Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sentinel of the Marsh

Sentinel of the Marsh
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Beaver Creek Road
Waterloo, ON
29 September 2013

    This Great Blue Heron, perched high in snag, seemed to be a self-appointed sentinel of the marsh. In the pictures it seems to be looking in all directions to make sure that all is well!

The Colours of Autumn

The Colours of Autumn

    One could not help but be struck by the bright colours of autumn when out walking this afternoon, under bright September sun. The deep scarlet of the Staghorn Sumach Rhus typhina below was especially brilliant.

    One of my favourite blooms at this time of year is New England Aster Aster novae-angliae and it looked especially gorgeous amid the stands of Tall Goldenrod Solidago altissima, even though the Goldenrod is a little past its prime and the yellow is muted.

    The little tree below appears to be a species of Willow, but I am not sure of its exact name.

Kitchener-Waterloo Naturalists Field Trip

Trip Report
Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists' Outing
Reesor Pond, Little Reesor Pond, Cranberry Marsh
Raptor Watch, Whitby Harbour, Lunde Shores C.A.
28 September 2013

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

KWFN Members: Betty Brechun, Peter McLaren, Carol Nussli

Guest: John Lichty

Reesor Pond, Markham 08:40 – 09:33

Of late, there have been reports of both Snow Geese and a Ross'Goose at this location and these were our target birds. Upon arrival we chatted to a local birder who advised that the Ross'Goose had not been seen for a few days, that the Snow Geese had been regulars, but left the pond at the crack of dawn only to return near dusk.
There was much of interest, however. One of the first things to attract our attention was a Canada Goose, very much bloodied around the bill and face, also on the breast. It appeared that it might have been the victim of an attack by a coyote or other such predator, and had managed to escape, albeit seriously injured. Given the condition of the bird we doubted that it could survive.
There was a Great Egret glistening pristinely in the early morning sun, a Great Blue Heron for contrast, and no less than four juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons. There was a great congregation of Killdeer, numbering around fifty by my estimate, and they squabbled and scurried and fed providing great entertainment for us. We saw both Blue and Green-winged Teal and the sun glinting off the speculum of the Green-winged Teal was simply breathtaking.
Waterfowl are beginning to arrive from their northern breeding grounds and we saw both Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon.
The most spectacular exhibition was provided when a Merlin swooped low over the Killdeer, all of which immediately took to the air shrieking. What was most amazing, was that as the Merlin began the process of segregating its quarry from the flock, the Ring-billed Gulls all arose in unison and attacked the Merlin, finally driving it off to a tree on the far shore where it perched. Incredibly a second Merlin cruised by in front of us, but it appeared not to be hunting.

All species at Reesor Pond (not in taxonomic sequence) – Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Blue-winged Teal, Double-crested Cormorant, Killdeer, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Canada Goose, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Merlin, Red-winged Blackbird.

Little Reesor Pond, Toronto 09:41 – 10:05

There is a small wetland at the end of Old Reesor Road, near Finch Avenue, which has come to be commonly called Little Reesor Pond, although I believe it has no formal name. The area is quite small, barely a hectare I would say, but is sometimes very productive.
A single, untagged, Trumpeter Swan was the first bird we saw, followed by a female Wood Duck. Several passerines were flitting around, some flycatching, including a juvenile Eastern Phoebe, so lovely in the yellow plumage it sports at this time of year. A couple of empidonax flycatchers were impossible to identify as to species. Two Swamp Sparrows moved back and forth from one section of the marsh to another.

All species at Little Reesor Pond (not in taxonomic sequence) – Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Accipiter sp., Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Empidonax flycatcher sp., Blue Jay.

