Welcome to the Big Year 2022 Adventure! The following are the updates of my “Ontario Big Year 2022”. In the Galleries section of my website you can find the photos that i have taken throughout this adventure. (See: ‘Ontario Big Year 2022’ Gallery). The slide show on my home page features this Gallery, but if you are interested in the names of the birds, each photo is labeled and can be seen if you open the gallery and go through the photos there.
You can also visit Susan’s Website to read her Blog and see her photos!
The Beak Seekers are also participating in the “2022 Great Canadian Birdathon”. 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 seeing 100 different birds there during those 3 days.
The Birdathon is a national event to help raise funds For Birds Canada and bird conservation in Canada. A portion of the funds raised by our team will also be directed to the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO), and will be dedicated to their Young Birders Program. We have received a lot of help from Ontario young birders this year and we would like to give something back in return. Donations will be accepted till the end of our Big Year!
To read about these organizations please visit their websites:
If you would like to make a donation you can do so here:
The Adventure Begins!
The Beak Seekers
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
Beak Seekers Big Year Update
Facebook Post 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.
February 1, 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 401that 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 number 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! 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.
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 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 drove to the highway on the backroad. 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 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 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. Also lucked out and saw my first American Woodcock of the year. Tick #141!
For the next week we birded closer to home. It was a slow stretch for new birds. Only a couple new ones.
We heard about a 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 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 achy 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 several 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
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 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.
My knee was much stronger now, so 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 May 7, 2022
April 25 - the next morning after we returned from our Wiarton trip, we headed off to Hillman Marsh. Once there we set up the scope and scanned the Shorebird cell. With everything at quite a distance, it was difficult identifying some of the shore birds that were dabbling in the shallow waters and the mud-flats. We have started calling out the markings on the birds to each other. We then take distant photos with our cameras and try to distinguish what the bird might be. Then looking at our bird apps on our phones, comparing the pictures there with our photos and the markings we were able to determine through the scope, we would often be able to come up with the correct ID. Sometimes though, we are still not sure. We did identify Marbled Godwits, and a Spotted Sandpiper in the distance, and a couple of Green Herons in a tree off on the side of the cell. But there were 3 other birds we studied and studied. We thought maybe they were Hudsonian Godwits? But were not sure as they were too far for clear views. Lucky for us, Jeremy Bensette arrived as we were heading out. Jeremy is the holder of the current record of the number of birds seen in Ontario in one year (346 birds, I think), and is an incredibly knowledgeable birder. He checked the birds we were seeing and identified them as Long-billed Dowitchers! He explained the identifying factors that confirmed that ID. Another great learning experience!
Those three new birds brought my count up to Tick #182!
We continued to Point Pelee and drove out to the tip. The weather was deteriorating, and the rain started coming down. Only showers though, so we continued on our quest. A Yellow Warbler flew in to greet us. And then a beautiful Hooded Warbler flitted through the low branches of the trees along the path! He made it difficult – as warblers do – to manage to capture a shot, but I was able to catch a couple of quick photos of ok quality. We then wandered around Sparrow Fields – a trail just off the tip at Point Pelee. It was still drizzling, but not enough to call it quits. And we were glad we didn’t, as just around the next bend, we had a Blue-winged warbler very close to us and nice and low. Not that that made it any easier to capture a photo mind you, but we gave it our best shot – heehee! And then right away after that, a Golden-winged Warbler flitted by- again close and low. Such a treat! This is not a bird i have only seen once before, and while I didn’t get any great shots, I enjoyed every minute of it! We saw a few more new birds on this trail – A Swainson’s Thrush, a Blue-headed vireo and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Now at Tick #190
We then headed over the West Beach footpath. Unfortunately, the rain did not hold off anymore, and came down in buckets! We were in for a penny now, so just kept on birding, with rain-gear on both us and the cameras, we worked hard to keep the raindrops off the binoculars and camera lenses. We were happy to add a Nashville Warbler, a Baltimore Oriole, Grasshopper Sparrow, and a House Wren to the list here. But then we called it quits! Wet and tired, we made our way home. But what a day despite the weather! 16 new species for the list and a few pretty nice photos! Now at Tick # 194!
The weather was looking much better the next day, so on a high from yesterday’s haul, and thinking we wanted to keep our good luck spree on an upswing, Susan and I headed to Point Pelee - again!
