Goose Migration in Ottawa


Last week I left Hamilton on Tuesday night with Ezra for Ottawa, where we planned to spend a few days searching for rare geese. The targets were Barnacle, Pink-footed and Tundra-Bean Goose, the former two being more expected than the latter. In the past they were much more uncommon in the northeast, records of Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese have increased dramatically across northeastern North America in the last decade. Now, Barnacle is an annual visitor to Ontario, with Pink-footed being slightly more uncommon (though there has been one for the past few years). When we left for Ottawa, all of these species were being seen in New York, where they were associating with a few hundred thousand Snow Geese. The peak of goose migration in Ottawa tends to be the last week of March - the first two weeks of April, though it does vary a bit year to year. This spring things seem to be rather late, and large numbers were just starting to arrive when we were heading over. It was a long shot of a trip for sure, but there isn't a whole lot else to do this time of year so it seemed like the best bet for finding a rare bird. 

Over the next four days we settled into a pattern of birding around the area. Basically we would drive around the best goose areas, stopping whenever we saw a large flock, then getting out the spotting scopes and carefully scanning them. After we were satisfied there were not any odd balls in with the Canada/Snow Geese, we would move on to the next flock and repeat this. The goose numbers were astonishing, at least to a southwestern Ontario birder such as myself. The locals were saying these numbers were very small compared to peak migration during previous years... But to me they were darn impressive! Our third day there was the best for Snow Geese, but every day we saw over 20 thousand. Standing there and watching the "snow storm" as these massive flocks swirl through the air is truly breaktaking. After a few days we got more efficient at searching, as we starting getting a better picture of the birds favourite locations and daily schedule. This type of birding certainly isn't for everyone, sorting through tens of thousands of geese in a day, looking at each bird to look for rarities... But personally I love it! 

So were there Barnacle Geese raining from the sky?! Well, no. I won't leave you in suspense, no rare geese were found during our trip. In fact I didn't see a single yearbird! It was still a really enjoyable trip in my books though. Highlights listed below (goose numbers based on eBird lists, definitely some double counted on different days).

- 105,101 Snow Geese

- 1 Ross's Goose

- 4 Greater White-fronted Geese

- 57 Cackling Geese

- 86,775 Canada Geese

- 22 Tundra Swans (rare in Ottawa)

- 5 Blue-winged Teal (early migrants)

- 570 Northern Pintails

- 1 Horned Grebe (really out of place... out in a floodplain with geese!!)

- 2 Sandhill Cranes

- 1 Golden Eagle (cruising over a Snow Goose flock)

- 2 Red-shouldered Hawks

- 1 Snowy Owl

- 1 Great Gray Owl

- 1 Merlin

- 2 Northern Shrikes

- 1 Lapland Longspur

Not a bad trip! On the way back we stopped at Burnt Lands Provincial Park to look for early Loggerhead Shrikes. I got excited when I spotted a shrike in a shrub beside the trail…. But it turned out to be a freaking northern. Grrr…

Right now I’m back at home, getting ready to leave for Southern Ontario yet again tomorrow morning. The goal is finding a Neotropic Cormorant, and also finally seeing those damn Black Vultures in Niagara ;)  The weather for tomorrow looks quite exciting… strong southwest wind and double digit temps. Bring on the migrants!

Some trip photos below…

- Snow Goose

- "Blue Morph" Snow Goose

- More of the same

- Pretty fellas

- 2 subspecies of Cackling Goose!

- Cackler

- Blue-winged Teal

- Goose Migration (Goosage?)

- dark morph Rough-legged Hawk

- More than 10 Snow Geese

- Meeting Bruce Di Labio!

- Goose habitat 

Curse of the Black Vulture

This morning I headed to Queenston Heights Outlook with Ezra with hopes of seeing the Black Vultures fly into Ontario. These birds roost on the New York side of the river and see sometimes seen flying over Ontario. I have already been here a few times this year, and on my last visit I spent over 5 hours watching from the Outlook. That time I saw 6 of them, but after taking off they flew back into New York and disappeared… even though all the Turkey Vultures crossed into Ontario.

This time it was no different. Over 40 Turkey Vultures flew over the river into Ontario after we arrived… promising. Then I spotted 3 Black Vultures circling on the far side, not even that far away. These vultures are smaller than turkeys, with a short tail, silver primaries and an all black head. Their flight is very different as well… quick & choppy wingbeats and a lack of a dihedral (winds held in a V shape) make them stand out even if they are specks in the distance. They circled, gained elevation, then much to our dismay they started flying AWAY from us and back into the states. There was a brief moment of hope when they circled back, but that was quickly extinguished and soon they were lost in the heat shimmer a few kilometres away. Quite annoying, but what can you do!

