Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fall Migration: Part 2, Ohio and Ontario:

Been a while since I actually posted Part 1.  Part 2 takes place during the ALCS, or the American League Championship Series.  The Jays were in Cleveland for the first two games and as such, I was birding each morning in and around Cleveland.  My goal was simple: A Nelson's Sparrow at Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve just half an hour outside downtown Cleveland.  As has been the case much of this year, I took an Uber to a Zip Car and drove the 30 minutes to Mentor Marsh, only to find out that the trail I wanted, the Wake Robin Trail, was off a side street in a suburban neighborhood I had to navigate a couple of times before I found the parking pad and entrance to the boardwalk.

It was gray and misty, but right off, I was rewarded with a flight of 3 American Pipits, species #400 for the ABA area this year.  I could hear them as they flew up from the reeds and then descended back into the tall grasses, 4 or 5 times during the first half hour I was there.  Photos that early morning were nearly impossible to make out as there was almost no contrast and everything in the sky Silhouette.  The sun did eventually make a brief appearance, and I was able to make out a Bald Eagle flying overhead.  

I did think I heard Nelson's Sparrows chipping to match the call on my app several times but could not see one, as they are, as usual, very stealthy.  I did run out of time and have to head back to the city, but figured I could stop by early the next morning and try again.  And yes, the next morning I did not have the same amount of trouble finding Wake Robin Boardwalk, and eventually did get a quick look at the Nelson's Sparrow, which had been hanging around for the past week, but once again, for the fifth year in succession, I was unable to focus my camera fast enough to get a photo of this frustratingly hard to see bird.  

I still had time that morning to go to Sandy Ridge Reservation and Headlands Beach State Park in search of Rusty Blackbirds, but only got running shoes full of sand for my efforts at the beach.  So I was able to add two more species to my Year List and returned to Toronto in search of Little Gulls and perhaps a distant look at a migrating fall Pacific Loon, which both pass through Barrie, Ontario, just north of Toronto on Highway 400.  

After a walk in Colonel Sam Smith Park the evening before, where I added a flyover of a Peregrine Falcon to my Park List,(now 165 for the park), I awoke early and drove up to Barrie and Minet's Point to see if I could see any of the target birds.  Unfortunately it was cloudy and a fine mist hung in the air as I was scoping hundreds of Common Loons across Shanty Bay, but out of the mist a Pacific Loon drifted into my scope and stayed long enough before the rain and fog really moved in to get a good identification and comparison to the larger Common Loons that created a nice backdrop behind it.

As I was scoping said bird, and OntBirds e-mail alert buzzed my Applewatch and as I glanced at the message the words, Le Conte's Sparrow" caught my eye.  I stopped scoping long enough to check my phone and discover it was being seeing "right now" at Marie Curtis Park, where Sue and I had been just the week prior.  It was on my way back through Toronto and I had time before heading to work.  As I drove I got a call from David Pryor, who had found it that morning, and he gave me great directions as to a great parking place not far from the entrance to the part of the park that leads to the ponds where the bird had been seen.  By the time I got there, others, including Luc Fazio, had arrived and within 10 minutes we refound the bird and it gave us spectacular views before once again vanishing into the thicket.  I got much better photos that what I had taken five years earlier when I flushed the bird down in angle high grass at Weekiwachee Preserve in Hernando Country Florida.  Ironic that I've seen more Nelson's Sparrows than Le Conte's, yet have photos on both occasions of seeing the Le Conte's and still await my own Nelson's Sparrow shot.  Just another goal for next year.

Both the Le Conte's Sparrow and Pacific Loon were new for my Ontario List, giving me 305 species for the province in my first 5 years of birding.  As for my Birds and Blue Jays Big Year, I have surpassed 400, with 402 ABA countable species, plus 3 exotics for a total of 405, while birding pretty much only where the Toronto Blue Jays play.

