Monday, May 6, 2013

Loving the Lifer Life

My time in Southwestern Ontario is certainly paying off. Despite very limited numbers of migrant songbirds and warm weather keeping the birds from being very active, I have had seven lifers in the past five days. Lifer is a term used by birders to refer to a species they have never seen before, although I extend the definition to well-defined hybrids and subspecies as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and odonates. So, in no particular order, here is some background on my seven lifers.

Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers frequently hybridise and create fertile hybrids. Occasionally, certain combinations of hybrids and backcrosses will show both the yellow body of Blue-winged and the chickadee-like face pattern of Golden-winged to create the rare and stunning Lawrence’s warbler. One was reported on the 4th, and as I had never seen one, I soon headed over to the spot. Within about 10 minutes I spotted the exquisite male Lawrence’s feeding low beside the path. Everybody present soon had excellent looks as it fed in plain view, including hopping on the road for a little bit, although I only got this one poor photo. 

Saturday evening just about half an hour before dusk I headed over to an opening in the forest with some brush piles. I ended up spending an hour there in perfect still conditions and warm temperatures. It was one of those perfect moments - there was nowhere else I'd rather be and nothing else I'd rather be doing. 

My lifer Red Bat started flying around soon after I got there with just enough light to identify it. A male Hooded Warbler foraged in the brush right in front of me as Wood Thrushes sang from several locations. As the sky darkened Spring Peepers started to call and American Woodcocks displayed overhead. To top it off, my first Whip-poor-will of the year sang a few times. 

I did not get any pictures of the Red Bat then, but today someone pointed one out roosting in a small bush right beside a trail! This is probably my favourite sighting so far this month.

It's slightly embarrassing, but I'd never actually seen a Five-lined Skink before. A friend who is doing research in the park showed me some spots for them, and we ended up seeing five, including a nice bright juvenile. 

Two beautiful shorebirds were lifers for me this week. Wilson's Phalarope are quite regular at the right spots in Ontario, but I have never been to the right spot at the right time, so I was very excited to get great looks at a pair at Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. This species is interesting in that, unlike nearly all birds, the female are much brighter than the males, and the males take on the roles of incubating and raising young. This pattern is found in a few other shorebirds including the common Spotted Sandpiper.

Female on left

The other shorebird lifer is much rarer. Yesterday afternoon 3 Black-necked Stilts were reported at Hillman Marsh near Point Pelee. I had no plans that evening and there were very few birds around Rondeau so I decided to drive down and see them. When I got there, the stilts had not been seen recently, but soon 2 were found and the many birders on site got great looks, although you can't tell from the pictures I got.

Here is what they are supposed to look like. I believe this is the 17th record for Ontario. On the way back from Hillman I had a European Hare run across the road. This species has been introduced into Ontario for hunting. A lifer, but hardly a very exciting one.

My final lifer (last for this blog post, but actually seen within hours of my arrival at the park) was much more exciting. I was inside the visitor centre at Rondeau when somebody came in to say that there was a rare butterfly outside. When I stepped out Blake Mann was looking at a White-M Hairstreak! This was not something I expected whatsoever. I was able to see the incredibly iridescent blue upperside of this rare butterfly when it flew after sitting on a fence post for about five minutes. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet attempted to snag it out of the air, but the butterfly seemingly escaped unscathed. Unfortunately I did not have a memory card in my camera, but Blake will probably post some photos on his blog

Certainly a great few days after an excessively long winter!


  1. PHotos of the butterfly will be up soon!
    Always exciting to get life birds, so that is nice for you.
    There seems to be a lot of Red Bats lately. Saw some at Rondeau last week and at Pelee yesterday. We even had many on the Christmas Bird Count (flying around) last December!!

    1. I suspect that Red Bats are increasing as species like Little Brown and Big Brown vanish due to white-nose disease.