Rares of the fall - Part 2

 Continuing from my last post, now for my November and December highlights.


The month started off with a bang ~ A Summer Tanager (fairly) close to home. On November 6th a Tobermory resident was walking past a stand of fruit trees when she noticed a bright reddish bird fly up from the ground. Luckily she had an interest in birds and sent a message to a few local birders. Her best guess was Vermilion Flycatcher, which is quite a rarity anywhere in Ontario. The following day Ethan Meleg and Arni Stissennen drove up to investigate... and found an immature male Summer Tanager at said location. While not as rare as the flycatcher would have been, the tanager is still a great bird for Bruce County, with only around 10(ish) all time records. One of those was from my yard actually.... Way back in 2017. My first self found rarity in fact! That bird disappeared before I could obtain good photos though, so I thought I would try for the Tobermory bird.  I had to work the next day, however I was off around 3pm so I zipped up to "The Tub" with just enough time to get a good search in before daylight faded. Located behind the town's grocery store are several large properties containing a mix of apple trees as well as various ornamental fruiting species. To me it's always seemed like a spot something interesting would appear... a good food source right near the end of the peninsula ~ a vagrant trap if ever there was one. It had been overcast most of the day, but just as I was arriving the sun came out, casting the area in a soft late afternoon light. I strolled around the street looking from tree to tree when I heard a familiar call.. a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Not my quarry, but a nice bird for November and my first in a few weeks. A few minutes later a flash of orange flew off the ground and landed on a branch only a few meters away. This bird was my target, the tanager. It didn't seem to care at all about my presence, and I actually had to back away to fit the bird inside my camera frame (with a 300mm lens). I enjoyed a few minutes of amazing views with the bird, then left him in peace and headed home. Definitely a good way to start the month!





Next up was one of my best finds of the year, a Black-legged Kittiwake. On November 11th I was signed up to lead a hike (which involves driving, standing and interestingly enough very little hiking) for the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, which was focused on waterfowl of the Owen Sound lakeshore. I've done this hike for a few years, and while it's not the best for a big species tally, there have been some nice highlights including;  Red Phalarope, Red-throated Loon and a flock of 70 Greater White-fronted Geese. This year the weather decided to put on a show and we were treated to one of the first snowfalls of the year the night before. The drive in to Owen Sound in the morning was quite nasty, sloppy roads and patches of slick ice. I honestly wondered if anyone would be attending, but as I got into the town area and dropped in elevation the snow changed to rain and it looked slightly more promising for an outing. I was surprised to see almost 20 people showed up, a good turnout for sure. We spent the morning touring the east shoreline of Owen Sound, seeing not a whole heck of a lot and getting wet and damp. It's always worse being a leader on these sorts of things. The participants are normally just happy to be out birding, seeing whatever is around and chatting with friends. For the leader though these kinds of days are the ones you dread. It's not the leaders fault that there aren't many birds around, or that it's raining, but nonetheless you feel bad. By lunch we had seen close to twenty species, with a few highlights including Long-tailed Ducks and Red-necked Grebe. Everyone was sitting in their cars eating lunch in the parking lot of an arena, when I wdecided to scan the adjacent lake for birds instead. This tactic had paid off in 2018, when I had found a Red Phalarope bobbing around just offshore while the others were eating. It was still lightly raining out, but I walked to the shoreline and started scanning the water. My binoculars fell on a small group of gulls sitting on the water, so naturally I started going through them for something interesting. All I had seen were Herring Gulls, when my eye caught a small gull sitting near the edge of the group. It looked mighty convincing for a Black-legged Kittiwake, which would be a real rarity for the area, but it was near the other side of the inlet and just a bit far for binoculars. I sprinted back to the car, grabbed my scope and waved at the other birders to follow me. Luckily it was still there when I set the scope up, and indeed it was a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake! Everyone got good views and the mood of the group seemed to instantly improve. One of the cars had been at Tim Horton's when they saw my message on the rare bird alert and came rushing back to the parking lot. Unfortunately two people had gone home for lunch and missed the bird (it left 20 minutes later). This was a first record for Grey County, and all of Georgian Bay actually, so I was quite thrilled to find it! The rest of the day was rather uneventful, but one bird makes it worth it : )


My decision to go birding on November 20th was quite spontaneous, as is often the case. It was a day of strong southwest wind, and was also a weekend which meant I wasn't working. I decided to drive down to Port Elgin and lakewatch for a few hours, with hopes of having something rare fly by. However as is the case with 90% of Bruce lakewatches, it was a bust. An hour in and I had seen little besides some mergansers and goldeneyes. I was considering my options when I got a text from Bob Taylor that he and Anne-Maire were heading down to Lambton to chase a Townsend's Solitaire that was found a few days before by James "rarity machine" Holdsworth. Bob said I was welcome to tag along, and I decided to jump on it as it was more appealing than the current options (continue watching an empty lake, or driving home). I needed the solitiare for my Ontario list, I've had multiple chances to chase other ones, but it's an annual rarity in the province so I had never been enticed to drive a few hours for one. Two hours later we had arrived at the said location (near Ipperwash) and rolled up to a few cars parked beside the road with birders milling around. According to them the bird had been seen all morning, however it only popped out briefly from the red cedars in which it was hiding. We didn't have to wait long though, twenty minutes later the bird popped up and let us admire it for a few minutes before disappearing again into the shrub. I only managed a few poor record shots, but the views were very good. After that we drove east, as I had received a tip about a Rufous Hummingbird that had been visiting a feeder not far from our location. Unlike the wheatly bird I had seen in October, this bird was a female and thus was much harder to distinguish from the very similair Allen's Hummingbird. Good photos had been taken by local birders and the key distinguishing field marks were visible, confirming that it was in fact a rufous. Bob and Anne-marie had never seen one before, and hey, how often do you get the chance to see two Rufous Hummingbirds in one year here in Ontario?! We didn't have to search hard for it, shortly after I pulled in I spotted it sitting on a coniferous tree in the lawn. 2/2, quite a successful day! Certainly better than my lakewatch was.






