Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Winter Weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park

Well, all blogs at this point are way long over-due...but hey, my thesis is officially submitted! So, while I wait for a defence date, let's try and catch up on the last few months.

Snowshoeing Algonquin Park

During the weekend of March 11th, I took a break from thesis edits, work, and well a computer screen in general, and heading over to Algonquin Provincial Park for some winter birding with some of my labmates from Trent University.  Throughout the winter I’ve been seeing so many posts from friends and on Ontario Birds Facebook Page about the great species that can be found here during the winter time.  We also wanted to visit the Wildlife Research Station and see if we could watch some of the Gray Jay work that was being done. With the winter we have been having, mind you, I didn’t expect it to be -25 most of the time we were there!  While we didn’t see many of the species we were hoping to (Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, and an illusive Boreal Chickadee), we were able to get in some great species.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Bundled up
Saturday we started out by visiting the Visitors Centre where there were a number of Evening Grosbeaks present!  I have been used to seeing a flock os 19 or so at our bird feeder in Parry Sound, but seeing a flock of 50 was an amazing sight (and sound!).  During one of our stops at the VC, we spotted my first ever Red Crossbill (male and female) feeding on the road.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks at VC Feeder

Red Crossbill

We then visited both the Opeongo Road and Spruce Bog trail to see if we could spot some Boreal Chickadees, Black-backed Woodpecker, or Spruce Grouse.  Unfortunately, we weren't lucky and saw none of them!  While we didn't see any of these species, we did spend quite a bit of time having fun feeding chickadees and even a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Ariel and a Chickadee

Bev Vs. Chickadee staring contest

The main purpose of this trip was to tag along with some fellow friends from the University of Guelph who are there studying Gray Jays.  It is a little embarrassing for me to admit that I had never seen a Gray Jay (except for one about 1km away), so this was especially exciting for me!

Field site panorama
It was an incredibly cold day when we hiked out to search for Gray Jays.  We went to a variety of sites throughout Algonquin Part and were able to find one pair (plus a young from last year).  They met us quite a distance away from their nesting area and followed us all the way along.  We then spent just a little bit of time trying to determine where their nesting this year so that the researchers will be able to go back and measure the reproductive success of the nest this year! Much of the research being done here at the park focuses on hypotheses as to why the Gray Jay population has been declining in the park.  Studies on quantity and quality of food caches with relation to climate change and reproductive success are just some of the questions being asked.  To read more about the research, check out the links at the bottom of this page.

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FINALLY a close encounter!
Maybe the Gray Jays are over there?
I had only been to Algonquin Park once before this in the summer. Winter was like a whole different world here, and since we were not interior camping this time it was great to be able to explore some of the day trails.  While I don't have a "favourite" per say, they were all wonderful for their own unique reason.  The Spruce Bog Trail was an amazing way to get up close and personal with some feeding birds, especially with the suet feeder being there.  The Big Pines trail, an old logged area of the park, was absolutely stunning in the winter.  Old moose prints could be seen throughout the trail and towering pine trees were giants amongst what could be considered the "regrowth" of old logging.

Big Pines

Suet feeder at Spruce Bog

Group photo at Spruce Bog Trail!
Our last stop of the day was back to Opeongo Trail where in previous days there was a report of a Great Gray Owl.  While we didn't see that, we did spot a flock of White-winged Crossbills and a few more Gray Jays who were quite eager to grab some peanuts.

Hiking down and around Opeongo Road
Gray Jay with colour bands for ID

To read more in depth about the research being conducted on Gray Jays at Algonquin Park, visit the Norris lab:  http://norrislab.ca/current-study-systems/gray-jays-in-algonquin-park/

Calling all Gray Jays
Follow the Gray Jay researchers on twitter at: https://twitter.com/koleyfree

You can also follow all the research going on at the Wildlife Research Station at Algonquin Park by following them on twitter: https://twitter.com/AlgonquinWRS

Moon rising on Spruce Bog Trail

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Project FeederWatch 2016: New Year, New Update

It is a new year, which means that it is also a new month for Project FeederWatch in my backyard, just north of Parry Sound, Ontario.

Pileated Woodpecker on tree in the backyard
Since the last update the Parry Sound region was pelted with about two-weeks of constant snow.  It was crazy!  I saw that with the large amounts of snow in the region my bird feeders just started getting more and more active.

Snow banks along our driveway (FYI, I am 5'1)

Panorama of our winter wonderland

The snow brought large amounts of American Goldfinches to the backyard, at times numbering close to 60.  For a week before Christmas holidays, a lone European Starling even added itself to our feederwatch lists.  It was even a new species for our backyard in general.  A single American Tree Sparrow has also been seen off and on the last few weeks, however it has not been seen since the new year. A single Pileated Woodpecker, though not at our feeder, was also seen within the range of where I count!

