Some Late April Bruce Birding


After the successful Western Tanager chase, Ezra returned back to southern Ontario in William's car and I drove back home for a sleep in a bed that wasn't the front seat of a car. The following day (April 25th) I "slept in" until 7:30am... and it felt fantastic. After waking up I took my dog for a walk down my road and encountered two yearbirds along the way, Green Heron and Northern Waterthrush. A few rarities were still kicking around southern Ontario, with the best ones being Snowy Egret and Kentucky Warbler. If I was in the south, sure I would have chased them. But they are both code 3 birds that show up numerous times in a spring, so it didn't seem worth a 3+ hour drive...

Instead I decided to bird the west coast of the Bruce and look for migrants and rarities. I was joined for most of the day by Andrew Keaveney, who happened to be up at his cottage on the peninsula. We started off by walking Sauble Beach in search of Piping Plovers, since this is normally around the time when they start coming back. I hadn't heard of any being seen at Sauble so far, but they had returned to a few other breeding locations in Ontario so it seemed worth a shot. We walked up the beach for a few kilometers, not seeing much aside from some gulls and a few loons. Near the north end of the beach I spotted a Dunlin, and I was about to keep going, when something flushed it and it flew down the beach towards me. A smaller, sand coloured shorebird flew along with it... Piping Plover. The two birds landed right in front of me and began foraging, acting like the best of buds. The plover was a nice yearbird and always a species I enjoy seeing. Honestly though I was quite happy with the close views of an alternate plumaged Dunlin, as I hardly ever am able to get close to them (Bruce shorebirds are weird).

- Piping Plover

- Dunlin

- Amigos

For the rest of the morning/afternoon we worked the shoreline along the coast in the Pike Bay area, stopping frequently to look for migrants. Large numbers of Chipping Sparrows were around, with some Vesper, Field and White-crowned Sparrows mixed in. Kinglets of both species were numerous all along the coast, as were Yellow-rumped Warblers. At one particularly productive spot we had; 

- 2 Fox Sparrows

- 1 Eastern Towhee

- 2 American Tree Sparrows (getting late)

- 1 Least Flycatcher

- 40 Yellow-rumped Warblers

- 1 Black-throated Green Warbler

- 1 Yellow Warbler

- 7 Pine Warblers

- 1 Cape May Warbler (yearbird)

The Cape May and Least Flycatcher were both pretty early for Bruce, definitely my earliest records (normally May 10th or so)....  

It started getting colder as the day went on and the precipitation was getting heavier as well, so we called it quits around 4pm clock and I headed home. In the evening it cleared up to I drove over to Isaac Lake to search for some yearbirds. It was a crisp evening for sure, but there was still a lot of activity in the marsh including an American Bittern, 6 Virginia Rails and my first Sora of the year.

Not too bad for a day of birding around home.

Today I mainly caught up on work around the house and I didn't do much birding, although Dad did spot a Broad-winged Hawk flying over the yard... So I got one yearbird for the day. Tomorrow my car will finally be done at the mechanic and will be chase ready again... right in time for May. On Friday I will be heading down to Point Pelee, where I will be staying at an OtenTik in the park with a few other birders until late May... getting pretty hyped!! Until then I will probably stick around Bruce... Unless a rarity shows up of course : )

Ontario Yearlist @ April 27th - 247

Pelee Episode I - Return of the Warblers


On the morning of April 24th I awoke before 6:00am in a parking lot near Point Pelee, where I had slept in my car the previous night. Campenelli was still snoring logs in the passenger seat. I rolled down the window and was greeted by warm air and the sounds of the predawn songbird chorus. Granted, this early in the season there are not a ton of birds singing (robins, blackbirds, Brown Thrasher, Song Sparrow etc) but there was just a feeling of excitment in the air. I was up late the night before watching the live updates on Birdcast, a website put out by the Cornell Lab that shows maps with real time information about the migrating birds (direction, height, speed, overall numbers). It was evident at that point that birds were moving en masse, and they were headed northwards. I had been watching various weather models all week and I had high hopes for Sunday, as from what I could tell it was shaping up to be the best day of 2022 so far in terms of migration. A few minutes later I was driving down the road through Point Pelee headed towards the tip. Even though it was still quite dark, I could see lots of birds in the cars headlights flying off the road. Most couldn't be identified beyond "sparrow sp" or "thrush sp". but it was clear that a lot of birds had arrived the previous night. As I was coming up towards the VC, I was disappointed to see that the road to the tip had a gate across it, doh. I was spoiled, having been able to drive down there every time I had visited this spring and because of this I just assumed it would be open on the weekend too.

