Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Bird Counts

For-The-Birds Woodlot

I spent Saturday searching for birds in the vicinity of Harrow and visited sites such as the For-The-Birds Woodlot pictured above.  I have been participating in this Cedar Creek Christmas Bird Count for 24 of its 25 year history. I like this count. It started as an American Crow count due to the large number of crows that would descend on the town of Essex each winter.  At its peak ten years ago we recorded over 117,000 birds, making it the crow capital of Canada.  This year the roost failed to develop and apparently the birds have moved to the city of Chatham.  The next morning as I drove to Rondeau Provincial Park for another bird count I encountered thousands and thousands of crows along Highway 401 between the Tilbury and Chatham interchanges. 

Two Savannah Sparrows were a nice find on the count. They were feeding on the edge of a road where the snow had been scraped away from the shoulder exposing dirt, grass and a few weeds. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A late hummingbird

Usually, when I see a new bird for my Ontario list I'm thrilled and happy to tell everyone about the encounter but this time that didn't happen. You see I didn't get a chance to share this sighting with my friends and only a very few people got to see the bird.  Normally when someone finds a very rare bird the sighting is posted on ONTBIRDS (or similar listserv) which gives many people a chance to look for the bird. In this case the bird departed before the identity was established.

I'm always interested in any local records of hummingbirds after mid October when most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have left the region. While there are records of Ruby-throats as late as November 26 in Michigan there is a higher probability that a late hummingbird might be a different species.  For example a hummingbird that appeared at a feeder in Kingsville on 18 November 2007 turned out to be an adult female Rufous Hummingbird. It remained at the feeder to December 1.

Rufous Hummingbird, Kingsville, ON, November 22, 2007

On October 30, 2010 I learned of a hummingbird coming to Tom & Peggy Hurst's feeder in Cottam, ON.  After watching it for a while I decided it would be a good idea to come back the next day and get some more photos as there was talk of an Anna's Hummingbird that had just shown up in the UP of Michigan and this bird was not a typical plumaged Ruby-throat. We hoped it might be an Anna's Hummingbird but I hadn't seen an Anna's for several years and wanted to examine my photos and check some references before getting too excited. Unfortunately the bird never returned to the feeder. The few pictures that I digiscoped with a point-and-shoot camera were eventually sent away to hummingbird banders for an expert opinion. Both Sheri Williamson in Arizona and Bob Sargent in Alabama confirmed that this was an Anna's Hummingbird.

Anna's Hummingbird, Cottam, ON, October 30, 2010

This is the first record of Anna's Hummingbird for the province of Ontario. This species also appeared in Grand Maris, Michigan (2), Saylorville, Iowa and Val-d"Espoir, Quebec this fall.  The differences between female/immature plumaged Anna's and Ruby-throated are subtle. The bird above shows dingy dusky flanks with some green spotting, a straight bill and thick neck. The loral pattern is also different from Ruby-throat with a pale eyebrow, blackish spot in front of the eye and indistinct pale grayish wash behind the eye. Visible in the photo below is a distinct patch of dark spotting on the throat which is a normal pattern for female Anna's. 

In the Great Lakes region it is a good idea to keep hummingbird feeders up and supplied with sugar water until the snow flies! Species such as Rufous and Anna's Hummingbirds are quite tolerant of cold weather and capable of surviving freezing temperatures. If you are lucky enough to have a hummingbird appear at your feeder please report it immediately to your local birding hotline. My number is 519-966-5852. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gray Jay

I first heard about an irruption of Gray Jays back in September and since that time I heard of reports from Lake Superior east to the Ottawa region. On October 9 we came across the Gray Jay pictured below along a back road seven km NE of Burk's Falls, ON. The bird was a first-year individual based on the ratty pointy-shaped tail feathers.

The fall colours have changed since the post of two weeks ago. A brief cold spell with frost put an end to much of the colour derived from the brightly coloured maples and now the yellows of aspens and tamaracks are dominant. 

Tamarack (American Larch) stand, October 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Colours

Fall colours were dazzling this past weekend north of Huntsville, Ontario. It has been a long time since I explored this region during the peak of fall colour. This Red Maple was photographed along the river above the village of Burk's Falls.