Starling and Downey Woodpecker on Suet
American Tree Sparrow

Purple Finches have been in and out of our backyard but not reaching the same numbers that they did last year.  However even still with this number and with the number of Goldfinches, I have been able to do a little more with FeederWatch than in previous years.  Project FeederWatch is not only about counting birds at your feeders, for example my previous post explored a new behavioural monitoring initiative that looks into bird interactions at feeders. Another form of monitoring that is part of this citizen science project is House Finch Eye Disease.

Winter has set in and so have the Goldfinches!

This avian disease was first noticed by FeederWatchers in the D.C. area and since has spread throughout much of the Eastern USA.  This disease can affect House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak.  By adding additional information on whether or not you see signs of this disease on these species within your counts, helps increase the amount of information gathered on the spread of disease and how much of the population it may be affecting.  To learn more on this and see photos of what it looks like click here.  Research has shown that bird feeders likely have attributed to the spread of this disease, however there are easy ways to help combat this and lower this threat to your feeder birds.  One of these is washing your feeder a few times a year with a diluted bleach solution.

While we haven't had many exciting "new" birds at our feeder, we have had some very exciting predators! The first predator to grace our backyard was a Northern Shrike!  We heard it's call from the tree tops and then got to watch it whip around the feeder area.  We did not see it catch any birds as prey, but it was very exciting to watch!

Northern Shrike waiting to strike
The second predator only came two days ago.  While working away at my desk (which faces our backyard and bird feeders) a flurry of action suddenly occurred. I was surprised to look up and see a Barred owl staring into my window from the closest tree!  I assume that it attempted to catch one of our local squirrels.  It quickly retreated into a tree further away and settled in for a half hour.  The funny thing about owls is that you could have absolutely no idea that it is there.  Had it not attempted to catch a squirrel, it is quite possible that I would have not even noticed it!

Barred Owl watching our feeders

Red Squirrel...likely traumatized ;)

The final predator to visit our feeder was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  This was the first one I witnessed successfully depredate our feeder, flying off with an American Goldfinch in its talons.  Perhaps it will be back another day so I can take a photo!

White-breasted Nuthatch on suet feeder

The last observation I have for you all is a little bit funny!  We have a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that visit our feeders every day.  Even though we have two suet feeders available for them, they still prefer to feed from our regular bird feeders!  While they normally hang off the edge and feed as other birds do, the odd time I have found them below the feeder and drilling into the bottom!!  I wasn't sure whether to be angry that it was damaging my feeders or incredibly impressed at its problem solving skills!
Hairy Woodpecker drilling at feeder bottom

That's all I have to update for now! If you are interested in joining FeederWatch for this year, it still isn't too late to sign up! Visit this link to learn more or sign up: http://feederwatch.org/

Barred Owl overlooking our feeders

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Year in Review

Last year I completed my very first “year review”, and I have been looking forward to completing this years!  2016 was a year that was full of unexpected adventures and a backyard full of birds. 

My year list for 2016 reached a total of 216 species and included 33 new lifer species bringing my life list up to 266 species. It doesn’t feel like too many species considering the vast number of species that are out there, however considering I haven’t birded for many years or much outside of where I live, and I haven’t been much of an assertive birder (or twitcher), it isn’t too shabby!  A few of these species will have links to the original blogs that I wrote about them if you are interested in reading more.

The first bird of the year was a Black-capped Chickadee, not too unusual for living in Peterborough.  A month or so into the new year I picked up my first lifer of the year (and #235), Red Crossbills, while hiking at Petroglyphs Provincial Park.  A visit home to Chatham supplied me with my next lifer of the year, a Lapland Longspur!  Little did I know I would get to see them on their wintering AND breeding ground this year! Back in Parry Sound I got my third lifer of the year, a Pine Siskin at our feeder.

Hiking at Petroglyphs Provincial Park

The next wave of lifers came during my next visit home in the spring.  My father kept trying to describe to me a bird that was visiting the backyard for about a week. Finally I was able to spot it and was surprised to see a Blue-headed Vireo!  Then came Palm Warbler (#239), Willet (#240), Cape May Warbler (#241), and Lincoln’s Sparrow (#242) during a day trip to the Leamington area.

Cape May Warbler
Another visit to Rondeau brought two new lifers, the Prothonotary Warbler (#243) and a rare visitor to the area, a White-winged Dove (#244).

Prothonotary Warbler at Rondeau Provincial park

I then snuck in two more lifers before heading off to do some field work up north.  These were a Virginia Rail at Killbear Provincial Park and my first time seeing Piping Plovers at Darlington Provincial Park (the first pair to nest their in over 80 years!). 

