Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Some birds of late October

As is typical of this time of year, there are a few lingering migrant birds as well as the usual early winter species. It is always fun to see what is around. Rondeau, Erieau and the sewage lagoons at Blenheim are certainly worth checking regularly

Of course one of the really unexpected species to show up in Rondeau is that mega rarity, the Great Kiskadee which is still hanging out.
I suspect it is so totally disoriented that it really doesn't know where to go, so its days are likely numbered. Will it stick around in time for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count on December 16? Wishful thinking, I know I know. There are less than two months to go, but I expect the weather will be too much for it. But given the survival of a Vermilion Flycatcher, another southern Texas and Arizona flycatcher, for the Wallaceburg CBC in late December in 2015, I guess anything is possible!
Vermilion Flycatcher of 2015
Of course the mini invasion of Nelson's Sparrows, one of which is featured on the header for this blog at the moment, has been a nice surprise these last couple of weeks too.

Shorebirds are usually past their peak presence by now. However the extended summer weather of late September and early October probably kept them back, so that now there are some impressive numbers. For example a recent stop at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoon produced a good variety, with some birders counting about a dozen species. I went on a really windy day. How windy was it you ask? It was so windy there were white caps in one of the main ponds! This made it challenging to hold binoculars, 'scope or camera lens steady. When I was concentrating on photographing, I purposely laid my scope on the ground so it wouldn't blow over.

Highlights included 4 Hudsonian Godwits (HUGO). Even one is noteworthy, but 4 is almost unprecedented. It seems that three of the birds stuck together most of the time, with the 4th one often off by itself. Add the single bird still persisting at Keith McLean Conservation Area, 5 HUGOs in the Rondeau checklist area at one time is quite unusual.

There are very large numbers of Dunlin around right now, with some conservative estimates at these sewage lagoons at least 400 in number. This next photo shows about 65-70 Dunlin partially or wholly in the photo. The large shorebird towards the centre left is a HUGO.

Other shorebirds seen lately, but more difficult to photograph, include White-rumped Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, both yellowleg species and Wilson's Snipe, among others.
Greater Yellowlegs
I went to Rondeau a bit later that day. There was a stiff NNW wind blowing, which is usually good for raptor movement. I spent a couple of hours in an open spot at the campground which provided a relatively good view to the north and west, as well as being somewhat sheltered for me. A more exposed site might have been more productive, but on a day with strong wind gusts, one has to hang on to the 'scope and tripod or it may be blown over. It can happen, and did on one occasion when I was in the Morpeth Cliffs area, and the base of the scope broke off. Fortunately it was a Vortex scope, with a lifetime warranty, so I eventually got a replacement at no cost.

On this day there was a large number of Turkey Vultures passing through, as is often the case. I spotted both Red-shouldered Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk, along with Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, as well as American Kestrels. The next two images are of a Red-shouldered Hawk, while the third one is of an immature Red-tailed Hawk. The very cloudy sky made photographs a bit more challenging.

There were other birds passing by, including Tundra Swans.....
....and Eastern Bluebirds. I had a flock of 5 Bluebirds that landed near by, and another flock of 27 that didn't.

An Orange-crowned Warbler stopped by in a nearby patch of goldenrod, searching for a meal. It found a larva of some sort, as shown in this next photo.

There were other birds too, of course. There was a large number of American Robins scattered throughout the park. Puddles on the roadside were great places to see them, along with Hermit Thrushes, as well as Yellow-rumped Warblers.
 Blue Jays are passing through in large numbers, with many exiting Ontario according to the hawkwatching stations close to the Ontario/Michigan border. Some will stay, of course, depending on the acorn abundance or the number of well kept bird feeders in the area.
 Dark-eyed Juncos are always fun to see, and at least some of them will remain over the winter.... will White-crowned Sparrows, such as this immature one shown next.
All in all, it has been a good few days, and who knows, perhaps the best is yet to come!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Great Kiskadee and Hudsonian Godwit

Just a short post this time, since the Great Kiskadee which was found at Rondeau Provincial Park in early September of this year, representing the first occurrence of this species in Canada, has been re-found after being MIA since September 15. Park staff had seen this bird again, and got the word out quickly.