After getting my gear together I started quickly making my way down the road, as sunrise was fast approaching and the tip was over 2 kilometers away. Only a few hundreds meters down the road a Swainson's Thrush popped up, a yearbird and also a bit early for this date. The forest was alive with activity. A Black-throated Green Warbler sang, two Nashville Warblers and Chimney Swift flew over and Yellow-rumped Warblers, sparrows and thrushes were moving through the understory. It was hard staying on task (continuing to walk) as I could have easily walked down any of the side trails and gotten distracted. Near the tower at the tip a Tennessee Warbler buzzed by, and a Least Flycatcher popped up from beside the trail. I wasn't even at the tip yet and I had already seen 6 yearbirds... yes, it was going to be a good day. 

Nathan Hood had arrived a bit before us and met us at the tip. Immediately we were in the middle of the action, as songbirds were reverse migrating off the tip in large numbers. Flocks of 10, 15 Chipping Sparrows and large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers dominated the flight, but there were lots of other things mixed in. William Konze and Luke Raso arrived a few minutes later and joined in the watch, as numbers of birds continued to grow. Balitmore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula... I was starting to lose track of yearbirds they were coming so fast. Then a young male Summer Tanager reversed off the tip right beside us, my first time seeing this species in morning flight... and also a code 3 yearbird. A few minutes later I got on a lanky sparrow type bird flying by... Lark Sparrow! I rattled off a few shots before it disappeared. It flew by a few minutes later for a 2nd pass, then left for good and flew out over Lake Erie. This was another code 3 rarity, and a new self found bird for me. I'm just going to list the reverse highlights below, because there were just so many.

yearbirds denoted with *

- 13 Chimney Swifts*

- 7 Spotted Sandpipers

- 1 Lesser Yellowlegs

- 4 Forster's Terns

- 40 Northern Flickers

- 7 Eastern Kingbirds*

- 8 Blue-headed Vireos*

- 4 Warbling Vireos*

- 250 Chipping Sparrows

- 9 Field Sparrows

- 1 Lark Sparrow

- 4 Orchard Orioles*

- 8 Baltimore Orioles*

- 9 Nashville Warblers*

- 3 Northern Parulas*

- 3 Blackburnian Warblers*

- 15 Yellow Warblers

- 25 Palm Warblers

- 3 Pine Warblers

- 150 Yellow-rumped Warblers

- 5 Black-throated Green Warblers*

- 1 Summer Tanager*

- 3 Scarlet Tanagers

- 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

- 3 Indigo Buntings

Crazy stuff!!

Some photos below....

- Summer Tanager

- Northern Flicker (look at the single red primary)

- Indigo Bunting

- Blackburnian Warbler

- Lark Sparrow

- Yellow Warbler

- Scarlet Tanager

- Rose-breasted Grosbeak

- Baltimore Oriole

- Eastern Kingbird

- Chimney Swift

- Northern Flicker

- Orchard Oriole

- Northern Parula

- Black-throated Green Warbler

- Palm Warbler

Around 9:30am the action started to quiet down a bit, so reluctantly I tore myself away from the tip and headed back into the park in search of more migrants in the forest. Walking past Sparrow Field into North Woods, I saw Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln's Sparrow and Veery, all yearbirds. After another few minutes of walking down the trail a few birders were pointing to a nearby tree... where an Eastern Whip-poor-will was perched. Always a fun species to get "face melting" views of. Swainson's Thrushes were around in numbers, actually outnumbering hermit. Kind of crazy seeing none were there the previous day, goes to show just how many birds came in the previous night.

- Eastern Whip-poor-will

- Golden-winged Warbler

- Same beast

- Blue-winged Warbler

- Lincoln's Sparrow

I spent the remainder of the morning birding around the park with Nathan and Ezra, and although activity was quieting down a bit there were still lots of birds. Interestingly a lot of the neotropical migrants were only seen in reverse off the tip in the morning, not at all in the park itself. By 1:00pm I had seen 106 species, pretty good for April 24th! 

