Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The beautiful rain

Monday afternoon I found myself searching for resident Black Woodpeckers in the forest next to my house. Although I was unsuccessful the walk wasn't a disappointment.

A came across a small flock of Yellowhammers that allowed good and lengthy looks. And this Rough-legged Buzzard hanging out on some fence posts:

The real highlight of the walk was not bird related - it involved the rain. I've been in Denmark now for one week and have already come to appreciate that it rains every day here. Even if it is a beautiful, warm and sunny day - you can be assured that the rain will come eventually. It is a constant. Just like how the Danish people are constantly unemotional - they don't seem to be very happy nor unhappy no matter what is thrown at them. Perhaps it is due to the rainy weather - they seem to be quite frank in that they simply take things as they come.

Despite the rain it can still be quite beautiful:

This place is surprisingly beautiful.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Olsemegle Revle

On Sunday I made the 1.5 hour trip to a sandy spit well known for shorebirds. It took me much longer to get there than anticipated because I was confused with where I was - but next time I will know better so I will be able to spend more time there.

Nevertheless, I managed to find my way and found many many shorebirds (including 12 species of shorebird) - Oystercatchers, Avocets, Eurasian Whimbrels and Little Stint were all new birds for me although I don't think the Eurasian Whimbrel is a new species - but it was still nice to see. This brings my DK shorebird list to 18, very nice!

If I hadn't got lost I wouldn't have found the Sanderling, nor the Avocets so that was good :)

juv. Sanderling and juv. Dunlin:

Once I got to the location where the shorebirds were I was a little overwhelmed with the thousands around me that I now had to identify. The Golden-Plovers stuck together for the most part and slept the whole time I was there:

Imagine that concentration stretching several hundreds of meters!

It was another good day, with a bonus of many many fresh, tasty and free plums! Along one of the trails (where I got lost) I came across several trees laden with plums ready to be eaten - in fact many had already fallen to the ground and began rotting away.
I helped my self to a bag full so now I don't need to buy fruit for another week or two!

Here's a photo of an apple tree:

And the beach:

Due to some errors with scheduling by one of my professors I now have Monday and Friday off!!! So I have 4 day weekends; however, Tuesday and Wednesday are quite busy. Anyway, that opens up a lot of possibilities for traveling so we'll see where it takes me.

I've already seen 11 of my 23 DK 'target' birds!

By the end of the day I had 82 species in Denmark and 56 lifers in just one week! If only every week could be like that!

Sundays lifers in order:
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Common Shelduck
Pied Avocet
Common Sandpiper
Little Tern
Little Stint

new sub-species:
Red Knot

Sunday, 28 August 2011


Yesterday I joined the Copenhagen birding group at a natural area just outside of the city core - I had heard of this place being very good for migrants and shorebirds. I expected it to be similar to Leslie Street Spit in Toronto because of its proximity to a large city. I was mistaken - this place was much better! It has already topped most if not all birding locations I've been to in Canada - except James Bay! Although, that may be because everything is new so I am easily excited.

But I've yet to see anything compete with thousands and thousands of European Golden-Plovers and Lapwings in the fields, mudflats and in the sky! I don't think I've ever actually seen shorebirds fly in a V-formation, but here it seemed to be the prevalent flight formation.

yeah, I didn't take many photos - let alone good ones(yet)!

To give an idea of what the area looks like (after a 10 minute rainstorm passed by and the sun came out):

99% of it is grassland/meadows... a small marsh yielded a hard to find Bittern. And along the coast is where another marshy/muddy area is - and where the shorebirds are.
This place is actually much larger than I expected it to be. A bike is almost necessary to be able to get to all the hotspots!

My highlights from the day were the EU Golden-Plovers, hearing Curlews and then finally seeing one (sort of like a very large Whimbrel with a longer and more curved bill - Long-billed Curlew-like I suppose) and pretty good looks at about 10 Ruff :)

A big thank you to David Collinge for taking the time to show me the area and helping me out with ID'ing the birds!

By the end of the day I had 49 lifers since arriving in DK and 70 birds on my DK list! Thank you eBird for being so user friendly!
Today I went to a beach called "Olsemagle Revle" that was equally as good - actually I saw 12 species of shorebird today and 'only' 11 yesterday :p with a total of 18 over the two days :-D
I'll write about that tomorrow.

In the near future I'll probably visit my local park again in search for Black Woodpecker (similar to the Pileated Woodpecker in North America but all black with a red crown) and possibly Sweden next weekend!

