Friday, February 25, 2011

Assault on Redpolls

Despite the fact I have several more pressing and important things I need to do, I just couldn't ignore these Redpolls from my Cochrane trip. I've bee studying the images, and everything is fresh in my mind. The time to write is now!

But yeah, I'm not done writing yet. Hopefully in a day or two, I'll have a new addition in my series of having fun while identifying really confusing birds. Part of the process involved getting my images online.

After a super-fantastic fall of photographing Jaegers in the zodiac, I decided to expand the Gull pages to be the Gull and Jaeger pages! Then I continued my assault on Cackling Geese, and have future plans of getting lots of Cackler pictures online to help solve their mystery. But Redpolls? They aren't even waterbirds. It was time for a name-change and a broader focus.

For now........... Southern / exilipes Hoary Redpolls from northern Ontario. 34 pictures to simply document what these things can look like!

Annnd yeah! More soon

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cochrane Trip summary

I've been home for a few days, but figured I would post some sort of conclusion to my mini-trip. I usually plan some sort of extravagant adventure in the winter months, but the disastrous state of my website and personal affairs had/have kept me couped up inside for too long! It was time to do some driving in search of bird-related goodies.

The plan was to head to Cochrane (and beyond) in search of Willow Ptarmigan. There seemed to be an influx of them into Quebec, and I had high hopes to find them in my hometown province. This species gave me the run during my 2010 Newfoundland trip, so it seemed like a fitting mini-excursion now. I also really enjoy the cold/snowy north, for reasons unknown...

Click above for a map of the roads I drove while on this 3 day marathon. The gameplan I followed was:

- drive to Temagimi on Thursday night and sleep in the car

- Wake up Friday, and check Lake Temiskiming (cobalt etc) and then drive some lesser known roads towards Cochrane.  Stay in pre-booked hotel in Cochrane.

- Saturday I checked the farmland north of Cochrane, then drove up hwy 11 and towards Abitibi Canyon (point B on the map), the farthest NW I managed to get from home. Back to same hotel in Cochrane after dark.

- Sunday I drove NE towards the Detour Lake Gold Mine. I didn't make it to the mine (becomes a private road 30km away).. But still got pretty far (the NE point of my travels) I then drove some backroads until later in the afternoon when I made my break for home. Arrived in Guelph around midnight!


So, after all of that, no Ptarmigan. After I got home, I did note that they continued to be seen in Quebec:

(Above - The farthest NE I managed to get on my travels, half way to James Bay from Cochrane! The blue point in Quebec is the location of 2 Willow Ptarmigan reproted in Quebec on the same day!


Friday - already covered earlier. Slow until I saw the Lynx.. Then found the redpolls feeding and took 1000 Hoary Redpoll pictures over  the next 5-6 hours, while freezing in my car. A major success!

Saturday - rather slow around Cochrane - checking feeders with Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls (several Hoaries). Also managed to take the Gray Jay picture that appears at the top of the page. Crossbills, Ruffed Grouse etc. were fun. Some well stocked feeders in Cochrane were loaded with Redpolls (and numerous Hoaries)

Fun fact: the drive on Saturday to Abitibi Canyon is 75km north of Hwy 11. On the ENTIRE 150KM drive, I didnt see a SIGNLE BIRD!!! Boreal forest at its best. 

Sunday: the clear front runner was the Gray Wolf sighting, but I also managed some good boreal birds on the drive towards the mine. (Finches, Crossbills, Boreal Chickadees etc). The finale of my trip was spotting a hunting Northern Hawk Owl near Engleheart


So yeah! A pretty awesome 3 day trip to the north. I spotted a decent percentage of the species one would expect in a place like Algonquin Park, but add in the numerous Hoary Redpolls, a Lynx, a Gray Wolf, and the excitement of birding some really unknown places  --- it really makes me wonder why more people don't go there!

Fun facts:

2310km - driven from my driveway and back. 150 liters of gas

1 - number of times I got temporarily stuck while driving. In the middle of a sheet of ice.. Wouldn't move in any direction until I put some salt down!

0 - number of snow tires on my little Toyota Echo! This car is unstoppable. 

$55/night - cost of my hotel in cochrane. It's sad when I get a better night sleep in my car than I do the hotel, but at the very least, the hotel had heat when the temps plunged to -29 C

Northern Lights - poorly on Saturday night

75 - number of times I thought about writing a diet-birding book. If you only bring lettuce, apples and crackers 150km down a mining road - you're going to eat Lettuce, Apples and Crackers and be happy about it!

