May 2, 2022
Beak Seekers Update
The Beak Seekers are participating in the 2022 Great Canadian Birdathon which is a national event to help raise funds for bird conservation in Canada. A portion of the funds raised by our team will also be directed to the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO). All funds directed to OFO through the Great Canadian Birdathon will be dedicated to their Young Birders Program. For more information, please visit their website at OFO.ca. We have received a lot of help from Ontario young birders this year and we would like to give something back in return.
We have chosen the 3 days we are birding at Point Pelee (May 8-11) to do our Birdathon. The Beak Seekers will be making an extra push to find as many bird species as possible with a lofty goal of 100 different birds.
If you would like to help us support this worthy cause, please visit our Team Page at Birds Canada:
(Donations will be accepted until the end of the year.)
To see the results of our Birdathon, follow our Big Year progress, and see our photos please visit our websites:
Thank you for your support!
Susan and Diane
Diane’s Update April 25, 2022
So it has been awhile since I last updated my blog. It has been a pretty busy month. Lots of rare birds to ‘Twitch’ (chase), which has been exciting. And now the spring migrants are arriving. So the Big Time of the Big Year is here!
On March 13th, I joined an OFO (Ontario Field Ornithologists Field trip at Long Point. It was great fun, meeting some new people and learning of new birding hotspots. I also lucked out and saw my first American Woodcock of the year. Tick #141!
For the next week Susan and I birded closer to home. It was a slow stretch for new birds. Only a couple new ones.
Then we heard about an Eurasian Wigeon at Hillman Marsh (near Point Pelee) on the 20th, so we jumped in the Subaru and headed over. When we arrived, and were heading into the shorebird cell to see if we could see it, someone was heading out, and said all the ducks just flew! We scoped anyway but were skunked today.
On the 21st we headed back to Hillman Marsh as it was still being reported. If at first you don’t succeed….! We arrived earlier today. As we were heading to the shorebird cell, the sky erupted with ducks! We still tried scoping for awhile hoping maybe our Wigeon had stayed behind. No luck. I did get a new bird for my list though – a Blue-winged Teal. Tick #144
We continued on and headed to Shrewsbury to try for the Eurasian-collared Dove that has been seen there regularly. Susan had tried already a few times with no luck, and this time was no different. Dang!
But then we got a call from Steve Charbonneau – he had a Eurasian Wigeon at Rondeau – in his scope now! We were only 20 minutes away, so we Zoomed there. He waited for us and kept it in his scope – following it until we arrived! Woohoo! Thank you Steve! It would have been pretty hard for us to find this one duck in the midst of hundreds of other ducks since neither one of us have seen it before! We finally got our bird plus we did get it in our scope too, and took a couple photos. And no sooner had we done that, the whole works flew! Whew!
Tick #145 for me!
But wait! Steve called again, saying the Eurasian-collared Dove was perched and singing on the church steeple in Shrewsbury! So off we zoomed again. Of course it flew before we had a good look at it to confirm. But we spent some time searching and were able to re-find it!
We then hiked in Rondeau provincial park and got our first Warbler of the year – Yellow-rumped.
On the 24th we did a road trip to Toronto area birding hotspots. We tried again to find the Fish Crow – but it wasn’t in the cards again. But a Red-necked Grebe and a Horned Grebe were added to our list! Ticks # 148/149
An Osprey and Eastern Phoebe closed out the month of March with ticks #150 and 151.
On April 3rd I joined and OFO field trip at Point Pelee. Another great trip, with new and familiar faces. 3 more birds got added to the list. But at the last stop – Hillman Marsh, I came down from a viewing platform, and felt a sudden pain in my knee. It had been feeling a little achey for a couple of weeks but nothing that felt serious – and being that we were out walking every day, and changing from rubber to winter to hiking boots, it was kind of expected. But now it was feeling more serious, and I was hobbling by the time made it back to my car. I headed home. At an EnRoute stop on the way, I knew I was in trouble as I could hardly walk. And by the time I made it home… well I was pretty scared what might be wrong. The swelling was increasing. My friend brought me over a cane and ice packs. The next morning I called the doctor and was able to get an appointment for 4:30pm.
I was thinking maybe a bad sprain? A friend mentioned maybe a torn meniscus? Well the doctor did an assessment, and as she entered her info into the computer, she started talking about knee replacement and possible surgery for what may be a torn meniscus! What the….! I countered her, saying how could I possibly need a knee replacement – I had not been having any pain before this! And i walk a lot! She shrugged and said we will see what the X-ray and MRI says. I asked if this would possibly heal on its own. She shook her head. I asked her if this pain will lessen without surgery, and again she shook her head.
I walked (hobbled) out of there in a state of shock. Stopped for an x-ray on the way home. When I finally got home, I realized what this really meant. There goes my Big Year fun. The road trips we were looking forward to would be off the table for me. Hell, Birding would be off the table for me. And not being able to walk – well, I was pretty devastated.
And now I had to tell Susan – my Big Year Buddy – the bad news. That was hard. We were having so much fun together.