Friday, 26 August 2011

The first from DK

I finally got out this morning for my first bit of real birding. It was very foggy, even by Newfoundland standards, but still quite successful. I explored a park near my house called "Eremitagesletten" - I don't even try to pronounce it - all the street names here are insanely long and difficult to pronounce. I think it will become easier when I begin my Danish language course next week.

So far I have seen about 24 new birds for me and 30 in Denmark. Most of them are the super common ones (as expected) and will soon become very boring for me. Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, Great Tits.... etc all very common. But I did see some migrants this morning including a small flock of Spotted Flycatchers.

I've also already found some of my 'target' birds - I visited a castle yesterday with my group of international students where there were several Great-crested Grebes, this morning I found a Little Grebe with a chick and White Wagtails have been fairly common in grassy areas.

Tomorrow morning I am joining the Copenhagen birding group for a bird walk. It's meant for beginners so it will be great for me to see and study many of the common birds and then start moving on to some more interesting things!

I took some photos this morning - but those will have to wait until the weekend sometime as I now have to go to a class about Danish Culture!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The last from NL

I'm off to the Old World today where everything will be new for me, so any future posts will likely be exciting for me but not as exciting for anyone that regularly reads this blog because it's unlikely that you'll see most of the birds in Canada! I'll be back eventually though...

I'm going to finish off with some more of my Shearwater photos from earlier this week.

Fun times!

Friday, 19 August 2011

The latest from NL

Been doing a bit of birding here and there, naturally. And as usual there's been one or two chases.
A Yellow-crowned Night-heron showed itself at the lake, Mira and I found it after sunset feeding on slugs and then earlier today a Rufous Hummingbird was confirmed at a feeder not far away bringing my year list to a respectable 287.

Everyone here has been, understandably, complaining about the miserable weather they've had for the last month. One of my first thoughts was that miserable weather is great for chanterelles!

So on Monday we checked out my favourite mushroom spot - we weren't disappointed:


The hens joined the feast as well:

Along the way were many dragonflies - not sure about the identification on this one though:

Most of the shorebirds I've seen here have been White-rumped Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers - interestingly most of the WR Sandpipers have been adults while all the other peeps have been juveniles.

Whimbrels hanging out in the foggy weather:

Mira hanging out in the foggy weather:

And beautiful sunny weather all in the same day!

Some more photos from the Shearwater feeding to come! And then it's Denmark

Saturday, 13 August 2011


A great way to start day 1 in Newfoundland - a Shearwater feeding frenzy very close to shore and very close to home! And to top it off I put on my snorkeling gear and joined the Shearwaters - they were practically feeding out of my hands, that's how close they were! My attention for the Shearwaters was quickly lost when I noticed a Humpback whale swimming straight for me it eventually surfaced no more than 5 meters away from me allowing me to really see the size of the animal. I've often dreamt of swimming with whales - today was my day!

I'll just post the Shearwater photos for now - need some sleep before another day of doing the exact same thing at the exact same spot tomorrow!

Just to give an idea of the view:

Sooty Shearwaters:

Greater Shearwaters:

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Looking forward - Newfoundland & Denmark

And of course I have to post something about my next phase of birding!

I expect the birding highlight of my NL trip will be one of the first pelagic trips off the coast! A few of us have been organizing this for the past week or two so I'm super excited and can't wait to see and photograph what's out there!!! On the plate will be many seabirds (Shearwaters being the main focus, but Jaegers, Petrels, Skuas and anything else that we might turn up) as well as whales (should get some up close looks at Fin Whales) and Dolphins! And if we're super lucky we might find a Leatherback Turtle.

Of course I'll be doing as much seabirding as I can fit in at Cape Spear and a drive down the Southern Shore for shorebirding is a necessicity!
I'll be sure to post about those trips :)

And then I'm off to Denmark for 4 months - I've set myself some goals for the 4 months, I'm not sure how realistic they are but it'll be fun to compare how I do in the end with what I write here.

So here goes - a list of my hoped for lists:

Total species (including non-lifers): 153
Lifers: 102

(I started with 150 & 100 but decided to add a few on for good measure - and besides, nice round numbers are boring).

I think these numbers are achievable - I don't want to set goals too high for myself because realistically I am going there to study Engineering - not just birds! And I'll be lenient with myself: those numbers apply to all of Europe - not just Denmark!

