Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pelee! #221-223

A pretty exciting post for me--my first trip ever to Pelee! I had been waiting for this since it's quite the trek from Ottawa...9+ non-stop hours (yeah...I know other birders go a lot farther than that...) It's hard to justify it by itself, for me anyway, especially when it's hard to forecast the optimal weekend. Should you go early or late in migration? Plus you never know what kind of weather you are going to get. So when we had to go to Toronto for a funeral, it didn't seem so bad to just keep on driving afterward the extra 4ish hours.

We saw this along the way on the side of the road. I don't know why I feel compelled to take pictures of (and then post) dead birds. Call me crazy but I think it's important to take a minute for them, and also to reflect on our impact on the environment. This sighting is particularly unsettling...I love all birds, but to see a pileated, an absolutely majestic bird, is extremely sad. Of course lots of birds we find have died of natural causes, but this one, along the roadside, was more than likely on a collision course with a vehicle :(

We figured it would be a good idea to sign up for one of the guided hikes since it's a new area and this would be a good starting point for us. That meant getting up super bright and early since we were staying with one of my uni room mates in Windsor, over an hour from the park.

Sightings board in the visitor centre

Alvan was our tour leader, whose blog I just found. He was pretty young guy, so it was pretty inspiring to see another younger person so knowledgeable and passionate about birdies. In fact, I saw lots of other young people birding, which was nice, since I don't see much of that around here. (*sigh of relief; I'm not alone*) The highlight of the walk for me was seeing an eastern screech owl that I would not have found otherwise. Our leader set the scope on it (a nice Swarovski...if I didn't have scope envy before, I sure do now!). I recalled the birdchick's digiscoping skills so I tried getting a shot through the eyepiece with my iphone. Not the best shot, but at least documentary, and it has kind of a neat effect.

#221: Eastern Screech Owl (Rufous morph); Point Pelee National Park; May 20, 2012
Then I remembered I could do this with my point and shoot and tried again...a little better! What a beauty. What a beauty. What a beauty. Neither of these pictures communicate how gorgeous this bird is, nor could any words I could write.
Then I joked that I was going to wear my owl earrings in honour of this sighting. And I will!

After our walk we headed down to check out the tip. It's definitely a cool spot. A scissor-tailed flycatcher had been reported earlier in the morning but we didn't see it. There was an interesting combination of die-hard birders and very-obviously-not-birders. I even heard some people say, "Yeah, it must be like, Birdwatcher's Day or something," LOL.

nice catch!

Around noon we decided to take a break and headed to Kingsville for lunch at Jack's (yum!!) and a little winery visit. A little refreshed (but let's be honest...still exhausted!), we headed back for the afternoon. It was a lot quieter than I had expected it to be...I was expecting a lot more warblers. The majority of warblers were yellow warblers, but some others were spotted as well. There were more Baltimore orioles than I've ever seen before, along with orchard orioles, which was nice, since we don't have those in Ottawa.
Pretty good looks at an Eastern Towhee
Since it was a little quieter on the bird front, we did get to enjoy some of the wildflowers and other living things of the park. There was a wildflower walk happening that I was really interested in, but we thought our time was maybe better spent birding...wildflowers could wait until migration is over. 
Canadian columbine

The quiet afternoon was more than compensated for when we arrived at the part of the trail that is known to be home to a pair of prothonotary warblers, which are endangered in Canada (although they are found in the U.S. as well). We got lucky--it was present and visible as we arrived--nonchalantly preening on a branch in front of us, offering great looks. Another birder from Ottawa just happened to be there as well.

#222: Prothonotary Warbler; Point Pelee National Park; May 20, 2012

showing off those undertail coverts!
As we made our way back to the visitor centre from the prothonotary area, we heard a crying coming from leafy green overgrowth...then this to-die-for little head pops out. Seems as though someone had lost momma. poor little thing; I felt bad but Matt assured me that things would most likely sort themselves out.
cuteness overload!
I think it was somewhere around this point that we both started feeling that extreme fatigue that every birder knows--the kind of fatigue that comes from getting up at the crack of down, being on your feet since then in the relentless sun, lugging around heavy equipment, craning your neck all day. I'm starting to think that when I request a referral from my doctor for massages I should just tell her it's because I'm a birder--I won't even bother mentioning the sitting at a desk every day part. Then something, just a little something perked me up enough to get me going again...a sweet little red admiral. Of course we'd seen tons of them all day but this one was feeling particularly sociable.
Three things going on here--a butterfly on my boob, the birding festival lapel pin on my bag which Matt felt compelled to buy from the gift shop for $10 for "good luck"  because it had a prothonotary warbler on it (hey, it worked!) and the bird necklace from Nadia (cuz I'm so bird-crazy my buds have started buying me bird gifts) :)
Matt taking a picture of me taking a picture of the red admiral

Fairly exhausted, we decided to call it a day. We pondered the thought of coming back for park opening the next morning on the way home, as we felt we had missed a few key birds, and hoped it might be a more productive day. However, I doubted it would be much different without any change in the weather. As we headed out of the park, I wanted to stop and get a shot of how lush a lot of the park is, with vines growing up all the trees in a way that it just doesn't do around here in Ottawa.