Bald Eagle above Wake Robin Boardwalk:


The Marsh Wren was much more photo friendly, after a bit, than the Nelson's Sparrow ever was for me:



Peregrine Falcon Flying over Colonel Sam Smith Park, first spotted by Sue:


Little Gulls at Minet's Point in Barrie; the Pacific Loon digiscope shots just didn't turn out due to rain and fog:




The elusive Le Conte's Sparrow loves the camera:



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Migrating Blue Jays

Both the Toronto Blue Jays and the actual Blue Jays are on the move.  The Toronto Blue have made it to the ALCS and are migrating to Cleveland and in my travels both in Texas last week and here in Toronto, Blue Jays are on the move in large numbers.  Alas, I have not had a chance to add any new species to my year list.  My time and movement was much restricted when we were in Texas last week, and I was only able to bird close to our hotel in Irving.  No Zip Cars anywhere to be found and I had only limited time on the first two mornings and it rained on the third.  

I did see a good lot of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebirds and Blue Jays, but not much else.  Back in Toronto there have been a few late song-bird migrants passing through Humber Bay East, Colonel Sam Smith and Marie Curtis Parks, and in Hamilton at Windermere Basin and Van Wagner's Ponds, where Sue and I visited for the first time, looking for both a Nelson's Sparrow and Northern Pintail.  Neither were available for viewing that day, and I will hope to find in Ohio or later in the season back home in Ontario.  

My Birds and Blue Jays Big Year count has stalled, but for all the right reasons.  But there is still time to add species and many trips left to make this year.

A few photos from the week that was:



Long-billed Dowitchers at Nonquan Lagoons, my first for Ontario:






Finally, an odd hybrid duck, who's parentage confounds me:


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Blue Jays in Boston were great; Birding, not so much!

This trip to Boston for the Blue Jays was Big.  The baseball Blue Jays.  They needed a couple of wins and help from other teams to secure a home field advantage for the Wild Card Game and with a dramatic win on Sunday's regular season finale made it to the Playoffs for the second straight year. 

The excitement of the baseball team was tempered only slightly by the nearly nonstop rain which limited my free time birding to the Boston Public and Victory Gardens with no new species added to the list and the only warbler a common Yellowthroat.  However, if the Blue Jays baseball team wins on Tuesday, there will be at least one return trip to Houston, Texas and that is never a bad thing from a birding perspective.  

So I am still stuck at 399 with 3 months of birding still ahead, including a planned week long trip to end the year in the Rio Grande Valley to end the year. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall Birding in the GTA

I've been home for the past week as the baseball season heads into the stretch run, and as the Blue Jays close in on the Post Season, I'm closing in on 400 species for the ABA area as I bird where the Blue Jays play.

I've added 3 species this week, starting with a Brant at Bayfront Park in Hamilton. Bayfront was one of my first birding destinations back during my 2012 Rookie Big Year and I had missed a Brant there back in January of that year.  One showed up on the lawn this week and I had time to go find it.  Later in the week Sue and I went to Humber Bay East where I added birds missed back in the spring, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Bay-Breasted Warbler. 



Monday, September 19, 2016

The Los Angeles Exotic Birds of Anaheim

While in California to play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it was an opportunity to see some species I've so-far missed this year on the California Coast; some ABA, some just for the Life List, but also a handful of exotics I didn't even know I was looking for, one of which was actually on the ABA List.

My first objective was the California Gnatcatcher.  I've been to California enough times, you'd think I would have this on my ABA list.  But I've just not spent enough time in the Los Angels area to figure out where these guys hang out.  This time, with a full morning free to look, I headed out to the Upper Newport Bay at the foot of San Joaquin Hills Road, with hopes that e-Bird wouldn't steer me wrong.

It's a beautiful spot to go birding, and the California Gnatcatchers didn't disappoint.  I heard one before seeing one and within 15 minutes of arriving I had another ABA Lifer for 2016.  In 2015 I added 10 ABA Lifers, down from 15 the previous year, so I know it's getting harder to add Lifers each year without some very targeted travel, including Alaska.