Specific species that I hope to see:

Common-ringed Plover
European Golden Plover
Spotted Redshank

Temminck's Stint
Little Stint
Bar-tailed Godwit
Curlew Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Eurasian Woodcock
Jack Snipe
Eagle Owl
Black Woodpecker
any Wagtail species (preferably all of them! :p)
Long-tailed Tit
Bearded Reedling (aka Bearded Tit!)

yeah, so mostly shorebirds on my wishlist - but some other ones that caught my eye as well.
I'm mostly excited to finally get out there and see all these birds (even the common ones) and see all the places I've been reading about and of course meet many many new people!
And I should mention that I'm pretty excited for my courses at University - mostly medical engineering orientated :)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Looking back part 2 (hits and misses)

In my previous post I bragged about all my favourite birding trips so now I'll boast about the birds I've seen at all those places in Ontario!
So far this year I've seen 272 species of birds in Ontario which is a pretty good list (but as you'll see I've missed a few easy ones) and if I make it a full year (conveniently) between August 7th of last year and August 6th of this year I've seen 282 species in Ontario. Not bad at all...
Nevertheless, as I've mentioned, there are still a few species that I should have seen by now and are almost an embarrassment on my "tardy tick" list

But to start on a good note - a mix of my top 5 favourite and rarest birds seen in Ontario!

5: Buff-breasted Sandpiper - August, James Bay: Not sure exactly why I've taken a liking to this bird - it's a pretty sleek looking shorebird though, in my opinion. Not that rare in Southern Ontario - if you're really trying you should be able to get this most years.

4: Henslow's Sparrow - May, Pelee: One of those elusive species that I managed to see at Pelee. I was leading a group when we met up with Pete Read's group who boasted about finding a Henslow's Sparrow less than 5 minutes ago and only 30 meters away! I couldn't resist dragging my group over to help me find the bird! Most of them gave up pretty quick so I couldn't stick around for too long - but luckily for me the tallest member of my group decided to stick it out and with his height advantage he managed to see the bird scurrying around in the grass a mere 1 meter from many intent birders. I quickly rushed back to see the bird after Mira (who happened to be there as well) had had some impressive looks - or so she claimed. My jealousy quickly faded when I saw some grass moving around and then the bird quickly scurried across a tiny field of view. Not guaranteed every year even if you chase!

3: American Avocet - April, Presqu'ile:
My luck couldn't have been any better that weekend. Most weekends that I am out birding I don't have access to the internet or OntBirds - as a result I'm always worried that I'll drive right by some sort of mega-rarity with out knowing it even though the bird is all over the internet (luckily this nightmare has never played out for me .... yet). Although Avocets aren't a mega-rarity I was still pretty happy to see them as I was hoping to get the chance to see them at Pelee - I wasn't going to complain about getting them ahead of time (turns out that there were none at Pelee anyway).
Although I wasn't the original finder I did see them before I heard about their existence which was pretty exciting.
Shouldn't be too difficult to see every year if you're chasing them.

2: adult male King Eider - March, Toronto:
Not an often seen plumage in Southern Ontario - I spent sometime getting great looks at this bird. I've seen adult male King Eiders before in Newfoundland (plus an adult female plucked out of the ocean by an Eagle!) but usually they're pretty distant. So this unexpected occurrence was very much appreciated - it was also interesting to see the throngs of Toronto birders emerge from their homes to finally do some winter birding the day after this bird was found!
I'm not entirely sure how common this plumage is in Ontario - Hamilton seems to get a few sightings every year, but not as easy to come by as this one!

1: Bell's Vireo - probably the rarest bird I've seen in Ontario. After walking right by the bird I heard about it's existence at least several hours after everyone else at Pelee - or at least it seemed that way. I rushed to the spot on my bike for a quick look before rushing back to the Visitors Centre to start leading another hike. In the end I saw that bird 4 times during the day. All of them pretty much in the exact same location - 3 of those in the exact same tree!
Only a handful of records in Ontario (lots of unconfirmed ones though it seems) but certainly seems to be  increasing - it's range is expanding towards eastern North America.

And of course there are some birds I have missed. Some of them are pretty embarrassing, some of them I simply haven't gone to the right spot and others have managed to elude me despite several attempts.

6/5: Nelson's Sparrow & Le Conte's Sparrow - These two birds should have been easy finds in James Bay last August. My excuse is the incessant mosquitoes. After suffering several bites the first evening I made every effort to stay away from the island and stick to the mudflats where the mosquitoes did not like to go. Meaning I was forced to do more shorebirding - not a bad thing at all - but I didn't put the time in to search out either of the specialty sparrows.