On Friday a Western Tanager was found 20 minutes away from my house on the Bruce. It was only seen at a feeder for a few minutes though and the homeowners never saw it again. Then late Saturday afternoon it was seen at another bird feeder around 4 kilometers away from the first spot. It was too late in the day to get back up from Pelee, so we decided to chase it on Sunday if it was refound. I didn't want to go up in the morning and miss Pelee, a decision that I am very glad I made. Anyways late Sunday morning news came in that the tanager had been refound, so reluctantly I left Pelee with Ezra around 1:30 and headed north. Of course after we left a Kentucky Warbler and a Western Meadowlark (among others) were found, but that's just how the game goes sometimes. The drive seemed to go by fast and just after 6:00pm we pulled onto the road on Stokes Bay. William and Luke had travelled up to chase it as well, and had beat us there by around 20 minutes. They had enjoyed spectacular views of the bird, but of course it flew off 10 minutes before we arrived. A tense 35 minutes passed, then finally the Western Tanager flew out and landed on the feeder. This was a code 4 rarity, and also a lifer for me... with the added bonus of being in my home county. The timing was perfect, as it then started raining and the wind picked up, so we headed off. Big thanks to the homeowners for allowing a lot of birders to walk around their property and stare at their feeder, it's friendly folks like this who are important during a big year... A few yards with no access can mean one or two less birds at the end of the year. In an interesting twist of fate, Josh Vandermeulen got a Western Tanager on his big year in 2012  only a few kilometers from this spot, also in late April.

- Western Tanager

3 Tanager day!!

Ontario yearlist @ April 24th - 241

April 22 birding

Just to wrap things up, I'll cover the events after my last post (covering April 21st). After having a fantastic shorebird evening around the Pelee area Ezra and I spent the night car camping, with plans to bird Point Pelee early the next day. Friday called to be the "calm before the storm", with relatively poor migration conditions forecasted until things picked up on the weekend. Since we were planning on birding Pelee on Saturday and Sunday, it didn't make sense for us to leave only to come back, so we figured we might as well see if anything was around on Friday morning.

The drive into the park was fairly quiet... very few birds hopping around on the road and cooler temperatures discouraging birdsong. The gate by the Visitor Centre was open, which meant I could drive right out to the tip parking lot. This saves about 2km of walking, with the added benefit of being able to access your car quickly. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was likely the last time I will be able to do that this spring, as the gate was closed the next day. We started by doing a reverse migration watch at the tip, as is the norm for a day of Pelee birding. It became apparent pretty soon that it wasn't going to be an active day though, as little flew off besides a few blackbird flocks.

- Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Pelee Tip

- Common Loon - Pelee Tip

After the tip we moved on to West Beach, where we saw very few birds... and no Henslow's Sparrows.  The remainder of the morning was spent covering various trails around the park, seeing relatively little besides some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Hermit Thrushes and an early Yellow Warbler (yearbird). By 11:00am it was sunny and warming up fast, which was killing bird activity even more. We decided to head out of the park and north towards Lake St. Clair to try and pick up Yellow-headed Blackbird for the yearlist. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are rare in most of Ontario, with the only remaining breeding locations being in the Rainy River area and also here around Lake St. Clair. There had not been any reports there previously this year, but it was around the time that they normally return so it seemed worth the gamble.
We started out by checking the marshes along Angler Line, which is one of the spots where they have been most reliable in past years. It was getting balmy at this point, starting to close in on T-shirt weather. I have never really enjoyed birding on these still days when the temperature is in the mid 20s and the sky is blue. I'm weird that way... but normally it makes me feel like there are low chances of finding good birds, plus it's just too hot and the birds aren't as active... I digress. Walking the road beside the marsh turned up some Great Egrets, American Coots and also my first Common Gallinule of 2022.
After doing this and not seeing any blackbirds for 45 minutes, a car rolled up and put down its window to talk to us. The person inside turned out to be a homeowner down the road, who just happened to have Yellow-headed Blackbirds coming to her feeder regularly. She generously said that we could walk around her property to look for them, an offer that we quickly took her up on. Sure enough, as we rounded the house we discovered 5 male Yellow-headeds walking around the yard. This was my first time seeing this species actually on its breeding grounds, and also my first time photographing one in Ontario.

