Friday, March 13, 2015

Bruce and back

We headed up to Lill's cottage on the Bruce, pretty close to Tobermory, last weekend. Suffice to say, it was, and I expect, it is still quite wintry up there...

Ice is still pretty thick...but nice and blue!
I managed to scope out the Nocturnal Owl Survey route that I'll be conducting next month, just south of the cottage, but overall didn't really see too much up there, minus a large congregation of Common Ravens (~135 at the municipal dump).

On our drive back (Monday March 9th), we came across a Snowy Owl near Tara. Closer to Waterloo we had 3 Snowies within 500m. from one another - pretty cool!

Just outside of Heidelberg we spied a Short-eared Owl sitting on the fencepost. Lill got a few decent shots with her point and shoot.

Possibly one of the same birds present for a few weeks in the area (as many as 3 individuals).
Anywho, not too much else happening this week, but the next few will be different, that's fo sho.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cuba: February 14-20

Last weekend Lillian and I got back from a nice and relaxing week in Cuba, at an all inclusive resort on Cayo Santa Maria. It was my first time to Cuba and at an all-inclusive resort. All in all we had a great time and managed to do quite a bit of birding while there too, which was awesome; I'm sure I don't have to explain the pluses of birding somewhere hot vs. -20 C...

We stayed on Cayo Santa Maria; our hotel, the Eurostars, was situated roughly at the end of a 48km causeway. The habitat was predominated by extensive mangroves as well as dense scrub-forest along an elevated ridge overlaid by limestone (very similar to our alvars in Canada). As one would expect, the causeway took a while to complete (finished in 1999; took 10 years), and the area has only been very recently explored, specifically from an ornithological standpoint. Having said this, the area is very remote, and the causeway itself is a controlled access-point (only tourists, researchers and people working at the resorts are  allowed access). I did a fair bit of studying ahead of time (Birds of Cuba, Birds of the Caribbean and song identifications), as I wanted to maximize my birding, especially as I knew a fair bit of birding would be done by ear, particularly in the dense foliage.

Anyways this is a pretty brief synopsis of the area; below is a day-by-day summary of what we did, saw, etc. All the pics were taken by Lillian (I need to get a good camera).

Day 1: Saturday February 14th
We left on Friday the 13th, only getting to our hotel late in the evening. Our first day here, we mostly explored the resort and started to check areas off the resort. Our resort was pretty big (~800 rooms) and about 1km from end to end. I quickly found some areas close by our room that allowed birding opportunities, as well as getting off the resort.
Western Spindalis in the centre; were quite common in the resort area
I quickly got acquainted with a few of the more common species of the resort: Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Emerald, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, etc.

Looking west, from the Refugio towards the sewage lagoon and resorts in the background.

eBird checklist:

Day 2: Sunday February 15th
After having spent the previous day mostly lounging, I was antsy to explore and get in some good birding. Before breakfast, I walked around the resort, finding several nice, tropical species; Painted Bunting, Common Ground-Doves, Zenaida Dove, lots of warblers, and best of all, by far, a Cuban Gnatcatcher; a very rare species for the area. The bird was singing, in seemingly good habitat, and I later had the same bird a few days later (when I checked back).

After breakfast, we started walking from the resort to the park nearby; Refugio de fauna Cayo Santa Maria. Just as we were almost off the resort, Lill spotted a bird not too far off the ground; an Eastern Phoebe! Cool...! Turns out though, this is only the 8th record for Cuba (r records listed in Birds of Cuba, plus 2 in eBird)! Sweet!

After leaving the EAPH, we walked the 2km to the park and then a pretty cool trail about a kilometre from the entrance and then back. Looking back, this was kind of a crazy day, simply put because if we were in Ontario the equivalent rarities would've been a crazy day. We had amazing luck; not only did we see lots of common and interesting birds, but we found several rarities for the area. Walking over to the park I spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst a flock of Lesser Yellowlegs. Turns out this is only the 2nd record for Cayo Santa Maria and as far as I can tell the only 'winter' record for the species on Cuba (spring migrant?). More bizarre though, was the fact that JV saw, likely this same individual on the 21st!

Getting into to the park though, and walking the trail we saw lots more cool species; our first Cuban Bullfinches, lots of White-eyed Vireos, the Cuban race of Osprey, and best of all; a Key West Quail-Dove, Greater Antillean Nightjar (huge!), and the other really good rarity of our trip, a Thick-billed Vireo singing away near the trail entrance. I'm not really sure of how many records there are here (none?), but as the bird flies, its less than 20km from a known breeding area on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.

