Friday, January 23, 2015

Canada's National Bird: You Vote!

The Gray Jay, one of the many species that is in the running for Canada's National Bird.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Hi, it's been a while since I've posted on this blog (over seven months now).  The truth is I haven't been out much this past year.  During the summer and early fall months Aaron and I have been working on our nearly 3 acre farm, trying to turn it into something of our own which is a lot of fun, and at times a lot of hard work.  We also went to Quetico Provincial Park for two weeks back in September and paddled/portaged the Hunter Island Loop, a 300+ kilometre loop that, so far, has been our best route yet!

We've done a few backcountry trips now since we've been married, and since I don't have a facebook page to share photos with family and friends, I've taken notes and photos from the trips and slowly posting them on my other blog:

Birding wise for me around here has been kinda slow.  We've had two Snowy Owls hanging out just north of the house this winter, and after work last week I raced to Sombra to see the Barrow's Goldeneye from the cozy home of the Bowman's.  I've been hoping for something rare to show up at my bird feeder this winter as we work on the inside of the house on the weekends, but so far the best bird has been a White-crowned Sparrow that is still hanging around.

Yesterday in the news (Globe & Mail) I noticed that the Canadian Geographic Society has a system set up for the public to vote for Canada's National Bird. I knew we had birds representing each province and territory, which honestly I thought was good enough, but I guess by 2017 we will have a national bird as well. Click on the link below to see the candidates:

Not surprisingly, Common Loon is in the lead, a bird many people recognize as it appears on our 1 dollar coin (the loonie) and formerly on the $20.00 bill. Not only that, a heavy majority of the Canadian population lives in southern Ontario, so this is a species many people have either seen or heard wailing on the lake at their cottage or campsite, and earning it as a symbol representing "The Northern Wilderness".  This bird is also the provincial bird for Ontario. 

I honestly think our national bird should be a Boreal species myself, perhaps the Gray Jay (and then get it changed back to Canada Jay. HA!)

What bird do you think deserves the title as "Canada's National Bird" ?  (I'm afraid a guy wearing a hockey jersey, while drinking beer and flipping the bird doesn't count.)

Whatever wins it will be able to stand along side the beaver and the maple leaf on the pedestal of Canadian national symbols, while below them sits the provincial/territorial species of birds, mammals, flowers, trees, and......minerals?  Does all this seem a little excessive or is it just me?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Perty Birdy photos

Had today off so I ventured out with the camera for some early morning photography at the Point Pelee marsh.  The Black Terns are back nesting yet again, and of course they are nesting close to the boardwalk offering great views, sometimes too great as they dive bomb you. Just a few photos from the marsh.

The Hillman Marsh shorebird cell still has remaining shorebirds including Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover, along with Bonaparte's Gulls. The male Bufflehead was present as well, though I didn't see the Horned Grebe.  Didn't see any of the Little Gulls either while I was there this morning. Though not a good photo, I did manage to get a shot of a Black-billed Cuckoo.  What I was REALLY hoping to see was a flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks!! (Hey I can dream right? And there was a flock in Michigan recently)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Another May has come and gone....

...and I missed most of it yet again.

Actually it wasn't that bad. I did get the Smith's Longspurs (lifer), the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (new Ontario/Pelee bird) and just yesterday Alan Wormington located what looks REALLY good for a Bicknell's Thrush, which I managed to see as well. A Black Vulture flying over the thrush spot at the tip that day was neat as well! The Bicknell's Thrush brings my Pelee list to 329.

Jeremy Hatt and I also ventured out to Walpole Island on May 17th.  We left my place just after 3:00 am in hopes of hearing King Rail before sunrise.  Unfortunately, the water there was (not unexpectedly) really high and we didn't hear any rails whatsoever.  We also tried for the Northern Bobwhites.  We heard something call, but nothing distinct enough for us to label it as a Bobwhite.  After such a harsh winter we are now wondering how many of these little guys are actually still left on Walpole? 

Coming home from Walpole we stopped at Mitchell's Bay and had great views of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds (no camera...derp!) and had a nice Red Knot out in a field among the Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin.

One of my favourite days was last weekend on May 21st. I met Jeremy at the tip and later we were joined by Kory.  The birding was good, but what was great was that for a whole hour we were the ONLY ONES THERE! It was so peaceful! Please don't take this the wrong way, I love seeing all the regular birders that come to Pelee every May.  It's those demanding birders that you sometimes run into (and have never met before in my life no less) that see you with a scope and ask you (almost demand you) to point out everything for their group. Anyone else ever have this problem?

On May 30th I met with Mom early in the morning at the Hillman shorebird cell. I always love birding with my Mom! She got her lifer Little Gull (there were 2 that morning). We also had a male Bufflehead, and a Horned Grebe which was interesting.

