Pacific Golden-Plovers in Ontario

I found this post that I started back in 2020 and thought I would edit and repost now!

I've done a lot of research over the winter about birds that Ontario needs for it's all time list and I keep coming back to a few species. One of these species is PAPL, which has occurred numerous times along the eastern seaboard, yet somehow manages to avoid Ontario.. so I'm going to do an atypical blog post and really get into the vagrancy/ID of Pacific.

Ok so let's start with the basics. According to eBird, there are 8 records in the Northeastern US and 7 in eastern Canada as of November 2020.
The dates are as follows; 04-21 (MA), 05-12 (NL), 05-20 (NL), 06-05 (NL), 06-26 (NL), 07-16 (NL), 07-25 (DE), 07-25 (MA), 07-30 (NL), 09-01 (NY), 09-04 (NJ), 09-06 (VT) (iffy..), 09-11 (ME), 09-14 (NL), 12-06 (NL).

Since writing this there have been at least 5 more... 04-23 (NS), 09-25 (MA), 08-26 (MA), 10-29 (CT), 09-16 (PA), 05-16 (NJ) Which makes it even more frustrating that Ontario hasn't had one....



There is a trend of birds showing up during June and August, with a few records in April, May and December. The December record is a wacky one from Newfoundland, though there are others from Florida in the winter (more expected there though). July/August seems like the most likely time for an Ontario sighting to me... and to make things a bit easier there aren't a ton of AMGP around then either. 

It's been suggested that the east coast birds are mirror image orienting, meaning they migrate 80-160° in the wrong direction. As you can see above, almost all of the records are close to the Atlanta. This could be because the plovers book it across the continent and stop only when they hit the ocean? Or maybe just due to the lack of good habitat. A lot of shorebirds will fuel up on breeding grounds, then migrate a very long distance before setting down again (why Ontario gets very low numbers of almost all shorebird species, they fly over but just don't land). Some of the PAGP that breed in Alaska migrate 2000km nonstop to wintering grounds on islands in the Pacific Ocean, so the eastern records make sense if you picture the map flipping and the birds heading east instead. Anyway with all of our sewage lagoons, farm fields and Great Lake shorelines, we should have more of a chance to get a PAGP than some of the surrounding states. Unlike AMGP that are often see in fields and areas lacking any water, Pacifics seem to prefer to forage along shorelines and in wet areas.


Ideally we could get a definitive alternate (breeding plumage) male in prime light, with an AMGP right beside it for good comparison. This is unlikely to happen though and we will likely get a or a juvenile or ratty adult in prebasic plumage. After a lot of reading on the subject, I've narrowed it down to a few useful field marks.

1) Primary/Tertial ratio 
 - On the folded wing of a Pacific Golden-plover (PAGP) 2-3 primaries usually extend beyond the longest tertial, while on American (AMGP) 4-5 primaries are usually visible. I say "usually" because molt and viewing conditions can make this hard to judge. Americans have relativity short tertials and long primaries, while Pacifics have long tertials and shorter primaries. This sounds like it should be pretty reliable and, while it's a good feature at time, it may also be one of the most problematic. Almost any plover can be molting it's tertials and primaries, which means that the ratio could be thrown off/fit the wrong species. It can work well as a supporting feature though, and may be helpful in the final identification.

2) Primary projection past tail
- On a similar note, the primaries usually do not extend past the tail on PAGP, whereas they normally extend past the tail on AMGP (or are at least even with it)... extension being 0-9mm in PAGP and 12-22mm in AMGP. The long wings of American often gives the tail a scissor-like vibe.

3) Toes
- This is an iffy field mark, but I thought I'd mention it. On a flying Pacific, the toes *should* extend past the tail, where they fall short on an American. Looking at photos it seems to work sometimes.. but can be quite deceiving depending on angle/what the bird is doing. Having flight shots never hurts though!

4) White line on flanks/side of breast
- For use on adult alternate/Prebasic plumaged birds. On PAGP, there is a continuous white line from the head to the tail.  On AMGP the white ends abruptly at the flanks, which are totally black. Female Pacifics have a less defined breast than males and the breast can be covered in white splotchy areas. Males have a solid black breast with a well defined white line along the side.

5) Tibia
- on Pacific, the tibia (upper leg) usually isn't feathered as heavily as American, which gives it a long-legged appearance. PAGP tends to have a longer tarsus than American, with the tibia more exposed and less feathered proximally, giving it a somewhat longer-legged appearance than AMGP. This is true in all plumages.

6) Bill
- The bill on PAGP is almost always longer and thicker than that of American, which appears more obviously when the birds are side by side. Looking through photos this seems to hold up quite well!

7) Golden Speckling/Overall Vibe
Adult Pacific's tend to have more, and larger golden spots on their back than American's do, and while in preformative molt there often seems to be a lot of messy white splotching throughout (not really seen on AGPL). In Prebasic plumage, PAGP often show a more buffy face as well. As for the impression the bird gives, or the "vibe", this is tough for me to write about as I've never seen one in real life. Reading accounts from other people/looking at photos and videos, PAGP usually have lankier and taller impression than AGPL, with a rounder head. I'll update this when I see some in the future : )

Let's have a look at bird pictured below. It's a fairly bright and well defined plover in definitive alternate plumage, with a white line extending unbroken from the head to the undertail coverts. Three primaries are visible past the longest tertial and the primary projection seems to be pretty short (tough to judge from one shot sometimes though).

- Pacific Golden-Plover 

        Things to note:
  • short primary extension past tail/long tertials
  • white along flanks
  • long tibia due to lack of feathering
  • large, thick bill

(Quick sidenote. I used pictures from the Macaulay Library for this post, however the resolution will appear poor because they are screenshots. To see the full quality images/photographer info, click the links below the photos.