This time we started off wandering the Woodland and Redbud trails. A Whip-poor Will had been reported, so we spent a bit of time checking out the area. No Whip-poor-will, but a beautiful Blackburnian warbler was our next find. I think he was out enjoying the end of the rain too! Then a call came through of a Whip-poor-will over on the Tilden Woods trail. The chase was on again – and off we ran! Thankfully the bird was resting before its nightly forays, so he was still there when we arrived. What was so special this time, was that it was at eye level and close to the trail – allowing us some pretty nice views and even a few decent photos! We also saw a White-eyed Vireo that day. Now at Tick #199!
On the 28th we headed to Long Point. As we were driving along the road towards the turn-off to Old Cut, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew onto the side of the road! Nice start to the day as this was a bird we had not yet seen. Then we headed to the Old Cut field station.
This is a great spot for birding. The field station bands birds as they travel through during migration. Nets are put up along the trails which catch the birds as they fly. They are removed from the netting, taken into the banding station there. Here they document what birds, what bands they have on their legs, then put new bands on. Then they are released again. The band(s) identification gives info on where they have been banded before, therefore seeing where they have travelled, and if they are returning. It can also tell them how old the bird is. Visitors are able to watch this process and see the birds up close.
We walk the trails around the field station looking for new birds. Today we heard a Kentucky warbler had just been banded and released, so we were hoping to add this bird to our list. No luck today though. We did see our first Ruby-throated hummingbird. At the Old Provincial Park, we saw a warbling vireo, and a least flycatcher. We heard that the Kentucky was just seen again at Old Cut. So, we headed back. After searching for about an hour, we decided, we would check a couple other locations for other new birds.
And the Susan received a text from Kiah Jasper, one of the young men that is also doing a Big Year (and hoping to beat the current record of the number of birds seen in a year). Bird Alert! There was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Presquille – near Kingston. Kiah wondered if we wanted to chase it with him. Kiah was heading east from Point Pelee. Unfortunately, I had plans to go to Theatre that night with friends, so had to decline, but Susan was game! We decided the best bet was for Susan to meet Kiah in London at a spot just off the 401, so we quickly changed course and headed back to London. We pulled into the meeting spot 1 ½ hours later, and in about 15 minutes, kiah arrived and filled his car with gas, and they were off!
Just before the theatre began, I got a text from Susan, with a photo from the back of her camera. She got the bird!
The next day we headed back to Long Point, as the Kentucky Warbler was being seen, and we wanted to try again. We searched the area for awhile without success and were about to try a little further down the road, when we got another text. Tufted Duck at Point Pelee! This is a very rare bird to see in Ontario – they breed across Eurasia, from Iceland to the British Isles, east across Russia and Siberia. Only casual visits have been recorded on the northern coasts of Canada.
Yep, we were off again! 3 hours later we arrived a Point Pelee, hopped on the tram to the Tip, and rushed down the West Beach Trail. Along the way Birders heading towards us were reassuring us it was still being seen. That was good news!
Once we arrived the birders there with their scopes had lost sight of it. As it is with those rare birds, this one was somewhere amidst a large raft of hundreds of ducks and scoters. A fair way off shore. And of course, the tufted duck looks almost the same as the scoters! We scanned slowly with our binoculars while the others scanned with their scopes. A couple of times the others found it and offered us a look through their scopes. But ducks swim and they disappear again quickly into the throngs!
We decided we should return to the car and get Susan’s scope and come back and spend some time scanning in hopes of finding it. When we returned, a couple others birders were there now with their scopes. They had no luck so far.
Susan scanned for awhile, then I took a turn. I had just come across a small group of ducks a little closer and away from the others and wondered if one of them was it. I was just about to get Susan to have a look too, when one of the others yelled ‘got it’! It happened to be in that same small group, and I believe the one I was looking at. It was nice because it was much closer (still out a way though) but we could clearly see the tuft on the back of its head. We were also able to see all black back which was an ID factor that differentiates it from the scoters. A few so-so photos and then they flew! A couple flight shots and then they were gone. Our chase this time was not in vain - Whew! Tick #204
We decided to have a look for the Louisiana Waterthrush that had been seen recently on Wildwood trail. There were a few other birders there looking for it, so with more eyes looking we had a better chance of finding it. We were scanning the edges of the marsh, up and down the one section of the trail where it was seen. Suddenly, I saw it, skulking in the grass on the other side of the marsh! Streaked white breast, white eyebrow and bubble-gum pink legs!