Matt wandered off down a little path and called me over to check out the beach. I don't know how but I did notice some birds....and...DANG....they were cuckoos!! I felt an immense sense of joy and the thought of coming back first thing in the morning the next day was long gone!

#223: Black-billed cuckoo; Point Pelee National Park; May 20, 2012

nice beach at Pelee--calm and quiet at the end of the day
It was a short trip...next time I would really like to have more time, but given the various limitations we couldn't stay any longer. I'd like to have a least a few days in the park, and also visit the island, and generally just take my time. Sigh, I always get sucked into these whirlwind trips! Anyways, I still consider myself lucky to have been able to go :)
headin' home

Friday, May 18, 2012

#220: Gotcha! (magpie-crow)

I realize that everyone else is going warbler-wild right now, but I have a couple of other birds of personal note this week. I haven't had much time to dedicate solely to birding in the last few weeks but I did spot my first rose-breasted grosbeak and American redstart of the year (I'm probably a little behind!). On the way home from my Pathfinders' camp, Matt spotted this beautiful hawk on the roadside wire. It let us get pretty close! I'm sure I've posted sharp-shinned hawks before, but it looks like I never counted one. This one seems to be a juvenile, and while the legs look pretty thick, I think it's pretty clear by the barring that it's a sharp-shinned.

UPDATE: What would I do without my readers? Robert @ Field of View kindly corrected my mistake. Now it makes sense why the legs are so thick!

#120: Sharp-shinned hawk Broad-Winged Hawk; near Christie Lake, Ontario; May 13, 2012



Some helpful sharp-shinned/cooper identification tips:
    (I'm silly)
Now, here's something I'm pretty excited about. I've had this guy on my radar for a while now, and have been out looking for him a few times this week. The first time I saw it was quite a while ago while out geocaching on lunch...I saw a bird that looked a heck of a lot like a magpie. Of course this makes no sense, since we don't have magpies here, but the white on the wings so clearly looked like a magpie that I was confused.

Then my IT guy at work who knows I'm into birds mentioned a bird he saw that looked like a magpie too, in the same area that I had seen it, so this was getting pretty interesting. The plot thickens...

Then, a few weeks ago I was waiting for someone to pick me up in that area, and I was standing on the corner (haha ok stop laughing), and what do you know, I look up and that bird is sitting about 10 feet away from me, and I can clearly see that it's a crow! It just happens to be partially leucistic symmetrically on both wings in the same spots that magpies have white. Mystery solved! As it turns out (and as I learned recently, here), it's quite common for birds in the blackbird family to have leucism or partial leucism, i.e. feathers with no pigment. It's funny, I also saw a grackle last weekend with one white tail feather.

Now, as you can guess, up to this point, I hadn't had a camera with me to shoot this unique bird (go figure), and so the search began for this clever crow that disguised itself as a magpie.

WANTED: American crow masquerading as a magpie!
This meant carting in The Beast to work, hoping that I would spot it. And we all know what that means--the more effort I go to spotting a bird and the more prepared I am, the less likely I am to see it. Let's add that, for maybe the first time, I wasn't just looking for a kind of bird, but one specific individual. Now that's upping the ante. Lucky for me, this bird is pretty well established at a pretty specific location! Yay for creatures of habit and predictable beahaviour!

My first attempt was after work earlier this week. I got off the bus on the way home and checked the spots I had seen it before--nada. Then I stopped by again today after another coworker mentioned that she had seen it recently too at another nearby location, so I started there today. I got off the bus, heard crows, and followed. Never before have I been so tuned into the sounds of crows! I watched the Nature of Things episode on crows (fascinating! check it out...there's lots of interesting stuff on how they communicate, and it's David Suzuki and how can you not love him?) and I really tuned in, not just to where the sound was coming from, but listening for others that might be responding. Within only a minute or two I found my target! It was flying right in front of me but...drats...my camera was still in the bag. Quickly and clumsily I put the book I was carrying away and got the camera out--the bird flew off nearby and I followed. It perched up on a lamp post and I got some good looks while it sat there, but you can't really see the full effect of the white wings. 
 So lucky for me it spread them out, and then took off. I followed. (repeat x 3).
  Oh, come on, how could I not?....interlude!!

I still didn't get the flight shot I was hoping for, but this pic gives you a good idea:
crow, not magpie!

Here's a magpie in flight for comparison. Obviously it has the epaulettes in white (and also white on its stomach), but strikingly similar right?
Magpie, not crow. (also not my shot)
Funny thing is a young couple saw me beside the road with my camera and did a u-turn and got out with their camera too to come check it out. The girl asked me what it was, and they thought it was pretty cool too. Then, I'm pretty sure one of the peregrines flew over being mobbed, and a heron flew over too. Downtown birding not so bad eh? If anyone is interested in having a look, it is usually in the Lebreton Flats bus stop area--either in the sort of abandoned parking lot by the empress, or by the one-story building by the condos on the way to the bridge.

In other news, I'm happy to say that I'll be making my first pilgrimage to Pelee this weekend, which is kind of a big deal for me. Stay tuned...I have a feeling there will be some meaty posts coming up!