Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Friday, 15 February 2019

Four winter shorebirds in four weeks

It hasn't exactly been shorebird weather, but I'm now up to four species in Chatham-Kent in the last three and a half weeks. It has been the tale of two winters, with an unusually mild beginning up until late January, and then the brutal cold and freezing rain over the last few weeks. So the first two species of the new year, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper, were late lingering ones and presumably left mere hours before the arrival of the polar vortex.

Dunlin is to be expected, as it is a regular and sometimes abundant spring, autumn and early winter migrant. The Purple Sandpiper normally comes through somewhere in Ontario in the late fall and early winter, but the latter part of 2018 was almost totally devoid of this species anywhere in Ontario. Only two birds were reported until I came across this one on January 18, at Erieau, traveling in the company of the Dunlin.


Wilson's Snipe is not normally a wintering species, but one has been found annually in a creek that never freezes southeast of Blenheim. It is not a guarantee anytime one checks on it. I have seen it less than half the time I've looked for it.
Yesterday, Keith reported seeing a Killdeer along Rose Beach Line, just east of Rondeau. As I was headed out that way anyway, it was easy to check it out. (I stopped to look for the snipe on the way out, without seeing it.) There are a couple of seeps in a low spot close to the road which even in the coldest weather seldom seems to freeze, although it might get snow covered. And there it was.
It was feeding in the saturated grassy area adjacent to the bit of ice. At times it would venture right out onto the ice, looking quite out of place!
The bird was seen shivering, which is not something I recall having seen before. Given the weather though, perhaps it was not such a surprise. It was there until at least early afternoon, but by mid-afternoon it had moved out of sight. Killdeer are typically an early spring arrival and often appear by late February or early March. However, maybe this one felt just a little too enamoured with the brisk southwesterly winds of the previous day or so, and decided it had jumped the gun on its spring migration and returned to a warmer climate.

What shorebird species will be next? Probably American Woodcock, although I had a Lesser Yellowlegs on Feb 27, 2017!

Monday, 11 February 2019

Out-of-season Winged Wonders

I thought it might be a nice diversion from the ongoing snow, cold, freezing rain etc., to look at some fairer weather winged critters. It will still be a few weeks, even months, before we are likely to see any of the following in real life. Hopefully they are as anxious to emerge from their pupa, or from behind the bark of a tree as an adult, as I am to see them! The following images show some of the diversity of butterflies I've shot this past year.

A couple of the earliest ones we might expect to see are these first two.
Mourning Cloak
Eastern Comma
Some of the most common, even abundant, ones throughout the year are these next ones.
Cabbage Whites
Clouded Sulphur
Clouded Sulphur
In the municipal park behind our place, there is a community garden. We've been able to plant one of the plots into a pollinator patch, featuring about a dozen native prairie plant species. They do wonders at attracting all sorts of pollinator types, which of course helps the organic garden. And between it and our own yard, so far I've seen more than 30 species of butterfly.
Common Checkered Skipper

Common Sootywing
Eastern Tailed Blue
Wild Indigo Duskywing
Giant Swallowtail
Least Skipper
Monarch

Painted Lady
Pearl Crescent
Peck's Skipper
Question Mark
Red Admiral
Viceroy
One of the great spots for butterflies not too far away has been the Reid Conservation Area, in Lambton County a bit north of Wallaceburg. It is worth checking out especially for one of the more unusual and very restricted butterfly species in Ontario, the Oak Hairstreak.
While I was at Reid on the hunt for the Oak Hairstreak, this Gray Comma came by and alighted on my equipment. The two photos were taken less than a minute and a half apart. I think the Gray Comma was attracted to some of the salt sweat
There are other goodies there as well, including these next two, found in the shaded sedge vegetation of the adjacent woods.
Duke's Skipper
Duke's Skipper
Dun Skipper
 Skippers are notoriously small and very subject to speedy and erratic flight. Those at the larger end of the scale are sometimes a lot easier to photograph.
 While I was photographing this Giant Swallowtail, above, another lepidopteran species came by. It is not a butterfly, but a moth, and looks like a hummingbird. Not surprisingly, its name is Hummingbird Clearwing, It is a member of the Sphinx Moth family.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Bronze Copper
Bronze Copper
Summer Azure
One species that eluded me in 2018 was this next one, Fiery Skipper. Most years I come across a few in the late summer and early fall, but not this time.
Fiery Skipper
I try and get most of my butterfly observations, particularly any of the more significant ones, on eButterfly. I've also entered some on BAMONA, the database of the Butterflies and Moths of North America, as well as BugGuide. I haven't entered any on iNaturalist yet.....there are just too many databases around, but that may be the subject of a future rant post!











Monday, 4 February 2019

Water is where the birds are

(A milestone blog post: #400)

This roller coaster weather of intense cold followed by the January thaw, then more cold and then a February thaw is likely making it challenging for winter birds, especially those that rely to some extent on open water. But for birders, going to an area with open water is the best place to find birds.

Lake Erie is mostly frozen over, at least in most places. There are few areas where one can gaze out across the expanse and see nothing but ice. To get an idea of how much of Lake Erie is currently covered in ice, check out this link. 

Here is what it looks like from Erieau in the last few days. No Purple Sandpiper there!

But in the channel between the lake and the bay, there is enough flow of water, as well as a large number of waterfowl, which keep a portion of it open, and the birds are really packed in.
There is quite a good variety of ducks, geese and swans.

 Canvasback and Redhead are fairly abundant.
 There are actually at least two open spots, maybe another one or two around the corner and out of sight. Ducks are regularly flying back and forth between them.


Greater Scaup did not seem to be very plentiful.
Gr. Scaup (L), Common Goldeneye (R)
 Common Goldeneye were well represented.


American Black Ducks actually outnumbered the usually abundant Mallard.

The outlet for the water treatment plant in Chatham, just downstream from the Keil Drive bridge over the Thames River, is a reliable place to see waterbirds during the coldest weather, since there is always at least some open water.
Amongst the ubiquitous Mallard, one can usually find something else.
Common Goldeneye
Northern Shoveler

Wood Duck and Mallards

 There is usually a Belted Kingfisher that hangs around as well, although is not seen all the time and is very skittish.
There are some things that can still be found across the snowy landscape, and in fact are more easy to see against the white backdrop.

Not a Snowshoe Hare!