Cranberry Marsh Raptor Watch, Whitby 10:30 – 11:30

A visit to the hawk watch had been the focal point of this trip and we were hoping for a miserable day's weather with northwest winds. Instead, we were treated to as benign a September day as one could possibly wish for, with bright sunshine, a high of 22 degrees and barely a breath of wind! It was, to say the least, not classic raptor-watching weather.
Despite this we spent a fine hour on the viewing platform with other hopefuls, renewing old acquaintances and enjoying a few raptors and a wide variety of birds on the marsh.
Chief among the great pleasures of this stop was a sensational show put on by a Peregrine Falcon as it patrolled low over the water. Everyone was able to have superb views of this bird, certainly among the apex predators of the avian world. Later we were treated to a second Peregrine Falcon. Rayfield Pye and I were reminiscing about many how many years we had been watching hawks together at that location (well over thirty!) and back in those days, when the Peregrine Falcon was barely beginning its recovery from the dark days of organochloride pesticide contamination, the sighting of a peregrine was cause for great celebration.
A local Northern Harrier was joined by a migratory bird and the two of them coursed briefly over the marsh together. We saw eight Turkey Vultures, but they, like everyone else, seemed to be content to simply enjoy the good weather, and certainly didn't press on with their migration.
A source of great pleasure was derived from a Sharp-shinned Hawk which passed low right over our heads, and gave a textbook display of flight techniques, enabling everyone to see how skillfully it used its tail as a rudder. Everyone was enthralled with this “demonstration flight.”
Rusty Blackbirds are at the peak of their period of migration and numerous birds were seen, as well as a variety of ducks.
Great Egrets dotted the marsh; it is quite remarkable how common this species has become in recent years.

All species at Cranberry Marsh (not in taxonomic sequence) – Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Great Egret, Mute Swan, Rusty Blackbird, Peregrine Falcon, American Crow, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Red-winged Blackbird, Wood Duck, Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Mourning Dove, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal.

Whitby Harbour 12:00 – 12:50

We moved over to Whitby Harbour to enjoy our lunch in the very pleasant ambiance of the boardwalk, with a few birds to keep us company, and even a Monarch butterfly, exceedingly rare this year. It made one feel good to be alive, basking in the sun, enjoying good fellowship and food which always tastes better when consumed al fresco.
Among the birds we did see was a wing-tagged Trumpeter Swan as shown in the picture below, and a remarkable thirty-seven Mute Swans.

Great Blue Heron and Ring-billed Gulls
Mute Swans, Trumpeter Swan (K21), Canada Goose, Ring-billed Gulls
Mute Swans, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gulls
Mute Swans, Trumpeter Swan, Herring Gull

All species at Whitby Harbour (not in taxonomic sequence) – Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Trumpeter Swan, Mute Swan, Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron, Mourning Dove.

Lynde Shores C.A., Whitby 12:56 – 14:49

We ambled along the road searching for a small marsh where we were told a Long-billed Dowitcher was present. Unfortunately, even with five people looking, we did not find the marsh!
During a walk through the woodlot we were both surprised and pleased at the numbers of people out enjoying nature with their children. The paths through the wood have been well provisioned with bird feeders supplied by local schools and children are encouraged to feed the birds, principally chickadees that are renowned for their confiding nature, and willingly take food from the hand. While some purists might argue that this kind of behaviour is not de rigeur I could not help feeling very reassured that some of those children, based on their encounter with wild creatures, will form the next generation of naturalists. It was quite lovely to see grandparents, parents and children all enjoying nature together, with not a tablet or Iphone in sight!
Even three Wild Turkeys seem to have been well habituated to throngs of people surrounding them.
The entrance to the woodlot was populated by large numbers of Common Grackles and the noise was almost deafening. At one of the feeders we saw two White-breasted Nuthatches, our only nuthatches of the day. We also spotted our first White-throated Sparrow of the fall.

All species at Lynde Shores C.A. (not in taxonomic sequence) – Great Egret, Blue Jay, Ring-billed Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Lesser Yellowlegs, Rusty Blackbird, Blue Jay, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Grackle, Mallard, Wild Turkey, Mourning Dove, White-throated Sparrow, House Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch.

Lake Ontario Shore, Whitby 15:00 – 15:20

The lake was noteworthy for its paucity of species! We saw only Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls.

General Comment

I am very grateful to the people who joined this trip. We had a great time together and I will look forward to birding with each of them again.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hockey v Birding Chapter 2