The trail in the refugio
Lots of Spanish Moss throughout.
Very alvar like habitat
A Cuban Bullfinch way back in there.
One of the many termite mounds through the scrub-forest.
After our pretty damn productive day, we called her quits and sat by the ocean sipping some nice rum-punch!

eBird checklist:

Day 3: Monday February 16th
This was undoubtedly our highlight of the trip; we took a day trip to the Central Mountains; essentially across the peninsula, close to the city of Trinidad. We got up nice and early, and after waiting for our bus, which was 45 minutes late, boarded and were on our way (left at 08:20). It was a really cool drive, as pretty much all of our drive to the resort on the 13th had been in the dark. On our drive (3 hours one way) we saw lots: Antillean Palm-Swift, Cuban Blackbird, the Cuban races of American Kestrel (pretty cool), Helmeted Guineafowl, and Smooth-billed Ani's among many others.
'Typical' country-side scenery.
After a few dozen switch-backs and 2 stops for the puking guy, we finally arrived. Needless to say it was pretty cool drive (luckily we weren't sick!). The park, Guanayara Park, within Topes de Collantes, was awesome! Breath-taking vistas and great birding all around. It was really fun walking through the jungle, seeing new species, as well as other species we normally don't see until the summer.

We saw lots of really cool species, and given the location and habitat we had lots of new species for the trip: Cuban Green Woodpecker, West Indian Woodpecker, Red-legged Thrush, Cuban Tody (my favourite), Cuban Parrot, a flock of Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds, lots of warblers (had 8 Louisiana Waterthrushes!), and a heard only Cuban Trogon.

A shade grown coffee plantation.
Undoubtedly, the coolest bird species we saw: Cuban Tody
After our 4km hike through the bush and a nice swim, we had the long drive back; another 3 hours, with most during the dark, however, I still managed to see a fair bit before dark.

eBird checklist of the day:

Day 4: Tuesday February 17th
We took this day to relax a fair bit, after our pretty busy day. We had wanted to rent a scooter for the morning to head back to the refugio, but weren't able to until in the afternoon; however, this led us to find the sewage lagoon, just a few minutes from the resort. Needless to say, I was excited! My very own Cuban sewage lagoon. Lots shorebirds and waterfowl were present: Black-necked Stilts, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, among some other interesting species; a calling Clapper Rail, Cuban Black Hawk, and tonnes of herons and egrets!

Black-necked Stilts, Willets, Roseate Spoonbills among many other birds at the lagoons. Note lower water levels were to the left, not on the pic.
Prairie Warblers were pretty common in the scrub everywhere.
Least Sandpipers really liked the low water areas.
Lots of herons nearby.
Cuban Black Hawk were relatively common in the area of our resort.
eBird checklist:

Day 5: Wednesday February 18th
We took it easy this day (I guess we took it easy everyday...we were on vacation!); however, I got up nice and early for sunrise and did some good birding along the main road, as well as checking out the lagoons. Here I had some good stuff: the same Cuban Gnatcatcher, a heard only Great Lizard-Cuckoo, my first good views of Cuban Vireo, as well as finding some Stilt Sandpipers and a Yellow-throated Vireo (I think this is fairly rare in winter here). Definitely the birds of the day seemed to be Gray Catbird and Palm Warblers (sounds like Pelee/LP in May!).
Lillian standing beside some huge Yucca!
A Gulf Fritillary; we saw a few species of butterflies (the only other species we saw that I knew was Common Buckeye).
The beach from our resort.
Late in the day, after the rain went through, it was evident that a pretty large cold front had gone through. Temperatures dropped from about 30 to 21 C. Unfortunately we didn't witness any thunder or lightning!

eBird checklist:

Day 5: Thursday February 19th
We took a pretty laid-back way to the day; again we were hoping to rent a scooter, but had no luck (I guess that's Cuba for you). Instead we went to the market to get some souvenirs. Walking back from the market we had our first Gundlach's Hawk fly over. Getting back to the resort, we decided to walk into the park. On our way over (it's 2km to the entrance) we decided we might as well walk the entire road length while in the park (6km) as who know's when we'll be in the Cuba again. Needless to say we were a bit tired and thirsty, but it was pretty cool. We saw another Gundlach's Hawk, and had great views of a Great Lizard-Cuckoo, as well as our first White-winged Dove. Getting to the very end of the road was neat; the area gave way to extensive mangrove swamp, with a wide beach (it was low tide). I didn't bring my scope with me to Cuba, but it was here that I really wished I had - lots of shorebirds were out on the flats (I could really only ID Willets), as well as herons and cormorants.