On the last weekend of November I joined the Bruce Birding Club for their annual Hamilton/Niagara birding weekend. That could honestly be a whole post in itself, but this is about rare birds so I'll keep it brief. The Saturday was spent birding the Hamilton area, seeing all the usual suspects (scoters, Canvasbacks, mockingbirds and 1000s of Long-tailed Ducks). In the evening a few of us drove to watch the Niagara-On-The-Lake evening gull flyby, when all of the Bonaparte's Gulls that have been foraging on the Niagara River fly out to Lake Ontario for the night. We were hoping to see some rarer Little Gulls mixed in too. I have to say though, watching the flyby that evening was definitely one of my birding highlights this fall. The wind had died, and the warm evening light was making the passing flocks of Bonaparte's Gull pop against the dark water. We estimated close to 10,000 passed by in the hour we spent there, truly a spectacular sight. Amoung them I saw 18 Little Gulls, the most I've ever seen at once in Ontario. 

The next day the focus was on the gulls of the Niagara River, and the weather was making this as difficult as possible for us. Heavy snow came down for the entire day, making scanning for white birds a real challenge. We did see 7 gull species (including Iceland, Little and Lesser Black-backed), however it was quieter than previous years. The highlight of the day came in the form of a duck though, a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. This bird had been found at the Dufferin Islands park back in the summer and has since taken up residence there with the local Mallards. Some concerns were raised about it being an escapee, but current consensus seems to support a wild bird (it showed up during the same time as the whistling-duck invasion of the summer was happening, and it shows no signs of captivity like clipped wings etc). We pulled into the park and found the duck swimmig amoung a large flock of Mallards right beside shore. It, like most park waterfowl, seemed quite habituated with people passing nearby and even paddled closer to look for handouts. Certainly not the most exciting way to get a lifer, but it's still a really cool bird and I'm not complaining! (Even took a selfie with it)





They say there's no rest for the wicked, and there certainly isn't any for bird chasers either. While I was in Niagara I saw on the provincial rare bird alert that Justin Peter had found a Glaucous-winged Gull in Barrie. This bird represents only the 2nd record for Ontario, with the first coming from Sault St. Marie last year. The sault bird wasn't refound though, so this was really the first chaseable record for the province. Needless to say it generated a lot of excitement, and over the weekend 100s of Ontario's keenest bird chasers drove up and saw it. Since you never know how long a bird like this will stick around, I wanted to be on the safe side and see it as soon as possible. I had to work on Monday, but Tuesday morning I slotted a few hours off in the morning for bird chasing (easier to do when you work from home). Jarmo was going to see it too, so on November 30th I left my house at 8am and drove towards Barrie with him. On route we picked up a few Grey County birders (Lynne Richardson and David Turner), as it's always nice to carpool when you can while chasing to cut down on the carbon footprint. There were positive reports as we drove over, which is always encouraging when you're chasing a rare bird. We pulled up to Spirit Catcher, a small bayside park in downtown Barrie and started looking. The bird had been hanging out on the nearby docks, so we set up our scopes and started scanning. There were under 50 gulls perched on the docks, so it wasn't that difficult to pick out the larger, mottled grey one amongst the herrings. It was sleeping for most of our time there, but it did stand up and look around a few times before we left. I didn't get as good of pictures as some of my friends did, but I enjoyed awesome views through the scope. An epic bird to end the month, definitely the rarest species I've seen this year.







The last highlight of the month was another repeat rarity, this time in the form of a Townsend's Solitaire. I was just finishing up work for the day in Ferndale, when I got a text from a local birder named John saying that he just had a possible Solitaire in Tobermory. He was out without binoculars and it flew over his car, perched on a tree limb for a minute and disappeared down the road. He had a poor cellphone picture that sure looked like a solitiare, so I called Jarmo and twenty minutes later we were heading up the highway. John was waiting for us when we arrived, the bird however was not. The area it was seen in was in the Tobermory townsite right beside the water, which is an area dominated by dense cedars. This makes searching yards for a small bird quite challenging! After half an hour we split up and expanded our search radius to nearby roads... which turned out to be a good idea as a few minutes later I see Jarmo briskly walking back towards me waving his arm. He had refound the bird down the road by a stand of junipers. We jumped in his car and raced back to the spot.... and sure enough it was still there. Unfortunately I had left my camera at home and my phone had run out of battery... so I didn't get any photos. Jarmo got some great ones though, so click here for those. This was a Bruce lifer for me and a nice end to my 2021.


that's all I've got!







