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.

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!

Some Identification Resources

I’m creating an “Identification Resources” page on this blog. As an opening “volley”, here are some resources I’m initially posting to that page. I’ve found them to be pretty helpful.






January Recap and February Targets

The January Questions

Birders working on a “year list” undoubtedly grapple with two related questions in January: 1. How much time and energy do I spend finding birds which will much easier to find in a few months? 2. How much time and energy do I spend finding birds that may show up again in December?

There are many angles to tackle these questions. Neither question is likely to be settled by a simple either-or equation. On the continuum, my posture this year leans towards “find them now while you can”.
I may indeed be wasting some energy (and warmth!) on birds just as easily (or more easily) found in another part of the year. On the flip side, though, we don’t know the future. Who knows what weather will be like or what bird movements will be like? Who knows how busy I will be later in the year? Who knows what life holds in store?
 Regarding question #1, there’s something to be said for the satisfaction of finding a bird when it is less commonly seen. Regarding question #2, for some species December may not be a safe bet. There is certain satisfaction and safety in checking it off now.
A Recap of January
January was a descent start to this “birding year”, totaling 71 species in Essex county–19 ahead of last year. This total includes two lifers (Lapland Longspur and Great Horned Owl) and one first for Essex County (Pine Siskin). The Pine Siskin was my lifetime Essex County bird #199 and the Great Horned Owl was #200!
The most fruitful birding venues have been the Little River Area (east Windsor), which added 24 species to my year list, and the Ojibway Prairie Complex, which added 17 species to my year list.

From the perspective of reaching 200 Essex County species in 2018, I think I can afford to slow down slightly in February. I hope to reach 100 species in Essex County in March and so my main hope for February is to continue to push toward that number with a small handful of FOY (“First of Year”) species.

Some February Targets
In February I’ll focus mostly on some somewhat common birds which have eluded me in January (none of which are lifers), such as the Red-winged Blackbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Kildeer, and Eastern Screech Owl.
 A few less common birds will also be on my radar. They’ve also eluded me in January and include the Short-eared Owl, Ross’s Goose, Rough-legged Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Great Horned Owl, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
With some focused effort and determination, I believe knocking off half of these in February is possible.
I hope February treats you well. Spring migration is near!!

63 Essex County Species So Far in 2018!

Here’s the bird species I’ve seen so far in Essex County in 2018:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. House Finch
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Downy Woodpecker
  5. Blue Jay
  6. European Starling
  7. American Tree Sparrow
  8. American Goldfinch
  9. Cooper’s Hawk
  10. Horned Lark
  11. Dark-eyed Junco
  12. Northern Cardinal
  13. Canada Goose
  14. Mute Swan
  15. Tundra Swan
  16. Mallard
  17. Canvasback
  18. Redhead
  19. Greater Scaup
  20. Bufflehead
  21. Common Goldeneye
  22. Hooded Merganser
  23. Common Merganser
  24. Red-breasted Merganser
  25. Bald Eagle
  26. Herring Gull
  27. Rock Pigeon
  28. Great Black-backed Gull
  29. Snow Goose
  30. Mourning Dove
  31. American Crow
  32. Lapland Longspur (lifer)
  33. Snow Bunting
  34. Common Grackle
  35. White-crowned Sparrow
  36. Snowy Owl
  37. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  38. Black-capped Chickadee
  39. White-breasted Nuthatch
  40. Song Sparrow
  41. Eastern Towhee
  42. Brown-headed Cowbird
  43. Pine Siskin (first in Essex County)
  44. Wild Turkey
  45. Belted Kingfisher
  46. Tufted Titmouse
  47. Brown Creeper
  48. Cedar Waxwing
  49. White-throated Sparrow
  50. Ring-billed Gull
  51. Wood Duck
  52. American Black Duck
  53. Great Blue Heron
  54. American Kestrel
  55. Hairy Woodpecker
  56. American Robin
  57. Fox Sparrow
  58. Northern Flicker
  59. Gadwall
  60. American Wigeon
  61. Northern Pintail
  62. Trumpeter Swan
  63. Lesser Scaup

This is a pretty good start, probably 20 or species ahead of where I was last year this time.

There are, however, some birds that are stubbornly eluding me, most notably: Northern Harrier, Carolina Wren, Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Ring-necked Pheasant, Eastern Screech Owl, Ross’s Goose, Cackling Goose, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Bluebird, and Red-winged Blackbird.

2018 Goals – Progress Report

I’m happy to report that 2018 is off with a bang and I’ve made some progress toward my 2018 birding goals. I set 15 goals in total, and these three are already crossed off:

    • Reach 200 species on my Essex County life-list (currently 198)
    • See a Lapland Longspur (lifer)
    • See a Pine Siskin in Essex County

Species 200 for my Essex County life-list was a Pine Siskin which decided to show up at Ojibway Park’s feeders.

  • I’ve also also made some solid progress on my numeric goals:
    • Life List: 229/250 (started 2018 off at 228)
    • Essex County 2018 list: 54/200
    • U.S.A. Life-list: 114/150 (started 2018 off at 103)

I’ve seen just over 61% of the species that have been reported this year.It turns out that I’m 6th in list of those people on eBird with the most species recorded in Essex County in 2018. We’ll see how long that lasts!