Great Lizard-Cuckoo - these guys are pretty cool; think Yellow-billed Cuckoo on human growth-hormone

Cuban Black Hawks seemed to like this habitat.
I was hoping for Mangrove Cuckoo's here, but no dice.

eBird checklist:

Day 6: Friday February 20th
Our last day in Cuba. Fortunately we had a later flight, and had the morning to check things out before we needed to get our bus to the airport. I got up early and checked things out. This day seemed very windy (>50km/hr) and cooler (~20 C); it was evident getting to the sewage lagoons that gulls and terns were in higher numbers than I had seen recently. Checking the lagoon out I noticed 2 American Avocets, a pretty rare bird or Cuba (5 records listed in birds of Cuba; 26 records in eBird), as well as my lifer Sandwich Tern! I hadn't really thought I had a chance for either species so it was nice to be proven wrong! It was also cool to see so many Black-necked Stilts - I estimated 425 in the lagoons!

After lunch we packed up and hopped on our bus. With just another hour of time in Cuba, I managed a few more species on our ride back to the airport: Anhinga and Eurasian Collared-Dove. All in all, it was a great trip; I'm really looking forward to going back as well as exploring the Caribbean/Tropics further!

Lizard sp. - I need to ID this; in total we saw about 4 species that I could tell.
Cuban Pewee's were fairly common throughout.
Crested Caracara were uncommon where we were.
eBird checklist:

Trip species list: 115 species

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recent happenings (Jan. 29)

Things have been a bit dormant on the 'ole blog for the past few weeks. We're entering into one of our slowest times of the year, but despite that there have been several pretty decent highlights!

Highlight #1
Who would've thought going for a run would be this good?! That's exactly what it turned out to be; not only do I need to lose a few lbs, but I get to find some sweet birds in the process. On Monday around 5pm I was running on my usual route and was stopped dead by the calls of a Fish Crow flying over! Pretty darn cool! I mean not too much to really say about it, but the rarity of it is cool, nonetheless. This is the second time I've had FICR in this area; the first was March 27, 2013.

Highlight #2
Varied Thrush in Kitchener

I saw the bird on Monday with Nathan Miller and we were able to find it within about 30 minutes. We had decent looks at it, while it was sitting in the shelter of several Colorado Blue Spruces.

Highlight #3
Last Friday I birded from Ashbridges Bay to Stoney Creek, after coming home from Lill's parents place in Toronto. It turned out to be one of those 'good' days where everything happened without a hitch.

At my second stop I had the immaculate male Harlequin Duck. It was pretty interesting to watch it guard a female Bufflehead from 2 males.

Next, I stopped at Port Credit and had a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Red-necked Grebe.

From there I went for the long-staying Painted Bunting along Arkendo Drive. I was expecting to put in a good solid hour wait here, but was pleasantly surprised to see it as soon as I got to the spot! In fact, the bird was out in the open, eating with a DEJU on the ground, no more than 20 feet from me!

Phone shot of the Painted Bunting

I was pretty happy with that. Next I hit up the Burlington Ship Canal. Coolest sighting here was 129 Great Black-backed Gulls! Haven't seen that many in one spot in a loooonnng time.

After this I checked the warm water outflow of Red Hill Creek in Hamilton.For such a dirty/ugly spot, there are some decent winter birds. I had several year birds here: Nothern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Double-crested Cormorant, Northern Mockingbird, etc.

Highlight #4
And to think we're in the middle of the winter without any hope of spring?! Lo and behold, a Song Sparrow near my office in Waterloo was trying to sing yesterday! A good bird up in my neck of the woods. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A look at 2015

I thought rather than plagarise photo's and give a review of 2014, that I'd give a brief overview of what I'm roughly expecting to do in 2015...

So far, I've been able to do a fair bit of birding, which has been great: 77 species so far. Highlights include: the long-staying Eurasian Collared-Dove in Leamington, Eastern Towhee at Rondeau, Long-eared Owl near Holiday Beach, and a flock of Myrtle's and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet at PPNP.

The rest of January looks pretty good; I'll be checking Hamilton likely this coming Friday, and am leading bird trips to the Linwood area and Amherst Island.

Usually one of the slowest months, but Lillian and I are heading off for a week to Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. I haven't been south really anywhere, so I'm hoping to get a decent number (20-30?) of lifers while there. Needless to say I'm pretty excited!