I had been going to physio for shoulder issues, so asked for a longer appointment on the Wednesday, to see what I could possibly do to improve my situation. By Wednesday, I wasn’t feeling in as much pain – but still not able to walk without a cane. At my appointment, Andrew calmed me down, and said this should not be a problem! After a full assessment, he told me there is a good possibility that in 4-6 weeks I should be much better and able to walk confidently. I would wear a brace to support my knee, and had to be careful not to twist it. I was assigned a number of exercises to do.
What a difference of diagnosis!
I did however have to miss out on an Ottawa trip with Susan and Jim. They were leaving on the 7th, but I did some birding by car to make sure I could carry on with the Big Year! I did miss out on a couple of good birds in Burlington, as they were not there when I was finally able to drive there. But I finally got the dang Fish Crow! Tick 158
On April 12th, another rare bird showed up in Ontario. This time it was in our own back yard – Komoka Provincial Park! A Black-necked stilt! I was car birding along the shores of Kettle Point but hurried there, hoping it wouldn’t fly before I got there. When I arrived, a few of the local birding folk were there with binoculars and scopes focused across the pond. I was lucky enough to catch a really nice view through Bill Lindley’s scope. Bill was kind enough to keep it in his scope most of the day so those coming from all around would be able to see it. Thanks so much Bill! I did manage to capture an identifiable photo. Tick # 159!
On April 14th i decided to drive to hillman marsh, sit on the bench there at the shorebird cell. It turned out to be a good day. 6 new birds there – Caspian Tern, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Black-bellied Plover. And a Great Egret on the back road home. Ticks# 161-167!
April 16th I took a road trip to Long Point. A Lark Sparrow was being seen and was not a usual visitor in Ontario. I walked the area it was seen for 1 ½ hours with no luck. I then headed over to Old Cut Bird Banding station and walked around the trails there. No new ones there, so I headed back to the search the area for the Lark Sparrow again. A number of birders were also walking the area. Finally someone spotted it and put out the word to the rest of us. Another great bird! While we were celebrating, someone called out – Eurasian Tree Sparrow! An even more rare bird was there among the other sparrows! When I got home I realized I had a photo of it before it was identified! Two Ticks #168 and #169!
Found a Pine Warbler at the Pinery on the 20th - #170.
It has been 4 weeks since I hurt my knee. I continue to wear the brace and do my exercises and physio, and I am happy to report, I am walking fine! The Big Year is still on for me!
On April 22nd I joined Susan and Jim, and we were off to Wiarton to join another OFO field trip led by Martin and Kathy Parker on the Bruce Peninsula. It was a great few days. On our way there we stopped at Wasaga Beach and we were so lucky to see a Piping Plover! #171!
Over the next two days I bagged 6 new birds for my list! A Wilson’s Snip, Brewers Blackbird, Barn Swallow, Palm Warbler and a Broad-winged Hawk. But the winner of the big prize was a Western Tanager! Another rare visitor! Special thanks to Sean and his son Deklan for welcoming us onto their property to see the Tanager that was frequenting their feeder! Ticks now at #178!
To be continued!
Update March 12, 2022
On March 8th we left Ottawa, and about 3pm arrived in Algonquin. We headed up Opeongo Road first, as there had been a sighting for a Boreal Chickadee there. We drove to the gate (The rest of the road is closed in winter), parked and spent a bit of time in the small parking lot there. No luck on the Boreal, but there were Black-capped Chickadees, and lots of Blue Jays. A bird was making the strangest of sounds, and it took us awhile to realize it was a Blue Jay! It was different then any sound any of us had heard before.
There was also a possibility of a Spruce Grouse here, but alas, no show. We walked past the gate and up the road for a couple kilometres. It was a beautiful day, with sunshine, blue sky and the snow from the night before had coated the trees.
As we walked along, 3 Canada Jays started following us, hoping for handouts, I am sure. They posed nicely for photos as we went. We checked the marsh area hoping to see the otters that are often seen in the area, but there was very little open water there for them to pop up. On the way back we came across some small flocks of Common Redpolls. A few of them posed for a photo, which we appreciated. Then on to Spruce Bog trail with hopes of finding a Spruce Grouse. We met another photographer who told us there was a grouse up in the tree ahead. We hurried along and managed to find it! But when we looked closely, we had a feeling it might be a Ruffed Grouse – a bird we already had for our list. We were very excited at first but then felt a little let down when we thought the markings were not right. Oh well, we couldn’t complain as we had an amazing stretch of good birds this trip.
We made a stop at the Visitor Centre and checked the feeders out back. Purple finch, pine siskin, pine grosbeak, common redpoll, chickadees and jays and a few others were flitting around and offered some nice shooting.
We had booked a place in Huntsville for the night, and were going out for a Birthday dinner, so we headed off. When we arrived, we looked through our shots while enjoying a little wine and cheese. We debated whether we might have seen a Spruce Grouse. We quick sent off a photo to our friend Quinten in Algonquin. Almost immediately he responded with a positive ID of a Spruce Grouse! Woohoo!! Tick 137!
We had a fun time at dinner, and I have to say it was a Great Birthday Day!
