Celebrity Birder - Previous
2014 Report – Doug McRaeTop
Thank you very much for sponsoring me in the Baillie Birdathon this year. It is a great honour and pleasure to have been asked by OFO to be the guest birder for 2014. While there are lots of potential routes to try and generate a big list, I stayed with my heart and focused my effort within Northumberland County where I live, and I was expertly assisted by two old friends and skilled birders - Don Sutherland and Barb Charlton.
I have always loved doing big days - trying to see as many species as possible in a single day. Partly it is the strategy and planning behind the day, partly it is the team spirit and unscripted fun that an intensive day of birding generates, and partly it is the thrill of finding unexpected or hard to find species. Inevitably things don't go as planned. Weather is always a big factor and rarely does one get the perfect day that brings in lots of migrants. Sometimes birds that you figured were "guaranteed" don't show (which is why you should never use the "G" word on a big day), sometimes you just can't get a lucky break.
Well I am sorry to say (especially for those of you who sponsored me by species, that is) that May 27th of this year was not like that. We got the perfect weather with both an influx of songbirds and shorebirds. We had amazing luck spotting new birds all day long and seeing all sorts of birds quickly that can take considerable time to find. In the end, we came in with a new county record of 163 species - more than 10 over my previous best! Even though we didn't find any mind-bending rarities, we did manage to see a number of scarce birds. Perhaps even more amazing was that we missed about 15 species that were seen by others that day or the previous day.
We started at 2:30 a.m. trying for a Screech Owl at a "stake out" but missed it. Then a wind started to come up which is not good. Then we tried a Whip-poor-will spot and heard nothing. This didn't look good. Our next stop was on the causeway leading into Presqu'ile and there the luck changed. A Saw-whet Owl was tooting continuously and to the north we could hear a Great Horned Owl - now a rare bird in this area. Another night stop produced Barred Owl, with Common Loon and American Bittern in the background.
First light found us on the tip of Owen Pt. scanning Gull Island and Popham Bay. Here we added some shorebirds, gulls and terns as well as Black-crowned Night- Heron and Great Egret. We checked Beach 2 as well and saw two Red Knot, now an endangered species for which Presqu'ile is probably southern Ontario'qas most important staging area. Here, as an example of what good luck looks like, we heard a Mockingbird burst into a brief song. Why? Because a Merlin had just spooked it! Tick and tick.
When we left the beach we had done well but did miss a few hoped for species. Then we went to the lighthouse area and at first, it didn't sound that birdy as we got out of the car, but within minutes we realized our luck had changed for the best.
There were lots of migrant warblers in the woods, many female and not singing, but we quickly added a great selection of birds like Carolina Wren, Philadelphia Vireo, Black-throated Blue, Parula, Blackpoll and Bay-breast, Wilson's, Magnolia, Canada, and Mourning Warbler. In fact it was so species rich that we were already able to drop a couple of planned stops because we already saw the target. This was huge because it freed up more time to work on difficult species later in the day.
We left Presqu'ile feeling pretty excited and immediately headed north into the beautiful hills of Northumberland. A stop at one of the Lone Pine Marsh Sanctuary's (a local land trust) properties near Dundonald yielded some great birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Hooded Warbler (and no Black Bear which I had seen the week before while scouting). As we headed further north toward Rice Lake we added more potentially tricky birds like Blue-winged Warbler and Broad-winged Hawk. A few stops at grassland sites added Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink, Grasshopper, Clay-colored, and Vesper Sparrow and a huge cornfield near Castleton turned up a Horned Lark.
The Northumberland County Forest, south of Rice Lake, is an extensive area of rich and diverse forest habitats interspersed with some prairie remnants. Not surprisingly there are many birds to see here, especially some "northern" species that are scarce elsewhere. Here we added two of our target birds - Blue-headed Vireo and best of all, a stunning Northern Goshawk.
It was now mid afternoon and time to get back to the lakeshore in search of missing gulls, ducks and shorebirds. Between Port Hope and Cobourg Harbour we were able to add Great Black-backed and a lingering Iceland Gull, and although partly hidden by fog, we managed to find 3 Whimbrel on the sand at Cobourg, as well as Chimney Swifts over town.
We headed east along Hwy 2 and while driving, had a Common Raven fly over the road - once again great luck. Our next main stop was the Murray Marsh, a huge wetland along the Trent River east of Warkworth. Green Herons were added here (at least by me, since Barb and Don had already seen several which I kept missing), and then we went back into the Northumberland hills for dusk. Parked on a quiet road just south of Peter's Woods Provincial Park we added Common Nighthawk, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush and multiple Whip-poor-wills. It was now getting dark so we made a last try for Screech Owl at another stake out near Burnley but, like our 2:30 a.m. effort, we were met with silence. It was now just after 10 p.m. and we decided to head home to Brighton. Just outside of Warkworth I saw a road that I have had Screech Owl on before so we though we would give it a try. I had just negotiated the turn when the unmistakable grey form of a Screech Owl passed so close to the window that I thought I had hit it. We got out to happily discover the owl was fine and singing away. It was an amazing ending to an amazing day.
Finally, I did mention that we missed some birds as well. Here is a sample of birds that were around but we didn't find: American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Redhead, Least Bittern, Sharp-shined, Cooper's, Red-tailed (ouch), and Red-shouldered Hawk, White-rumped Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser-Black-backed Gull, Yellow- bellied Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Golden-winged and Cape May Warbler, Lincoln's and White-crowned Sparrow. Imagine if all of those had been seen too!
Again I want to thank you so much for sponsoring me in the Baillie Birdathon on behalf of OFO. And I am sort of sorry we did so well, since it is going to cost you, but not too sorry! But I hope you take some comfort in knowing that the money raised is going to great programs run by OFO and Bird Studies Canada. These programs are providing baseline data on bird populations, long-term citizen-science based monitoring studies, training and opportunities for the next batch of young birders, and a host of other worthy initiatives.
2013 Report – 2013 Jeff and Richard Skevington, James Holdsworth and Frank PinillaTop
2 June 2013
James Holdsworth, Frank Pinilla, Richard Skevington and I were honoured to be the Ontario Field Ornithologists’ celebrity birders in this year’s birdathon. With your help, about $3000 was raised. Twenty-five percent of this goes to support the OFO and the rest goes to Bird Studies Canada to support their programs.
We decided to conduct our Big Day in the Durham region, with a late day trip to Carden to round out the list. We dedicated May 23rd and 24th to scouting and did our count on Saturday May 25th. Frank spent a lot of time digging for records and asking people for suggestions on where to find the more difficult species before the scouting even began. We would like to thank Dennis Barry, Geoff Carpentier, Tyler Hoar, Rayfield Pye and Ron Tozer for providing us with details on some of the more tricky to find birds.
Weather for our scouting days and the Big Day was far from optimal. After several warm days with excellent migration, a cold front arrived on May 23rd and the temperature dropped like a stone while the wind whipped around to the north at 25-50 kph. This trend continued for several days and nearly halted migration while also reducing song from local birds and making it hard to hear the ones that were singing. Given that we had work obligations on the 27th, we had to take what we had and work with it. All of the scouting and preparations along with slightly improved conditions on the 25th saved us but we really had to dig hard for many of the expected easy species. We had chosen the 25th as our target date partly because all of the regular breeders are back while migration is still going but also because there was a full moon that night. We got lucky and the night was clear. This meant that despite near zero temperatures and moderate winds, bird song was quite intense at wetlands that we visited during the night.