Now this adult American. It's a pretty straight forward ID as far as plovers go... white ending sharply above the beast, all dark flanks and undertail coverts, 5 primaries visible past the longest tertial. Primaries extend beyond tail, short tibia due to feathering.

- American Golden-Plover

         Things to note -
  • long primary extension past tail/short tertials
  • white limited to upperparts, dark flanks/undertail
  • lots of feathers around tibia
  • Shorter, thinner bill

  Juvenile birds

- Juvenile Pacifics usually appear buffy golden overall, where American is more gray and dull in comparison. This seems to hold up among most juveniles, though it becomes increasingly less obvious into late fall, when the feathers become worn and more grey. Juveniles gain their first plumage on breeding grounds in the tundra, then begin a preformative molt once they reach their wintering range. Juvenile plumage is mainly visible July through October, though sometimes all the way into November. PAGP also lack the very prominent white supercilium shown by AMGP, instead showing a golden wash through the supercilium and face. This golden yellow look gives pacific a very warm and buffy appearance. Most birds lack vibrant golden tones by November, though some is retained on the head and scapulars.

 - The primary formula mentioned for adults (3 Ps visible past longest tertial) can still be used on juvenile birds, although molt effects this heavily. This is somewhere where APGL differs from PAGP, as American is the only Pluvialis plover that includes all of it's primaries during preformative molt in the fall... Which could potentially create confusion and give a bird a "shorter winged" look. Keep in mind that most Americans molt later when they reach wintering grounds, however preformative molt could start as early as mid/late October. Because of this difference in molt timing, it stands to reason that in the spring birds with fresh primaries should be AMGP, while birds with old primaries should be PAGP (which don't molt flight feathers until after their first summer). There can definitely be tricky birds during this time, so careful documentation is required. 

- Something else I found while researching different articles/videos was that juvenile Pacific head shape differs from that of American. The head of an American looks more capped and squared off than that of a Pacific, also American often has a thinner nape line. I went through a lot of photos on Macaulay Library, and this does hold up quite well. There are Pacifics that appear capped, but if you look at that, the bill, and the buffiness of the face together, it's often quite reliable!

Ok, with all that said, lets have a look at some photos! 

First up is this juvenile bird from Washington, US. It is very buffy overall, with an off-white, sort of golden supercilium. It also shows a long bill, long tertials (3 primaries visible past tertials) and the primary projection past the tail is quite short. Additionally, the cap isn't that dark/prominent and there isn't much coarse streaking. All told a pretty solid pacific!
- Juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover

For comparison, here's a photo of a juvenile bird from here in Ontario. Compared to the PAGP above, it is very grey overall, with a bold white supercilium and a shorter bill. The face is very stark grey and white, lacking the buffy golden tones. Similarly the rest of the bird's plumage is very grey overall, as seems to be the case with a lot of young AMGP. The long primaries are clearly visible, with 4 projecting past the tertials and going well past the tail.
- Juvenile American Golden-Plover

Here's an AMGP from Toronto, clearly showing a long primary projection/extension past tertials, a white supercilium and a strong capped look to the head (dark crown contrasting strongly with nape).
- Juvenile American Golden-Plover

This photo from Alberta shows an AMGP that is quite buffy overall, with a fairly nondescript supercilium and a pretty golden speckled back. Note the strongly marked, dark cap, short bill and long primary extension past tertials. Also, even though the face is quite dark and messy overall, it still has more of a "cold" grey look to it.
- Juvenile American Golden-Plover

To show an extreme side of things, check out this juv PAGP from Alaska. This birds entire body is very golden, from it's head all the way down to it's face. Hardly any white or grey visible in the face, just a yellowish wash. Short primary extension past tertials also visible. This bird does have a bit of a capped appearance, though it's not as stark/obvious as it is in most AMGP.
- Juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover

Next up is this adult bird, one of the East Coast from North Carolina. It was taken in August and the bird is clearly in the middle of heavy molt, with some of the body feathers, scapulars and tertials appearing very worn and ratty. It's tough to use the primary/tertial ratio on this bird, though the primaries still appear to not project very far past the tail. This bird clearly has a very large bill, and there is white visible all along the edge of the flanks/undertail coverts. Limited feathering visible on the tibia as well. 
- Adult Pacific Golden-Plover in prebasic molt

Most of the Eastern records are either adults in July and August, or juveniles later in the season. The adults tend to be quite worn and messy, though most aren't that big of an ID challenge if you know what to look for. Here's another adult, this one from Massachusetts in late July. Face very white with large bill... lots of white on the flanks/undertail coverts, very large golden speckling on the back, short primary projection past the tail. If you click the eBird list after viewing the photo, the finder has some thorough comments about the sighting which are cool to read!
- Another ad prebasic Pacific

Something interesting I found while going through photos... the old world PAGP appear a lot more golden in juvenile plumage. Like this bird for example..
- Juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover (Hong Kong)

Another interesting thing to note.. especially later in the season (Nov/Dec), some juveniles are quite worn and seem to totally lose their golden colouration.. like this bird..
- Juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover in December

It's worth noting that I didn't discuss adult birds in full basic plumage at length. This is the most unlikely plumage to show up in Ontario, so I mainly focused on the ones that pertain to the majority of the Eastern ABA records (juvs and summer/early fall adults). Identifying an adult in basic isn't too much different from a juvenile bird though, as most of the field marks mentioned will still hold up! There is also the possibility of a 1st/2nd alternate showing up during the spring, but again I wanted to keep this fairly short and focus on the most likely plumages.