On the way home the next day, we decided we would try again for the Harlequin Duck at Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto. We walked along the water scanning as we went. This time luck was on our side again, as we caught sight of him in our bins. Tick 138!
We all had a nice look at him through the scope, took several distant photos and headed on home.
It was an amazing trip with lots of additions to our Big Year List, and more fun adventures together.
March 11th, Susan and I decided we would head to Sarnia in hopes of finding a Cackling Goose for me, and a Ross’s goose for both our lists. It was another cold and windy day. As we drove along highway 22 towards Sarnia, we saw a few small birds on the shoulder of the road. They flew off of course, but we pulled over to watch and see if they would come back. They were Horned Larks, and as is their habit, they flew right back again. We searched through the small flock with our bins, and almost at the same time, we called out “there is a different bird there!” of course before you can get enough of a look to see the markings and make a positive id of the bird – off they flew again, and again. But eventually they settled for just long enough for us to see it was a Lapland Longspur! In fact, two of them! Susan managed a quick shot through the windshield to confirm! Tick 139! We found this bird sighting pretty funny. We have driven numerous backroads on numerous occasions looking for the Lapland Longspur. They often hang around with Horned Larks and Snow Buntings, and you usually see these flocks on gravel roads, where they are feeding along the shoulders, on the road and in the adjacent corn fields. To find them unexpectedly on Highway 22 was quite the surprise!
We then headed for the Hiawatha Horse racing site in Sarnia. In the centre of the track, there is a small pond, and that is where both the Ross’s Goose and Cackling goose had been reported the previous days. We arrived and climbed the hill to see into the pond….6 Canada Geese and 2 Mallards. Dang!
On to our next option. A cackling goose had been seen at a golf course in Sarnia. We arrived in the parking lot to see chain link fencing surrounding the area. Looking through the fence we could see several Canada geese. I started scanning through the ones I could see, hoping to get lucky. But it is trick finding a Cackling goose among Canada Geese. You see they look almost the same except smaller and with a stubby beak.
So scanning and looking at each one to check for the differences. After maybe 10 minutes, I was inspecting a couple geese which I determined were Canada when. A little head popped up in between them from behind a hill. Then popped right back down again. I could have sworn it had a stubby beak! But I had to wait awhile longer to see it pop up again. This time I had my camera focused on the spot, and when it popped up, I let off a stream of shots and Bingo! Tick 140!
Update March 9, 2022
Well it has been a month, since the last update, and we have been continuing our journey. From February 7th to 18th, we spent most of our time around home, birding locally in our parks and on our trails.
We were pretty excited, achieving our first milestone of 100 species by February 1st. But then things slowed right down, and it was a bit of a slog trying to add new birds to our list. February is like that in many ways. Winter has started to take its toll on everyone. The many layers of clothes you have to wear to stay warm when you venture outdoors is tiresome! And the birds have not started to make their way north. We have enjoyed getting out and exploring new and familiar trails, and we always keep looking, but it has been slow.
So when we hear of a new or rare bird, we are on the move! That is what happened on February 19th, when we heard about a Townsend Solitaire in Washago Ontario. Cameras and gear got loaded in the Subaru, and we hit the road .
It was a little iffy on the 401 that day, as there was only one lane cleared from the previous nights snow. But traffic was moving steady and everything else was looking good. Then onto the 407 and all lanes clear and it was smooth sailing. That is until the traffic was starting to back up, and everyone was slowing down. It was a few kilometres until we saw the problem, a row of snowplows stretched across all lanes! I guess that is why the road was in such good shape!
Luckily for us, we had only a few kms left until our exit onto hwy 11. As we scooted along the weather started to deteriorate. And then we were into the snow-squalls and white-out conditions. Not much fun. We were worried, that when we finally arrived, we would not even be able to see the bird!
After close to 6 hours, we made it to the location in Washago, and John Challis, on whose property the bird had been hanging around, greeted us with good news that he had just seen the bird. We got on all our winter gear, and proceeded to stand and wait for it to return to one of the crabapple trees in his back yard. It was blessed cold and the wind was whipping around us. We figured we had a bit of a wait, so we pulled the neck-gaters up over our noses and our toques down to our eyes and hunkered down. Thankfully we only had to wait 5 minutes, and in it flew! It posed in the tree closest to us allowing us time to photograph and enjoy the moment!
It was a quick turnaround then, and we made our way back to the highway and towards home. We were not as fortunate with our drive home, and the visibility was near zero during the many squalls we went through, but with hazards flashing, we made it home before dark - safe and sound! And we got the bird! Whew! Bird #123 for me!
The rest of February and early March was slow again for new birds. But we still checked our local trails and hot-spots, getting out every day. We made a few trips out of town to Burlington and Oakville. A trip to Long Point, and Erieau areas, and a few Sarnia runs too. We added American Wigeon, Wood Duck, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Kildeer, Cowbird, Grackle and Virginia Rail to our lists. By March 4th I was at 131 birds!