We started at midnight at Saintfield (=Reach) Marsh. The marsh was alive with song. The dominant chorus of Marsh Wrens was supplemented by several Virginia Rails, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Bittern, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock, Common Yellowthroats, Swamp Sparrows and a Great Horned Owl that was silhouetted in a dead tree as it called frequently. One of my favourite things about Big Days is that it gets me out into these settings in the middle of the night. Wetlands are such spectacular places to be on a bright moonlit night when everything is singing. After an enjoyable 40 minutes, we moved on to a nearby wetland on Old Simcoe Road where we added Green Heron, Alder Flycatcher and our first of two unexpected Long-eared Owls. We then made a quick stop along highway 7A at Lake Scugog. Traffic was heavy but we managed to hear a Least Bittern singing in a brief silence between cars. Migrant Gray-cheeked Thrushes heard along Pickering/Uxbridge Townline Road at 2:45am were encouraging, as we had not expected migrants to move with the strong north winds. We arrived at Cranberry Marsh at 3:20 and added several species that we saw again later in the day (Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin and Ring-billed Gull). Many of these were visible and easily identifiable in the bright moonlight. After leaving Cranberry Marsh we spent about an hour looking for Eastern Screech-Owls in the Courtice area. We finally scored at 4:30am at the last site we were planning to check. Screech owls are remarkably scarce in Durham Region so we were elated to find this bird. We did not find Barred and Northern Saw-whet Owls during the night so we crossed our fingers that we would find them at Carden in the evening.
The dawn chorus was just getting started as we arrived at Darlington Provincial Park at 5:00am. Darlington was certainly one of the highlights of our day as we took our time and spent nearly 4 hours here making sure that we saw as many migrants as possible. We recorded 93 species at Darlington, including the following highlights: 5 Long-tailed Ducks, 1 Common Goldeneye, 55 Common Loons (migrants on the move), an Osprey, 15 Semipalmated Plovers, the male Piping Plover that had been in the area for several days, a Lesser Yellowlegs, 40 Whimbrel, a Ruddy Turnstone, 25 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 8 Least Sandpipers, 100 Dunlin, 5 Bonaparte’s Gulls, a lingering second summer Iceland Gull that we found during scouting, 3 Caspian Terns, 1 Merlin, 1 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 5 Willow Flycatchers, 1 Philadelphia Vireo, all of the expected swallows except Purple Martin, 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 5 Golden-crowned Kinglets, another Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1 Swainson’s Thrush, 1 Northern Mockingbird and 16 species of warblers including Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Canada and Wilson’s. Many of the warblers were in a single flock along the SE edge of the park in the sun in the lee of the wind where there were lots of midges to eat.
We reluctantly moved on from Darlington and made a quick stop at Second Marsh where we added: 3 Northern Shoveler, 1 Bald Eagle, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, 2 Common Terns and our first of 4 Orchard Orioles. Thickson’s Woods was very quiet but we added our only Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker(!) and House Finch(!!) of the day as well as Least Flycatcher and Cedar Waxwings. We quickly moved on to Cranberry Marsh where we saw a remarkable group of three male Eurasian Wigeon. Other highlights here were our only Redhead, Ring-necked Pheasant, Sharp-shinned Hawk and American Coot of the day. The pheasant and Sharpie were completely unexpected. We thought that the former had disappeared from the site and the Sharp-shin appeared as part of a small hawk migration that was getting started. It would have been interesting to stick around to see what other raptors appeared over the course of the day but we moved on quickly to Whitby Harbour where we added Purple Martins and American Kestrel to our list. We missed the Peregrine that we had seen here while scouting and overall were disappointed that we did not find any good gulls or other interesting non-passerines (Brant, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Little Gulls had all been seen here recently).
Whitby was our last lakeshore stop and at this point we happily left the building traffic and headed inland. Our first inland stop was on a nice overlook on Chalk Lake Road where we had good luck with raptors during our scouting. We were in luck here and quickly added Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Common Raven along with Horned Lark, Eastern Bluebird and Bobolink. Quick stops for Grasshopper Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrow turned up only the former but both were insurance stops only as we saw many of each at Carden later in the day. We then twitched the only Hooded Warbler on our route (the Westney Road bird). We rushed into the site, heard it chipping, and then rushed back to the car. Wood Thrush, Mourning Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warblers were other new birds for our day from this lovely hardwood forest site. A quick run into Glen Major secured Blue-winged Warbler and we were off again. We had scouted an area on Bradburn Road for Red-headed Woodpeckers and on our way there found another pair, saving us 5 to 10 minutes. Our next stop was the Osler Tract Swamp, a new area to us that we had really enjoyed during scouting (thanks Tyler!). Unfortunately it was 2:15pm when we arrived and the afternoon doldrums had kicked in. Nothing was singing and we missed several of our targets here but did manage to secure our primary target and highlight of the day – a very angry female Northern Goshawk that escorted us off her territory as she had done during scouting. She provided crippling views as she dove at us before perching on a dead stub 20m away calling and fluffing her undertail coverts and hackles.
Nonquon Sewage Lagoons at Port Perry are a mainstay of any big day in Durham but had been disappointing during scouting due to high water levels. They were OK though and we picked up Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, an impressive flock of 180 Black Terns and our only really unexpected, unscouted rarity of the day, a Red-necked Phalarope. We received one birdathon t-shirt from Bird Studies Canada for our efforts and had agreed that the spotter of the most unexpected bird of the day would get the shirt. My Dad won the t-shirt after spotting the phalarope. I’m not sure I have ever seen him wear a t-shirt…
We then motored off towards Carden where the new birds came fast: Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Meadowlark, Pileated Woodpecker, Greater Yellowlegs, Loggerhead Shrike, Veery (a relief to finally get one!), Hermit Thrush (double the relief), Golden-winged Warbler, Savannah Sparrow (triple relief), Black-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager (more relief) and Purple Finch. As dusk approached the night birds that make Carden such a special place really kicked into gear. We heard at least 6 different Barred Owls, 5 Common Nighthawks, 10+ Eastern Whip-poor-wills (including each of a male & female on the road in our headlights) and 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls finished off our day at about 11:45 pm. We had not taken time to scout Carden so we missed a few species, including the dependable Prairie Warbler. Next time we will be sure to take time to scout Carden ahead of time. An extra day exploring this fabulous area is certainly no hardship.
We had not expected to exceed our target of 170 species with the weather we had so we were very pleased to finish our day with 177 species. Raptors really lead the count with 9 hawk and 5 owl species. We covered 397 km by car and about 10 km by foot, a modest amount of travel for a Big Day that undoubtedly added to our enjoyment of the day. Thanks to all of you who sponsored us in this endeavour and thanks to OFO for asking us to take on this challenge. We had a lot of fun and are looking forward to our next Big Day experience.
2012 Report – John CartwrightTop
With great spring weather promised over the long week-end, I looked forward to doing my Birdathon where I had started birding in the late 1940s, in the Kingston area as a member of one of the teams that take part in the Kingston Field Naturalists' annual spring round-up. Someone reminded us of how our birding knowledge had increased since the early round-ups - in the 1950s and 1960s teams had to struggle to get 100 species, whereas now we can expect to get 140-160 species in a 24-hour period.
