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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Anticipation of Sandhills

I've got it, I've got it reaaally bad, the Sandhill Bug. After a day spent in vain yesterday in the Long Point area seeking decent visuals on our first Sandhill Cranes for the year, I felt compelled to fondly look back on last autumn's adventures with hundreds of these statuesque beauties not far from the cottage. Each night in early-October they would return to their roost in the shallow waters of an inaccessible lake and my first view of them at sunset was wonderful:

I was hooked, returning to the area whenever possible to observe and determine their daily routine, learning the hard way that their preference was to graze in distant fields by mid-morning if I left it too late: 

However, Thanksgiving Monday was a different story as the spectacular weather forecast promised to be one worth getting up early for, with morning mist dramatically highlighting the autumn colours:

A sweeping view of the misty countryside:

It no longer mattered if I dipped on the Sandhill Cranes that morning as the glorious landscapes had already taken my breath away:

But I began to hear those distant rattles of the Sandhill Cranes I so loved, and through the mist saw my first views of a small flock, double-click on this photo to see how many you can find! 

Following more sounds in the area, I discovered another small and chatty flock of them: 

 I quickly learned by the noise that hundreds of them had congregated in a valley I was unable to access, but based on where their preferred grazing fields were from my earlier visits, I positioned myself on a road that hopefully would be their flight path once they broke off into smaller groups. Sure enough, they began to take flight from the invisible valley and stream overhead as they sought out their fields:

More continued to move into the fields:

As I patiently waited in the car for the next few hours, they moved around from field to field overhead:

This Sandhill Crane was perhaps my favorite, even its muddied feet could not diminish its beauty and elegance:

That was the last time I was to enjoy those Sandhill Cranes as the next cottage week-end was my final one for the season. No matter, as pouring rain did not deter my inevitable detour back to those magical fields en route to the cottage. Instead of misty landscapes and autumn skies filled with Sandhills, I experienced the most bizarre combination of torrential rain, distant Sandhill Cranes returning to their secret roost for the night, a sunset to the west and this rainbow to the east: 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Treasure Trove of Turkey Vultures

Having just seen my first Turkey Vulture for the year a few days ago and in anticipation of seeing the skies filled once again with these rocking characters that I adore, I reflect back on an extraordinary encounter with them last October in the Kawarthas.

It was a dismally dreary day that I had chosen to back-road ahead of the cottage season winding down. Once again I found myself heading towards one of my favorite dumps FREAK on the north side of the lake, but I never made it there, as I stumbled upon some serious scavenging action right in front of me. Little did I know at the time how much fun I was going to have as I swiftly navigated one of my U-turns to investigate a Turkey Vulture, at eye-level, no less:

Another one flies in to land on a fence next to my car...

...and makes itself comfortable, despite the drizzle that has now seriously transitioned to rain that runs off its back:

The Main Event, or rather Course, was a deceased raccoon that appealed to the scavenging side of these Turkey Vultures: 

A coy shoulder glance from the one on the fence...

...and then a further head turn as it checks me out in my car: 


A different Turkey Vulture got bumped from the carcass and lands on the fence:

One of the immatures flies in, wanting to get in on the scavenging action with its elders:

But back to this one: when reviewing my photos I noticed white stringy things on its face and head feathers, most likely raccoon innards? I knew exactly where that head had been:

Looking towards me again, the sound of my four-way flashers seems to intrigue it. Or not. It just wants another go at the roadkill feeding trough:  

Another view of  the Turkey Vulture with its prized possession for the afternoon, with a better look at its pale legs and feet. I learned today from some of my bird guides that Vulture beaks and talons aren't as strong as those raptors that catch live prey, and in fact Vulture feet don't carry food all that well either, so food is transported back to the nest inside their crops, which is regurgitated to the young. Charming, yet an effective concept!

By now the garbage trucks, en route to the nearby dump, were beginning to stream by me, so off I went, leaving the Turkey Vultures with their meal, only to discover even more perched high up in trees along the road, waiting their turn:

An immature's head-on glance:

I can't wait to see what close encounters this year may bring for me with Turkey Vultures, even though I'll be just as thrilled to see them kettling in huge numbers at any one of my favorite dumps!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ruff Times's been a wretched winter as Mother Nature HATE HER has successfully obliterated any decent winter waterfowl viewing this year. The Great Lakes ice cover is the most we've experienced in decades, so quite frankly I feel deprived and cheated each time I arrive at the waterfront only to observe even more ice extending almost all the way across Lake Ontario to #*%&#* Rochester with the occasional dark speck that no doubt was my target species, grrrr. 

Never again will I take for granted close-up views of a lovely Long-tailed Duck, a glamorous Goldeneye, a bouncing Bufflehead, a stately Scaup, or a magnificent Mandarin. Okfine, so this guy doesn't belong here any time:

 Just like this Mandarin Duck, open patches of water are also a rarity, so the annual Pickering Naturalists west lakeshore outing a few weeks ago was potentially problematic but we forged ahead and had a great time. We had glacial views of Lake Ontario ice cover from various look-out points along the shoreline between Bronte and Hamilton. LaSalle Park where numerous Trumpeter Swans overwinter was frozen solid, a shocking sight, as was a deceased Scaup literally frozen solid in the ice at Bronte harbour. Windermere Basin had the highest concentration of waterfowl for both numbers and species, but alas, scope views only. 

