Thursday, December 31, 2015

Warsaw Caves - November 2015

I believe that after this post, I will officially be post "free" until 2016!  It's taken a little while to really get everything updated, but I'm glad that I finally did. While I previously debated about just not posting these and starting fresh in the New Year, I've found writing on this little blog is actually really useful to keep track of what I've done year to year and to compile my favourite photos together.

So!  Back in November, a group of friends and I got together for a bit of a "friends-giving". As part of this we decided to all go on a little hike to Warsaw Caves! A place that I haven't explored yet since living here in the Peterborough area, and after going I can't figure out why I haven't before!

It was SUCH a cool landscape, something that I would have never imagined was in the area. It was a strange mix of shield and Algonquin, with its own personality. There were a few different trails, however the one with a series of 8 caves was by far the coolest.

A second trail wandered through a mossy, wooded area and looped around a beautiful lookout above a river.

Heading back on that trail, we noticed one meandering another direction that lead you to a series of kettles! We were only able to spot two of them, however I'm not sure if there are any more than just those. I hadn't seen a kettle of this size at least before, so it was a really cool sight to see and play in!

I can't wait to head back to this area in the spring and explore it a little more.  It was a strange day in the way that we heard nothing but Chickadees and saw no other wildlife what so ever!  So hopefully the next time I go back I can bird a little bit more!  

Grade three and on for the three of us!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Presqu'ile throughout the fall

I'm on a rampage of writing here over the Christmas break.  Taking breaks from my thesis work to try and catch up on writing and posting photos before the New Year begins and I can have a fresh start of *hopefully* keeping up with what adventures the next year will bring.

This fall I spent quite a bit of time out at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, whether it was there to specifically bird, such as with our Ornithology class (a previous post), or go duck hunting and end up birding.  It's quite the amazing park and the more time I spend in it, the more I love going there.

The fall has been so mild that much of the duck hunting was stalled or incredibly unsuccessful due to migration numbers just not being what they usually are.  Ducks weren't there in as large numbers as usual, I would assume due to them trickling in as opposed to large fluxes of them being pushed by a large winter system.  While it was a little disheartening trying so many times and yet never bringing home dinner (at least in my case!), it gave me the chance to bird, take some photos, and further explore the park.

Owen's Point Blind, looking towards Gull Island

Due to the low water levels we often had our decoys beached!
During one of our hunting outings I carried my binoculars with me on our trip back to the car.  We had walked out to Gull Island to hunt at one of those blinds.  We had seen barely any ducks and decided to call it quits around 2:00 in the afternoon and instead bird a little bit.   I was SO excited to see that there was still a Dunlin around, and even more excited to see that along with it was my very first Purple Sandpiper.  It was...absolutely stunning.  Of course I had my camera locked away in our dry sac so that it wouldn't get wet, so the only thing I could take a photo with was my cell phone.

Our very last trip to Presquile was at the beginning of December.  This was the most exciting trip for me as I saw one of my favourite birds:  the Snowy Owl.  I had seen reports of this owl on ebird for the past month but never got the opportunity to spot it while we were out there.  While waiting in the blind I noticed that another blind in the distance had grown a little in height, but only on one side!   I took out my binoculars and was so excited to see that it was indeed the "local" Snowy Owl.  

About an hour or so later I decided to go on a little walk to see if there were any ducks anywhere else near us.  All we could see from our blind was a raft of Long-tailed Ducks about half a kilometre into the Bay.  As I walked around the Island I happened to spot that the Snowy Owl had moved from it's previous location and was almost right in front of me!   

I made sure to try best to keep my distance from the Owl while taking my photos.  I was happy to see that the owl was almost calmer than I was!  As a begun to walk away, he took flight and went back to his previous post.  

It was just such an exciting sight to see!  I hadn't seen one yet in the 2015 year and so it was amazing to finally be able to put this on my list for the year.  While I assume there would be many in the Chatham-Kent area (since there were so many the last two previous years), but you never know!

Heading back to the park office I was excited to also see a Hairy Woodpecker, close enough to me to take a few good shots of!  

It was so great this year to have been so close to such a great park to bird, hike, and duck hunt.  I look forward to spending more time in 2016 at this park to seeing all the amazing birds, brushing up on more photography skills and of course, painting my face camo again!

Few more posts coming your way in the coming days!   Happy birding!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A lost little flycatcher

What an exciting sighting today was!  For a little over a week I have been seeing a bird alert for a Vermilion Flycatcher in Wallaceburg, Ontario; just a short jaunt away from my house in Chatham.  

Since arriving back in Chatham for Christmas on Christmas Day, I've been itching a little bit to head over there and especially with seeing all the bird alerts coming into my inbox!  The Vermilion Flycatcher is a small flycatcher that is native to the Southwestern US around southern California and Texas. During this time of year, they should be located on their wintering grounds, located in the central area of South America.  This little guy, however, seemed to have gotten lost on his way south!  

