Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Owlets...not only does it sound cute, but they are adorable!

I was packing for my move to Toronto when my mom called me into the computer room about a news article she was reading...and it was on OWLS..Great Horned Owls to be exact!  She's been a first hand witness at my slight obsession to see owls, so she wasn't surprised when I practically ran screaming out the door telling Mike to get into the car.  Sure I had to leave in about 4 hours and hadn't started packing yet.  PSHH...seeing this, especially owlets..so much more important!

So we headed over to Paxton's Bush in Chatham.  This is a little known woodlot in Chatham is right on the Northwest side of town hidden away.  I first found Paxton's when I use to go biking with my Dad. Liking to get off the road, this was the perfect place to do that and explore a little too!  I've gone back many times to walk with our dog, bike, or escape in a little bit of nature (and play with some of the snakes that call that place home...to my mother's horror).  Back on topic...We parked, grabbed our gear, and prayed that we would find them!

Walking into the bush, I noticed a lone photographer.  We walked towards him assuming that this must be where, at least something, was.  Walking closer we said hello, turned following where the camera was pointing, and there they were!  Two adorable little fluffballs. They were adorable and yet at the same time they looked so angry with their piercing little eyes (as you can probably see in the photos!)

Great-horned Owlets in their tree cavity nesting
GRHOwlet giving me the stare-down!
Looking around we also spotted the Female Owl and later on the Male adult also flew towards us and landed in a nearby tree.  I've never seen a GRHO in the wild before, and it was just majestic. What beautiful creatures.

Momma Owl keeping a close eye on us all.
 We stayed for a little longer talking with the birder/photographer and learnt about the owls history in the area. I hadn't realized that not only were they born probably 3 weeks prior, but they had nested in the woods for a few years now!  Beaming from talking for a good 40 minutes and seeing the little ones, I was ready to go and get on with my packing.

Once home I placed my sighting onto Ebird (an awesome birding website) and the ONTBIRDS list run by the Ontario Field Ornithologists group.  Within minutes I had at least 7 emails from people interested in getting more information on the owls or even just a photo that I had taken of it. Many then responded back telling me whether they had seen it or not. That's the funny thing with the birding community, everyone is just so involved and you aren't scared to just message a complete stranger!

Ebird: This site allows you to create your own field sitings into location lists, manage a life list, and see what others have seen in the area!   (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ ) 

ONTBIRDS: Go here to get updates on rare birds/any bird sightings in your area by email, search recent sightings, or find hotspots!  (http://www.ofo.ca/webapp/index.php)

The past few weeks I have actually kept in touch with one of the people who contacted me about the owl.  The funny part is our paths crossed once before while I was a summer student with the Chatham MNR, but it had been about 7 years before I saw it again in this email.  It was so nice to talk to someone with a similar appreciation for the natural world and someone who had placed that passion into a profession for so long. Since I've left Chatham, I've received a few updates from him about the Owlets as well as some amazing pictures that I wanted to share.  The first owlet flew from the nest about a week ago. At first there was worry that a coyote may have gotten it had it fell while learning to fly, but the next day it was spotted in the bush in all it's glory. The baby feathers seem to have finally given way to more mature feathers, and they are just gorgeous! The second owlet has only recently left the nest and is still looking like a big marshmallow!
First Owlet to leave the nest.  Photo by: A Woodliffe

Second Owlet to leave the nest.  Photo by: A. Woodliffe.
That's all for that exciting adventure!  I will for sure be going back to Paxton's next spring in hopes that the owls will once again be nesting.  All crow's in Chatham beware, 4 of these guys are looking for lunch!  As I must say with crow on the menu, they will have quite the buffet here!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Up Come The Songbirds and Out Come The Herps!

Of course, leaving Chatham-Kent for a time period meant also one last visit to Rondeau Provincial Park.  This place, as many know, has a special place in my heart.  I've been coming here ever since I was in elementary school (which was when I moved down here) and have since been exploring and understanding it's significance when it comes to habitat and species.  In fact, the majority of projects I have worked on have had a focus on Rondeau Park.