Hockey v Birding 
Chapter 2

    Based on the news coverage of the beginning of the season (exhibition games only so far) hockey has carried on where it left off. In fact it continues to exhibit and glorify the same brutality this game has displayed for decades.
   The other night one could hardly watch or listen to the news without coverage of a brawl the Toronto Maple Leafs were engaged in. I forget the name of the opposing team but it hardly matters. Players pummeled each other, tried to maim each other with vicious swings of the hockey stick, players left the safety of the bench to get their punches in, even goal tenders far removed from the primitive spectacle unfolding in front of them decided to get involved. It was truly sickening. It was barbaric. It was the kind of conduct which would not be condoned even for an instant if carried out anywhere but on a hockey rink.
    In the sports reporting that I heard or saw not a single reporter mentioned the skillful skating of an individual player, no reporting of a particularly effective passing play, or pretty goal. The only thing that was covered was the primitive, gladiatorial brutality. I guess the sports reporter covers what hockey fans want to hear and see.
    The most popular hockey dvds are of the Rock'em Sock'em variety. Nowhere does one see dvds covering the most amazing goals of the decade, or the sheer skill and dexterity of certain players. Skill, goal scoring, passing etc. have become almost incidental to the violence, a medium for it, so to speak.
    Even when the NHL draft was covered by the media, the kind of comments one heard most frequently concerned the player's size, his ability to "skate through people," his toughness. Hardly surprising in fact when these are the primary qualities required in a player.
     As far as I know, no birder bashed another with his binoculars recently (or maybe ever), no one decked another with either his fists or his scope, not a single naturalist swung his tripod at another to try to maim him or her. Not one individual body-checked his fellow birder into the swamp, or drove him into a tree. If parents with children happened along, they were treated to an introduction to nature, not a window into gross assault or attempted murder.
    Hockey? No thanks. I'd rather be birding.

Friday, 20 September 2013

A Pious Predator

    A bird watcher is a kind of pious predator. To see a new bird is to capture it, mataphorically, and a rare bird is a kind of trophy. A list of birds seen on a given day is also a form of prayer, a thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place. Posting that list online is a 21st century form of votive offering. It's unclear what deity presides.

From the New York Times. April 2013

Thursday, 19 September 2013

First Monarch of the Year

First Monarch Danaus plexippus
of the Year
Laurel Creek C.A.
Waterloo, ON
18 September 2013

    On a walk through Laurel Creek C.A. Miriam and I were delighted, nay thrilled even, to see our first Monarch of the year. Much has been written about the absence of this species in central and eastern North America this year, and this is our only sighting.

    A couple of Wild Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo scurried off as soon as we spotted them, or more likely as soon as they spotted us!

    Five Turkey Vultures Cathartes aura effortlessly rode a thermal overhead, although we could never capture more than four of them in the same picture.

    The Pied-billed Grebe  Podilymbus podiceps chicks are now as big as their parents, but are still willing to accept a food delivery.

    This male Mallard Anas platyrynchos in eclipse plumage revealed his diagnostic speculum.

Snow Goose at Ellacott Lookout

Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
at Ellacott Lookout
Cambridge, ON
14 September 2013

    John Lichty and I went to check the Great Egret Ardea alba roost at Ellacott Lookout at the crack of dawn on Saturday 14 September. After sunup, having counted the egrets, we scanned the area to see what else was present, and were both delighted and surprised to locate this Snow Goose with a group of Canada Geese Branta canadensis. It was quite foggy, certainly not ideal conditions for photography, but John was able to capture this image. Shortly afterwards, the Snow Goose flew off to the east with a number of Canada Geese. I have not heard whether it has been seen subsequently.

Birding at the DesJardins Canal, Dundas, ON

DesJardins Canal
Dundas, ON
15 September 2013

    A quick visit to the Dundas section of the DesJardins Canal was quite productive in terms of birding.
    Before even parking, we saw this adult Black-crowned Night Heron Nyycticorax nycticorax and pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures. It truly is a very handsome bird.

    The behaviour of a sub adult Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis had us puzzled for a minute until we realized that it was feeding on an apple that had fallen into the water. It looked for all the world as though it was was bobbing for apples at Halloween, but it was having success at wresting bits from the fruit at each attempt, even as the apple was driven under the surface.

    A stately pair of Hooded Mergansers Lophodytes cucullatus was a very pleasant surprise. Both birds were fishing actively and didn't stay up for long.

    As we were leaving we spotted this juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. Given the juveniles we had seen at Princess Point and the frequency with which we have been locating them in Waterloo, it would appear that this species has enjoyed a successful breeding season.