Today Mike, my dad (who I've been attempting to convert into somewhat of a birder), and I took an early afternoon drive down to the stakeout.  We were delighted at the fact that it was fluttering about right when we got there and provided us some amazing views!  This little guy was a young male, making a little more sense as to why he could be all this way north; younger birds are more likely to get lost.

As soon as I was able to snap a few photos he fluttered around and then out of site.  A number of people had just arrived as he flew away, so I hope that they were able to see him a short while later.

With the cold weather finally seeming to be setting in I am glad that I was able to see this bird before it got too much colder.  Being a flycatcher, thus eating flies, I have a feeling he may not be around too much longer whether it be he figures out to fly south or...runs out of food supply and gets too cold.  

Never the less, it was an amazing sight for everyone who has seen it thus far and really neat to have a lifer so close to home!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Niagara Gull watch - OFO Trip

Back at the end of November, Mike, my labmates Allie and Ariel, and myself went to Niagara Falls, Ontario as part of the yearly Ontario Federation of Ornithologists (OFO) trip put on by Jean Iron.  I've been wanting to go for the last few years, however finally this year I made the commitment to travel down there.

We went early on the Friday night for the Gull Quiz and short workshop.  It was so much fun being in the same room with so many like-minded bird-nerds!  We then spent the night wandering around the downtown sights and lights, especially since Ariel and Allie had never been to the Falls before.   
Allie writing on the buildings
Group of Gadwall along the Niagara River
Gulls along the Niagara River
More gulls along the Niagara River
Gull's eye view towards the Falls!
OFO Gull group looking out along the river

One of the attractions at the fall this winter was a fun screen that was connected to a nearby building.  People were able to write on the screen and, at the same time, what you wrote would show up on the building in front of you!   Since we were in a birdy mood, naturally we wrote something pretty "gull-able"; Gulls Rule This River.  We found out the next day...that they do indeed!

We started out the next day around the Dufferin Islands Park.  The day started out with a non-gull species: an American Robin.  While a regular site throughout much on Ontario, this one some leucistic qualities to it, sparking much interest fro the group

We then continued to the Niagara River, looking out towards the Islands, where we stayed between the Islands and the falls up until noon.

There were numerous ducks along the river such as Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Scaup, a single Goldeneye, and Gadwall!  Ducks were a nice sight to see for me, especially since gulls are such a difficult species to ID!

As expected, the number of Gulls that we saw was astounding, even despite the fact that the total species count of gulls was low.  I don't think that I've ever seen that many gulls in one place before!!  It is definitely a haven for anyone who is a gull-nerd, but quite a blur to anyone who is starting to learn especially those who do not have a scope!

Due to the warmer weather, migration has been much slower this year, not only for gulls but many other species too!  Due to this, the majority of unique gull species that can be found at the Falls hadn't arrived yet, or at least not in great numbers.  The total list of gull species I was able to see included:

- Ring-billed Gulls (very high amounts!)
- Herring Gulls (lower numbers for this time of year)
- Boneparte's Gull (high numbers)
- Thayer's Gull (a lifer for me!)
- Iceland Gull (Kumlieni, small numbers)
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Glaucous Gull (very small numbers

There were also reports of a California Gull from earlier in the morning, however we were not able to re-find this individual.

The group took a break for lunch and we wandered back into the park and parking lot. There were reports of Tufted Titmice being in the area so many of us were hoping to see them.  We were able to spot a few species that were new to my 2015 year, the Red-bellied Woodpecker and some very late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.   I could hear the Tufted Titmice in the distance, but wasn't able to find it.

 Here, we also saw what was one of the funniest things that I had ever seen birding which just so happened to also be an amazing example of unethical birding.  A group of birder/photographers had a camouflaged background set up at the edge of a shrubby area.  Here they set up a tripod holding a stick, and small bowl of bird seed (this was the hilarious part).  While this, at least to me, in itself is not bad, they were also playing calls....constantly (different calls from about 9am until at minimum noon).  

As a wanna-be photographer, birder, and biologist/naturalist I found this incredibly heartbreaking and almost offensive, as any times as a birder and photographer I am associated with.  When bringing out assistants, birding groups, fellow photographers, etc one of the things that I always try to teach them is to be respectful of the wildlife around us.  While I will play a call or two to show someone a species they have never seen, or are learning to ID, if it does not fly in within the first try, it gets turned off and I explain to them the hazards the birds may face if I continue to play these sounds such as stress, unnecessary energy spending,  etc.  

So, seeing these men doing something that a number of birders, including myself, try so hard to teach others to NOT do, was really unfortunate.  We spoke loudly as a group about how the poor Red-bellied Woodpecker was flying around frantically, expending much of it's needed energy just for the sake of photos, however it did not seem to matter to them.  While I understand it is very difficult to get great bird photos, it is also important to always put the birds health before your photos (which can be hard when it is your income!).  So, when you go out and purchase bird photos, wall hangings, cards, etc try buying from local people you know or who you have heard of by word of mouth who have good ethics.  

