Sunday, 27 May 2012

BC Wrap-up - May trip

On Saturday, we concluded our May BC trip by driving from Penticton back to Calgary.  We were looking to add a new species or two so we chose to take the Chute Lake Road from Naramata to Kelowna.  We were hoping to encounter a Dusky Grouse on the road but we did not.  However, there is a lovely marsh near Chute Lake and a stop there yielded some new trip birds – Northern Waterthrush, Willow Flycatcher, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Wilson’s Snipe.  When we reached Kelowna, we noticed a "Road Closed" sign ... I guess that's why there was no traffic on this scenic but narrow gravel road (there was no similar sign coming from the Chute Lake direction).

View of Okanagan Lake and Kelowna from the Chute Lake Road

North of Vernon, we stopped at Swan Lake to look for Black Swifts but it was the wrong time of day.  Our last stop was at the Salmon Arm harbour.  Dick Cannings mentioned that there were usually Clark’s Grebes in amongst the large number of Western Grebes.  He was right (not that we doubted you, Dick!) and three of us had great looks at a pair of displaying birds.
Clark's Grebes

Phil was a bit under the weather so he had only a brief look and then went back to the car to rest.  We then drove straight through to Calgary as we wanted to get Phil into the loving care of his wife as soon as possible. Our decision to forgo any subsequent stops was made easier as we determined that there were no likely new team species on the rest of the route.

Looking back, we had another great trip.  Though the weather was a little on the wet side on Vancouver Island, we managed to see most our target species while enjoying the rugged beauty of the coastal landscape. 
View from our Tofino area motel

Totem in Pacific Rim N.P.
The culture of the west coast first nations was much in evidence though we didn’t have sufficient time to fully experience it.  Later this year, we will visit the north coast and I hope to show the other team members the birthplace of my grandmother – Lax Kw’alaams (north of Prince Rupert).

We finally made inroads on our mammal count, mostly with marine mammals and rodents.  The highlight was undoubtedly the Vancouver Island Marmot.  Phil obtained good information about the animal’s location but some knowledgeable people gave us little chance of finding it. 
We did a whale watching trip, enjoying close up views of a Gray Whale and Steller’s Sea Lions.  Viewing the Gray Whale was always in parts – first you’d see the spout (though it was more of a fine mist by the time I got the camera on it), then the barnacle encrusted back would come into view and finally the tail flukes just as it dove.
Phil, Brian and Mike on board whale watching boat
Three sections of a Gray Whale - spout, tail and back

Southwest BC has a number of mammals that cannot be found elsewhere in Canada and we had hoped to see at least a couple of them.  It was disappointing not to be able to get to the habitat of Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Townsend’s Chipmunk because of road closures in Manning Park but we did spot the Douglas’s Squirrel a couple of times.
Douglas's Squirrel

On this trip, the focus shifted from migrant to breeding birds.  On the west coast, the birding was more difficult than we were used to – the trees are so tall making the tree-top birds tough to see, the wet stuff falling from the sky blurred the binoculars and the west coast accents of some species confused us at times.  For instance, Townsend’s Warbler sounds much different than here in Alberta.  Still, we managed to get almost all of our non-pelagic targets.  We thought we might see some near-shore pelagics but the whale watching boat headed south instead of the birdier north.

Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with David Routledge, watching Vaux’s Swifts go to roost in a Cumberland chimney was a real treat.  Though we are not chasing rare birds, it is always nice when one shows up when we are in the area.  We were lucky that an Acorn Woodpecker visiting a feeder near Hope stayed around for a few days.
Acorn Woodpecker
The Okanagan valley is the best place in Canada (and in some cases, the only place) for viewing a number of species such as Gray Flycatcher, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Flammulated Owl, White-throated Swift and Common Poorwill.  Beforehand, we gave Dick Cannings a lengthy wish list and he made things easy for us by finding and identifying the birds, usually before we could even get our binoculars on them. 

