Saturday, November 28, 2015

Late Sightings

For the most part, this November has been unseasonably warm, and as a result I've had a number of unseasonable sightings. Perhaps most notably, I've had two extremely late butterfly records. First up was this Common Ringlet in Mississauga on November 16. This seems to be the latest record ever for Ontario by over two weeks!

This Red Admiral on November 25 will almost certainly end up being my last butterfly of the year. A December butterfly would certainly be exceptional!

The warm temperatures have also had an effect on amphibians (Spring Peepers calling on November 26 at Rondeau) and reptiles (a freshly road-killed Garter Snake on November 28, also at Rondeau). No pictures!

I do have some pictures for the next section, although as you'll see I am not very good at getting clear shots of skulking songbirds! This is unfortunate, as when insect-eating songbirds linger into early winter, they are usually found skulking in dense brush. For example, this Blue-headed Vireo at Arkendo Park in Oakville.

The sewage treatment plant here offers a hospitable environment at this time of year when insect prey becomes scarce elsewhere, and there were several interesting birds here, including the above vireo as well as this Wilson's Warbler:

Most notable though was this Red-eyed Vireo, maybe the latest record ever in Ontario when it was last seen on November 16.

Gray Catbird is another bird that really shouldn't be around this late into the year.

For some reason, a Summer Tanager has decided that Rondeau will be a good place to winter. Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing it will make it.

For most of Southern Ontario, the only sparrows that can be expected in winter are American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco, with a few other species being found in small numbers. In the far south of the province a much larger variety can be found. In the last few days at Rondeau I have also seen White-throated, Song, Swamp, Field, Chipping, Fox and Vesper Sparrows.

The photo below shows a Chipping and an American Tree Sparrow. Although these species are often confused, the small size and different pattern of Chipping is fairly obvious in direct comparison.

While Golden-crowned Kinglets are a common overwintering bird, Ruby-crowned Kinglets are much rarer, being more common when the winters are warm. Unfortunately, these tiny birds often get stuck on burdock "burs" at this time of year.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Portugal and Spain Part 3

The third and final post for this awesome trip!

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra is the largest natural lake in Iberia (6.5 x 2.5 km), but is incredibly shallow, rarely more than a metre deep. It dries up to a huge degree in the summer months, and indeed was too shallow when we visited for the huge flocks of ducks we were hoping for.

This site is home to the second largest Greater Flamingo colony in Europe (although numbers vary massively based on water levels). We did see large numbers here, but views were very distant, as all the viewpoints over the lake were disappointingly far from the water. Still, I did get a reasonable video showing the funny way these birds feed.

Luckily, we later visited a site where some 2000 flamingos could be seen much closer.

Quite a few White Storks were mixed in. Stork nests adorned hydro poles and buildings throughout our trip except in mountainous areas.

The highlight here was running into a British expat birder who ended up showing us around his local area for three hours - serious hospitality! The best bird here was our only Black-winged Kite of the trip. These little raptors are bizarrely short-tailed with tern-like flight.

One of the major highlights of the trip was seeing a number of Hoopoe (Hoopoes?). This unique bird has no close relatives, but is probably somewhat related to the hornbills.

As you can see, they can become somewhat tame!

Zitting Cisticolas strongly reminded me of Sedge wrens in appearance and behaviour, although they aren't nearly as secretive. They also have an awesome common name!

European Stonechat was probably the most frequently seen bird in any open habitat.

This odd succulent plant dominated the rocky coasts of Portugal.

We eventually found out that it is Hottentot Fig - a serious invasive species!

Dragonflies seen included a variety of small meadowhawk-like skimmers as well as various darners. The only species conclusively identified was this one that washed up dead in the surf at the end of our trip - a Blue Hawker (Aeshna cyanea).

On our final day we unexpectedly came across a sign pointing out these dinosaur footprints presrved in a cliff face. It's hard to tell from the picture but the prints are bigger than a dinner plate.