A blurry photo of a Horned Grebe at the Hillman Marsh shorebird cell on May 30th

Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, a few Black-bellied Plovers, Bonaparte's Gulls, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, a Semipalmated Plover and a White-rumped Sandpiper were also present. After we parted ways I drove down Concession E in hopes that the American Bittern Jeremy Hatt told me about may actually still be there.  It was!

American Bittern Concession E. May 30th.

So here we are now in June.  Aaron and I paddled Cedar Creek this morning which is always a nice short paddle, though I wish someone would go in with a chainsaw to clear the creek of fallen trees north of the greenway trail.  A singing Wood Thrush was (and always is) nice to hear, while the huge colony of Cliff Swallows underneath the bridge at the Arner townline was great to paddle underneath of.  Also had a Duskywing of some kind but couldn't get a real good look at it.

Great Blue Heron at Cedar Creek June 1st, 2014
Cliff Swallows underneath the Arner townline bridge at Cedar Creek

Monday, March 10, 2014

Signs of spring

Well here we are, it's almost spring. Sure as hell wouldn't know it right now, even here in extreme southwestern Ontario.  Normally we would be observing flocks of Tundra Swans, lots of ducks, Killdeer, and those flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds that darken the sky....well maybe the last one is a little extreme.  Long story short we are not seeing any of it really.  (that is until today March 10th as Jeremy Hatt is out right now looking at multiple Killdeer, along with lots of waterfowl and geese in the fields along Concession C)

There have been some goodies around.  Jeremy Hatt had two Greater White-fronted Geese last week, while the highlight of the month so far were the Red-necked Grebes first located by Jeremy Hatt and Jeremy Bensette on Lake Erie off the northeast beach of Hillman Marsh on March 5th.  I went out with Mom last Friday to go for a drive around the onion fields and when we arrived at the beach along with Alan Wormington and Rick Mayos there were an estimated 36 Red-necked Grebes on the lake! As stated by many, these Red-necked Grebes are most likely (if not most definitely) over wintering birds that have been pushed out of the many frozen lakes and are trying to find open water.

When Jeremy and I went birding Sunday afternoon, we only saw 1 Red-necked Grebe on Lake Erie.  We also encountered what Jeremy is pretty confident was one of his earlier Greater White-fronted Geese. We later drove into Point Pelee and checked out Lake Erie at the end of Shuster Trail.  The lake was ice as far as the eye can see. Our highlight in the park itself was a red phased Screech-Owl near the Blue Heron parking lot.

Cute as a button red phased Eastern Screech-Owl.  Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill.

We also had our first Turkey Vulture for the year soaring effortlessly near Freddy's Park Stop and 3 imm. Red-shouldered Hawks at different locations while driving north of the park. American Crows were also migrating north, and we occasionally heard the odd male Red-winged Blackbird on territory.  As for waterfowl, the lake on the east side had many of your typical divers at this time of year but in far lower numbers (except Long-tailed Duck which have been in higher numbers) than what you would expect by this date, and it wasn't until late afternoon when we saw some Tundra Swans in the onion fields.  Other than these few tidbits on Sunday, the area still seemed like a frozen wasteland.

Luckily, today (March 10th) things are turning around with 8 degrees Celsius weather and strong southwest winds. Send in the ducks!!

In other news: Guess what comes out tomorrow?

Monday, February 17, 2014


Jeremy Hatt and I have been checking out the open water at Lakeview Park Marina the past couple of weekends for something different while staying in Essex County. There are a lot of waterfowl here clinging onto whatever open water they can find.  Our main goal has been Red-necked Grebe each visit, as they have been showing up on Ebird, but unfortunately we can only find Horned Grebe. Both Red-necked Grebe and White-winged Scoters are on the move as the lakes continue to freeze.  We did see many White-winged Scoters, and I don't think I have ever seen so many Long-tailed Ducks in Essex County (even before the big freeze) this winter.  The ducks at the marina have been providing great views for both photographers and birders alike, though it is clear that the ducks are having a hard time and we saw some dead Mergansers and Canvasbacks floating in the water. Bald Eagles in turn are taking advantage of the dead and dying as we saw many feeding on ducks as well.  We also observed Great Blue Herons standing like statues along the shores of Peche Island looking utterly miserable, though I'm sure they too would go after anything dead or dieing like the eagles.  Then there are all the Mute Swans, and there are a TON of them!  I wonder if they taste good? Seriously if they do taste good I think we should have open season on them.

Ebird list from February 15th:

 Canvasback drake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

 Canvasback hen.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Common Goldeneye drake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Another spot Jeremy and I checked out recently was the Little River corridor.  Here too puddle ducks and divers are giving great views including at the pollution control plant tanks which had a Lesser Scaup and a Canvasback among the Mallards.  The steam rising out of the tanks make it appear like a hot spring.