For me, though, the best stop was at the Burlington Lift Bridge, where there was- wait for it- OPEN WATER. And BIRDS, including a pair of  King Eiders, my BOTD, even if I wussed out by choosing to not skate to the end of the ice-covered pier for a photo opportunity, as I was pleased with stellar scope views of the pair. 

Compared to other winters, numbers were down for the usual Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel, but this pretty female Greater Scaup ventured in quite close to us:

Certainly the most congenial BOTD was this White-winged Scoter, best views ever!!

The following day I learned that fellow club member Tim Thorington chose to focus on me in one of my more flattering poses as I had my special moment with the curious Scoter. Photo credit to Tim, thanks, I think??

Curiouser and curiouser as he swam towards me...

...and closer and closer, providing excellent views of the white teardrop below his eye and white wing patch, offset by the striking orange bill:

Bemoaning the absence of waterfowl on the Great Lakes, I decided to head north for a few days with no firm agenda other than an Algonquin visit at some point. Knowing full well I'd be at the mercy of road conditions, I booked two nights away in two different towns but that was about as specific as I got. In the end my spontaneous road trip wasn't overly birdy, but the few surprise encounters I had more than compensated for the lack of birds.

My first decent species for the road trip was an immature Bald Eagle:

I continued north before unexpected snow squalls forced me to turn back but was pleased to at least reach Powassan. I was also grateful for not seeing Moose along Highway 11 during these nasty whiteout conditions as my new snow tires were put to the test, including some back roads ahead of the snow. By some miracle I managed to spot a Ruffed Grouse feeding in a tree:

It continued to feed on buds while I watched: 

...tipsy angles as it grasped branches with its feet looking for edible options: 

Could it get any better? Yes indeed, as I was now hearing Common Ravens and Bald Eagles screaming at each other to the north, as did the Ruffed Grouse. It paused to listen as well: 

What a wonderful way to wrap up Day One, ahead of arriving at Algonquin the next day as as I dodged Purple Finches eating grit off Highway 60. Impressive amounts of snow greeted me at the West Gate:

Western Uplands had layers of snow that resembled puff pastry:

....with minimal open water:

Bleak, stark, but striking views along Opeongo Road.

Algonquin, pure and simple.

The Park was devoid of birders that day other than me so I had to work hard to find Gray Jays, lucking out with only two in the frigid temperatures:

Retreating to the comfort of the Visitor Centre, it wasn't long before I found myself outside again at the feeders (it's all about knowing how to dress!), lured in by the pretty male Purple Finches:

The female Purple Finches outnumbered the males two to one:

But the main attraction, of course, were the Flying Pigs, aka Evening Grosbeaks that monopolized the feeders, sounding like House Sparrows on steroids, as they took turns stuffing their gorgeous faces: 


It wasn't until later that I discovered this male was banded!

By now I was once again seriously hunkered down in the snow along a small snowbank watching and listening to these lovelies...

...when out of the corner of my eye I detected some movement behind me on my left, yet heard nothing, absolute silence (other than the Flying Pigs). So very slowly I calmly YEAH, RIGHT look over and see this Ruffed Grouse (another one??!!) slowly strutting along a path on the other side of the snowbank I'd been lying against, making its way to the feeders, crazy!!!

First views:

Unbelievable, as it comes in closer to the feeders, focused more on its breakfast than me, but still wary:

I'm trying to stay calm and enjoy this insane moment, not knowing how long it will last. I'm now having to slowly move away from it as the Ruffed Grouse is now too close for me to focus, so I'm doing my best to crawl backwards in the snow as I'm at eye level with it:


The detail of the feathers were delightful:

How can a bird that looks so sleek when on the move or reaching up to feed on buds in a tree (as I recalled my sweet views of the other one from the day before) look so porky here when it turns to face me??!!

Perhaps I was hasty when thinking that Ruffed Grouse are drab birds, just look at those feathers!!

And it silently heads off again along its invisible path on the other side of the snowbank, I couldn't believe what had just happened:

My only other close encounter with a Ruffed Grouse was a few winters ago with Master John during the Petroglyphs Christmas Bird Count when we spotted a displaying male who was oblivious to our presence:

He admittedly wasn't as close as this latest encounter in Algonquin, but to date it was my only time seeing a displaying one:

Day Three of my road trip started at a balmy -31ยบ celsius...

...far too cold for much of anything to be out and about, even at the six different dumps I visited over those few days, how annoyed I was to not even see Common Ravens at most of them!

Near Buckhorn a small herd of  Deer were grazing in a bog:

A quick inspection of the cottage by snowshoe was my final stop before heading home: 

So yes, I dipped on some of my target species, for example, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, and any Crossbills, but my crazy Ruffed Grouse close encounters made up for it!