Highway 11, Burk's Falls, Ontario

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Southern Sky

Now that I am home again it is time to sort all the photos that were taken in South Africa and post a few of my favourite images. One thing that I did not do on the trip was spend enough time at night observing the splendours of the southern hemisphere sky.  Some of the finest celestial objects cannot be seen from Canada and they are well worth the effort to stay up at night, even after a long day of birding.

Here is an image taken on the lawn of the Kruisa Moya Nature Lodge showing the Milky Way with the Southern Cross low near the horizon. The dark CoalSack Nebula (or head of the Emu in Australia) lies along the upper left side of the Southern Cross.  (image taken with a Canon 5D MarkII and 20 mm lens)

Off to the left of this view lies one of the most spectacular globular clusters, the size of a full moon, known as 47 Tucanae (containing millions of stars) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (a close dwarf galaxy). Below is an image taken with a 100mm lens.

47 Tuc and SMC

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Ever since I arrived in South Africa I have kept an eye out for a chameleon. I wanted to see the turret-like eyes, grasping toes, and cryptic colors of a wild individual. After scanning countless bushes for three weeks my quest for a chameleon was finally fulfilled this afternoon. I spotted this beautiful male chameleon basking in a small tree on the grounds of the Afton Grove Retreat where we are staying just outside of Cape Town. The owner had told me his grandson had seen a chameleon in the garden which served as an incentive to check the gardens several times during our stay here. I was glad I persevered.

Sent from my iPad

Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Monday, August 23, 2010

A few birds

Kruger National Park isn't just for big game. I was overwhelmed with all the new birds we found. Of course it was a big help to be birding with Tom Hince as he has birded South Africa on several prior occasions and knows the birds very well. I posted a few bird photos below.

Lilac-breasted Roller is a common and conspicuous bird in the park. Its colours are simply amazing. Even starlings here are gorgeous. We saw four species with iridescent plumage and two species of oxpeckers. The finfoot is much harder to find and we were fortunate to find this lone bird while birding from a bridge.

I hoped to see hornbills on the trip and we were lucky to see all six species in a single day. The Yellow-billed is the most common hornbill in the park. It seems to have a fondness for picking through elephant poop. Mousebirds were another new bird family for me. They are fairly conspicuous as they travel around in small flocks.

Lilac-breasted Roller

African Finfoot

Cape Glossy Starling

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Burchell's Coucal

Red-faced Mousebird

Friday, August 20, 2010


The group of three young male Lions was photographed during a night game drive at the north end of Kruger while we were staying at Punda Maria Camp. Kurger has a good population of Lions with an estimated population of 2,000 individuals. The ranger lead night drives are the only way you are permitted to go out at night. In addition to the Big Five we also saw several types of antelope, Springhares, Black-back Jackal, Large-spotted Genet, Greater Bushbaby and other wildlife on these drives.



The hardest of the Big Five to see is the Leopard but we saw our first Leopard on our second day in Kruger. It came down to the edge of the Letaba River at midday, drank, played a bit in the water, and then proceeded to wade across the river. It was a great sight in the spotting scope for almost 20 minutes. That evening we also saw a leopard near it's kill, an Impala that had been carried high into a large tree. On our way out of the park we saw our third leopard siting in the shade of a small bush next to the road. It was causing quite a traffic jam.



White Rhinos

We had good luck and saw 14 White Rhinos and hundreds of Cape Buffalo. This little rhino was quite interested in our vehicle and ran towards us a couple of times. Both the baby and mom lost traction on the pavement when they tried to run. Quite a sight to see a rhino slipping and sliding on asphalt!

Buffalo and other large mammals in Kruger often had attendant oxpeckers that were always busy searching for tasty ticks. The buffalo pictured below didn't mind the two Yellow-billed Oxpeckers poking around in its ear but did object when the birds moved to its nose.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

baby White Rhinoceros, Kruger

Cape Buffalo

Two young elephants

African Elephant

Kruger National Park, South Africa

I'm in the middle of my first birding trip to South Africa and it has been an incredible experience. We started with a visit to Kruger National Park where we stayed in four different camps. Kruger is nearly two million hectares in extent and 350 km from north to south. It is home to over 650 species of birds and mammals so there was no shortage of wildlife. 

I'll start with a few images of the "Big Five" that we encountered in Kruger. This will take more than one post due to my current connection.

