Totally captivated in 2007 by the live camera feed of the Hornby Island nesting Bald Eagles in B.C., I was drawn into birding and have never looked back. Thus begins my account of what I'm fortunate enough to discover each day and perhaps capture with my camera.

Unless otherwise stated, all images were taken by and are the property of Janice Melendez

Species Counts:

2014 Final Year List: 255; 2015 Year List a/o June 5, 2015: 235; Life List: 327

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CBC Numero Uno: The Kawarthas

Yesterday Ann and I drove up to Dan and Susan's place to help out with their Christmas Bird Count, and even though I got the arrival time wrong, everyone is still speaking to me. Even Ann, who now threatens me with some sort of payback for depriving her of an extra thirty minutes of sleep can't say I blame her, it was a long day! 

We anxiously awaited for sunrise yup, that's how early we were and as we hit the road with Judy and Stephen, dozens of hungry Snow Buntings had already lined the hydro wires on Dan and Susan's property. 

Our team was called the "Whiskey Jacks", and looking back now, perhaps a shot of just that in our morning coffee would have helped jump-start our day, as we truly had to work hard for our birds. After eight hours of searching our assigned zone, including sixty kilometres of driving and five kilometres of walking, the final tally came in at twenty-seven species and one thousand five hundred and forty individual birds. But we had an absolute blast, and my thanks go to Judy, Stephen, and Ann for making it an enjoyable day:

We began our day enjoying the scenery more than counting birds, as it was very quiet:

I could sense that Stephen was already getting worried by the lack of birds....

That, coupled with the enormous pressure put on him by Dan as we left the house: "You better find that kingfisher today, Stephen, or you'll not be staying over here another night". Yikes, no pressure! Wasn't this supposed to be fun?? what's a guy to do? Head to the local dump! And yes, we found the Belted Kingfisher, phew!!!

Judy, Stephen, and Ann are doing a great job of counting crows OMG, did I just legitimately say that??? while I lag behind, after publicly humiliating myself while attempting a not-so-graceful pole-vault over a fence ANN: this is what's known as a preemptive strike!


We cursed the Works Department for doing such a bang-up job of concealing the garbage, as it meant minimal birds on the premises, other than Common Crows and Ravens, and European Starlings. No Bald Eagles, nor any gulls were to be had, waaaah.

We did eventually have some good activity at the bridge in Burnt River, where the deafening sounds of both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, and White and Red-breasted Nuthatches were music to our ears after hours of silence.

Wild Turkey tracks were seen on the ice, but we never did see any actual birds to include in our count. This view of the Burnt River is from the very same bridge where Brenda, Jim, Robert and I had set off on our kayaking day trip back in September:  

We eventually split off from Stephen and Judy to ensure our territory was covered off, and on Concession Road 3 Ann and I were thrilled to find sixty Evening Grosbeaks feeding in sumach bushes:

These most certainly were not Ann's BOTD, based on her subdued reaction to them she went insane, you have no idea:

And to top it off, a Pileated Woodpecker (one of my target birds for the day for my Winter List) flew across the road while we were out of the car enjoying the Grosbeaks!

Ann's grinning from ear to ear, if you can even recognize her in her winter fashion gear. It turns out that where she's standing on the side of the road was also a trail for snowmobilers how were we to know?? so we had to be extremely careful where we pulled over:

We joined up with Stephen and Judy to compare notes, then arrived at Jack's home for his amazing feeders, all thirty plus of them!! The first bird we saw from the car was a Common Redpoll, whooohoo, not only a Winter but also a Year bird for me, as last winter they were nowhere to be found in our part of the province.

It's named for the bright red cap on the forehead:

Many more of them joined in with American Goldfinches at the feeders, but finch snob that I am, I only paid attention to the Redpolls:

More Evening Grosbeaks got in on the feeder action:

We also saw Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos, and later in the day, a Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a treetop off in the distance, scoping out the feeders for an afternoon snack.

And speaking of food, Susan and Dan put on a great mid-day spread for the gang, what a nice break from the cold temps:

Meanwhile, Cooder decides to have his meal outside.

