Saturday, April 23, 2016

Colonel Samuel Smith and Tommy Thompson

This Week in Big Year Birding:

April 23, 2012 and the Florida Fallout!

I arrived in Florida just after a storm during migration to Fort De Soto Park and the most wonderous collection of fallout warblers. It was a shortcut to a good list of migrating species and included a few species, like the Worm-eating Warbler and Nanday Parakeet I saw only on that trip. 

I came home to a very cold Toronto later that week, and added Little Gull and a Brant to the Year List as well. 

Fast forward to 2016 and It's still cold in Toronto, as migration heats up. There are two great places to bird in Toronto during Spring Migration, Colonel Samuel Smith Park and Tommy Thompson Park,  and I am sure neither of these men ever thought that they would be famous, not for their accomplishments, but for the parks that bear their names and are popular with birders in the spring as the best places to find a host of migrating warblers.

Over the next month or so, after I return from a weekend trip to Tampa Bay, with the unlikely hope of another Fallout, I will be spending most mornings and some afternoons in either one of these parks.  Sure, there are better one stop shopping  destinations for migration, like Point Pelee for the Festival of Birds, or Ohio's The Biggest Week in American Birding, and I have been to both, but if you spend enough mornings in Toronto Parks you can come up with a warbler list equal to anywhere else.  

A Blue-headed Vireo and Field Sparrow were good starts in Col. Sam, while and Ameican Woodcock was a nice sighting in The Tommy Thompson "wet woods."

My warbler goal for this year is to finally get a photo of Worm-eating and Golden-winged Warblers. And see my 300th species in Ontario. And then start planning for Texas and Arizona!

The Saga of the Baltimore Oriole

I've just come from Baltimore.  The weather was nicer than in Boston, and the birding was pretty good too.  But did I even see a Baltimore Oriole while in Baltimore?  The Baltimore Oriole(s), and its name have an interesting history themselves.  The Baltimore Orioles, the baseball team, started life as The St Louis Browns, having actually come from Milawaukee, as the original Brewers.  The great showman and promoter, Bill Veeck, after failing to move them back Milwaukee, struck a deal to move them to Baltimore, and the Orioles were born.  But why Orioles?  

Well the bird, the Baltimore Oriole, was also known as the Northern Oriole because it's range overlaps with the Bullock's Oriole.  At times they were considered the same bird, but are now considered separate species.  I've run into people who still call them Northern Orioles.  And why call it a Baltimore Oriole?  Well, that's a fun fact too.  It was named after the fact that the male's colors resembled those on the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore.  

The team, the Baltimore Orioles were named after the bird, not the Lord, but they sport the lovely orange and black which might have been the main reason they were my favorite team growing up.

So, what do the Baltimore Oriloles have to do with me looking for one in Baltimore?  Or being able to do Big Years, at all?  Let's go back to 1969.  My brother's favorite team was the Orioles and as his little brother they were my favorite team.  I also like the colors.  They were playing in the World Series against the Miracle Mets and though the Orioles lost, the impact of watching the Mets race onto the field to celebrate the win, stuck in my mind.  I set myself on a life along a path that gave me that  opprtnity in 1992.  So I get to travel, and this year to a lot of cities in North America.  And to Baltimore, where, this year, I did not see a Baltimore Oriole.

I did go birding in a few nice spots in the Baltimore area, walking, Ubering and in my first Zip Car.
My first spot was Patterson Park, where, I am sure in a couple of weeks it will be overrun with migrating warblers.  It was still good, including a boardwalk around a pond.  I counted 23 species including a Louisiana Waterthrush and Eastern Towhee.

Later, on the way to Camden Yards I stopped by General Sam Smith Park, which is nothing like our local Colonel Sam Smith Park.  In fact Patterson Park would be a better fit.  

The next morning I birded in the woods along the River Road at Linthicum Heights, and though there weren't too many birds, the walk along the river was spectacular.  I also looked for Little Gull off the bridge at Back River, without any luck, but did spy a juvenile Bald Eagle, on a dead branch on the river.

I finished my trip to Baltimore birding in North Point State Park, which again should be lovely with migration heating up in the next week or so.  

I also saw a lot of birds collecting nesting materials in many locations.

Mother and Child...