It was a good bird day today! Tick #205
In the evening on April 30th, a Mega Rare bird was seen by James Holdsworth at the Thedford Sewage Lagoons. A Marsh Sandpiper! This bird had never been reported before in Canada or Eastern North America! This was Big!
The Marsh Sandpiper is usually seen from easternmost Europe to the Russian Far East, with the majority wintering in Africa and India. Some migrating to Southeast Asia and Australia! Quite the find here in Thedford Ontario! Way to go James for recognizing this bird!
Jeff Skevington, President of OFO (Ontario Filed Ornithologists) was contacted. He knew many birders were going to want to have a chance to see this bird. He needed to contact the local officials to see if access to the site could be made available. But of course, this was Saturday night! But he persevered and eventually was able to get in touch with the mayor of Lambton Shores, and together they worked a plan.
A new program had just been initiated at OFO. The overarching goal of OFO's Rare Bird Ambassador program is to try to facilitate as many rare bird viewing opportunities for the Ontario birding community as possible, all while ensuring positive experiences for the hosts, whether they be private landowners or some other authority (e.g., a conservation authority).
The agreement was that Lambton Shores would allow access to the site. OFO’s Insurance would cover those accessing the site. For insurance to cover though, an OFO Member needed to be always present to ensure the visitors followed the guidelines in place, and also help them find the bird. (It was mostly at the far corner of one of the treatment ponds, and access was limited to only one side.)
So OFO members worked shifts from 8am to 8pm while the bird stayed. Many of the local birders, Susan and I included, took numerous shifts. Many of the people travelling from afar, who wanted to see the Marsh Sandpiper, and were members of OFO, offered to take shifts while they were there to see the bird.
The Sandpiper stayed about 10 days. During that time, over 700 birders came to see this rare entity. Birders from as far away as Michigan, Missouri, Connecticut, and even from Texas made the trip!
And then the Marsh Sandpiper carried on to parts unknown!
This was Tick #206!
On the 1st, we headed to Rondeau Provincial Park, Keith Mclean Conservation Area, and Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. Added 5 new birds to the list – Chestnut-sided Warbler, Savannah Sparrow and Cliff, Bank and Rough-winged Swallows now at Tick #211.
We did a couple more days at Thedford Lagoons, and picked up Solitary and least Sandpipers for our list. Tick #213
And then we were headed off on our 10 day Birding Marathon to Pelee Island, Point Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Parks.
To be Continued - Stay Tuned!
Update May 11, 2022
It is May 5th, and we are heading off on our 10-day Birding Marathon. 3days on Pelee Island, 4 days at Point Pelee, and 3 days at Rondeau.
It is Migration Time! This is the time when you bird from sunup to sundown, and sometimes even some night birding, listening for different species that are usually only seen or heard at night.
This time we took two vehicles, as Jim was hoping to do some bike riding while we were birding, so not as much room for all the gear.
I headed out earlier than Susan and Jim. First stop was Erieau. A White-faced Ibis had been seen on the Marsh Trail, and we were hoping to see it before it left. This is another rare bird for our area and would be a great bird to see and add to our list!
I headed out early, and put in a call to our friend Steve Charbaneau, who lives there, to see if he was aware if it was still being seen. And if so, was it still at the same spot? Once again, he was a huge help, and headed out early to see if he could find it. On my drive there I received updates from him, as he searched. And lucky for me he found it and gave me directions to where he was, and he kept an eye on it till I arrived! He pointed in the direction to where he was seeing it. I put up my bins, searching in the distance. Steve then said: “Put down the bins and just look right in front of you!” And there it was, barely 30 feet away from me! Thank you so much Steve!
Steve was heading out to do his own birding, so I stayed and photographed the Ibis, keeping an eye on it till Sue and Jim arrived. If it flew, I wanted to be able to make sure Sue could still see it, even if it was at a distance. They arrived about an hour later, and it had just wandered off a little way but still within easy sight, and close enough for decent photos. Further along the path we also saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat Warbler and a Sora.
And now we were off to Pelee Island. We had reservations for the Ferry at 4pm. The ferry ride was smooth, and we pulled into our cottage around 6pm. We did pick up a Brown Thrasher and an Eastern Kingbird on the way.