Nothing planned other than expected trips to Long Point and Lake Erie for spring waterfowl.

I'll be looking for one of these...
One of my favourite months of birding. I'm running a nocturnal owl survey route for BSC up near Lillian's cottage in Tobermory. I'm hoping to do this pretty early, and could get a number of owls (NSOW, BARO, GHOW, ESOW?, GGOW?, LEOW? SEOW?). In a perfect world I'd check Pelee Island sometime before all hell breaks loose (last year I had a great trip).

Not much is happening here...pretty boring month...minus I'm renting a cottage with Barbed Wire from the 2-17. Should be pretty damn awesome. Last year was pretty sweet (Lazuli Bunting, Neotropic Cormorant, Blue Grosbeak, etc.). Mother's Day will be the exception as Mike and I aim to make it 3/3 for winning the Bird Race. I'll also be up on the Bruce on the 24th, helping out with Huron Fringe. Hopefully I'll get my long overdue Little Blue Heron...!

What am I????

This the month I really start to lose sleep; bird work really gets going, and we have projects pretty much all through southern Ontario and potentially a huge project up north to Kirkland Lake.

Mike, my Dad, and I will be doing 3 breeding bird survey routes, up north, near Cochrane, Detour Lake and Matachewan. This will be the 3rd year we've done them, and have had pretty much all the boreal specialties (CONW, SPGR, BBWO, BOCH, WWCR, GRYE, SOSA, etc), plus weird ones, like Vesper Sparrow, E. Whip-poor Will, and Brown Thrasher.

Looking forward to checking the lagoons in southern Ontario, as well as our Boys fly-in fishing trip to northern Ontario, half way between Wawa and Hearst.

I really want to get Swainson's Hawk this year...I've tried several times, so hopefully this will be the year. No trips planned as of yet....but I should have about 2 weeks banked that I can use...Netitishi anyone???

I'll be down at the OFO AGM at Pelee over the first weekend in October. Something good should turn up.

Christmas bird counts....I've got my 3 local ones: Cambridge, Kitchener, and Linwood. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

9th annual Linwood CBC summary

2014 Linwood Christmas Bird Count
The ninth Linwood CBC was held Sunday December 28th. Weather on count day was quite favourable. Temperature ranged from a low of -2° to a high of +1° degrees Celsius. Winds were moderate – light (13-26km/hr) and were for the most part out of the west and northwest. Visibility was good, which is crucial for the count. Owing to the recent warm spell, no snow was present for the entire count circle, and Conestogo Lake was completely open, a first for count day. A total of 32 participants gave the count excellent coverage and as a result there were 11 record highs and 2 record lows. A record total of 56 species was observed on count day, beating the old record of 55 species in 2012. An additional count-week species (Pileated Woodpecker) brings the species total to 57 species observed within the count circle.
Two new species were found on count day:
Red-breasted Merganser – 1 drake on Conestogo Lake in Area 6, found by Mike Burrell and Tony Straus. In 2012 several individuals were found on Conestogo Lake during count-week, but subsequently had moved on before count day. This is a new species for count-day.
Iceland Gull – 1 adult on Conestogo Lake in Area 6, found by Mike and Ken Burrell. In 2012 a first-basic bird was found on Conestogo Lake during count-week, but subsequently had moved on before count day. This is a new species for count-day.

Two additional species were found on count-day, which represent complete firsts for the count. The species listed below bring the counts cumulative species list to 86.
Lesser Black-backed Gull – 1 first-basic individual was found at Conestogo Lake, found by Ken and Mike Burrell.
Brown-headed Cowbird – 2 males amongst a large European Starling flock in Area 6, north of Dorking; found by Ken and Mike Burrell.

Unusual species:
Mute Swan – 3 birds were found in Area 2 (HC, 2nd record; Julian and George Greer and Kellie Superina)
Glaucous Gull – 1 first-basic was found in Area 6 (3rd record; Mike and Ken Burrell)
Great Black-backed Gull – 3 birds were found in Area 6 (3rd record; Mike and Ken Burrell)
Peregrine Falcon – 1 bird was found in Area 2 (2nd record; Kellie Superina)
Swamp Sparrow – 1 bird was found in Area 1 (3rd record; Scott Gibson)
Lapland Longspur – 7 birds found in Area 3 (3rd record; Brett Fried)

Birds of Prey:
The Linwood circle was created to document the high raptor numbers, and like pretty much every year conducted, this year was no exception.