Ebird list from February 9th:

We are FINALLY in for some warmer weather this week starting tomorrow (after a forecasted 4 inches of snow tonight!!!)  However, it looks like old man winter will be seeing us again towards the end of the month. I wonder if we will find any remaining snow piles in the woods in Point Pelee this May?  I heard of some people who have, but I think I have only seen it snow during that month, not the actual remnants of winter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 18th: Brewer's and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, & Long-eared and Short-eared Owls

Jeremy Hatt and I decided to go for a drive Saturday morning, so we met at the Hillman Marsh parking lot, stocked our gear into my car, and drove around the onion fields while listening to alternative rock from our youth on the radio.....You know, back when music was good..(sarcasm)

A few local birders (including Jeremy the night before) had a Short-eared Owl in the onion fields this past week.  We started very early there but the owl was not to be seen. The airport was another location the owl was spotted, so we tried there as well.  Though we didn't find the SEOW, we did have a heavily barred young Snowy Owl south of the airport on Concession C.

We headed down Concession E and had a fairly large accipiter fly by us, but we couldn't get a positive ID on it .  Continuing to drive down the road we observed an adult Cooper's Hawk, a young Red-tailed Hawk, along with a male Northern Harrier.

Red-shouldered Hawk.  A species we didn't see that day, but the only raptor photo I have that is recent.  Taken on January 12th/2014  Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill

The dirt birds currently occupying the onion fields are definitely Snow Buntings, Horned Larks with a few Lapland Longspurs mixed in, while Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows are the most numerous Sparrows.  It took us a while to find a mixed blackbird species flock, though we eventually came across a group that contained Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a male and female Brewer's Blackbird.

After a look at a Long-eared Owl at the usual spot north of Hillman Marsh, we headed back to my house for vegetarian chili and we were soon back in the car again to go to Staples.  A Yellow-headed Blackbird (which Jeremy found out later actually involved 2 different individuals!!) was visiting a feeder this week.  When we arrived on the scene it looked like something out of Hitchcock with House Sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds biting and clawing at each other over the bird feeder, while the tree behind the house was dripping with more Brown-headed Cowbirds.  After two visits, we ended up seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird which stood out like a sore thumb.

A record shot of the Yellow-headed Blackbird with one of  the many Brown-headed Cowbirds. Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill.

Because I dipped out on the Short-eared Owl in the morning, I decided to try again in the evening.  This time I went with my Mom and we ended up with Long-eared Owl, the Snowy Owl, and now the Short-eared Owl all in a span of about 20 minutes! The Short-eared Owl was a lifer for my Mom, and many of the LLBs were out that evening to watch the owl hunting over the field.  I didn't manage any photos, but just watching the owl with my Mom was rewarding enough for me.


Looks like we are in for another cold snap this week.  The word "polar vortex" seems to be the word of the season.  However the temperatures this coming week (a low of -20 mid week) are going to be nothing compared to what we had a couple of weeks ago (which was a low of negative "@#^% it's cold!")

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some end of the year tidbits

It looks like we are in for a LOOOONNNNGGG winter!  Until this past weekend it has been a cold one so far, and as we turn over the calendar into January it looks like we are in for a few more cold days as we enter 2014.  Did I mention that winter just started on December 21st? .......ughhh.....

At least we have some descent birds around right now.  Jeremy Hatt called me on Monday with a Snowy Owl on the 8th concession that I might be able to see from my house on the 7th!  I put the car into warp 9 (I was currently driving around the onion fields at that time after work) sped over to find the Snowy on the 8th, and then raced to my house to see it from my property. Whooot!!  That was my #1 yard bird for the winter!  Thanks Jeremy!

Another descent find a few birders have been seeing on and off in our area is Brewer's Blackbird.  One was spotted on the Pelee Christmas Bird count, and a few individuals have been seen since then.  This morning I went for another drive around the onion fields and saw 2 birds in a field along Concession C.   I managed a few poor quality photos, but with a temperature below -10 Celsius along with a bitterly cold wind, I didn't last too long!

Two Brewer's Blackbirds that look like they are not having a good time in the barren field with  freshly fallen snow...and wind...
 Poor quality close up of one of the Brewer's Blackbirds.  Maybe one of my New Year's resolutions should be to save up for a new camera.

Today a long overdue addition to the yard list was added as well with Lapland Longspur, which was in a flock made up of mainly Snow Bunting and a few Horned Larks.

 Lapland Longspur

 Horned Lark along the road side. 
Tomorrow we flip the calendar and begin another new year.  I will probably start the day back in the onion fields to secure Brewer's Blackbird on my 2014 list, along with a long staying Ross's Goose at Jack Miner's Bird Sanctuary.  I don't really do the New Year's resolution thing (or my Birthday...or Christmas if I could)  but if I had one resolution to make it would be to work less and be outdoors more.  Whether birding, butterfly watching, camping, or working out in the garden, just being outside more would be great!!

I wish everyone who reads this blog a prosperous and birdy 2014!  Many people who read this blog have a blog of their own and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and look forward to more posts in the new year! :)