 




Two days out

​The start of my Ontario Big Year is only 2 days away now, pretty crazy! We’ve been lucky with this very mild December, which has no doubt encouraged some of the current rarities to stick around. And what a list of rarities it is!

Currently these are the rares being seen

- Razorbill(s)

- Black-bellied Whistling-duck

- Golden-crowned Sparrow

- Harris’s Sparrow

- Mountain Bluebird

- Varied Thrush

- Townsend’s Solitaire


On top of that there was a Prairie Falcon found in the Durham Region on Tuesday, and while it was seen briefly Wednesday it hasn’t been found since. Fingers crossed it sticks around, but hard to say with a bird like that. Also an apparent Ontario first Arctic Loon was seen in Sault St. Marie on the 26th!! The bird was seen the following day, but after that the bay iced over and it hasn’t been found since. Hopes aren’t high honestly, but definitely something to keep an eye on…

There’s also the Barrie Glaucous-winged Gull, however that hasn’t been seen in over 10 days now despite a lot of people looking…


Anyways to start things off on January first, I’ll be meeting up with Ezra pre dawn and trying for an ambitious plan of attack. The idea is to begin in Niagara and pick up the whistling-duck, Razorbill and maybe King Eider if it’s around. After that we will be making our way towards Toronto to try for the Golden-crowned Sparrow (maybe the Harris’s too if there’s time).

 The following day will likely focus on the Mountain Bluebird and whatever else is around. After that we will go for tough wintering birds like Purple Sandpiper and uncommon owls/waterfowl. It will be a whirlwind of a few days for sure! I’m going to try my best for keeping the blog updated… we’ll see how that goes : )


Rares of the fall : Part 1

 This past fall has been an amazing one for me from a rare bird perspective. Maybe not compared to what some other Ontario birders saw, but for a birder who rarely chases outside of the Bruce, it was mighty fine. Not a single dip : ) I'll talk about them each a wee bit, and include some of my photos. I scored 7 new Ontario birds in total, which I am quite happy with.

Rares in order of date..


September

- Northern Wheatear

October 

- Hudsonian Godwit 

- Nelson's Sparrow 

- Rufous Hummingbird

- Groove-billed Ani

- Razorbill


November

- Summer Tanager

- Black-legged Kittiwake 

- Towensend's Solitaire 

- Rufous Hummingbird #2(!)

- Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

- Glaucous-winged Gull


Alright... read on to learn about the what? Where? Why? When?....


Septemeber

I was busy working all month, so cut me a bit of slack for not chasing any of the rarities that were around :) The wheatear more than made up for this though, a truly spectacular bird, and not even an hours drive away! I already wrote a post on that bird, so here's a photo. 

- Northern Wheatear


October

    The month started off with a bang... two self found county lifers in the span of 8 days! Both at the same location too, the Oliphant Fen Nature Preserve. The birds were Nelson's Sparrow and Hudsonian Godwit, 4th and 3rd county records respectively. I have already done a post on these birds, so I won't elaborate more. 

- Nelson’s Sparrow 

- Hudsonian Godwit 



The next bird was the complete opposite of a close to home and self found bird... A 5 hour twitch. The suspect this time was Rufous Hummingbird by Wheatley, a real stunner of a male too. Rufous Hummingbirds breed across the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska and winter mainly in Central America. They have a rather unique quirk to their wintering range though, as some spent the colder months along the gulf coast of the southwest US and Florida. Annually some strays turn up across the northeast during fall migration, likely birds headed to the gulf region that crossed the continent a bit too far to the north. These small hummers are quite hardy, and sometimes are seen all the way into January in places as close as Ohio. Normally I am rather reluctant to chase birds this far away... but my work contract had just ended and I had a week off before my next job started, and well, I felt like an adventure! So I left my house at 9am on the morning of October 22nd and headed for Wheatley, well in a roundabout way. First I drove to Guelph, where I met some friends (Erik, Isabel, Owen and William) who were carpooling down with me. Chasing birds is always more fun with company, if for nothing else than to convince each other that you didn't totally waste your day if the bird isn't found :) 

Three hours, one snack break and 54 roadside Red-tailed Hawks later we had arrived at our destination, a dead end road near Lake Erie. We all has those pre arrival jitters, which seem to increase with your proximity to the location. The bird had already been seen for several weeks, however nobody can know when the last day of a rarities stay will be. This time we got lucky though and didn't have to wait long, well I didn't at least. As we pulled into the driveway I saw the hummer zip over the hood of the car, but everyone else missed it. I said we should head out now that I had seen the bird, but my companions did not agree (apparently they wanted to see it too?). We got out and began our vigil of the hummingbird feeder, which lasted roughly 10 minutes before the bird finally returned. Steller views were enjoyed by all, a gorgeous bird and one that we rarely see the adult males of here in Ontario.

- Rufous Hummingbird

- Rufous Hummingbird

- Rufous Hummingbird

- Rufous Hummingbird

 While we were standing in the yard we noticed a massive line of Turkey Vultures streaming by along the shore. Hundreds, if not thousands of birds passing by in a constant stream. We headed down the road a few kilometers to a location with better visibility, where we enjoyed 45 minutes of raptor migration. The highlights were a few Red-shouldered Hawks, and a late Broad-winged Hawk. Most of the birds were high and distant, so this is the best that I managed for photos.

