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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Few Prickly Situations

Today's goal was to enjoy another summer sunrise and perhaps gain some new sunrise photo opportunities of a re-discovered marsh fifteen minutes from the cottage. It was hard to tear myself away from the view from the dock, though;

But off I went with Tessa, my new back-roading companion who finally, at the ripe old age of nine, seems to have outgrown her car sickness. We arrived at the marsh and were greeted by a nervous family of Wood Ducks, along with a Great Blue Heron, a foraging male American Redstart, noisy Gray Catbirds, singing Swamp Sparrows, and a view to die for:
It was magnificent, and all the more enjoyable today by a lack of mosquitoes that greeted me the last time I was there:
So mission accomplished, I was already pleased with how the day had begun but quickly became angry with myself when it was discovered I had left behind my binoculars at the cottage, so back to the cottage I went to retrieve them. That's when one of those unexpected magical moments occurred, not even a minute from the marsh. 
But first let's go back in time to early April, before the leaves were out on the trees, making it easier to spot a massive Porcupine in a tree on one of my favorite roads just minutes from the cottage:
Sadly, most of the time one ever sees Porcupines is as road kill, so to see a live one yes, that sounds weird , in the day time, and with its eyes open was rare, so imagine my surprise two weeks later that I find one again along the same road, perhaps even the same individual?  It didn't seem particularly interested in me as we exchanged loving glances with each other through my camera lens:

So fast forward to late-June, it was another wonderful day that took me seven hours (versus the usual one hour) to get home from the cottage when yet again I happened upon this jaw-dropping moment of disbelief along the same back road, in broad daylight.
Twenty seconds of being in absolutely the right place at the right time:

Porcupines don't move very fast, in fact it's almost painful to watch them on the ground as their claws are so incredibly long it must hurt them to walk, or rather waddle! Twenty seconds later it was gone:

So back to this morning at 6:02 a.m.: I'm heading back to the cottage for my binoculars and see this dark shape on the road ahead of me. Now remember it's still early dawn and it's still dark out, and I say to myself  "IDIOT, WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR BINOS AT HOME?" convince myself that it's a pair of Crows on the road, right? Of course if I had had my binos with me it would have been easy, but nooooo, so I continue on and see this, through my camera lens as I don't have my binos, so it must be a Raccoon:
Or not. It's another Porcupine, what is up with me and Porcupines this year??

So I slowly get out of the car, fully expecting it to take off (as quickly as a waddling Porcupine can do so, that is) but no, it keeps coming straight towards me:

So by now my heart is racing as I figure it's about to head off into the bush here:

But nope.
It keeps coming straight at me, my initial thought between adrenalin rushes  was that it was a young one, due to its size and behavior of being unafraid of me, and in fact curious:
I stayed close to the car (with Tessa still inside, no doubt snoozing, a good thing, in hindsight) but it continued to follow me, I could not believe it was happening!

Closer and closer it came! None of these photos are cropped, and at times I had to move away from it as it was too close to focus on:



I kept reassuring myself that it was a myth that Porcupines have the ability to throw their quills at their enemies.  
Then it raised itself up a bit to check me out:

But all was fine, we both shared a special moment with each other:

By now, a mere six minutes later from my initial sighting of it, there was finally sunlight and golden lighting to boot, and onward it marches!
By now I'm on my knees thanking mother nature for another rare encounter to get at eye level with it, as I knew our time was almost up:

And then it was gone, just like that.

I have had enough wildlife encounters these past few years to recognize that this one today was indeed very rare and special. I kept thinking the whole time it was going to immediately disappear, as that's just what wildlife does, and then the moment would be over, just like my twenty second encounter with the big guy a few weeks ago, but this time it did not, which made it all the more special and memorable for me!
As for Tessa's take on the encounter?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

HASP for the Holidays

Christmas came a few days early in the form of another potential lifer for me when Dan Bone phoned to advise me of a Harris’s Sparrow coming to a private feeder in the Kawarthas. Asking if I would be “at all interested” in joining him and a few others on Christmas Eve day to see this unexpected visitor who should be wintering in the central region of the United States, I reluctantly declined but secretly prayed that it would still be in attendance on Boxing Day. Thankfully, it was, not only for me but for several others whose Big Year was quickly drawing to a close.

