Saturday, June 22, 2013

Finally into the field!

Last week I was sent out into the field to do some bird surveys. It's the first field work I've gotten to do so far this summer, so needless to say I was pretty darn excited about it. Myself and a coworker headed up to Orillia area to station ourselves and head out from there to our various sites.  Although I adore being in the field, I always find it so difficult to adjust my sleeping schedule. I've always been a night owl, so bat surveys last problemo! But waking up at 3am to look for birds, well there is another story. I can barely wake up at 5:45am to catch my subway for work on a good day!

Our first location was following the breeding bird atlas to port McNicoll, which faces the Georgian
American Redstart
Bay.  This is such a gorgeous area of the province so I was excited to be here. It was a pretty quiet day for birds although TONS of Great Crested Flycatchers were calling, along with red-eyed vireos. An American Redstart was also intensely curious as to who we were and came up for a wonderful photo shoot!  We unfortunately did not find any of the birds we were hoping to spot here, but the others were pretty cool!  The funny part from this excursion was while doing play-back calls there was a Veery in the recording, suddenly we have an actual Veery calling to us in the distance! Took us a moment to realize...hey! That's an actual bird!

Callbacks: A form of surveying where you play a bird call for a designated amount of time, then listen for another amount of time to hear if it calls back to you. MNR (or whatever natural resource ministry will set out protocols for how long/many per species).

On our way back after this day I helped my first snapping turtle of the season cross the road! It was just a few years old probably, but boy was it ever feisty! If only they'd know you were helping the cross the street and not try and have your fingers for supper!  We also got to see three broadwinged hawks calling feverishly at one another as they flew overhead.  A few times over the course of the day, we even were able to see a porcupine cross the road!!  

Snapping Turtle 

Later that evening I got to go out for supper with Mike, which was so exciting we got to say hi! We drive around for a bit to try and find...well anything cool. We ended up driving to this little park and ended up finding a female merganser with babies and also a American Widgeon just hanging out with some mallards! 
Common Merganser family

The next day we headed in the opposite direction. We found ourselves at a 3,500acre forest in the Kwartha Lakes called Somerville Tract.  We, again, didn't spot or hear our target bird, but we heard a range if ovenbirds, black-throated blue and green warblers, veerys, amongst some other species. The Mosquitos here were utterly horrible!! We barely could hear the birds from all the buzzing! Although it wasn't as bad as when I was up north, ugh!

Pink Lady Slipper

On our way out we noticed a sign for an orchid field. Here we saw numerous pink lady slippers! Oh they were just so beautiful! A little after we noticed another sign that said "natural culvert". For those who don't know a culvert is what is places under roadways so that water can still pass freely under the road without having it cave in. Usually, they are made out of concrete, but since this one was natural, water ran under the road through natural bedrock and came out the otherside emptying into a river. Looking into it, it was almost like a cave! 

Upland Sandpiper

On the way back to Orillia we took a route that went through the Carden Plain since I had never seen it before! I most certainly NEED to go back! The first species I was able to spot was an upload sandpiper! It was perched high on a fence. These guys have one if my favorite bird sounds, it is so melodic and spiralling, something I certainly never expected to come out of a bird!

Golden-Winged Warbler
Turning the corner, we went down another road area only to see two birds I had hoped to this year (well, and ever really since learning about them!). The first was a Golden-winged Warbler. A beautiful small bird with a golden crown and a golden streak on it's wing.   This little guy is on the Species at Risk list now as much of their habitat is declining.  Unfortunately the photo I took of it had to be exposed a lot in order for the bird to actually be seen, it's a little crappy but at least I got it!  The second exciting bird we saw was a Loggerhead Shrike!  These are one of the coolest birds I've ever learned about.  This small bird is a predator who hunts insects, small reptiles and amphibians, small mammals, and also other birds.  They used barbed wire and other thorns to puncture their prey and hold it up while they eat it.  What a feisty little bird!  Unfortunately I was not able to get a good photo of one as it was too far away, but, I hope one day I will!!

I've been tinkering with an application I downloaded to place watermarks on my photos (finally).  Unfortunately along with the watermark of my own, it also comes out with the applications watermark since I'm too cheap to but the actual full program.  If anyone knows of applications for Macs that are free (or cheaper) where I can place a watermark....I'd be interested to hear about it!!

Prairie Smoke

Thursday, June 13, 2013

No miserable skunks to be seen...