Bald Eagle – 6 (this represents a minimum count, as there may have been as many as 8 birds (1 first-year, 1 second-year, 1 fourth-year, and 3-5 adults). Interestingly a nest found independently by Mike Cadman and Brett Woodman looks suspiciously like a Bald Eagle.)
Northern Harrier – 23 (HC; this is an amazing count for the species, beating the previous high of 8!)
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 4 (this is right on average)
Cooper's Hawk – 8 (ties the high-count)
Red-shouldered Hawk – 0 (we have not seen the long-staying individual at all this winter)
Red-tailed Hawk - 87 (a somewhat lower count than the past 4 years, still above the long-term count average)
Rough-legged Hawk - 113 (This is a good count, above the long-term average, and will likely be a provincial high for this count year)

Snowy Owl – 21 (this is another great count for this species, like 2013; birds were found throughout the count circle, however, Area 5 and 6 had the majority of birds.)  
Eastern Screech-Owl – 15 (2nd highest count; despite the strong winds, birds were found in good numbers, partly due to excellent owling coverage)
Great Horned Owl – 3 (this is a decent count for the area)

American Kestrel – 7 (this is on the low end; I’m not really sure as to why we observed lower than normal numbers)
Peregrine Falcon – 1 (HC; this bird was found in Area 2)
Falcon spp. – 1 (likely a Merlin, however, the identification was not confirmed, found in Area 4)

Count participants (area leaders in italics).
Area 1
Fraser Gibson, Miriam Bauman, David Gascoigne, Scott Gibson, and Ken Quanz
Area 2
Julian Greer, George Greer, Kellie Superina, and Paul Schnarr
Area 3
Mark Cunningham, Brett Fried, and Katharina Walton
Area 4
Virgil Martin, Peter Jantzi, and Beth Martin
Area 5
Ross Wood
Area 6
Ken Burrell, Jim, and Mike Burrell, Mike Cadman, Curtis Combden, Tyler Giesler, Lillian Knopf, Mike Lepage, Heidi Staniforth, and Dave and Erin Stephenson
Area 7
Randy Fowler, Brett, Eily, and Gabe Woodman

2014 Linwood CBC Summary
Canada Goose
1,307 +
Snow Bunting
Mute Swan
3 +
Northern Cardinal
American Black Duck
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Common Goldeneye
Swamp Sparrow
1 +
Common Merganser
532 +
White-throated Sparrow
Red-breasted Merganser
Dark-eyed Junco
Ruffed Grouse
Brown-headed Cowbird
Wild Turkey
House Finch
Great Blue Heron
Pine Siskin
Bald Eagle
American Goldfinch
Northern Harrier
23 +
House Sparrow
Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
8 +

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
Mallard X Am. Black Duck
American Kestrel
Gull sp.
Peregrine Falcon
1 +
Accipiter sp.
Ring-billed Gull
40 +
Buteo sp.
Herring Gull
1,248 +
Woodpecker sp.
Iceland Gull
Falcon sp.
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Glaucous Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Rock Pigeon

Mourning Dove
20 -
Total Individuals
Eastern Screech-Owl
Total CW Species
Great Horned Owl
Total Species on Count Day
Snowy Owl
Total Species
Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Record high-count = +

Pileated Woodpecker
Record low-count = -

Northern Shrike
New species for count = ‘bold type’

Blue Jay

American Crow

Common Raven
KM walked = 42.1

Horned Lark
KM drove = 995.3

Black-capped Chickadee
Hours walked = 26.75

White-breasted Nuthatch
47 +
Hours drove = 60.75

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Owling hours = 9.75

Brown Creeper
Owling km = 123.5

Golden-crowned Kinglet

European Starling

Lapland Longspur

Mute Swan, Area 2 (1 of 3 individuals found on count day; 2nd record for the count), December 28, 2014. Photograph: Kellie Superina.
Male Red-breasted Merganser (at front; 1st count-day record for species), with 7 male Common Mergansers, Area 6, Conestogo Lake, December 28, 2014. Photograph: Mike Burrell.
One of two male Brown-headed Cowbirds (first record), Area 6, north of Dorking, December 28, 2014. Photograph: Mike Burrell.
Light phase Rough-legged Hawk, Area 2, December 28, 2014. Photograph: Kellie Superina.

Before the count, I did an live radio interview with the CBC about Christmas Bird Counts and specifically local counts in Waterloo Region and the Linwood count. Click on the following link to hear it!!!