My interest in birding began only five years ago but has quickly developed into a passion, and, if nothing else, I have learned to expect the unexpected in nature and that timing is everything. Recent examples of One Week Wonders (or less!) include Whitby harbour’s Smew in 2011, Presqu’ile Provincial Park’s Thick-billed Kingbird and Oshawa’s Western Tanager in 2012, so my initial fear was that this Harris’s Sparrow would fall into this category, but at the time of writing, it is still enjoying a Canadian winter at an extremely well-stocked feeder in a sheltered yard, amongst numerous American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and the occasional Evening Grosbeak.

There was no immediate sign of the Harris’s Sparrow on Boxing Day when John Stirrat and I first arrived at the feeders with Susan Blayney, but we didn’t have to wait too long as we briefly saw it tucked away in some bushes, but clear views of it eluded us.

With more patience and the generous hospitality of the kind property owners who invited us into the warmth of their home, we quickly learned what to expect if there was a total absence of birds: wait and watch for American Tree Sparrows to fly back in, one by one, then wait for them to drop down to the ground, also one by one. Eventually the chunky Harris’s Sparrow would surreptitiously arrive, usually staying somewhat concealed in the bushes, but, with time, it would venture out into the open, affording better views as it foraged on the ground. At times during my second visit there, two days later, as part of the Kawartha Christmas Bird Count, it amused us by creating a snowy landscape, madly kicking away at the snow to forage for seeds using an effective “double-scratch” technique.

The Harris’s Sparrow (as well as the Harris’s Hawk) was so named by John James Audubon after his friend Edward Harris, an American amateur birder. It is also one of only two Canadian breeding endemics (the other is the Ross’s Goose) and is quite a striking sparrow, especially when in breeding plumage, with its black crown, face and throat. Based on the amount of black on its throat, this particular Kawarthan individual is an adult, and despite its non-breeding plumage was really quite lovely to see against a pure white backdrop of snow.

By coincidence two days later, I discovered a Durham region connection with this species when Doug Lockrey and I stopped in at Betty Pegg’s home in Claremont during our Pickering Christmas Bird Count. Chance would have it that Edge (co-founder of the Pickering Naturalists) and Betty Pegg also had an over-wintering Harris’s Sparrow at their feeders for five months, between December, 1998, and May, 1999. Almost three hundred birders that year had views of it, and Edge and Betty were awarded a letter of recognition from the Ontario Field Ornithologists, signed by then-President Jean Iron, which was included in the photo album shared by Betty.

The Harris’s Sparrow is now officially my 301st species since I began listing, as well as the best bird of the Kawartha Christmas Bird Count for 2012, not to mention the most unexpected!

Dan's notes, as my OFO News editor: Since Janice wrote this story the Harris’s Sparrow has disappeared. Perhaps it just moved on or maybe the Sharp-shinned Hawk got it, but it has not been seen since early Sunday morning, January 6, 2013. It was first observed on December 22, 2012.

Despite the no-posting agreement and through the cooperation and trust of a network of birders, 15 birders recorded it as a life bird. Kevin Shackleton got it for #299 on his Ontario big year list and #970 on his life list. It is a new bird for the official City of Kawartha Lakes checklist. At least one birder completed the zonotrichia quartet for Ontario. (Can you imagine such a musical quartet? The Golden-crowned Sparrow could sing bass-- the White-throated Sparrow would carry the air, as it always does.)