4: Red Crossbill - I should have seen this during the winter...

3: Piping Plover - Everyone knows where they are, I simply haven't been to any of those 3 beaches...

2: Black-backed Woodpecker - I should have this by now especially after at least 3 trips to Algonquin Park with this bird high on the list of wants!

1: Eastern Screech-owl - probably my most embarrassing miss. I've heard them on a few occasions but still haven't seen one! There was even one regularly being seen in Toronto but I never did go and try for it.

I'm not too disappointed about these misses really - I'm simply happy that I've been able to get around all over Ontario. In my next post I'll do some more bragging - but this time I'll make some prophesies about the future.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Looking back part 1

I've been living in Ontario for just over two years now. During that time I've only been 'seriously' birding for 1.5 years (I really only started at the end of 2009 when I was in Newfoundland for a 4 month job). In the meantime I've become pretty obsessed with birding - I'm almost always planning a trip of some sort with birding as one of the top priorities! It has certainly got me going outside a lot more than I would have otherwise and it has brought me to some pretty cool places not just in Ontario but back home in Newfoundland too. And of course I have met many people in the process who have helped me a great deal.

This is my last week in Ontario before 1 week in Newfoundland and then 4 months in Denmark followed by another 4 months in Singapore. It's looking like I'll be back in Ontario - Waterloo to be exact - for 12 months starting next May. I doubt I'll have as much time to bird as I have had over the past couple years. But I'll try my best to keep things interesting when I'm back next year.

So how should I sum up my time in Ontario? With lists of course!

Here's a list of my top 5 birding memories from Ontario:

5: Snow Goose migration in Eastern Ontario:
After going through the previous 10 years of data from March (I do a lot of research for my trips!) on the OntBirds Archives, as well as eBird, I found the optimal weekend to search out the peak Snow Goose migration in Eastern Ontario and went for it. The research turned out to be worthwhile (or so I thought) - as we (Mira and I) found a large concentration of several thousand (25'000+) SNGO without much time spent searching the fields.

Turns out that despite all my research I couldn't have expected that the Geese would stick around - usually they move through within less than a week - numbers would more than quadruple over the next 2 weeks eventually reaching over 1'000'000 (according to some estimates)! Apparently many of the fields the geese rely on for food were covered in snow so they couldn't continue with their migration.

4: Amherst Island owling:

With only 2 species of owls on my life list and terrible looks at those few birds I was desperate to see, and learn about owls. The mythical isle of Amherst beckoned and I could not resist. Conveniently some of Mira's relatives owned a house in Kingston that wasn't being occupied so we took advantage of the opportunity. We raided the house and the island for two weekends in a row with much success. Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl were all seen. We couldn't have asked for more! I still remember the expression on Mira's face when she found our first Saw-whet Owl! I suppose it was a little cute...

Barred Owl enjoying the cold weather

3: Carden Alvar counts:
Although we didn't find anything unexpected in the area it was a blast to wander around counting all the breeding birds which otherwise would be considered unusual in other parts of Ontario. Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler and Loggerhead Shrike were all seen well. The prairie smoke was in full bloom adding to the already attractive fields of wild flowers.

2: Pelee in May:
My 3 weeks of tramping around the point fulfilled my expectations. I had confirmed my job there sometime in December or January so I was anxiously waiting to get started for 4 months - I can be quite impatient. With about 27 lifers and many more amazing hours spent birding there's no way I could complain about my time there - except that now it just keeps getting harder and harder to find something new. I never thought I could survive waking up at 5am and going to bed at 11pm every day for 3 weeks with about 16 hours of birding in between. But it worked - for the most part; my body crashed on me during the last week - I slept through 2 full days.

1: James Bay:
My birding obsession went to a whole new level when Mira and I ventured to Ship Sands Island for a week of non-stop birding. Shorebirds were on the itinerary and the mosquitoes forced us to focus on them even more because the only place we could avoid them was along the extensive mudflats - right where the shorebirds were. We didn't find anything unusual but we were still happy to see many species of shorebirds. A melanistic Least Sandpiper was unusual - something that apparently doesn't occur too often in shorebirds. I simply can't wait to go back - but in the meantime I'll revel in the stories of others as they travel North. I'm sure I'll have my turn to go as well.

In the next post I'll make some bird lists - my top 5 favourite birds seen in Ontario, my top 5 (or should it be bottom 5?) missed birds - there are some embarrassing ones in there...

