Pacific Loon

Just a quick update to keep people in the loop…

On Wednesday morning, Dave Smzyr found an adult Pacific Loon on Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie. I was down lakewatching at Point Edward in Lambton county at the time (didn’t see much besides a Parasitic Jaeger), so I decided to wait to chase it until the following day.

Most birds I would try and chase ASAP, but with this bird I wasn’t too concerned. For over 10 years there has been at least one (usually more) Pacific Loon on the Barrie waterfront in the fall. These birds stage here with the massive number of Common Loons and gorge on the concentrations of fish in the bay. The loons normally show up late September/early October and remain through mid November, so there wasn’t really a rush for me to see it. 

On Thursday morning I left Guelph with Alessandra and headed up to Barrie. By the time we got there it had warmed up a bit and there was considerable heat shimmer over the bay. 

We started off our search at the small park the bird had first been seen at, then moved up the shoreline until we were at the edge of the bay where it opens up to Lake Simcoe. Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes were around in large numbers, with several hundred of each scattered across the water. A large number of them were lost beyond the heat shimmer, making search for Waldo a bit of a challenge. 

Eventually we returned to Tyndale Park, where we had started earlier, and took another scan. Apparently a large raft of loons had moved closer while we were gone, as there were now around 200 within scoping distant. I worked through the flock… then wham, a gorgeous adult Pacific Loon! #345! This was a lifer for Alessandra too! Pacifics in alternate plumage are truly gorgeous, their nape in the sunlight is such a vibrant golden colour that photos can’t really capture.

Speaking of photos… here are some of the worst ones I’ve taken this year! IDable? Maybe 

I’m spending this weekend at Van Wagner’s Beach in Hamilton, where I hope to add Pomarine Jaeger. There is the possibility of Red Phalarope too, and maybe Northern Gannet or Purple Sandpiper. So potentially I could have a new Ontario record by Monday!

Ontario yearlist @ September 30th - 345

OFO Convention & a new bird


  Every year the Ontario Field Ornithologists hosts a convention during the last week of September, during which time the members are invited to an interesting area of Ontario for a weekend of birding hikes and a banquet. This year, after a two-year Covid imposed hiatus, the OFO brought the convention back... with the destination this time being Point Pelee.

From a big year perspective, it made sense to go to the convention since so many birders in one place makes the rarity potential pretty high. On top of that, I had agreed to lead a bird walk at Holiday Beach with Alessandra on Friday, and she also had one on Sunday at Point Pelee.

We arrived at Holiday Beach late on Thursday evening and settled down for the night at the Holiday Beach Inn (Chevy Cobalt edition). While the location of this hotel is quite ideal for birding, the beds, bathroom and room service leave much to be desired for. 

The next morning, we met our hike participants at 9:00am and started off the day with a walk around the forested trail system there. A steady stream of Blue Jays was already passing overhead at that point, and some Broad-winged Hawks were taking off from the trees that they had roosted in overnight. Songbirds were also around in decent numbers, with some highlights including Orange-crowned Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Rusty Blackbird and Purple Finch. Among the 14 birders that turned out were some familiar faces from the Bruce Birding Club, so I enjoyed catching up with some friends from home during the day.

Around 11:00am we moved over to the Holiday Beach Hawkwatch Tower, a spot I have only briefly visited once before but have always wanted to spend time at. The conditions were basically perfect for hawkwatching, cool temperatures, a nice North wind and a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds (nice to spot raptors against). Just after arriving up the tower, a kettle of around 500 Broad-winged Hawks was spotted heading south. For a Bruce County birder such as myself, seeing over 20 hawks at once is pretty exciting... so these larger numbers were a blast. We ended up staying there with the group until after 2:30, during which time we enjoyed one of the best Broad-wing flights since the the 1990s! It was so lucky for the tour... managing to chance into the best day of the fall at Holiday. Our group saw a few less since we didn't stay the whole time, but the days total was over 33,000 birds!! A Truely amazing spectacle to behold. The last kettle was over 4,000 birds strong, and in perfect light too. No words honestly.... just wow. Other highlights included: 87 sharp-shinned hawks, 27 Northern Harriers, 27 American Kestrels and a Peregrine Falcon. Also 80,000 Blue Jays!! We ended with around 85 species for the day, so a pretty successful hike! Definitely the best hawk flight I have ever witnessed.

