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?...

     

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...