I went out to Rondeau today, by way of the Keith McLean Conservation Area (KMCA) just outside of Rondeau. I wanted to catch up to the Hudsonian Godwit (HUGO) that had been there for a few days, and also check on the Nelson's Sparrows that have found the grassy field edge worth hanging out in.

As a result of these birds, both the KMCA and Rondeau have become a little busier than usual.

The shorebird habitat at KMCA has been quite good, with up to a dozen shorebird species seen on a regular basis even at this late in the season. Of course there are many other wetland birds, etc. making use of this site. A few lingering warblers, such as Orange-crowned and Tennessee, have been here lately, as has a lingering Indigo Bunting. And it is a good location to observe migrating raptors as well.

Sure enough, the HUGO was visible on one of the muddy islands in the distance. But getting a photograph wasn't easy, and just as we were getting a bit closer to make photography worthwhile, a Peregrine Falcon swept through, scattering all the shorebirds and ducks. My photos of the Peregrine were not worth keeping, and at first I thought the prospect of getting any photos of the HUGO had disappeared. While we considered our next steps for a few minutes the shorebirds, including the HUGO, flew back and before deciding to land on another muddy edge, flew right overhead.

 It eventually found a spot to its liking and I was able to get this next photo. The shorebirds take flight easily so one cannot get good closeups. My camera gear was the equivalent of 22X for this one, and even at that it has been heavily cropped.

I did see several Nelson's Sparrows (NESP), probably at least 8 altogether. However they were not sitting up nicely so I decided to pass on pursuing them this day since I wanted to head over to catch up to the Great Kiskadee again. To read a bit about my experiences with the NESP over the last few days, check out my previous post here.

When I got to the Marsh Trail of Rondeau, I was disappointed that there was no one else in the expected location. I did see the bird for a second or two as it made a dash for some shrubs and out of sight. There was no opportunity for photos at that point. However a dozen folks from various places, including Sarnia, Hamilton, Harrow and Long Point arrived, and we watched, waited and chatted for an hour before the bird showed again. Fortunately the bird was calling as it approached, so we knew which direction to expect it from. The light was quite bright, and actually a bit harsh for good a photo, but it gave us excellent looks. After a few minutes, it disappeared, and it was another 45 minutes or so before it re-appeared, announcing its presence again. This time I was better prepared for the lighting conditions and background, and got several acceptable photos.

The group of us last saw it at about 4:50 p.m. and this time it was heading northwards, quite possibly to get to its roosting tree.

Who knows where it had been in the month in between observations? To read about my experiences with this mega rarity in September, check out the link to that post here. And who knows how long it will stay this time?

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Nelson's Sparrow, HUGO and more.....

I'm taking a break from the recent black-lighting posts. There have been some interesting bird occurrences to highlight, not surprising at this time of year.

I hadn't been to the Erieau area for quite awhile, so decided to check it out on Saturday. The winds were favourable for some hawk movement. Turkey Vultures, although technically not a raptor but fly in with many raptors on the fall migration, were fairly common.
There was a smattering of Sharp-shinned Hawks and the occasional Northern Harrier passing through.
Well out along the Rail Trail was a bit of mud flats, which shorebirds were making use of. On this day there were a few Killdeer, a Least Sandpiper and a Baird's Sandpiper. They were all a bit distant, so the photos are as well. We saw two Peregrine Falcons, one of which swooped over the shorebirds scattering them to who knows where.
Baird's Sandpiper (L), Least Sandpiper (R)
A few Yellow-rumped Warblers, the most common species this time of year, were also around.

On Sunday I got word from Steve Charbonneau that there was an abundance of Nelson's Sparrows at the Keith McLean Conservation Area. In a way this was not surprising. I lived right across from the KMCA for more than 5 years when Keith was alive and farming the property. He always left some natural habitat, especially near the wetland areas, and even planted several acres of tallgrass prairie on the east side of the property as well as the east side of the creek system. After Keith passed away and the property was given to the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority several years ago, the property has increased in wildlife values and I knew it would draw a greater diversity of wildlife and therefore a greater number of birders. To date there have been 173 species of birds seen here, and likely other species that have not yet been reported.