Adult Piping Plover on nest inside its protective enclosure

Then 2016 brought an experience I wasn’t quite expecting, the chance to help with some field work in Nunavut!  This amazing experience brought me a handful of life birds that included: Northern Wheatear, Thick-billed Murre, King Eider, Common Eider, Cackling Goose, and Pacific Loon.  It also brought me many flora lifers and a few mammal lifers such as polar bears, walrus, and caribou (which I will be blogging about next!).

Thick-billed Murre on Coats Island
I then went on another amazing adventure to Washington, D.C. to present at an international conference (the North American Ornithology Conference). What an amazing experience it was to talk to other ornithologists and fledgling scientists, learn about other projects (both large and small) occurring across the continent, and making connections with amazing people I still keep in contact with months later. This conference also gave me a huge respect for the role that social media can play in science and science communication.  I met many people who held blogs, youtube pages, and very active twitter accounts and use these to spread messages of science communication in a fun and engaging way, which I something that I hope to become more involved with in the 2017 year. 

This trip brought me a number of other lifers.  It was also the first time I had been to this part of the USA and road tripped home for the sole purpose of birding.  We picked up lifers such as: Mississippi Kite, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Blue Grosbeak, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, Clapper Rail, Brown Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Little Blue Heron, and Tri-coloured Heron (Blogs still to come on this!).  During this trip we also managed to find a tiny Fence Lizard!

The last two lifers of the year took place in Parry Sound.  The first at our bird feeder, Evening Grosbeak, and the second during the annual Burk’s Falls Christmas BirdCount, a Gray Jay!

I hope that 2017 will be an equally as adventurous and birdy year.  I can't wait to see what my first lifer will be and hope that the first thing I accomplish will be this Master's Degree! Hopefully once that is under wraps I will be able to spend more time reading more blogs, engaging in citizen science and science communication, and....get a job!  Thank you to everyone who has made my 2016 memorable, whether I have gone out and birded with you, banded with you, tweeted on twitter with you, spoke to you at the NAOC or up in the Arctic, was inspired by your own blogs, exchanged greetings or advice while out birding....thank you!  I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for myself and for every else. 

Below, is my final year list (pending I don't see anything tomorrow!) with just a few of my favourite photos from the year. 

1. Black-capped Chickadee

2. White-breasted Nuthatch

3. Ring-billed Gull

4. American Tree Sparrow

5. Canada Goose
Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch at our feeder in Parry Sound

6. Rock Pigeon

7. Dark-eyed Junco

8.  American Goldfinch

9. Downy Woodpecker

10  American Crow

11. European Starling

12. Blue Jay

13. Common Goldeneye

14. Mallard

Common Redpoll at feeder
15. Common Merganser

16. Greater Scaup

17. House Sparrow

18. Wild Turkey 

19.  Brown Creeper

20. Red-breasted Nuthatch

21. Common Raven

22. Common Redpoll

Wild Turkey in Parry Sound
23. Red Crossbills  (LIFER!)

24. Wood Duck

25. Herring Gull

26. Bufflehead

27. Mute Swan

28. Long-tailed Duck

29. Gadwall

30. Red-breasted Merganser

31. Lesser Scaup

Great Black-backed Gull

32. American Robin

33. Red-tailed Hawk

34. American Kestrel 

35. House Finch

36. Tundra Swans

37. Bald Eagle 

38. Northern Harrier

39. Canvasback

40. Redhead

41. Snow Goose

42. Snow Bunting

43. Horned Lark

44. Lapland Longspur (LIFER #236)

Lapland Longspur during the winter

Lapland Longspur on breeding grounds

45. Mourning Dove 

46. Sharp-shinned Hawk

47. American Coot

48. Great Black-backed Gull  

49. Coopers Hawk

50. American Black Duck

Skating American Coot
51. Belted Kingfisher

52. Killdeer

53. Red-winged Blackbird

54. Turkey Vulture

55. American Wigeon

56. Song Sparrow

57. Golden-crowned Kinglet

58. Pied-billed Grebe

Great Blue Herons nesting

59. Common Grackle

60. Ring-necked Duck

61. Hooded Merganser

62. Trumpeter Swan

63. Red-necked Grebe

64. Eastern Phoebe

65. Cedar Waxwing

66. Tree Swallow

67. Pileated Woodpecker 

68. Chipping Sparrow

69. Northern Cardinal

70. Great Blue Heron

71. Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

72. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

73. Barred Owl

74. American Woodcock 

75. Osprey

76. Purple Finch 

77. Ruby-crowned Kinglet

78. Eastern Meadowlark

79. Greater Yellowlegs

80. Green-winged Teal 

81. Pine Siskin  (LIFER #237)

82. White-throated Sparrow

83. Brown Thrasher

Yellow-rumped Warbler while banding in Leamington

84. Sandhill Crane

85. Fox Sparrow

86. Broad-winged Hawk

87. Yellow-rumped Warbler

88. Ruffed Grouse
Rusty Blackbirds in Parry Sound

89. Double-crested Cormorant

90. Hairy Woodpecker 

91. Brown-headed Cowbird

92. American Bittern

93. Common Loon

94. Winter Wren

95. Pine Warbler

96. Rusty Blackbirds

97. Black-throated Green Warbler

98. Chimney Swift

99. Yellow Warbler

100. Blue-headed Vireo (LIFER #238)

101. Warbling Vireo

102. Nashville Warbler

103. Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian and Canada Warbler in Leamington

104. Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

105. Barn Swallow

106. Bank Swallow

107. Purple Martin

108. House Wren

109. Palm Warbler (LIFER #239)
Eastern Bluebird at Rondeau PP

110. Northern Parula

111. American Redstart

112. Eastern Bluebird

113. Gray Catbird

114. Rose-breasted Grosbeak

115. Baltimore Oriole

116. White-crowned Sparrow

117. Black-and-white Warbler

118. Common Yellowthroat

119. Great Horned Owl

120. Black-bellied Plover

Willets in Wheatley
121. Least Flycatcher

122. Swamp Sparrow

123. Northern Waterthrush

124. Canada Warbler

125. Willet (LIFER #240)

126. Ruby-throated Hummingbird

127. Carolina Wren

128. Orchard Oriole

129. Chestnut-sided Warbler

130. Bay-breasted Warbler

131. Cape May Warbler (LIFER #241) 
Magnolia Warbler at Point Pelee Park

132. Bonaparte's Gull

133. Common Tern

134. Marsh Wren

135. Scarlet Tananger

136. Veery

137. Swainson's Thrush

138. Black-throated Blue Warbler

139. Magnolia Warbler

140. Lincoln's Sparrow (LIFER #242)

141. Eastern Kingbird

142. Red-headed Woodpecker 

143. Prothonotary Warbler (LIFER #243)

Hooded Warbler

144. White-winged Dove  (LIFER #244)

145. Willow Flycatcher

146. Red-eyed Vireo

147. Wood Thrush

148. Hooded Warbler

149. Ovenbird

150. Mourning Warbler 

151. Wilson's Warbler

152. Eastern Towhee

153. Spotted Sandpiper

154. Whimbrel

Whimbrel on beach at Rondeau Provincial Park

155. Caspian Tern
Piping Plover chick at Darlington Provincial Park

156. Great Egret

157. Indigo Bunting

158. Hermit Thrush

159. Cliff Swallow

160. Northern Rough-winged Swallow

161. Field Sparrow

162. Black-billed Cuckoo

163. Bobolink

Northern Wheatear in Iqaluit
164. Virginia Rail (LIFER #245)

165. Great Crested Flycatcher

166. Piping Plover (LIFER #246)

167. Red-throated Loon

168. Glaucous Gull 

169. American Pipit

170. Northern Wheatear (LIFER #247)

171. Thick-billed Murre (LIFER #248) 

172. King Eider (LIFER #249)

173. Peregrine Falcon

174. Cackling Goose (LIFER #250)

175. Semipalmated Plover

176. Common Eider (LIFER #251)

177. Semipalmated Sandpiper

178. Iceland Gull

179. Northern Pintail
Thick-billed Murre colony with Polar Bear swimming below

180. Pacific Loon (LIFER #252)

181. Snowy Egret (LIFER #253)  

Mississippi Kite

182. Carolina Chickadee

183. Red-bellied Woodpecker 

184. Tufted Titmouse

185. Green Heron

186. Mississippi Kite (LIFER #254)

187. Blue Grosbeak (LIFER #255)

188. Brown-headed Nuthatch (LIFER #256)

189. Laughing Gull (LIFER #257)

190. Lesser Black-backed Gull

191. Royal Tern (LIFER #258)

192. Forster's Tern 

Snowy Egret 

193. Least Tern (LIFER #259)

194. Black Tern 

195. Sanderling

196. Ruddy Turnstone

197. Lesser Yellowlegs

198. American Oystercatcher (LIFER #260)

199. Clapper Rail (LIFER #261)

200. Black Scoter

201. Brown Pelican (LIFER #262)

202. Northern Mockingbird

203. Glossy Ibis (LIFER #263)

204. Black Vulture

American Oystercatcher

205. Short-billed Dowitcher 

206. Little Blue Heron (LIFER #264)

207. Tricolored Heron (LIFER #265)

208. Least Bittern

209. Surf Scoter

210. Horned Grebe

211. Savannah Sparrow

212. Ruddy Duck

213. White-winged Scoter

214. Evening Grosbeak (LIFER #266)

215. Northern Shrike

216. Gray Jay (LIFER #267)

Surf Scoter at Killbear Provincial Park

Cheers to a happy, healthy, adventurous, and birdy 2017 everyone!

Georgian Bay Sunset