Saturday, 31 May 2014

Birding on the other side of the pond - Bronte Creek Provincial Park and more Patch Birding - May 2014

With my trip rapidly drawing to a close I am now based back in Oakville for the few days that are left. As such my birding will consist of walking the trails in the local vicinity and visiting other nearby sites. On Thursday 29th May I started early and headed over to Bronte Creek Provincial Park, before heading south to Riverview Park and Bronte Beach.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park
Bronte Creek Provincial Park consists of large areas of open grassland, with patches of scrub, mature woodland and of course the river that flows through Bronte Creek. I arrived just after 8am and headed for Car Park F, which is located over the back of the park, and near to the Half Moon Valley and the Trillium Trails.

There were the usual species present in the vicinity of the car, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins and American Goldfinch’s as well as a couple of Eastern Kingbirds. The latter species has become very common of late and in recent days has been present at every site I have visited.

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Flicker and Song Sparrow were both species I have seen in good numbers on previous visits but not so on this trip, although I did see a few Song Sparrows at The Carden Plain. A Northern Flicker at Bronte was only my fourth of the trip, which was surprising and three Song Sparrows was the most I had seen in one place. I have to say that bird wise Bronte Creek Park was fairly uninspiring with highlights other than the flicker being Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-pewee and Great-crested Flycatchers

Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-pewee

There were of course other species groups to keep me occupied and as it happened mammals stole the show this time. My first mammal was a raccoon which I picked up from its tail hanging out of a large hole in a tree - I presume that is what you call a ‘tell-‘tail’ sign! I continued on along the Half Moon Valley Trail and had a surprise encounter with a female White-tailed Deer and her young fawn. I was stood watching a Common Yellowthroat at the time and so they were both unaware of me, and after a while I passed on by without disturbing them. Further on along the trail, and whilst watching an Eastern Wood-pewee the or another fawn came creeping through the undergrowth towards me. The pair had obviously been spooked and rather that sit tight, the fawn had run and become separated from its mother. It continued to creep towards me and so I began taking photos, until it was within about three metres of me. On hearing the camera it froze and stared at me, but appeared unable to see me as I wasn’t moving. After a while it turned and ran off in the direction from where it had come; I did briefly see it again but it was deep in the vegetation.

Young White-tailed Deer

As I exited the trail I headed towards the Spruce Farm complex while being shadowed by an American Red Squirrel. This species is easily identified from other tree squirrels by its smaller size, reddish fur and white underbelly.

American Red Squirrel

When I arrived at the farm I noticed two bat boxes on the end of two of the barns. My first instinct was to look under the boxes and see if there was any evidence of bats, and sure enough there was. There were very fresh large droppings, which in size and shape appeared to be similar to a European bat, the serotine Eptesicus serotinus, therefore I presumed that they were most likely from a bat called the Big Brown Bat Eptesicus fuscus. 

Bat box on building
Bat droppings and dead bat underneath box
Dead Big Brown Bat Eptesicus fuscus

This is a species I have encountered before when in Ontario, and was probably the species I had seen earlier in my trip near Pelee. I had another quick look under one of the boxes for any other evidence and found a dead bat, which superficially, in size and identification features, looked the same as a serotine bat, thereby confirming my suspicions.

Riverview Park
After Bronte Creek Provincial Park I headed south to the lake and Riverview Park. On my last visit the highlight had been the pair of Red-necked Grebes nest building. On this visit the nest had gone and a lone Red-necked Grebe was sat on the water. I had a look around for the nest, and the other grebe, but could not find it, I wonder what has happened. An adult Common Tern was feeding over the water but there was not much else to report.

Adult Common Tern

I wandered over to the other side of the park a nearly trod on a basking Northern Watersnake, fortunately this is a harmless species, nonetheless it wouldn’t have done the snake much good had I trod on it. This species can be mistaken for several other species and therefore you need to look out for its dark brown colouration and faint banding.

Northern Watersnake

I scanned the distant trees overhanging the river and picked up five roosting Black-crowned Night-herons, which was a new species for the trip but one that I have encountered before at the site.

Bronte Beach Park
I timed my arrival at Bronte Beach Park wrong, as just as I arrived so did the landscape team to mow the grass. There was again the same mix of species as my previous visit although the Raccoon had gone and there were now over 50 Canada Geese present. The Killdeer chick was still doing well, its attentive parents were seeing off any presumed threat, including me this time and the Spotted Sandpiper gave more prolonged views. 

Summer Plumaged Spotted Sandpiper

Being a week day there were also less fisherman around so the gulls and terns were back roosting on the spit. Ring-billed Gull was the most numerous with 49 birds present, followed by Caspian Tern with 15, four Common Terns and a single American Herring Gull.