This has taken forever to post, and I apologize!!  But June 2nd, 2013, OFO (Ontario Field Ornithologists) had a field trip out to Skunk's Misery in the Middlesex County.  This trip was a random decision for me to go on, as I had just happened to be home for the weekend!  So, I decided to go and also brought my dad along with me!  We began by meeting at the Newbury Hospital.

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Photo by Chris Burke
Over all it was a fairly quiet day.  We started off by driving down the forest path along Sassafras Road where we walked into a little trail off-road. The first sighting of the day was a beautiful Chestnut-sided Warbler and then yellow and black-billed cuckoo.  We had a sighting of a Blue-winged Warbler too, a lifer for me!  Red-eyed Vireos were calling from all around, some even letting us catch a glimpse, while others also called such as a Towee and Catbird.

Indigo Bunting - Photo by Chris Burke
Up in a tree the group was able to spot a green heron!  Unfortunately my photos of it didn't turn out well, but it let us watch it for quite a while before taking off and doing a fly-by over our heads.  As it flew over we also caught a glimpse of a rub-throated hummingbird, the first of the year for many people!!   As we walked back out towards the vehicles, my dad and I hung back a little bit as I heard a bird and was trying to figure out it's song.  We had seen flashes of a few indigo buntings on the hike in and so I played it's song to see if that's what it was!  Sure enough, the little guy buzzed over our heads and into a nearby tree giving us a beautiful view of its colouring.  It really is a stunning bird!

We then ventured around to another area of the woods to look for both Acadian Flycatchers (Some of the group heard one) and Cerulean Warbler, though we did not end up seeing any of these.  A Pilated Woodpecker, Great Creasted Flycatcher and Scarlet Tanager were an awesome sight to have found.  The most excitement from the day I think came when there was a sighting of a hooded warbler.  I was lucky enough to see the female, although the male missed my view.  The one thing I find difficult is knowing where to look when people are trying to describe the location of a bird.  As others saw the male, I was darting my eyes trying to figure out which area of the bush pile, near which branches intersecting it was!  Definitely a skill that I will need to work on!

Giant Swallowtail
As soon as 10 o'clock hit it was almost dead silent, not a bird to be heard minus a few vireos and peewee. I decided to do a little herping so I began looking down while the others were still looking up! I noticed a little frog hop around and into a tree, so I began the search.  Eventually pulling out and getting to show the group a little wood frog!  It was great to finally be the person showing others herps for a change, and actually being able to ID it and know some facts!  I was SO impressed with others knowledge of the butterflies in the area!  We saw numberous species, though the only ones I can remember were Giant Swallowtail and Vicro

The group broke up around noon with the OFO trip heading to Ridgetown and Blenheim Sewage Lagoons.  Yes...that would be a water treatment plant, and for all those who I can already here saying "EW!". There's a lot of life at these places!  While Ridgetown didn't have too much other than a bundle of swallows, Blenheim was just bustling with life.

Surf Scoter
Here at Blenheim we saw a bundle of birds that were both common and fairly uncommon this time of year!  We first saw 2 Ruddy Ducks (my first time!) as well as SO many Canada Geese.  I counted about 12 adults and 26 ducklings in this group total.  I also noticed a Kingbird along another trail area as well as tree swallows in a nesting box!  At the next pond over, the group spotted a Surf Scoter!  This is a rare find around here at this time of year, normally they would be much further north by now!   Flying  above were a bunch of Tree swallows and purple martins!

We walked around to another pond and further in the grass field we spotted a single Bobolink amongst Red-winged blackbirds.  Right behind this area was another section that looked like an artificial wetland to assist with the filtering of water.  In here, I first saw a killdeer, but soon saw others. The group placed scopes onto a few shorebirds, only two species.  There were about 2-3 Dunlin as well as about 5-6 semipalmated sandpipers.  These were some of the cutest little thing I've ever seen.  the dunlin was very easy to ID with the black spot on its chest, I tried to take a shot through the scope to put on here.
Semipalmated sandpipers and Dunlins

It was a wonderful day trip over all, and the best part to me, was meeting some of the people I did!  It was really neat meeting some people who also write blogs!  It's really cool to meet the people on the other side of the screen.

One of the people I met was Dwayne, who writes the Nerdy For Birdy Blog.  It's interesting seeing all the places that there are to visit, and his photos are always steller!

