Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2018 Great Backyard Bird Count

My 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count was pretty successful.  I managed to get a total of 36 species.  32 in my home Algoma District, Ontario and 24 across the river in Chippewa County, Michigan.

On Friday, the first day of the count, I birded a little bit before work and a little bit after and managed to get 23 species.  The highlight was my first Ring-necked Pheasant of the year.  Basically, all the other birds I saw were common feeder birds and the usual winter waterfowl species. I decided to stop and take a photo of a Common Raven though!

One of the Mallard I saw though was an intersex Mallard, meaning it's a female with a low estrogen level, therefore it was displaying male traits.  It retained it's female beak though!

On the second day, the plan was to head across the river into Michigan was the Sault Naturalists to do some birding.  Before I met up with the group, I stopped in at Pine Street Marina to once again check out the Barrow's Goldeneye, which I didn't find the day before.

It was so windy that day that the Snowy Owls must have been hiding and out of sight.  It took us forever to find our first one.  You can actually see it's ear tufts!

Only a few minutes later, our group of 14 found our second, but last Snowy Owl of the day.

Some of the other highlights from the day were some Lapland Longspurs mixed in with a big flock of Snow Buntings, some calling Evening Grosbeaks and some House Sparrows at a farm.  I got some good photos of some Pine Grosbeaks!

On Sunday, I didn't do much birding.  Ruffed Grouse was the only species I added for the count for the day.  However, at almost 9:30pm, my girlfriend got a message from a friend that a Snowy Owl was perched on a pole at the Parks Canada building.  We hopped in the car and drove over to see it, but it was much too dark out to get any photos.  Always nice to see a Snowy Owl on the Canadian side!

I woke up early on Saturday and headed to Whitefish Island, hoping to get some waxwings or a robin.  I got neither, but I got a Downy Woodpecker!  I also managed to see one of the continuing Common Goldeneye x Hooded Mergansers hybrids, but on the American side of the river.  This is the first eBird record of the hybrid for Chippewa County!  Later in the afternoon, my girlfriend and I went for a walk at Fort Creek Conservation Area.  There are a few feeder set up here and the birds were plentiful, including this Brown Creeper.

Further down the trail, Lindsey pointed out an owl like structure in a tree just off the trail.  Barred Owl!  I managed to get some pretty decent photos of it.

This is my first time actually getting photos of this species.  The past times I've seen them in the daylight, they haven't hung around long enough for photos.

So my 36 species this year is two less than last year's 38.  No Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Canada Goose or Canvasback this year!  In total, 51 species were recorded in Algoma during the GBBC, but I don't think anyone reported the Great Gray Owl that was being photographed in the Bruce Mines area on Sunday.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

St. Marys River Hybrids

On March 23, 2017, Barry Lyons photographed this strange looking duck in the St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie.

Photo by Barry Lyons
After many local birders discussed the bird, it was determined that it was a Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid.  This bird was not seen again.

That is, until recently.  Ken McIlwrick photographed a Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid in the river on January 31.  It was thought at the time that this was likely the same bird that Barry photographed last winter.

Photo by Ken McIlwrick
When the Barrow's Goldeneye was discovered on Feb 8, birders flocked to the river.  A couple photos were taken of the Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid at this time as well.

Photo by Barry Lyons
Photo by Ken McIlwrick

During my hunt for the Barrow's Goldeneye on February 9, I was able to get a crappy photo of the hybrid.

Yesterday evening, February 10, I was down at the river to try and relocated the Barrow's Goldeneye to attempt to get a better photo of it.  I ran into Bob Knudsen here, who pointed out there were two Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrids in the raft of goldeneyes and mergansers that had started to form.  I snapped some photos.

As you'll see, I was unable to photograph one of the hybrids with it's head up.  However, from these photos, it certainly looks like it has a much rounder head that the hybrid that does have it's head up in a couple of my photos.

Now, after looking back at Ken's photo from January 31, I think that this round head bird is the bird he saw, while all the other photos have been of of the flatter head hybrid.

Neat birds and really cool to have two of them present at once!

Friday, February 9, 2018

St. Marys River Barrow's Goldeneye

The St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie hosts hundreds Common Goldeneyes each years.  It was long overdue for a Barrow's Goldeneye to make an appearance.  Luckily, 2018 is the year that one did!  Actually, in 1956, a Barrow's Goldeneye was recorded in the Sault Ste. Marie Christmas Bird Count, but absolutely no details can be found on that sighting were ever found.

This Barrow's Goldeneye was first photographed by an unknown non-birder.  Yesterday, this non-birder ran into a birder, Barry Lyons, and showed him the photo because he knew it looked at bit different than the Common Goldeneyes.  Barry recognized it instantly and the hunt was on from there.  He ended up relocating it at about 5:15pm at the mouth of Fort Creek, which is where the goldeneyes have been congregating each night at dusk.  He got a great photo of it!  A few other local birders were able to get to it before dark as well.

Photo by Barry Lyons
Barry was also able to get a photo of the rare Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid that has been around lately.

Photo by Barry Lyons

Unfortunately, I was not in town and wouldn't be until much later that night, so I missed out.  First thing this morning though, I was on it.

