Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Exploring natural areas around earth day weekend

Spring is inching closer. Hopefully it will be with us for awhile when it arrives, allowing for a sustained bird migration. If it arrives full tilt and then jumps immediately into summer as has happened on occasion in the past, the bird migration (and spring wildflower season, etc) may be compressed into a very short time period giving very little time to enjoy it fully. Every year is different, so we must be prepared for whatever unfolds. Maybe if I changed my Snowy Owl header photo, spring might feel it is more welcome :-).

One evening recently I enjoyed meandering the dike trail at St. Clair NWA. There was only a light wind and excellent light. There were lots of American Coot......

....and no shortage of Canada Geese.

Pied-billed Grebes hooted and hollered from the safety of dense cattails. I heard my first American Bittern of the season. It was off in the distance of the NWA, and likely even if it had been close by, I wouldn't have had a photo op as they successfully rely on camouflage. I had hoped to hear either Virginia Rail or Sora while I was there, or even a King Rail. It is likely all three rail species were present somewhere in the NWA, but unless they are calling they are impossible to detect.

Sandhill Cranes on the other hand, are typically much more visible, and even more frequently, audible. I heard at least 5 and one flew by, although at a distance.
As I was leaving the NWA, I noted that at least 4 Great Egrets had decided to roost for the night in the shrubs and trees along the entrance roadway. It was challenging to photograph them through the density of the vegetation but managed to find a window of opportunity. I took this from inside the vehicle.
While driving along Winter Line, a bit south of Mitchell's Bay, I noted a lingering Snowy Owl perched atop of a grain bin. It didn't look as sleek as they normally do when they first arrive in the late fall. Perhaps it had a hard winter.

Yesterday I was back at Rondeau. A Virginia Rail had been noted by several birders the day before right near the beginning of the Tuliptree Trail. It was an odd place for one to show up; it must have just arrived from farther south, and misjudged the habitat. No one saw it yesterday, so hopefully it moved over to the much more suitable marsh. I did see a few birders along the trail, all anxious for evidence of some early bird migrants. As it turned out, there were lots of the typical species, but nothing unexpected.

I was going to check out the South Point Trail, as the mix of open and forested habitats lends itself to a good variety of species, and a good spot to see my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the season. But it was still at least partially underwater, so I headed over to the west side of the trail, which doesn't have the same habitat variety and doesn't get birded as much. However it is a nice walk through the centre of the park's extensive forest, and is wonderful for solitude and sometimes some excellent birding.

On this day, it was evident that things like Hermit Thrush had recently arrived in good numbers. I estimated a minimum of 35 along the trail.
 Golden-crowned Kinglets were also plentiful, as were Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The latter species did not provide as good of a photo op.
Golden-crowned Kinglet
 Red-bellied Woodpeckers must be in full nesting mode. They aren't nearly as vocal as they were a couple of weeks ago, so aren't as often encountered.

 Tree Swallows are by far the most abundant swallow species currently around, and some are busily examining potential nest holes.
 At the very south end, the trail takes a sharp turn to the east where it eventually joins up with the other side. However as is common on the east side of the trail, this section is under water. The slough is very wide in this southern part, and amongst the tall vegetation, a Pied-billed Grebe was quite vocal.
I continued the last 100 metres or so out to the lake instead of wading through the flooded trail. However there were only a few scattered water birds in sight out on the lake, so I retraced my steps back to the trail entrance. On the return I saw an occasional spring wildflower trying to stay on schedule. Both Bloodroot....
....and Hepatica were noted.
There was a lot of water in the sloughs on either side of the trail, much to the delight of many amphibians I am sure. Leopard Frogs were heard in good numbers. This one decided the trail was the place to be.
Upon arriving home at the end of the afternoon, I received a text that a Townsend's Solitaire had been found at the entrance to the campground. I guess I left the park too soon! It would have been nice to see, of course. However it would not have been a new species for the park for me. I managed to catch up to one on April 30, 2011 near the Visitor Centre and got a photo or two.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Loons, eagles, sandhills and trail damage

I'll try not to jinx things, but I think it is evident that spring is here. At least for the next 10 days or so.