With the high water levels of this year resulting in much more extensive wetland habitat, it was only a matter of time when some rarer species of birds showed up. It has not been disappointing in the least, as species like Snowy Egret, American Avocet, Willet and Red Knot have put in an appearance for birders this year already. Looking at the grassy/weedy field edges adjacent to the creek system, it looked perfect for Nelson's Sparrow. The species migrates through southern Ontario every year from their Hudson Bay Lowlands breeding range, but are very secretive even in the usual spots one finds them. A conservative estimate was on this day was 15, with the likelihood of at least 20. However they were always on the move flitting back and forth between the grassy area and the cattail vegetation and being the very furtive species that they are, it was difficult to get a precise number. I headed out in the afternoon, and although I did see several, it was so windy that even on the rare occasion that a bird was visible, it wasn't visible for long. They dropped into the grasses and out of sight very quickly. I did not get any photos.

Yesterday was another windy, blustery day but I decided to try again for some photos of this relatively elusive species. While searching for the target species and waiting for one to pop up and remain in some kind of view for more than a split second, I saw lots of other species.

One of the less expected species was Indigo Bunting. Most would have departed the province several weeks ago. There were actually at least 4 and possibly 5 or 6 individuals, all sporting the female/immature plumage. It is entirely likely this was a family group, and perhaps raised locally.

 I also saw things like Tennessee Warbler, a late warbler species, as well as Marsh Wrens, but did not get photos of either.

Sandhill Cranes are not unusual, as they nest nearby, with some persisting into early winter. But they are a photogenic species so I often try and get a photo when the opportunity arises.

A couple of Tundra Swans came by. Their numbers are building now here in the southwest and should be here in the thousands in a few short weeks.
A couple of Northern Harriers also went through, causing some of the waterfowl a brief bit of consternation.
A Bald Eagle soared through. It is encouraging to see the numbers of Bald Eagles continue to increase. Hawk Cliff, along the north shore of Lake Erie south of St. Thomas, has already recorded 170 of them passing by that Hawk Watch station since early September.
In spite of the windy, blustery conditions there were a few butterflies quite literally hanging on. I noted a Monarch and this Bronze Copper.
I was much more successful in photographing my target species than on the weekend. But the birds flushed up quickly from the weedy patch and headed to the stand of Typha and Phragmites where they often dropped out of sight almost immediately. Some of my early attempts resulted in photos like this:
Then finally one popped up and instead of dropping down into the Typha, remained in view.....sort of. This photo is what you would see with an equivalent 16X binocular, so not all that close and even at that, with vegetation partially obscuring it. But at least it was identifiable.

Unfortunately with the 35-55 km/h wind blowing the vegetation in front of the sparrow which played havoc with the focus, as well as blowing my telephoto lens slightly off target, many of my photographic attempts resulted in this next one.
But thank goodness for digital photography rather than film. Out of about 50 shots, a few turned out relatively unobscured and then with significant cropping, got some worthwhile results.

On the way home I wanted to stop in at the Blenheim Lagoons, where Jim Burk had noted a Hudsonian Godwit there on the weekend, along with a few other shorebird species. They were reported to be skittish, so before I went to far, I scoped out the muddy edges. There it was along the far shore, along with a few Pectoral Sandpipers, etc. This photo is likely the equivalent of about 60X.

 As the shorebirds were reported to be skittish, I cautiously headed over to a closer vantage point where I might get a better shot. All of a sudden the shorebirds took to flight chattering loudly. I knew it wasn't because of me, as I was not in view of them at the time. The shorebirds wheeled around, and this is the only other photo I got of the godwit, cropped significantly.
It was only seconds later that I noted a Peregrine Falcon swooping after the shorebirds, although I did not see it successfully capture anything. Peregrines used to be extremely rare and legally endangered throughout eastern North America, and seeing one swoop after shorebirds was an infrequent and awesome sight. It still is to some extent, but it seems that it happens all too often when one is trying to get a better look at the shorebirds. Oh well.
The last time I saw the godwit it was heading southwest. Whether it returns or not remains to be seen, but given that it will be heading a long way south on its migration, perhaps it was using this event to be a good reason to vacate this area altogether.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Black lighting at Newport Forest

I've been doing a lot more black lighting lately. Regular readers may have noticed. It is a different kind of nature photography, certainly emphasizing the macro end of things but rewarding just the same. It takes a fair bit of patience not only to set things up and attract critters, but to get good enough photos which can hopefully be identified since a lot of the subjects are relatively less known.