Here’s a video of them flying in New York…


The rest of the day was rather uneventful, we did some birding around Hamilton before departing for eastern Ontario. A quick check for Western Grebe along Lake Ontario in Peel County produced 58 Red-necked Grebes and 5 Horned Grebes, but not the bird we hoped for ~ though to be fair it was a long shot at best.

The plan on spending some around Ottawa over the next few days/week searching for rare geese mixed in with the massive flocks of Snow and Canada Geese. I’ve never seen the Snow Goose spectacle here before, so big year aside I’m really looking forward to that!

I’ll end the post with a photo of my little travelling companion at Queenston Heights 

Two Eurasian Birds


Last week I spent 5 days birding southern Ontario, with the primary goal of finding a Eurasian Wigeon. I think you can imagine that I was slightly annoyed then, when I returned home to Bruce... only to get an Discord alert on Sunday for a Eurasian Wigeon found at Hillman Marsh by Jeremy Hatt. It's a bird that I wasn't overly worried about missing this year, as a number of them show up every year in southern Ontario. If you're doing a big year though, waiting to chase a bird is usually a mistake. It was with a sigh that I repacked my bags and equipment into my car and began the 4.5 hour drive towards extreme southwestern Ontario.

When I arrived shortly after 3pm, I quickly made my way out to the shorebird cell at Hillman Marsh, where I discovered a concerning lack of Eurasian Wigeons, and any waterfowl at all for that matter. What I did find was a kid with a remote control speed boat, which was whipping back and forth across the surface of the water. Grr.... 

I spent the next two hours walking the entirety of Hillman Marsh, which produced my first Blue-winged Teal of the year but not much else. The walk was a slog as all of the pathways were thick with mud, which would have been totally worth it if the wigeon were present! At this point I got an eBird alert for a Black Vulture that had been spotted at Point Pelee earlier that afternoon, a mere ten minutes away. Ezra was already in the park looking for the wigeon, so I drove over to help him search. I found local birders Jeremy Bensette and Kate Derbyshire, but no Black Vultures. It was just turning out to be one of those days! There was about an hour of daylight left at this point, so I went back to Hillman Marsh with Ezra for a final search. Honestly hopes were not high. After half an hour of scanning, nothing... then 6 wigeon flew in... and one of them had a grey back and a reddish head. Wham, Eurasian Wigeon. A relief for sure.

I'll give the Essex birders credit for their response time, in half an hour close to 10 birders had arrived to see the bird.

- Euro Wigeon… back left. Not even
sure you can call this a record photo 

An unexpected turn of events, but no complaints here :)

Today (Or yesterday.... if this goes out tomorrow/today) I didn't have any birding plans, so I decided to spend the day hawkwatching at Beamer Conservation Area. I didn't expect any new year birds there, but I always enjoy a day spent looking at the sky and I haven't hawkwatched at Beamer before. I arrived shortly after 11am and spent the next hour & a half watching birds migrate past. It was just starting to pick up when Ezra called me... that stupid Eurasian Collared-Dove in Shrewsbury had just been seen. After it had been MIA for over a week, I almost thought it had left. Even though I wasn't enthused at the possibility of missing it a fifth time, I knew that I should go and try for it... It's "big year mentality" as we say. I was rather disappointed to leave Beamer and the raptors, but I managed to pull myself away. In the hour I spent, this was the haul;

- 120 Turkey Vultures

- 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks

- 2 Cooper's Hawks

- 1 Northern Harrier

- 16 Red-tailed Hawks

- 6 Red-shouldered Hawks

- 1 American Kestrel

- Northern Harrier

- Turkey Vulture

- Turkey Vulture

- Red-tailed Hawk

- Red-shouldered Hawk

- Red-shouldered Hawk

After picking up Ezra and his gal pal en route, I drove to Shrewsbury and began the search. Ezra had already seen the collared-dove, but there was also another Eurasian Wigeon found in Rondeau Bay in the morning so he was hoping for some better photos. After looking around the area the dove was seen for a few minutes, a bird flushed from beside the road and landed in a nearby tree. It had taken 5 visits, but I had finally found the Eurasian Collared-Dove. I still was rather annoyed that the dove gave me such a hard time, but I suppose I will forgive it since it finally showed itself...

- Eurasian Collared-Dove

We then moved on to Rondeau Bay and began scanning through waterfowl, which were unfortunately very distant and backlit. Long story short, no wigeon. We had seen on the previous day though, so no big deal.

Tomorrow's plan is going back to Queenston to look for Black Vultures... third time is the charm?

