This past week, we have been touring South Central Ontario with family from England. While the weather was cool and the forests damp and buggy, it proved to be a good time for birding. On our circuit, we managed to see a few rarities as well as one of my nemesis birds, the golden-winged warbler, a bird I had very much wanted to see before next month’s move to British Columbia. The rarest bird seen, was the piping plover of which there are less than ten breeding pairs in Ontario. The bird had been extirpated, but assisted by willing volunteers, there have been a few returning to the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. This bird is endangered, in all of its habitat as beaches are taken up by indiscriminate development and human activity.
Now into June, we are in “meteorological” summer. While the weather has been decidedly unsummerlike (cool and wet), the migration is over, the tree canopy is generally very thick, and birds are becoming more difficult to locate. I had very much hoped to photograph a mourning warbler and a golden-winged warbler this year, but had no such luck. It was however a good year in general for spring bird photography. Next year, I look forward to seeing the Spring Migration from a Western North American perspective!
The abnormally cold and late Spring this year has certainly not hurt opportunities for bird photography. Leaf coverage is generally behind schedule and with cool weather, there seem to be fewer insects – certainly fewer mosquitoes! Prince Edward Point (Lake Ontario) however was an exception where we saw immense clouds of non-biting insects, for miles and miles. McGregor Point on Lake Huron however was the opposite and there were fewer warblers seen than I was expecting. I am still hoping to have a few more chances for outings before the migration is over.
Over the last week, Mary and I had the opportunity to visit several “hot spots” for the Spring Migration on Lake Erie. This included the Magee Marsh (perhaps the best known spot and certainly the most visited), the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Maumee State Park in Ohio, as well as Pelee National Park and Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario. For us, the most prolific site was the “tip” at Point Pelee. While there, we experienced a “reverse migration” in which birds gathered at the tip and actually left the tip, heading south again across Lake Erie. At this time, there were thousands of birds gathering at the tip, and flying and landing on low trees and on rocks and on the beach. Experienced birders reported that they had never before experienced such numbers of migrating birds at Point Pelee. It is not clear what the reasons for the reverse migration are. Only some of the species seem to have “overshot” on their way north. Most are still short of their ultimate breeding grounds. Some speculate that the birds have been following the shoreline of Lake Erie, and are thrown off by the geography of the point. If in fact they are following the shoreline, the “point” directs them southward. Whatever the reasons, it was certainly an exceptional experience, and one I am not likely to experience again!
Yesterday, we finally had a sunny day, after days of heavy rain! We headed down to Rondeau Provincial Park, on Lake Erie.While it remains early in the season, we saw a great deal of wildlife including sixty species of birds, many types of butterflies, deer, beaver, spring flowers and frogs! Although it was still wet, it was a great outing!
The Spring migration in Southern Ontario is underway. Yesterday I traveled to Long Point on Lake Ontario and managed to see almost 60 species. I have never seen so many golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, eastern towhees or northern (yellow-shafted) flickers on one day! Nor have I heard so many red winged blackbirds! The following were all taken in the vicinity of Long Point.
Bird enthusiasts are generally confused and confounded by the small brown birds that are seen almost everywhere. They are colloquially known as “little brown jobs” or LBJs. Most of these birds are sparrows, and it is well worth the effort to try to distinguish one from another. There is great diversity in habitat, behaviour, song and in the subtlety of their plumage. It can also prove to be rewarding to learn the differences between these many species. The following photos highlight some of the variety found in North American native sparrows.
While there are generally not many species of birds in Ontario in January, there are a lot of waterfowl, as long as there is open water. Western Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay are particularly good.
Last weekend, I went to the Canadian Raptor Conservancy in Vittoria, Ontario to photograph raptors. The Conservancy is an organization dedicated to education relating to raptors, and has active educational programs throughout Canada and an active rehabilitation centre (presently more than 50 birds are being rehabilitated). There is also an active captive breeding program on the site. Frequently, they host photographic shoots for those interested in avian photography.
Every time I am in Vancouver, I try to visit the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. This week, I managed a quick visit on Wednesday. In the previous week, there had been more than 70 bird species reported – an impressive total for a winter week in Canada! Included were three species of owl. In my brief visit, I managed to see more than 30 species – ducks were prolific! No owls unfortunately, but a good day nonetheless. Driving out to Abbotsford afterward, I saw well over 100 eagles sitting on about five adjacent trees, near the banks of the Fraser River. As I was on the highway, I had no opportunity to stop for a photograph. A few photos from the Sanctuary follow.
Earlier this week, Mary and I had the opportunity to see the documentary film “The Woman who Loves Giraffes”. The documentary is excellent, and the subject of the documentary, Dr. Anne Dagg, spoke following the film. One of the themes covered in the film and in her comments was the disappearance of giraffes. Her original work was done in 1956 when giraffes were relatively abundant. Their decline has been alarming. It is estimated that the world population of giraffes has diminished by 40% since 1988 alone. This species is now on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of species at risk of extinction, officially categorized as “Vulnerable”. Mary and I had the opportunity to see giraffes in 2008 when I was working on a project in South Africa, visiting a protected reserve, Madikwe, which is in South Africa bordering Botswana. Today, I revisited pictures taken there and in Kruger National Park. Some of these photos are attached. Every species shown in the following set of pictures is on the IUCN Red List! The reasons for the decline of most of these species varies little from one to the other; habitat loss, trophy hunting, hunting in general. Will my grand children ever have the chance to see these animals in the wild?
White rhinoceros, Kruger NP; IUCN Classification – “Vulnerable”
Hippopotamus, Kruger NP: IUCN Classification – “Vulnerable”
African penguin, Boulders Bay SA; IUCN Classification – “Endangered”
Giraffe, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN Classification: “Vulnerable”
African elephant, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN Classification – Vulnerable
African lion, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN Classification – “Vulnerable”
African wild dog, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN classification – “Critically Endangered”
Giraffe, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN Classification – ” Vulnerable”
African lion, Madikwe Reserve; IUCN Classification – ” Vulnerable”
Leopard, Kruger NP; IUCN Classification – “Vulnerable”
Late October and early November is not considered “good time” for birding in Ontario. However, it is a time for seeing rarities, late migrators and birds that have flown well out of their normal range…………….as well as the normal birds of winter.
Hudsonian godwit – a true “marathon bird”. This bird migrates from the Arctic to southern South America!
Northern saw-whet owl being banded.
Great kiskadee – a bird seldom seen north of Texas but common in South America. This is the first great kiskadee seen in Canada
Black-throated grey warbler. An errant bird found normally on the West Coast. It would be expected to migrate to Texas or other locations in SW USA.
White winged scoter
Black-capped chickadee. The friendliest bird of the forest! I though this one was going to land on my lens!
Downy woodpecker (female)
Juvenile trumpeter swan