2nd Calendar year Ring-billed Gull

Once again the Caspian Terns provided the ideal opportunity for photography and not seeing this species very often back home I took the opportunity for some more shots.

Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls - note the larger size of the terns
In flight Caspian Tern

It is unlikely that I will get to do much more birding for the rest of my trip and so this will probably be my last post. I hope you have enjoyed my posts and that you may find them useful if you ever visit Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Birding on the other side of the pond - Carden Plain, Ontario - May 2014

After spending the weekend back in Oakville, with no birding to speak of (or blog about), my next excursion was on Monday 26th May when I headed north to The Carden Plain. This is an area that I had never visited before, but had been advised was a truly exceptional birding site. The Carden Plain is situated approximately a two and a half hour drive north from Oakville, west of the town of Orillia. The site is predominantly private but is bisected by non-residential unmade roads, which you bird from. Birding can be frustrating at times since you are not permitted to stray from the roads, except in some areas with advance permission or on designated trails. It is important to respect the owners wishes and not to trespass on their land.
The Carden Plain Information Sign

The Carden Plain is designated an Important Bird Area due to the assemblage of species it supports, including the declining and rare Loggerhead Shrike, Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Bluebirds. The area also contains a rare habitat type known as the Alvar, which occurs where flat limestone bedrock is bare, or covered with a thin layer of soil. In such cases a distinctive flora and fauna is present.

View across part of Carden Plain

There were essentially two reasons for me wanting to visit the area, the birds and the habitat. Bird wise I was hoping to see the rare Loggerhead Shrike, a new species for me, and also Upland Sandpipers, which breed here in good numbers. I had not really considered much else, but when I looked into the area in more detail I realised that there were a few other species that I had not previously seen, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow and Eastern Whip-poor-will.

I arrived in Orillia around midday on 26th May and planned to stay until the morning of 28th May, this in theory would give me plenty of time to bird the area. On my first visit I headed straight to the area via Concession Road 11, but after that accessed Wylie Road off Highway 46. Concession 11 is an unmade road which passes through some open habitat that looked suitable for some of the speciality species. Other than the common Red-winged Blackbird the most numerous species was Eastern Kingbird and Common Starling. The new species for the trip were five Bobolinks, all of which were in one field, and two Eastern Meadowlarks. After a short stint on Concession Road 11 I joined Highway 6 (Kirkfield Road) and continued east. Just past the southern tip of Lake Dalrymple I headed north along Lake Dalrymple Drive, before heading east again along Alvar Road. A pair of nesting Ospreys on a low pylon by the side of the road were the highlight, and I was fortunate to arrive just as the adults were swapping over incubation duties.

Ospreys - changing maternity duties

Alvar Road was not what I expected habitat wise since it consisted of predominantly secondary woodland, either side of the road. The vegetation was dense and there was little to see from the car so I pressed onto the the intersection with Wylie Road. I had been advised by a friend that this was the best place to bird but had found it difficult to gain information on the area, and when asking local birders at Pelee and Rondeau, they appeared not to have heard of Carden Plain.

The vegetation at the northern end of Wylie Road is more mature, with some dense patches of woodland but as you head south the habitat opens up and it was at this end that I spent most of the time. Scattered along the road numerous nest boxes are present and these are occupied by either Eastern Bluebirds or Tree Swallows. I estimated there were around six pairs of Eastern Bluebirds, most of which appeared to have chicks since they were either bringing in prey or removing faecal sacs.

Female Eastern Bluebird - with a cricket species
Female Eastern Bluebird 

Towards the southern end of Wylie Road there was an open expanse of plain, with scattered scrub and trees, and a sign which says The Windmill Ranch. There is an Eastern Bluebird box numbered 10 at this location, a small hide and a pull in so it can be easily found. I found this place to be the most reliable place to see Loggerhead Shrike and I stopped here on three occasions and each time I saw birds. On an evening visit to Wylie Road I saw three birds here, two to the north of the road and one to the south, which would suggest up to two breeding pairs being present. I noted that two of the birds were colour-ringed but in the heat haze I could not get the combinations.

Loggerhead Shrike - one of three seen

As well as the shrikes there were Eastern Meadowlarks, Wild Turkeys, Song Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, American Kestrel, Brown Thrasher, and on an evening visit amazing views of displaying Common Nighthawks. Be very careful in his area though, as the roadside verges can be dominated with poison ivy.

Brown Thrasher

Upland Sandpipers could be heard calling along Wylie Road but the best views I had were midway between The Windmill Ranch and another Ranch known as Art’s Ranch to the north. At this point birds would come into a very large puddle on the road to bathe. The vegetation in the field immediately adjacent and to the south of the road was short and close views could be had. Of course scanning any field, especially the rocks would often produce a bird, but these were more distant.

