Chickadee Facts

Did you know that the number of “dee” sounds chickadees make can convey information about the size or threat level of a predator?

Did you know that chickadees in harsher climates, (such as Maine or Alaska) have a larger hippocampus (part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial learning) than those in Iowa or Kansas?

Source: The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

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Essex County Birder Gathering – March 2018

Yesterday, birders in the Essex County came together for a meal and, of course, some birding. I think it’s fair to say that most of us were pretty excited about it. For me, the excitement started right out of the gate as I spotted my first two Turkey Vultures of the season on the road in Leamington.

A number of us started off at the east shore of the Point Pelee tip, near Sparrow Field. The group of people who were there before I got there had seen an Eastern Meadowlark and Long-tailed duck before I arrived, but I was unable to re-find them. The weather was cold but considerably warmer and less stormy than on the west shore. There were large rafts of ducks (mostly Scaups and Scoters) and I was quite excited to find my first White-winged Scoter and as well as my FOY (first of year) Surf Scoter. Now only the Black Scoter remains to be found!

As Jeremy Bensette studied the rafts, he noticed one duck which was different and identified it as a King Eider. What an exciting sighting! He mentioned that this was his first self-found King Eider. This large arctic duck is found now and then in our area, but it’s a majorly exciting find. A few more birders came immediately afterwards, but by then it had flown off and wasn’t re-found by a number of others.

We then stopped by the Marsh tower and watched a few Bald Eagles, Herring Gulls, and Tundra Swans off in the distance. It was also really neat to watch a mink swim.

While within the park we also had the delight of seeing a Great Horned Owl!

One of the highlights of an event like this is the kindness and generous attitude of the birders in our area. There are many ways in which tagging along can help you develop as a birder. For instance, if you are in the market for new optical equipment, an event like this is a great way to experiment with different models of scopes, binoculars, or cameras. For instance, Jeremy Bensette brought an extra tripod and binoculars, which I and other birders got to try out and enjoy.

Using Jeremy’s extra binoculars (Vortex Crossfire 8×42 bins, I believe), the flaws with my current binoculars (Bushnell Powerview 20×50) became evident and I am now convinced that I want to replace them. It was extremely valuable to see that and also to get some practice with using scopes.

(Point Pelee National Park: 3 hours, 25 species, 1 lifers, 3 FOY species)

Next, on the way to Hillman Marsh, I took a short drive through the local onion fields. They were rather quiet and there was nothing significant to report and so I quickly moved on to the Hillman Marsh shorebird cell. The shorebird cell had fewer ducks than my last visit earlier this month. We saw a substantial amount of Northern Pintails, though. As we walked away from the cell and through the marsh, we saw at least eleven Rusty Blackbirds, a species which has been eluding me this year. There were more ducks in others areas within the marsh. Before we left Hillman we were surprised to see the early Great Egret which a few had seen in flight when they arrived.

(Hillman Marsh: 1 hour 35 minutes, 15 species, 0 lifers, 2 FOY species)

Our next stop, the Chatham-Kent side of the Wheatley Harbour was rather quiet, but we were presently surprised with a masterful view of a Snowy Owl! It was nicely perched on a rock barrier in the lake.

(Wheatley Harbor: 23 minutes, 4 species, 0 lifers, 0 FOY species)

After all that time outdoors in the cold, I think most of us were ready to head indoors! About 25 people were present when we met at 7:00pm at Freddy’s Restaurant in Leamington.

(thanks to Kit McCann for the group photo)

It was really nice to spend time getting to know some local birders a bit more. Hopefully more events like this will be planned.

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eBird checklist #1000

I’ve been a member of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird site since 2012 (since then I’ve also submitted data doing back to 2003). Yesterday, I submitted my 1000th checklist.

Like most of my eBird checklists, checklist #1000 was quite ordinary. I went to Lakeview Park and Marina along the Detroit River. Unlike earlier in the winter when the river was partially frozen, there was a meager amount of waterfowl. I did see my first Hooded and Red-Breasted Mergansers of March 2018, but beyond there there wasn’t anything worth mentioning.

(Checklist #1001, on the other hand, was a Snowy Owl I saw in the town of Essex!)

I figured it might be appropriate to celebrate this milestone by sharing my “top 10” checklists.

10. A 6 lifer trip to Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire in July 2017 They were: Purple Finch, Lincoln’s Sparrow, American Bittern, Wood Thrush, Marsh Wren, and Least Flycatcher. Living in Southern ON, it was weird to see 5 warbler species in *July*!