Birding along the Okanagan River north of Vaseux Lake

On the BC trip we recorded 187 birds and 23 mammals; more importantly, we had 30 new birds and 11 mammals.  Our year’s total now stands at 405 – 360 birds and 45 mammals.    In the next few weeks, we have trips to the Yukon & Northwest Territories and the east coast as well as some Alberta excursions. We think that we our target of 500 is attainable (but won’t be easy) and will have a better idea of where we stand by mid-July.  Getting a few bat species would greatly improve our chances … anyone know of any bat roosts in Alberta or on the east coast?

Friday, 25 May 2012

Springtime in the Okanagan

May 24 – Today had a familiar feel as we birded the wine country of the southern Okanagan Valley with Dick Cannings, a reprise of our itinerary in March. But two months on, there was no longer any snow on our route, and spring was in the air. A quick visit to the Vaseux cliffs found us our first Lewis’s Woodpecker and Lazuli Bunting, both very handsome birds, as well as some White-throated Swifts. We also heard the first of several Rock Wrens, but none would show themselves.

Lazuli Bunting
 A pleasant stroll in a riparian area was very productive, with views of a young Long-eared Owl with parents nearby, and a sighting of a Virginia Rail, which we had only heard before.

Virginia Rail
We then spent the rest of the morning working our way up Shuttleworth Creek road, a logging road with many switchbacks affording some dramatic vistas of the valley below. No time to dawdle, however. Dick led us to a Ponderosa Pine forested area with some nice clearings and we saw three new year birds in quick succession: Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher and Cassin’s Vireo. Brian announced that the Gray Flycatcher is our 400th species, fur and feathers combined.
Gray Flycatcher - #400 [Note diagnostic dark tip to lower mandible]

Not pausing for celebration, we headed on up the logging road to kilometer 13, where Dick’s son Russell had seen two Black-backed Woodpeckers a few days earlier. We soon encountered an encouraging tapping sound which turned out to be an American Three-toed Woodpecker, normally an excellent find but today inducing a whiff of disappointment. After a fairly exhaustive search, we had to admit defeat on the Black-backed and hope to catch up with this bird later in the year. As a consolation, we had excellent looks at Red-naped Sapsuckers; however, a glimpse of a Northern Goshawk was not deemed worthy of making our list.

Red-naped Sapsucker
The IGA in Okanagan Falls makes good sandwiches, which we munched in the car park before setting off after the rest of our list of targets. At Three Gates Farm we saw a male Black-chinned Hummingbird which is a regular at the feeders of this beautiful property.
Black-chinned Hummingbird
 A small slough produced three species of rail: American Coot, Sora and a Virginia Rail, which put on a real show for us. Exploring some sagebrush and grasslands we found the truly-homely Brewer’s Sparrow. This was the last of our “new” species for the day, but we picked up several more as we made our way back to Penticton, ending the day with a total of 97 bird species and five mammal species. Displaying Bobolinks were especially noteworthy. We said our goodbyes to Dick, an excellent guide and very congenial birding companion.

 Brian’s mother and stepfather kindly invited us to their home for dinner, which was delicious and made for a relaxing evening appreciated by us all.

 May 25 – We decided to make another attempt at the Black-backed Woodpecker on the Shuttleworth Creek road, but we were thwarted again. Brian needed to go to Kelowna to take care of some personal business, so Ray, Mike and Phil soldiered on for the rest of the day without him. Probably to Brian’s relief, we did not find any new bird or mammal species, but we enjoyed birding in beautiful country, and abundant spring wildflowers.

Ecological Reserve 100 is sage, antelope brush grassland which lies at the base of the high cliffs of the Throne, east of Oliver, providing outstanding views. In March we had seen a pair of Peregrine Falcons here. This morning we enjoyed wonderful looks at Lark Sparrows, Lazuli Buntings and – finally – a Rock Wren, singing its heart out.  After lunch in Osoyoos, we explored the area of Richter Pass, Kilpoola Lake and Kilpoola West. While we were not lucky enough to find a Sage Thrasher, it was a most enjoyable drive affording leisurely looks at a good number of bird species and a family of Yellow-bellied Marmots.

Lark Sparrow
Yellow-bellied Marmot
A final visit to Vaseux Cliffs (still Chukar-less, to Ray and Phil’s dismay) gave us our best look yet at Lewis’s Woodpecker.