Some other birds from the area...

- American Coot

- flying coot... always weird

- Forster's Terns

The remainder of the day was spent birding around Essex. Highlights were few and far between, but the Windsor dump turned out to be a good spot, with 5 gull species including 8 Lesser Black-backed and a Glaucous (which I missed). 

That's all folks!

Ontario yearlist @ April 22 - 217

Southwestern Shorebird Sweep


Catching up one day at a time here… as I feel I will be doing until June, bear with me : )

On Thursday I headed down to Long Point for sunrise, where I planned to meet up with Ezra and Nathan and spend the morning birding. The weather seemed to look promising for a fallout… south winds and rain hitting around 5am, so it seemed like it would be worth a shot. I arrived at dawn, or rather what the clock told me was dawn, as it was so dark and rainy that it was hard to tell. Together we headed into the new provincial park and fanned out in search of newly arrived migrants. The wind and heavy rain was brutal, and coupled with 4 degree temperatures it was freaking unpleasant to say the least! The birding was pretty quiet compared to what we were hoping for… 2 Palm Warblers, some kinglets and sparrows but not much else. I did see two yearbirds, Gray Catbird and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, both common birds that I’ll see a plethora of this year though. 

After getting thoroughly soaked, we spent the rest of morning birding the shore of Lake Erie, working our way over towards Port Burwell. Again, the birds were quite sparse, and I can’t really think of many highlights to note. The Sky had cleared up and the sun was actually coming out around lunchtime, so we headed back over towards Long Point, where we thought we’d spend the rest of the afternoon.

Plans on a big year constantly change though, and this was no exception. When an alert popped up on discord that Jeremy Bensette had found two Western Sandpipers at Hillman Marsh, it made the decision of what to do quite easy. Nathan stayed at Long Point for the rest of the day, as he quite sensibility isn’t doing a big year. Ezra jumped in my car and we started the 3 hour drive west towards Essex County. While on route, a post popped up that there were now 5 Hudsonian Godwits by Point Pelee! “Hudwits” are very rare in southern Ontario in the spring, and seeing them in their breeding plumage has always been on my wish list. 

After arriving at Hillman, we started scoping through the massive flock of Dunlins that were scattered across the shorebird cell. After a few minutes we picked out two smaller sandpipers with orangeish scapulars, auriculars and crown. Beautiful breeding plumage Western Sandpipers, a rare spring bird in Ontario. 

- Western Sandpiper

While we were standing there with a crowd of other birders, someone mentioned American Avocets. Sure enough, three of them were feeding further out in the marsh! Everyone was so absorbed in the sandpipers that we didn’t notice avocets fly in, yikes! This was actually lifer for me, as was the western sand. I could have easily chased them in the past, but as I’ve said before ~ I never chased birds that I figured I would one day self find. 

- American Avocets 

After that we bombed over to Bevel Drive, where after arriving we immediately discovered five Hudsonian Godwits. Two of these birds were in fine alternate (breeding) plumage, which was awesome. 

- Hudsonian Godwits 


I didn’t expect to get the godwit or the sandpiper until the fall, so that was an unexpected bonus. It will also save me a trip later in the year to chase them.

Ontario Yearlist @ April 21 - 214

I’ll be back with more soon, but have to catch some sleep before waking up early to bird Pelee tomorrow! Hope are high for rares/migrants… I mean look at this!!