Then March 5th we were off to Ottawa again, hoping to find the birds we were unable to get on our February trip. On our way we made a stop at Humber Bay in Toronto, where a juvenile male King Eider duck was reported. It was a bit of a complicated hike to the point, and very icy, but we finally got to the there safely, and were very happy to see he was still there! And we got a few decent photos too as he was very close to shore! (One day I hope to see an adult Male King Eider – the colours and markings are amazing!) Here we met Mark from Ottawa, who also knew the folks we were going to meet up with in Ottawa! Small Birding World! Tick 132!
Next we were headed to another location in Toronto - Marilyn Bell Park - to see if we could find a juvenile male Harlequin Duck that had been reported there. Unfortunately we had no luck, so back on the road to the Capital!
We arrived late afternoon in Ottawa and arranged to meet up with friends Angela and Jeff Skevington for a hike to a local hotspot. It was a little colder here, with deeper snow and an icy crust on the top making the trek a little more difficult – breaking through every second or third step. But we made it to the area we had aimed for and scouted around, listening and looking for new birds. After about an hour and a half with no success, and with the light seriously fading from the sky, we decided to head back to our cars and head to a Dining Hotspot! Going out for dinner! What a novelty! It has been awhile since I have enjoyed going out to a restaurant!
The place the Skevington’s chose was amazing - La Roma- an Italian restaurant on Preston St. The meal and the wine were spectacular, and the company was wonderful! We had a great evening.
The next morning March 6th, we woke to and icy mess. The previous night freezing rain had coated everything. The trails were pretty treacherous, so we put our crampons on our boots. The freezing rain turned to rain now, so we covered our cameras and ourselves in raincoats and headed out.
We took the Rideau River Pathway near Hurdman Bridge looking for the Barrow’s Goldeneye Duck. We had come here last time, but everything was frozen and no open water for the ducks. Today there was more open water, and many more ducks, but alas the Barrows was not one of them.
We put a request out on Discord Ontario Birds, to see if anyone had seen one today, and if they would let us know if they did. We had an immediate response that there had been one seen on the river at Carleton Place in Centennial Park. So we headed there. The weather had changed dramatically, and now the sun was shining and it was 11 degrees! Perfectly balmy!
We headed along the trail by the river there, checking as we went. We could see a few ducks here and there, but not the Barrows. Then I looked again and a 3 ducks surfaced from a dive right beside us….and yes the Barrows was one of them, along with a male and a female Common Goldeneye. We did the Happy Dance and the high-fives! We also were able to get a few photos of the two together to show the difference in the markings. What a treat. So a Lifer and another Tick! 133
The rest of the day we spent driving backroads around areas where a few of our target birds had been seen and reported. We were hoping for Red Crossbills and Bohemian Waxwings. We saw lots of different birds, but had no luck with our goals.
Then as we were driving down one of the many roads, there was a yelp from the front seat! “That was a Barred Owl” – Susan cried! And sure enough, there on a wire – right on the side of the road – sat a beautiful Barred Owl! We had driven past, so up the road, we turned around, got windows open and cameras ready, and slowly drove back by it on the far side of the road. There were many oohs and ahhhs, AND clicks, as we passed with hopes for at least one sharp shot! We then left it be, and moved on. Tick 134!
We did see numerous flocks of waxwings flying overhead that day, but we could not determine if there were any Bohemian amongst them, or if they were just cedar waxwings. (Nothing wrong with cedar waxwings – they are beautiful – but we had those on our list already.) They both have a different song/call, and a slight difference in colour on the breast (yellow on the cedar and grey on the bohemian), and very different colour under the tail( cedar is white while bohemian is cinnamon brown), but it was too hard to see those markings when they fly by so fast. And I do not know my calls well enough yet, to be absolutely sure what I am hearing.
As the day was ending we decided to try different backroads looking for another owl. Tonight we lucked out and were able to catch a glimpse of a Great Gray Owl flying back into a field! A lifer for Susan (I had seen one once before in BC), and a big treat for both of us! Home for dinner, downloading pictures and of course a little wine to celebrate a good ‘3 Tick Day!’ Now at 135!
The next morning, Monday March 7th, we headed over to Britannia Ridge, one of our favourite spots in Ottawa, for a short birding hike. We did not see any new birds, but finally got a glimpse of an Eastern Screech Owl that frequents the area! We already had seen one in London earlier in the year, so not another tick, but a beautiful owl and a few nice pictures.
March 8th - Jeff was going to bird along the back-roads on his way to work, and we were off to join him. He has incredible skills at knowing the birds songs and calls, and their behaviour, and we learn so much birding with him! we did lots of driving but no luck on new birds today.
We repeated the back road runs we did yesterday with him. while he was confident of a few sightings of Bohemian Waxwing flocks, we could not just take his word for it and count the tick! So we listened and learned and hoped we would soon see/hear and be confident with our own sightings.We did see cedar waxwings, evening grosbeaks, lots of robins and was our last in Ottawa, and my Birthday! We packed everything up ready to head out of town. But first we
We decided on one last run of the backroads on our way out of town, for the bohemian waxwings. It was stunningly beautiful out! The night before had snowed, and the trees were coated with layers of white. And to add to the beauty, the sun came out and the sky was a bright blue! Such a pretty sight!