Upland Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper

Whilst watching the sandpiper’s a Red-headed Woodpecker appeared. This bird was feeding low down on the trunk of a small roadside tree and gave excellent views. Apparently this species in now rare in the area, but I saw the species on two occasions in the area, and also an Eastern Towhee which was an unexpected bonus.

Red-headed Woodpecker - a rare bird on Carden Plain

Art’s Ranch is also apparently known as the sparrow field by the local birders since it lacks trees and therefore is the best place to see them. Grasshopper Sparrow is one of the specialities to be seen here, and can be readily seen singing from a favoured song post, usually one of the road side fence posts. I only saw the one male bird, but true to form he sang from the same song perch every time and gave excellent views.

Grasshopper Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow

Other sparrow species recorded were Savannah, Song and Field, the latter being another difficult species to connect with these days apparently.

Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

Sedge Wren Marsh Trail is one of the areas where you can venture off the road. I walked part of the trail on two occasions, once during the day when the highlights I recorded were Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat and Cedar Waxwing, and once at dusk when I recorded Common Nighthawk and at least three Eastern Whip-poor-wills. Unfortunately I did not see the whip-poor-will but could hear its distinctive song further along the trail.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Birding the other side of the pond - Patch Birding - May 2014

One of the advantages of coming to the same destination for holidays is that you get familiar with the area and get to find local sites that become regular haunts for birding, my own local patch abroad. The nearest that I have to a local patch near Oakville, other than the trails around the house, is the lake shore and creek around Bronte. My patch consists of a network of parks, Riverview Park, Bronte Harbour Park, Bronte Bluffs Park and Bronte Beach Park, they are all interlinked so I can walk between each one. In typical years Riverview Park has been my preferred spot since it is a wetland habitat that has produced a good mix of waders including Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted, Solitary and Least Sandpiper, Sora and good numbers of Caspian Terns. 

Unfortunately this year, due to the long cold winter and wet spring, the water levels on Lake Ontario are high, and therefore there are no marginal areas for waders. In fact the best birds on RiverView Park were two pairs of breeding Red-necked Grebes. One pair was actually on the the creek but the other pair was in the process of building a nest fairly close to the shore on the main pool. I watched them building the nest for a while, it was like synchronised nest building as they visited the shore collected a beak full of weed and returned to the nest site, all in perfect time together. In previous years this area has been mud so they will have to get to work quickly if they are going to successfully raise their young before the water levels subside.

Red-necked Grebe - Riverview Park, Bronte
Red-necked Grebe - Riverview Park, Bronte
Red-necked Grebe - Synchronised nest building

The reedbed is also a breeding site for Red-winged Blackbirds. I have resisted taking photos of them before, as my attention is usually on something else, but when a male bird landed in front of me it was too good an opportunity to miss. 

Male Red-winged Blackbird - Riverview Park, Bronte

As I stood watching the Red-necked Grebes, several Chimney Swifts and Cliff Swallows came into the pool to drink. They were more distant than most of the other birds but I managed to get a couple of record shots. 

Chimney Swift - Riverview Park, Bronte
Cliff Swallow - Riverview Park, Bronte

By contrast a Caspian Tern flew past almost overhead giving some excellent views. When I have been over in May before there have been large numbers of Caspian Terns feeding around the harbour, the most I have seen so far this trip is seven. They usually roost on the various piers, but today these were all full of fishermen, so I presume they have moved off elsewhere.

Caspian Tern - Riverview Park, Bronte

I left the pool and headed to the beach area I noticed a small flock of Cedar Waxwings feeding. As usual with this species they were very approachable and gave excellent views. Being from the UK I associate waxwings with winter, so it still does strike me as slightly odd to see so many in the spring sun.

Cedar Waxwing - Riverview Park, Bronte

There was nothing of note at Bronte Bluffs or Harbour Parks but at the Beach Park there was a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper and three Killdeers. The Killdeers were a breeding pair with a fairly recently hatched chick. The adults were being very trusting of the people as they passed by, and allowed them to walk right past the chick, although they were alarm calling much of the time. 

Killdeer Chick - Bronte Beach Park

The adults even seemed unconcerned by a Raccoon that was curled up asleep in the middle of the grass. It was the strangest place that I have seen for a Racoon to choose to sleep, and it too was very trusting of people who were approaching it for a closer look. 

