The Start of the Spring Migration in Ontario

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.

Forster’s tern
Brown creeper. The speck falling to the bird I believe is a wood tick.

Brown creeper, “hidden” on a birch trunk.
Blue-grey gnatcatcher
One of a “million” noisy red-winged blackbirds
Chipping sparrow
Golden-crowned kinglet
Northern (yellow-shafted) flicker
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Red-breasted nuthatch
Horned grebe


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.

Grasshopper sparrow
Henslow’s sparrow
American tree sparrow
White-throated sparrow
Song sparrow
Swamp sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Savannah sparrow

January Waterfowl in Ontario

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.

Red-necked mergansers
Canvasback drake
Greater scaup drake
Trumpeter swans
Buffleheads (female and male)
Common goldeneye (male and female)
Long-tailed drake
Greater scaup (female)

Canadian Raptor Conservancy

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.

Eastern screech owl
Bald eagle
Great-horned owl
Bald eagle
Great-grey owl
Red-tailed hawk
Juvenile snowy owl
Barred owl
Great-grey owl
Great-horned owl
Golden eagle
Great-horned owl
Eastern screech owl

Return to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

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.

Bald eagle, Westham Island
Wood duck (female)
Wood duck (male)
Hooded merganser (male)
Sandhill crane
Pintail duck
Spotted towhee
Ring-necked duck (female)

Giraffes and other Vulnerable African Animals

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”

Ontario Birds (October and November)

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

Red-breasted nuthatch 

White-crowned sparrow

Downy woodpecker

Spotted sandpiper

Carolina wren

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

Long-tailed duck


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

A few western birds………….

The following photos show some of the birds we saw on our travels in Western North America in August and September.

Say’s phoebe (Vancouver Island)

California quail (California north coast)

American kestrel (California)

American avocet (San Francisco Bay)

Snowy egret (San Francisco Bay)

Northern harrier (San Francisco Bay)

Black phoebe (San Francisco Bay)

Least sandpiper (San Francisco Bay)

Northern shovelers in flight (San Francisco Bay)

Anna’s hummingbird (Sant Clara) 

Great horned owl. Didn’t know the bird was there- we saw one fly off earlier, but there were three in the same general area (Klamath Basin, California)

Red shouldered hawk  (Klamath Basin – California)

Forster’s tern (Klamath Basin- California)

White-faced ibis (Klamath Basin – California)

American white pelicans (Klamath Lake Oregon)

Clark’s nutcracker ( Crater Lake Oregon)

Black- billed magpie (Montana)

Bears in Alaska

Earlier this month, I spent a week, coho salmon fishing in the vicinity of Cordova, Alaska.  The fishing was good, and the weather was exceptionally warm and sunny.  On each and every day of fishing, we encountered bears: brown (grizzly) and black.  On one day we encountered four bears and on two occasions we had to leave our fishing spot as brown bears moved in.  I was fortunate to be able to take a number of photographs, and I was able to watch the bears fishing…………very successfully!  According to locals, the number of bears on this particular stream was high due to a poor berry crop this year, a very small pink salmon run earlier in the summer and a relatively small coho run.  Some of my photos are attached.

Crossing the Continent

In late July we left Ontario, headed for the West Cost.  It has been an enjoyable trip, but we have certainly had two surprises.  The first is the haze from forest fires, which we have seen since North Dakota (but also experienced in Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.  The second has been constantly warm temperatures. The peak temperatures (42 degrees Celsius or 106 degrees Fahrenheit) were encountered in Southern Saskatchewan near Grasslands National Park. Sadly, warmer temperatures and forest fires have become more and more common.  We depart shortly for Vancouver Island, but have been warned that air quality there is also a problem due to the fires. We have enjoyed the beauty of nature on this trip and highlights have included moose, bison, a burrowing owl, a black bear and pronghorn, all seen on the Prairies and in the Foothills.  A few photos from the trip follow:

Bison bulls, establishing supremacy

Bull moose, Cypress Hills

Cedar Waxwing, Waterton Lakes NP

American white pelican, Waterton Lakes NP

Rock formations, T. Roosevelt NP, North Dakota

Grasslands National Park, SK

Bison bull

Rock formations, T. Roosevelt, NP, North Unit

Western grebe, Medicine Lake, Montana

Common nighthawk, Grasslands NP, SK

Prairie dog, Grasslands NP

Swainson’s hawk, Grasslands NP, SK

Western meadowlark, Grasslands NP, SK

Milbert’s tortoiseshell

Empidonax flycatcher  (Willow?), Cypress Hills

Monarch butterfly

Kitchener’s Peregrine Falcons

In downtown Kitchener, there is a family of peregrine falcons, that is being tracked by several nature clubs.  The mother has returned year after year.  The father, was found in a driveway a month ago with a broken wing. He was taken to the University of Guelph, where surgery was performed on his wing. He is doing well and will hopefully be able to return to the wild.  Of the four chicks, three have fledged successfully over the last week. The fourth disappeared from the nest area and is believed to have been picked off by another predator, perhaps a great horned owl.  The chicks are acquiring flying skills and remain fairly close to the nest. They are being fed by their mother, who at this point is transferring what she catches to the chicks, in the air.  This sequence has been caught in the following photos.

Mother peregrine carrying gull to the chicks.

Chick approaching mother to receive the gull.

One chick moves in to receive the gull from its mother, while another one, which had tried for the gull, flies by.

Chick flies off with the gull, while mother watches.