- Broad-wing Madness 

- Peregrine Falcon

- More Broad-wings

- Blackpoll Warbler

- Northern Harrier

- Yellow-rumped Warbler

- Broad-winged Hawk

- Scarlet Tanager

- Natural birding stance

On Saturday Alessandra and I joined a hike lead by my good pal Quinten Wiegersma at Lake St. Clair NWA. The weather wasn't as nice as it was on the previous day, and throughout the day we experienced several bouts of rain. In spite of that it was a pleasant day in the field with a friendly group of birders. `As far as the birding went it was pretty decent and we ended with over 80 species... including Peregrine Falcon, American Golden-plover, Orange-crowned Warbler and over 300 Broad-winged Hawks. Just for fun we showed up black tie for the hike... This was the result.

- Peak birding attire

- Quinten not posing at all

That evening I spent exploring Point Pelee with Alessandra and had a gourmet dinner of squash soup and pasta on the cookstove. It was a fairly quiet evening for birds in the park, but a nice highlight was spending some quality time with a juvenile Piping Plover that had been hanging around the tip for a few days.

- Piping Plover
- Tip birding in style
- Alessandra photoing the plover

On Sunday morning Alessandra lead a hike Point Pelee, so I tagged along and scanned the lake for rarities since the wind was promising. It had been raining for much of the night, and when we arrived at the Visitor center it was still quite miserable... which coupled with it being the last day of the convention meant that very few birders turned up... a total of three for the hike! Ironically it cleared up quite fast, and within half an hour the rain was over, and it actually turned into a warm & sunny day! Over 70 species total, including the continuing juvenile Piping Plover. There were also a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a late season Common Tern at the tip, and a late Canada Warbler at Sparrow Field. 

Around noon a Brant was found by Steve Charbonneau at Erieau, conveniently just as the hike was wrapping up. In an hour we were over scanning the bay at Erieau, where a small goose with an all-dark neck was hunkered down with a flock of Canadas. #344!  Basically, on the way home too, so it wasn't even an out of the way chase.

- Brant
- Brant scanning

As soon as we returned back to Guelph, Michael McAllister had the nerve to find a Red Phalarope at Pelee... Too late in the day to drive back too.... Grrrr.... How it goes sometimes though! 

Ontario Yearlist @ Setpember 27th - 344

September Update

Apologies to my loyal followers... It has been a while since my last post! To sum things up, it has been a pretty quiet September for birding so far. Not just for me either, there just haven't been too many rares around Ontario... Though to be fair rarity season tends to really kick into high gear around mid-October, so hopefully there are many new additions on the horizon.

Since my last update I have added 3 species to my yearlist, which brings me up to 343 species!

All of my additions have been pelagic birds, well pelagic from an Ontario sense anyways. For us inland birders, a lot of fall excitment comes from staring through spotting scopes to see distant specks flying out over the lake. We are hoping these specks are jaegers, which if you haven't seen them before look like what you'd get if you mashed a falcon and a gull together. There are three different species, the more common Pararistic and then occasionally Long-tailed and Pomarine. All 3 breed on the Arctic tundra and winter on the open oceans of the world (they get around!), so they aren't birds you see without trying. Most inland states and provinces don't get very many jaegers, with the exception of the Great Lakes area, where they pass through annually in small numbers. The timing of their migrations is a bit different, with Parasitic moving throughout most of the fall, Long-tailed in late August and early September, and Pomarine moving late in the season (starting in mid-October and going all the way through Novmeber).You won't see these birds randomly though, and to see them you have to spend time lakewatching in Hamilton and Kettle Point during the right conditions.... Which are east/northeast winds for Hamilton and north/northwest winds for Lambton.