- Conclusion

I have a few takeaways from searching through a lot of Golden-Plover photos are articles. The main one is that most features are variable, and if you're trying to identify a bird based entirely on one thing it may result in misidentifications: for example, assuming a very dull grey bird is always an American, or relying on the primary ratio and not taking molt into consideration). A few ID marks hold up quite well... I found the very stark, "capped off" look of juvenile American Golden-Plovers is found on almost all birds, though sometimes Pacifics can show a bit of a cap too. It can definitely be a starting point though, like any of the ID marks mentioned above. The primary extension/primary to tertial ratio is also very helpful, though not without it's faults (molt, viewing conditions). If all the features start lining up though, it's likely that you have a bird worth investigating further! Americans that are very buffy/golden usually will display at least one or two characteristics of it's species, while the same can be said for a dull pacific with a smaller bill.

 Study a bird that seems even a bit "off"... look very closely at the entire bird, and try to take good notes describing everything you see/document it well with photographs. Careful observation of any Golden-Plover you come across will be helpful, as once a good familiarity is established with Americans it will be a lot easier to notice when something looks different. Some distant birds simply aren't IDable too... and it's ok to leave a bird as a "sp" sometimes...

Hopefully this post makes the idea of finding and identifying a PAGP a bit less daunting! These are just my thoughts from doing a bit of research, and are by no means a definitive identification guide. I may add a quiz on this subject soon, or add more photos/comparion pics if people are interested!

References; Birds of the World (2023), Johnson O.W., and P.M. Johnson (2004), Kauffman K (2000), BirdGuides website (2010), M. Reid (2011)

Norfolk Big Day - May 19


 I'm a bit late to the game here... mainly due to work... But I promised to write a post about my May 19th big day in Norfolk County so here it is! A big thank you to everyone who donated and raised money for Birds Canada and OFO.

***Warning... Very long and detailed post... got carried away

Ever since I got interested in the world of birds, the concept of a big day has always been alluring to me. As shocking as this may be to hear from someone who did a big year, I enjoy fast paced, competitive birding. Maybe it comes from, in part, my background playing sports and fascination with numbers and lists. I spent a lot of time reading blog and magazine articles about listing big day attempts, In Ontario and elsewhere... the accounts of birders racing around a region in a desperate, sleep deprived state trying to identify as many species as possible fascinating to me. A big day is a real test of knowledge and endurance, almost more of the latter honestly... When trying to muster the energy to keep pushing for new birds after 18+ hours of intense birding.  The knowledge part is no to be scoffed at either though, definitely a make or break aspect if you're aiming for a high number. I don't mean ID skills either, though that certainly helps, I mean knowing locations inside and our. It's 4pm, and somehow even though you have had a great morning with lots of migrants, you are missing Northern Waterthrush. There are eBird reports 20 minutes away, but time is money on a big day and 50 minutes for 2 birds isn't a very good use of time. Luckily, you know of a small, out of the way wetland that nobody visits, and it's also on the way to your next stop. A quick drive by with the windows down easily produces waterthush, and it only took an extra 5 minutes. It's scenarios like that that make the planning effort of a big day so much easier, when you have a strong familiarly with a region and know where to find basically every target bird you could need. 

In Bruce, I would try to do a serious big day at least once a year. Sometimes this would be with friends, travelling the distance of the county, but other years I did a more local approach and attempted a biking big day in my local patch. On top of being an adrenaline rush, a World Cup of birding even (though the opponent was just a high number most of the time), the big days were also fundraising efforts for Birds Canada and the Ontario Field Ornithologists, so that was the added incentive I didn't need to keep doing them year after year. During the beginning of the Covid pandemic in 2020, my friends and I decided to make a birdathon team and do yard "big sits" from our respective yards across the province. Even though it was quite different from what I was used to doing, it was still one of the more birdathons I have done (post here), and we raised more money than I had on any past birdathons!

Back in April of this year, Alessandra and I decided to do a big day around the Long Point region, since we would be staying down there for the field season anyway. I was really hoping that work wouldn't get in the way of doing the big day on a perfect weather day, of which there are precious few of every spring. Luckily our supervisors allowed us to take time off for it if we gave several days notice, so things were looking up, with a rough plan do do our big day around May 20th. I'm sure other birders share this opinion, but May of 2023 was a bit of a letdown in terms of migration. At least around Norfolk and Lake Huron, there was never really a crazy good migration day for the entire month. Sure there were some fun days, but not a single day (for me anyways) with high double digit numbers for multiple warbler species. Something similar happened in 2021, when the midwest experienced a fantastic migration, and here in Ontario things were delayed, then we had a few days of clear skies and everything seemed to have migrated over and left the province. This made choosing a day for a birdathon rather tough, as there wasn't an obvious day to pick. While looking at Birdcast and wind maps, May 19th started to look like it would be our best chance. It fell on a Friday, so we would have the following day off to recover after birding all day. We decided to give it the green light on the night of the 18th, and then went to bed promptly at 8:30.