 The ride back seemed to pass quickly, with our quarry conqured and our stomachs full of ONroute takeout, how could one complain?

- TERRIBLE Broad-winged Hawk photo


Next up was a real rarity, the Groove-billed Ani. This bird was posted on the Ontario wide rare bird alert on Discord by a birder who had found it at his family's farm in Perth County. The photos were phenomenal and it seemed like a bird that would stick around... but then the birding community collectively sucked in its breath as we read that dreaded sentence "The homeowners don't want visitors". It seemed that all hope was lost for awhile, but then the finder posted again (After several birders stepped up and offered to manage visitors), this time saying the bird would be available to see for the next two days, but only the next two days. The Groove-billed Ani, a strange looking member of the cuckoo family, is normally found in the tropical lowlands from northern South American all the way up to southern Texas. They do have an interesting history of vagrancy, with numerous records all around the Great Lakes region. Ontario has had 5 previously, with 4 of those records coming from a ten year span in the 1980s. Since then though there have been an ani drought, with no records even remotely close to the province. So you can imagine how much excitement such a bird would cause, as for a lot of people this would be their first chance to see an ani.  The following morning was an anxious one, as I checked my phone waiting to see if the bird had been refound. The property it was at, so I was told, was a small parcel of land in the middle of an agricultural area. The only habitat was a thin strip of tall vegetation interspersed with small spruce trees that divided the lawn from the adjacent field. Surely if the bird was still there the numerous birders who had arrived at sunrise would have found it. Then, just before 10am, the message came that the bird was still in fact there, it had been hiding in center of one of the small trees and had managed to evade detection. I should mention it was a miserable day, one of those chilly later October days with biting wind and rain, so the bird shouldn't be blamed for laying low. The way it was set up was that birders could book hour long time slots to see the bird, ensuring the property wasn't overrun at once. I had booked the 3pm slot, as I figured that would be a safe bet. I flew (drove the speed limit) down to Kincardine, jumped in the car with a friend who was carpooling with me and headed towards the site. Bird chasing is an interesting thing we do as birders, and the emotions associated with the chase are always equally interesting to me. When I leave home spirits are high, and I'm quite confident that I will in fact see said bird. After this, and for the remainder of the journey, it seems like that initial sense of hope fades, slowly being replaced by thoughts like; "There haven't been many reports recently, maybe it left" and "What am I doing right now". Then as I near the destination, 10 minutes out, 5 minutes, I start getting quite hyped, like a player before a big game. Desperately you want to just be there already, to know if  the drive had been worth it, or if the day would be a bust. In this case the rain had just ended and it was starting to clear up as we pulled in the driveway. There were close to 10 cars lined up in front of a barn, one was just pulling out and stopped as it passed our vehicle. It contained the Guelph gang (who I had just chased the hummingbird with the previous Friday), and they gave us the news that the bird had just popped out and was offering amazing views. We rushed over and there it was, slowing working it's way through the grass, acting like a small, feathered mammal, mere feet from onlooking birders. It looked wet, bedraggled and generally in a bad mood, and it completely ignored us as we watched it. In a way it felt too easy, we hadn't even had to look for it, just walked up to the crowd of birders and bam, there it is. Though I was not complaining of course! We watched it for awhile, the the rain started getting bad again so we ducked out and began our journey back to Bruce. I got some decent photos, something that I don't often do with rarities!

- Groove-billed Ani

- Groove-billed Ani

- Groove-billed Ani


The final chase of the month was as opposite from a western hummingbird and a southern cuckoo as you could get... an eastern seabird! On the 10th of October a Razorbill was found along the Ottawa river, a great bird for Ontario and one of only a small number of records for Ottawa. Then, while watching the bird, the finder saw another Razorbill! More birders arrived to look and found 4 birds. The day after that (Oct 12) at least 9 Razorbills were being seen along the river. One of my friends who was there at the time believes there were a dozen anyways, maybe more. This type of invasion is unprecedented for the area, as all previous records are of single birds. There was a massive invasion of Razorbills in Lake Ontario during the 1970s, however nothing like that has been seen since. For those who aren't aware, Razorbills are black and white. duck-sized seabirds that are found on the Atlantic Ocean. They are very rare inland, however occasionally they will follow the St. Lawrence down and make it into the Great Lakes system. What drives these birds away from the ocean? It's hard to be 100% sure of course, but the two big things are food shortages and strong easterly winds (both of which seemed to be in play this time). The Ottawa birds continued to be seen for several weeks, however after the 12th a maximum of two birds were seen at a time. I really wanted to see a Razorbill, however Ottawa is basically 8 hours away and even though I was tempted... I'm not that crazy (It's not my big year YET)


