Thursday, December 21, 2017

45th Tobermory Christmas Bird Count (Dec 29 update)

A record high!
Date: Dec 20, 2017.

Participants: 40.

Weather: Temps: -5.3º C to 0.3º C. Wind: NW, 27.4 km/h to 59.5 km/h. Mixed sun and clouds. No precipitation. [Data from Bill Caulfeild-Browne's Tobermory weather station, thanks Bill!]

Total Species: 41 (average=40). Additional Count Week species seen (so far) include: Green-winged Teal, one near Cape Hurd.

Total individuals: 1108 (average=1646).

Counting forest birds at Emmett Lake, BPNP. Photo: Martha Allen.

Noteworthy Highs, Lows and Misses:

Wild Turkey: 29. Record high. Wild Turkey was first detected on the Tobermory count in 2008 and the growing numbers on the Peninsula reflect an ongoing increase throughout the Great Lakes area over the past decade.

Eastern Screech-Owl: 4. Tied for the second highest count (four were also detected in 2012). In 2013, seven were recorded (average=0.7).

Red-breasted Nuthatch: 155. A record high (average=41).

Common Raven: 13. Lowest count since 1975 when six were recorded (average=58).

Great Black-backed Gull: 0. This marks only the second time in 17 years that the species was absent from the count (average=4).
Common Goldeneye. A staple of the Tobermory CBC.

Summary: Individual birds were scarce although the species total (41) was close to the 45 year average and up from last year's tally (36). You may recall that extreme winter weather last year made for tough birding conditions on count day.

The low totals for Common Raven and Herring Gull may reflect changes in how our municipal waste is managed at the St. Edmunds Landfill site. While I have no direct knowledge of how things are done at our dump, many landfills have recently adopted the practice of compacting and covering freshly dumped waste at the close of each working day. Not surprisingly, such sites are far less attractive to scavenging birds. We'll watch for this in the coming years.

Once again thanks to all who contributed to a fun and successful day.

Trivia: Only seven species have been recorded on every Tobermory CBC conducted since 1973. They are: Common Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mystery bird quiz - a confusing late summer warbler?

This was one of three very recently fledged birdlings begging for food at my campsite at White Lake Provincial Park yesterday, Aug 22, 2017. 'Quite surprising to see baby warblers at this late date - there's a frost warning tonight! Any guesses as to the ID of this smudgy specimen? Answer to follow.

...and the answer

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Ruff in Chatsworth! [updated Apr. 24]

Yesterday, in miserable weather, Jarmo Jalava spotted a spiffy looking calico coloured Ruff hanging out with Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs along the Grey-Bruce County line. He wasted no time getting the word out and by early morning today birders from all over southern Ontario mingled with us local types at the roadside, enjoying distant scope views. Even from afar, the bird was a stunner.

Later I was fortunate to find the bird much closer to the (busy) roadway, allowing for some acceptable record pics and video.

Ruff, the gaudy male especially, is the most frequently documented euro-shorebird in Ontario. Lynne Richardson from the Grey-Bruce Bird Records Committee filled me in on past occurrences in our area. Thanks Lynne.
  • Sept 25 1949, Meaford, Lloyd Beamer; 
  • Apr 27 1972, Amabel, John Miles, Tom Murray; 
  • May 22-23 1988, Wiarton Sewage Lagoon, Joe Johnson; 
  • May 28 1988, Purple Valley, G Shemilt.

Did this bird just arrive from Muskegon Co., Michigan, some 420 km WSW of Chatsworth? Between April 4th and 18th a very similarly coloured Ruff was observed there. Excellent photos of the MI bird can be seen here and here. Given how much Ruffs vary in their ruffage - displaying myriad combinations of red, white and black - the similarities are striking. What do you think?

What an awesome find by Jarmo! Hopefully more birders will get out to see it, in full sunlight, this weekend. 