If the bird had stayed longer, a controlled-visit strategy was in place to include many more birders. The property owners did not want the bird to be posted for security reasons as the secluded residence could not be seen from the road and the driveway was narrow, winding and uphill with restricted parking. The strategy consisted of arranged visits at set times with parking away from the residence and carpooling in to reduce parking pressure. A member of the Kawartha Field Naturalists club was always on hand at the parking area to guide the groups to the feeder.

The property owners and all visitors had a very positive experience. All agreed they would use this strategy again in similar situations.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Algonquin Adventures with the Kawartha Field Naturalists

Yesterday's chilly temps of -28ยบ in the Kawarthas at Susan and Dan's lovely country home did not deter Susan and Cooder taking a brief walk before we headed off to Algonquin:

It was an excellent day with some of our targeted boreal species appearing as if on cue, while others eluded us, including the Great Gray Owl(s) that have been frequenting the park. Then again, I had warned the group that they didn't have a prayer of seeing one as long as I was around!! We made our way along highway 60 looking for owls to no avail, but our first official stop at Spruce Bog Boardwalk rewarded us instantly with Gray Jays at the parking lot.

A surprise Brown Creeper at the suet feeder (my first for the year) was unexpected, but imagine our delight when we next picked out a Brown-capped Chickadee, aka Boreal Chickadee!

This was way too easy as Boreal Chickadees are usually heard first and a challenge to get a visual on as they usually flit around high up in trees in dense foliage, but these were the best views ever for most of us! It was also the first time for me to never hear one, as it was far too busy stuffing its face in the cold winter temperatures:

As we made our way out to the boardwalk after dipping on both Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Susan spotted a gorgeous Pine Marten that I suspect was perturbed because we stood between it and the suet feeder:

This was a Lifer mammal for Dan, it was so beautiful against the white snow:

Susan experiments with her new camera along the boardwalk:

Our next stop was for lunch at the Visitor's Centre where we were blinded by the striking male Pine Grosbeaks at the feeders:

The females are spectacular in their own special way, though! 

She and my camera were having a moment as she was totally intrigued by the noise of clicking shutter:

Common Redpolls were plentiful, but we were too cold and lazy not inclined to look for any Hoarys in the dozens of Redpolls:

We skated along Opeongo Road to the north end where I had an interesting time of turning around on sheer ice, knowing full well there was no way I would be venturing back there on my own later, yikes! It's so desolate at this time of year, but still incredibly beautiful:

A black-and-white version of a Gray Jay...

...and a colour version of one of his buddies trying to stay warm:

Our final stop was at one of the few trails with open water that I knew of, which was a first for the others. Although devoid of wildlife, other than tracks and scat, it was a peaceful way to finish off the day:

Many thanks to Tim for leading the outing, as well as Susan and Dan for their hospitality towards me ahead of the day.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rescue Rockstars!

Andrew and Alex are my Toronto Wildlife Centre Rescue Rockstars, as I spent the last day of 2012 as an "on call" rescue volunteer with them both in south Whitby.

The Centre had been alerted to the plight of a Common Loon (!!) that had been trapped for a week in a small bit of open water in a frozen man-made pond without enough runway to take off:

During Fall migration we see hundreds of Loons along the shores of Lake Ontario, but rarely are they seen this late in the season. Arriving ahead of Andrew and Alex, I observed the Loon from a distance as it slowly swam back and forth in its small area, occasionally snoozing, but not diving.


Loons are one of the most challenging birds to catch up as they are phenomenal divers and are able to stay under water for ten minutes at a time should they so choose, so I was intrigued to learn what the rescue strategy would be. 

They soon arrived and after carefully assessing the situation, Alex donned his ice rescue suit...


...and the three of us headed down to the pond armed with assorted rescue and safety gear that included nets, lifelines, a dinghy and paddle, along with the standard drop sheets to cover the Loon up once captured. This was my first Loon rescue so I was eager to watch and learn and help wherever possible, so I followed Andrew and Alex's instructions every step of the way.