The next day, May 6th, the weather was not the greatest. Raining hard and high winds. So, we took the morning to update our blogs, process photos and take a breath to be ready when the birds arrive and the marathon really begins.
The afternoon was a little better, not pouring rain at least, so we dressed for the weather and headed out. We decided to explore the Island a bit. First, we headed to Lighthouse Point, birding along the roads as we went. At Lighthouse Point, there was a boardwalk along a swampy area. We saw a huge snapping turtle – so old he was covered in moss! A great camouflage!
Moving along we arrived at the shore of the lake. The water was high and the trail to the Lighthouse was washed out a bit. But fortunately, we had our rubber boots on and timed it with the waves and managed to make it without incident. I went to take a photo of the Lighthouse, trying to get it straight, but that resulted in a very tilted horizon. The lighthouse was on quite a slant. We explored a little but wanted to get to a better birding location so returned to the car and drove over to Fish Point.
Once there, we headed through the trails. Our first greeters were a pair of beautiful Red-headed Woodpeckers! Lots of photos with these two! Then we hiked along the trail, over to the beach and out to the Point. On the way we caught glimpses of a Cape May Warbler, the only new bird we saw today! We did see lots of Yellow Warblers, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers that gave us lots of photo opportunities. The winds were so high that we could hardly hear the birds, and it was determined that with that strong south wind, the birds were probably on the other side of the lake waiting for it to calm – or for a north wind- and make it easier for their journey. So, we wandered back through the trails and headed back to or home away from home.
The next morning, May 7th, was still windy, but the rain and stopped. We got an early start today, heading to Fish Point again, hoping for some new arrivals. We had a lovely few minutes photographing a Yellow-throated Vireo and added a Veery, and an Indigo Bunting to our list. Pretty quiet otherwise.
We decided that evening, to go to the Point for sunset and see if any new birds might have flown in. Just as we were arriving, a flock of about 60 Black-bellied Plovers with a few Ruddy Turnstones flew by us and circled around. And then they landed right there on the point in front of us! It was awesome to see and photograph! They stayed maybe 10 minutes, then flew off.
We met a couple, Sue and Dave, who came at the point for sunset. Both worked for the Pelee Island Winery. Sue asked if we would share a couple of our photos for their Facebook Page. We were happy to, and she shared our photos, did a little write up on us and our Big Year adventure, and added links to our websites.
The next day, May 8th, we were catching the 4 pm Ferry so we packed everything up and headed back to Fish Point and the roads around it to have a last look and see if any new birds had arrived overnight. The weather had finally improved significantly, and we enjoyed the sun and lack of strong winds. And we did find a couple more new birds for the list before we left the Island.
11 new birds for us on the island!
Now at Tick #228
Our arrival at Point Pelee was the start of our Great Canadian Birdathon Challenge. Susan and I had decided to participate in this challenge to raise money for Birds Canada. The Great Canadian Birdathon is a national event raising crucial funds to support bird conservation efforts throughout Canada. A portion of the funds we raise will go to the Young Birders Program at OFO (Ontario Field Ornithologists). We chose the dates May 8th to 11th for our personal goal of to see 100 different bird species in that period. (See the links at the beginning of this blog for more info on Birds Canada and OFO.)
We enjoyed the ferry ride over to Leamington. We were joining an OFO trip at the DeLaurier Homestead Trail in Point Pelee National Park at 7pm, so I headed straight to my Motel and unloaded my things and Susan and Jim headed to their Air B&B which was closer to the park. We managed to arrive just in time for the hike. Pete Read was our leader tonight, and one of the main focuses was to see, and hear, the woodcocks that were known to be in that area. They usually start their mating rituals once the sun sets.
“The male woodcock’s evening display flights are one of the magical natural sights of springtime in the East. He gives buzzy ‘peent’ calls from a display area on the ground, then flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. At a height of 200–350 feet the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts to descend. He zigzags down, chirping as he goes, then lands silently (near a female, if she is present). Once on the ground, he resumes ‘peenting’ and the display starts over again.”
(From Cornell’s All about Birds website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/overview)
We were able to locate a male on the ground. We watched as he started calling, and then gave a fantastic display to impress the female that must have been close by. We were impressed too! He repeated this over several times while we watched him with our bins in the dusky light.
Finally, we headed back to our accommodations, and set everything up for an early start the next day.