A bit of excitement was the discovery by Jim Burk, a few days ago, of a Red-throated Loon in a flooded field across the road from McGeachy Pond, just outside of Erieau. Not exactly the place you would normally expect to see such a bird. They have been seen in small numbers flying out over Lake Erie. But the extensive rain of last weekend caused many low lying fields to look like small lakes, and this bird decided to settle down in one. I saw it on Wednesday morning just after daybreak....well it was a very gloomy daybreak, and the light conditions weren't great. I had to use up to 3200 ISO to get some photos. The bird looked a little dishevelled and clearly is not in prime breeding plumage.

Later that day, Steve and Pilar were able to capture the bird and release it into McGeachy Pond, and it seemed to prefer that spot. It has not been seen since, so hopefully it has moved on towards its northern haunts.

I checked the water front at Erieau, and didn't see anything new, but I did notice that the high water and wave action had played havoc with the south beach of Rondeau. Instead of the occasional narrow breach of the sand barrier, which happens occasionally, it looked like there were extensive stretches of the beach that were being completely washed over. It will be interesting to see the condition of the beach when it eventually goes down

Wednesday was an excellent day for loon movement. While lake watching off the east side of Rondeau, there were easily over 125 Common Loons and 6-8 Red-throated Loons noted flying through in a space of a couple of hours. There were almost 500 Horned Grebes on the move as well. No doubt if we had the fortitude to watch all day, the numbers would have doubled or tripled.

Some Common Loons ran into problems as well. At least three birds were found grounded in various locations near Ridgetown, and were captured and then released at the Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons. Two of them didn't stay long, but one bird was still seen there this morning by several of us. This bird was in very nice breeding plumage.

After the stop at the Ridgetown lagoons, I headed for Rondeau and the South Point Trail. The previous time I tried that, I was clearly not prepared.
Entrance to the trail
 Much of the trail looked like this, with up to 15 cm of water over it in places. I brought my boots this time and everything was fine. Others who attempted without rubber boots, decided to turn back before getting too wet.

It wasn't just water over the road one had to contend with. There were several medium sized ash trees that had come down over the road.
There were lots of kinglets, mostly Golden-crowned of course this early in the season, but a few Ruby-crowns.

 Eastern Phoebes are common and widespread in the park.
 Rusty Blackbirds are a declining species in Ontario, so it was nice to see several dozen of them in various wet spots.

I got some excellent looks at sub adult Bald Eagles, including this one that came by a couple of times.

The very south end of the trail has been hammered by the wave action. The 'Trail Washed Out' sign is gone, and the end of the trail has moved inland several metres.
There is no way to get out along the shoreline to hook up with the western side of the trail at this point. Probably hacking ones way inland might work, but I didn't try it.

I had heard Sandhill Cranes on several occasions while on the trail, mostly from the direction of the Rondeau Marsh. However at one point I heard their voice coming from over the lake. Looking up....way up...I eventually saw two birds coming my way. I could barely see them even with the binoculars for awhile, but eventually they came within a photographic distance. Even at that, these photos were taken at a magnification of about 13X, and then cropped heavily so that it would be the equivalent of at least 25X.

It is nice to see the beginning of wildflowers. I saw a few pussy willows..... well as Coltsfoot, which is not a native species.
The oak savanna is attractive at this time of year, in its simple colour scheme.
A lone Black Oak growing well out on the open dunes has very open branching since it has no competition for sunlight.
 The White-winged Dove is still around. It isn't as predictable as it has been in previous years. This time it was found almost to the Beach Access #11 (Dog Beach) but it moved north and continued calling. I also had an Eastern Bluebird in the area, but it did not cooperate for the camera today.
I got my first Eastern Comma of the season, but no photos to show for it as it was very much on the move. The weather for the next few days looks promising for bird movement as well as butterflies, and even emerging snakes! And just in time for the weekend!

Friday, 13 April 2018

Finally...a taste of spring.....

.....but not for long! The weather of the last 2-3 days has been decidedly improved compared to what we have been used to so far this 'spring'. It has been a delight to be out, checking various places for newly arrived birds and other types of wildlife. However, the weekend is upon us, and the weather will be considerably less to most people's liking (so get ready for some lamenting comments about weekend weather by a well-known blogger :-).

