Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Cattle Egret invasion?

Cattle Egrets are small white egrets that expanded to the western hemisphere from their natural African range in the early part of last century. The first record for Ontario was in 1956, and it gradually became a more common visitor, even nesting on occasion. Numbers seem to have peaked in the 1970s, although they are seen regularly in small numbers most years.

The first record for the Rondeau checklist area was on April 19, 1970, when two birds were observed. There have been several dozen records since that time, although 1973 was the year when they were most frequently seen and in the greatest numbers. The first record for that year were four birds on April 28. As many as 12-20 birds were seen regularly in May, and the last report for the year was of five birds on September 24.

Since that era, birds have been seen periodically, but usually only one or two at a time. The latest they have been recorded in the park checklist area was a single bird on November 21, 1987. (I did have 4 birds at the Tilbury Sewage Lagoons, just inside Essex County, on Nov 1, 2014.)

The fall of 2016 has seen a minor influx of these birds. They have been reported in the last few weeks in various places across southern Ontario.

Most recently, they have shown up again in the Rondeau area. A birder/hunter reported one a few days ago flying over his blind along Rondeau Bay. In the last couple of days, two were seen regularly at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons.

This morning, I went to the lagoons as they were reported there late yesterday afternoon. I arrived and noted two birds towards the far end of the main path between the ponds. Approaching them cautiously, I realized they were headed my way, so I stopped and waited for them to get even closer.

From time to time, I looked back towards the lagoon entrance to see if anyone else was coming along. Two birders was Steve Charbonneau and his son Aaron....and then much to my surprise, two more Cattle Egrets appeared between us. At this point, I was somewhat 'trapped' by two pairs of the egrets....I didn't want to move for fear of spooking them. I did see a way out, however, by moving to a side path, waiting for the second pair to come by.

And come by they did, although I think when they got by the shrubby willows I was using to hide behind, they realized I wasn't part of the landscape, and took to flight. They were almost too close to get in the field of view....this next image has not been cropped even a bit, and I barely got them totally in (actually, the closest bird has one foot outside the image).

They didn't go too far, but joined the first pair of birds farther down the path.

They circled around and resumed feeding on the numerous grasshoppers in the recently mowed grassy area.
While four birds does not constitute an invasion in the true sense, in combination with the reports from several other areas across southern Ontario, just how many are out there? Are these two pair covering lots of territory and the reason for those many reports, or are there several other pairs out there?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Tis the season for raptors and waterfowl

Yesterday the winds were quite brisk from the northwest...perfect for watching migrating raptors somewhere along the north shore of Lake Erie. The mix of sun and clouds would only enhance the viewing opportunity. Some of the best raptor diversity shows up in mid to late October, including Golden Eagles. I spent several hours in the vicinity of the Morpeth Cliffs.

Turkey Vultures were abundant, going by in kettles and streams.
Streaming vultures

The array of wind turbines didn't seem to affect their route as far as I could tell, but I must admit I don't really know what is going on in the mind of a vulture!

There was the typical array of Red-tails, Kestrels and Sharpies (the hawk, not the marker). They were too far away for photos, and several of the buteo type raptors looked like Red-tails, but later I found out that a juvenile Swainson's Hawk was seen east of Wheatley. I wish I had been able to get clearer looks at some of those distant buteos that I chalked up as Red-tails!

I did get some eagles: two Bald and one Golden. They were too far away for photos as well, so I dug into my archives for these.
Bald Eagle
Golden Eagle

The benefit of being along the Morpeth Cliffs is that if the skies do not have anything going on, one can always look out over the lake. There were about 130 Common Loons, 2 Red-throated Loons and lots of waterfowl and gulls. A scope was necessary to see most of them, so again the camera didn't get much of a work-out.

Today I decided to go to a few places along Lake St. Clair. The Mitchell's Bay North Lake Shore Trail always has something of interest with its mix of wetland and prairie.

Great Egrets were still around.

There were lots of sparrows, mostly White-crowned.

A huge flock of mixed blackbirds was in the area. Of note were a few Rusties and a young Yellow-headed. I didn't get any pics of the Yellow-headed.

Along the Mitchell's Bay South Lake Shore Trail were a few of the same things, but also a couple of Eastern Phoebes.

A bit surprising was this fresh looking Common Buckeye.