2:45am, the wake up alarm sounded. Was I slacking because I didn't start at midnight? Maybe a little, but we felt pretty confident that we could get all of our night targets before dawn with time to spare, and it was going to be a long day anyways. Alessandra and I quickly got dressed and stumbled out of the Old Cut field house (where we are living for the season) to the car, where we started driving off of Long Point towards the mainland. It was a cool night (around 7 degrees) and there was a slight breeze coming off the lake, though luckily not strong enough to impede hearing by much. A quick stop at the old provincial Park produced our first two birds of the day, American Robin and American Woodcock. Next we headed inland and spent some time listening around the forest tracts by Backus Woods. Barred Owl was a surprisingly easy addition, and we ended up hearing 4 during the night... Pretty good for Norfolk! We also heard plenty of Eastern Whip-poor-wills and a single Eastern Screech Owl, though every Great Horned Owl in the area chose remained silent. Grasshopper Sparrow and Field Sparrow were both night singing as we drove by the Timpf Farm, both welcome predawn additions. After that we stopped at Hahn Marsh, where we added 8 more species including Virginia Rail, Sora and Common Yellowthroat. It was just after 4:00am at this point, but the marsh was already starting to wake up for the day. Owls secure (- GHOW) we drove back to the point, where we wanted to be at dawn to try and find most of our migrants for the day. On the way we went for a walk at Big Creek, where we added both bittern species, Common Gallinule and Marsh Wren with only a short walk. The fish flies were nasty though, and walking through swarms of them left many caught on my hair and poncho... I hate how they try to fly into your mouth and nose. Getting back into the car was also a challenge with the flies, well over 50 snuck in with us and started buzzing all over the car : (

On the way back to Old Cut at 5:05am, we did a quick drive through of Hastings Dr, where it was evident that daybreak was about to occur. We heard and saw 23 species, and birdsong was everywhere. Nothing too unusual, just some new day birds like Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole etc. Arriving at Old Cut at 5:30am, we met up with our 3rd team member, Dale Auchinleck, who was a last minute addition a few days before our big day. 

We had met Dale the previous week at Old Cut, a keen 19 year old birder from Germany who was a volunteer bander at LPBO for the season. After mocking a fellow volunteer for doing "intense birding" with a birdathon team at Pelee not three days before, Dale rather unexpectedly asked if he could tag along on our big day team. He mentioned that he didn't want to slow us down because he wasn't great with Ontario birdsong, but honestly the opposite turned out to be true during the course of the day, when he spotted several species that we would have otherwise missed. I've noticed that a lot of European birders travelling here for the first time are often sharper with identification than a large majority of long time local bird enthusiasts here, which I feel mainly steams from their intense studying of field guides and online resources before they travel here. Last spring I was birding on the tower at Point Pelee with a few Dutch birders, when they started picking out high flying female warblers in morning flight, something that only a small handful of Ontario folks are proficient at. For the majority of the day Dale came along with us, nailing IDs at a quick pace"...

After walking around the net run and looking off the dike at Old Cut, and not seeing too much besides Northern Parula and Swainson's Thrush, we headed out and into the new provincial park with hopes of nailing down a lot of migrant species. Half an hour later we were well into the park, and migrants were few and far between. Even though migration conditions had been decent overnight, there did not seem to be much of a turnover in migrants. The skies were clear, which meant a lot of birds probably just went right over.. Also cold temperatures likely didn't help much either. Walking through the first campground area led to an increase in new birds though. We heard a Prairie Warbler singing briefly, had a few Orchard Orioles and a Mourning Warbler, and Dale spotted a Red-throated Loon flying over. Shorebirds had been quite sparce for the entire month, but it seemed like we picked a good day as birds were finally arriving. A flock of Semipalmated Plovers flew by the beach, as well as some distant peeps (grrr). A single flyover Bobolink on our way out of the park at 8:00am would be our only one of the day. At this point our species list was at around 108.

- Baltimore Oriole

- Me and Dale birding the park

We then gave the trails at Old Cut another check (nothing) before getting in the car and heading inland, where we hoped to connect with some different breeding birds and hopefully more migrants. Our first stop was Backus Woods, which is definitely one of the best spots around the Norfolk region when it comes to forest bird diversity. A quick loop around the north trails netted us some good day birds, including Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. While getting back into the car I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly overhead, a nice bird to get as accipiters (and most raptors) can be tough on big days. Continuing with our Backus momentum, we made a detour over to the Timpf Farm, snagging Eastern Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow and Red-tailed Hawk with ease. We then circled back towards Port Rowan, stopping briefly at a small flooded field on Concession A along the way to look for shorebirds. Well, calling it a flooded field is a bit generous. It's really just a tiny puddle (maybe a 2 meter diameter of water) surrounded by long dried up and cracked soil and some tall grasses. You wouldn't think this would be an overly productive spot for shorebirds, but somehow it's been more reliable than most other locations in Norfolk. This visit proved to be no different, after a few minutes of scanning 4 Semipalmated Sandpipers and a lone Lesser Yellowlegs revealed themselves, with Horned Lark in the adjacent field being yet another new addition.

- "shorebird hotspot"

A walk around the Birds Canada headquarters was extremely productive, producing 14 new birds for our ever growing list. Willow Flycatcher and Blue-headed Vireo singing at the forest edge, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck and Northern Shoveler on the lake, as well as another Dale specialty.. the elusive Savannah Sparrow (another species that we only had once all day). We got lucky while scanning the bay, as a flock of shorebirds whipped by then dropped out of sight into an obscured inlet. Most of the flock was made up of Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin, with a single Ruddy Turnstone mixed in. As I said before, seeing any shorebirds around the area had been a challenge all month, so this was another nice bonus. 

It was starting to really heat up at this point in the day, so we headed to Turkey Point to see if there were any shorebirds loafing on the beach.. and also to get some lunch. The main target for this location was Bonaparte's Gull, and maybe some shorebirds if we were lucky. A scan of the beach and marina revealed nothing, and I do mean nothing. There always seems to be some bonnies here, so that was a major oof. Dale treated us to lunch at a burger joint in Turkey Point, and then we were off again! The large food intake and first "rest time" of the day did have an effect on the team though, as soon after driving away both of my teammates were having an afternoon nap. I took advantage of this time to do some driving around the countryside, hoping to pick up some shorebirds and raptors. Driving through a few townsites with the windows down produced Chimney Swift and House Finch... Two more easy birds out of the way. My main destination was a small flooded field just outside of Walsingham, where we had had some luck with shorebirds during the past few weeks. Most of the fields around Norfolk had been dry all May, so actually finding one with water was a bit of a challenge. After pulling up to the said field and waking up the others, we scanned the field for signs of life. A lot had changed in a week, as it was now almost completely dry and overgrown with grasses. We still managed to pick up a day bird though, 6 Least Sandpipers were scurrying around the dried up muddy area.