I recently had the opportunity to set up and photograph night time creatures at Newport Forest, in Elgin County. I don't know all the background of Newport Forest, but a few years ago two people, Kee and Pat Dewdney of London, purchased it with the intention of conserving and restoring it. It was a mix of forest, floodplain, creek systems and former agricultural land along the south side of the Thames River. On the former agricultural lands, many native trees and shrubs have been planted and are now thriving amidst the old field vegetation. Not only was the intent to conserve and restore it, but to do as complete an inventory as possible of all life forms they and others could discover.

In more recent years, the property has been transferred to the Thames Talbot Land Trust, an amazing group of volunteers which has acquired several properties in Middlesex and adjacent counties with the goal of preserving and protecting the natural features occurring on them.

Using black lighting enables one to attract creatures that may otherwise be difficult to inventory for. Kee Dewdney has set up a black light on several occasions in the past few years, and I was fortunate to join him a few evenings ago with my own black light equipment, hoping to increase the list of species, or at least getting some good photos of species already known for the site.

Not everything that we captured by black light has been identified down to the species level, so it is uncertain at this stage just how many of the creatures we documented are in fact new. Kee puts out a periodical bulletin to interested people which summarizes the latest findings and activities on site. My post here is not intended to usurp Kee's report, but to share some of the photos that I obtained.

Many types of creatures are attracted to lights...moths, beetles, orthoptera, flies, bugs, etc. Even though October is not the most productive time for black lighting, it can still fill in some gaps. A bonus is that the mosquitoes aren't much of a nuisance.

Beetles, and in particular leafhoppers, are interesting but challenging to photograph due in part to their very small size, some of which are a mere 3 mm in total length. Against a white sheet, they all look black and it isn't until one gets a bright light on them and a good close-up photo that you can see the various patterns. There are hundreds of species, making them one of the more difficult groups to identify. Many of them don't have common names.

Bandara sp
Gyponana octolineata
Jikradia olitoria
Prescottia lobata
Texananus sp
Related to the leafhoppers are the planthoppers. This next one is a member of the Flatidae family, known as Flatormenis proxima.

A type of Plant Bug is this next one, in the Miridae family.
Lygus sp
Next is a spittlebug, the nymphs of which can be found in the frothy spittle like substance found on vegetation. This photo is of an adult, only about 3 mm in length.
Clastoptera obtusa
Crickets, grasshoppers and katydids are fairly abundant in these habitats, but don't often come to lights. This next one is a Two-spotted Tree Cricket, one of the more distinctive members of the Orthoptera in the area. I believe this first one is a female with both a side view and a top view. The third photo is of another Two-spotted Tree Cricket showing the variable pattern on the top side.
Neoxabea bipunctata

Crane Flies are relatively large creatures, looking a bit like a giant mosquito. This one has not been confirmed as to species, but is likely Tipula sayi.
 Caddisflies are numerous, and often difficult to identify to species unless they are collected.
Moths are one of the larger groups of night time creatures that visit black lights. Here are some of those that had the best photos turn out.
Clandestine Dart Spaelotis clandestina
Common Idia Idia aemula
Common Tan Weave Pleuroprucha insulsaria
Copper Underwing Amphipyra pyramidoides
Diamondback Epinotia Epinotia lindana
Pale-spotted Palthis Palthis asopialis
Green Cloverworm Hypena scabra
Maple Spanworm Ennomos magnaria
The Wedgeling Galgula partita
Spotted Grass Moth Rivula propinqualis
Although the black lighting season is winding down, there may yet be opportunities to see what is still around at the end of the season.