Back in Toronto now, for a week.  There should be Little Gulls up here at Oshawa Second Marsh.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bird'n 'round Boston

Finally, after two and a half months, I am finally out on the open road.  Even though I will still be birding in Ontario and Florida until the end of the year, I am finally somewhere else.  I have spent the last few days in Boston, searching out some of the best places to bird with little time and no car.  Walking and Uber is the way to go when you have limited time in a city.  Rarely this year will I have have full days and freedom to bird just anywhere.  But that is the point of turning 7 months of dedicated work travel into a Big Year.  A lot of people who travel for work or even family vacations, would love to get even a few hours birding before or after work or time with family.  So, I will be spending the year as a kind of advance scout, just as we do in baseball.  I'll find some of the best places so you don't have to.

Of course, the first place to visit when staying in downtown Boston is the Fenway Victory Gardens.  I've never been during the height of migration, but whenever I have been there the birding has been good.  My first birding trip was actually in December of 2012. I had just come from Barnstable where with a little help had added a Black-headed Gull and Common Eider to my year list.  The birders I met down there had just come from Boston where they had found a wayward MacGilvray's Warbler.  I drove up there for that bird and enjoyed a lovely morning with other enthusiastic "chasers" finding that bird.  

The Gardens were established in 1942 with the encouragement of Franklin Roosevelt.  The gardens were planted on public land during the first and second World Wars as a way of reducing the pressure on the food supply during wartime.  Locally grown produce reduced the need for fresh fruit and vegetables to be transported from far away farms.

Today the space is divided into 500 garden plots.  Each is individually taken care of by a community volunteer, some growing vegetables, some flowers, some even have fountains and the one that caught my eye this week had a number of active bird feeders.

There are also a couple of Cemeteries within half an hour drive each way of downtown, Forest Hills and the one I have visited, Mount Auburn.  This trip in there just wasn't time to get there but I shall visit both  when I return the first week of June.  I did have time to bird down by the Boston Waterfront, as I knew there was a good chance for both Common Eiders and Great Cormorants.  The area is under heavy construction these days, with old dilapidated buildings being demolished and eventually upscale condos being built, so getting around is a bit awkward.  However in the bay behind the Boston Institute of Contemorary Art, I was able to find half a dozen Common Eiders, mixed in with many Great Black-backed Gulls.  There were Cormorants around, but only of the Double-crested Variety.  Though another birder did see some Great ones at another pier, I was unable to relocate them, so they will have to wait for another time, in another place.

All in all, a nice trip to Boston, where the weather warmed up just as we were heading to Baltimore.  However, it should be lovely the next three days and I'll have three full mornings to explore and hopefully add more e-bird lists and new species to said lists.

Photos from the Victory Gardens:

I thought this might be my only look at a Common Eider, my first visit to the waterfront:

However, the next day I discovered 6 more, these two being photobombed by an gull:

View from the Dugout at Fenway Park:

Some of the garden plots at the Fenway Victory Gardens:

More harbor photos, including an unexpected appearence by a harbor seal:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pining for the Return of the Warbers

And I was pining specifically for a Pine Warbler at Sedgewick Park, where warblers love to hang out late into the fall and earlier in the spring due to the warmth of the nearby water treatment facility.  Sue and I finally had a day off together at home and a chance to go birding in the Burlington/Niagara area.  It was cloudy, rained a bit, not too cool to enjoy the day, and as a bonus we got a young male King Eider at the end Fruitland Rd.  There is a nice waterfront restaurant where we had wanted to eat lunch, but for the second time when I've been in the area I came when it was closed.  Under renovations when I was there in January, closed Mondays when we were there.

One of the benefits of e-birding every day is it is a great way to remember everywhere you've been, especially if you have my swiss cheese memory.  We started the day at Oakville's Bronte Harbor, looking for any lingering Tundra Swans, but had to settle for a couple Mute Swan and a lovely Common Loon.

From there we backtracked a bit to Sedgewick Park, where prior to finding the Pine Warbler, we enjoyed a pair of Eastern Phoebes and a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets.  Next stop was LaSalle Marina where there are always Trumpeter Swans and occasionally a Tundra Swan.  Except there were neither, replaced by Mute Swans, who seemed to be softly whimpering, which is about as much sound as I've ever heard out of a so called "mute" swan.

After our stop for the King Eider and plenty of White-winged and Surf Scoters at Fruitland Rd we had lunch at the Elm St Cafe, where they were proud to serve us fresh orange juice with our Eggs "Grimsby," which is Eggs Bennadict with an added three cheese blend.

We stopped at Beamer Conservation area, not realizing it was also the location of the Grimsby spring Hawk Watch, where, on this cloudy, damp day it took an eagle eye to see the distant hawks.  We settled for great eye-level views of Turkey Vultures, from atop the escarpment cliffs.