Amherst Island Bunting


Remember in my last post when I mentioned the Lark Bunting had been refound on Amherst Island? Well on Saturday night I made plans to go after the Bunting the following day with Isabel Apkarian & Andy Nguyen. Ezra and William were joining us as well, but because they had to be back earlier they took a separate car. The ferry to Amherst starts running at 6:30am, which when I calculated that back to the time we would have to leave... well lets just say I wasn't that pleased: )

3:00am on April 17th found me leaving Isabel's place in Guelph, driving to a carpool lot and picking up Andy, then heading east towards Amherst. I promptly passed out in the front seat and caught a few solid hours of sleep before we arrived. After pulling up to the ferry terminal, I counted a grand total of 0 other cars there, and also 0 ferries. I did a quick google search and found something about the ferry being closed on Sundays. William pulled in with Ezra a few minutes later and we were beginning to get a bit nervous, thinking that we may have driven over 3 hours for nothing. Luckily a car pulled into a lot and a man in an orange work vest got out, only to be immediately pestered with questions by us (he looked very official... and hey, we were right, he worked on the ferry). The man informed us that yes, the ferry is coming, and it runs every day except for days with violent storms. Phew. After a short wait the ferry did indeed appear at the docks, and in no time we were heading towards the island. 

Amherst Island is located just west of Kingston, and is a 20 kilometer long and 7 kilometer wide chunk of land that sits 3 kilometers offshore from the mainland in Lake Ontario. The island is dominated by farmland, with a few acres of forest dotted here and there. Birders know Amherst best for it's owls, as it's an internationally recognized location for wintering concentrations of owls  (as well as other raptors). Some years up to 10 owl species have been spotted during a single winter, with concentrations of Snowy and Short-eared Owls climbing into the double digits. I always thought that my first visit to Amherst would be during the winter to witness the owl spectacle, and one day I will definitely have to make a trip back for it. 

Driving across the island that morning, the narrow dirt roads, fields containing stone walls and sheep and the general feel of an old farming community reminded me of scenes of the U.K. that I've seen on television. Of course the lack of pubs, cars driving on the "wrong" side of the road and English accents didn't exactly help this image, but I think it's the closest I've seen to this in Canada anyways. 15 minutes later we were at the location where the bunting had been seen, a dirt road near the southeast edge of the island with fields dotted with pine trees on one side of the road and a rocky shoreline on the other. We decided to split up and cover more ground and started walking down the road. Song Sparrows were abundant, causing momentary excitement as they flushed from the edges of the road. There were also a good number of Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks around, the latter becoming the constant background noise during our birding on the island. A few other birds of interest included; Purple Martins, Common Loons, 2 Rough-legged Hawks, a Pectoral Sandpiper, a Snowy Owl and a very obliging Horned Grebe.

- Snowy Owl

- Pectoral Sandpiper

- Horned Grebe

- Purple Martin

Over an hour had passed at this point, and we were just walking along the shoreline when a message came in - Lark Bunting refound. We jogged for the car and sped back down the road, where we soon found Ezra and William standing on the shoulder. They weren't the ones who refound it, but they had just seen a small bird fly into a pine tree beside the road. Doug McRae and Gray Carlin pulled up and joined us, and after a few minute wait the Lark Bunting flew out and landed on a fence post. It was an immature male, with slightly ratty plumage and a large chunk of feathers missing from the back of it's head. This was an lifer for most of us, and a great addition for the big year. Lark Buntings are normally found in western North America, and here in Ontario they are quite rare, to my knowledge there are only around 20 records. 

The bird started singing a few times, which added even more to the experience and was a real treat to hear. To my ears it sounded like a weird combination of a cardinal and some kind of mimic and was completely different than any song I've heard in the past.

- Lark Bunting

- Flight shot

- Eating a worm

We weren't paying close attention to the time, and ended up getting back to the ferry dock just as it was pulling out. Seeing this meant we were stuck waiting for it for another hour, we decided to make the most of it and go explore more of the island. This worked out quite well, as only a few minutes into our drive Andy spotted an Upland Sandpiper on the road. This was a lifer for him, and also a yearbird for me. The rest of our birding was fairly uneventful, more of the same grassland birds. In the end we saw 61 species, not too bad for a morning of island birding! 

- Upland Sandpiper

On the way back we stood up on the top deck of the ferry and did some fake pelagic birding, scoring Long-tailed Ducks, Double-crested Cormorants and Mute Swans... all the exciting stuff. I must say I quite liked birding on Amherst, and I look forward to my next visit (maybe not during a big year, when I can actually explore the island properly).

With the current crappy weather conditions I'm back at home waiting for my car to be done at the mechanic and catching up on some work. I'm sure I'll be back down south in the next few days though!

Ontario yearlist @ April 20th - 207

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...