I've been out to various places over these past few days, including Rondeau (of course!), Erieau, Mitchell's Bay, St. Clair NWA, Fletcher Ponds and various places in between. With the arrival of warmer weather brought on by southwest winds, it will not be surprising that a number of early migrants have appeared, some of which are first of the year (FOY) for me.

My FOY Brown Creeper was in my front yard.

 Sparrows arrived in a big way. Most abundant was this first one. On some days over 100 individuals were seen at places like Rondeau.
Singing Sparrow
Chipping Sparrows have arrived.
 Fox Sparrows are sometimes in full song. I was caught off guard when I first heard one singing in a thicket at Rondeau, but figured it must be a Fox Sparrow. I eventually tracked it down hunkered in this thicket, where I manoeuvred my way to a more favourable position and got a few pics.
Fox Sparrow
The open grassy areas typically attract sparrows. I got both Vesper and Field, which didn't cooperate for the camera, as well as a couple of Savannah Sparrows, which did. The latter one was playing in the fence by the tennis courts at Rondeau.
Eastern Phoebes are widely scattered in small numbers.
Eastern Phoebe
 Golden-crowned Kinglets are abundant. Their less well-marked relative, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, is  just starting to arrive in very small numbers. I saw my first one today at Fletcher Ponds.
Golden-crowned Kinglet
 Swallows are taking their chances this early in the season, but typically arrive by now. Tree Swallows are the most common species seen, but I caught up to Barn Swallow and Purple Martin today. Rough-winged Swallows have been seen, and Cliff won't be far behind.
Tree Swallow
 I went to Mitchell's Bay today, knowing that a cluster of nesting structures for Purple Martins were already in place in anticipation of their arrival. At first the cluster was devoid of any birds, but after about 10 minutes a lone male arrived, scouting the area for potential nest sites. At this point, the holes are plugged off to deter species like House Sparrows or Starlings from taking over, but I expect they will be opened up soon for the arriving martins.
 Obviously the sky was pretty washed out as I got this next photo of the male Purple Martin.
 Winter Wrens, those small, very active songsters of deep wet woods have arrived. I saw at least half a dozen on my most recent trip to Rondeau, and one was trying out its song. It wasn't full yet, but almost. I am always amazed at the loudness and variety of musical notes that emerge from this small bird when it is in full song.
 The occasional Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been around for awhile, but in the last few days they are much more easily found. Even though they don't nest at Rondeau, some are already exhibiting territorial behaviour when another one enters their space.
While searching for newly arrived species, one comes across some of the more permanent residents.
 Great Horned Owls are not abundant...they are at the top of the food chain. And nests are often hard to find. This one below had us puzzled the last couple of years as we thought its nest was in one area only to find flightless young in a large willow tree much closer to the path than we expected. I discovered the nest just yesterday, in a well camouflaged site at about eye level. It is a ways from the trail so is not at risk unlike the nest in the cherry tree at Paxton's Bush a few years ago. This next photo was heavily cropped and is shown at an approximate equivalent of about 20X magnification.
 I almost caught this male wild turkey with its tail feathers all fanned out, but had to settle for this photo instead.

Waterfowl are dispersing and are not nearly as abundant as they were a few weeks ago. However there is still a good variety around, and I always enjoy seeing them in their spring-time finery.
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Wood Duck
 There is always more to see than just birds. I saw my first butterfly of the season yesterday....a Mourning Cloak. It is later than usual. Last year I had a couple of Eastern Comma butterflies in late February!
Photo from a previous year
Some mammals are more visible.
Eastern Chipmunk
Reptiles and amphibians are finally able to enjoy some warmer weather, at least until the weekend. The wet woods at Rondeau were very noisy with all of the Wood Frogs chortling away. Spring Peepers were also vocalizing, although they are so tiny I didn't really have much hope of finding one for the camera.
Wood Frog
 While I was out on one trail, Marie photographed this Leopard Frog on the road.
 I heard Chorus Frogs at Fletcher Ponds today. At the Mitchell's Bay trail today I came across this tiny Painted Turtle, which would have hatched late last summer, walking along the same path as I was.
It has been great to be out these last few days. Hopefully the weekend isn't a total washout, but it will get slightly warmer again next week, with a lot more sun!