Again, we saw and heard numerous flocks with no confirming sightings. Unfortunately, it was time to hit the road. We kept our windows down and camera ready while we sadly drove to the highway. And then a flock of waxwings flew across the road in front of the car! Jim slammed on the brakes, Susan and I jumped out of the car. The flock had landed in a tree not too far from the road. Looking through all the branches we were able to confirm they were Bohemian Waxwings! OMG! So exciting and a wonderful Birthday Present! Tick 136 and a few pics too!
On to Algonquin – Very Happy Beak Seekers!
Update March 1, 2022
We saw 8 new birds in Algonquin’s bringing our list total to116 birds! Now it was on to Ottawa to hopefully add a few more!
It was about a 3 – 3.5 hour drive to Ottawa. As we managed to see the Black-backed Woodpecker much quicker than we had even hoped, we were on the road a little earlier. We were going to meet up with Jeff Skevington that evening to explore some new territory. Our plan was to drop our things off at our Air B&B, grab a bite to eat and then meet up. But when in contact with Jeff to make meeting arrangements, he mentioned an area on our drive, that might be worth birding for the Gray Partridge. Vincent Fyson had also sent us some information on where to look and what to look for in the way of tracks in the snow. (See photo of partridge tracks in Big Year 2022 Photo Gallery). So instead of heading straight to Ottawa, we started exploring the back roads in that area, looking for Gray Partridge tracks that would hopefully lead us to an actual partridge! We covered a good amount of area, up and down backroads, scanning the snow for the tracks and the birds. We did find some tracks, but alas no birds, and we realized we had better get on our way to our meeting point with Jeff and change our focus to searching for the some other birds.
We didn’t have time to drop off our things as planned, so once at our meeting place, we proceeded to dress in our many layers, hoping we would stay warm enough during our search. Jeff arrived shortly after and we headed off on foot, ears and eyes tuned for owls.
The day’s light was fading as we walked. We scanned trees and listened. And then….there at the top of a small fir tree, soaking up the last of the sun’s rays was……a Porcupine! Not at all what we were looking for, but a very nice surprise. He/she was snacking away on the branches and bark. We snapped a few frames and returned to our task at hand. The day turned into night, and yes the temperature dropped too! Jeff delighted us with his owl calls – “Who-Cooks-For-You”. He called and we listened, hoping for a response from the dark woods. Alas, no birds were feeling social, and eventually we had to pack it in for the night.
We made arrangements to meet Jeff at his place in the morning, and continue our search for other birds on our wish list.
Our home away from home was a very welcome sight. Hungry, cold and tired, we unloaded our car, threw a frozen lasagna in the oven, set out crackers and cheese, and of course, poured ourselves a well deserved glass of wine. (Ok - maybe two!)
We were off to bed shortly after dinner, and it seemed a moment later, we were back up again! Coffee, breakfast and lunches packed, we headed off to Jeff’s. As we pulled into his driveway, Susan received a text from Jeff. “Have you got a Hoary Redpoll for your list yet?” She texted back that we had not. And the next text from Jeff was “don’t slam the car door and come quietly to the front door!”
We felt excitement as we grabbed our cameras and bins and as we approached the house the door was opened and we were welcomed by Angela, Jeff’s wife. A quick greeting and we were sent to the back room of their home. Bird calls were playing through a speaker into the room, and a wall of windows looked out onto an amazing back yard!
We were awestruck at all the feeders and all the birds flitting around! Then Jeff pointed and said ‘there it is!’ And a Hoary Redpoll was right there! This was a lifer bird for all three of us! (A lifer is a bird you have never seen before) And this was a bird we did not hold high hopes of seeing this year either! What a way to start the day!
We were loving the bird calls Jeff had playing over the speakers as we watched all the bird activity in the yard. Purple finches, pine siskins, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, and more. We actually saw 14 different species in their back yard!
“I think I just heard a Pileated Woodpecker” said Jeff! We looked at him, and that is when we realized, the bird songs playing over the speakers into the room, were actually the sounds from the yard piped in! He had a baby monitor outside! And to Susan’s delight, the Pileated Woodpecker was right there! A new bird for her list. And we marvelled at being able to watch – and hear - the birds without disturbing them. We could have sat there all day, but we were on a mission, and we soon headed off to see what the rest of the day would bring.
Because of Covid, we decided we should take two vehicles. We would follow Jeff and then hike together when we arrived at the next location. First we headed off to a location where there ere known to be Red-headed woodpeckers. We walked up and down the roads in the area, searching the trees and watching for movement. Finally there it was! Tick!
After driving backroads for a while and no luck finding new birdsfor our list we decided to move on to another on our wish list - the Barrow’s Goldeneye Duck. This would be another lifer for us. The Barrow’s is very similar to the Common Goldeneye Duck, but instead of a small white circle on the face of the male, it is shaped like a white crescent. The sides of the male are also slightly different, with different black markings There were a few locations where this bird had been seen in the area. Unfortunately, because of the cold weather, all of the spots where there had been open water, were now frozen over. It was near 2pm so time to finally have lunch and warm up.