9. The time in May 2017 when before 7am I spent 39 minutes at Sadler’s Pond in Essex. This trip yielded 4 lifers and 5 warbler species. And a 36 minute trip to Malden Park later that day brought the lifer count up to 9 for the day! Between the two trips, that’s a lifer every 8 minutes!

8. My first Great Horned Owl. Seen up close at Derwent Park in January 2018.

7. The Hudsonian Godwit at Essex West lagoons in October 2017.  By that point in the fall, the shorebirds present in the lagoons were starting to thin out, but nevertheless, a Godwit showed up among a small group of yellow legs!

6. The Glossy Ibis at the Harrow Lagoons in September 2017. What a treat!

5. The Townsend’s Solitare hanging out at Point Pelee in February 2018, a extremely rare vagrant which seems to have been way off course.

4. The time when I was able to add Short-eared owl to my life-list in February 2017! And not just one, but five of them!

3. The amazingly up-close views of a young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron I got along the River Canard in September 2017. And that was after a couple failed attempts to find it! I was ready to give up.

2. The epic family trip to Point Pelee in August 2017 that added Wood Stork to the Point Pelee bird list. I submitted a few different checklists from different locations within the park, but here is the one that includes the stork. This incredible rarity was first seen by my lovely wife!

1. The time I was sick at home in May 2012 and a Summer Tanager dropped by (resulting in my first eBird checklist). I live on a busy corner in town, but that does not preclude rarities! This rarity, too, was first seen by my wife!


Honorable mentions (but not quite able to make the top ten):

– An amazingly large flight of 19 Ross’s Geese at Jack Miner’s in December 2017.

– The birthday (March 2017) trip to Point Pelee and Hillman Marsh that yielded 7 lifers. It was extremely foggy and visibility was poor, but nonetheless an exciting day.

– A number of short visits to the Essex Lagoons in May and August 2017 which yielded a number of significant lifers (such as Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Bobolink)

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Documentary: Bird Without Borders

Last night I watched a documentary by Dean Johnson, Bird Without Borders (2009). It’s a moving and intimate look at the plight of the Black-faced spoonbill.

The Black-faced spoonbill calls east Asia home, and it is the spoonbill species with the most limited distribution.  There are likely only 2,000 or 3,000 left (which is an increase from past numbers).

This species may very well have survived extinction (for now) due to its breeding niche in one of the most tense and dangerous places in the world, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Amazingly there is even some measure of collaboration between North and South Korean scientists studying this bird.

It is no surprise that this bird has garnered quite a following, it is rather spunky and this film does a great job of showcasing its energy and personality.

The film is just under one hour and I highly recommend it. You can get this documentary on Prime.

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February Report

February started off more slowly than I had anticipated. To be clear, I did enjoy some excellent observations of species I had already seen in January, but year firsts were slow in coming. We’ve been dealing with a great deal of illness in the family and I’m not quite feeling 100% yet either.

It was 2 weeks until I could add a new species to my year list (February 14th I saw a Merlin). Then on the 17th I went out to see the amazing vagrant Townsend’s Solitare (a lifer) that was hanging out at Point Pelee. On that same trip I also was able to check off Rough-legged hawk (also a lifer) and a Red-winged blackbird. On the 25th I got to see a single Ross’s Goose at Jack Miner’s and dropped by at the Essex West lagoons to see a male Northern Shoveler. On the 27th I added an American Coot I found at Lakeview Marina. On the 28th, while it was still dark outside, I was treated to the early morning song of a House Wren. I hope they start using my new nesting boxes!

That brought my February species count to 65 (18 more than last February) and my year count to 80.

Out of the “easier” February targets, I saw 2 out of 5: Red-winged Blackbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Kildeer, and Eastern Screech Owl.

Out of the “harder” February targets, I saw 2 out of 7: Short-eared Owl, Ross’s Goose, Rough-legged Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Species such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cackling Goose, Long-tailed, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Sharp-shinned Hawk have been coming up somewhat frequently in eBird reports lately and for the most part my inability to get them was just merely a result of not being able to get out at the right places/times. Essentially, most of them were there for the easy finding.

In March I hope to find a Cackling Goose. I will also continue to look for Sharp-shinned Hawks, Long-tailed Ducks, and Eastern Screech Owls.

Some easy targets I will be looking for include Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Bonaparte’s Gull.

I need 20 more species to get half way to my year goal (100 of 200) before April.

I looking forward to March birding (Spring is coming!) It is exciting to see some early migrants like ducks, kildeer, and Red-winged Blackbirds moving in. I hope you have a good March!

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