Sunday, 7 August 2011


My last weekend in Ontario for at least 8 months was spent in the Waterloo region. I did a bit of birding, as usual, which got me sort of excited for next year. I'll be living in Waterloo for 12 straight months starting next May which is going to be very different for me as I have been moving to a new city every 4 months for the past 3 years! Living in one city for 12 months will allow me to really appreciate migration from one area - I'll have my regular 'patch' (which undoubtedly will be Columbia Lake and Laurel Lake) to visit most days so I'll know which birds I should expect and which ones are on the move. Over the past 2-3 years I've certainly become familiar with the general migration of birds through Southern Ontario - but I don't have a thorough understanding of one particular region.

This is highlighted by one sighting from the weekend versus last weekend. I was near Kingston 8 days ago where I saw ~175 Bonaparte's Gulls in one spot alone so I wasn't at all surprised to see 2 at Laurel Lake (Waterloo) today. Then Ken Burrel shows up to say that Bonies aren't seen in the region every year so my sighting is a pretty good one. If he hadn't showed up I would have thought the day was pretty dull without anything exciting - but as soon as I know that the bird is somewhat unusual I'm happy!

So, the moral of the story is that I should stick to one spot for a year or more so that I really get to know my local birds and can fully appreciate migration.
Have I got you convinced?!

Other fun sightings from today and yesterday:
Grass Lake area:
my first juvenile Sandhill Crane! It was huge.
Common Moorhens - which apparently are unusual for the region as well according to KB
Am. Bittern
my first juvenile Eastern Bluebird

Clair Lake:
family of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
a Northern Waterthrush

Columbia Lake:
1 Least Sandpiper

Laurel Lake:
family of Pied-billed Grebes - every time I go there it seems I see a family of Grebes

Anyway, nothing riveting about these sightings - but still fun as it'll be my last time seeing most of those species for 8+ months.

In my next post I'll look back and brag about all the cool places I've been in Ontario over the past 2ish years. And I'll convince you that you should ignore your local patch and seek out all the better birds everywhere else - because there's always a better bird to be seen wherever you're not!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Presqu'ile birding

After meandering through Eastern Ontario I stopped at Presqu'ile Provincial Park and stayed in the area from Sunday evening to Monday around noon.
Again, I was hoping for shorebirds but only found a few Semipalmated Plovers to add to my non-existent weekend list.

I did find a cool fossil:

I checked a field with many wildflowers for butterflies in the afternoon. While watching a Monarch laying eggs on the milkweed plants I found this new butterfly for me, a Great Spangled Fritillary:

But my favourite sighting of the weekend and probably one of my top highlights from birding this summer occurred while the sun was setting.

I was enjoying the setting sun over the marsh from a picnic table while I was reading a book.

I decided to take one last walk through the marsh before sunset. I was hoping to hear or see a Least Bittern. As I took my time walking along the boardwalk I became aware of a relatively large gathering of swallows overhead. At first I tried ID'ing the ones closest to me - Purple Martins stood out the most, Bank Swallows were numerous as were Barn Swallows. I did pick out a few Tree Swallows and I'm sure Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows were also present. I soon gave up on ID'ing all the birds and took in the spectacle materializing around me.
I was the only person on the boardwalk that evening adding to the already very calm and tranquil marsh at dusk. Thousands upon thousands of swallows emerged to swim and glide through the air above me in the fading light. There seemed to be surprisingly little chatter among them making the gathering more serene. I felt as though they were bidding farewell to the setting sun and saying their last goodbyes to one another before they went to roost amongst the cattails.
At 9:05 pm the swallows went speechless and disappeared within less than a minute.

It really was one of my favourite birding experiences from the year - this competing with birding in some of Ontario's top locations (Long Point, Pelee, Carden Alvar, Algonquin...). I think I enjoyed it more than Pelee in May! Mostly because I had planned going to Pelee and knew I was in for some good birding. In contrast, I went on to that marsh boardwalk looking for 1 bird in particular without any expectations of the gathering about to unfold around me.

I often find surprises make more of an impression and are more satisfying than something that is expected to happen.

My final estimate on numbers was 50'000. I'm pretty sure there were many more than that though. This photo alone has ~250 birds (or maybe my computer screen has a lot of dust spots) and I am zoomed in a lot so the photo shows less than 1% of the sky! On top of that, the aperture was at f/5.6 - meaning that there was a small Depth of Field meaning that most of the birds that should be in the photo are out of focus and not visible!
So, 50'000 is a pretty conservative estimate.

This photo doesn't do justice to the scene whatsoever.