Next on the list was a Hawk Owl. Another lifer if we could see it. We followed Jeff to the next location. It was amazing as the owl was sitting tight on the top of the tree in clear view – and over a walking/biking trail! Lots of people were stopping to share the excitement.
So after getting our Tick and many pics, we were ready to start looking for our next target bird – the Gray Partridge. No sooner had we decided to head out, we received a call from Vincent Fyson. He had found a couple partridges on a backroad not too far away. We jumped in the car and headed to that location. We pulled up, saw the 2 partridges, stopped the car and started shooting. We had maybe 2 minutes before the birds flew off! So exciting! Another lifer! Tick!
The day was fading fast and we decided to try one last place for our Barrows Goldeneye, an area near the Champlain Bridge. It was the one place where there was open water and many common Goldeneyes were roosting there for the night, but they were all quite far from shore. The light was dimming and the weather was changing now too. The wind and blowing snow made it difficult to get clear views - even looking through the scope. So we could not determine if the “one” Barrow’s was among them, so we called it a day.
And what a great day it was! Thank you so much Jeff and Vincent!
The next morning we thought we would walk a favourite path before we left for home. We parked the car, donned the gear and headed up a small hill to the path. Lo and behold, there sitting on a low bush, enjoying the morning rays, was a Hermit Thrush! A new one for the list! A little further along the path a flock of cedar waxwings flew into the trees and bushes ahead of us. We hoped maybe there might be a Bohemian Waxwing among them, so we scanned each bird with our binoculars. The Bohemians look very similar to the cedar waxwings, but have a little different shade to breast feathers (gray - while the cedar’s is yellow)and the colour under their tail is a cinnamon brown, unlike the cedar’s white under-tail. No luck, but they were beautiful in the morning sun, snacking on the berries in the bushes, and posed nicely for a few pictures.
A lovely end to a great and successful trip. 5 more new birds raising the list count on February 7th, 2022, to 121!
Update February 5, 2022
We have a new motto this year….Get the Tick and then the Pic!
Usually we are more intent on getting a good photo of the birds we see. But this year we have had to change that strategy. We need to get a good look at the bird through our binoculars, checking colours, patterns and other markings, to ensure we have a good ID of the bird so we can confidently add it to our Big Year list. Mind you there are times when we have such a poor view through the branches and or it is flying away, that the pic is helpful in identifying the bird. And of course, some birds we do need the pic to enable us to study it to determine which bird it is! We are learning so much on this venture!
Well we finally made it our motel in Whitney (east of Algonquin Provincial Park) at 6 PM on Thursday night. It was a very long day on the road. We did drop into a couple parking lots of the trails in Algonquin Park, to see if we could hear or see any birds as day turned to dusk. But no luck.
But we had our ‘happy hour’ when we arrived, and a great dinner in Susan and Jim’s ‘luxury suite’ at the Dream Catcher Motel! And the wine was dang tasty too of course. We planned our next day, and hoped to make up for the lack of new birds on our travel day.
We were up bright and early Friday morning – as usual – and ready to get on the road by sun-up. Holy Moly it was cold! As we stepped out the door of our rooms, the hairs in our nose froze! You know it is cold when that happens! -25C (-29 wind chill!) Thankfully we had come prepared and were dressed to the nines - a little different meaning to that saying than you might be used to! Big Sorrel Boots, and 4 layers of clothing! just the eyes peeking out above our scarfs! We waddled to the car - certainly not sporting any kind of fashion statement!
But it was an awesome start to our day!! There in the parking lot we saw, and photographed, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Grosbeaks, Purple Finch, and White-Winged Crossbills! 4 new birds for our Big Year list! WooHoo! 4 new ticks for our Big Year list and many pics too! Our disappointment at the loss of birding opportunities yesterday, was replaced with smiles and high-fives! But dang, our fingers and toes were already feeling the cold, despite the hand and toe warmers in our mitts and boots!
As we were watching and photographing the birds, our friend Quinten Wiegersma arrived. We had arranged to meet with Quinten this morning, as he had – to our great delight – offered to bird with us for a part of the day. Quinten is also from London, but has been working as a Naturalist at Algonquin for the past 8 months. He has an amazing ear for birds! He can recognize so many birds by hearing their songs or calls - a skill I hope one day to develop - even half as good as Quinten! Before heading off to the trails, we checked out the feeders behind the Visitor Centre.
There was a different bird in the distance, so I let my camera go to grab my binoculars and have a better look. Clunk!!! my stomach fell as I looked down to see my camera laying on the deck. In my excitement to see all the birds in the parking lot, I had neglected to clip my camera onto its harness. The clunk did not sound good. I tentatively picked it up, aimed it an focused on something.....Whew, it still worked!!!
We had been blessed with a clear-sky day! It may have been mighty cold, but it was incredibly beautiful! Algonquin also had a big snow on Wednesday, and the trees wore fresh thick white coats. It was so pretty against the intense blue sky.
Our next stop was Spruce Bog. It is a great hike any time of the year, and Friday was no different. We enjoyed the hike but were not successful in finding any new birds.