The second was Paul Nicholson who is a freelance writer at the London Freepress.  He as a Twitter account that can be followed for weekly bird updates found by his twittername: NicholsonNature. He posted a great article about this trip!

Another birder on the trip was Blake who writes the Burgbirder blog.  Unfortunately I didn't get to meet and talk with him on this trip, but it was great to be around other birdbloggers!  He has a wonderful site too, so be sure to check it out!

Thanks to all of you for a great Sunday and to my Dad for tagging along with me despite the mud!

The Father and I!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Georgian Bay: Part 2

To continue from Part 1!


Hognose Snake "Cobra style"
The first spotting of this day was an absolutely beautiful Hognose snake.  He was just all coiled up in between rocks, I was surprised that we actually ended up finding it!  This Hognose was my favourite of the weekend because unlike the other ones we've seen, this one played cobra!

Played cobra:  Hognose snakes, when they feel threatened they flatten their head area to look like a cobra as a defence mechanism.  Many people kill these snakes as the "cobra" looks make them look like a venomous snake, even tho they (and most venomous snakes unless you harass the heck out of them) are completely harmless.  After they play "cobra" hognoses also have another defence tactic which is to play dead.   BUT.  Whenever you find a hognose (or any snake for that matter)  please do not harass it and especially do not kill it.  Just let it be.

Ringneck snake
Right around the corner from this guy, was a ringneck snake.  I've been wanting to see this one the entire weekend so far.  The previous day we had tried to spot one, but just before we managed to get hold of it, it slid between the rocks and out of sight, so I was needless to say incredibly excited to have another chance.  What a beautiful creature.  Now, although most people think I'm insane, I find snakes absolutely fascinating and beautiful beings.  This one, is at the top of my list for beauty.  The dark upper scales and the bright orange underpart, the cream ring around it's neck.  How can anyone say that this isn't gorgeous.  
Eastern Milksnake
This day we decided to walk back out to Turtle Bay.  On the way there we spotted another Massassauga Rattlesnake.  I have no idea how Jeff managed to spot this one, to me it looked like just any old pile of leaves around a low laying pine.  It is kind of scary to think that a venomous snake could be literally right under your nose as you are hiking, but the truth will probably stay there and  just hide or quietly slither away.  At most it will shake it's rattle almost as if to say "Hey! I'm over here, so please don't come near me."  Mike unfortunately had to leave the island early to he turned back from out hike here, but of course soon after we came across another one of my favourites, a Red Milksnake!  The first time I saw one of these it was in Illinois on Snake Road, although I believe it's not the "same" as the one that is found here.  I'd have to get the DNA talk again to explain that one though.  This little one was under a rock, which made me very, very conscious of where I was stepping from there on in!

Back out on Turtle Bay the first thing I noticed was a lone Trumpeter Swan sitting out on the Bay!  It was a lifer for me and also the 3rd swan species I've seen this year (well..there are only 3 in Canada). So I was really excited. I snapped a few photos and now and trying to figure out the tag number in order to report it...we will see how that goes with my horribly pixel zoom!  I continued to walk around the rocks and watch the Osprey circle making alarm calls that we were below.  On our walk back to camp we found another little exciting guy.  A Four-toed Salamander! 

4-toed Salamander
Trumpeter Swan out on the rocks
Juvenile Fox Snake 

We continued out around the rocks by our campsite and managed to find a few more little wonders!  The first came as a baby Fox Snake!!  Now, I'm used to fox snakes being a) large and b) bred in captivity for educational use.  So this was the very first one I've ever seen in the wild.  It was SO CUTE.  This just happened to be found in the same spot we've seen the Hognose, Massassauga, a ringnecked.  This must really have been a hangout for every snake species!  

Shy Stinkpot

 We kept wandering and found a few more frogs (same as we had been all day at this point, unfortunately, I kinda just ignored them).  The group decided that we wanted to find ourselves a stinkpot.  So mucking into an area we deemed perfect for these turtles, a few people in the group stuck hands into the lake floor and searched.  Eventually, we came up with this little guy on the left!  Although their heads are really hilarious to see, I couldn't help but use this photo.  I think it got tired of the paparazzi!   The sun soon began to set, and we gathered around the campfire for food and some good laughs.   My highlights on this day were, of course, the trumpeter swan, as well as finally seeing the Eastern Pheobe that I've been hearing the past few days along with a Merlin!!  All three being lifers.

