Saturday, 25 December 2010

Canada April 2009

American Robin

American Tree Sparrow
A lingering winter visitor

Killdeer Found on almost any area of open ground, including gardens and driveways!

Mourning Dove Resembling Parakeets in flight thanks to their diamond shaped tails

It may have been starting to look as though I would never get around to updating this, but with a bit more time on my hands and easier access to the Internet I finally have a chance of keeping this blog up to date! I visited Canada last spring, staying at Long Point bird observatory for nearly four weeks from the end of April through till the middle of May, and can thoroughly recommend the whole experience to any ringers, that wish to handle large numbers of birds, and witness migration on a scale rarely seen in the UK.

With the seasons being somewhat further behind, the leaves on the trees were yet to emerge, and the birdlife was awaiting its annual splash of colour, with the arrival of the many American wood warblers, and equally gaudy Orioles and Tanagers. Turkey Vultures (also known as "Pukebirds" thanks to their delightful habit of vomiting acid onto their legs) were a common sight throughout our journey, which also provided us with some of our only Red tailed Hawks (the new world equivalent of our Common Buzzard) A short diversion to David Brewers garden (who had very kindly picked up from the airport) found the feeders buzzing with Black capped Chickadees, whilst a welcome bonus was provided by two Wild Turkeys that walked through the garden! Once found across Canada in their millions, excessive hunting and logging caused the population to crash to around 30,000 birds, with just 274 birds left in Ontario in 1984, and the species having almost disappeared by the early 1990s. Thankfully, new hunting laws and successful reintroduction projects have provided the population with a much needed boost, with over 30,000 birds now found in Ontario alone.

Northern Flicker One of five Woodpecker species

A quick stop outside the headquarters of Bird Studies Canada, gave me a small taster of what to expect, with the pools supporting an array of hirundines (5 species in total), a hovering Belted Kingfisher, and our only Pied billed Grebes of the trip. As well as large numbers of Dark eyed Juncos we were lucky to find wintering American Tree Sparrow and Fox Sparrow still present around the accommodation at Old Cut, our base for the first couple of nights, and one of three stations for accommodating visiting ringers. The woods outside the ringing shed held large numbers of kinglets, Brown Creepers, and Hermit Thrushes (the earliest of the Catharus thrushes to arrive) whilst American Robins, Mourning Doves and Northern Flickers made the most of the available lawns and gardens. Red breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-rumped Warbler put in their first appearances, and I was treated to my first sighting of an immature Bald Eagle in flight.

After a slightly delayed start, the winds finally eased off (slightly...) allowing us to make our journey across the "lake" and out to the station at the tip of the point, where we would stay for the remainder of our visit. Scaups, Mergansers, Long tailed Ducks, and Buffleheads were in plentiful supply, along with smaller numbers of Scoters (all three species) and a single Slavonian Grebe (by Contrast our return journey produced not a single duck!). The journey across was also memorable for our designated boatman to stop half way across, turn off the engine, and pronounce that "Ahh man this is Bulls**t!" Conditions may not have been ideal, but with the weather set to deteriorate, this was our one chance of getting across! With the lighthouse almost in sight, we battled on...

Song Sparrow One of 14 sparrow species seen

Pine Warbler One of the earliest of the Warblers to arrive

Yellow-rumped Warbler An early arrival, and possibly the most numerous Warbler

Wild and remote, and all to ourselves... anyone who been out there will know what a special place the tip is. Unlike the jungle of the Dungeness trapping area, the narrow bands of trees make passerines surprisingly easy to observe and follow!

A view from the top of the ringing hut

Although the water level may have been a little high for waders, the pools still managed to provide us with Blue winged Teals, American Coot (My only one of the trip!) Short billed Dowitcher, and an obliging Sora Rail.

As well as the large numbers of migrants, feeding amongst the trees and the reed margins of the pools, the increasingly narrow width of the tip provided a natural funnel, that would concentrate the large flocks of Grackles, Blackbirds and Cowbirds into a narrow band as they passed overhead each morning. During the autumn months, when these species can be seen in even greater volume, it isn't unheard of to witness a single flock of up to one million Red-winged Blackbirds (and I thought a flock of 150,000 Starlings past the French coast of Cap gri Nez was impressive!)

Brown headed Cowbird

Digiscoped whilst singing, hence the puffed up appearance. One of the most numerous species to be encountered during the trip.

Once everything had been offloaded from the boat, and the spring trap had been set up (close to the shoreline in the hope of catching Gulls or Terns) we had our first chance to explore the open wilderness of the tip. American Kestrel, Eastern Phoboe and Purple Finch were all added to the trip list during our first afternoon.

The very end of the tip is overlooked by an open shelter, where we would often spend time in the afternoons, enjoying close views of Caspian Terns, Bonapartes and Ring billed Gulls, and is the ideal place to sit and relax, watching the world go by at your own pace.

Invasion of the British...

With migration getting into full swing, the variety of birds was increasing day by day. Pine and Black throated Green were the first of the new warblers to make an appearance (we had already seen Yellow rumped at Old Cut) whilst further arrivals included Blue headed Vireos, Brown Thrashers, and the first of many Baltimore orioles.

A 1st year male Orchard Oriole provided one of the highlights (April 25th) and a Black and White Warbler was observed feeding in its own unique style, creeping around the tree trunks in search of food. Quality was provided by both Grasshopper Sparrow and Hooded warbler on the 26th, but it was the following day that would prove to be the best day for large numbers of migrants.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Hooded Warbler

Although it may not have been the day which provided our highest ringing tally, the number of migrants present on April 27th surpassed all other arrivals during our stay at the tip. Despite releasing over 200 White throated Sparrows from the nets, blocking off Jay traps, operating with fewer nets, and packing up just after mid day we had rung/banded a total of over 500 birds. Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow throated Vireo, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Eastern Bluebird and Vesper Sparrow were just some of the new species seen that day...