[Located at: 44.431648, -81.099859. Google Map. ]

[April 24th update: The bird continues to be seen each day although with the fields quickly drying, I suspect the Ruff will soon move on, as have most of the Greater Yellowlegs seen over the weekend. Today, the Ruff fed with a mixed yellowlegs flock, north of Sideroad 1. Before I left at 3:30 pm, the Ruff/yellowlegs flock flew to the creek edge and fed among American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Canada Goose.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

An unexpected goldeneye in Lion's Head.

My drive to town this afternoon wasn't much fun. As happened through much of southern Ontario, the road conditions deteriorated quickly with the arrival of freezing rain and dropping temperatures. I stopped several times to clear ice from my side view mirrors and wiper arms. My plan was to pick up some provisions and head home before the highway became impassable. I passed a freshly ditched pick-up.

My typical winter milk run through Lion's Head takes about twenty minutes and ends with a grocery stop at Foodland followed by a quick scan of the sheltered harbour. Some interesting ducks hung out here over Christmas and a few years ago Bob and Ann-Marie Taylor encountered a Common Eider, a Bruce County first. With its excellent lines of sight from the public beach and marina, the harbour can be thoroughly searched in only a few minutes.

Given today's crappy weather, I very nearly decided to skip the usual pause at the harbour. I'm glad I didn't. There were no oddities among the 90 or so Herring Gulls, but accompanying the handful of the usual Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes was a very fine looking male Barrow's Goldeneye! These photos are the best I could do given the rain, wind, surface chop and frequent dives by the duck.

Small numbers of Barrow's Goldeneye show up each year in Ontario, most reliably in the Ottawa area. There have been far fewer sightings on the upper Great Lakes. The most recent observations for Bruce County, as recorded in eBird, were in 1979 and 1981.

Common Goldeneye, a few anyway, find the Lion's Head Harbour pretty hospitable and I suspect the Barrow's Goldeneye will stick around for a while. I'll post an update should there be more sightings in the coming days.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fowl highlights from CBC season on the Bruce Peninsula

Winter so far has offered a few goodies for the many birders who ventured out on any of the five Christmas Bird counts on the Bruce Peninsula. A highlight for me was this lovely male Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser hybrid found at the the Sauble River mouth by Jarmo Jalava on the December 22nd Wiarton CBC. What a beauty! Needless to say, this was a count first and indeed the first such county record in eBird.
January 1, 2017.
January 1, 2017.
There have been other noteworthy ducks. An immature male King Eider, a species uncommonly seen on the upper Great Lakes, was first reported by Andrew Keaveney on New Year's eve day. It's been present at the Sauble River mouth for several weeks although it can be tough to observe in a big swell.
January 1, 2016.
January 3, 2017.
January 3, 2017.
The Bruce Peninsula National Park CBC, held on December 14, may be remembered by most for the punishing winds and blinding squalls. Two waterfowl species - a Green-winged Teal hunkered down in the Crane River and a flock of Tundra Swans flying south over Tobermory - were count firsts.

Tundra and Trumpeter Swans typically don't overwinter on the Bruce Peninsula. A mixed trio, again at the Sauble River mouth, has provided a great opportunity to compare the two species.
January 3, 2017.
January 3, 2017.
January 3, 2017.
The town of Lion's Head, which falls just outside of the recently inaugurated Pike Bay and Cape Chin CBC circles, has hosted a confiding Ruddy Duck since December 23rd,  providing a first winter record for the Bruce Peninsula.
December 23, 2016.

December 30, 2016
Northern Pintail have been reported from scattered locations.
January 1, 2017.
Somewhat surprisingly, the species richness in waterfowl hasn't been matched by an increased abundance. For example, the two Common Goldeneye reported on the Bruce Peninsula CBC was a record low for this long-standing count.

No doubt, some good winter birding remains for those with a set of snow tires and the gumption to trudge through a squall or two!
December 14, 2016.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mountain Bluebird and other notes from the field ♩ ♬ ♪

Late October through mid-November is, of course, prime time for vagrant birds around the Great Lakes. With this in mind I pulled over to check out an interesting looking songbird perched beside Dyer’s Bay Road midday on Tuesday (Nov. 8th). Was it a sparrow? A late Eastern Phoebe? I raised my bins and found myself looking at the familiar face of a Mountain Bluebird. Sweet!