My Northern Hawk Owl from the adventure. I actually had  really amazing looks, just didn't bother to put the big lens on the camera. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gray Wolf

It's tough to compare the surprise and sudden excitement when you spot any manner of animal you rarely see. There I was, flying down a snow covered road*, when I see a WOLF sleeping on the edge of the woods. I was already past before my thoughts were fully processed. I had done this several times before, and sprung into action:

- stop the car far enough up the road to not scare the animal
- turn off radio/music
- turn off hot air (turned on the AC)
- open all windows**
- grab camera off back seat
- check exposure/settings to make sure the image will turn out
- position camera out window in proper position for shooting.

Now all I had to do was get back to the spot where the wolf was! In order to shoot out the drivers side window, I decide to go in reverse (with my camera half out the window). Thankfully there was virtually no traffic anywhere on this road, and the plan seemed like it was going to work.


The car comes to a stop and the confusion begins. The wolf is still sleeping, and i'm not 40ft away. I snap a few photos, and begin to think of this situation. We experience a rush when seeing a rare animal like this for that exact reason; it is very rare to encounter them anywhere! Their mystique fascinates us. If they showed up under our bird feeders and ate our birdseed, many would end up trying to deter their presence. A wild/happy/healthy Wolf is generally away from human eyes - so what's going on here?

Working in Algonquin Park for a few summers taught me that enough people can eventually tame just about any animal. They can really make a photographers day. I had a fantastic encounter with a Black Bear, taking dozens of photos, as it ate roadside berries 30ft off of the highway with 25+ people watching.  Had someone been feeding this Wolf? Causing it to prowl the sides of the road looking for handouts? The wolf then raises its head.

Maybe it was in the back of my mind the entire time, but it is better to ignore it until proven otherwise. A magnificent creature (a "life mammal" for myself) making a living in the seemingly lifeless environment of the boreal forest in winter. More often than not, views like this come at a price. The wolf starts to stir, and all of the surprise/excitement/mystique fades into rather harsh understanding. It can barely get to its feet, and is clearly either gravely sick or badly injured. It's not sadness that replaces all of my emotions (well, maybe a little) but mainly understanding. I've seen this many times before while out enjoying nature. This magnificent beast is reaching the end of its line.

There is not a single wolf that has ever walked on the planet, that hasn't passed on already, or will do so in the not-too-distant future. As with most things, it's seeing it with our own eyes that makes it real, unlike the others that are never seen deep in the northern woods. I decide to turn on the car, and drive off rather abruptly. I put things back into context; I had never seen a Gray Wolf before in my life, and even managed a few photos. No need to be sad! (well, not too sad)... 

* (Hwy 652, towards the Detour Lake Gold Mine) - pretty darn far north!
** hot air out the car window makes pictures blurry. It has to be COLD inside the car to get the shot! 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hornemann's photos

Photos of the two "most Hornemann's" like Redpolls on the day

Bird A is on the far left, bird B is on the far right. 

Bird A - with female "southern" Hoary (first bird on left) and 3 "Southern" Common Redpolls

Bird A alone

Bird B with two "southern" Common Redpolls

Bird B (left) with female "southern" Hoary Redpoll, right. 


If subspecies aren't your thing, there was some real bona-fide, true-blue, male Hoary Redpolls to get the blood pumping:


Not a bad day, considering the weather (rain to snow to whiteout to freezing cold)

Common's enjoying the weather. 


Yay for Redpolls.. They're more confusing than Gulls!

Mmmm Hoaries.. Ok time to sleep!

Lynx me!!

It's official, I've made a break to Cochrane for the weekend to prevent myself from going too nuts working inside. Here's the skinny:

Expected year birds: White-winged Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Ruffed Grouse and Hoary Redpoll

I spent most of my time driving. Once I hit cobalt, I took some side roads and turned up the bird goodies while trying to not crash. The first BIG highlight was this:

Yes, that's a Lynx. I saw it crossing the road, slammed on the breaks, and managed a yelp to catch it's attention (for a photo) before it walked into the woods.). What a crazy cat!

On the drive I saw a Ruffed Grouse, a dead Spruce Grouse, and a dead grouse sp. Maybe a good year to be a lynx!


It wasn't 30 mins later when my world was turned upside down! The skinny: I stopped to view a flock of redpolls, and eventually discovered a Redpoll feeding goldmine in the snowbanks nearby.. Parked my car and took 1000+ Redpoll photos over the next 5-6 hours. My final guess at numbers (a real guess)

"Southern" Common Redpoll - 25
"Greater/Greenland" Common Redpoll - 60
"Southern" Hoary Redpoll - 20
"Hornemann's" Hoary Redpoll - at least 2

Note, that should be     """Hornemann's" Hoary" Redpoll"

I'm a self professed Hornemanns skeptic, but I have a feeling that this blog will have some redpoll chatter over the next few weeks when I get my images in order. For now, here's the two birds that best matched proposed field marks for finding oneself a "Hornemann's"

Far left and far right birds, the two biggest redpolls in the flock (with 3 "southern" common Redpolls here). 