I arrived at the mouth of Fort Creek at 7:30am in hopes to catch the flock before they dispersed for the day.  I was a little too late, as many had already moved downstream.  I got a good scan in of the remaining ducks before a Bald Eagle flew over and scattered the rest, but the rare bird did not appear to be in there.  I spent an hour or so searching along the river before I had to get back home and do some work!  I did find the hybrid for the first time though, although the photo is not good.

I took an early lunch and tried a few spots I didn't check earlier.  Jackpot.  At 11:30am, I found the Barrow's Goldeneye in some open water of Pine Street Marina.  I got great views of it in my scope and some crappy long distance photos.

I quickly notified a couple people who were also looking for it and they zipped over so get some looks at it.  My quick online updates to Algoma District Birding and Ontario Rare Bird Alert proved beneficial as well, as someone saw one of the updates and text their friends who were only a couple minutes away at the time.  I sure was confused when two gentleman from Southern Ontario showed up only minutes after I posted the updates!

I also photographed this male Common Merganser.  It caught himself a crayfish but was struggling to get it down the hatch.  It kept throwing it in the air and the retrieving it again.  Eventually, he did get it down.

After heading home and working for a few more hours, I met up with my friend James Logan back at the marina so he could see the bird, which luckily was still there.  We hung around for about an hour and watched it as we chatted.  At 5:10pm, the bird disappeared.  I'm not sure if it flew away when we weren't watching or it moved into the direct sunlight that was beaming down.  Regardless, I was banking on it meeting up with the rest of the goldeneyes downtown at dusk again, so I headed downtown so that could try to get a better photo of it.

That proved unsuccessful.  I stood around waiting for 50 minutes, but it never showed up.  At least 140 Common Goldeneyes and 20 Common Mergansers flew in and rafted up during that time, but no Barrow's Goldeneye.  Maybe I'll be able to find some closer looks this weekend!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Eastern Upper Peninsula Birding

This morning, I joined Elliot Nelson to lead a birding tour for the Little Traverse Conservancy in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, starting in Pickford.  Due to a few last minute cancellations, only four participants showed up for the tour, but they were eager to see some birds!

To back up though, on my drive down to Pickford, I saw my first Snowy Owl of the day.

Our first stop of the morning as a group was right in Pickford to see a bunch of Sharp-tailed Grouse.  They were feeding behind a house and could be seen in the nearby trees.  There were a feeder birds buzzing around too, which drew in a Northern Shrike.  It chased and chased some little birds around, but it never seemed to be successful.  It was cool to see it on the hunt though!

After that, it didn't take long to find a Snowy Owl for the group.  While photos were getting taken, Elliot got a text of a picture of a Great Gray Owl from Joseph Hammerle, who was up in the area looking specifically for it.  This owl was seen earlier in the week by a non-birder and many people had been unsuccessful in finding it over the past few days, so it was exciting that it had finally been found again.  The only draw back was that it was a bit of a drive away.  However, the group said they wanted to risk the drive as they had never seen a Great Gray Owl before!  The gentleman who found it said he would wait for us to get there and keep an eye on the owl.  We arrived to bad news.  A Pileated Woodpecker had just chased to owl off into the thick woods.  We stood around for a little while but it never resurfaced, so we hopped back in the cars and drove further down the road.  No very far down the road, there it was!  It was sitting on a snag right on the side of the road.  I got my camera out and snapped two quick and terrible photos before it took off back into the trees.

Despite the short showing, everyone in the group got great looks at this magnificent bird.  If I didn't just recently get good photos of the Thessalon, Ontario area Great Gray Owl, then I would've been extremely disappointed that I didn't get better ones of this one.

We headed back north in search of more Snowy Owls in the Pickford and Rudyard areas.  Of course, we found many, but some were outside of photo range.

Just south of Rudyard were a few trees full of fruit.  A bunch of Pine Grosbeaks and two Bohemian Waxwings were hanging out there.  No real good photos of them though.

Our last stop of the morning was at some private feeders in Kinross.  A female Evening Grosbeak was the highlight here among the other usual feeder birds.

The tour for the day was over after this.  It was definitely very successful and the participants were extremely happy, especially with the Great Gray Owl.  It turns out that they went back on their own to look for it again, but found a Barred Owl instead.  So it was a three owl day for them!

On my way back north to Sault Ste. Marie, I swung over the to the feeders at the Dunbar Forest.  I got 14 species here, but none of much significance.  A Dark-eyed Junco was the best here!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Northern Saw-whet Owl

This morning, I received an email from Andrew Kwon of the Island Clippings, with some photos of a small little owl that was sitting on a shovel outside his window. He wanted to confirm his ID of Northern Saw-whet Owl and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. I assumed that the bird was long gone, but it turned out that it was still sitting there when Andrew replied to my email, so I hopped in my car, left work in Desbarats, and drove over to Andrew’s house on St. Joseph Island.

It was still there when I arrived, although it had moved from the shovel to the wheelbarrow.

I've heard these little owls before, but this is my first time ever actually seeing one.  

This is the second owl Andrew has seen from the comfort of his own house.  Last winter, he had a Snowy Owl perch on the hydro pole that directly in front of the house!

I got a Snowy Owl in Sault Ste. Marie last week, so now I'm up to three owl species in the Algoma District this year.