Next, we were off to Opeongo Road. We drove to the end of the road where the plowing had ended. A small parking lot there has always been a good place to see Canada Jays and other birds – and in winter possibly a Pine Martin (a small mammal of the weasel family). We pulled in to the parking lot, and pretty quickly saw and heard white-winged crossbills. Here we were able to get a couple photos of them. Then I saw a set of tracks heading off into the trees. I followed them hoping it might lead to a Pine Martin. “Grouse!” I yelled!! There, right at the edge of the parking lot, in the low brush was a ruffed grouse! But no sooner did we all get a quick view of it, it was off into the thicket. Susan managed to snap off a quick shot, but by the time I put down my binoculars and picked up my camera, it was gone!
Off we headed to the Logging Museum trails. Here we hoped to see the Black-backed Woodpecker. Last year we had made numerous trips to this location on various visits to Algonquin, trying to find this bird, and it wasn’t till the last day, when we gave it one last try before we left for home that we finally got a glimpse of the female through the branches. Today, we hiked, and stopped, and hiked and stopped, listening for light tapping sounds of the woodpecker pecking. We watched for movement in the trees. But once again we were skunked. Quinten did hear a Canada Jay in the distance. We all stopped to listen. Then we heard it too - a very faint call. As we had not yet seen a Canada Jay, we stopped and waited, and watched in the direction of the call. It sounded like it was coming a little closer….and there it was! Only quick views, but enough to add it to our list. Tick!
Then it was off to drop Quinten off at the Visitor Centre.
After Quinten left us, we returned to each of the areas, trying our own luck. We did see another ruffed Grouse, but no new ticks.
We headed off down the road, eyes scanning the roadside trees and bushes. I mentioned i still needed a Raven and to keep eyes on the lookout for them.
A little further along, we pulled off the road to see if there was maybe an owl in the trees there. We opened our windows to look and listen, and two ravens flew right up, and onto the snowbank beside the car!! It was so funny – not much work for that Tick!
All in all, it was a very good day! home for a celebratory toast to our luck, and dinner. then downloading and having a look at our photos from the day. We didn't last long though. we were so tired we were in bed pretty dang early!
Saturday dawned colder than Friday! Temperature -29C with a wind chill of -40C! OMG! But we are tough cookies and piled on the layers and headed out. Our main target this morning was to find the woodpecker. We headed back to the Logging Museum Trail. We decided we would first check the tree Quinten had showed us yesterday, where he had seen it a few days before. we were all looking up into the tree and scanning the trunk, when Jim piped up and said – “Here It Is”! Oh joy! And while we didn’t notice at first, it soon became apparent we had the male Black-backed Woodpecker this time! Tick! and Click, click, click, click!
That was it for our time in Algonquin. it was time to leave.
A big thank you to Quinten Wiegersma for taking the time to bird with us and share his expertise and keen ear!
Now, off to Ottawa!
To be continued...
Update February 3, 2022
In the last couple of weeks we have managed to see a number of rare birds to add to our Big Year list. In Niagara we saw a Black Vulture, Razorbill, and a Black-bellied Whistling Duck. Unfortunately the Duck was not doing well. There was an effort to capture it, and take it to a rehab location, and I think they were successful, as we haven’t seen any postings since. We haven’t heard how it is yet though. I think we saw it the day before or the day it was captured. So we both managed to see it just in time I guess.
A few special birds have been seen around the London/Middlesex area too. A number of sightings were posted of a Golden Eagle, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. This had us driving the backroads looking for it. One full day with no success, but a couple days later, and more backroads, we finally saw a Golden Eagle. Then on another backroad, we saw three! No luck with the Red-shouldered hawk yet though.
Today we are on our way to Algonquin for a couple days to hopefully see some of the winter birds that cannot be found in our area. Then on to Ottawa for a couple days for a few more birds. At the moment we are stopped on Hwy 11. Been here for about ½ and hour so far, and no signs of movement. Not sure what it is but pretty backed up.
I will update you on our Algonquin adventure soon.
Well the adventure started out with great clear roads, which was great considering the snow storm we left behind in London. Smooth sailing!!! NOT! Just south of Gravenhurst the traffic was stopped. Hoping it was just a short delay, we ate our lunch, and waited. And waited and waited. It was 4 hours before we were moving again.
Ahhh the trials and tribulations of the Beak Seekers! To add to our misery, we lost 4 good birding hours in Algonquin. Now it is likely to be dark when we get there. But the wine is chilling and dinner just needs heating up, so it will be a nice relaxing evening and we will make a game plan for tomorrow hopefully having good luck with the birds to make up for today.
We did however do some planning and strategizing for the months ahead.
Diane’s Report February 1/22
"The Beak Seekers"
Big Year 2022
Well, we have a month under our belts, starting off our Big Year. We both have gone out every day, most of the time together, but each on our own as well. We have birded in our local London area parks and trails. We have also travelled to Sarnia, Strathroy, Melbourne, Ipperwash, Kettle Point, Windsor, Guelph, Brantford, Long Point, Port Rowan, Rondeau, Ridgetown, and this past couple days in Burlington, Niagara, and Oakville. Much of our distance travelling, Jim, Susan’s husband, has been our loyal and faithful driver - which we are ever so grateful for! And on top of that Jim hauls the scope for us and is an excellent bird spotter! Thank you, Jim!!!