We finished the day at the Burlington Skyway Pier, where there are still a few Long-tailed ducks and Scoters, but nothing like the numbers I saw earlier in the year.  We did see one of the Perigrine Falcons leave the safety of the bridge and soar over our heads and land on the hydro lines for a spell, and some beautiful Ruddy Ducks with their finest blue bills as they too get ready for breeding season.

All in all a pretty good day, with pretty good birds and a great lunch.  And we never really got too wet or too cold.  A final check of e-bird showed that I added 4 new species to the year list, but still wanted to find a Tundra Swan,(one gets greedy sometimes even when doing a scaled down Big Year).

So this morning I set off to New Tecumseth and Beeton, where in the fall can be found cool migrating shore birds, such as Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but in the late winter and spring, you can find Tundra Swans pausing in their return to their Alaskan and Northern Canada Breeding grounds. Taking the 45 minute drive up to farm country was pleasant enough and I was rewarded with a field of 43 Tundra Swans resting in some standing water in a farmer's field, along with a bunch of Ring-billed Gulls, a Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, Merlin, American Crow, Red-winged Black-bird and a Horned Lark,(also new for the year), who came out onto to the road for me, sporting his finest spring lark horns.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What a difference a Country Makes

After over a month in Florida, where it was never too hot and never too cold, and a couple of days in Montreal where you could almost feel spring in the air, I am back in Toronto for a week where the weather is as cold as at any time this winter, and it is THE SECOND WEEK IN APRIL!

However, the first wave of migrating birds don't seem to have noticed.  Today I saw my first Brown-headed Cowbirds here in Canada.  In fact, I saw five at Humber Bay East this morning.  Oddly, that is three more than I saw this spring in Florida.  I always seem to see dozens of Brown-headed Cowbirds late in March on the lawns around the fort in Fort de Soto.  This year I saw two.  Of course I saw dozens of Yellow-throated Warblers, a few Least Terns and a couple of Red Knots amongst the 148 species I've seen in Florida so far this year, so I can't complain about a lack of cowbirds.

So, with temperatures well below freezing, birding outings this past week have been short and not exactly sweet.  Probably, the highlight of the week was seeing the Red-necked Grebes in full breeding plumage getting ready to build their nests on the waters of Humber Bay and start their new families.

One pair, at Humber Bay East, was looking for the nest platform, only to find a log protruding from the water.  It will be interesting to see if they manage to build a nest on or around the pointy piece of driftwood.

And, as the weather hopefully warms, and the migration season fast approaches, so, finally, will much of my Big Year travel begin in earnest.  April will see trips to Boston, Baltimore and a return to Florida and in May things will really begin to pick up with trips to San Francisco and Texas.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Well, I'm Back in Florida Again

One of my favorite lines in the original Jurassic Park movie comes when, after Dr. Grant rescues young Tim from a car that has been stuck in a tree, the car starts crashing through the branches as they race to the bottom.  At the last moment the car drops on top of them, but because glass sunroof of the car is gone, due to the T-Rex attack, they survive.  It is then that Tim says, "Well, we're back in the car again."

Well, after a month of non-stop birding and working in Florida, we got a nice side trip to Montreal, where, though I didn't see a Barrow's Goldeneye or the Barnacle Goose, I did have lovely looks at a single Bohemian Waxwing, amongst a flock of Cedar Waxwings.  I also lost my camera's memory card somewhere along the way, and thus no pictorial memories.  There are so many nice places to go birding, even within walking distance of downtown.  Though it was raining most of the time, it was not too cold. Parc du-Mount Royal, Parc des Voiles, St-Mathia-sur-Richelieu, were both great walk, and hikes, as, of course, the word "Mount" in the name would suggest.

Back here in Florida the Saint Petersburg Pier and Fort de Soto proved productive as I was able to add to my slowly growing year list with an Orchard Oriole and several White-eyed Vireos at the Fort, and a Northern Flicker across the street from Tropicana Field.  This morning I also got to enjoy a Peregrine Falcon riding the thermals over the pier. 

Next stop: A week at home in Toronto, followed by my first trip outside Ontario and Florida,(aside from just two days in Montreal), spending four days in Boston and three days in Baltimore.  I know of a couple of good places to bird in Boston, especially in the gardens of the Fens, close to Fenway Park.  It was there near the end of 2012 that I spent a lovely morning with a group of hard core Massachusetts birders hunting for and finding a MacGillvary's Wabler who had lost his way to Mexico during fall migration.  I've never birded in Baltimore, so it will be fun to discover new places and see what shows up in the early days of spring migration in the north east.

Photos from the week that was:

Another photo bombed bird photograph