Back at Princess Point

Princess Point
Hamilton, ON
15 September 2013

    Princess Point was a great spot to be birding with lots of activity on the water, as well as small flocks of warblers and vireos moving through. It was frustrating trying to i.d. some of these passerines flitting around in trees still fully leafed out, but a Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia and an American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla put on a great show. A Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus was a first sighting of the year and for the briefest moment perched in the open. There seemed to be a migratory movement of Turkey Vultures Cathartes aura and a lone Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus (3rd year?) was a great addition to the day's birding.
    Opportunities for photographs were not great, but it's interesting to see the range of species in the image below: Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus, in various stages of developmentRing-billed Gull Larus delawarensis, Mute Swan Cygnus olor, Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias; and in the second picture a Great Blue Heron and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax side by side.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Marbled Godwits

Marbled Godwits Limosa fedoa
Imperial Beach, CA
9 September 2013

    The following images, sent to me by my good friend Leslie McCollum of Imperial Beach, CA brought back vivid memories of several visits to this area of Southern California, where at certain times of the year this species is very common. When one sees the sheer numbers of Marbled Godwits on the beach it almost seems odd that it is such a rarity here. Kudos to Leslie for great photographs.

Marbled Godwits with Willets Tringa semipalmata and Heermann's Gulls Larus heermanni
The surf breaking on godwits and Willets
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus with Willets

Six Marbled Godwits in the Pacific Ocean
Two godwits, one capturing a sand crab
Godwits and Willets

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Gerry Bennett and John Keenleyside.

Humour at its Best

    It's a rainy day and I am inside organizing and reorganizing my bird "stuff" and I came across A Tribute to Gerry Bennett to which many birders, including myself, contributed after Gerry died suddenly from a massive heart attack on 10 January 1999, fittingly while filling his bird feeders.
    Many of you will know that Gerry was the long-time publisher of Bird Finding in Canada, a publication which he created and produced by himself, typing it on a manual typewriter. It was much loved and eagerly awaited each month by all who subscribed to it.
    John Keenleyside and Gerry kept up a long standing correspondence which was absolutely hilarious and I am reproducing a letter written by John in 1988. For those who have not previously read it I am sure it will provide great amusement; for those already familiar with it it will bring back memories of one of the golden eras of birding in Canada, and evoke fond memories of a great birder, raconteur and good friend.


April 25 1988

Mr. Gerry Bennett,
Birdfinder in Canada,
c/o Birdfinding in Canada,
Box 519, Kleinburg, Ont.  L0J 1C0

Dear Birdfinder in Canada:

    Enclosed you will find my various lists, for publication in Birdfinding in Canada. Unfortunately, you will notice, once again, that my ATPAT (All the Provinces and Territories) totals are missing. The problem this time is that I have been unable to locate my list for Prince Edward Island, despite prolonged and intensive searching. I am quite certain that I have been there however, since I believe that I can remember seeing a number of House Sparrows at the Charlottetown Airport. I feel therefore that I owe it to you to continue my search for the missing list, and I will leave no stone unturned in this regard.
    I thought that you might want to know that in the past year or so I have been devoting considerable time to one of my other favourite listing games, and this has to do with chasing around after the birds which can be seen in the many different counties of our province. This list, as you are aware, is known as All The Counties Of Ontario Together, (or ATCOOT), and I find it regrettable that so few of the younger birders pursue this particular list. Certainly many of the senior birders know about ATCOOTS, and are actively engaged in this pursuit. One of the most fanatical of ATCOOT enthusiasts was Anne Merrill, former bird columnist at the Toronto Globe and Mail, and the fact that Anne continued to pursue her ATCOOTS for several years after her death caused profound controversy in the local birding community. The alienation of many local birders which resulted from this breech of birding ethics is considered by some birding historians to be the primary reason why for so many years women were excluded from membership in the T.O.C.
    As a prominent birder-publisher, I am sure you are aware that American birders have a game similar to ATPAT, and which colloquially is referred to as Total Ticky. Quite recently I found myself in the Texas panhandle, the primary target being the Lesser Prairie Chicken. However, not having birded this part of Texas before, it is not surprising that I saw a number of new Total Ticky birds. Even more exciting however, was the fact that we were very close to the Oklahoma border, and since I had never even been in that state, (much less birded there), the Total Ticky prospects were limitless. A group of us, therefore, dressed as Oklahomans so as to be inconspicuous, sneaked across the border and started to bird. In no more than two or three hours, I personally added no less than 53 species to my Total Ticky list. It was at this time that I was delighted to learn the ''official'' designation for Total Ticky, which I was told was ''All the States Heterogeneously In Total'', or ATSHIT. In any case, as we were starting to draw a few suspicious stares, we thought that it would be incumbent upon us to depart. Accordingly therefore, under the cover of daylight, we made our way cautiously across the frontier and back into friendly Texas, with no shots fired, and with no casualties.