Not in nearly as good a shape was this Virginia Opossum.
 Possums are well-known for playing dead. This one wasn't just playing.

A stop at St. Clair National Wildlife Area resulted in seeing a ton of waterfowl. If one had the patience, one could probably find more than 20 species of waterfowl there right now. I saw almost 15 in just a few minutes, including one of my favourite ones: Ring-necked Duck. There were at least 40 in one spot that I checked.

Canada Geese were constantly in the air.

I was hoping for some Greater White-fronted Geese, but did not find any on this visit.

Tundra Swans are beginning to arrive. I saw about 160, but in just a few weeks there will be tens of thousands passing through.....a wonderful spectacle unless you live right near by and, according to some folks I know who live right across from the NWA, their constant calls can keep you awake at night!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waterbirds, etc after the weekend

These past few weeks have been a little more hectic than usual. Family things going on, my sister from BC visiting for a couple of weeks, and also it was Marie's and my 40th anniversary! (Congratulations to Marie for putting up with me for so long.....and sharing some of my fascination with natural history as well!)

As a result of these commitments, I missed out on the Black-legged Kittiwake, Laughing Gull and Franklin's Gull seen along the east beaches of Rondeau on Sunday. So when Monday morning arrived, I had time to see what I could find there.

Dog Beach access seems to be the best vantage point to see waterbirds flying through, so that is where I headed first. Not surprisingly, a couple of intrepid birders were already there.
Steve and Reuven scanning the gulls
There was a steady stream of waterbirds passing by: Bonaparte's Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Greater Scaup, etc. Alas, none of the aforementioned 'good' birds that showed up on Sunday were noted. But as usual, there are often other interesting sightings, which included White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Little Gull and Peregrine Falcon. All of these were too far out to attempt a photo, especially given the light conditions. Shorebirds were on shore, as expected, and included Sanderling and Dunlin, while a couple of Greater Yellowlegs flew briefly overhead.
Dunlin waving to the camera
As these shorebirds were searching for something edible on the sand, I noted several little dark winged things taking a brief flight before finding another sheltered place to settle in. They were moths, a species which I have yet to determine.

Half an hour after Steve and Reuven left for other birdy parts of the park, I noted a small loon flying by. Its shorter feet, smaller size, white face and neck all added up to a likely Red-throated Loon!

Eventually I left the Dog Beach access as well, looking for a different array of avifauna. There were both Kinglets, numerous blackbirds and a few warblers, mostly Yellow-rumped and Palm.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler

As has been the case in the last few days, the sunny warm conditions have encouraged basking by snakes.

The warmth has been good for some lingering butterflies as well. I noted 6 species of butterfly, including at least 10 Eastern Commas. Monarchs and Red Admirals were also noted.

Turkey Tail, a type of bracket fungus, is commonly seen on rotting hardwood logs in the forest.

But the sunny and excessively warm conditions will be gone soon, probably by the time most readers will see this post. And autumn colours are becoming more prevalent even here in the banana belt.
Autumn maple along Bennett Ave
Virginia Creeper is typically loaded with berries at this time of year, and are great places to find berry eating birds such as American Robins, various other thrushes and warblers.
Virginia Creeper

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Birds and other critters on some warm days of October

As is often the case, there have been a few warmer than normal days in October. It is almost summer-like, and lots of sun. It isn't really Indian Summer....that is a few weeks away, hopefully.

Yesterday I checked out the Erieau waterfront, hoping to catch up with a Hudsonian Godwit that Steve Charbonneau had seen the day before. The water levels and weed mats in Rondeau bay are such that they provide excellent habitat for ducks, shorebirds and herons. Unfortunately they are a long way from shore, so that even with the 'scope cranked up to 50-60 power, viewing especially during a breezy day can be challenging.

I didn't see the godwit. I didn't see the Eurasian Wigeon that Steve had seen either, but with the 5000+ ducks scattered as far as the eye could see, the wigeon was probably there somewhere. As for the godwit: there were shorebirds, including Pectoral Sandpiper, both yellowlegs and both American and Black-bellied Plover, plus a few peeps that went unidentified due to the distance and haze. Who knows where the godwit is by now.