Then on October 29th, the thing that the southern Ontario birding community was hoping for happened, Razorbills were seen on Lake Ontario. Three birds were seen in Durham, then one in Toronto, Peel and Hamilton. These locations, while still not close to me, are considerably closer than Ottawa. The following day called for northeast winds, which are perfect for lakewatching in Hamilton. I convinced Jarmo to come down with me (didn't take much) and the morning of the 30th found us driving southward towards Hamilton. The thing about plans though, especially when chasing unpredictable birds like alcids, is that they can change in a hurry. It was around 9:30am and we were just over an hour away, when I got a notification on my phone that a Razorbill was just found at Thickson's Point by Whitby. Unlike the previous days sightings, this bird was sitting on the water and not just flying by. At the same time, I was texting with a few friends who had been at Van Wagner's Beach in Hamilton since daybreak. They said so far it had been a bust and the lake was quiet. Decisions decisions! Whitby and Hamilton were roughly the same distance from us, so stick with the plan and go to Van Wagner's, or change course for the seemingly chaseable Whitby bird?? After a strategy discussion with Jarmo, we decided to go to Whitby. Reports continued to come in as we drove, so we were feeling fairly hopeful. We arrived at Thickson's Point just before 11:00am and walked down the path, towards what we thought was the viewing point. Long story short it was the wrong spot, as ten minutes later we came out to an exposed Bluff and saw a crowd of birders 800 meters or so down the coast, quite close to where we parked. The bird it turned out, was last seen just as we were arriving. Doh! Our location seemed to have just as good of view as where the crowd was gathered, so we opted to stay there and try to find it ourselves. Thousands of Red-breasted Mergansers were streaming by, as well as smaller numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and scoters. This kept us quite occupied as we carefully scanned the passing flocks. 15 minutes passed, then 20. Suddenly Jarmo exclaimed that he had the bird! It had flown in with a flock of Long-tailed Ducks and had just landed on the water. I rushed over and looked through his scope and... nothing, the bird had vanished. We desperately tried to refind it, as the crowd of birders started making their way up towards us (Jarmo posted on the rare bird alert). Another 15 minutes passed, I was getting rather nervous that I would miss this bird, and Jarmo was getting rather nervous as he would have to drive the 3 hours home with me in the car. I walked down the bluff with another birder, and after a few minutes we got a quick view of it flying out of sight to the west. Not that satisfyingly, but hey, at least I saw it. I then checked my phone, 6 Razorbills had been seen in Hamilton at Van Wagner's Beach... *@#$. Since we were already in the area (kinda), we left Thickson's and drove to Hamilton. We arrived at the said location just as the winds seemed to die, and guess what? Hour and a half later and Nada. Like literally no birds, a lone Iceland gull was the only highlight. Even Bruce lakewactches have more, which is saying something. So to sum it up, yes we got our target bird... but it was an interesting day haha, seemingly like we were always in the wrong place. That's just birding for you though, sometimes you just have to make a call and gamble that it's the right one. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos, so you'll have to use your imagination! 


Part two will be here sometime, with my November/December highlights 

Big Year Thoughts




    As some of you may know, I'm doing an Ontario big year in 2022. I started off this year with the hopes of doing one, but covid and family stuff put an end to that. I'm honestly glad for the extra year ~ the first few months of 2021 were dominated by lockdowns and uncertainty about travelling, which would have made a big year quite uncomfortable. It also gives me some more time for planning time, and the added bonus of another birder to travel and bird with. Ezra Campanelli is also doing an all out Ontario big year. The competition of not being the only one doing a big year will hopefully keep me pretty motivated too! 

Only 39 days out now and it's kind of crazy to think that birds found now could remain until January 1st. This is basically just for fun, as what happens happens, but below are the current rarities in our fine province. I'm only counting OBRC rarities for this, and excluding things like Black-legged Kittiwake and Harris's Sparrow as I will have mulitple  chances for them next year. OBRC rarities make or break a big year, you can have a spectacular year and see every single regularly occurring Ontario species, but without rarities you won't break any records. You may be reading this and think "wait Townsend's Solitaire isn't OBRC" (in which case I am impressed with your knowledge of the provinces review list)... but it was only recently taken off the list and is still a code three bird & a tough one to get. There is still over a month to go, so more birds could definitely show up (please Birding Gods), I am personally hoping for Varied Thrush and Gray-crowned Rosy-finch!
Here are the current rares;
- Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
- Razorbill
- Western Grebe
- Northern Gannet
- Slaty-backed Gull
- California Gull
- Rufous Hummingbird
- Sage Thrasher 
- Townsend's Solitaire
- Say's Pheobe
- Golden-crowned Sparrow

Now for what I feel will stick...

- Likely 

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - This bird has already been around for a few months, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if it lingers into January. Last winter there was one in Michigan that stayed into the new year. Provenance seems a bit up in the air, but that's a tough issue for a lot of vagrant waterfowl species in Ontario. Timing for when it showed up works.... good enough? Probably. 100% wild? No comment.

Razorbill - There have not been that many reports after the intital influx of sightings around Lake Ontario during the end of October... however considering the number of birds involved I think it's pretty conceivable that one or two will remain into the new year. They may be pretty tough to find though, as they will likely be wandering all over Lake Ontario. It sure would be a nice bird to start the big year with.

Slaty-backed Gull - The Ottawa bird has been seen on and off since the beginning of October, so another month? Why not! The number of Slaty reports has increased drastically in the last few years, formally a mega, there now seem to be a few around each winter. I'll go out on a limb and jinx myself now, but even if the Ottawa bird disappears, I doubt I'll miss this bird for the big year. 


Golden-crowned Sparrow - These western sparrows are quite hardy, and the Toronto bird seems quite content with its current home. If birders continue feeding it I think it's fairly likely it will stick around. Would definitely be a nice one to get on Jan 1st.