Raccoon - Bronte Beach Park

Occasionally it would wake up, have a quick wash and brush up, and then go back to sleep. I would have thought that this Raccoon would have taken the opportunity to grab the Killdeer chick had it passed too close, but the parents did not seem to recognise it as a threat.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Birding on the other side of the pond - Rondeau Provincial Park - May 2014

My next stop after leaving Point Pelee was Rondeau, which is another great migrant trap but also known for its breeding Prothonotary Warblers. There are numerous trails throughout the park which I was hoping to bird, but a change in my plans meant that I only had time to do two, Tulip Tree Trail and Spicebush Trail.

Tulip Tree Trail
This is the trail which is probably the most reliable for seeing Prothonotary Warbler, well at least it is the one that is the most accessible for seeing them, since an entrance is located off the visitors centre car park. I parked at the centre and quickly visited some feeders that are located by the centre. There can often be some woodland species that would otherwise be more tricky to find here, but if not at least you can get the opportunity for some good photos. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Male) - Rondeau

The species present were pretty much as I remembered from my last visit here with Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch’s, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Indigo Bunting and of course loads of Chipmunks.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Rondeau)

The trail itself gave the impression of being relatively quiet, except for the continuous and somewhat monotonous song of the Red-eyed Vireo. The trees were more advanced than at Pelee which made birding harder, but at least thrush species were more evident with both Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s present. The best place to look for Prothonotary Warblers is on the boardwalk over the swamp with the interpretation board on it. On my first visit to this boardwalk I did not see the bird, but on my return I had the best views I had ever had. Initially I picked up a male bird, but it was quite a long way off and quickly flew over me and out of sight. I hung around for about 10 minutes and picked up another in the same location as the first. This bird was steadily working its way towards me, feeding and occasionally singing. It continued to come towards me until it was so close that I had to move back to focus. 

Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau
Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau
Prothonotary Warbler (Male) - Rondeau

I have to admit I have seen some pretty stunning warblers over the last few days but this species, is amazing, and even more so when seen this close up!

Spicebush Trail
After leaving the Prothonotary I headed to the Spicebush Trail, and if I am honest I wasn’t expecting the birding to surpass what I had just experienced, but the birding was excellent. Red-eyed Vireos were initially the most numerous species again but as I worked my way along the back trail I hit a little ‘purple patch’. The first warbler species was the ever present Yellow, followed quickly by the first of many Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided. A Black and White Warbler put on an amazing show, with Magnolias and Blackpolls also present.

Black and White Warbler - Rondeau
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Rondeau

There was almost too much going on but when a Canada Warbler appeared in front of me I ignored everything else for a while. This species I have seen several times before but think they are one of the the best looking warblers, unfortunately the only photos I got were through vegetation so do not do the species justice. The next warbler species were Black-throated Blue, several American Redstarts, and Black-throated Greens. A male Blue-winged Warbler was a surprise and was followed by Tennessee and a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers. That took my total to thirteen species of warbler on the trail.

But of course it was not all about the warblers, Least, Willow, Yellow-bellied and Great-crested Flycatchers were also present, as was Eastern Wood-pewee with its distinctive song. More Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush’s and as I returned to the car, Northern Flickers fed on the roadside opposite the car park.

Great-crested Flycatcher - Rondeau
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - Like many people I struggle with the Empidonax flycatchers
but this individual small, with a generally yellowish-olive tone and a yellow throat so looks 

spot on for yellow-bellied

In many ways I think I prefer Rondeau to Pelee, and you certainly feel as if you are more in the Wilderness. The South Point Trail is the best for migrants first thing, I was intending to do it the next day but headed north instead.

Angler Line, Mitchell’s Bay
I had met a local birder, Rick, whilst on the Spicebush Trail. He was very generous with his bird knowledge of the park, including the location of a Pileated Woodpecker nest. Unfortunately I did not see the woodpeckers there, but he did also inform me of a small breeding colony of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, north of Chatham at Mitchells Bay. This was a new species for me (and likely to be my only one of the trip) and as I would be staying in Chatham overnight I decided to check them out the next day. The birds are located off Bear Line at the western end of Angler Line, about 25 minutes drive north of Chatham. I arrived at the site to see five birders already there and several male Yellow-headed Blackbirds holding territory in a small patch of reed bed.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Mitchell's Bay

There were at least seven or eight territories, which were easy to count due to the prominent song perches of the males, who appeared to be sitting directly above their mates. Apparently, these birds have been at this site a few years now and are on the extreme eastern edge of their range here, which is why the local birders are getting so excited about them.

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Mitchell's Bay

It was well worth the visit for me they were great birds, with a bizarre song. Whilst there I saw several Green Herons, and American Coot and a couple of Common Gallinules. One of the other birders told me that he had also seen a pair of Least Bitterns there, but there seemed to be some debate about them. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to hang around as I wanted to be back in Oakville for mid-afternoon. 
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