Ontario yearlist @ March 21st - 166 

Goosing in the Bruce


 Yesterday I had a commitment in Southampton in the morning, so since I was already going to be in South Bruce I decided to make a day of it and go hunting for waterfowl. My main targets were geese, as this is normally the best time to find rare geese in Bruce County and there seemed to have been a massive influx in numbers the previous night. I picked up Bob Taylor and spent the morning/early afternoon birding the fields between Port Elgin and Kincardine. Our first stop yielded 21 Cackling Geese and a Greater White-fronted Goose, a great start for sure. White-fronts are uncommon in the county and I tend to only see a few each year. Over the course of a few hours we likely saw over 7 thousand Canada Geese and a number of other interesting birds. 

Spots visited

- Browns Pond

- Kincardine Sewage Lagoons

- Sideroad 5

- Concession Road 5

- 10th Concession of Bruce

- Baie Du Dore

Highlight birds

- 32 Cackling Geese

- 5 Greater White-fronted Geese

- 4 Wood Ducks

- 2 American Wigeon

- 22 Northern Pintail

- 1 Sandhill Crane

- 1 Northern Harrier

- 300 Tundra Swans

- 8 Eastern Meadowlarks

- Greater White-fronted Goose

- Cackling Geese

- Cackling Geese

- Greater White-fronted Goose

Not a bad haul!

After dropping Bob off I drove over to the Grey/Bruce line where I had seen all the geese the previous night. I spent a few hours driving concession roads and sorting through large flocks of Canada Geese. Just as I was thinking of packing it in, I spotted a small, almost gull-sized white goose mixed in with some Canadas... Bam, Ross's Goose. Normally there are one or maybe two a year in Bruce, so this was a big highlight. Also a yearbird so that didn't hurt. While I was watching it a Snow Goose flew in, completing my 5 goose day. I've only done that once before in Bruce so it was a very successful day.

- Horrible white goose photo 

Right now I'm just at home catching up on work for the weekend, a nice break after the travelling for the past week. Next week I plan on heading to Ottawa with Ezra, with hopes of finding a rare goose among the masses of geese there. I've never witnessed the insane Snow Goose migration there before, so that alone will be a big highlight.

Ontario yearlist @ March 19th - 162 

Ontario Banana Belt Birding

 Just a little update on this past weeks birding

- March 15th

East winds and partly sunny skies were forecasted for the Niagara region all day, ideal conditions to see a Black Vulture fly across the river into Ontario. These birds roost in Queenston on the New York side, but sometimes they can be seen flying over Ontario. East winds often push them in our direction, so I drove to the Queenston Heights overlook with Ezra in the early morning, arriving just after sunrise to begin our vigil. After about an hour some Turkey Vultures started taking off from the US side, slowly circling and gaining elevation. One by one, they crossed the river, some flying right overhead and disappearing into Ontario airspace. After another half hour passed and vulture number 30 crossed over, Ezra spotted a Black Vulture circling on the US side. It was soon joined by 5 others, and began circling, and we rather reasonably assumed that they would soon follow the rest of the Turkey Vultures and fly our way. It wasn't meant to be though, soon after they took off, the Black Vultures reversed course and landed back in their roosting trees again. Oh the frustration of it all...but, didn't we see the birds?      Well yes, but according to listing rules, they have to be IN Ontario. Birds seen in the United States don't count for a big year list. We kept waiting, then after another hour they took off again... and flew the wrong way, eventually disappearing over a treeline in the distance. This was made even more frustrating by the fact that all of the Turkey Vultures had crossed the river. Oh, birding is just like that sometimes.

- Turkey Vulture

- waiting for vultures 

We then moved on to Beamer Conservation Area in hopes of catching a hawk flight. When we arrived some low clouds were rolling in, severely limiting visibility. a lone Red-shouldered Hawk was the only raptor we saw. This was a yearbird for me though, so no complaints.

- Horrible Red-shouldered Hawk photo

Our last stop of the day was Green Road in Hamilton. I had missed Black Scoter on every visit here this year, but since we were already driving by it seemed worth a shot. After a few minutes of scanning, wham, Black Scoter flying by. I'll see many Black Scoters this year, but it's always nice seeing a new bird for the list.

- March 16th

I awoke predawn and drove towards Port Burrell, where I planned on meeting Isabel Apkarian for a morning of birding. The fog was quite heavy on the drive down, but I assured myself that it wouldn't be an issue. Because getting closer to a lake always means there will be less fog... 

On arrival, I discovered that it was in fact foggier here than it had been on my drive. We were planning on doing a morning flight watch for a few hours, but with visibility limited to under a few hundred meters in every direction, it wasn't exactly perfect conditions. I could hear some ducks out on Lake Erie, but I literally couldn't see past the shoreline. After half an hour it became apparent that things weren't improving, so we decided to cut our losses and head over to Long Point. 

- Fog!

