Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Blue Jays are Done, but the Birding Continues...

Well, it was a good run.  The Toronto Blue Jays, those that play baseball, once again made it as far as the American League Championship Series, but no further.  I travelled with the team from Spring Training until the final out of the 2016 season at the hands of the team from Cleveland, who go onto the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.  I have birded every day of the year, having submitted at least one eBird list each and every day, and will continue to do so.  As of the date of this blog, I have seen 407 species,(3 non ABA exotics), in the ABA area and hope to add more on future trips before the end of the year and try to get as close to 500 as I can.

But how did I do during the actual 2016 baseball season, which began with my first trip to Spring Training on February 11 with a Carolina Chickadee and ended with a Le Conte's Sparrow near Toronto on October 17?  Exactly 400.  I was able to go birding in dozens of cities in 16 States and Provinces, in a little over 8 months that comprised the "baseball" season.  I was able to add 9 ABA Lifers during the year, starting with a Code 5 Zenaida Dove at Long Key SP in Florida, along with a Flame-colored Tanager in Arizona and a very rare for Ontario, Common Ringed Plover.  My ABA List stands now at 652 and my non-ABA Life list, with the addition of two exotics in California,(Northern Red Bishop and Pin-tailed Whydah) and one in Texas,(Red-vented Bulbul), now stands at 935.  I started birding on January 1, 2012 with a Big Year in my very first year of birding and shall continue the quest.

Actually, I was questing just yesterday.  The previous day reports out of Dunnville were that either a Curlew or Sharp-tailed Sandpiper had been seen at a wetlands where a Western Sandpiper was being seen.  Either of those two rarer birds would have been Lifers so I decided to go up and check it out myself.  There were also lots of Rusty Blackbirds around and I had missed them in the spring, so it was worth the 90 minute trip to Dunnville.  I turned it into a 2 hour plus trip by missing a couple of highway exits, even though I had a GPS attempting to guide me.  When I did get there, there were a dozen plus birders already staked out.  The Rusty Blackbirds were an easy find and it wasn't long until the multitude of shorebirds settled and the Western Sandpiper was also seen.  

No Curlew or Sharptailed Sandpipers were reported the rest of the day, but as I was scoping ponds for a Northen Pintail, I received an e-mail that a Red Phalarope was being seen in a ditch in a farmer's field nearby and I headed over quickly, only to find a dozen other birders had gotten there even faster.  It didn't take long to get on the Red Phalarope and I thanked Andrew for the find, giving me #407 for the year.  The Rusty Blackbird was #406.

Now that the Blue Jays portion of the year is over, I can expand my birding destinations outside of states where the Blue Jays played in 2016.  So, with that in mind, I have decided that the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival would make a find trip, and Sue did not accompany me in 2012 when I was galavanting all over North America on my first Big Year.

Speaking of North America, as defined by eBird, I have actually now seen 598 species this year.  In January of this year, we took a trip to Panama.  Panama is part of North America, not Central America as I originally thought.  In 2012 I saw 601 species, all in the ABA area.  Last year, with a trip to Costa Rica, and including my ABA area birds I saw 550.  So, with just 4 more species this year, I will have a new personal record for a single calendar  year.  With upcoming trips to Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Maryland/Washinton, I am sure to surpass that total within the next few weeks.

Isn't birding grand?  Even if you don't like "listing," I'm sure it is pretty good too.

Eastern Towhee passing through Humber bay east, last week:


Nice size comparison between Cackling Goose and Canada Goose at Reesor's Pond:



Male Rusty Blackbird up in Dunnville:


Females on the mudflats below:


Flock of Shorebirds heading toward their certain doom in the Cuisinart-like blades of a windmill:


Lucky Escape!


Red Phalarope taking flight in the centre of the scene below:


A seemingly begging Blue Jay... perhaps to still be in the Post Season?


And today, after finally finding my first Rusty Blackbird for the year in Dunnville, Sue and I found a female close to home in Col. Sam Smith Park, on the rocks near the Whimbrel Watch: 


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.