651 for the ABA List, and 383 for the 2016 ABA List

After spending much of the morning exploring the Newport Backbay, I had a little time to scope out a destination for the next day and headed up to the San Juan Wildlife Sanctuary.  I didn't have much time to explore, but I did hear that there were a couple of exotic birds being seen there: Scaly-breasted Munia and Northern Red Bishop, and it as it turned out, the munia is on the ABA List, so I had a destination for the following morning.

I was up early the next morning.  I had to take an Uber to a university parking lot where I picked up my zip car, except this morning my zip car was missing from its parking spot.  I had reserved a Ford Focus, as that's the car I drive at home, but it was not there.  There was a VW Golf, but that was not what I reserved.  I had to put in a call to Zip Car Central where they were sure I was missing something and they even honked the horn of the Focus and had a hard time believing I couldn't hear it.  Eventually they set me up with the Golf and gave me a half hour discount and I was on my way to San Juan Wildlife Sanctuary.  Before I even arrived I was treated to a flyover by not one, but six Elegant Terns.  Wow.  I was at a red light but didn't have time to get the camera out.  I hoped perhaps they would land at the sanctuary, but no such luck.

When I did arrive, I  didn't know exactly where the munia was, so I began my walk along the various trails and was treated to birds at ever turn, including Forster's Terns, along with a great selection of sandpipers, American Avocets, Clark's and Western Grebes, a White-faced Ibis and the call of a Wrentit, the later two new for the year.  I also saw a couple of coyotes but, alas, no American Roadrunner.

It wasn't until I was on the last leg of my walk that I encountered the exotics.  As I was walking by an overgrown grassy field I saw something reddish-orange pop up and vanish just as quickly.  It was the Northern Red Bishop.  Good for the Life List, but not ABA countable.  Next, I encountered a photographer who pointed out the ABA countable Scaly-breasted Munias.  Lots of them, at least 30 by my rough count.  I spent an hour watching and eventually photographing both the bishop and the munias before heading over to Mile Square Regional Park, at the suggestion of another birder.

Female Scaly-breasted Munia

Male Scaly-breasted Munia,(652 for the ABA List):

Northern Red Bishop

After circling the park and the nearby ball field area, I finally found an entrance and it truly is a mile square and lots of places to walk but not the birding bonanza I was lead to believe it was.  Though I didn't find the Bullock's Oriole I went for, I did find Vaux's and White-throated Swifts, and Egyptian Geese, to keep the exotic theme going.  I knew there are some purists, who don't like counting exotic birds, but if the ABA likes them, then that's good enough for me.

My final full morning of birding was spent at La Mirada Creek Park.  Get there early and you're treated to another non ABA exotic, the Pin-tailed Whydah.  There is a male in the park, though I was unable to find it; however I did find the half-dozen or so females from his harem, along with around 20 Scaly-breasted Munia, who seem to have a thriving population.  I also added a Black-throated Gray Warbler and Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

Female Pin-tailed Whydah

I would say, given the usual limited time I have for birding on these trips, this was a successful few days of birding the LA area of California.  I was able to add 8 species to the 2016 ABA list, and 2 ABA Lifers, the California Gnatcatcher and Scaly-breasted Munia, giving me 390 ABA + 3 exotics for the year and a ABA Life List total of 652 in less than five years of birding.

Now to see what seabirds I can add in Seattle the next couple of mornings.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Connecticut Warbler in a Pilgram's Court

While staying in Manhattan, Central Park is my best bet for birding.  It was nice in the spring, way too hot and humid in August, but September brings cool breezes and fall warblers.  It was with this idea that I set out this morning looking for what the wind might have blown in.  In particular, I hoped for a best case scenario of a Connecticut Warbler, as my previous two sightings were in the fall, the first one being in Cape May, NJ during my first Big Year nearly 4 years ago to the day, on Sept 8, 2012 at Higbee Beach.

I started off early Tuesday morning, checking out Strawberry Fields, before heading to the Ramble.  Mostly it was Common Yellowthroats and American Redstarts, but I eventually encountered a group that was looking at a female Hooded Warbler.  I spent some time with them and after moving on ran into a young birder who I've seen a couple of previous times in the park and we exchange sightings.  I told him about the female Hooded Warbler and he told me about the Connecticut Warbler he had seen on his way into the park at Pilgrim Hill.  He gave me directions and I headed over there.