Lewis's Woodpecker
Tomorrow we set off home to Calgary, and are hoping to find one or two new species along the way.

Hope to Princeton

May 23 – After a quick McDonalds breakfast and a short walk through a streamside park in Hope, we set off east on Highway 3. Our immediate goal is the small community of Sunshine Valley, where a vagrant Acorn Woodpecker was seen last week. Nobody is home at the sighting location, but from the street we can see considerable bird activity. Peering through a thick hedge from the road, Brian spots our target bird on a thistle feeder and we all get fair looks. A neighbour assures us that it's OK to enter the yard and we find Black-headed Grosbeak, Golden-crowned Sparrow,and Steller's Jay, and the woodpecker poses for excellent views. We finish with a total of 13 bird species at this well-maintained site, plus Douglas's Squirrel, a new mammal.

Continuing east we make several stops in E.C. Manning Provincial Park, finding Yellow-pine Chipmunk and Columbian Ground Squirrel.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk

Although we don't have time to do justice to this magnificent mountain park (some 70,000 hectares in size) we elect to chase a recent Lynx sighting along the ski area road. Unfortunately it's blocked by a crew removing pine beetle-infected trees. Roads to higher elevations are closed due to snow, eliminating our chances of seeing a Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Townsend’s Chipmunk, whose range is restricted to the Cascades. Before leaving the park we refresh our coffee supply at the small store, noting cowbirds begging for handouts along the path where a couple months ago we'd found over a meter of snow. Pine Grosbeaks and Clark’s Nutcrackers are also in evidence.

Up to now the day has been overcast and drizzly, but the sky is blue as we arrive in Princeton. Here we visit a private home where a rare Lesser Goldfinch has been frequenting a feeder. The hospitable owner welcomes us into her bird-friendly yard complete with Western Tanagers, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Black-headed Grosbeaks swarming the feeders -- but no Lesser Goldfinch.

Western Tanager
Continuing on to Penticton we spot a couple of trip-bird raptors – American Kestrel in the countryside and Merlin at our Super 8 lodging. At the home of Penticton birder and friend Dick Cannings we see our first Calliope Hummingbirds of the year. Dick joins us for a Greek supper, and then guides us to a forest where in ideal conditions we spot Bullock's Oriole, Flammulated Owl and several Common Poorwills -- a marvelous way to end the day.

Flammulated Owl in a Nest Box

Common Poorwill
(blog entry composed by Mike)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tofino to Comox to Hope

Given the forecast for wet weather all day Monday we decided to make an early morning start back to east Vancouver Island and the Comox area. First stop however was for breakfast in a nice little cafe right by the Tofino waterfront. Not only did we enjoy a hearty and very reasonably priced breakfast but even more important, we could see two California Sea Lions lazing around in the nearby marina. For Brian this was a catch up mammal and he rushed outside to get a picture or two.

California Sea Lion

The rain was falling steadily as predicted so we drove straight across the island to Comox without any stops. 

A Wet Drive from Tofino!

 By the time we reached the Comox area the weather improved somewhat so we decided to explore the area a bit. We drove out to Goose Spit where there were no birds of interest but we enjoyed watching two fellows "wind surfing", basically using a large kite to pull them and their surf boards back and forth across the bay. Very impressive! A Hudsonian Godwit had been reported in the vicinity so we drove back to the indicated location to look for it. Upon arrival we had a stroke of real luck. We met a gentleman by the name of David Routledge who we soon realised was very knowledgeable about birding in the area. He had seen the Godwit previously and took us to the spot. Unfortunately the tides were wrong and we had no exposed mudflats so not too many birds were in attendance - including the Godwit! We did however see what looked like a Cinnamon Teal/Blue-winged Teal hybrid and a few dowitchers were around too. David offered to show us a couple of places where Green Herons were possible. This had some real appeal for us as we missed them in our recent Ontario trip.

En route to the Green Heron spot, we came across a Whimbrel and a small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese. There were no Green Herons on location however so we invited David to lunch at the local Timmy's and chatted about birding options in the area. David also knew a lot about the Vancouver Island Marmots on Mt. Washington where we planned to go the next day so we were fortunate indeed to run into him! He also told us about a spot in Cumberland where we could go that evening to watch Vaux's Swifts swirling down into a local chimney to roost for the night. It was still early afternoon however so we drove north to Seal Bay Regional Park and then Kitty Coleman Beach Park, both very pleasant spots but alas, no new birds or mammals were forthcoming. 