Later this night Heather, Pauline and I (along with another who I embarrassingly have to admit I completely forget his name...I really need to get better at names..)  decided that we wanted to go and do some night herping as well as owl calling.  Unfortunately the barred owl didn't call back to us, but we found some amazing little night talkers!  We saw 2 wood frogs, leopard frogs, red-backed salamander, 4-toed salamander, led-backed salamander (a darker morph of the red-backed), water snake, and after about an hour of searching, a spring peeper.  Originally when we started looking for peepers I didn't realize how truly tiny they are!  We searched high and low, many points it sounded as if they could be right on the tip of our finger, but we just couldn't spot them.  Eventually, ONE made itself clear to us.  Using my flash, I managed to get one of my favourite photos yet.  Not bad for a point and shoot canon!

Spring Peeper
I actually even took a video of all the sounds!  I have no idea how to yet link youtube videos to this...maybe one day I'll figure it out. Until then..heres a link!


A few of us woke up early today (about 6:15) to head off on an early birding adventure.  Since it's a herping trip we wanted to scout out some early birds without getting chirped on (ha!).  There was a whirlwind of sounds in the morning. I took and uploaded a video of all the sounds!  Again, it's a link because I am 23 and have no idea how to use technology.

Great Crested Flycatcher silhouette
 I was able to see quite a few birds, even ones that were lifers for me!!  The first bird of the morning to see was a palm warbler!  There were of course MANY black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers calling from all around.  Black-throated blues are my favourites of the two, their colouration is just so beautiful and unique.  We saw 2 blackburnian warblers gathering nest material (which is so excited as it's an elevated breeding potential!!).  Four great-blue herons flew over us while we were on a boardwalk, and then we heard one sound that we decided to follow and try to find.  A Great Creasted Flycatcher!  We followed it for a little while and then finally saw it sitting up on the top of a pine.

Our first snake spotting of the day was another Massassauga, we saw quite a few of them today out by the rocks!  We had decided to walk along the shore before going back inside to look, potentially, for some spotted salamanders and turtles (neither of which we found unfortunately). My one favourite sighting of the day was the spotting of the cutest thing ever (I know..I say that about everything..).  But really!  It was snapping turtle only born the previous year.  I've seen a lot of snappers, but all have been fairly large and old.  It was so great to see some of a younger age and smaller, to know that there is indeed another generation of them surviving.

Snapping Turtle!
Walking around we saw a few Spotted Gar spawning in a little inlet of the bay and in the distance we heard the most strange bird call.  Later I found out that it was a Prairie Warbler!  We continued then to walk a little more inland in the hopes of finding two more herps we've all been dying to see.  After quite a bit of searching...we didn't find either of our spotted friends.

Ribbon snake
But we did find a wonderful Eastern Ribbon Snake!  These guys look almost exactly like a Garter snake that everyone sees...well almost EVERYWHERE.  I've probably seen a Ribbon before but had no idea what it was, or just assumed that it was a garter.  Looking closely at its face, you can see a little crescent
 moon shape that is just around the eye.

Walking back to the camp afterwards, we saw a few more herps that we had previously seen on the weekend.  Dekay's Brown snake, Massassauga, wood frog, and red-backed salamanders.   There were so many mosquitos out this weekend, that to be honest all I could think about at this point was jumping into the ice cold water where they couldn't get to me!  Which I did!  And for anyone who knows me, knows that I a) hate swimming, and b) am not a fan of being in water this is less than a hottub.  So!  I was desperate...and possibly even converting.  BUT!  While I was in there, a little water snake decided to go for a swim with me!  I remember as a child being so scared to swim at my cottage because I was frightened of a snake in water, and this time instead yelling out a "HEY LITTLE BUDDY!"  Well, I noticed a change in myself. A change that I hope a lot of other people also are able to make. Realizing that these wont hurt you, well unless you try and hurt it!  Which, hey, I can't say I wouldn't do the same.
Attempt to photograph a Prairie Warbler

As it was just about time to head off the Island, I heard the Prairie Warbler one more time.  And it was close!  So I set off trying to find it somewhere within our campsite and I did!  Unfortunately I did not get a great photo of it.  But I tried at least!  This is one bird, with an amazing sound!  For anyone reading this...I suggest you head over to All About Birds website and listen to it!