We began in the new provincial park, where it seemed to be equally foggy and birdless. Blackbirds were about the only thing around in numbers, including a small group of Rusty Blackbirds. For the entire day I thought that Rusty Blackbird was a new bird for me, I totally forgot that I had seen one at a bird feeder in Elk Lake back in January. Isabel had a bunch of studying to do, so since it seemed like we weren't going to see much she headed off.

I moved on to the causeway at the entrance to the point, but it was so foggy here that I couldn't make out any of the ducks. I continued on to Port Rowan Wetlands, where the water had thawed considerably since my visit on Sunday. I was just able to make out the ducks out on the water, primarily American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck. It was a weird feeling, I knew there were lots of birds around, but I simply wasn't able to see them! 

It was just after 11am at this point, so I decided to drive over to Rondeau and bird there for the remainder of the day, where I hoped there would be considerably less fog. I only had to get about half an hour west from Long Point when the fog lifted and the sky became totally sunny, what a change! Along the way I stopped at Port Stanley Sewage Lagoons, where the highlights were:

- 1 Snow Goose

- 6 Tundra Swans

-  24 American Wigeon 

- 1 Red-shouldered Hawk (just down the road)

I then drove to Shrewsbury, where the Eurasian Collared-Dove eluded me yet again. Rondeau Bay fully open now and was coated in waterfowl, by far the most I've seen here this year. The weather was gorgeous and lighting on the birds was fantastic, so I spent a few hours carefully scanning through them in hopes of finding a Eurasian Wigeon. I struck out, but it was a really enjoyable afternoon of birding. Here's a taste of the duck numbers;

- 500 American Wigeon

- 200 Mallards

- 700 Canvasback

- 2000 Redhead

- 200 Ring-necked Ducks

- Erieau

That evening I drove to London, where Susan and Jim Nagy had generously offered to put me up for the night. Susan is also doing an Ontario big year this year, with a goal of hitting 300 species. After a lovely home cooked meal, we drove over to a local conservation area to watch displaying American Woodcocks. It sure did feel like a spring evening, even after dusk it was 10 degrees and birds were calling everywhere. Flocks of calling Tundra Swans passed overhead in long Vs, American Robins and blackbirds were singing, and I saw my first bat of the year.

Woodcock habitat

- March 17th

After a 6am wakeup, I left London and drove to the morning flight location by Port Burrell, as I needed redemption after being shut out by fog the previous day. Susan and her friend Diane Weiler (another London birder who is doing a big year) joined me, and Ezra also drove down and met up with us. It was a nice and sunny spring morning and it was nice actually being able to see out over the water! We spent an hour an a half birding there and ended up with 36 species, not bad for a mid March day. Some highlights were:

- 14 Wood Ducks

- 2 Northern Shovelers

- 34 American Wigeon

- 27 American Black Ducks

- 33 Northern Pintails

- 130 Ring-necked Duck

- 1 Cooper's Hawk

- 146 American Robins

- 400 Red-winged Blackbirds

- 1200 Common Grackles

- Cooper's Hawk

- Cooper's Hawk

- Wood Ducks

- Northern Pintails

- Redhead

- Canvasback

- American Wigeon

- Killdeer

- Common Grackle

- Red-winged Blackbird

- American Robin

After that we drove over to Long Point, where we met up with the whole Skevington clan. Our large posse moved on to Port Rowan Wetlands, which was alive with bird activity. Large numbers of blackbirds passed overhead, Sandhill Cranes and Killdeer called in the background and a few migrating hawks flew over. 3 Tree Swallows flew over the water, my first this year and always a fun new spring arrival to see. 

- Sandhill Crane

Our group spent the remainder of the day birding Port Rowan, the causeway, Old Cut and the new Provincial Park. It felt like a late April/May day, with temperatures closing in on 20 degrees! There weren't a ton of new birds on the point itself, but large numbers of blackbirds and waterfowl kept it interesting. I heard an Eastern Towhee calling, another yearbird.

On the way back down the causeway this Horned Grebe posed for photos

- Horned Grebe

Ezra, laying in the mud to photograph
 a non breeding Horned Grebe

- Big Creek Marsh

I drove back to the Bruce that evening... So strange having the sun still up at 7:30! As I was driving up the Grey/Bruce Line at sunset and the air was filled with Canada Geese, flocks flying everywhere. I stopped and scanned through a group of several hundred, turning up several Cackling Geese. The light was totally fading at this point, so I had to leave the rest of the distant geese unidentified. American Woodcocks, Sandhill Cranes and Killdeer were calling, my first ones in Bruce this year.  

- Sunset on the way home

Ontario yearlist @ March 17th - 161

My 2022 Big Year From a Stats perspective

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