 For a big year you need all three jaegers, but if you aren't careful Long-tailed and Pomarine can be easy to miss. 

On September 4th east winds were forecasted for the Hamilton area, so I drove down and spent the day lakewatching. In typical Van Wagner's Beach fasion, it was raining and foggy... Not fun conditions for this type of birding! Because besides getting damp and soaked yourself, your optics get all wet and foggy, requiring constant cleaning with a dry cloth. Anyways I spent around 6 hours there and saw a Parastic Jaeger (341) and a few distant jaegery specks that were probably parasitic too... but just too far and lost in the fog to be sure.

- lakewatching at Van Wagner's

The following day there were also strong east winds, however this time there was no rain, and it was actually sunny a few times! After being there for just over an hour, a flock of 4 jaegers flew in off the lake and passed by fairly close heading inland. 3 parasitics and a gorgeous adult Long-tailed Jaeger (342) with full tail streamers! Always a treat to see one of these guys, and a bird I was glad to get out of the way for the yearlist. The rest of the day was fairly quiet, with a few more parasitics being the only other highlights. It is always an enjoyable experience lakewatching (I'm one of those people who enjoys distant specks remember) and getting my first decent fall days of 2022 in was a nice treat. Unfortunately, they were too far for my camera and I didn't have time to digiscope, so no photos to share : ( 

Fast forward two weeks. I did a few birding trips around southern Ontario (Pelee, Lambton Shores), but they were farily quiet save for the usual suspects. I was hoping to get Sabine's Gull out of the way, as the window for their migration period was rapidly closing (a rare bird past early October). Similar to jaegers, Sabines also breed in the Arctic and winter on the ocean... but every fall Ontario sees a small number that take the inland route. I had missed Sabine's by a day at Hamilton and Pelee, then I just missed a flock by Kettle Point in Lambton... new nemesis bird perhaps? 

Then on September 14th Bruce Di Labio found a juvenile Sabine's Gull while birding at Lake Dore in eastern Ontario. I assumed the bird wouldn't stick around very long, but then it was seen the next day, and again on the weekend. I wasn't too enticed to chase this bird, as it was over a 5 hour drive, for a mere "code 2" species. At the same time though it is one of those birds that could slip by easily if you let it... So on September 19th I made the trek out east, joined by my wonderful girlfriend Alessandra. 

Eastern Ontario is a scenic place in the fall, and even though the peak of fall colours are still a bit of time away, some nice shades of reds and yellows were beginning to appear across the rolling forest hills. Soon enough we had arrived at Lake Dore, a smallish lake surrounded by a dotting of quaint cottages. For the entire drive over it had been nice and sunny, but that changed 10 minutes before the lake and we encountered light fog and cloudy skies that threatened a thunderstorm. For 40 minutes we scoured the lake, sorting through large numbers of Bonaperte's Gulls and Common Loons. Then, my scope panned over a slightly larger gull with a brown back and dark, triangular patches on it's wingtips. Sabine's Gull (343), check! We enjoyed watching it for a few minutes as it foraged among a flock of Bonaparte's, before it lifted off again and disappeared down towards the far end of the lake.

A few photos…. Also if you want to see a video check out my eBird list Here

- Sabine's Gull

The timing turned out to be quite good, as just after we left the thunderstorm hit, and for the next half hour I drove through torrential rain, lightening and hail! With Sabine's Gull I tied Josh's 2012 list and Geoff's 2022 list of 343, so I now have the 2nd highest big year total in Ontario... Just for some random info!

That brings me up to date again! If anyone reading is going down to the OFO convention (and leading a hike on Friday) this weekend I may see you there...

Ontario yearlist @ September 21st - 343

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...