I headed over to Rondeau next, going to the east branch of the South Point Trail. Birds weren't especially plentiful, but I did see a few warblers skulking in the wind-blown shrubbery. The most notable avian species was an abundance of Rusty Blackbirds (it was being considered as a Species At Risk recently, although it hasn't happened yet).....there must have been upwards of 1000 in several flocks. It was really hard to tell the number, as they kept emerging from the wetland shrubbery only to stream by to the other side of the trail. They were constantly on the move, and difficult to get a photo of.

Even though it was windy, where the sun was hitting the trail in some sheltered areas, it was good for butterflies. I saw at least 8 Eastern Commas.

There are a few Monarchs still passing through.

A small number of Pearl Crescents are still around.

 A single Common Buckeye was fighting the wind looking for shelter.

The sunny pavement also attracts snakes trying to soak up a bit more warmth before going underground for the next few months. I noted several Eastern Gartersnakes, as well as this Northern Brown Snake.
The park roads open to vehicular traffic showed evidence of slow moving snakes, unfortunately, with several Eastern Gartersnakes in various states of wreckage.

When one got to the southeast corner, it was easy to see the results of the early autumn storms of the last couple of weeks. This remnant from the old south campground camp office was exposed during the major east wind storms of 2015, but then got mostly covered up again for most of the next few months....such is the norm for dynamic shorelines. But now, once again, the strong winds from the east and southeast have brought it back into view.

Along the sandy trail to the shoreline, I noted a small, orange ball on the move, struggling to escape a shallow sandy pit. It turned out to be a Marbled Orb Weaver, a colourful spider that is fairly common in late summer.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons can be a worthwhile stop. On this day a male Lesser Scaup was the first bird I saw.

There were almost 150 Ruddy Ducks in various sized groups in each of the ponds.

One of the Long-billed Dowitchers was still around. This one has a shorter bill than some of the others of a week or so ago.
LBDO, October 12, 2016

LBDO October 1, 2016

This next photo shows a Greater Yellowlegs on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs on the right with the dowitcher busily feeding in the middle.

Savannah Sparrows are widely scattered and plentiful.

And there has been a recent influx of American Pipits. I observed more than two dozen flying over the sprinkler cells and dropping into the drier, weedy portions.

Butterflies are still around, with the only unusual ones noted at the lagoons being two Common Checkered Skippers. They were on the move and this photo is from a previous visit.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Late season prairie veg and leps

This early autumn splurge of warmer weather has benefited some lingering tallgrass prairie vegetation as well as the persistence of butterflies. A good spot to see this in Chatham-Kent is the Mitchell's Bay North Shore Nature Trail. Butterfly diversity is diminishing, and with the forecast cooler trend beginning this weekend it will likely continue to diminish. But the ones that are around do provide some good photo ops.

Cabbage Whites continue to be super abundant. Clouded Sulphur and Orange Sulphur are also fairly abundant.

Cabbage White

Clouded Sulphur

Orange Sulphur

An occasional Red Admiral, here sipping nectar on a Spotted Joe-pye-weed, may still be around.
Red Admiral

Monarchs are on the move, heading southwest towards their overwintering site in the Mexican highlands..

Common Checkered-Skippers, those diminutive and attractive little later season visitors, are still around. Some of the later blooming asters are good spots to check for them.
Common Checkered-Skipper

While the dominant colour of flowering plants in early autumn is the yellow of various goldenrod species, there are a few others tucked away. Surprisingly this Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) was seen in good flower recently.

One that does not occur very commonly anywhere in Ontario is Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis). It blooms early on a sunny day, and typically closes up by late morning.

A relatively rare autumn orchid is Great Plain's Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) occurs. There are several Spiranthes in the area in the late summer and early autumn, but even though this is S3 and therefore ranked as reasonably rare, it is by far the most common Spiranthes located here at this time of year here in the southwest.

Not restricted to prairies by any means, is this Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). It has attractive white flowers that develop into succulent looking bluish-purple berries. Birds love them! But don't you try eating them....all parts of the plant are quite toxic to humans and other mammals.

This next species, the brilliant Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), normally is in flower in early to mid-August. For some reason this one decided to extend the season.

If you have been paying attention to non-raptors passing by the various hawk watches in southern Ontario recently, you may have noticed tens of thousands of Blue Jays passing by, heading southwest. Are they all heading to Texas in support of their American League namesake???

Go Blue Jays!!!!