- Midday nap vibes

It was mid afternoon at this point, the sun glaring and the temperature near 25 degrees. The birding was definitely quieting down a bit, so we decided to return to Old Cut to get some snacks/water and walk around the shaded trails... Maybe kick up a lingering White-throated Sparrow. On route we stopped by Hastings Drive again, for a quick scan of the sandy beach at the end of road in case shorebirds dropped in. That turned out to be a very good decision, as the a large group of shorebirds were roosting on the sand! Among the 85 Dunlin were; 3 Sanderling, 21 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 12 Short-billed Dowitcher and also a Spotted Sandpiper a bit further down on the rocks. All but the Spottie and Dunlin were new, a fantastic score for some midday birding. Behind the shorebirds sat a Trumpeter Swan and a Caspian Tern, both new day birds. The former can be a tough bird to track down when you want it, and the latter had just been a weird miss up until that point. The daylist was up to 144 at this time.

Back at Old Cut we spent around half an hour working the forest for birds, of which there were a surprising number of considering it was the worst time of day for passerines. We saw 54 species around the station trails, including one new bird, A Ruby-crowned Kinglet... Quiet late and unexpected! We decided a good use of the late afternoon/early evening would be driving slowly around the sand roads at St. Williams and Backus, hopefully hearing a Pine Warbler or some cuckoos from the car... Both weird misses. The drive would turn out to be fairly quiet, but we did get our Pine Warbler (148), and also a surprise Blue-winged Teal flyby on the way out of Backus (149).

It was just after 7pm at this point and time was running out, so the big question was what to do with the remaining daylight. A few ideas were looking for songbirds in forest or walking Big Creek, but ultimately we decided to go back to Hastings and bird there thoroughly for an hour. Hastings had been quite good to us during the day, and there was also a report of Red Knot and White-eyed Vireo from earlier in the day... Both would be good day ticks, but also they are fun birds to see at any time in southern Ontario. As we were heading for the causeway,  I spotted two Common Ravens sitting out in a farm field. Another tough Norfolk bird, and also our #150 for the day! Arriving back at Hastings, we quickly set up the scopes and scanned through the shorebirds again. This time the Red Knot (151) was quite obvious (of course), feeding out in the open with a group of Dunlin. Riding on that success I scoped through a flock of gulls that were loafing on the beach and picked on an immature Lesser Black-backed, a good bird away from the tip of Long Point (152).

- See the Red Knot?

- Dunlin flock

- Lesser Black-backed Gull

 A bit further down the beach a ratty, stained orange duck sat with some Mallards, head tucked in to its wing. Investigation with the scope revealed a female Greater Scaup (153), another late, unexpected bird. Waterbirds secured, we started working the treeline at the edge of the road to try and find that pesky White-eyed Vireo. A lot of songbirds were moving around the shrubs, including our last two easy warblers for the day, Canada (154) and Wilson's (155). We didn't admit defeat until the sun was basically out of sight and all the songbird activity had ceased... Ah well you can't get them all!

- Trumpeter Swan flying off to roost with Canada Geese 

We dropped Dale off at Old Cut after that (he had to band the next day) and headed to Big Creek to have a look off of the viewing platform to look for Black-crowned Night-Herons. It only took a few minutes before Alessandra and I saw a lone bird flying over the distant treeline, just as the sun was about to set. That Night-Heron (156) would end up being our last species for the day, not a bad species to end a fantastic day! We did put in some time listening for nighthawk and Great Horned Owl around New Provincial Park, but the wind picked up a bit and it just wasn't meant to be. At 10:30 we stumbled through the doors at Old Cut and immediately went to sleep, an exhausting day but well worth it.

Weirdest misses? Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Harrier, Common Nighthawk, Cooper's Hawk... Lots of weird stuff.....

In the end we raised close to $800 for Birds Canada, so it was definitely worthwhile. In the future I would love to try some more variations of the birdathon, like a pure biking big day and an attempt at the Ontario record....  

The blog... It's... Alive?!?

 It’s been months since my last post, perhaps the biggest span I’ve gone without writing since I started my blog. It was so hectic trying to keep up with posts during 2022, so I think I had a bit of writing fatigue after the year was over haha. Also, life has been pretty busy recently! 

In early April I moved down to Long Point with Alessandra, where we are both working for Birds Canada on the Forest Birds At Risk program. The field season so far has been tiring, yet rewarding, and the free time I have after work is normally spent birding/sleeping. The average day here involves waking up around dawn, then driving to a forest tract around the Norfolk/Elgin region with Alessandra and our two other coworkers. We then split up and survey the area, keeping track of all the birds we encounter, but mainly focusing on one species… the Louisiana Waterthrush. Later in the season our other 4 target species (Red-headed Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean and Prothonotary Warblers) will take up most of our time, but for now the waterthrush is the only one back on territory. Louisiana’s are unique as far as Ontario warblers go, arriving back in the province in early April and setting up territories shortly after that. Their preferred habitat in this region is deep ravines with fast flowing water, where they teeter along the banks in a state of constant tail bobbing hunting for prey. They occasionally nest on sloughs in Carolinian forests too, though this doesn’t seem to be as common. They remind me of dippers, as much as one who hasn’t seen a dipper can be reminded of one… as they sit on logs and rock in the centre of rapidly moving water, plunging their heads in to grab microscopic invertebrates. This past week has been a busy one, as several of the pairs we are monitoring have nests with eggs, and one even has chicks now! It seems like the season has only just begun, but this will be my 6th week conducting Waterthrush surveys. Soon I’ll be getting even busier, as next week point count season begins… a grueling month of predawn bird surveys around Norfolk County, with other species at risk surveys in the afternoon. I’m looking forward to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival, because this year I’m leading 4 hikes and also giving a presentation on my big year. I am not looking forward to driving to Bruce and back during my only days off, doing a big day hike, and then returning to Norfolk for predawn the next day… life of a working birder though : )