And that was it! For those interested in that kind of thing, we had 128 species of birds, of which 108 were lifers for me. Several of the subspecies were new too - Green-winged Teal, Great Egret, Whimbrel and possibly others. The full list is below, with lifers in bold:

Gadwall,  Eurasian Wigeon,  Mallard,  Northern Shoveler,  Northern Pintail,  Green-winged Teal,  Common Pochard,  Red-legged Partridge,  Little Grebe,  Great Crested Grebe,  Greater Flamingo,  Cory's Shearwater,  Balearic Shearwater,  White Stork,  Northern Gannet,  Great Cormorant,  European Shag,  Gray Heron,  Great Egret,  Little Egret,  Cattle Egret,  Glossy Ibis,  Eurasian Spoonbill,  Osprey,  Black-shouldered Kite,  Eurasian Griffon,  Booted Eagle,  Eurasian Marsh-Harrier,  Eurasian Sparrowhawk,  Red Kite,  Common Buzzard,  Western Swamphen,  Eurasian Moorhen,  Eurasian Coot,  Common Crane,  Eurasian Thick-knee,  Black-winged Stilt,  Pied Avocet,  Black-bellied Plover,  Northern Lapwing,  Kentish Plover,  Common Ringed Plover,  Common Sandpiper,  Green Sandpiper,  Common Greenshank,  Common Redshank,  Whimbrel,  Eurasian Curlew,  Black-tailed Godwit,  Ruddy Turnstone,  Red Knot,  Sanderling,  Dunlin,  Little Stint,  Common Snipe,  Great Skua,  Jaeger sp.,  Razorbill,  Black-headed Gull,  Mediterranean Gull,  Audouin's Gull,  Yellow-legged Gull,  Lesser Black-backed Gull,  Caspian Tern,  Sandwich Tern,  Rock Pigeon,  Common Wood-Pigeon,  Eurasian Collared-Dove,  Eurasian Hoopoe,  Common Kingfisher,  Eurasian Kestrel,  Peregrine Falcon,  Southern Gray Shrike,  Eurasian Jay,  Iberian Magpie,  Eurasian Magpie,  Red-billed Chough,  Eurasian Jackdaw,  Carrion Crow,  Common Raven,  Crested Lark,  Thekla Lark,  Eurasian Crag-Martin,  Coal Tit,  Crested Tit,  Eurasian Blue Tit,  Great Tit,  Long-tailed Tit,  Short-toed Treecreeper,  Eurasian Wren,  Goldcrest,  Firecrest,  Cetti's Warbler,  Common Chiffchaff,  Zitting Cisticola,  Eurasian Blackcap,  Sardinian Warbler,  Dartford Warbler,  Spotted Flycatcher,  European Robin,  Bluethroat,  European Pied Flycatcher,  Black Redstart,  Blue Rock-Thrush,  European Stonechat,  Black Wheatear,  Northern Wheatear,  Eurasian Blackbird,  Song Thrush,  Spotless Starling,  Alpine Accentor,  Dunnock,  Gray Wagtail,  White Wagtail,  Meadow Pipit,  Cirl Bunting,  Rock Bunting,  Corn Bunting,  Common Chaffinch,  Brambling,  European Greenfinch,  Eurasian Siskin,  European Goldfinch,  Eurasian Linnet,  European Serin,  House Sparrow,  Spanish Sparrow,  Common Waxbill,  Scaly-breasted Munia

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Portugal and Spain Part 2

The tiny British territory of Gibraltar is mostly heavily urbanised, but the largely undeveloped top of the "rock" still holds some wildlife.

The main attraction here is the Barbary Macaques. These monkeys were introduced, probably by the Moors over 1000 years ago. They are not really wild anymore (they're fed fresh fruit daily!), but still neat to see.

They take all wildlife seriously in Gibraltar!

Iberian Wall Lizards were common on exposed rockfaces throughout the trip. Other reptiles seen included Moorish Gecko, various other unidentified lizards, and an undidentified turtle.