DAN: you now officially have my permission to use this photo for a "lost dog" poster after I kidnap him for myself, mwahaha

Now did anyone notice Ann's absence at that lunch table? She was outside enjoying this spectacle:

Hundreds of Snow Buntings, aka the extended family of Dan and Susan!

This poor sweetie, the second from the right is getting harassed from both sides, check it out! Ann and I were just howling with laughter:

But it was time to hit the road again to continue our count...

Dan had tipped us off to another potential hotspot within our zone to investigate, so off we went along this narrow "closed" snowmobile trail, and at the end we found this totally surreal winter scene:

Ann was in her element, with horses and an energetic pup. And yes, that is a real horse on the top of the hill off to the right. This was also the location where I decided to test out my winter tires they suck . Thanks go to Stephen and the gang for....well, you know ;-)

We had a few more surprises for the day, including more Pileated Woodpeckers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Red-tailed Hawk, and even some Bohemian Waxwings.

My Winter List now sits at 67 species (added Common Redpoll and Pileated Woodpecker), and my Year List at 253, with only two days left to go!

It was a wonderful day, thanks to the company of Stephen, Judy, and Ann, as well as our hosts Dan and Susan and Cooder, and finally the spectacular location of the Kawarthas. I'm already looking forward to next year's count, as it looks like we've been invited back by Dan, who has promised us a pishing workshop on the condition that I get the start time right duh.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You just never know....

...what you're going to see or not see when it comes to birds, and today was one of those "not see" kind of days. But Ann's good company made up for the lack of birds, as we arrived at Ravenshoe Road looking for owls. My theory is that I jinxed the day by posting some cutesy remark on Facebook this morning before heading out, some sort of drivel about "hoping to see owls" and sadly, it came back to bite me in the end.

My first highlight of the day was witnessing Ann drive in reverse for several miles along the embankments. I eventually was able to loosen my death grip on the door handle to raise up my binos to see my second highlight of the day, these Snow Buntings on the snow duh!:

Ann and I complained about the bitterly cold north winds that ripped through the open windows of the car, but then I remembered that for these pretty birds from the Arctic, this was their version of Florida!

We drove around the area, including Holland Marsh and other secret side roads that I'll never be able to find myself again, scanning the snow-covered landscapes for hawks, owls, and, quite frankly, anything that moved.

Other than the occasional American Crow, Mourning and Rock Doves, and a Red-tailed Hawk, we saw nothing. Unless you count the Great Horned Owl on a rooftop- did I mention that it was plastic?

Out of frustration   desperation  a yearning desire to explore more of this beautiful province, we stopped off at the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge is it time for me to consider a membership?? This was my second time there in as many days

I was able to show Ann around the area as we continued our search for anything with feathers, staying true to ourselves by not counting the two stuffed owls (as in dead "stuffed" versus toy "stuffed", that is) on display at the Visitors Centre. The bird scarcity trend remained intact, especially if we were reduced to taking photos of an American Tree Sparrow...

...a female Downy Woodpecker...

...and a male House Finch:

On a positive note, though, just when we feared we had totally dipped on the Bohemian Waxwings, a small flock of both Cedar and Bohemians flew into a tree high above us. The viewing conditions were certainly not ideal, but I was happy that Ann was finally able to see them, as I had enjoyed them so much myself on Monday.  

Ann contemplates the most efficient way to climb up those trees for that perfect shot of the Bohemian Waxwings...

...but instead is content not really with the view she had of them from below:

"So that's all she wrote" for our day together- almost.

As I proof-read this post, I admit to finding it mind-boggling how much I'm able to stretch a day of seeing virtually nothing to this!  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

I began the final day of autumn with Rosemary at Hall's Road yesterday morning, and two coyotes greeted us in the fields, accompanied by the wild banshee screams of a dog-owner who seemed a tad concerned for the safety of her loose dog once she spotted the coyotes. Both coyotes, that is, not the dog seemed quite healthy and well-fed, this is the first time I've seen them here:

The resident White-tailed Deer were not impressed by their presence either, swiftly departing into the bush, giving the coyotes "The Tail", like white flags bouncing up and down, what a sight!

