almost guaranteed Wild Turkey spot and seeing those, I went to my parents' house.  Their feeder produced my final two new species for the day, Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch.  My total after two days was now 28, good for an eight species lead going into Day Three.

Day Three was a very big let down compared to Day Two.  I had plans to go fishing on St. Joseph Island and was hoping to add a Bald Eagle or a Rough-legged Hawk on the drive there, but no luck.  While fishing, I heard Mourning Doves and later saw over 30 of them when I walked down the shoreline, so that was a new one for the count.  I spent the rest afternoon at my parents' and a Northern Cardinal showed up today, another new one for the count.  My new total after Day Three was 30,  but I dropped down to second place, trailing by four.

Day Three started with waking up to another email, this time saying a Greater Scaup had been seen down in the St. Mary's River.  I arrived at Clergue Park, which is where it was seen the day before.  There were lot's of ducks in the river, but no scaup after my first scan.  Three Bald Eagles were out on the ice, so I finally was able to add them to my list.  I actually saw one caught and eat a duck.  After about five minutes, the scaup showed up.  I snapped a few pictures as proof and then it disappeared again.  I was able to add Red-breasted Merganser and Hooded Merganser while there too.  My next stop was Whitefish Island again, where I only was able to add Pileated Woodpecker.  After heading home for lunch and a few chores, I went out for a walk at Fort Creek Conservation Area.  I took a trail I'd never been down before and came across a group of feeders that someone had up in the middle of the forest.  There were a bunch of regular feeder birds at and around the feeders, but on a nearby tree I saw a Brown Creeper, another new one for the weekend and a lifer!  My last stop of the day was back down at the St. Mary's River at the Delta Hotel.  Three Ring-billed Gulls were out on the ice with the Herring Gulls and a Canada Goose was eating grass in front.  I ended the day with a grand total of 38 species seen over the course of the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend, good for first place, three species ahead of second!

It was definitely a very fun and very rewarding weekend.  I was able to add six species to my year list for the Algoma District, with three of them being lifers.  The unusually warm weather definitely helped as the birds were active and some species that shouldn't be here yet, were here.  There were 52 species total seen this weekend in Algoma and I was able to get 73.08% of them.  While it does feel good to get the most species, I have no idea how hard anyone else was trying and the whole idea of the Great Backyard Bird Count is definitely not a competition.  It was good to see a lot of unfamiliar names pop up on eBird over the weekend as people took part in the event.  My 38 species was also good for a tie for 76th place in Ontario, which is very good considering Southern Ontario has way more birds than we do here.  It also placed me in a tie for 209th in all of Canada.  I look forward to doing this again next year!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Michigan Birding

Yesterday, the Sault Naturalists had an outing in Michigan to look for Snowy Owls and whatever other interesting birds were around.  13 members from the club, including myself, split into three vehicles and headed south from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Our first stop was at the Dafter Post Office.  The highlight species here was the Pine Grosbeak, which there was probably at 25 of.  They were flying all around, collecting grit from the road and really enjoying a crab apple tree that still had apples on it.  There was a Downy Woodpecker, a Pine Siskin, some European Starlings and a bunch of chickadees as well.

We continued on, making our way to the Dafter Dump.  Along the way, we saw many Bald Eagles and a Rough-legged Hawk.  I spotted the hawk as it landed on a tall, distant conifer.  We stopped and got out the spotting scopes to get a better look at it.  It then took off, giving us a good look at it flying and luckily it came slightly closer and landed again.  After more eagles, we got to the dump.  Since the dump was closed, we had to observe from the entrance.  There were many Herring Gulls, eagles, crows and ravens.  I was able to get a brief look at a Glaucous Gull before it flew out of sight.  Apparently, a Thayer's Gull had been seen there earlier in the day, but not again by us.

We then headed down to Rudyard to check out the Snowy Owls.  Almost right away, we found one sitting on a fence post.  While observing it, we realized it was one of four visible from our location.  We got some good looks of a few flying as well as they kept moving around.  One of them was on a telephone pole just down the road, so we headed down and got some decent photos of it.  We stopped for lunch in Rudyard, then headed south down Centerline Road.  We managed to see three more owls along this stretch and got some decent photos.

One of the many Snowy Owls observed during the day.
Next, we traveled over to Pickford.  There is a house in Pickford we a feeder that usually attracts all kinds of birds.  We parked right beside a crab apple tree and there was an American Robin enjoying the fruit.  Our eighth Snowy Owl was seen on a nearby rooftop.  We saw chickadees, goldfinches, nuthatches and a Mourning Dover at the feeder.  I saw a bird and put my binoculars up, thinking it was another goldfinch.  However, it wasn't.  It was a sparrow, but definitely not like any sparrow that should be around this time of the year.  Right after I called out "sparrow" to the group, someone mentioned that a Lincoln's Sparrow was a continuing rarity in Pickford.  That made sense, as this sparrow I had seen had fine streaks on its chest.  It didn't stick around in the feeder area for very long, but one other member from the group, Christopher, managed to get a look at it.  After we consulted the field guide, it was obvious that it was in fact the Lincoln's Sparrow that we saw.  A lifer for me!  We waited for a bit, and I was hoping to get a photo of it, but it never came back.

Another continuing rarity in town was a Western Meadowlark.  We moved across town to where it has been seen as recently that morning.  Some Mourning Doves were around, but not much else.  Christopher and I walked up the road ahead of the group in search of the meadowlark.  We found the ninth and final Snowy Owl of the day, perched on a pole in a backyard.  Then, we heard a bird calling that didn't sound like anything we'd expect to hear.  We were able to clearly hear it, but could not see where this bird was.  Obviously we had our hopes up that it was the meadowlark.  As the call ended, I pulled out my phone and played the call for the Western Meadowlark.  It definitely seemed like a match to us!  The rest of the group caught up and a lady came out of the house we that we heard the call coming from behind.  Since she knew we were looking for the meadowlark, she told us that it was just on her back deck minutes before.  It made sense that we heard it not too far from her back deck then.  Since just hearing a bird counts, another lifer!

It turned out to be a very good day of birding!  Lots of fun seemed to have been had.  On the drive home, our vehicle saw another Rough-legged Hawk and a Sharp-tailed Grouse to finish the day off.