Our team - Paul Mackenzie, Bruce Ripley, Lyn Bell and myself - planned to position ourselves at the north-east corner of the KFN property on Amherst Island for the 3 pm starting time, picking up the water- , shore- , and field birds we had scouted on the way out. We were somewhat disconcerted by the masses of midges which quickly covered our clothes, our eyelids, and our equipment as we walked out, but luckily they did not get smeared on the lenses of our binoculars and scopes.
Shortly before 3, a Night Heron flushed and disappeared into the reeds, and then a Blue-winged Teal flew arounda corner into a little bay. At 3:00 we began counting - five species of ducks, a handful ofshorebirds including the phalaropes which had led to the KFN's acquiring the property, and assorted swallows, sparrows, and other species - but the heron and teal were nowhere in sight. Fortunately, as we walked out, a 5-minute detour flushed the heron, but there was no sign of the teal.
The Owl Woods produced most of its expected species, and on the road in we found two surprises, an Olive-sided Flycatcher and an Orchard Oriole. Bruce's MP3 provoked a pheasant to call back from across a field, and later an American Bittern flew briefly ahead of us before diving into a small marsh. We left Amherst Island at 6 pm with a list which was modest, but which included several species we were not to see or hear again.
The roads around Yarker, Newburgh, and Camden East produced a number of hard-tofind species such as Chimney Swifts, Nighthawks, a Clay-coloured Sparrow, and a Vesper Sparrow, the last not singing, but coming quietly onto the road to investigate his MP3 rival. We also finally found a male Blue-winged Teal at one pond - the only one for the trip. At 10 pm we called it a night and headed home for a few hours' sleep. At 2:30 we were on our way again. At the first of several stops along the Canoe Lake Road, when we played a Great Horned Owl call, we had not one but two Barred Owls hooting back, which seemed rather courageous/foolhardy on their part. As the sky lightened, the dawn chorus began; we picked up a Veery, several Wood Thrushes, assorted warblers including a Louisiana Waterthrush, and our only White-throated Sparrow of the day, though oddly enough, no Cerulean Warblers, even though Paul had heard several on a scouting trip three days earlier.
Then it was on to Prince Edward Point, which we expected would produce a variety of migrants, as well as a few special residents. While not as spectacular as during some heavy waves of migrants, the point and Point Traverse woods did not disappoint; we logged 19 species of warblers, including large numbers of Blackpolls, Bay-breasts, and Blackburnians, as well as a Parula with an almost Prairie Warbler-like song, and numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and White-winged Scoters offshore. Oddly, however, we saw hardly any migrant thrushes; two Swainson's, no Grey-cheeks, Veery, or Wood Thrushes at all.
As the clock moved toward 3 pm, we found ourselves heading down the Ostrander Point road in search of the last few species we had missed; in the wet bushy area near the shore, we heard our last species of the day, a Willow Flycatcher, and wondered how he and the other residents will fare when the government rams through its massive wind farm project on their wetland.
The total number of species seen by one or more members of our team was 154; my personal total of species seen or heard was 150.
My special thanks are due to Paul, not only for scouting several areas in advance, but also for spotting a number of good species, and above all, for doing almost all the driving; also to Bruce for his keen ear which caught a number of the high-pitched little songs like the Blackpoll Warbler as we drove along.
2011 Report – Mike CadmanTop
Saturday, 20 May, 2011
The 2011 OFO Birdathon team (myself, Chris Earley, Paul Grant, Larry Staniforth, and Bryan Wyatt) did our Birdathon in Wellington County on May 20. Our plan was to make an assault on the 147 species Big Day record for the county, obtained on a historic day in 1988. Conditions seemed ripe. The cold April and odd May weather had constricted and slowed down migration and there seemed to be a lot more birds in the Guelph area than usual. With the expansion of some of the big birds (Trumpeter and Mute Swan, Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, Sandhill Crane, Common Raven) along with others such as Red‐bellied Woodpecker which weren’t an option in 1988, things were looking good. Was this to be the year ...?
We started at 3:30 am at my house in downtown Guelph, then stopped at a few owling spots on our way north, and were totally skunked on the owls. Our first bird was a Canada Goose, but things picked up. At dawn, we looked out over a wetland just south of Luther Marsh, and were surprised when a Common Nighthawk buzzed past us at head height. It was to be the first of three nighthawks in three different locations, which is quite unusual for Wellington County. At Wylde Lake, the bog at the south end of Luther Marsh, which is the usual stakeout, we got a singing Lincoln’s Sparrow, but didn’t get the Hermit Thrush we were hoping for, and there was little sign of migrant warblers – which are vital to a successful Wellington Big Day.
We then entered the Luther Marsh property (with special permission from Grand River Conservation Authority), working our way north along the west side. Things were OK but not spectacular as we birded the forest at the south end, but we were in for a disappointment as the forest opened up to reveal that the lake was completely fogged in, so we couldn’t see into the open water we were relying on for waterfowl. Still, providence smiled on us as two Black Terns were foraging in the one small piece of marsh that we could see through the gloom, and Virginia Rail and Sora both responded to a Virginia Rail recording, the Virginia approaching to with three feet of us, giving us a wonderful look.
As usual, the best place for warblers at Luther was along the Bootleggers road, near where it runs into the lake. We quickly added Bay‐breasted, Tennessee, Chestnut‐sided, and others, along with Blue‐headed and Philadelphia Vireos, as the sun started to break up the mist. Tantalisingly, as the mist cleared, we could see a Bald Eagle perched just out of the county (the boundary runs through Luther Lake). Then Bryan finally picked out one sitting on Big Island in the county and countable! Over the lake we noted a distant Caspian Tern, lots of Ospreys and cormorants (which have taken over much of the old Great Blue Heron colony, forcing the herons to start nesting in a nearby forested area and to spread out around the lake itself) but very few ducks (4 species).
By the time we left Luther at noon, we had 101 species and we were feeling quite good about our day, but we were 19 species behind the 1988 total (though we’d stayed later at Luther on that day). The Arthur sewage lagoons were excellent, giving us 5 new species of ducks (including, oddly enough, a resplendent male Red‐breasted Merganser) and almost all of the very few shorebirds we were to get. Wellington County remains a very tough place to find shorebirds!
From there we swept south to Guelph via various hotspots. In Guelph itself we picked up a staked out Sharp‐shinned and Cooper’s Hawks on nests, Chimney Swift, House Finch, Eastern Bluebird, and the elusive White‐breasted Nuthatch within the city limits. The best bird of the day was a singing Prairie Warbler in a fairly large rolling hawthorn savannah near a high school on the edge of town.
The north end of Mountsberg Conservation area, as usual at this time of year, had too many fishermen in boats, so there were no waterfowl, but we did get a Marsh Wren. Nearby Badenoch Swamp offered up our first Willow Flycatcher of the year (and another nighthawk) as darkness descended. It’s handy to have a nature interpreter on your team. Chris did a marvellous Barred Owl imitation and managed to solicit a response from what must be the only Barred Owl territory in the county. After striking out at a couple of Eastern Screech‐Owl spots, we went to our usual spot and Chris whistled a bird in in no time. And that was it.
When we tallied up we had reached 140 species .While that didn’t break the record of 147 species, it was the second highest one day total on record for the county (from numerous previous attempts, trust me!). Of course, we missed a few seemingly easy birds. Given the decline of grassland birds, we should have staked out an American Kestrel and Vesper Sparrow: Upland Sandpiper appears to be gone. And it’s always tough to find a Swainson’s Thrush in Wellington County when you want one! Chris heard a Blackpoll Warbler just on the wrong side of the county line, and we had no luck on some of the other later migrants such as the cuckoos and flycatchers. While we could have used a few fortunate breaks, we did have a marvellous day out looking at birds, and who can ask for more than that?