The Forest Trails of Seal Bay Park

The highlight for the day proved to be our evening visit to Cumberland to see the Vaux's Swifts David had mentioned. Apparently these swifts have migrated all the way from South America and their travels are not over yet! Watching several hundred of these birds swoop down and disappear into an old brick chimney is truly a spectacle worth seeing.

Vaux's Swifts

Tuesday was our day for Mt. Washington and the Vancouver Island Marmots! We had done our research on these critters and had a pretty good idea where to look for them. We set off from Comox at 5 am and arrived on site before 6 am. At first things didn't go well. The mountain slopes were still covered by lots of snow and we had trouble seeing the rocky outcrops we had hoped for. We gave up after a while and focussed on target number two - a Sooty Grouse. This was just as high a priority for us as the marmots and we found one almost immediately thanks to it's very low frequency hooting noise. We were rewarded with fabulous views from about fifty feet away and were able to get a couple of good pictures.

Sooty Grouse Displaying

Feeling pretty pleased  with ourselves we decided to head back to Comox but we made one more stop for the marmot as we began our drive down the mountain. Good job we did! After scanning the mountainside for about 15 minutes, Brian suddenly spotted some movement. For the next few minutes we all enjoyed  good views of a single distant marmot as it scurried around in the snow around the base of some large rocky outcrops. This is a very rare mammals species, the survival of which has been the focus of a great deal of effort! We felt very lucky indeed to see one in the wild, even at a relatively large distance.

Finding the Marmot!
We returned to Comox and celebrated our success by eating far too much for breakfast - again! We tried for the Green Heron again but to no avail so we set off for Nanaimo to catch a ferry for the mainland. We stopped briefly en route at Rosewall Ck. Provinical Park and picked up several good birds for our day list, as well as a Hammond's Flycatcher which is a new team bird for the year.

The ferry ride was very quiet for birds so we used the time to grab a quick lunch. Before long we were bumper to bumper in Vancouver traffic, yearning to be back out in the country. Soon enough we arrived at the  Pitt Lake region. One of the real joys of this Big Canada Year is discovering new places and Pitt Lake was just such a case. We spent a happy hour or two exploring the area picking up lots of trip birds as well as a Western Wood-Peewee. We also saw two American Beavers one of which was so huge it seemed more like a small Black Bear!

Western Wood-Peewee

The final leg of this rather long day was our run into Hope. The rain began in earnest once again and we were delighted to arrive at our motel choice for the night and get out for supper and our daily checklist review. Our four new bird species over the past wo days bring our year total to 344. The Vancouver Island Marmot was our 42nd mammals species. That brings us to 386 for our combined total year to date. Tomorrow we drive via Manning Park to Penticton where we'll spend the balance of the week before returning to Calgary. 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

May 19 -- By the time Mike and Phil arrive in Victoria on Westjet from Calgary at 8:25 AM, we are “delighted” to learn that Brian and Ray have already been out birding for a couple of hours and notched up two new birds, Rufous Hummingbird and Black-headed Grosbeak. It is a fine sunny morning and we are happy to find a Black-throated Gray Warbler at Horth Hill Regional Park, just a few minutes from the airport. Here we heard a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, but don’t manage to track it down. It is the first of three “heard-only” species today which go onto our list, but we won’t be satisfied till we’ve actually seen the birds.
Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Our destination is Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where we will go on a Whale Watching outing on Sunday morning. Tofino lies just outside the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Most of the route is on Highway 4, a long and winding road crossing the island from east to west, which could almost have been the inspiration for Paul McCartney when he wrote the last song The Beatles would record. (Note: in point of fact, The Long and Winding Road is said to have been inspired by the B842, a thirty-one mile (50 km) winding road in Scotland, running along the east coast of Kintyre into Campeltown.) We made a few stops along the way for birding, leg stretching, food, etc. At Yellowpoint Lodge south of Nanaimo we heard Western Tanager and Olive-sided Flycatcher; on a logging road towards Mount Arrowsmith, the hoped-for Sooty Grouse does not materialize, but brief looks at a MaGillivray’s Warbler provides some compensation. Just before the entrance of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Brian and Ray observe a Townsend’s Vole scuttling across the road in front of the vehicle. 