 

Maybe

Sage Thrasher - This bird has been around since November 6th in Chatham-Kent, and is still being seen daily by birders. There's only one winter record for Ontario, but it's in freaking February so it shows that these birds can be quite hardy! Michigan also has two late December records. If this next month is fairly mild and the bird's food source holds out ~ Who knows! 

Townsend's Solitaire - These western thrushes are often found around now and sometimes they spend up to a few months at a location. I have no doubt the Lambton bird could survive that long, it's just if the berries it's eating don't disappear first. Christmas Bird Count Season often turns up one or two, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if another is found. Time shall tell.

Rufous Hummingbird - It's a bit of a stretch, yeah I know... BUT there is a January record of Rofous in the province, and if you look south of the border Ohio has had tons in the December-January window. It will really depend on how harsh the coming December is, as well as what the homeowners decide to do (if they keep the feeders up, if they decide to add a heater). There are two birds present right now, so maybe slightly better odds?? 


Doubtful

Northern Gannet - In the past only a few Northern Gannets have stayed into the January, they tend to start disappearing (dying) in mid December. There are two birds around right now, one that's been in Hamilton for over a week, and one that was found in Lambton today. It's definitely is a possibility, however I would be rather surprised. If it is still around, I bet it would be moving around Lake Ontario quite a bit & would be hard to track down.

California Gull - This bird was found a few days ago in Essex, and while gulls often stick around for extended periods of time, I just can't see this bird staying. I would be pleasantly surprised if it did though : )

Western Grebe - Yesterday a bird was seen swimming off the Pinery PP and hasn't been seen since. Even if it is refound, I think it's pretty unlikely it will stick around. Hopefully there will be other chances for it during the year. 


I will eat my hat

Say's Pheobe - I will be so shocked if this bird stays I will legit eat my hat. Flycatchers sometimes persist into December (Western Kingbird etc)... but I just can't see this Eastern Ontario bird surviving that long, especially if some winter storms roll around. As much as I would like this bird, I'm saying under 5% chance of it remaining.



Planning is going quite well otherwise, the strategy seems sound and I cannot wait for 2022 : ) The first few days of the year will be dedicated to chasing rarities around Southern Ontario, followed by trip to Ottawa and northern Ontario for other ratities and northern targets such as Great Gray Owl and American Three-toed Woodpecker. I'll likely do some more posts in the next month or so on the big year, and I'll elaborate more on stuff like this. I did the pre-big year blog posts last December, and don't really feel like repeating all the basics again. Ezra did a great post on the big year (what it is, how it will unfold), so check that out if you want more information!


I'll end this post with a Snowy Owl I found on the weekend, my first one of the fall








Oh yeah, I guess this is my 100th blog post! So that's something





Summer in November


    Last Friday (November 5) a birder in Tobermory thought they may have seen a Vermillion Flycatcher in the townsite area. Word got out to the local birding community on Sunday, and a search team consisting of Ethan Meleg and Arni Stinnissen raced up with hopes of refinding it. Unfortunately I was working all day, and due to the time change sunset is now just after 5pm... which did not give me time to get there. In the afternoon received a text that they had refound the bird... However it was not a flycatcher... It was an immature male Summer Tanager. This was a relief for me, as I already have Summer Tanager for Bruce (in my yard no less!) so I didn't feel as bad about missing it. Summers have been seen in the county 5 times before, so it is by no means a common bird, however it's a bird that will definitely show up again one day. I wasn't really sure if I would go for it another day or not... I'm not trying for a yearlist this year and its a bit of a drive to get up there... but on the other hand its a gorgeous bird and I didn't have any good photos of the species. The decision was made easy for me when my workday ended an hour early on Monday, leaving me with plenty of time to drive up before darkness. It was quite an easy chase really, I located the said bird in less than 5 minutes after arriving. It looked quite content in its new home, a row of fruit trees (mainly apples) in a nice sheltered area of the town. A very photogenic bird too, it barely acknowledged my presence during the 15 minutes I spent there.


In other news you can subscribe to my blog again! the previous subscription service shut down back in the summer, and I finally set up a replacement today. It's on the upper right hand side of the screen if you want it : )
- First year male Summer Tanager







 

Some October birding



    It has certainly been interesting fall for me from a birding perspective. I haven't been out nearly as often as usual due to work, but I've still seen some neat birds! As I said in one of my previous posts, for most of the fall I have been adding a stop at the Oliphant Fen to my drive on the way home from work. I had found a few cool birds there in early/mid September (notably a Long-billed Dowitcher), but the weeks after that were fairly quiet. A few yellowlegs and plovers but nothing crazy. 
On October 1st I added a bit more birding to the normal route home... stopping first in Southampton to check for a reported Baird's Sandpiper. The sandpiper was a no show, but there were a pair of Tundra Swans hanging out in Horeshoe Bay... quite early! Normally I don't start seeing them until the last week of October or so.
- Tundra Swans