Thanks to the team for their excellent companionship and for working so hard to make the day a success; to the OFO executive for choosing me as the Celebrity Birder for 2011 and making it all so easy; and to the generous OFO members who contributed over $4000 so far for OFO and Bird Studies Canada through the Birdathon.
2010 Report – Margaret BainTop
Saturday, May 23rd, 2009
It started off well – brilliant stars and a nearly full moon, a warm, clear night, and a northbound flight of thrushes as I waited in my driveway at 2.30am for the others (no, we didn’t start at midnight). To my ears, most of the thrushes were Swainson’s and Veerys but with a nice sprinkling of the high down‐slurred calls of Gray‐cheeked. But the rest of the day was an endurance test in record‐breaking high temperatures – the car thermometer stayed at 34C for six hours in the middle of the day and with the humidity it was technically nearer 40C most of the time. Not surprisingly, most birds were in the coolest spots they could find and not at all keen to show themselves, let alone sing, so we worked hard for our final somewhat disappointing total of 140 species.
My companions were Richard Pope and Bill Gilmour. Our itinerary was entirely within Northumberland County, east of Toronto, so we were also sneakily trying to set a new Northumberland Big Day record, presently standing at 149. Night birding gave us a cooperative Eastern Screech‐Owl, Whip‐poor‐wills and American Woodcock but the firefly‐lit marshes were silent. As first light glimmered, we did some one‐stop‐shopping for grassland sparrows on Trenear Road near Brighton. A Grasshopper Sparrow, beautifully illuminated in the car headlights as we drew up at this excellent location, sat on the road and sang for us, and five more minutes produced Clay‐colored, Field, Vesper, and Savannah as well.
Our next stop was Owen Point at Presqu’ile Provincial Park to scan Lake Ontario before the heat‐shimmer got too severe. We picked up quite a few species here, but there were disappointingly few shorebirds, and the lingering Red‐necked Grebe and Red‐throated Loons, present for days before, had disappeared. As we birded the area around the Lighthouse, the Red‐bellied Woodpecker squawked on cue but there were very few warblers and other small passerines, and Bill’s usually well‐attended backyard feeders were unexpectedly quiet.
Inland the heat was building, what birdsong there was diminished even further, and new species were few and far between. We did have a few bonuses – feisty Blue‐winged and Golden‐winged Warblers dutifully sang where we looked for them, Black‐billed Cuckoos were already calling as we drew up at a woodlot where we had heard them last year, and Richard’s strange howls were convincing enough to call in a Barred Owl where we hadn’t expected to find one. An Upland Sandpiper quietly sat on a fencepost for us to enjoy, and a Red‐headed Woodpecker was flying to its nest even as we turned off the main road to look for it. So we succeeded with several relatively difficult species, but even common warblers were impossible to find – Blackburnian was probably our biggest miss, though we tried in many likely places.
The mosquitoes were loving the merciless heat. Scope‐carrying birders are their main delight – as you walk along, the hand you cantilever your scope with is exposed and unprotected, almost instantly becoming a mass of painful mosquito bites. Perhaps a golf‐glove would help? We struggled on, tracking down new birds excruciatingly slowly. Some light relief came at a manmade pond near Grafton, where we added Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs before realizing that one of the ducks on the shoreline looked very strange, a strikingly‐plumaged almost‐textbook Baikal Teal! But some features weren’t quite right and we concluded it was a Baikal Teal X Mallard hybrid. Would we have counted it if it had been a “real” Baikal Teal? At this point in the day, probably we would!
As dusk approached, back we went to Presqu’ile. We scoped the beaches for the elusive Piping Plover or any other new shorebirds without success. As night fell, we stood on top of the marsh viewing‐platform listening to Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrows, but not one American Bittern called in the hour or more we were there, even though Bill had had several noisy bitterns in sight from exactly the same spot only a few nights before. Our last bird was a ghostly Common Nighthawk floating by on the horizon. But by now we were almost completely surrounded by rapidly gathering thunderstorms, with impressive lightning flashes to the east and south, so being on top of a high viewing platform no longer seemed such a good idea. It was nearly 10pm, time to call it a very long day.
2009 Report –
John & Victoria CarleyTop
Saturday, May 23rd, 2009
Rather than driving 300 kilometers and chasing half‐way across Ontario, we declared that we would do our Birdathon, as “Celebrity Birders” for the Ontario Field Ornithologists, entirely within the deep dark depths of urban Toronto.
When we assessed the territory and planned our route, we told prospective sponsors that we would see between 100 and 130 species. When given a quoted range, most people remember only the low figure. At least we have observed that tendency when it comes to spending money. Thus we look at the bright side of only reaching 102 species on our Birdathon.
But let us give it context: Every bird we saw, from the humble House Sparrow to the mighty Peregrine Falcon to the diminutive Blue‐gray Gnatcatcher was seen in a public urban space.
We know, as do many of you that the geography and vegetation of Toronto makes for a surprisingly rich variety of avifauna. Of course Birdathon is timed to take advantage of both migration and breeding season so our chances of seeing birds were maximized. So where did we go to see these birds? As we drove down our street at 6:45 a.m. we saw an American Robin, Chimney Swift, European Starling and Northern Cardinal on our way to the Leslie Street Spit where we put in quite few hours of serious birding. The “Baselands” wet woods, which are jeopardized by the planned Lake Ontario Park transect and “improvements”, were full of birds and bird watchers. Gnatcatchers nest there, so we heard the constant bizzing of their call as we looked and listened for warblers and thrushes. Further out the spit, in the bays and ponds, we saw fewer ducks than expected but did find several shorebirds as well as herons, terns, gulls, sandpipers and, of course, cormorants. When we felt we had seen about as much as we could see and were just getting back to the car, a mature male Eastern Bluebird perched on a post with the sun lighting up his delightful sky blue back and red breast. We lingered to enjoy the sight, even as we knew we were wasting valuable time!
From the Spit we went to the west side of the city and walked along the Humber River and into James Gardens and Lambton Woods. As we had expected, we saw Cliff Swallows but no amount of walking in circles produced either of our other “target species” for the woods, Pileated Woodpecker and Black‐capped Chickadee; so slightly downhearted and stressed we went to the corner of Bloor and Islington and had a nice look at the Peregrine Falcons. We could have done this “naked eye” but did put up the scope for a close look. Again just wasting time on the beauty of the birds!
From there it was down to the western waterfront, with a short deviation to find a Northern Mockingbird in the industrial area beside the 427. Colonel Sam Smith Park produced the elusive Black‐capped Chickadee and a Cooper’s Hawk as well as a flock of Brant and long lines of White‐winged Scoters skimming the surface of Lake Ontario.
It was now getting towards dusk and we had to decide; the Humber River at Old Mill for the Red‐tailed Hawk nest or Humber Bay Park for ducks. We had recorded Great Egret, Black‐crowned Night‐Heron and Belted Kingfisher, so the river was probably only a one species stop. The vote went for the waterfront again. We were desperate: we actually had not reached 100 species. Our performance was not going to impress anyone, in a positive way. Fortunately Humber Bay produced!! Trumpeter Swan got us to 99. Two Hooded Mergansers brought us to 100 and a Greater Scaup was 101. It was good to have one extra in case we had miscounted.