                                 Best personal wishes.

Sincerely yours,
John G. Keenleyside M.D.

    And here is Gerry's response:

Birdfinding in Canada
Box 519, Kleinburg
L0J 1C0

April 28, 1988

John Gordon Keenleyside, M.D.
1057 Springhill Drive,
Mississauga, Ont.
L5H 1N2

Dear John Gordon:

    Your letter of April 25 was indeed a treasure to receive. All of the staff here at Birdfinders enjoyed it - also one or two of the Board of Directors - although in their case, decision was not unanimous.
    Acronymical alphabetical applications relative to conglomerate geographical parcels of ornithological explorations have indeed become one of the primary and popular pastimes of literary lovers of listing lore, alliteratively speaking. Your own demonstrated devotion and compulsive addiction to this tabulation trend, especially as directed to the creativity and erudition involved in hybridizing scatalogical x ornithological nomenclatural terminology should, I think (and here our Board of Directors is unanimous) result in your nomination (and perhaps eventual election) to the

                               Recognition of
                                            Location               Hall of Fame.

    Your account of penetration into Oklahoma (I knew her sister) was indeed thrilling. We Canadians are certainly a fearless lot. I once had a similarly awesome experience. It was in Grey County, Ontario in search of ATCOOTS. I got out of the vehicle, walked along a bubbling brook, across a verdant field and back to my van. Rates right up there with your Sabatini/Hemingway type of experience, don't you think?
    To direct further accolades and complimentary comments your way, would, I fear, be all too superfluous, resulting in only diluting unit values (seasonally adjusted, of course) and would be tantamount to gilding refined gold, throwing perfume upon the violet, painting the lily, or slicing the salami with anointed pinking shears.
    In addition to our wishes and congratulations, some of your fans keep writing asking that we relay their felicitations to you. These include Halle Flygare, Lova Ream, Benton Basham (of Ooltewah, Tenn.), Hugo Honschopp, Edge Pegg, Fulton Lavender, Kirk Waterstripe, Loy Dean Pike, Aleona Isherwood, Golroux Ostovar and Bill Smith.
    Looking forward to seeing you at Pelee - from a distance.

                                     Gerry Bennett   

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Juvenile Common Gallinule at Laurel Creek

Juvenile Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata
at Laurel Creek
31 August 2013

   While birding from the culvert on Beaver Creek Road Miriam and I were delighted to discover our first ever Common Gallinule at Laurel Creek. The fact that this bird is a juvenile perhaps suggests that breeding has occurred, but despite subsequent visits we have only been able to find this single juvenile. It seems to frequent the same area of the marsh and emerges close to dusk.

Laurentian Wetland, Kitchener, ON

Laurentian Wetland
Kitchener, ON
2 September 2013

    The Laurentian Wetland in Kitchener is a small area left in a sea of urban development. Always interesting, this small marsh is a magnet for waterfowl in the fall and many interesting species are to be found there. I am looking forward to their arrival over the coming weeks.
    On this visit I was surprised to find a dozen Great Egrets Ardea alba feeding there. This species has become considerably more common in this area over the past few years, and seems to be present in virtually any suitable body of water, at times very small.

Canada Geese Branta canadensis


Female Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Townsend Sewage Lagoons

Shorebirds  at the Townsend Sewage Lagoons
Haldimand County, Ontario
1 September 2013

   Today we birded the Townsend Sewage Lagoons to enjoy the fall ritual of southbound shorebird migration. The lagoons were in fact very productive, with not only shorebirds being present, but the largest concentration of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica and Sand Martins Riparia riparia that we have seen this year, with at least a hundred of each species present.
    Unfortunately, most of the shorebirds were just outside the photographic range of our SX40HS Powershot camera and the pictures obtained are not really worth posting. The following shots of a Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes and American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica are acceptable and we hope that you enjoy them.
    We have a Canon Rebel with a long lens which unfortunately got damaged enough to cause the pictures to blur when Miriam stumbled and the camera hit the ground fairly hard. This will be our incentive to get it repaired. Today with a good camera and a tripod we could have had excellent pictures of several other species.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.