Two other birders were already looking for the bird in the bushes below the Pilgrim statue.  The Connecticut Warbler is normally a pretty skulky bird and in this regard it did not disappoint. However, it was occasionally, not just flying above the bushes, but alighting upon some bare branches of nearby trees at eye level.  This gave the three of us a few good opportunities to see and identify it.  However a photo was a bit harder to come by.

Eventually, at least a dozen other birders from around the park, most of them with one guided bird group, showed up and we all surround the bushes and as the bird moved around, most got to see it.  It took a while, but at one point the Connecticut, along with a Common Yellowthroat, came out into the open and took turns landing on the same branch.  I snapped lots of photos and did get a good shot of the target bird.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Birding By GPS: The Good, the Bad and the, sadly, Ugly

Baltimore, Day One: The Bad and the Ugly

There are not many birds view-able right now in the Baltimore area that I have yet to see this year.  As much as I love birding, I love finding new birds better.  So I'm only going for birds new to the year list and at this point. e-bird is my best bet for choosing and finding those missing species.  At times e-Bird has taken me to amazing locations I'd have never just found on my own, and at other times it has taken me places I'd rather have not found.

In the case of my search for a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the Baltimore area, I chose the closest spot to my starting point in downtown Baltimore, a place called Swan Creek Wetlands.  Seemed easy enough.  GPS directed me to a road that looked promising until I got to signs that said do not enter on penalty of prosecution, etc.  I looked at the map and decided that maybe I was meant to enter on the other side of the "wetland."  There was a road.  There was a little parking area.  There was a "trailhead" strewn with garbage leading into tall grass about a mile from the "wetlands."  I passed.  Only to find out the next day that had I driven into the "Do Not Enter" area I'd have been able go into a building and sign a waver allowing me to view the shorebirds of the Swan Creek Wetlands.  More on that later.

So I had to come up with an alternate plan and had very little time left in my morning bird outing to find somewhere.  I settled on Fort Armistead Park, as it was close by, and found a few fishing piers, also strewn with garbage that, sadly, was likely mostly left by the folks who fish there.  There was also a path through the woods that lead to the roof of some odd abandoned building covered in graffiti and I had to beat a hasty retreat, having only seen a Spotted Sandpiper in my morning shorebird quest.  The rest of the morning was no more productive and it was one of the less satisfying days of birding I've had this year.

Baltimore, Day Two: The Good

So on my second day in Baltimore I was determined to find somewhere to see the "buffy," as one birder I ran into called it.  This time I headed for the nearest sighting close to any sod farm.  Back home in Ontario sod farms are always the goto place in the fall for them.  Here in Maryland the Central Sod Farms on John Brown Rd seemed to be the place to go.  And hard to get lost with GPS directions to a sod farm on a road.

I arrived in good time, had great views of the many sod farms in the distance and as I was setting up my scope for a first glance, with my new MeFoto tripod, a driver pulled over and said, in a charming Australian accent, that he had seen two "buffies"  just up the road past the next house,.  I headed up that way and started scanning, but was only seeing Horned Larks and Killdeer.  Another driver, a guy named Joe, pulled up and started looking with me.  We found an Upland Sandpiper, but any other birds that seemed to be Buff-breasted kept landing behind a ridge way off in the distance.  Joe offered to head a bit further on and check another field while I kept looking and he returned shortly with news of a Buff-breasted just up the road.  I followed him and within minutes we were both scoping a lovely Buff-brested Sandpiper, saving me a trip back to Swan Creek, to which, Joe explained how to gain entrance.

Moral of the story is, I guess, just keep the adventure going.  Sure, sometimes e-Bird and the GPS devices will send you off to places you can never "unsee," but for the most part, to paraphrase Douglas Adams from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, you don't always get where you were going, but often end up where you need to be.  Words I have lived by since I read that book oh so long ago, and which very much apply to most of the birding adventures I've had over the pas the 5 years.