Thursday, March 31, 2011

Phase 2 of the revoloution - American Robin photoshoot

American Robin - Port Burwell - Mar 24, 2011 - full frame

 I told you there would be new photos. After the large and unexpected snowstorm on Mar 23, 2011 - I decided to head to Port Burwell to search for rarities and photo-op's. The sightings from that day have already been covered. Now it's time for some photos.

I was hanging out in Aaron Allensen's yard, famous for producing some of the rarest birds in Ontario over the past few years. (Monarch Landing - spectacular habitat). When Robins were busy squabbling for food, I set my tripod up near a popular sumac, and waited for the birds to return. The morning light was great, and a few birds were eventually cooperative. 

Continuing on the new photography style of "take them where they land", I'm also going to work on getting excessive depth-of-field with these photos. A good example is the above photo, where there is pretty good focus right from the bill to the tip of the tail. In the past, I was always worried about trying to get the bird more parallel to the lens - but that makes your photos more limited. 

The extra added dept-of-field also means that branches etc. in the background will not be "blurred out" as much, but I'm starting to wonder if it truly makes a difference. Sometimes, no matter how "blurred" a branch in the background is - it's just too ugly to be ignored. Sometimes, like the above photo, it doesnt matter either way!

More photos from Aaron's fabulous yard will hopefully be up soon!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New thoughts on photography

When working on getting my website back online, there was a common theme; I didn't have a lot of passerine photos that I was happy with.

Some serious soul searching, and then it came to me: I hadn't been taking that many passerine photos for 2 reasons:

1.) Work

--- well I need money to to take pictures of gulls etc! So lets look at point #2:

2.) The style of photo I wanted (for passerines).


So what does style have to do with it? Well keeping my eye peeled on the ABA's Birding Magazine and some nature photography forums taught me something. The gold standard for passerine photos is to use feeders/tapes/water etc. to bring passerines to a beautifully setup perch. Perhaps the best known photographer who does this type of thing is Alan Murphy (texas)

He has a video on the very basic idea on how to get a lot of shots like these (he'll fill in the details if you come on a workshop):


annnddd what does this have to do with me? Well I had convinced myself that if I want to take passerine photos, I should be doing these elaborate setups... Which in turn led me to never really spending the time trying to get them!

Lazy? Procrastination? You bet... But I eventually decided that my birding side enjoys taking photos of the birds in the habitats I find them in. And not only that, but I never really actually thought about what are the photos that I (yes, myself) actually enjoy looking at!!!

Seems crazy to not think like this, but there really seems to be 3 types of photos in this world (from my point of view:)

1.   Photos that people think are "good"

2.   Photos that "sell"

3.   and photos that you (or me, in this case) actually really like for some reason or another....

And you know what? In the end, and in my current phase of life, it really is #3 that I need to be focusing on! And then, I'll have the camera out more, and end up with more of those stinkin passerine photos that I'm missing!

So here's phase 1 of the revolution:

Full frame Eastern Phoebe - the tip of Point Pelee - March 21, 2011 (yes!)

When it comes down to it, I just love photos like this. They look a lot better when you can see the full-sized picture and all the detail, but hey, what can you do. 

Rusty Blackbird - 95% of frame - Point Pelee - March 21, 2011 (yes, again!)

Another example. No, the bird isn't full frame. No, the background isn't "clean", no the perch isn't great --- but it's what you can expect for the next while. I left this bird with a happy feeling about getting as close as I did, rather than a strange mix of feelings I have after trying to lure a bird onto a set perch. 


So there we go! Recent photography, and some crazy thoughts. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with "perch photography" - the results speak for themselves... I'll probably still do it on rare occasions, but I just need to have more fun with it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Visions of Point Pelee - in the cold

Work took me back to SW Ontario today, so it was good enough for another rapid-fire tour of the Pelee birding area to get a quick-fix of migrants... No where near as exciting as my last visit a few days ago - colder and less birds. No Phoebes seen after 7/8 last week! Just waiting for the weather to change. Actually waiting for late April to change.

A short one tonight, some migrants/notable birds that I did see:

Tundra Swan     10
White-winged Scoter     5
Ring-necked Pheasant     2
Common Loon     6  -- my first spring migrants
Pied-billed Grebe     4
Horned Grebe     100 - everywhere at the tip
Double-crested Cormorant     4
Turkey Vulture     X
Bald Eagle     3
Northern Harrier     3
Cooper's Hawk     2
Red-tailed Hawk     3
American Coot     80
Sandhill Crane     2
Bonaparte's Gull     1000
Thayer's Gull     1  (2nd basic - tip)
Iceland Gull     1   (juv - wheatley)
Lesser Black-backed Gull     3  (3 different adults, tip)
Tree Swallow     5  (hillman)
American Pipit     1 (tip)
Eastern Meadowlark     2 (tip)

Some photos:

2nd basic Thayer's at the tip

The ever present RB-mergie. Adult male, young male and female.