It sallied out over the pasture, hovered for  a very long time, and plunged into the grass before perching on a stem with its sky blue back towards me. I fumbled for my camera and managed to take a few blurry shots before it took flight and disappeared from sight across the pasture. Three times I scanned the distant field edge but the bird was gone, gone and gone. Crap!

But I'd seen it well so I took few minutes to jot down some notes from the too brief encounter - lat. & long., thin black bill, long primary projection, hovering flight - and alerted the local birders. As I readied to continue towards Cabot Head, I saw that something bluebird-like had materialized atop an apple tree on the other side of the road, only 20 metres or so from the car. It was back!

For the next twenty minutes the Mountain Bluebird hunted for insects over the pasture, returning time and again to the apple tree, seemingly unconcerned about me. I took a series of backlit photos. Perhaps these can be improved with some more processing.

If accepted by the Ontario Bird Records Committee, this will be the third Bruce County record of the species. The others were both seen in December, in Wiarton, in 1979 and 1999.

Here's my eBird checklist:

Since that November 8th sighting, I and others have not been able to relocate the bird.

The MOBL wasn’t the only memorable bird I’d seen along Dyer’s Bay Road this week. On Saturday morning (November 5th) a Golden Eagle (not especially rare here) allowed uncommonly good looks as it perched over farm field.

Some other nice birds have popped up in the neighbourhood. On October 27th friends invited me to see a Tufted Titmouse visiting their backyard feeder in Tobermory. They were thrilled and so was I!

Courtesy of Don Wilkes

Two more have been seen recently in Kincardine at the south end of Bruce County, all part of a minor irruption of the species into southern Ontario this fall.

I wonder what’s next?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Woodpeckers vs Hydro One in Tobermory

On June 23rd Bob Tulk and his Hydro One crew, based in Lion’s Head, arrived in Johnson’s Harbour to complete the installation of a new utility pole. The old wooden pole had been damaged by fire and, some time in the past, woodpeckers had excavated two large cavities close to the insulators.

The work proceeded quickly. The new unit, of woodpecker-resistant composite material, was set upright in the recently prepared cribbing. But, as Bob’s crew prepared to transfer the transmission wires, a large adult Pileated Woodpecker swooped low over the truck and landed below one of the cavities. On cue, three hungry, red-crested, half-grown chicks stuck their heads out into the daylight, begging for food.

What to do? There are some rules that address such conflicts. Woodpeckers and other native birds are offered protection under both federal and provincial statutes. Nesting activities get special mention under the Migratory Birds Convention Act and interrupting them violates the act, even if done incidentally. There are, however, exemptions from these protections when bird activities threaten our safety (think airport runways) or infrastructure.

I don’t know how such laws and policies guide Hydro One’s response to opportunistic woodpeckers but I suspect that field technicians can exercise a measure of discretion. In this case, Bob directed his crew to remove only the uppermost section of the wooden pole, leaving the nest cavity intact. He told me they’d return in a few weeks, after the young birds had fledged, to complete the job.

Later in the afternoon I observed and photographed the woodpeckers. The parents fed the brood every ten minutes or so and all seemed unaffected by the recent human activity so close to their nest.

Hardened utility poles of composite construction are still the exception in our neighbourhood, and so, should these young birds survive into the 2017 breeding season, they’ll find a good selection of accommodating, old-style wooden hydro poles to choose from.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lunch(es) at Cabot Head

After dipping on a Townsend's Solitaire observed at the BPBO this a.m., I headed over to the nearby Cabot Head light to eat my lunch (salmon salad on a bagel). What a relaxing scene. No people, scores of Turkey Vultures kettled overhead and the gorgeous blues and greens of Georgian Bay spread out beyond.

As noted in my last post, lingering winter weather on the Bruce Peninsula has made life tough for migrants. Today, the lighthouse attracted swarms of sluggish cluster flies which in turn attracted insectivorous birds including a Brown Creeper, four Eastern Phoebes and five (!) first-of-season-for-me Pine Warblers.

Bring on the warblers!