The blog... It's... Alive?!?

 It’s been months since my last post, perhaps the biggest span I’ve gone without writing since I started my blog. It was so hectic trying to keep up with posts during 2022, so I think I had a bit of writing fatigue after the year was over haha. Also, life has been pretty busy recently! 

In early April I moved down to Long Point with Alessandra, where we are both working for Birds Canada on the Forest Birds At Risk program. The field season so far has been tiring, yet rewarding, and the free time I have after work is normally spent birding/sleeping. The average day here involves waking up around dawn, then driving to a forest tract around the Norfolk/Elgin region with Alessandra and our two other coworkers. We then split up and survey the area, keeping track of all the birds we encounter, but mainly focusing on one species… the Louisiana Waterthrush. Later in the season our other 4 target species (Red-headed Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean and Prothonotary Warblers) will take up most of our time, but for now the waterthrush is the only one back on territory. Louisiana’s are unique as far as Ontario warblers go, arriving back in the province in early April and setting up territories shortly after that. Their preferred habitat in this region is deep ravines with fast flowing water, where they teeter along the banks in a state of constant tail bobbing hunting for prey. They occasionally nest on sloughs in Carolinian forests too, though this doesn’t seem to be as common. They remind me of dippers, as much as one who hasn’t seen a dipper can be reminded of one… as they sit on logs and rock in the centre of rapidly moving water, plunging their heads in to grab microscopic invertebrates. This past week has been a busy one, as several of the pairs we are monitoring have nests with eggs, and one even has chicks now! It seems like the season has only just begun, but this will be my 6th week conducting Waterthrush surveys. Soon I’ll be getting even busier, as next week point count season begins… a grueling month of predawn bird surveys around Norfolk County, with other species at risk surveys in the afternoon. I’m looking forward to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival, because this year I’m leading 4 hikes and also giving a presentation on my big year. I am not looking forward to driving to Bruce and back during my only days off, doing a big day hike, and then returning to Norfolk for predawn the next day… life of a working birder though : )

Since we arrived here, we have had plenty of time to bird as we have weekends off, and the work day normally ends in the early afternoon (though on most days a midday nap is required before heading out again). It’s been an… interesting… spring for migration down here, with several surges of birds and also long periods of limited movement. It’s kind of funny, growing up in Bruce I was used to the counties around Lake Erie getting all the migrants first, and then having to wait a week or two until they reached me. This year though, it seems a lot of species are showing up on the peninsula before I’m getting them here!! Almost like the birds are avoiding me😅. There have definitely been some highlights so far though, and it’s still only mid May so spring migration is just getting good now.

All of the rarities I’ve crossed paths with so far were in April, with nothing tooo rare for a few weeks now.

A few days after starting work, Alessandra and I found a Fish Crow at the “New” Provincial Park here at Long Point. While it’s not that big of a rarity (1-3 a year around the area), it was still a new self found bird for me… so I was happy with the find. During that same week there was also a female Ruff on the Long Point Causeway. This bird was very distant, shown well by this record shot(?), but scope views were still nice enough. There would later on be a 2nd (possibility 3rd) Ruff found here, but we only saw the 1. I still haven’t seen a adult male Ruff in Ontario, though I’m sure I’ll cross paths with one someday.

On April 14th a rather strange bird appeared near Long Point... A Black-billed Magpie. In Ontario normally these birds are only found East of Thunder Bay near Rainy River, so one in the southern part of the province is very unusual. To make things even more interesting, this was the 4th magpie reported in the southwest in the span of a week! The first showed up near London, followed by another just outside of Guelph and one by Hamilton. There wasn't any overlap between the reports, so it could just be one or two birds involved... Hard to say though. Magpies are rarely kept in captivity, but I guess anything is possible. We drove over to chase it since it was only a few minutes, and within a few minutes of waiting a Black-billed Magpie called and flew down beside the road. I am leaning towards a wild bird, since magpie movement is poorly known and the timing fits with other sightings around the south (there was one a few years ago at Pelee during May). Oh yeah, I was recently voted onto OBRC! So I guess I will be dealing with these records next year...

- Black-billed Magpie

The biggest highlight so far was on April 24th, in the form of a Swallow-tailed Kite. On April 22nd a kite was reported to eBird late in the day, with the comments saying it was just circling over the road. I thought it was probably a legit report, but given the one-observer-wonder nature of most raptor sightings, I figured it wouldn’t be seen again. Then, the next day another birder reported the kite in almost exactly the same spot, again just circling over the road. At the same time, a Henslow’s Sparrow was reported at the provincial park. Alessandra and I quickly drove up to the kite spot, arriving only around 40 minutes after the initial report. Searched for 2 hours… nothing, but seemingly every other species or raptor was flying over! We then went to look for the Henslow’s, but the wind had picked up a bit and we came up empty. A bit dejected, we headed back to the cottage for a meal, figuring we wouldn’t see either rarity. Then guess what? They are both seen at the same time again at 4pm! Though reports didn’t surface for another two hours… frustration… drove back to the kite spot again and stayed until dusk… Nada. Ironically I think I would have seen one of these birds if the other wasn’t also found, because ping-ponging back and forth between them caused me to miss both. The following day we had to work, but as soon as we were done we drove back to look for the kite again. It hasn’t been seen so far that day, but migration conditions were quite poor so I was pretty sure it was still hanging around. We parked beside the road and began the stakeout, and no more than 20 minutes later, wham… Swallow-tailed Kite circles over the field beside us! We watched it for over two hours as other birders came and left, the kite looking a bit miserable in the cold weather. Since the bird had arrived temperatures had been under 10 degrees, getting close to 0 at night, and it was rainy with hardly any insects around. When we were observing it a brief snow flurry passed by, probably the first the kite had ever seen… a strange combination for sure… snow and a kite. It remained cold for the rest of that week, and the bird was observed hunkering down and not being too active. A few days later, it was gone for good, never to be seen again. Fingers crossed it managed to survive and get out of Ontario! Truly a magnificent bird, it was my 2nd time seeing this species in Ontario, and the first for Alessandra.

- Swallow-tailed Kite

Overall though, I have found this to be one of the quieter spring migrations I have experienced. The lack of morning flight birding (due to work) may be hurting my impression of this spring too, as I haven't hit a single big day for movement. Hoping things pick up later this month...

In other news, Alessandra and I are doing a Birdathon big day around the Long Point area next week! The original plan was to do it this weekend, but there simply aren't enough breeding birds back yet. We are trying for a really high total (ideally 170s or higher), so hopefully things pan out. I'll write a post about how it goes. Donations appreciated!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pacific Golden-Plovers in Ontario

I found this post that I started back in 2020 and thought I would edit and repost now! I've done a lot of research over the winter abou...