We upped the count to 105 each by the end of January. We have birded in some pretty wicked weather, very cold (-18 without windchill on the shores of Lake Ontario) and snowy – sometimes so snowy it was hard to even identify the birds through our binoculars! But we have had many pretty nice days - for winter. And of course, we have - as good birders must - risen bloody early in the morning to enable us to get to some of those destinations for first light.
On road trips, our vehicle is full of binoculars, cameras, scope and all the food, and necessary winter clothing required. Sometimes when we have ventured out on the trails, we felt we could hardly move wit so many layers of clothes on! We can hardly wait till the weather warms up so we can shed a layer or two! And then there are the tangled straps for our camera and binoculars that often give us grief when we try to put them on or take them off
But we are really having fun!
We are so amazed at how many birders have offered us support in our quest! It has been pretty awesome! There is an amazing birding community in Ontario, and it is so great to be a part of it! We love to meet our local birders on the trails, and get to know each other, and sharing tips, what you have seen and where and of course, ‘how are you’! But it is pretty funny for birders trying to have a conversation. Mid sentence, if movement in the bushes is sensed, one birder’s binoculars will go up, and everyone else follows suit, looking in the direction of the other. If there is something of interest, the ‘spotter’ tries to describe where to look. This can be quite a challenge – “behind the bush with the few red berries, to the left and up 15 feet, sitting on the branch on right….dang, he just flew off!” And the conversation picks up where it left off (if we can remember what it was!).
Something else we have found so far on this adventure, is that we are learning so much! Getting more familiar with some of the birds’ calls and songs, identifying the underwing markings of hawks, and differentiating between the many sparrow species. And then there are the friggin’ Gulls! Oh boy what a challenge it is trying to identify them. Not only are there many similarities between gull species, but each gull itself, looks totally different depending on how old they are! And to add misery to the madness, they are usually flying in large flocks – never sitting still long enough to make out those markings! Just this past weekend, in Niagara, at the Queenston Sand Docks, there was a ‘Little Gull’ reported…just one! And well, there were thousands of gulls flying around and around and around!!! The one defining marker for this gull was that it is dark under the wings. It took us forever to find it – and then keep following it with our binoculars so we could tell each other where it is…flying past stairs…now past the drain on the far side going left to right…now going right to left, down on the water,,,up in the sky…etc etc!
Getting a photograph of this ‘one’ was impossible! Amazingly we did manage to get a shot when we were here last year, so we will have one we can use if we don’t get a shot during the remainder of our Big Year.
Beak Seekers Big Year Update
January 25, 2022
Yesterday, we reached our first milestone! We have both seen 100 species of birds in Ontario so far this year. It has not been easy. We have been out birding every day in all kinds of weather including standing on the edge of Lake Ontario in -18 (without windchill!!) looking for gulls and other water birds. We have been up as early as 4:30 a.m. in order to travel to our destination for first light. That is only going to get worse as the sun rises earlier :-). We have gone trudging through snow that was over our boots, on icy slopes lugging our cameras and binoculars and dressed in so many layers it is hard to move. It may sound as though we are complaining but we are loving it!! It has been a wonderful way to spend January, usually a dull, boring month - but not this year!!
A big thank you to our faithful driver, navigator, motivator, good friend (and my husband!) Jim. He is also a great bird spotter and he carries the scope for us too!! Thanks Jim - this would be so much harder without you!
We have also been amazed at how many birders have offered us support in our Big Year quest. We have a great birding community here in Ontario! Thank you to you all.
The Beak Seekers BIG YEAR 2022
Facebook Announcement: January 17, 2022
Last year, after we had a very successful year of finding different birds in Ontario, we (Diane Weiler, Susan Nagy) decided that we were going to try for a BIG YEAR in 2024. We picked that year because we thought it would give us time to plan, and also we both have BIG birthdays that year!!
BUT THEN - In the first two weeks of 2022, we were both out birding every day. And then, one day last week, we decided to do a road trip and chase 4 rare birds in 4 different cities. After finding 3 of them we realized we were having so much fun birding right now - why wait until 2024!
We both love to travel and since that is restricted now with Covid, it just makes sense to go for our BIG YEAR Now! This way, when we can travel, we will have our BIG YEAR behind us (plus we may need a break from each other by then!)
What’s a BIG YEAR you say? Well for some very serious birders, this means trying to break the Ontario record for the most species seen in one year (347), but our goal is to combine our love of birding and photography by finding and photographing 300+ birds in 2022. In 2021, with a lot of effort, we found 255/267 birds. So, for us to reach 300, it will be a huge challenge and will involve many road trips (and last minute, dashes for rare birds)!
We will keep you updated on our progress when we don’t have binoculars and cameras in hand.
To our birding friends out there: We need all the help we can get so please share any good birds! We will be travelling across Ontario and would love to visit you and your favourite hotspots.
Diane Weiler and Susan Nagy
“The Beak Seekers”
Big Year 2022