Since we arrived here, we have had plenty of time to bird as we have weekends off, and the work day normally ends in the early afternoon (though on most days a midday nap is required before heading out again). It’s been an… interesting… spring for migration down here, with several surges of birds and also long periods of limited movement. It’s kind of funny, growing up in Bruce I was used to the counties around Lake Erie getting all the migrants first, and then having to wait a week or two until they reached me. This year though, it seems a lot of species are showing up on the peninsula before I’m getting them here!! Almost like the birds are avoiding me😅. There have definitely been some highlights so far though, and it’s still only mid May so spring migration is just getting good now.

All of the rarities I’ve crossed paths with so far were in April, with nothing tooo rare for a few weeks now.

A few days after starting work, Alessandra and I found a Fish Crow at the “New” Provincial Park here at Long Point. While it’s not that big of a rarity (1-3 a year around the area), it was still a new self found bird for me… so I was happy with the find. During that same week there was also a female Ruff on the Long Point Causeway. This bird was very distant, shown well by this record shot(?), but scope views were still nice enough. There would later on be a 2nd (possibility 3rd) Ruff found here, but we only saw the 1. I still haven’t seen a adult male Ruff in Ontario, though I’m sure I’ll cross paths with one someday.

On April 14th a rather strange bird appeared near Long Point... A Black-billed Magpie. In Ontario normally these birds are only found East of Thunder Bay near Rainy River, so one in the southern part of the province is very unusual. To make things even more interesting, this was the 4th magpie reported in the southwest in the span of a week! The first showed up near London, followed by another just outside of Guelph and one by Hamilton. There wasn't any overlap between the reports, so it could just be one or two birds involved... Hard to say though. Magpies are rarely kept in captivity, but I guess anything is possible. We drove over to chase it since it was only a few minutes, and within a few minutes of waiting a Black-billed Magpie called and flew down beside the road. I am leaning towards a wild bird, since magpie movement is poorly known and the timing fits with other sightings around the south (there was one a few years ago at Pelee during May). Oh yeah, I was recently voted onto OBRC! So I guess I will be dealing with these records next year...

- Black-billed Magpie

The biggest highlight so far was on April 24th, in the form of a Swallow-tailed Kite. On April 22nd a kite was reported to eBird late in the day, with the comments saying it was just circling over the road. I thought it was probably a legit report, but given the one-observer-wonder nature of most raptor sightings, I figured it wouldn’t be seen again. Then, the next day another birder reported the kite in almost exactly the same spot, again just circling over the road. At the same time, a Henslow’s Sparrow was reported at the provincial park. Alessandra and I quickly drove up to the kite spot, arriving only around 40 minutes after the initial report. Searched for 2 hours… nothing, but seemingly every other species or raptor was flying over! We then went to look for the Henslow’s, but the wind had picked up a bit and we came up empty. A bit dejected, we headed back to the cottage for a meal, figuring we wouldn’t see either rarity. Then guess what? They are both seen at the same time again at 4pm! Though reports didn’t surface for another two hours… frustration… drove back to the kite spot again and stayed until dusk… Nada. Ironically I think I would have seen one of these birds if the other wasn’t also found, because ping-ponging back and forth between them caused me to miss both. The following day we had to work, but as soon as we were done we drove back to look for the kite again. It hasn’t been seen so far that day, but migration conditions were quite poor so I was pretty sure it was still hanging around. We parked beside the road and began the stakeout, and no more than 20 minutes later, wham… Swallow-tailed Kite circles over the field beside us! We watched it for over two hours as other birders came and left, the kite looking a bit miserable in the cold weather. Since the bird had arrived temperatures had been under 10 degrees, getting close to 0 at night, and it was rainy with hardly any insects around. When we were observing it a brief snow flurry passed by, probably the first the kite had ever seen… a strange combination for sure… snow and a kite. It remained cold for the rest of that week, and the bird was observed hunkering down and not being too active. A few days later, it was gone for good, never to be seen again. Fingers crossed it managed to survive and get out of Ontario! Truly a magnificent bird, it was my 2nd time seeing this species in Ontario, and the first for Alessandra.

- Swallow-tailed Kite

Overall though, I have found this to be one of the quieter spring migrations I have experienced. The lack of morning flight birding (due to work) may be hurting my impression of this spring too, as I haven't hit a single big day for movement. Hoping things pick up later this month...

In other news, Alessandra and I are doing a Birdathon big day around the Long Point area next week! The original plan was to do it this weekend, but there simply aren't enough breeding birds back yet. We are trying for a really high total (ideally 170s or higher), so hopefully things pan out. I'll write a post about how it goes. Donations appreciated!

Winter birding back at home

I haven’t posted on here for some time now, with the big year being over things are just less frantic these days and my urge to write has dwindled slightly.

