Monday, September 23, 2013

Bruce Peninsula Weekend

This weeked I took a trip to the Bruce Peninsula with the University of Guelph Wildilfe Club. Although rain and cool temperatures certainly hampered seeing wildlife, we still came up with some exciting sightings.

These Black Saddlebags remains were in a spider web along the shore. This seems pretty far north for this species to me.

We spent quite a lot of time flipping over rocks looking for snakes. Although we had little luck in that department, some other interesting creatures could be found, like this huge millipede:

Or this pair of camel crickets:

There were still a few snakes around. This tiny Brown Snake was one of four under a single rock.

A number of Garter Snakes were moving around on Saturday afternoon, and this individual was particularly nice looking. 

Although shorebird season is winding down, we still had a few species. Can you find the Semipalmated Plover in this picture?

Only two species of herps were found in any numbers: Red-backed Salamanders and Leopard Frogs. This is one of the brownest and most densely marked Leopard Frogs I've ever seen.

This huge sphinx moth caterpillar was traversing a patch of bare rock. I believe it may be Clemen's Sphinx (Sphinx luscitiosa)

The herp highlight of the trip, this Spotted Salamander, was found under a rotting log along with four Red-backed Salamanders by Emma Cushnie.

After the trip, a few of us continued birding on the way back to Guelph, and had by far the best birding of the trip (as usual, you see more when it means some people are missing out!). This Baird's Sandpiper allowed close approach at Singing Sands.

Other species on the huge expanse of sand here included a number of American Pipits and Horned Larks.

 Horned Larks

The best bird of the trip came at Isaac Lake, where a Snow Goose stood out immediately in a flock of Canadas. This is only my second for Ontario, Mark Dorriesfield's first and Christmas Ho and Emma Cushnie's lifer. Not bad!

To top things off, on the way out of this area, Mark spotted this Merlin perched at the tip of a dead branch. Before we could even get out of the car, a Northern Harrier and Osprey flew right over the same spot! Once we actually managed to step outside, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over and a quick scan of the horizon revealed an adult Bald Eagle and a number of Turkey Vultures. Six species of raptors in two or three minutes - awesome!

Finally on the way out, we came across a flock of about 150 Rusty Blackbirds - a good-sized flock for this declining species.

Despite the weather and distinct lack of herps, it was an awesome trip with some great people!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Western Kingbird in Hamilton

On September 8th, I spent the afternoon and evening birding around Hamilton with Chris Ho and Mark Dorriesfield. We started by checking a few spots for shorebirds, mostly finding only common species, but also 1 American Golden Plover and a few other birds of note such as 3 Northern Pintail. We then headed to Van Wagner's beach for some lakewatching.

Van Wagner's is situated perfectly at the west end of Lake Ontario such that in east winds birds are blown close to shore. When we arrived we were disappointed to learn that we had just missed a group of four Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers at point-blank range, but settled in for an afternoon of scanning the horizon. A few distant Sabine's Gulls were great to see and distant jaegers were present from time to time, but the birds never cooperated. Late in the afternoon, the news came in that a Western Kingbird seen two days before had been rediscovered, so we, along with a good portion of the several dozen birders present, drove out of the city to the seemingly unremarkable location where it had been seen.

Although we quickly saw both a Great Crested Flycatcher and this Eastern Kingbird, their western relative was not showing itself.

Finally, after a long wait, Brett Fried spotted the bird flying in, and we were able to enjoy it for quite some time.

Several times the kingbird regurgitated some small objects and then wiped its bill on the branch. It's hard to tell exactly what the objects are, but one of them appears shiny in the video, so perhaps beetle elytra? The Eastern Kingbird was feeding on berries so it may also be some kind of pit.

Remarkably, this is the third time I've seen this rare flycatcher in Ontario this year (I had one at Rondeau and one on Pelee Island in May).

After the kingbird we headed back to the beach and saw a few more distant jaegers as well as thousands of gulls returning to the lake to roost for the night.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Death and Decay (Warning: Graphic)

Nature isn't always nice, and dead animals provide the perfect opportunity to get close looks at things you wouldn't otherwise see. However, I know some people might not want to see this sort of thing so I've put all my recent dead animals and a couple other less-than-pleasant things together in one post. If you want to see them, skip past this baby Gray Tree Frog.


I came across this scene along Lake Ontario this winter. This rabbit was frozen in the ice at some point, and once the snow and ice melted scavengers came to eat it. All that remained was the fur stuck into the ice and a depression shaped just like a rabbit! While look at this carcass, a Long-eared Owl flushed out of a cedar right beside - prehaps the culprit for killing the rabbit.

While walking along a busy park path in Guelph, I came across these procupine remains hung up in a tree. I can only assume it was put out of reach by a walker out of concern for curious dogs.

This deer skull was also in Guelph - the snail in the eye socket is an interesting touch!

Every spring, White Suckers move up into streams to spawn, regularly perishing in the process. This bounty always attracts numbers of vultures in the spring.

The next two species were found roadkilled near my staffhouse in Algonquin Park. Neither are species that I have found alive nearby.

Eastern Newt 

Ring-necked Snake

A bit of a sad one - this young chipping sparrow had a growth under its bill and was clearly in trouble as evidenced by its incredible tameness and lethargy. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite tame enough to catch and dispatch.

One afternoon at Rondeau in May I walked along the beach, and found the remains of at least a dozen Blue Jays.

As promised, I've uploaded some of the Northern Water Snake vs. Bullfrog video from August. Listen in the first video as you can hear the frog squeak a few times in distress. This sound was how we originally discovered the pair. 

Life goes on!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Odeing in the South

Shortly after arriving back in the Great Lakes lowlands from Algonquin, I found a number of odes I haven't been able to see for quite a while due to their southern ranges.

Blue Dasher is an extremely common species, perhaps the most abundant dragonfly in eastern North America, but I miss most of their flight season while I'm in Algonquin Park, so am always happy to see them.

Familiar Bluets can be ridiculously abundant at man-made ponds in September.

American Rubyspot is perhaps my favourite ode I've seen. The gold and green females and metallic red males are both spectacular.



Although this species is abundant at this location (I had about 10 individuals today along 5 metres of riverbank), I have never seen one more than two or three metres from the water.

Other typically southern species I was happy to see included Black Saddlebags and Eastern Amberwing. I was also glad to see familiar faces like Eastern Gray Squirrel and Northern Cardinal after several months.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Leucistic Red-breasted Nuthatch

On the morning of August 30th, I birded the back section of Mizzy Lake Trail in Algonquin Park with Tood Hagedorn and Mark Dorriesfield. We had a great time, but one bird stood out as particularly interesting.

This nuthatch was feeding in a large mixed flock that also included Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed Warbler and 15 species of warblers.

Although it looks a bit like a cross between White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch, a couple of things point towards a leucistic Red-breasted. The plumage, behavior, habitat and voice were all typical for Red-breasted, and the pale bill indicates some pigment lacking, as both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches have dark bills.

Although many leucistic birds have uneven white patches, this bird seems to be utterly normal besides the pale bill and missing dark eye-lines.

A unique bird that I was very happy to see!