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

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.

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)

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 Amazon.com 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.

Warblers

Falcons/Hawks/Eagles

Ducks

Shorebirds

Gulls

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?