From there we tried for and dipped on the reported Wood Thrush at Lynde Shores Conservation Area, but instead settled for close views of a Red-bellied Woodpecker by the parking lot. Our next stop was the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge, a first for both Rosemary and I:

We had a wonderful time checking out this new hotspot together, despite dipping on suspected Pine
Grosbeaks, but my attainable, shhhh target birds were Cedar Waxwings for my Winter List, as well as less-common Bohemian Waxwings. Other than a group of students and exuberant sled dogs (!), the only others that we encountered on the trails were Lev Frid's parents who told us that "our son's just up the trail a bit, looking at Bohemians". Rosemary and I tried to act nonchalant, but once we were out of sight of his parents, we both did a fifty yard dash to find him, as we knew if we found him, we would find birds. End of story. And sure enough, once we found Lev, we found both the Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings in trees. The larger ones are the Bohemians:

My field guides refer to both Bohemians and Cedars as "common but irregular" and "gregarious", as they travel around to wherever the food is (not unlike me at this time of year, where's the nearest buffet- hah!). Once they devour any berries and fruit, they will move on, which they did, as when we returned to the same area later on, they were gone. 

Let's  start with the Cedar Waxwings, these first two photos are of a juvenile, notice the streaking:

An adult Cedar Waxwing is equally interested in feeding on berries:

But now for the Main Event: the Bohemians have no yellow on the belly, and instead are all gray below:

The other main identification feature is their cinnamon undertail coverts, clearly seen here as we watched them eating snow off the tree branches!

It was truly delightful to see them cleanse their palates with snow after eating up all the berries!

This was definitely the highlight of our day thus far, but we also saw numerous Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, House and Goldfinches, and a pair of Wild Turkeys. Kortright is also home to the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, so we saw but did not count a captive Bald Eagle, Gyrfalcon, Great Horned Owl, and a European Eagle Owl.

Other owls have been seen roosting on the property, but not by us yesterday, despite valiant attempts on our part...

On our way home along highway 407, I lost count of the number of Red-tailed Hawks we saw perched along the roadside. After I left Rosemary in Pickering, I stopped off at Hall's Road at dusk and was thrilled to see this beautiful buck in the same fields where in the morning I had seen the pair of coyotes:

...that "lump" on the left-hand side is a hawk, if you can believe it! I had seen it fly in, but only realized where it had landed when I downloaded my photos:

The buck has hooked up with another deer on the left, it's amazing how well they blend in:

...and off he goes, only his antlers are visible now, if you look hard enough:

But my light was now gone, here's the final sunset of autumn, 2010...

...and freak that I am, here's a really, and I mean REALLY bad photo of the lunar eclipse at 3:00 a.m.:

So today on limited sleep, damn eclipse! I once again began my day at Hall's Road. There were no coyotes, but a few deer were on the road before darting off into the fields on the east side.

After re-stocking the feeders at the north entrance to the marsh, I ran into Murray. As we shivered in the wicked first-day-of-winter temps, a Cooper's Hawk flew into a tree beside us, scoping out its first meal of the day. My birdseed brought in the small birds, which in turn brought in the larger birds that wanted to literally feed on the smaller birds:

Murray and I said our farewells as I was meeting John at Lynde Shores for my second attempt at the Wood Thrush, which we dipped on, only to hear later that it was found, grrrr. For the longest time our BOTD was this White-throated Sparrow which was frozen in place:

After warming up at the local Timmie's, we wisely decided on car side birding, so we drove around various concessions and side roads in Pickering, adding Eastern Bluebirds to our Winter Lists. We continued to dip on Common Redpolls, and quite frankly, I'm beginning to get ticked off at those jaded birders in the province who are suggesting that they're trash birds. Even so, my winter tally now stands at sixty-five, yay!!  

A male Hairy Woodpecker is proof of a desperate day:

My return trip through Whitevale, Greenwood, Kinsale, and north Oshawa came up empty, so at dusk I returned to Hall's Road and was amazed by the thousands of Canada Geese staging in the cornfields before taking off for the lake, the noise of them all when they took to the air was like an airplane!

The few deer that I saw were even taken aback by the commotion of the geese:

And so begins our Canadian winter now!

Tomorrow I'm off to the Ravenshoe area with Ann in search of our first Snowy Owls for the season.

Camera batteries charged? Check.
Memory cards cleared? Check.
Elmer Fudd gear packed? Check.