Yes the magic of photoshop combined 5 pictures to make this one, but I used the seeds to line up the images, so the birds location and size to each other should be fairly accurate. It was the only time I saw these 2 close together, and this was the best I could do for a photo.  

Anyways, Redpolls are more confusing than gulls, so stay tuned for more photos of more odd birds. 


 Now all I can hope for is some good looks at some of these Owls being seen around Ontario! Check these out:
Boreal Owl
Mexican Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Burrowing Owl

Anyways, I jest. There is some really neat pictures being posted on the weather network, if you know how to find them. It's unfortunate that the whole thing is just a free-picture grab scam by the weather network (read the fine print on what they can do with the pictures you post) ... but it is fun.


Yes I wrote that owl thing a few days ago.. Back to Redpolls and ready for birding tomorrow!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sweet jeepers and all that jazz

I give you the product of locking yourself indoors for 10+ days with little chance to view the outside world:

Yes, there are still a few links that don't work - but with 1000+ pictures online - I'm in a happier place! 

There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is the end of phase 1 of my photography revolution! 

Future phases: 

--- sort the 300gb of pictures sitting on my desktop

--- get my invoices/emails etc up to date

--- make the website more of a website again (this was just the main photos)

--- actually go outside and take some quality photos (Summer/Fall/Winter 2010/2011 has been very poor)

--- maybe someday take some better passerine photos (projects like this make me realize that a lot of my songbird shots are barely passable). 



Only one extra tidbit today:

amazing photos (China) of the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


What do you think of the change in colours for the blog?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A whole big bunch of species

I sure hope regular blog readers understand the lack of content here directly relates to the ongoing work for the website... Serious work on species pages continue, and the current extent of my progress is here:





Monday, February 7, 2011

Species pages

Ok the species pages are taking shape. This is not the flashy part of the website - just the bread and butter to get the pictures back online. Obviously there isn't much here, but I'd still be curious to hear if anyone has any problems or comments when viewing the pages...

Some samples:


--- a typical species page

Tricloured Heron:

--- larger files... Hopefully a big page like this doesn't take too long to load?

Prairie Warbler:

--- the reason for bigger files. I really like pictures with some space around the bird, but now there is still some detail too!


Unfortunately making these pages is taking longer than I hoped (maybe 50 pages/day?) but it's happening!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

random stuff day - this is the best i've got

Never fear, almost-decent blog material is on the way. 1010 pictures re-sizes later, I'm actually starting to look at Dreamweaver..... Nothing fancy in the near future, but something might happen.


Too funny to ignore:

Maybe a bit mean, but I laughed.


Really nice photo of an incredible bird:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Manitou Island, Lake Superior

For the last year+ I`ve been very interested in some of the birding possibilities of Lake Superior, ever since I noticed Caribou Island on google maps (way out in the middle of the lake, and only visible on `satellite view`


Since then, I have noticed that Michigan birders have been spending some time over the last several years exploring one of their Islands - Manitou... They have an excellent website which details what they`ve been doing...

Obviously the big thing for me is the rarities they`ve been finding. This was an email I wrote a while ago, but I figured it would also make for good blog material.

Below is a link to show where the island is (map).. The main thing I pulled form their notes isn`t the quality of rarity - but the VERY Impressive numbers of rarities they found (considering the average length of stay is only 3-4 days at a time)...


I went through the Manitou Island bird sightings, to show what they've
found over the years of doing surveys there. Here's the map:

Check it out - the total number of days they were there, and the
highlight birds:

May 4-7, 2002 (Raptor surveys) - Swainson's Hawk

June 17, 2002 - 2 singing Blackpoll Warblers, 500 hawks!

July 2002 (4 days, dates not listed) - Black Vulture 

Sept 8-10, 2002 - Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Apr 29-May 3, 2003 - A. White Pelican, Golden Eagle

Jun 28-Jul 1, 2003 - A. White Pelican

Oct 5-8, 2003 - nothing!

May 26-30, 2005 - Snowy Egret, 3 different Swainson`s Hawks!!!

Aug 20-23, 2005 - Piping Plover

Sept 20-21, 2005 - Forster`s Tern

Apr 23-May 10, 2006 - California Gull, Snowy & Great Gray Owls, Smith's Longspur, Harlequin Duck

Early June, 2006 - (Jun 11/12?) - Say's Phoebe!

Sept 2006 - (days not listed) Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Jaegers

2009 - May 15-19 -- Pacific Loon, Wood Thrush, Marbled Godwit, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prairie Warbler

Oct 2009 - 4 days in early Oct - Carolina Wren! 

It is also noteworthy that they spend a lot of time doing waterbird counts or hawkwatching, so there is possibly more rarities in the woods to be found(?)