It’s been interesting birding “normally” again and experiencing a quiet winter around my local patch on the Bruce Peninsula. A part of me misses the chaos of it all, the feeling that I always have to ready to go, driven by the all encompassing pursuit of a record. Overall though I enjoy the feeling of peace, and being able to pause and opportunity nature at a slower pace. 

This winter has been rather uneventful for birds in the area, aside from a few county rarities like Little Gull and Harlequin Duck (neither seen by me). Due to an apparent  crash in rodent populations in the open habitats around the peninsula, there area virtually no raptors wintering here. A day long drive around Ferndale in January only produced a single Rough-legged Hawk, and I’ve only seen two Snowy Owls since the new year. The irruptive northern finches are also lacking, aside from Pine Grosbeaks which are around in low numbers. I’ve seen a single redpoll this year, and no crossbills or Evening Grosbeaks. The other main irruptive species we get here is Red-breasted Nuthatch, and similar to the finches, they’re around in very low numbers too (I’ve had 1 in my 5MR, a far cry from 2021, when I had 150 on a single road!!).

- Snowy Owl

This may sound rather bleak, especially considering the majority of year the sky has been an unrelenting shade of winter grey. In some ways it has been too, but there are always exciting moments if you look close enough. An adult Northern Goshawk has been wintering around my area and it has appeared briefly in a flash of power and speed a few times, the classic way to encounter this mysterious forester hunter. Last week it gave me and Alessandra a rare, prolonged view as it circled over the yard. 

- Northern Goshawk

There have also been a fair number of Golden Eagles around this year, I’ve chanced into 4 so far while driving backroads of the county. This may be an annual winter bird here, but spotting a large, long tailed eagle flying in horizon with its wings held in a dihedral position never fails to get the heart racing. 

- Golden Eagle

Birding with Alessandra around the Bruce has been quite rewarding as well. Since she’s not very familiar with the county I’m able to introduce her to all of my favourite haunts, in a way it’s like rediscovering all the places that sparked my interest in birding years ago.

Come February I am always at high risk for getting pre-migration anticipation, and I begin to search desperately for signs of movement in the sky. This year the weather has been rather fluid, fluctuating back and forth between winter and spring conditions and never landing on one for very long before flipping to the other again. Last week we were treated to some unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures above freezing for over a week and even closing in on 12 degrees some days. On February 12th, a push of warm air and a sunny day (a rarity it seems) lured my out into the yard to try an impromptu skywatch. While not exciting by the standards of most southern Ontario birders, I was pleased with my day spent staring up into the blue. The 15 species I saw were highlighted by a flyover Horned Lark (my earliest by two weeks in the yard), 8 Bald Eagles and over 30 American Crows. Normally I get large flights of eagles here in mid March, but I’ve never had this many in a single day in February. Crows may not seem like a sign of spring for many, but they’ve always been one of my first spring birds here. Low numbers winter on the peninsula, though in my neighbourhood I hardly see any in December or January. Come mid February I begin seeing one or two flying over, heading north well above the trees and remaining uncharacteristically silent. As the weeks pass the crows increase in numbers, peaking with a few hundred in a single day over my property. They generally pass by in loosely formed groups, and they seem to be heading north with a purpose, silent as to not evoke the ire of the local crows (at least that’s my best guess at this).

- Horned Lark

 A few days ago I went on a Bruce Birding Club field trip around the southern part of the county, where we came across some more early migrants in the form of American Wigeon, Canvasback, Ring-billed Gulls and Horned Lark. The ducks will push northward with the first warm fronts in February, then retreat only as far as they have to when the weather sours. It seems like an interesting strategy, as most winters they are forced to bounce back and forth several times before conditions improve for good. Ducks are strong fliers though, so travelling a few hundred kilometers probably doesn’t faze them much.

As I’m writing this we appear to be approaching the end of the warm weather for a bit, the forecast saying we’ll be experiencing more seasonal temperatures for the next several weeks. I’m hoping for another early spring, and I can’t wait to get back into the excitement of spring migration. Late March has always been one of my favourite times of the year, right when the American Woodcock, Killdeer and Eastern Meadowlarks are appearing, the fields and forests melting and the mild evenings dominated by the song of American Robin and Red-winged Blackbird, after months of silence. Only another few weeks of waiting…

- Not spring quite yet...

Looking Back at 2022

It’s been a few weeks since my last post about big year stats… I was planning on following that up with several other updates, but there’s certainly less incentive now! During 2022 blogging was always a rush, most of the time I felt behind and there was a strong urge to pump out new content for people following along with my year. 

December 31st was filled with a mix of emotions. Relief that the frantic chasing was over, and that I could now disable eBird/discord alerts and not have a constant sense of anxiety about where my car would be headed next. Nostalgia and a tad of sadness that the wild ride was actually over, because for the past 12 months I had such a driven purpose that I never really had to question what to do just, next bird, next trip, and so on. I spent the last day of the year birding through southwestern Ontario looking mainly for geese and waterfowl along the shoreline. It wasn’t exactly a picturesque winter day, with dense fog, a light drizzle, and temperatures refusing to drop below the freezing mark (8 degrees actually); it felt more like late March than December. There was still that winter greyness to the landscape though and the lack of singing robins, budding trees, and an overall sense of hope made it clear that winter was far from over. The Middlesex dump had a few hundred gulls roosting in the field beside it, though seeing them through the fog was a bit of a challenge. A single first year Glaucous Gull was the main highlight. 