The Loon had already disappeared into the icy waters, but right before that, I admit to an eerie feeling when I heard its plaintive call that was so bizarre to hear with ice and snow on the ground! Alex slowly and carefully (hence the ice rescue suit!) made his way towards the open water with a large net:

Alex continued along the ice, while Andrew and I watched and waited from the shore:

The Loon kept resurfacing every so often, but was still underwater while Andrew helped Alex get the other end of the net in place...

What happened next was pure genius: the net was lowered down into the open water with some slack and then we all waited for the Loon to swim up into it when resurfacing! The first few times it evaded capture by wisely resurfacing into a net-free zone of the open water, but eventually an error in judgment resulted in its capture in the net. 

Andrew and Alex swiftly pulled the captured Loon out of the water and once freed from the net, immediately brought it over to be covered up with the drop sheet. Already well aware of the Loons' best line of defence, its killer beak, I carried it up to the van where Alex helped me place it in the kennel cab which was immediately covered with a drop sheet as the Loon was randomly spearing its beak in self-defence.

The reality of nature is that not all of our wildlife rescues have a happy ending, and this was one of those instances, which is the reason for my delay in sharing my experience that day.

But I wait no longer, as I wish to recognize Andrew and Alex for their resourcefulness, initiative, caring and compassion towards wildlife each and every day.

I also wish to thank Andrew and Alex for the opportunity they gave me that day to help with the rescue, as it's my very small way of giving back to those creatures that have given me so much pleasure in nature.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back Roading in Pickering

On Saturday, January 5th, eighteen Pickering Naturalists enjoyed thirty-two different species of birds while back roading in Pickering for our annual Feeder Tour, one of our most popular outings.

Forget the Year of the Dragon or Snake, this certainly is the Year of the Finch as one of our best feeder stops was in Greenwood where we enjoyed numerous Common Redpolls, such pretty little finches with their red caps and varying degrees of streaking:

Although photographic proof eluded me, we were fairly certain of a Hoary Redpoll amongst the Commons.  Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches were plentiful with the occasional House Finch, and along the same road we even encountered an American Robin.

The Pine Siskins outnumbered the Redpolls on the feeder at times:

I recall Redpoll droughts on prior years' outings, but for sure this year, everyone enjoyed excellent views of Common Redpolls:

Whitevale Road was another rewarding area for us where an impromptu stop to get better views of an American Kestrel resulted in a bonus pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, as were some unexpected Eastern Bluebirds that moved back and forth from the hydro lines to a thicket below.

We stopped in at Betty Pegg's home in Claremont for a visit where warm beverages and baking greeted us...

...followed by a visit to Brouwer's for the most colourful and exotic and uncountable species of the day:

As always, the highlight of the day was our final stop at Rosemary and Jonathan Oliver's beautiful home overlooking the Rouge River. Talk about stocked feeders with plenty of feathered and furry visitors! Their Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were frequently seen coming in and out to the feeders, as were American Goldfinches, House Finches, White-throated and American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, a plump Eastern Grey Squirrel, a Red-tailed Hawk that surveyed the area every so often, along with a Sharp-shinned Hawk that knew how to break up a party as it whipped through the area, retuning later to perch on a snag checking out the menu at the feeders:

A Northern Flicker was a major coup for the Winter Listers amongst us as we cheered in unison when it appeared we scare ourselves sometimes :

There was even an unexpected discovery of a Jones glendaialis species (aka "Glenda")  late in the day at the Oliver's! Truth be known, she was there for the view, the birds, the hospitality, the home baked sweets, treats and fresh soup, and of course the camaraderie of nature lovers.

Many thanks to Rosemary and Jonathan for once again opening up their elegant doors to us, as I suspect it's what kept all of us motivated throughout the wintry day, knowing exactly where we would wrap up our tour for the day. 

It's always a challenge each year to find worthwhile feeders that are well-stocked with seed to bring in the birds, so a huge thanks to John and Doug for scouting out the back roads ahead of the day to streamline the route for us.