Elephants were seen in good numbers (over 100), both during the day and on night drives. One old bull with just a single tusk actually charged our car we we tried to sneak by it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pink Katydid

This is an Oblong-winged Katydid (Amblycorpha oblongifolia) that was brought in to the nature centre last week. Normally katydids are green and bright pink individuals are very rare. This individual is a female as can be determined by the large, scythe-shaped ovipositor.

Katydids are singing insects. Bird song is starting to decrease by mid summer but insect song is just getting underway. Lately I have started hearing the loud rough "Katy Katy-did" song of the Northern True Katydid. Although a common evening sound these large green insects are seldom seen due to their tree-top haunts.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Milkweed Butterflies

The Windsor Butterfly Count was held on July 3, 2010. We had a clear sunny day and over twenty observers went out looking for butterflies. Butterfly Milkweed flowers are favoured by many butterflies and the one shown above especially so, attracting an impressive assemblage of Edward's Hairstreaks and American Copper butterflies.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rocky Mountain Goat

This goat was one of 15 animals at a mineral lick in the north end of Banff National Park. These were the only goats we saw on the trip this spring and a nice surprise.

Sent by iPad

Peregrine Falcon at the Ambassador Bridge

The Peregrine Falcons that nested under the Ambassador Bridge this year fledged three young. I stopped by the bridge on June 9 and took this picture of one of the adults as it was leaving the nest ledge. Here is the four year-old female named Voltaire (This post is a test of posting by e-mail. I'm practising for being able to post from an iPad while I'm away from home).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ruffed Grouse

I don't get to see grouse very often as the Windsor area has little forest cover and the nearest grouse habitat that I regularly visit is a couple of hours away in northern Lambton County. We were north of Sault Ste. Marie this past the weekend and had to stop several times while driving along back roads to let Ruffed Grouse strut slowly across the roadway.  Here are images of two birds we encountered.

Monday, June 21, 2010


The annual emergence of mayflies from Lake Erie is a dramatic event.  Although they do not eat as adults and only live for a few hours no one can ignore the huge number of Mayflies when they emerge from the lake in mid June (perhaps they should be called Juneflies?).

Immense numbers were recorded back in the 1950's but the huge flights disappeared by the early 1970's. The reappearance of these insects has been taken as a sign of the improved health of the lake.

Here are a few images from Marie's home on June 19. There were millions of these little critters on her house and  on every leaf of every tree and shrub in her yard.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Roadside birding

May 25 - On our first day in Alberta we drove from Calgary down to Waterton Lakes National Park. Roadside birding was great and here are a few images from the day.


Merlin with prey

Ferruginous Hawk

a pair of Barrow's Goldeneyes at Cameron Lake (lake is 99% frozen)

a very tame female Spruce Grouse feeding along Cameron Lake Road

 displaying male Dusky Grouse along Cameron Lake Road just above village of Waterton Lake. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alberta scenes

Dipper and Harlequin Duck were seen here in the village at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Moon rise over the Rockies in Waterton Lakes National Park

After the sun set this "sun pillar" was a breathtaking sight over Kehiwin Lake in northeastern Alberta.

Just after midnight near Cold Lake on June 2. At this time of year and at this latitude the night sky never becomes very dark.  The bright "star" is Venus.

Here is Tom Hince at 4:59 am. on June 2 searching for birds at Cold Lake.

May 25 - June 5 in Alberta

Although this trip was primarily for birding I found that, once again, Alberta was a great place to see mammals as well as birds. Here are some images from this trip and a few from last year's (see also photos from June 2009).  


Columbian Ground-Squirrel - common at Waterton Lakes National Park

Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel at Waterton Lakes

Red Squirrel (from 2009 trip) 

Here are mages of the three species of rabbit found in Alberta.
 Nuttall's Cottontail (above image from prior trip to Saskatchewn), 

Snowshoe Hare, Waterton Lakes National Park (15 seen along upper Cameron Lakes Road)

White-tailed Jackrabbit (image from 2009 trip) 

Bighorn Sheep at Waterton Lakes National Park being groomed by a magpie. 

Rocky Mountain Goat (kit), Banff National Park

Elk, Jasper National Park

Black Bear, Banff National Park (6 seen on June 4 drive to Jasper)

Grizzly Bear at Bow Lake in Banff National Park (my first for Canada)!