- Glaucous Gull

I wasn’t really planning on being in Ontario at that point. The idea was to visit Alessandra’s family in Ohio for a week after Christmas, but, like many plans laid during a big year, things can change quickly. First southern Ontario was blasted with an intense winter storm during the days around Christmas, with extensive road closures and 4 feet of snow shutting down travel. Second, during the last week of the year William and Ezra got a Gyrfalcon for their yearlist bringing them both to 357, only two birds behind me. Since February I had been up by a few, but around July I had established a 4 bird lead, which held through most of the fall. Ezra needed Ring-necked Pheasant, which are present year round on Manitoulin Island, so it was only a matter of a trip for him to gain one back on me. Once he got that in mid December it was down to 3, which was still decently comfortable though definitely not impossible to get back! I was very impressed with William who, despite being over 12 birds behind in September, managed to close the gap and be tied with Ezra by December. Then they got gyr so I only had a lead of two. Unfortunately, William had missed some birds earlier in the year so he would need two real rarities to catch up. Ezra on the other hand needed goshawk, which meant if he got that he’d only need one rarity to catch me. Mainly because of this (and weather), we decided not to leave Ontario until the 31st. That way if something did show up I could *probably* still get it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that that I was that competitive with the other guys… both Ezra and William had successfully broken the old record too and we’d taken numerous trips together during the year, and at the end of it a big year is really a personal challenge. There was some aspect of competition though, but I feel like that’s just unavoidable at a certain point. If I lacked motivation for chases, or just getting out birding, having the others so close behind would light a fire in me to keep going and give it 110%. I wasn’t just going to back down at the end of the year and hand it over ; )

Of course I couldn’t leave the province, and my big year, without a bit of last minute stress when a possible Ivory Gull was reported in Ottawa on December 30th. As much as I wanted 360, I really did not want to drive 7 hours all the way across the province on the final day of the year. Luckily, it wasn’t refound in the morning and after 10am it would have been too late for me to get there from the south regardless, so I continued towards the border. A few final stops in Erieau and Wheatley turned up a soggy Great Horned Owl, a variety of gulls, and a cursed domestic duck that I swear gave Steller’s Eider vibes until I got it in my scope. 

- Great Horned Owl, Erieau 

- Wheatley, December 31st

Coming up to the border in Windsor, I looked out the window and spotted a Blue Jay flying over the highway, my last Ontario bird of 2022. My first of 2022 was a Great Horned Owl in Niagara, not a bad starting and ending bird! 

As we drove south over the Ambassador Bridge, and down through Detroit to join up with I-75, the sun set on the final day of the year. Ironically, as soon as we had crossed over into the US the skies had cleared and it was a gorgeous day for the remainder of the drive, of course. Listening to my music playlist, which was carefully edited during my many long road trips around the province, I was hit by a flood of memories from the year. Camping on the Wetum Road in -45 in the deadly silence of the north, snarfing down cliff bars and other dried food and watching the northern lights shimmering above. Spending long days in Ottawa in March and April, watching tens of thousands of geese fly through the air, searching for that one that was a little bit different. Living at Point Pelee for a whole month in May, birding dawn ‘til dusk every day, exhausted, but full of excitement to see what migrants the next day would bring. That was actually my first time visiting Pelee during the spring, something I’d been meaning to do for years. Watching reverse migration off of the tip was without a doubt the most fun birding I did all year, and I can’t wait to go back! The spring also brought me Alessandra, who on top of being an amazing girlfriend, also turned out to be my perfect travelling companion for the rest of the year. She did such a fantastic job of keeping me motivated and going on chases with me, which really shows how supportive she is because, although she’s obsessed with birds, she doesn’t really like twitching.

There were definitely low points in the year too, like chasing Townsend’s Warbler 4 times and spending a whole 28 hours sitting in that cold back yard (finally got it though), getting covid in February and a bad flu in the fall. 

Exploring the province so thoroughly is something that I think often isn’t highlighted as much as it should be during big years. Going into 2022, I had a decent familiarity with southern Ontario, but anywhere north of Sudbury and east of Toronto were unknown to me. Seeing Ontario, from the steep winding hills of northern Ontario, to the frozen Arctic Ocean in Kenora District, and the valleys of Ottawa were experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my life. There are many spots that I only visited briefly and want to return to in the future. Being constantly on the go is the nature of a big year, usually only spending as much time as is necessary at any one spot; see the target bird and move on.

- Walking by Attawapiskat 

- Thunder Bay area

- Lake Superior 

- Dinner, big year style

On a whole, I’m very pleased with how it went, the most exciting year of my life thus far! I’m almost tempted to write a book about it honestly, I just have so much that I want to say about my adventure with the birds... A big year is a numbers game, but ultimately it was the experience, birding for a whole year and seeing amazing places and species that stuck with me the most.

 Will I do it again? Probably not, though I did enjoy it and couldn’t rule anything out for sure. Maybe I’ll come back in Sandy Komito fashion (The real life, less jerkish version of Bostick from “The Big Year” movie) if my record were to be broken : )

 There are so many people that deserve to be thanked for helping me last year, be that emotional support or generous gifts of gas cards and other things. A huge shoutout to my parents of course, who were so encouraging throughout all big year. The Bruce Birding Club folks too, Fred, Marilyn, Bob, Anne-Marie, Susan, Bruce, Liz and many others! Thanks for being some of my most loyal blog followers during the year and constantly pumping me up. A huge shoutout too for all the folks who allowed me to stay in their homes during my journeys around the province, that saved me so many nights in my car. The Huron Fringe Birding Festival was a big supporter of my big year as well, and this year I’ll be leading numerous hikes for them (see that Here)

I’ll do another post soon with my photography highlights from 2022! 

Also I’m doing a webinar for OFO on February 7th for those who want to tune in!

- Dovekie, Toronto

Pacific Golden-Plovers in Ontario

I found this post that I started back in 2020 and thought I would edit and repost now! I've done a lot of research over the winter abou...