And with that!  We packed up and had another amazing weekend behind us.  I absolutely am so happy that I met these wonderful people and have been able to go on now two amazing adventures.  They have all shared their stories, passions, and advice to me. I never knew you can learn so much in such a short period of time.  I cannot wait to hang out with you all again and be on our nest adventure!!

Until then,   Happy Herping (and birding!!)

One of the groups heading off the Island!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Georgian Bay Part 1 fair warning, this was a FANTASTIC weekend and thus...this is going to be one long post/story and with a ton of photos as I simply cannot pick and choose from my favorites. =)
Red-backed Salamander

The past long May weekend I went out into the Georgian Bay Islands National Park for a herping trip! The island we camped and searched was called Beausoleil Island. On our trip were a variety of friends from all sectors of the environmental field, MNR, Parks, consulting, masters students, the whole spectrum so it was really amazing at the vast amount of knowledge going around!


Osprey pair on nest
Michael and I went a day early as I was getting a ride with my friend Heather's boyfriend. Mike was driving down from Killbear Provincial park as its where his masters research is based out of. I am so happy we went early! We started off going to an area of the Island called Turtle Bay. What a neat spot! I'd never seen much of the Canadian Shield before so the vast amounts of open rock face was just stunning! With an Osprey calling above an alert warning us she, and her nest is near, we found a few amazing creatures! An adorable little dekay's brown snake, two awesome hognosed snakes, newts, and an extort rock island covered with map turtles!! What a sight it was to see them all jump into the water!

Grey Treefrog
We continued for the rest of the day to wander around the area.  There was such a buzz of birds up above me that I was so overwhelmed and couldn't make out who was who.  I realized then that my main problem was the fact that this year so far I have heard so many sounds and calls from chirps, chips, tweets, buzz, and singing that everything was all jumbled in my head. My task from now on would be somehow manage to sort these into whatever I can and associate it with the bird who uses it. For example the one I always knew, and heard a lot on this trip was the red-eyed vireo "where are you?? Here I am!!"

Anyways, back to the story. The rest was spent around the campfire where a shout out goes to Mike for cooking amazing steak!  Later in the night while putting the food away, something began hopping. I caught it and imediately assumed whatever it was peed on me!  But, it did not!  Instead it was the sticky hands of a beautiful Grey Treefrog! 

Massassauga Rattlesnake
The next morning we awoke to the rest of the group coming in. Steve marks ( the snake master) was of course the first person I hear, then I continue to meet Jeff, Pam, Louise, Tom, and of course say hello again to the awesome Pauline who I met at Snake Road.  Almost immediately camps are set and we are out. This day we headed out towards the YMCA camp and yonder.  The instant find of the day was a beautiful Massassauga Rattlesnake.  It was a first for me!  It had it's rattle shaking and did it ever sound amazing.  The viper eyes, rattle, and ease of being hidden is (although kind of scary and startling) also  stunning and beautiful.  Next we hopped around and saw woodfrogs, leopard frogs, green frogs, as well as more sights of the amazing rock barrens and woodlands just covered with blooming red, pink, and white Trilliums.  Red-backed Salamanders were almost everywhere we looked this day as well.   Walking around we saw so many amazing birds as well!  This had been my first year ever seeing an American Redstart while on the Toronto Islands.  Here, I think I saw at least 10 in one area!  A yellow-rumped warbler, sandhill cranes flying over head, catbird, and wood ducks were other highlights!
Heather looking out for turtles in an inner wetland
Walking into the woods we noticed a quick movement into the water. Amelia was quick to her feet to hop in and try to find whatever it was!  Eventually, we pulled out a large snapping turtle but it is absolutely amazing how it was able to hide literally right under out feet!  We wandered around more and found another two Massassauga Snakes, leopard and green frogs, red-backed salamanders, and all those "common" ones!  While walking through a wetland area in the inner part of the island I spotted a beautiful Broadwinged Hawk in the distance!  Another lifer for me!  Eventually we found ourselves back at the campsite, with an amazing fire, and of course, amazing food and drinks.
Wood Frog!

Then all night, the sounds of peepers, treefrogs, loons, and a barred owl filled the air.  What an amazing thing to fall asleep to!!

Well!  This is just part one. It's taking me forever to type so I really wanted to get this out there at least! Part 2 coming soon!

Me out on the rocks!  Obviously excited..