But we were not done yet. Our party, Garth Riley and Nancy McPherson who provided stalwart help and companionship all day and Raunie Ratcliffe who had kindly taken over the driving as we started to flag, returned to The Spit. We stood at the side of grotty Unwin Avenue with industrial land behind us, a chain link fence and the occasional dubious‐looking car between us and the Baselands. As we peered into the desolate darkness, we heard it, beeep………….. beeeep………….. beeep…………..beeep. Woodcocks were calling and displaying!
……So we made it to 102.
And we are honoured to have been the OFO Celebrity Birders for 2009. Thanks to all our sponsors!
John & Victoria Carley
2008 Celebrity Birders Report – Pete & Rob Read, and Ian & Gavin PlattTop
The “Grippers” are an amalgamation of two father/son Birdathon teams: Pete & Rob Read, and Ian & Gavin Platt. Their team name is an acronym, and Gavin, Rob, Ian, and Pete will grip as many birds as they can as OFO’s 2008 Baillie Birdathon celebrity birders! Gavin Platt has been birding since seeing a Snowy Owl in Port Stanley at a young age. Since then, he has traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates and Europe in search of birds. He has been participating in the Baillie Birdathon for as long as he can remember.Rob Read saw a Northern Saw‐whet Owl at Point Pelee when he was just four weeks old. He has participated in the Baillie Birdathon in each of the past 15 years and has the t‐shirts to prove it. He has studied birds extensively in Britain and Spain, as well as much of Canada and the US.
Ian Platt started birding after moving to London and initially concentrated on birds of Ontario. Gradually he spread out and has now birded extensively in the Americas and Europe. Pete Read has been birding for almost 40 years, and he was weaned on avian adventures at Point Pelee. Recently, since retiring from teaching he has birded abroad in such far flung places as Cuba, Iceland, Antarctica, and Australia.
The Grippers will conduct their Baillie Birdathon in southwestern Ontario on a route that will include Skunks Misery, Rondeau Provincial Park, Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, Erieau Beach, Wheatley Harbour, Point Pelee and Lake St. Clair.
2008 Baillie Birdathon Report
Held 6:45 pm Friday, 16 May to 6:45 pm Saturday, 17 May, 2008
We were very honoured to be selected the OFO Celebrity team for the Baillie Birdathon, and determined to raise lots of money. Our plan was to start in Middlesex County, on Friday evening, where we had knowledge of nesting species. There were ideal conditions, a wonderfully calm, sunny evening. We started at 6:45 pm near the London airport where Ian had scouted some areas. A number of wet spots held ducks and shorebirds and we made the rounds of the nesting raptors: Osprey, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Peregrines and Merlin.
Being successful, we headed out to Komoka Provincial Park, where we knew a number of species could be located in a variety of habitats. Grasshopper Sparrow and other field species as well as ducks and shorebirds were found. Amazingly we got 12 Whimbrel there, and picked up 3 Ring‐necked Duck and luckily saw a Common Nighthawk.
Our next stop was the Delaware Sportsman’s Pond (a.k.a. “Anhinga Marsh”), which disappointed this year as only Sora was obtained for the list. After an unsuccessful hunt for owls, due to the noisy Delaware Speedway, we turned in for a quick sleep.
The following morning we were on the road by 5:00 am, with a successful stop for Eastern Screech‐Owl and getting a bonus Whip‐poor‐will. The morning started rather clear and not too windy, but a noticeable change was occurring and our attempts at Great Horned Owl were fruitless. It was overcast and windy by the time we got to Skunk’s Misery, our potentially make‐or‐break location, and we became concerned. Seeking out the more sheltered locations, which unfortunately also held hordes of mosquitoes, we picked up the usual species, including Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, Acadian Flycatcher and Pileated Woodpecker. We were pleasantly surprised by getting Broad‐winged Hawk and a female Hooded Merganser. Alas, not too many migrants were located so we headed to Rondeau.
We had ended up with 104 species before we left Middlesex County. Along the way, we stopped at various habitats known to us, and picked up a few species, notably Greater Scaup in a small farm pond beside the road. As we traveled down to the lakeshore from Morpeth we picked up a few lake birds including Common Loon, Red‐breasted Merganser, and several gull species.
We had hoped that there would be lots of migrants in Rondeau, but it didn’t pan out that way. We did pick up lots of species, mainly because we were lucky with a glorious pocket of warblers near the Maintenance Buildings which included an Orange‐crowned Warbler and several Wilson’s Warblers. We also got a Yellow‐breasted Chat near the Pony Barns, thanks to several local birders. While looking for the Yellow‐breasted Chat, we got a pair of Tufted Titmice, and at the feeders at the Visitor’s Centre a couple of Pine Pine Siskins were grubbing. Unfortunately we “dipped out” on Prothonotary Warblers, and the Worm‐eating Warbler that were said to be around. So with the wind swirling, we headed out of Rondeau to try other spots. As tradition dictated, as we left, we managed to each down a quadruple‐scoop tub of ice cream from our favourite spot.
We worked our way over to Erieau and there we picked up Black‐bellied Plover, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones, which were numerous in the fields. In fact, large flights of those species were coming across the lake from the south. Only common species of gulls at the harbour produced nothing new, so we headed up to the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. We were seven species richer in waterfowl when we left there which included a Bufflehead and Horned Grebe.
We found a number of species at the Hillman Shorebird Habitat, thanks to the large group of birders there who helped us out; thanks everyone! We were standing there in short sleeves, as it was sunny and fairly warm, though there was a breeze. Unfortunately, the Mottled Duck wasn’t there at the time, nor did we encounter the King Rail from over on the road, but we got Willet, Little Gull, and Wilson’s Phalarope among others. Many shorebirds were noted coming in from off the lake. At one point it was quite an exciting sight to see all the clouds of shorebirds scared up by a passing Peregrine.
After gleaning information about Point Pelee from the birders we encountered, as well as reading the Pelee Ontbirds Report on our PDA, we decided to make only a short visit there because we had already observed most of the species being reported there and as it was getting on in the day, we thought it would be more profitable to head north to investigate two more marshes. We birded Sanctuary area only. Then off we went.
North of Tilbury is a marsh which you can look at through a fence, and we could see Common Moorhen, but the wind was blowing a gale, we had to bundle up again, and scopes were not able to be used. It soon rained, so we gave up and headed north to Angler Line marshes. Stocking up on gas and supplies, we drove through sun, wind and rain on the way there, watching a beautiful rainbow, and odd cloud formations, wondering if this weather would end our luck. No sooner had we arrived but the Yellow‐headed Blackbird called and flew about. The sun had burst out and the winds were light here, so we also heard Least Bittern. Then, just down from that location we saw a Green Heron. Just as time was running out at 6:43 pm, I walked over to a ditch along the road, and a Black‐crowned Night‐Heron flew up and we watched it fly over to settle into the marsh, our last bird, the 172nd species in our odyssey. After about 18 hours of birding and travelling over 450 km we were pretty exhausted.
We were pleased with this total, which on such a “weather day” with relatively few migrants being seen, seemed even more satisfying. We even were able to get 23 warbler species, including goodies as mentioned, but missing Black‐throated Blue and Cape May ‐ yikes.