Many times when people want to visit and say the common "What should we do?". I'm sure they watch to backtrack it because it either centers around outdoors (usually to Rondeau or lately St. Clair) or food.  Well, in this case...it was both!  Two friends, Andrea Lam and Eric Mark, currently working in Windsor decided to meet up in Chatham with my boyfriend (Mike) and myself.  Naturally, I suggest that we head over to Rondeau as I've been seeing reports of songbirds that are starting to come in.  Was I ever glad that we did!

Blue Spotted Salamander
We started along the Tulip Tree Trail where the first sign of life wasn't a bird...but a herp!  Our first Blue Spotted Salamander of the year.  Little guy was moving so slow due to the temperatures being still a little too cold, but it was such an exciting sign that spring was surly on it's way (That is until Mother Nature had the last laugh this past week..again!)
Wood Frogs were all up in a Chorus!

 Walking a little further along the path we heard such a symphony of sound.  My first reaction was....What the heck kind of bird is that!?  I swear I've heard it before....
Eastern Garter Snake

It wasn't a bird.   But a crap ton of wood frogs!  Kudos for Mike for being much more skilled in herp ID than I am, I would have sat probably for hours.  Looking through the binoculars we could see probably 20 or 30 individuals swimming and singing around in the water.  Finally, there was one I spotted that I was able to get a photo of below.
Along with all the froggers (we also saw many leopard frogs!), we got sight of quite a few gartersnakes!   These little guys wanted absolutely nothing to do with us and slithered away whenever Mike would try to catch then for us to get a closer look.  Snakes, are one of my other favourite things and it was very exciting to see them out and about basking in the sun!

Next, all the excitement went back to the birds.  At first there wasn't anything really out of the ordinary.  A downy woodpecker called in the distance, so I called it in fairly close so that the other could see. It was the first time they saw one up close knowing what it was, and loved watching me talk back and forth with it (hell, i loved it too!).   As the Tulip Trail rounded near the exit, we saw a flash.  First assuming it was a downy I wasn't all that excited, despite adoring them there had just been so many.  But then we noticed the size...and the red!  Our first thought was hairy woodpecker? No...Pileated? Maybe?  I snapped a few shots of it (like the one below) and suddenly it just hit me.  "Hey Mike!  Look up Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!"  BAM.  Exactly what it was!  It's so exciting when suddenly names of birds (especially ones you've never ID'd or seen before) just come to you.  

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Following this beauty we went back out to the Visitor's center where we ran into this sweet older gentleman, who had been an avid birder for years.  He told us stories about the birds at Rondeau from when he had started, and other stories about his younger years driving to Long Point or Pelee when there had been a sighting and helping at the observatories.  I don't remember his name anymore, but he was just wonderful.  I love listening to people's stories...you just learn so much.  Here, I was VERY excited and saw my target species of the day...a Tufted Titmouse!

Tufted Titmouse at the Visitor Center's feeder
 Following that, we then went on a hike along the Marsh Trail, which was much longer that it had originally seemed!  But goodness, we were SO happy that we decided to hike it in the end!  What amazing things we spotted.  I believe our highlight was a Blanding's Turtle. Originally I spotted it and yelled at Mike "Hey!  there's a duck decoy stuck over here for you", as a joke...as it was the bayside and the Waterfowlers Association Hunts these waters in the fall, perfectly plausible!  But, the striking yellow throat suddenly caught my eye.  It was a BIG and beautiful Blanding's. <3

Blanding's Turtle 

Some other fun on the way back...more leopard frogs!
The top of the viewing tower was incredibly windy, so we didn't stay too too long, but we were able to see quite a few more coots and a variety of ducks! The walk back I was able to spot another little wonder I had wanted to see.  A Golden-Crowned Kinglet!  The photo I took below of it is one of my favourites I think of the year. It is almost as if it's a silhouette and yet it's golden crown is so evident.  But!  It was a superb day and I was so happy to be able to share it with others!  I hope they all had a great time too!

Till next time...