Stopping at the first of three visitor centres on a 30 km stretch of road, we learn that the best resource for birding information in the park is Ewen Brittain, who’s working at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre (the old Wickannish Inn). We track down Ewen, who is very helpful and advises that another birder saw a Bar-tailed Godwit in Tofino yesterday, which we’ll try for later. Scoping from the Visitor Centre, we see a good variety of birds and mammals on or near the small islets scattered in the sound, including Steller’s Sea Lions and both Humpback and Gray Whales.  Following up on Ewen’s advice, we find over 50 Whimbrels and a Black Bear (new mammal!) at Grice Bay.
Black Bear, Nonchalantly Watching Us
It’s time to check into our hotel, the Best Western Tin Wis, where we find the rooms to be comfortable and then enjoy an excellent early dinner in the restaurant overlooking the bay. It’s time to head to the mudflats at the end of Sharp Road, as the tide will be coming in. Ray soon finds the godwit for us, but it is at a considerable distance, and the light is fairly poor. Was it a Bar-tailed Godwit? – we may never know. A highlight is watching two Caspian Terns fishing in the shallows.

We make a run down to Ucluelet, 40 km to the south, and are successful in finding the Sea Otters in Little Bay, just where Ewen had told us to look. No luck, however, with California Sea Lions in the harbour.

May 20 -- Today we are booked on a whale watch, but first we head back to Sharp Road. Brian has read on VIBirds that a local birder saw a Hudsonian Godwit there yesterday. This morning we see what is, without doubt, a Hudsonian Godwit.

We check in to the West Coast Aquatic Safaris office and put on the rain jackets supplied  for the whale watch.  Ray and Phil spot a California Sea Lion right next to the wharf as we are boarding. We go out on the Nanuq, a very comfortable 36-passenger catamaran, with about 15 passengers on board this morning. Unfortunately the route is planned to take us for a close encounter with a Gray Whale off Long Beach, and away from Cleland Island where we’d hoped to see Tufted Puffins. And we don’t go far enough offshore to see any petrels or shearwaters. So we have to content ourselves with excellent looks at the Gray Whale and a colony of Steller’s Sea Lions. We see lots of seabirds, but the looks are not great as we speed along in the catamaran.

Gray Whale

Steller's Sea Lions hanging out

A male Steller's Sea Lion Ponders His Next Move
In the afternoon we scour various coves and rocky areas for Wandering Tattlers, but have no success. A couple more visits to Sharp Road prove disappointing from a shorebird standpoint, but we do finally manage  glimpses of a Townsend’s Warbler singing high above us. The rain forecast for today has settled in and we elect to bring the birding day to an end.

Frank Lake

May 18 -- Our trip to BC will start on Saturday, but Brian and Ray have already departed for the coast by car with their better halves, Barb and Agnes. Left to their own devices in Calgary, Mike and Phil spend a morning in the Frank Lake area, about an hour south. Overnight snow had been forecast (it is only mid-May, after all) but didn’t materialize and a cool, cloudy, calm morning is very comfortable for birding.

The population of breeding White-faced Ibises at Frank Lake has been growing rapidly in recent years, and 200 birds were seen earlier in the week. As we drive towards the blind, ibises are flying over the marsh and several fly up from close to the boardwalk to the blind itself; Mike counts a dozen nests close to the blind. A lone Western Grebe is a catch-up bird for both of us, and a flock of five handsome Red-necked Phalaropes is the first team sighting of the year.
We know of several sloughs in the area which can be good for northbound shorebirds. One we didn’t know about and came across by chance, on 568th Avenue and 248th Street, turned up trumps. We have close up looks at around 50 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 15 Pectoral Sandpipers (new bird), two Baird’s Sandpipers, one Least Sandpiper and a White-rumped Sandpiper that we would’ve been overjoyed about except for the fact that we all saw one in Ontario a week ago.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Home on the Range