We really enjoyed our father‐son outing while raising money for the OFO and BSC. Again, we thank OFO for allowing us to represent them in the Baillie Birdathon this year and a huge thank you to all the birders who helped us along the way and to the many who sponsored us with their pledges for OFO and BSC.
Pete Read for the Grippers: Gavin, Rob, Ian & Pete
2007 Report - Cheryl & Ben EdgecombeTop
Cheryl Edgecombe is an Ontario birder, born in Windsor and now living in Burlington with her husband and 3 children. She started birding at the age of 13 under the watchful eye of mentor Paul Pratt. This led to Cheryl working for 3 years as a naturalist at Ojibway Nature Centre, headquarters of the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve in Windsor. Since moving to the Golden Horseshoe she has also worked as a naturalist for Mountsberg Conservation Area north of Hamilton. Cheryl is an active member of the Hamiltan Naturalists Club, for which she is the compiler of the weekly Hamilton Naturalists Club Birding Hotline. Those of you who subscribe to ONTBIRDS will have seen her weekly posts on the wonderful array of good birds being seen in the Hamilton area. Cheryl was, in fact, voted the Volunteer of the Year 2006 for the Hamilton Naturalists Club. Cheryl also served recently as a member of the publications committee for the Birds of Hamilton, authored by Bob Curry.
Ben Edgecombe is Cheryl's middle child and eldest son. He will turn 11 years old as of 1 April. Ben has been birding for a year, and is showing keen interest. Who wouldn't, with a teacher like Cheryl there to help out any time of day or night! Ben is a member of the Hamilton Naturalists Club Bird Studies Group, and is responsible for co-hosting the collection of sightings information at monthly meetings.
Cheryl and Ben will do their Baillie Birdathon during the week of 14 May in the Hamilton Study Area within a 40 km radius circle around Dundurn Castle, and they've already lined up a couple of high-powered Hamilton birders to be their spotters for the day. Please support Cheryl and Ben's Birdathon with a pledge today.
2007 Baillie Birdathon Report
Friday 18 May 2007.
Ben and I were honoured to be named OFO celebrity birders in 2007. We decided to do our Baillie Birdathon in the Hamilton Study Area, an area we knew well and where we knew we could find a diverse number of birds in the diverse number of habitats that we are fortunate to have here in the 40 km circle based around Dundurn Castle.
We awoke at 1:50 a.m., keen and excited to start the day. Ben and I along with our awesome team of Rob Dobos, Dave Don and Thomas Crooks embarked on our big day around 2:20 a.m. The temperature hovered at a brisk 1ºC but the winds were calm as we started out at Kerncliffe Park where we easily got Sora and Virginia Rail.
Our route was planned out by Rob Dobos as we had completed a Hamilton Big Day a couple of years ago with the same routing and it seemed to be the best way of maximizing our species coverage. Of course the day before, a male Kentucky Warbler was found on the Northshore Trails at the RBG Arboretum so there was a little tweaking to the route at the last minute.
We cruised through Flamborough and were delighted to hear Whip-poor-will calling even though it was chilly. One of the highlights for Ben was in Hyde Tract located on Safari Road just east of Kirkwall Road. A male Scarlet Tanager was perched at the top of an evergreen in the sunlight, brilliant colours of red and black and a lifer for Ben. Many of the birds we saw here were perched high trying to soak up the sun and get some warmth. We should have done the same.
We covered many areas through the day, Mountsberg Conservation Area, Valens Conservation Area and along Lennon Road (a unique habitat of northern forest giving us species such as Canada, Black-and-white and Nashville Warblers on territory, Winter Wren and White-throated Sparrows singing everywhere). The Beverly Swamp was alive with Northern Waterthrush, Alder Flycatcher and a fly-by of Green Heron. The Dundas Valley, a vast expanse of many habitats was a good place to locate Louisiana Waterthrush but Lou wasn’t singing for us that day so we dipped on this species.
The afternoon was spent at many of the great migrant traps along the lakeshore. Unfortunately many of the migrant warblers from the day before had cleared out. We were not able to get the Kentucky Warbler but ended up with 21 species of warbler. Shoreacres, Shell Park, Burloak Woods were all combed for migrants and we were able to pick up a number of species here. At Bronte Harbour was a bonus, a lingering Bonaparte’s Gull.
Perhaps our biggest misses were ducks. You would think that given we live in the wintering duck capital of Canada that you would be able to find at least one of a number of species of ducks and scoters. Resident Red-necked Grebes, many Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers comprised the majority of our species with a sprinkling of White-winged Scoter, Ruddy Duck, both scaups and a Northern Pintail.
Later in the afternoon, we hit Fifty Point Conservation Area and Grimsby Sewage Lagoons. Highlights here at Fifty Point included more migrant warblers and Orchard Oriole, probably one of the only places locally to find these birds. Grimsby Sewage Lagoons were quiet since they had just mowed the north cell, scaring most of the remaining waterfowl which were there the day before. Perhaps I should ask the Department of National Defense to sponsor the birds they flushed.
On to Saltfleet, an area on the escarpment up Fifty Road and west to 10th Road East. Two pairs of Upland Sandpipers, a singing Vesper Sparrow and a calling Ring-necked Pheasant added to our total as the sun went down. Then, a mad dash to Binbrook Conservation Area where a previous scouting trip had found an Osprey on nest. Thank goodness for floodlights.
Our total ended up at 143 species. Nineteen hours of birding, total exhaustion but total exhilaration. We were very pleased with our outcome. There always are big misses on big days but the fun, the great birds, the many lifers for Ben and most of all great friends made for an excellent Baillie Birdathon.
Thank you to all the sponsors who supported Ben and me for our birdathon. We truly enjoyed being the celebrities and raising money for the great work that the OFO does. To my best friends, Rob, Dave and Tom, a big thank you for your support, for the laughs, for the birds and most of all for the friendship. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Cheryl & Ben Edgecombe
2006 Report - Dave MilsomTop
24 May on a clear evening we left Toronto and headed west. Chris Escott was driving. Chester Gryski, Bob Falconer and I were the passengers. All four are members of the OFO Board of Directors.
Our first of several anxious moments came when we were detoured around Caledonia because of a blockade but we were blessed with a very interesting and eye-opening drive though the vast Six Nations Reserve. None of us had ever been there before--we were most impressed by its size as well as the pride taken in their community by the residents.
Reaching Long Point at 10 pm, we headed to the sand road running along the northern edge of St. Williams Forestry Station. Bets were placed on our “first bird”--Great Horned Owl (2 choices) could not be heard, nor was Barred Owl responding to the tape. The other choice, Whip-poor-will, was the first bird encountered just as we reached a sandy clearing.
Off to Big Creek Marsh along the Causeway, where we added several good finds as we staggered along in the dark on the uneven trail. Least Bittern called repeatedly. American Coot, Common Moorhen, Canada Goose, Marsh Wren and an unexpected Sedge Wren all sang or called.
The marsh off Concession A was next. An Eastern Screech-Owl was heard, as was a male Ring-necked Pheasant, Virginia Rail and Sora Rail. Even a Swamp Sparrow sang in the dark. Nearby, we heard Gray Catbird and American Robin vocalizing.
Further owl attempts near Backus Woods and the Wilson Tract proved fruitless. Dawn mercifully arrived as we stood in the Rowanwood Sanctuary and listened to a cacophony of dawn chorus as the sun rose. I was pleased to be with three such expert birders who were all adept at recognizing each individual song in the midst of so many. I usually need to concentrate very hard to hear just one tune when maybe eight are playing at the same time!