5am on May 9th, we headed into the park. First tram out to the Tip was 6am. We heard the parking lot at the Visitor’s centre (closest lot to the Tram and the Tip) can fill up by 5:30 am. The next closest parking area is a minimum of a kilometre from the visitor’s centre, and we knew we would be walking all day around the Point, so we wanted to save all our energy for the trails. Thankfully we were in time to get a good spot to park and a seat on the first tram out to the tip.
Our goal here was to witness a ‘Reverse Migration’ – if there was one that day. Reverse migration is a phenomenon in bird migration where a bird flies in the opposite direction of what is typical of its species during migration. It is thought that birds become disoriented by 180 degrees and hence embark on a south-bound trip in the spring when they should be heading north. Most birds that undertake these reverse migrations could be inexperienced, juvenile birds.
We joined Jeff, Kiah, William and Ezra who were already there. We were hoping we could have help identifying the birds in flight. Numerous other birders were at the tip with us. It was quite the ‘flock’! This was a new experience for me. I had never even heard of reverse migration before! It was a good learning experience. I don’t know flight characteristics and/or the markings on the underside of the many birds, so I managed to pick up a few new tips. It was very interesting, as experienced birders called out the birds as they flew over our heads, and off the point. It was a challenge to get the bins on the birds when they are flying, so I missed numerous birds for the list, as I was not able to get a clear look to identify them. But I got 5 new ones here. Apparently, this was a slow morning at the tip, and the migration was not yet in full swing. The winds had not been favourable for a few days, enough to help the birds on their northern flight.
We spent about 11/2 hours binoculars pointing up and with ‘warbler-neck’ symptoms beginning! (Sore neck from looking up to see the warblers which are usually at the top of trees)
We left the tip and headed into the park to scour the trails. We saw numerous birds and were able to get some nice photos, but not too much new for the list.
The next morning, May 10th, we repeated the previous day’s agenda and headed to the tip bright and early. Today turned out to be a Banner Day! The winds had changed, and the reverse migration was amazing! The tip was packed with birders and the excitement level was pretty high! There was talk that this had been one of the best reverse migration mornings at the Tip in a long time.
I was able to get my bins on more birds this morning and was able to identify more than yesterday too. 5 new ones to add to the list, including a Blue Grosbeak which was a nice bonus bird! (there was one in London last year at Killaley that caused quite a stir, and birders from all over came to see it). We also saw Dickcissel, Philadelphia Vireo, Sanderling and an Acadian Flycatcher.
The rest of the day we hiked the trails getting lots of steps in and were rewarded with a couple more new birds.
One bird alert came in late in the day for a Plumbeous Vireo (never heard of this one!) at Kopegaron Woods Conservation Area, a short drive from the park. (We also received a text from Kiah that we should definitely go for this one!) So off we went. We met a couple other birders there but none of us were having any luck. For such a rare bird, we were surprised there were not more birders there looking?
As we were thinking of heading back, we got a call from William. “Come now to the field alongside the park on the edge of the farmer’s field!” We hurried over. Here we found where all the other birders were! And the birds!!! It was what is called a fallout of Warblers. It seemed like hundreds of warblers were dripping off the low bushes and trees along the side of the field! No warbler-neck here!
It was hard to keep the jaw from dropping open it was so amazing! I have heard about ‘Fallouts’ before but have never had the experience. It was hard to know where to point the camera, they were everywhere and at eye-level. And to add to the joy, it was the ‘Golden Hour’, and the light was perfect! So many wonderful photos! This will certainly be a treasured memory of the Big Year Adventure!
May 11th was our last day at Point Pelee, but before we headed off to Rondeau Provincial Park – the next leg of our Birding Marathon, we scoured a couple more of the trails, picking up 4 more new birds.
Each day at Point Pelee, we would get alerts of birds that we still needed, being seen on another trail, and each time we would run off in hopes of a success find. On occasion we would get lucky, but often the chase was in vain. Darn birds have wings you know! We missed out on the Yellow-breasted Chat, Kentucky Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, and Plumbeous vireo to name a few, but I am still pretty happy with all the great birds we did see!
I had never been to Point Pelee for the Spring migration before. It was an amazing experience. We met so many wonderful people and had such a great time!