 Just as I was about to leave, I picked up a massive flock of shorebirds in my binoculars flying over Lake Huron towards Chantry Island. There looked to be at least 200 (which is high number of of any shorebird in the county). I quickly set up my scope, but by then the birds has disappeared behind the island. Needless to say I was quite disappointed. The passing cyclists likely wondered why I was uttering profanities at the lake, I smiled and waved when I noticed them.... which may have made things better or worse.
 Anyways that left me craving a shorebird fix, so I drove up to the Sauble Sod Farms in hopes of turning up a golden-plover or something. As is the case every time I visit this location (I've tried a few times a week since August), there were no shorebirds of any kind in sight. There were Buff-breasted Sandpipers seen here over 15 years ago, so I cling to the hope there might be some again one day. I'm sure I've stopped here over 50 times in the last few years... I've only ever seen Killdeer and a lonely Black-bellied Plover. I swear never to return, as I do after every visit. Next I went to what has been the only reliable spot for shorebirds this fall, the Oliphant shoreline. There are 3 inlets to check here, and it's normally very easy to see if birds are present without even stepping out of the car. Inlet number one... empty.... Inlet number two... seemingly devoid of life whatsoever... Inlet number three... bingpot... as I scan over the far side of the shore I see some Greater Yellowlegs, and one larger bird with a wickedly long bill. Hudsonian Godwit! I grab my scope from the backseat and enjoy some wonderful views of it feeding in the shallows. 
- Hudsonian Godwit (middle) with Greater Yellowlegs



 Hudsonian Godwit, or "hudwit" is quite a rare bird for Bruce County, with only three previous records. The most recent was 2015, and the other two were from the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth (aka the 1980's). I snapped a few distant but IDable photos and returned home for dinner, as it was getting fairly late at this point. Later in the evening I returned for better shots, and luckily the bird was still there. A few of the keen Bruce listers had made the drive over for it and the bird was putting on quite the show for them. It flew around the inlet a few times, displaying its striking black and white underwing pattern.  It remained for another day for a few more birders to see, before disappearing. 

- flight shot


 The rest of October has been good, not crazy from a "good" birds perspective but enjoyable nonetheless (I could go on for a whole post on what quantifies a good bird, but I digress). I did a few chases out of the county, something I haven't done much of in the past year. I'll include those in a future post for those interested in such things. It's a gradual transition up here, between fall and winter. The calender will tell you winter won't be here for another 52 days, but the birds tell a different story. The Yellow-rumped Warblers are basically gone now, only a few stragglers remain and you get the feeling each one you see could be the last of the season. There are very few "summer birds" left now, most that are currently here either are late migrants that breed farther north, year-round residents and birds setting up territories for the winter. In the past two weeks the Rough-legged Hawks have invaded the Ferndale Flats area en masse, one day I counted over 20 individuals on my drive around the fields. 
- Dark morph Rough-legged Hawk



Northern Shrikes are also back, I've seen several in my area in the past week, as well was evidence left behind by them. Common Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings have also arrived in numbers. I involuntarily shivered when I saw my first Snow Bunting of the season, always one of those birds that signals a change. White-winged Crossbills are all over the northern part of the peninsula, it has seemed like I have heard their harsh "chit-chit-chit-chit" every spot I have gone in recent weeks.
- White-winged Crossbills

- a more typical view


  Another interesting thing was the invasion of American Coots into the county. Normally a coot is a good find here, seeing 3 or more at once is something that doesn't happen often. In the past two weeks I've seen close to 250 coots, with several flocks numbering over 60. From talking to other Ontario birder and looking at eBird data, it appears this is part of a widespread movement of coots eastward in exceptional numbers. Areas in Northern Ontario like Cochrane, where coots are normally quite uncommon, have seen flocks of over 500(!) birds. Why this is happening isn't that clear, but dry conditions across the Midwest might have forced these coots to shift their migration route east.   

Ducks are moving through now in impressive numbers. Early October was quite dull for waterfowl, which I would guess was due to the very warm weather we experienced (birds were staying farther north). The flood gates opened around the last week of the month though, hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and scaup are moving down the lakeshore, as well as smaller numbers of scoters and other assorted species.
White-winged Scoters

- Greater Scaup


 It's an exciting time of year to look for rarities, traditionally Oct 15- Nov 15 is the peak of fall rarity season here in Southern Ontario... you just never know what might turn up. This is my first fall without seeing a Golden Eagle in October, though I wasn't hawkwatching much so that didn't help : ) Hoping one will fly over the yard soon...             


I shall end this post with random bird photos from October...
- American Pipit

- Golden-crowned Kinglet

- Cackling Geese... how many can you spot?...

     

A quest for a sparrow

Haven't posted in awhile, so during the next week I'll be writing about some of my recent birding highlights. First up is the Nelson's Sparrow!



  For a few years I've been meaning to do a really thorough search for Nelson's Sparrow on the peninsula, as it's a species I've never seen but know is annual. Nelson's Sparrows are small, brown and orange songbirds that breed along the shorelines of Hudson and James Bays and winter along the Atlantic in the southeastern United States. They are very rarely seen during spring migration, when they are in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds and skirt by us here in Southern Ontario. During fall migration they take a more relaxed approach, and for several weeks in early October birders have a chance to see them as they pass through. Some locations in Ottawa, Hamilton and Chatham-Kent get them annualy, but birders there put in much more effort. Elsewhere though they are far more difficult, but this isn't necessarily because they are that rare, but because they are very difficult to find and get a view of. This is probably a good time to mention that Nelson's Sparrows are actually wannabe mice, if they have a choice they will scurry along the ground, using flight as a last resort... their preferred habitat? Dense grasses in wet areas like marshed and shoreline edges. Wondeful isn't it? Anyways the whole Oliphant shoreline is prefect Nelson's habitat, and I know that these slippery little buggers are in there every fall, just laughing it up. Oh yeah, Bruce County only has 3 records of Nelson's, which is rather bananas.