A couple of the birds which I’ve added to my 2018 goals list have showed up recently, including Rough-legged Hawks and a White-winged Scoter.

My Favourite Bird Books of 2017

Here is a list of the top 8 bird-related books I’ve read in 2017. They are in no particular order. What have you read that you’ve liked and would recommend?

2018 Is Before Us

Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is a wonderful year for you!

Throughout December, I’ve given some thought as to my goals for the new year. Here are my birding-related goals for 2018.

Given the pace of 2017 (and projecting some modest increase in skill/knowledge/efficiency), I think these goals are fairly relaxed and attainable.

  • See 200 species in Essex County in 2018
  • Reach 250 species on my life-list (currently 228)
  • Reach 200 species on my Essex County life-list (currently 198)
  • Reach 150 species on my U.S.A. life-list (currently 103)
  • See the remaining realistic heron/egret species in Ontario (Cattle Egret and Little Blue Heron-both lifers).
  • See the remaining scoter species (Black Scoter and White-winged Scoter-both lifers).
  • See a Lapland Longspur (lifer)
  • See an American Pipit (lifer)
  • See a Yellow-headed Blackbird (lifer)
  • See a Prothonotary Warbler (lifer)
  • See a Rough-legged Hawk (missed in 2017)
  • See a Northern Shrike (missed in 2017)
  • See a Pine Siskin in Essex County
  • See a Snowy Owl in Michigan (planning to head out there early in January)
  • Make a day outing to Point Pelee during May (migration)

What birding goals do you have for 2018?

A Recap of 2017

Birds have always fascinated me and I’ve been a “lister” for longer than I’ve considered myself a birder. I’m still on a pretty low rung of what appears to be a lifetime learning process, but this year has been a watershed year of sorts. The hobby has been ramped up a bit. Maybe the gears are slipping a bit–up that is.

I can’t put my finger on a decisive explanation. Maybe I’ve reached the place where you get where you’ve done something for a couple years and it starts to click and the various habits start to set in. Maybe it’s been new connections I’ve made. Maybe there was just a nice influx of really cool migratory species to lure me in this year.

On December 31, 2016, I found my first Red-Breasted Nuthatch over at Sadler’s Pond, the last bird species of the year. It brought my life-list (a bird-nerd term which means “bird species I’ve seen in my life”) to 115. That December brought a lot of cool new species such as a Northern Shrike, Northern Harriers, and Snow Buntings. And then, suddenly, 2017 came, a fresh new year.

Now, almost a full year later, I’m reflecting on 2017 (a full year of fairly heavy-duty birding). In 2017 I’ve birded in two countries and seven states/province, tallying 209 species, 193 in Essex County, Ontario and 103 in the United States. I’ve been able to add 112 “lifers” (bird species I’ve seen for the first time) to my life-list. I suspect that unless I start traveling pretty far south or west, I won’t have another 100+ lifer year!

There have been a lot of great moments. For instance: The time we were doing a family walk (with my wife and three young kids) and my brilliant wife pointed to what proved to be the first Wood Stork to be seen in Ontario in over fifteen years. (She’s a keeper, eh? I mean my wife, not the Wood Stork!) It’s not every day you can add a new species to the Point Pelee list!!! There were also the Short-eared Owls. The Snowy Owls. The Golden Eagles. The Snowy Egret. And the River Canard Yellow Crowned Night Heron. The Hudsonian Godwit, Glossy Ibis, and other amazing varieties of shorebirds at the lagoons. The Olive-Sided Flycatchers. The Eurasian Wigeon. The Little Gull. My first Pileated Woodpeckers. The Red-headed Woodpeckers. The Dickcissel. The Red-Throated Loon that was really up-close. The mini-warbler fallouts in less popular hotspots. There was my first Christmas Bird Count at Point Pelee where a Bohemian Waxwing appeared. I’m probably forgetting some other great moments. Many of these experiences were shared with many great family and friends at my side!

Here are some birds I regret not going to see: the Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Lapland Longspur, and Black-necked Stilt. Hopefully some of these can be added to my list in 2018.

I’m so thankful that, despite being pretty busy, I’ve been able to get out so much and see so much. It’s been a challenging process to get decent photographs, get used to my binocs, and learn to ID species I haven’t come across. I’m very thankful for my wife and children who so patiently and lovingly endure this hobby of mine. (For the record, my son constantly speaks of wanting to go to see ducks and my daughters are very vigilant sidekicks at hawk-spotting). I’m also thankful for the many amazing local birders who have been so helpful, so supportive, and so patient with a newbie like me.

Quite a birdy year it has been! I envision myself continuing to bird in 2018. In some ways, 2017 was a year of great expansion and 2018 will probably involve more consolidation. I don’t anticipate getting as many new species, but I will be attempting to get better at IDs and get to know some of the previously seen birds a little better.  I also hope to improve my ability to recognize bird sounds. The prospect of a new year with 4 fresh seasons is rather exciting!

No matter what level of knowledge or interest in birds you have, I hope 2018 is a safe and happy New Year. Good birding and I hope to see you out in the field!