And with that small rant, I will head off to write some Christmas cards!   I hope that everyone had an amazing Holiday this week with friends family and of course....some birds!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Lakefield Sewage Lagoons, early October

Another catch-up post today from early-October.  Our Ornithology class went out to the Lakefield Sewage Lagoons for a morning to see what was out and about in the ponds.  When people first heard that we were going to a Sewage Lagoon, the look on so many faces was "Ewwww we're going where?!" mixed with a "wait, what?" and a dash of "why would we go to a sewage plant!?".   Little do many people know that sewage plants are often local gems for birders and havens for many species of birds.  Many birds that frequent this particular sewage lagoon include ducks, shorebirds, swallows, turkey, etc.

On this particular day, there were quite a few birds around!  We started off by noticing all the ducks in the first cell.  Amongst all of the Lesser Scaup, there was a single Common Goldeneye.  I wish there was a Greater Scaup also in the pond, as it's SO difficult to tell the two apart (even I IDed it incorrectly at first and needed a second opinion).  In the second cell we saw more scaup, four Wood Ducks (a favourite of most people), and some mallards.

As we walked around cell two, we saw Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Blue Jays, and then my group came upon the second group of students and TA (Scott) who were all rather excited about a bird.  A Shorebird!

We all hurried over to where it was alone and eating inverts within the mud.  All of us stood around with out ID books out.  For me, shorebirds have been fairly difficult to master, and one in non-breeding plumage? *cue laughter* Even harder.

Our first guess was a Dunlin, which quickly got booted out and moved into a Western Sandpiper.  It seemed like it could be possible, but more so impossible.  We waited a little longer and watched it walk around to get a look at it in all sorts of positions.  

It did a little hop away from us and we suddenly got a quick flash of it's rump.  White. Thank goodness for this great clue!  We were able to walk away, fairly certain that it was a White-rumped Sandpiper, which is still fairly rare for this area.   Once we got back to school, we did double check with our Professor, Erica Nol (the shorebird guru), who also agreed!

It was a pretty exciting bird for all of the students to see, and a lifer for many of them!  We then walked back to the bus and on the way noticed what people thought was a Flicker or something up in a tree.  Strangely enough, it was a lone, Eastern Meadowlark!  Not something that we expected to see at this time of year.  I didn't get to take a photo of it, but it was another lifer for many of our students!

So much more to catch up on still, but hope everyone is happy naturing!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Lifers come at the most unexpected times sometimes!

Back at the beginning of October (I know...going back two months now! Still playing the catch-up game), Mike and I decided to go on a quick walk to the Trestle Bridge located just south of Omemee, Ontario.  I've seen multiple friends now who have taken photos on this bridge and the view just looked absolutely stunning.  We figured that fall colours would be in full, or at least partial, swing by this time of year and we really needed to get out of the house.

We set off on the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail in search for this bridge, birds, and beautiful fall colours.  Our first site was a bundle of Ruby-crowned Kinglets bouncing around all the bushes.  I finally managed to snap a photo of the quick little buggers, while Mike failed at convincing Chickadees to land on his hand.

Mike trying to feed some Chickadees
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

We then continued down the trail and were utterly thrilled by the amazing colours along the path.  It was so nice to see so many other people also out and about on the walking trail.  

We eventually made it out to the Trestle Bridge.  This is an old railway bridge that has since been converted to a walking bridge.  It maintains all of it's original steel work and overlooks a valley full of trees and nearby drumlins. It obviously wasn't at its peak colour yet, but it was still just wonderful!

We made the hike out with a small camping stove and some home made beef barley soup, so we sat on the side of the bridge and cooked up some supper.  It was so relaxing and such a nice break from being cooped up at home and school working

Once we were finished eating we begun to walk back to our car.  Just as we got off the Trestle Bridge we noticed what looked like a pile of dog "dung".  After a few years of herping (looking for and watching reptiles and amphibians), we knew that this was either indeed dog poop or, more excitingly, a snake!  We approached our unknown object, and found an adorable Red-bellied Snake!

I basically screamed in excitement; it has been a few years now that I have been trying to find one of these little guys!  We took a few quick photos and then moved the little guy off the path.  I had always known that they were one of the smaller snake species here in Ontario, but was surprised at HOW small, small was!   The photo below is an example of just how small it was!

On the same topic of herps, week or two later, Mike and I were at Presqu'ile.  Having just finished an (unsuccessful) hunt, we decided to do a bit of bird watching and wandered to Owen's Point Beach area to see if any shorebirds were still around.  We didn't spot any shorebirds, however we did see the biggest, and most grumpy toad that we had ever seen try to get over a piece of fencing.  So naturally, we helped it get up and over the fence, but not before we took a few "grumpy" photos with it.

Why so grumpy?

Grumpy American Toad

Hope everyone has had an amazing fall and looking forward to a seemingly warm winter!  I promise to post a few more updates soon!