May 11th was the last day of our Birds Canada Birdathon Challenge. Susan and i hoped to see 100 different species during our time at Point Pelee. We are excited to tell you that we exceeded our goal, and our count was 126! You can still make a donation (up until December 31, 2022) to this worthy cause here:
At the end of our Point Pelee adventure, my list was at #248!
To be Continued…
May 13th, 2022
Now we were off to Rondeau. We heard of a Wilson’s Phalarope at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, which was on the way, so that would be our first stop.
Yes, we birders love Sewage Lagoons! They are great places for shorebirds, and they are Hotspots for other good birds too!
Lady Luck was with us again this time, and the Phalarope was still there. A little far away for good photos but a new bird for the list so big smiles!
We checked into our Air B&B at Morpath. This place was amazing! It was an old United Church that was being restored, and it was done beautifully! The host greeted us and gave us a tour and shared a bit of the history. It was only a 15-minute drive to Rondeau so the location was perfect.
We had dinner, then headed over to Keith McLean’s Conservation Area to check for any migrants that may have dropped in. We saw 21 different species during the hour we were there. No new birds but a few new photos to add to the collection. We called it a day and headed home for Wine and Cheese.
Early on May 12th, we headed to Erieau – a short drive from Rondeau -looking for an Eared Grebe that had been reported. It was a good start to our day. It was there swimming close to the pier allowing a few nice photos.
We then headed to the Erieau Marsh trail for a walk. This is where we saw the White-faced Ibis at the beginning of our Migration Marathon. The Ibis was no longer being seen, but a Lincoln Sparrow hopped out on the path for a few quick shots. We then heard from a couple other birders on the trail, that they had just seen 2 Black-crowned Night Herons along the path across the road. So off we went. Once again, we were successful, and one of the two had waited for us to arrive before flying off.
Jim decided to do a bike ride today, so Susan and I headed off to Rondeau Provincial Park for a walk down the Marsh Trail there. We were hoping to find some American Bitterns in the reeds along the shore, but they stayed hidden from us. In fact, it was very quiet for birds, but we had a great walk for a couple of hours and saw 31 different species. No new ones, but once again we got a few photos. We then decided to check out one of the interior trails – the Spicebush Trail. It was quiet here too, and no new birds, but here we did see 21 different species. Moving on now to wander around the campground area. There are often good sightings here, and since it is early in the season, not too many campers to disturb the birds. 15 different species here but alas no new ones.
Next was over to the Pony Barn, another small trail. While we didn’t get any new birds again, we did have some amazing photo opportunities with several different warblers – especially the Canada warbler. It kept flying around the small swamp area in front of us and landing on various lovely perches! Quite a few birders were there to enjoy this spectacle. We were only there 35 minutes, but it was a very small area and others were coming down the trail, so we decided to let others have a chance at some nice photos too. We also needed to meet up with Jim, as he was back from his ride, and we were going out for dinner tonight at Rondeau Joes.
After dinner we checked out the beach by the visitor centre. Only 7 species here, so we called it a day and headed home for….Wine and Cheese!
The next morning May 13th, we rose early and headed over to Keith McLean’s again. Linda and her husband Derek were coming in from Lucan and were going to meet us there. We were all there for about 2 hours and saw 40 different species, and while Susan and I did not see anything new, Linda upped her list with quite a few new birds! It was a fun time for all of us!
We then headed on to the Maintenance Loop (Warbler’sWay) and then the Tulip Tree trail. Linda added a few more good birds to her list on these two trails too, including the Prothonotary Warbler which is a prize bird. It is an endangered species, and not found many places. But Rondeau is one of the places it breeds, so there is often a good chance to see them here.
It was around 2:30 now and we wondered if maybe the Pony Barn would provide a repeat performance today and give Linda some nice photo opportunities and a couple more new birds. Once again, the Canada
Warbler put on a good show, and we all got some more nice photos. And Linda a couple more new birds!
Linda and Derek headed home, and we headed back home for dinner… and wine and cheese .
This was our last day at Rondeau and our last planned day for our Migration Marathon. But Susan and I were feeling a little down from not getting any new birds for a couple days, so we decided the two of us would head back to Point Pelee for a couple more days. There were sightings of many birds we still needed, and we were just not ready to give up on the marathon just yet!
I was still at Tick # 252.
We reorganized our things, packing our needs into ‘Boo’ (my Subaru). Jim packed up his things and headed home, and Susan and I headed back to Point Pelee.
to be continued…