Probably the highlight of my trip was a hike at Sierra Crestillina in Casares, Spain, where large numbers of Griffon Vultures can be found year-round. Unlike our Turkey Vultures, these birds are massive, with wingspans of up to nine feet. A spectacular bird!

The landscape was equally spectacular.

Finches are a more dominant part of the avifauna than in Ontario. European Goldfinch (below) were the most common, but we saw six other species, as well as two species of introduced African estrilid finches.

Another major highlight came on a hike from the village of Frigiliana, where we came across a number of Spanish Ibex, a species of goat.

They certainly like rugged terrain!

Ibex surveying its domain.

We saw a few other mammals, including European Rabbit, Egyptian Mongoose, Red Squirrel (not the same as our Red Squirrel!), various bats, and a dolphin species (probably Common Dolphin).

We saw a variety of crows, jays and magpies, but most were quite timid. Jackdaws are a small crow relative with an odd grey nape.

The only shrike found over the winter is Southern Grey Shrike, which has an oddly pink-tinged breast. We only saw two of these over the trip.

Another big highlight was seeing two small flocks of Common Cranes totaling about 20. Although we only got distant views of them on the ground, they obligingly flew almost directly overhead!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Portugal and Spain Part 1

Pilar and I just got back from an amazing two weeks spent in southern Portugal and Spain. I've got lots to share so will break it up into two or three posts. 

Most of our trip was along the coast. Along the Atlantic in Portugal that usually means spectacular cliffs interspersed with beaches. There are a variety of birds specializing in very rugged areas like this, including Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart.

Northern Gannets could be seen migrating south in large numbers. Other seabirds mixed in with them included Cory's and Balaeric Shearwaters, Great Skuas, jaegers and one Razorbill.

Two species of large gull were common everywhere - the resident Yellow-legged Gulls and overwintering Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This is a Yellow-legged, looking a little bit darker than reality in this photo.

We noticed this dead Rhinoceros Beetle dead in a parking lot. The larvae emerge from rotting wood.

A variety of coastal lagoons had incredible numbers and diversity of waterbirds. Among the gulls and Mallards in this photo can be seen Common Pochard, Common Moorhen, Little Egret and Eurasian Spoonbill.

A wider view of the same wetland (Lagoa dos Salgados). There were at least 23 species of waterbird visible from this single observation point.

Black-winged Stilts were a common site at rich wetlands, one of 20 species of shorebirds seen on the trip. It was interesting to see a mix of familiar species like Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling among the more exotic ones.

I could not manage a good photo of these gorgeous Audouin's Gulls. This is one of the rarest gulls in the world.

A wide variety of wheatears can be found in open areas throughout Eurasia and Africa, with Northern Wheatear barely extending into North America. We saw many Northern Wheatears (below) as well as a couple of Black Wheatears.

Visible in the backround of this view over Castro Marim, Portugal are artificial salt collection ponds, a common sight in coastal areas. These habitats attract an excellent variety of wading birds and shorebirds.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Algonquin Mammals (and a Bird and a Fish)

Just some random pictures from Algonquin Park.

Star-nosed Mole is a species I really want to see alive. This is maybe the fourth roadkill I've seen. Unlike our other moles, Star-nosed is quite aquatic, and uses its bizarre, appendaged nose to detect prey.

Martens are one of my favourite mammals. This one ran up a tree and watched me until I left, occasionally making quiet grunting noises.

We came across two baby jumping mice (Woodland Jumping Mice I think) on a trail. Unlike our other mice, jumping mice hibernate over the winter.

On an interior canoe trip, Todd expertly caught a couple of spectacular Brook Trout in just a few minutes.

Not long after, we came across my first Sandhill Cranes for Algonquin Park: a pair with one mostly grown young (only the young and 1 adult are visible here). This species has expanded its breeding range to an amazing degree in recent years, and is now found in appropriate habitat throughout Southern Ontario.

I couldn't make a post about Algonquin mammals without including a moose. This cow was actually seen on a return trip in mid-October, and was a very nice surprise on a cool and mostly birdless morning.