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Monday, April 15, 2013

One last St. Clair Spring Visit

There's quite a bit to catch up on in the next couple of posts!  I've finally gotten internet in my new Toronto place, which means finally the chance to catch up!  Before I moved to Toronto I wanted to have one last visit to St. Clair NWA. Especially as now that I leave, birds migrating in will be a little more diverse than just waterfowl!  This little adventure consisted of myself, my good friend from Highschool Kurtis Baute and his brother Greg (both firs-time birders!) and Chris Law, who I met while on a Herping trip to Snake Road in Illinois.  We started by amazingly seeing our first 3 Great Egrets of the year, they were stunning as we watched then fly over us. Coots, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads (first time seeing them here!), hooded mergansers, and black ducks were the first birds to be seen.  Suddenly from the back of the NWA, I noticed a Bald Eagle take flight.  This caused quite the commotion as then dozens of waterfowl took flight startled.  I noticed that it was the Juvenile I had been seeing the past two weeks.  As I was pointing it out to my friends, a mature bald eagle also took flight!  It was the perfect opportunity to compare the mature to the juvenile bald eagle.

Mature Bald Eagle in flight
We then walked along the main trail we saw many Canadian Geese and Mallards.  Red-tailed hawk, and even more Coots were seen. We were actually astonished to need to place an X instead of a number for our Coot count here!  

Looking out onto the Marsh
While up in the viewing tower, Chris suddenly spotted two amazing Sandhill Cranes.  I was SO happy that they were still in the area as they were a particular bird that I thought Kurtis and his brother would love to see...and hear!  They were in such close distance that I was too overwhelmed to open my camera, so unfortunately the shot is of them further away.  We didn't stay too, too long up in the visitor's tower as the wind had plans other than warming up!
Pair of Sandhill Cranes flying overhead
After finishing the trail we ended up walking back along Baldoon Road.  Here we managed to see another few species such as Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downey Woodpecker, Northern Harrier, Greater Scaup, and the first Song Sparrow of the season!  Overall it was a pretty amazing day with 24 species in total. 

Ebird Checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S13619897

I hope that the guys had just as much of a great time as I did! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

And They All Start Waddling Two By Two

Well, it looks like that time of year is upon us!  I've been watching some Hooded Mergansers outside my work window for the past few weeks, and suddenly this week.  Each had a mate!  It's been so amazing watching them migrate in, feed, display to the females, then choose a mate.  Sometimes even have a little dispute trying to keep their girl!  I am really sad that Thursday was my last day at St. Clair and I wont be able to watch them even further.  They were really really beautiful birds!
Three pairs of Hooded Mergansers

The only other ones I saw this week were a flock of Ring-necked Ducks.  These guys are really cool to look at up close.  Their beak is so distinct with a ring around it.  These were some who spotted me as I was trying to take their photo, so unfortunately it's not too too clear. If you are able to zoom in at all though, it's worth a look at them!

The drive home on Wednesday was also amazing. The weather was the typical in Chatham-Kent, changing from sunshine, to rain, to snow all within a matter of a few seconds.  I saw a large black bird out in the distance and to me, it didn't look like one I had seen before. I snapped a few shots of it and later ID'd it once I was home with all my field guides around me.  My latest one came in handy, called "Hawk's at a Distance".  I was able to ID it, and also get it confirmed by a few birder friends as a Rough-Legged Hawk (a darker Morph).  

Dark Morph:  This just means that it is darker in colour than some other hawks of it's type.  Many birds have colouring that is in a lighter or darker morph.  Some, like the Eastern Screech Owl, even have a red morph!
Rough-legged Hawk
 Driving a little further down the road I noticed a bunch of birds landing.  Crossing the path there were HUNDREDS of Tundra Swans landed in a field.  The photo below shows just a small portion of the field.  To this that you can see sights like this in Chatham-kent still baffles me. How did I now know about this years ago! Needless to say, it is a sight that I think everyone at one point needs to see.  It's amazing and humbling to see this many birds in one area. Makes you realize the amount of species that are around we don't technically see, or see all year round, but depend on areas like CK for stopovers on their way up North. Makes you maybe think twice about the importance of conservation, even for areas that are not used by a vast number of birds year round.