We were doing well until this unknown tune had us all baffled. Not only that, but the darn singer would not allow itself to be recognized. After “wasting” over five minutes at the best time of the day, we finally caught a glimpse of a Blue-winged Warbler. To infuriate us further, he now began singing his regular song!
Totally without sleep, I occasionally heard a familiar song, such as that of an American Goldfinch, and my mind was blank for a few seconds. But once the dawn chorus had subsided, we were able to concentrate on individuals much better and our list continued to grow. The Wilson Tract provided us an opportunity to check out the size and ferocity of the 2006 mosquito crop. Well-prepared, we were not unduly hampered in our search through here for rare warblers but the Hooded eluded us. Suddenly Chris whispered, “hear that!” We stopped and the distinctive sound of a Worm-eating Warbler came though the undergrowth. Using his I-pod, Chris brought it within a few feet of us, but typical of this species it did not want to show. We were sure of its identity so continued on.
Time was going fast by now (almost 7:30am) and we wanted to visit the park and the Old Cut Banding Station early, so we left Walsingham and headed into Long Point Provincial Park. One of my favourite stands of pine and several adjacent clearings deep into the park were visited first. As usual on a good migration day, this area was very productive: several warblers, vireos and flycatchers were seen well. Across the road, two Sandhill Cranes flew over the marsh. An American Bittern called. A quick check of the west beach produced no shorebirds of note, so we sped off to Old Cut. Here Stuart Mackenzie and the team were most helpful. Did we need a Philadelphia Vireo? Yes. And we were quickly directed to the bird. The same for Bay-breasted Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch.
We headed back up the Causeway and stopped to view Big Creek in the daylight. A totally different experience, as we added several new birds not heard at night – Mute Swan (not surprising!), Black Tern, Pied-billed Grebe etc. We dropped Bob at a restaurant to get some breakfast while the three of us ate our snacks and scoped the Bird Studies Canada pond. Good mudflats here resulted in Short-billed Dowitcher, sandpipers, plovers and Dunlin being seen. Returning to pick up Bob, we learned he had been waiting outside five minutes watching a Downy Woodpecker. No big deal, I thought, we’ll get one later. We never did!
Another fine wet spot was at the bridge on Concession 1, where Lesser Yellowlegs and a few ducks were added. Then to Backus Woods for another mosquito encounter. They weren’t too bad, but the trail was disappointing. No Yellow-bellied Sapsucker or Pileated Woodpecker as I’d had a few days earlier with my British group. We heard Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, saw a Blackburnian Warbler well, but no Yellow-throated Vireo. On return to the van, Chris drove in on the other side of the big pond. We were quickly rewarded when a male Prothonotary Warbler sang in full view. We heard an Acadian Flycatcher sing once nearby, but were so intent on calling in the Vireo that we forgot about it until the end of the count. Several attempts at Yellow-throated Vireo only brought in more Red-eyed Vireos, so we finally departed for ¼ Line East.
The single male Prairie Warbler sang from the exact same tree as I’d seen it three days earlier. We then drove behind the trout pond at the St. Williams Forestry Station. We searched here for boreal species, but could not find Winter Wren or Brown Creeper. However, a Blue-headed Vireo was a good find. Even better was a male Hooded Warbler, then a surprising second Worm-eating Warbler singing in the undergrowth.
We were doing quite satisfactorily but I was frequently nodding off for two-minute naps as Chris drove from one location to another.
We now decided to search for species not yet found but definitely attainable if we went to the right place. For example, we needed Cliff Swallow so we drove to the bridge in Port Royal and immediately found one. The Yellow-breasted Chat I’d found while relieving myself a few days earlier could not be relocated but we always found something new when we visited such good sites.
The afternoon was coming to an end when we decided to journey through Turkey Point to Normandale and Fishers Glen. Frequent stops at the fish hatchery, feeders, beach and marina were generally unproductive and time was becoming an enemy!
On such a birding big-day, you have to be prepared to alter your plan when you examine the time remaining vis-à-vis the species still missing. It was about 6:30 pm when I suggested we go straight to Townsend Lagoons and then drive to Hamilton for the last 30 minutes or so of daylight.
This plan proved very worthwhile. At Townsend, we immediately scoped across the first lagoon a Red-necked Phalarope. Sanding next to it was a Curlew Sandpiper! We knew this bird had been at Townsend but consensus was that it had departed several days earlier. We added a couple of ducks and even a late Tundra Swan here too.
At 7:30 pm we drove off for Hamilton. It was risky but we decided to go via Caledonia along Highway 6. Fortunately, we were not held up and arrived on Eastport with over 40 minutes of daylight left. Double-crested Cormorant, Caspian Tern, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Gadwall were quickly added. The Peregrine Falcon was at the lift bridge, Lesser Scaup swam in Windermere. At 9 pm we stood on the Lake Ontario shoreline at Van Wagners Beach. Only Mallards and Cormorants were flying by. It seemed to be over. I asked a passer-by to take a photo of our weary but contented band. He obliged. We were examining the picture when Chris suddenly called out, “Black-bellied Plover flying towards the beach.” We stopped in amazement as a single plover dropped onto the beach directly in front of us. I started laughing at our good fortune so hard that the bird flew off again almost immediately. But it was a great way to end what had been a memorable day!
Our total of 156 species was not a record, although it tied the second highest total for OFO in the past decade, but it exceeded by six our hoped-for number.
We worked very well as a team and never argued despite our lack of sleep Chris was a stalwart. He drove throughout and his expertise was invaluable. Chester and Bob were both brilliant too. Their skills and sharp eyes contributed greatly to our final total.
Many, many thanks to all those who so kindly sponsored me on this 2006 Baillie Birdathon. I hope you will all agree from this report that it was worth it. It certainly was much fun to participate in such a worthwhile cause.
2005 Report - George and Mark PeckTop
It was one of those offers too good to refuse. When Chris Escott, President of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, first approached us to see if we would be interested in being the OFO Celebrity Birders for 2005 we were a little concerned that we possessed the proper qualifications required. Although we had both been involved in ornithology for most of our lives we had always been interested in the nesting and breeding of Ontario birds rather than the equally challenging, but quite different, listing of birds. Many of the birders we knew were better qualified and more experienced in the challenges that we knew would lay ahead in a “birdathon”. However, after talking to Chris and thinking about the fun we could have, we decided to accept the challenge. We had to, there were too many reasons in favour!
The James L. Baillie Memorial Fund for Bird Research and Preservation, established in 1976, is a project of Bird Studies Canada. Founded in 1960, Bird Studies Canada is the nation’s leading bird conservation organization with more than 20,000 active members, volunteers, and supporters from across the country.
Back in 1965 Jim Baillie, an Assistant Curator in the Ornithology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had asked my father, George, to become the Coordinator of the Ontario Nest Records Scheme. Forty years later, now a Research Associate at the ROM, Dad was still looking after the Scheme and is more passionate now than ever before. In 1974, I was introduced to my first formal education into birds at the Young Ornithologist Workshop down at Long Point hosted by David Hussell and Erica Dunn. For the last 20 years I have been a technician in Ornithology at the ROM, where the ghost of Jim Baillie and all of his contributions to Ontario ornithology remain as strong as ever.