Over the next few weeks we’ll have three trips away from home, but while we are in Alberta there’ll be plenty of birds and mammals we need to go after. On Monday, taking advantage of fine weather, Brian and Phil went to the Brooks area, two hours east of Calgary.  We were joined by well-known American birder Paul Lehman, who’s visiting Alberta at present. His talents were a real asset! We had two particular bird species in mind, and we got both of them: Red Knot and Whimbrel. Both these species breed in the High Arctic and this was our best opportunity to see them. 
In the Rolling Hills area south-east of Brooks we came across a field with hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers, many of them quite close to the road. Among the plovers were at least twelve Red Knots. As we searched through the flock to see what else might be among them, two Whimbrels flew over. Although we had expected to see many more in the area, none were in evidence.
Red Knot on the Prairie

Two of Many Black-bellied Plovers

An earlier stop at the Tillybrook campground found Western Kingbird and Orange-crowned Warbler, and later in the day we came across several Stilt Sandpipers among some Long-billed Dowitchers, near Weed Lake east of Calgary. So on the day we had five new bird species to add to our list.
Western Kingbird

Ontario wrap-up and warbler quiz

We’ve just concluded a very enjoyable 12 days of birding in Ontario.  On Friday May 11th, we drove to Long Point and spent the rest of the day following up on information provided by Jody Allair and Stuart Mackenzie of the Bird Studies Canada staff.  We were successful in finding an Eastern Meadowlark and Least Bittern, not so successful searching for Sedge Wren and Green Heron.
Least Bittern
After spending the night in Tillsonburg, we went back to the Long Point area on Saturday morning.  We spent the first hours of daylight in the St. Williams Forestry Station and Backus Woods but did not find any new team birds.  We then went to the Old Cut with a stop along the way to get a better look at the Eastern Meadowlark.  At the Old Cut, we saw a number of warblers (but nothing new) and finally heard and then saw an Eastern Wood-Pewee.  As we were about to leave, someone called out “Hawk … Red-tailed Hawk … no, it’s a Red-shouldered Hawk, a first year bird … a good bird”.  A good bird indeed and we were in high spirits as we headed towards Toronto.
Eastern Wood-Pewee

One last stop en route: Townsend Lagoons.  There were a number of ducks and shorebirds at the lagoons but, at first glance, nothing new.  However, as we were just about to leave, we noticed a peep that was quite a bit bigger than the Least Sandpipers, and it turned out to be a White-rumped Sandpiper for our final team bird of the trip.

Point Pelee is well known for viewing migratory birds, especially warblers.  Now for a little quiz ... identify the warblers shown in the photos below.  Don't use size as a factor as the birds are not to scale.  The answers are listed at the end of this post.

To help you a bit, here's a list of the warblers in alphabetical order:

American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler

Dazed Inn
Any time you spend 10 days in one hotel as we did in Leamington, you probably will observe some unusual things.  Near the end of our stay, Mike commented that the hotel reminded him of Faulty Towers so we re-christened it “Dazed Inn”!  The staff was very friendly and helpful but the hotel’s rules and procedures left us baffled at times.  To start with, the design was faulty (at least by our standards) as the rooms had no outside windows (they did have a patio door that opened out into the indoor pool area).  The rooms were so dark that one person had to hold the door open so that the other could see in order to turn the lights on.  They did have a light switch at the door but it was an old style very low wattage CFL that took about 5 minutes to reach full brightness. 

When we checked in, we were each given 10 breakfast vouchers but we were never asked for them.  The cold breakfast was good but a hot breakfast was only offered after we (and most of the other birders) were long gone.  The hotel had a decent restaurant that we ate at a few times.  They were out of our favourite beer the first night; they were still out of it 10 days later.  They did have a good supply of Bok Choy as that was the only vegetable on offer for our entire stay.