  So, on the morning October 9th I set out with Jarmo Jalava with the goal of finding one of these skulky grass dwellers. We began our quest in north Oliphant, where we donned our rubber boots and headed out for a walk along the coast. The method behind the madness? Randomly walk through the grasses and hope that a sparrow flushes ahead of you, which will then give you a window of a few seconds to identify it before it drops back into the grass. After over an hour of walking through some challenging terrain, I had nothing to show for it besides 50 Song Sparrows and one rubber boot that turned out to not be waterproof. We decided to move on to our next location, aiming to be done before noon when the rain was supposed to move in. I left my camera in the car this time, going on the assumption that if I didn't have it the bird would show itself. Another half hour passed, more song sparrows appeared and more water soaked into my increasingly soggy sock. Then it happened, a small sparrow flushed ahead of me and landed in a dead cedar. I had my binoculars on it in a flash and sure enough, it was a Nelson's! I frantically waved Jarmo over and he managed a quick view before it disappeared into the grasses again. I retrieved my camera from the car and rejoined Jamro, who was keeping an eye on the spot the bird had gone into. After a bit of searching we flushed it again, but this time it flew to a further, even more inaccessible location. Although we didn't get photos the views were awesome, so we left it in peace and moved on. A few minutes later Jamro flushed another sparrow, which turned out to be a 2nd Nelson's, this one much duller in colouration than the first. It was starting to rain at this point and I for one was getting quite hungry, so we headed out and left the sparrows to their mysterious ways.

I returned later that day with some other Bruce birders, and this time I managed to get a few photos of the one bird ~ quite horrible ones but I'll take them!

- Nelson's Sparrow 


- The classic view of a Nelson's 



An American Golden-plover landed briefly while we were there, which was a nice treat.


An unexpected lifer



September 16th started out normally, with me heading to work at MacGregor Point... unaware of the great birding day that lay ahead. Heck I only had my backup binoculars in the car, as I really wasn't planning on doing any birding. The morning proceeded without any major excitement, but then around 11:00am I started getting texts from birders I know. They basically all said "chasing the wheatear??", to which I responded with "wait, what wheatear!?". A quick look on the eBird alerts showed me that a Northern Wheatear had been found by Miriam and Waren Oudejans, in their yard by Owen Sound. 

Among species that breed in North America wheatears have a unique range migration route. The species core range is across northern Eurasia, but they also breed in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Arctic Canada. Breeders from Alaska and the Yukon (of the subspecies oenanthe) reach Africa by migrating westward across the whole of Asia and the Middle East, whereas the leucorhoa subspecies (the ones we get here in Ontario) from eastern Canada make epic trans-Atlantic flights eastward. They are one of the few songbird species that breed in North America but winter in the Old World. They are quite rare in southern Ontario, as we only get the occasional wayward wheatear that for some reason or another flys south instead of east. There is normally one every few years in the province, but often they are in far northern Ontario or are only one-day-wonders. Last year was quite sensational, with 3 wheatears seen in the province in the span of a few weeks. I didn't manange to see any of them as I was busy at the time, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance for redemption, especially since it was only an hours drive away.

Obviously I was fairly distracted for the remainder of the day, as I was trying to calculate just how fast I could get over there... without speeding of course : )


Long story short, shift ended and I drove up to Sauble, where I met my mom who decided to come along for the chase. She brought my binoculars and camera, as it would have sucked going for such a cool bird and not getting photos. An hour later we had arrived at the destination, which was devoid of other birders and the homeowners, but luckily not the bird (I couldn't leave you in suspense any longer). It was basically that fast though, stepped out of the car and under 20 seconds later it popped up on a fence post. I found a spot to watch it, a nice shady patch of grass hidden under a tree, and settled in for the next 45 minutes. Definitely one of the more cooperative rarities I have seen, it spent the entire time hunting insects along the fenceline beside me, sometimes coming as close as 15 feet away. It's foraging style reminded me a lot of a bluebird, sitting waiting for insects, then diving after one before returning to the fence again. A small flock of Palm Warblers kept it company, which was cool to watch as they were hunting in a similair manner. Just a magical experience, not much else to say about it!

And now the photos!

The bird of the day, the mighty Palm Warbler! 

While I watching the warblers I also saw this thing 

Northern Wheatear 

One of my favorite photos at the moment 


Lookin' cute

Another Palm


On my way home I stopped at Oliphant to have a quick scan for shorebirds. It was fairly quiet at first then... wham! Juvie Long-billed Dowitcher hanging out with a few yellowlegs. Long-bills are rare in Bruce (12ish records I think?) and this was only my 2nd, so I was quite pleased. A great way to end a unexpected and exciting day of birding! It cooperated very well for photos too, and I managed my best yet photos of the species. 


Long-billed Dowitcher - Oliphant Fen









My 2022 Big Year From a Stats perspective

  I'm going to write several wrap up posts about my big year, I just have so much that I want to talk about! First off I want to talk ab...