The birding community continues to grow and Bird Studies Canada and the Ontario Field Ornithologists are now two of the major organizations responsible for the research and promotion of bird study in the Province. They have always been strong supporters of both the Ontario Nest Records Scheme and the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas and we have always valued the contributions and knowledge of their members. The opportunity to assist both organizations through the Baillie Birdathon was something we were now quite excited about.
We settled on 15 May 2005 as the chosen day. It was the only day that really fit into our schedule and we were keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and lots of birds. It was our first birdathon and to ensure success we decided to enlist the aid of some “ringers”. The rules are pretty loose for the birdathon and we planned to take full advantage of the situation. We both agreed that in order for a species to count both of us had to see the species in question. For the most part we stuck to the rule! We also asked if we could include, as part of our challenge, confirmation of breeding. This was in honour of the last year of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas in which OFO and BSC were playing such a large role in coordinating. We attempted to photographically document all confirmations of breeding. Knowing our deficiencies, we asked Glenn Coady and Gerry Binsfeld, two of the best “ears” in Ontario birding circles that we knew, to act as our “pointmen and drivers”. Another reason we chose 15 May was because our advanced scouting had been quite limited. So, we picked the day after a scheduled ROM birding trip to Long Point that Glenn and I had committed to earlier.
Our birdathon day would be pretty straight forward. Spend the night in the Long Point area, start birding as early as we could drag our butts out of bed, and work our way back to Toronto, stopping at strategic birding spots along the way and finishing at the Leslie Street Spit in Toronto near dark. Our goal; 150 species and 40 confirmations of breeding.
The Baillie Birdathon: The day before.
14 May 2005 – Sunny, cool, light wind, and advance scouting (nothing in the rules against this). Gerry and Glenn joined Dad and me in Oakville and we worked our way down to Long Point with the ROM Birding Course group, stopping at locations we were planning to use the next day. Most of the time was spent in the Long Point area at Old Cut looking for migrants. The ROM course finished around 1800 and it had been a good day. 123 species without even going for broke! Stupidity was being saved for the next day! We spent our last couple of hours visiting a few more potential sites and talking to BSC staff for additional suggestions. A special thanks to John Brett, Stu Mackenzie, Dawn Laing, Ron and Anne Marie Ridout, David Hussell and Erica Dunn for their helpful suggestions. We spent the night at the Kinda Cute Bed and Breakfast in Port Rowan. Wake up call 3:00 a.m.
The Baillie Birdathon: The day.
15 May 2005 – Partly cloudy, cool, medium winds. There is nothing “kinda cute” about a 3:00 a.m. wake up call! Fortunately the day began with potential because the owner of the B & B was already up and had breakfast and coffee ready to go. We began at the Big Creek Marshes at 4:00 a.m. listening for marsh birds. Our first bird was a sleep deprived, testosterone-filled Swamp Sparrow singing only to himself, as far as we could determine! There was no way he was going to get a mate if he carried on like that everyday. Although we were hoping for a couple of rail species, and were not against using playback to get them, we came up empty.
By 4:45 a.m. we were back on the road heading to the Wilson Tract to pick up the woodland predawn chorus. A pair of Whip-poor-wills spotted along the roadside helped to renew our confidence. The predawn chorus in the woods was a good idea; having Glenn and Gerry as pointmen was even better! Birding by ear is a talent not easily mastered. Apparently, there is a certain genetic trait in the Peck family that does not allow for easy identification of Ruffed Grouse drumming from a distance greater than 20 m! To be honest there may even be a few more species that fall into the same category. A gentle push, a few paces in the right direction by our “drivers” and, problem solved! Wild Turkeys were busy gobbling all around us and a Cape May Warbler singing above the car on our exit was a great bonus. No breeding confirmation yet, not really surprising considering we were still having trouble even seeing a bird!
An hour later we were headed back to Old Cut where we planned to spend the next couple of hours looking for migrants. Along the way we stopped off and checked under a couple of bridges to pick up nesting Eastern Phoebe and Cliff Swallow and, at BSC headquarters, confirm breeding of Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, and American Robin. We had actually found several of the nests the day before and luckily the birds had decided to leave them in the same place overnight!
Old Cut Station turned out to be a great location. Although not in large numbers, the diversity of bird species was impressive and our list quickly improved. A Yellow-breasted Chat, Carolina Wren and a White-eyed Vireo were helpful additions to many northern species migrating through the area. Our strategy for Old Cut was simple and involved electronics. Small frs radios were used and enabled us to cover the area well within easy contact of our “drivers” should the need arise. Our goal was to avoid the all too common phrase of birders; “you should have been here five minutes ago, the bird just left, honest”!
After exhausting our luck at Old Cut we stopped briefly at ¼ Line Road for Prairie Warbler without success but picked up a couple of new species at Backus Woods. We then left the Long Point area and headed east towards Hamilton. We were able to confirm breeding of Bald Eagle, Eastern Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl along the way but were unsuccessful with the Osprey that had nested several years ago in Caledonia. During our route back Gerry had been traveling ahead of us and, with the help of John Lamey, called to let us know we should probably visit the Townsend Sewage lagoons. Normally we would have no use for a cell phone but, in cases of an emergency they do serve a purpose. We were about an hour behind our schedule at this point, a clear emergency if ever there was one. Townsend’s was huge for us. Waterfowl and shorebirds, two groups sadly lacking from our list, were found in excellent diversity and in a short time period. Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes were both in the lagoons swimming close to a White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpiper. There is still no place like a sewage lagoon when you think you are *&%# out of luck.
Moving on to Hamilton Harbour we quickly improved our confirmation of breeding species count with Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Double-crested Cormorant. They may not be pretty to some but they were all very beautiful to us. We then moved into Oakville and grabbed a Red-necked Grebe and some other species from my home turf. We even had time to confirm breeding of Northern Mockingbird, thanks to a suggestion from an ex BSC staffer and regular Ontario Birds contributor, not to mention “mockingbird crazy”, Roy Smith. We also had a short detour to pick up a bike. We were running late and time was not on our side!
As we sped down the QEW heading for Toronto trying to beat the rain and the night I couldn’t help but wonder if OFO would be willing to pick up any speeding tickets should we happen to cross the line into illegality. Gerry, once again leading the way, phoned to suggest we might want to visit Colonel Samuel Smith Park and Humber Bay Park. The results, a late Common Loon, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser. We also stopped in at High Park and grabbed nesting evidence for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-capped Chickadee.
Our final push was for the Leslie Street Spit. It was dusk, there was a gentle rain and the thought of a 5 km hike up the Spit was not very appealing; hence the bike. Although tired, Dad and I were both willing to give it a go and, while the idea of “doubling” on the bike crossed my mind, I watched Dad head off, a little uneasily, into the night on my niece’s 21 speed mountain bike. Not quite the pretty picture that you would see in the movies! We traded halfway up the Spit and then played a little loosely with the rules! At the end of the Spit we knew there was a Great Egret sitting on a nest. The only question was; were we both going to see it? For arguments sake let’s just say we did and let’s also say that the American Black Duck that Glenn and Dad saw while I was off on a bike ride was also seen by both of us!
It was a pleasant walk back to the parking lot, aided by a lift from Richard Joos, President of the Toronto Bird Observatory. A great day; 155 species and 34 breeding confirmations. With a little bit of help from some good friends and all of the generous individuals who contributed to the Baillie Birdathon we had been able to help two very valuable organizations, and had our best Ontario big day ever. (MKP)
P.S. Dad slept for the next two days!! (GKP)