We were usually up by 5 each day so quite often came back for a rest around 3 or 4 pm - just when the cleaning staff were getting around to our room.  So much for a quiet rest!  One afternoon a manager (or so he claimed) walked into our room without knocking.
Trip totals

In all, we recorded 182 bird species of which  89 were new team birds.  We saw 8 mammals with 5 new (live!) ones.  We had a list of 50 target birds and managed to get 38 of them.  This was in line with our expectations but of course, we were hoping for more.  We are back in Alberta for a bit and then it’s off to BC.
Quiz answers

1 Blackburnian Warbler 13 American Redstart
2 Pine Warbler 14 Northern Parula
3 Tennessee Warbler 15 Magnolia Warbler
4 Cerulean Warbler 16 Yellow-throated Warbler
5 Cape May Warbler 17 Nashville Warbler
6 Black-throated Blue Warbler 18 Common Yellowthroat
7 Canada Warbler 19 Prothonotary Warbler
8 Yellow Warbler 20 Blue-winged Warbler
9 Black-throated Green Warbler 21 Ovenbird
10 Chestnut-sided Warbler 22 Yellow-rumped Warbler
11 Black-and-white Warbler 23 Palm Warbler
12 Blackpoll Warbler

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Midges, Warblers & Farewell to Pelee

After more than a week of birding in the Pelee/Rondeau area it's getting more difficult to find new birds each day!  Nevertheless, our final two full days here have not been without their memorable moments - both good and bad! After a day in Rondeau on Tuesday we decided to spend Wednesday in Pelee and to start early. We arrived at the park at 5:30 a.m. when it was still dark. Rather than wait for the first shuttle bus we had decided to walk the 2.5 km to "The Tip", hoping to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will or perhaps see a mammal or two. As we walked we noticed a steady and ever-louder hum from the surrounding tree tops - rather like the drone of an airplane overhead. We quickly realised this was the result of vast swarms of insects gathered above us. Midges! We were grateful that these things seemed to be high enough to be of no concern. Or so we hoped! As the minutes passed and the sun rose slightly above the horizon, these creatures descended from the stratosphere to the level of we humans.  Long before we reached The Tip, we were surrounded by them and I for one became decidedly less interested in any bird life that may have been present!

Midge Attack!

This initial discomfort was not the end of it. After a quick walk around The Tip trail, I persuaded my comrades to try the West Beach Trail. Given the steady west wind, I reasoned, we would surely find the midges less bothersome and might even find a mourning warbler or two. All agreed to this clever strategy but five minutes later we were choking out billions of midges that were even thicker than before. With my planning credibility shot, we beat a hasty retreat back to the east side of the peninsula!

Midges were not the only insect issue in Pelee. We were warned about ticks back on our first day here and we took as much care as we could to avoid this particular critter. Despite our best efforts we did find a couple of them. Mike kindly modelled this one for our cameras.
Red-legged Tick

On these last couple of days we had only five new year birds. Two of them were good warbler finds, a Canada Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler. We had great views of both!
Canada Warbler

Two others were Chimney Swift and Short-billed Dowitcher, neither of which allowed a close-up view. The fifth bird was very noteworthy. Thrushes have been fairly common here (Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush and Veery). Today we saw what was most likely a Gray-cheeked Thrush. There were a number of observers who felt this thrush might actually be a Bicknell's Thrush which would be amazing! These observers put their huge lenses to work and no doubt greater authorities than any of us will make a final determination. We will stick with Gray-cheeked Thrush in the interim!
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Though our primary focus was on new year birds, we had several repeat encounters with birds already seen and sometimes these afforded us better views and better pictures. Most memorable were an incredibly obliging Philadelphia Vireo which came within ten feet of us and then today, a pair of Prothonotary Warblers!
Philadelphia Vireo
Prothonotary Warbler
On the mammals side of things, we had an amusing incident. Brian has taken to exploring the overhanging roofs of any old buildings we come across in the park in an effort to fnd a bat. Last night he found one. We photographed it and spent a lot of time poring over the pictures and various field guides to try and determine which species it was. Today we went back to take another look at it in case it was still there. It was. But it looked suspiciously similar in position to the previous evening. A passing by naturalist decided to give it a prod with a stick. The poor thing was dead!  We spent all our time studying a dead bat it seems!
Little Brown Bat (dead)
Tomorrow morning we are off to Long Point Provincial Park for our last day before flying home to Calgary. We've had a great trip here to Pelee and we've seen a lot of birds!