So yeah! Caribou Island would be the destination for Ontario birders. I have no plans to get there anytime soon, but I'm sure one day I'll get there. It is a lot more difficult to get to Caribou than Manitou! 


Pictures of some of the Manitou rarities:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Distance day

Picture #600 ... Eastern Meadowlark from central Florida. I've spoken about travelling and photography  to the local naturalists club a few times - and this topic always comes up:

Not only are there new species (that you don't have at home) when travelling to see and photograph, but "regular" everyday species from home (like this Eastern Meadowlark) seem like totally different birds in Florida. 

I was near Lake Kissimmee to photograph Snail Kites, and after a successful morning in an airboat, I was off to Orlando. I noticed Meadowlarks all along this particular stretch of dirt road, so I literally put my Camera on my lap, stopped at the very next bird, took 3 pictures (one of which is shown above) and continued my drive. That 30 seconds of effort produced a better Meadowlark image than years of living in Ontario. Is the picture great? No... but it's almost full frame, and "passable" if someone comes looking for an image of the species...


Some distance stories:

Ruddy Turnstone does some mega-flights: 

Polar Bear does mega swim:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day...

The wind at the Burlington lift bridge peaked with gusts to 82kmh last night... But we sure didn't get too much snow. I think the winds blew most of the snow away...


After shoveling our apartment driveway, Jenn and I have been spending yet another day inside getting work done. Re-sizing pictures for the website has been my main motivation so far... I actually just passed the 500th image done! (near half way). Which is the motivation for the blog post:

Adult Yellow-legged Gull from St. John's Newfoundland. There's something about this image that I really like, and picture number 500 prepared for the new website. 


The only bird news on my mind right now is Willow Ptarmigan. This bird laughed at every one of my feeble attempts to find it while in Newfoundland, and the fact that multiple birds have traveled south of their normal range (into Quebec) has caught my attention. My hopes of finding time to photograph Eiders in Norway this winter is dying more and more every day - but a trip around Northern Ontario could be enough to get my fill of cold weather birds... And if I could turn up a Ptarmigan up there, it would really be something!

Scroll down to the Jan 29, 2011 entry for a great picture and some info (french) on the beasts. Food for thought on a snowy day!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1st

Even more birding! I spared the morning to head out with my dad to the lake. We tested the 30kmh NNE winds at Van Wagner's for a few hours, and saw 4 Glaucous Gulls fly past... Not really top quality birds, but what can you do?


We checked the Harbour, which had a decent number of gulls (with nothing of note) and 7-8 Bald Eagles. The canal is under construction, so we could see ducks, but didn't have anywhere easier to look at them...


Windemere Basin/Red Hill Creek was another stop - with the expected highlights: Great Blue Heron (5). Black-crowned Night Heron, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shovellers, Coots, Northern Pintail, Hooded Mergs, 2 Iceland Gulls, 2 Glaucous Gulls, Cormorants, Ruddy Ducks, and my species #103 for my year list - 3 Green-winged Teal.


Big winter storm on the way! I'm still keeping an eye on the weather all the time - not that the birds are moving... Hawk migration starts to get interesting around March 10th, but there really shouldn't be any unexpected/crazy rarities until mid April! It's the slowest time of the year...

Marine Forecast for the next 24 hours:    Wind northeast 20 knots increasing to 30 this evening and to 35 near midnight. Wind increasing to northeast 40 late overnight then diminishing to 20 near noon Wednesday

40 knots!! Why didn't this happen in mid September? 

More Bir-ding!

Jenn and I found ourselves in Waterloo yesterday (Jan 30th) - and decided to make a run for some good birds in the area.

Most notably - the Varied Thrush that has been present since sometime in December. Nice bird! We parked in the driveway, waited a while (saw some woodpecker squabbles) and the thrush put on a great show eating peanuts not far away. Beautiful creature!

No camera with me, but others have taken some nice images of the bird:


We also made a quick stop to see the Hawkesville Red-shouldered Hawk... The bird has been here every winter for several years now, but it's the first time I found myself in the area. We found the bird quickly, and it gave some really nice views. Beautiful bird!

Again, not my photo, but the same bird:


Going to poke around in this snowstorm tomorrow for a rarity or two. It's a terrible time of year for rarities, but you're not going to find anything if you're not out looking! And I always enjoy a good storm.

That's all I've got! Other than this:

The old stand-by of posting other peoples things that are neat:
- Glaucous-winged Gull in Illinois... THEEE most overdue bird for Ontario.;topic=44436.0;attach=6946;image
- Slaty-backed Gull in Illinous... not fair!
- Golden Eagle going after a deer in illinois!? I noticed this when looking up pictures of the gulls.. Crazy!