Ovenbird My highlight of the day. Personally extracted from the nets and later seen walking around the lawn just a few feet away.

Yellow throated Vireo

Scarlet Tanager

One of the more memorable moments of the trip came on April 29th, when an attempt to catch American Goldfinces, ended with an unforeseen attempt at a spot of pipework DIY...

After failing to catch any Gulls, Terns or Waders at the tip, the woosh net was relocated to the large and open lawn outside the accommodation, to be baited with seed for a successful catch. Unfortunately for us, we had forgot to take into account the underground network of pipes hidden directly beneath our metal net poles... You can guess the rest of the story!

Quite an achievement, given the area of space available!

Birding highlights of the day included the first Ruby throated Hummingbird on the feeders outside the windows of the cabin and a 1st winter Iceland Gull flying along the shoreline. What was probably the rarest bird of the trip appeared on the 30th, when a colour ringed Piping Plover was found on the shoreline near to the tip. Although individual birds are occasionally seen on the Canadian shores of the Great Lakes, they have been lost as a regular breeding species, with a total of just 5 pairs found in Ontario in 2003. Recent conservation projects and a greater public awareness of their decline are providing the birds with a much needed lifeline, which in 2007, nested successfully on the Ontario shoreline of the Great Lakes for the first time in 30 years. Three Sandhill Cranes gave excellent views on the 2nd as they flew low overhead and out across the lake and a pair of Wood Duck finally gave themselves up when they were seen together in flight.

A Worm eating warbler was the first of two quality birds trapped on the 3rd, the second being a stunning Golden winged warbler, famous for being the cause of Britain's biggest ever twitch back in 1989. Will there ever be another??

Golden winged Warbler

Worm eating Warbler

Lark Sparrow An unexpected find, when checking the Jay traps outside the cabin. First seen in flight, when I flushed it from the ground, I initially assumed it to be a Towhee, due to its fanned, diamond shaped tail with broad white tips. Its true identity quickly became apparent when it landed in the nearest trees! This was the first to be ringed at Long Point in 10 years. A pleasant evening visit to the tip produced 8 Caspian terns, a single Horned Lark, The Iceland Gull and the Piping plover all watched under superb evening sunlight.

May 6th was to provide us with our highest daily ringing tally, with 12 hours of ringing producing a record breaking tally of 737 new birds, the highest number to be ringed in a day at the tip. Standout highlights included 5 Scarlet Tanagers (4 males 1 female) together in one net, and an equally colourful array of Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and Grosbeaks all together in the same net a few rounds later "Holy SH******T!!" The best was saved till last when the decision was taken to try for "one last push" of the Heligoland trap. Although the end result may have been some way off of our expectations (a reward of about 10 birds!) the sight of birds erupting from every bush, as we pushed our way forward towards the tip made for an unforgettable sight! lifers for the day included Great Crested Flycatcher, American Redstart and Chestnut sided Warbler.

Piping plover

Caspian and Common Terns

Forsters Tern A good comparison against the two Common Terns either side. Note the clean white body, with pale wing coverts, contrasting slightly with the darker scapulars, and the differences in bill and leg colour.

Red headed Woodpecker Even more spectacular in flight.

Eastern bluebird

Great crested Flycatcher

Eastern kingbird Swooping down from perches to catch insects on the ground showing off its beautiful tail pattern.

Ruby throated Hummingbird

A stormy day at the tip!

Least Flycatcher The earlisest and by far the most numerous of the Empidonax flycatchers. Send us one of these next time please!

Sharp shinned Hawk The last resort during a quiet Autumn on Scilly... How many of these have made it to Britain?

Black-thoated Blue Warbler Does exactly what it says on the tin...

Grey cheeked Thrush One of the five Catharus thrushes, lacking the eyering and warm yellow tones of Swainsons (cheeks and throat) and the rufous coloured rump and primaries of Hermit Thrush.

Eastern Wood Pewee Another of the North American tyrant flycatchers.

Least Sandpiper One of the highlights from the last day at the tip.

After teasing us with distant flight views, our last afternoon at the tip was spent in the shelter, where a large gathering of Gulls and Terns included up to 18 Forsters Terns, finally giving us a chance to study them on the ground, and providing some excellent photo opportunities. A fitting end to our stay.

With several species just starting to arrive, and spring migration still in full swing, our last couple of days at Old Cut still managed to provide us with several new treats. A Bay breasted Warbler (my favourite of all the American wood warblers, and my only one of the trip) gave excellent views just outside the cabin, and A Whip poor Will (initially identified as a Common Nighthawk) spent the remainder of our visit glued to the same open branch, allowing clear daylit views for all passers by. A Louisiana Waterthrush was the first of three new species trapped on our final day, quickly followed by a Canada Warbler and an unmistakable Yellow breasted Chat, whilst a Yellow breasted Flycatcher made a brief appeaqrance in the tops of the nearby trees.

Though it may seem like a difficult choice, given the impressive trip list and the number of new species, my bird of the trip was a surprisingly straightforward decision. Although I had allready seen the species before in Britain, the Sora Rail that I encountered on the tip, feeding in the reeds around the Heligoland trap made for a memorable and unexpected treat. After watching a Marsh Wren feeding at the base of the reeds and dissapear from view, I lowered my bins to find the Sora walking towards me, at a distance of no more than 20 feet. After stopping to feed for just two or three minutes, oblivious to my presence, it merged back into the reeds and out of sight. One of those magic moments that we are lucky enough to stumble accross every now and then.... Right place, right time.

Leaving the tip

Whip poor Will

Northern Parula