4 from a flock(!) of 12 Snipe - feeding like real shorebirds in an open field near Erieau. Cold weather bringing them out?

Dark adult LBB Gull from the tip.

migrant looooons!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recent musings

Not a lot of birding from me, given the cool weather. Figured it would be a good time to continue working on little projects that need working! (Before the birding craziness begins in less than a month!)

I have some recent photos that I've yet to edit as well...

One update I've managed to do was a quick one to the Redpoll article. Jim Pawlicki sent some great comments on a few things that weren't right! Rather than update the article, I thought it would be more informative to include the comments at the bottom of the article. Check them out here:


I'm keeping my eyes peeled on the weather for Wednesday and Thursday.. I'm sure things will change (they always do), but somewhere in that time frame should bring 1000+ birds past the Beamer Hawkwatch, including a healthier dose of more eagles, buteos etc. than they've been seeing in recent days.!

Coming to a hawkwatch near you


A few other fun things recently:

Photos of the adult male King Eider in Toronto:


Robobird? Something to confuse us in the future while birding?

Thanks to my Dad for that one...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

If IT happens at Pelee, what is going on at Port Burwell?

Harris's Sparrow - Port Burwell - Mar 24, 2011

With yet another mega-rarity found at Monarch Landing in Port Burwell, I ventured out in that direction in search of birds and good cheer.  While I didn't see any super-sized grackles, there was still other rarities in the area. I had seen the Spotted Towhee in town a few weeks ago, so I decided to give the Harris's Sparrow a try. Obviously I picked it up, after 5-10 minutes of waiting, as it appeared in a large tangle to the right of the garage. (Sunning itself and preening). A nearby Purple Finch was singing away, which was also my first of the year.

Most of the morning was spent at Monarch Landing. I talked to Aaron Allensen for a while, and we saw a pile of birds at his incredible property/feeders. Redpolls, Siskins, Rusty Blackbirds, Waxwings etc. were present. American Robins eating Sumac kept me busy with the camera (more pictures later this week). Aaron told me the Spotted Towhee was seen the previous day, but I didn't spend much time looking for it (I heard multiple Towhees, but didnt actually see any). 

A quick check of the beach in town yielded a few more birds. My first American Pipits of the year were on the beach (5-6 birds), and there were still a few flocks of Tundra Swans out on the lake. The highlight here was two adult Little Gulls were just offshore. NO Bonaparte's Gulls were anywhere to be seen, which was neat. 

Little Gulls (I had much better looks than this picture suggests)

I was tempted to go to Long Point (which I did), then promptly decided I wasn't in the mood to scan distant ducks (in the cold wind) in hopes of finding a Blue-winged Teal or Eurasian Wigeon. Besides, outside of Port Burwell I hit the waterfowl jackpot* anyways!

* Swan Goose outside of Port Burwell in a mostly frozen puddle. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

IT happens at Point Pelee

March may be a slow time for birding, but after a slow winter it sure feels good to go to Pelee and see migrants. I had to work in the area March 21st (first full day of spring, and my first full day of being 24), so I spared some hours early in the morning to poke around the park. It's amazing how they're 10 days ahead of the Hamilton area in terms of migration. Some birds:

All 3 Scoter species
12 migrant Double-crested Cormorants
1 Great Egret of all things
1 migrant Merlin (flew in off the lake at the tip)
1 American Woodcock
3 Thayer's Gulls
2 Iceland Gulls
2 Glaucous Gulls (cold weather birds find me, even on the nice days)
3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
1 migrant Northern Flicker
9+ Eastern Phoebes
25+ Tree Swallows
1 migrant Hermit Thrush (on the sand at the tip)
1 migrant Field Sparrow (very bright)
8+ Fox Sparrows (migrants)
and a very cooperative Rusty Blackbird at the tip! (photos)

Nothing like a Mountain Bluebird, but a very nice selection of migrants. A nice day too, considering the cold and scary weather forecasted for the next few days. I ended up around 80 species for the day.

Some visions of Pelee:

Thayer's Gull

Sand Phoebe and Sand Hermit.. Oh migration

Rusty Blackbird

Great Egret at Hillman Marsh. Sure feels silly to think I saw these birds less than 48 hours ago, now that we have 20cm of snow here in Guelph!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring weather outlook from Environment Canada

Lingering effects of La nina expected to bring more storms in from the USA this spring! 

From the article:

OntarioWith normal spring temperatures expected for the entire province, much of Ontario should see above normal precipitation amounts, thanks to an active weather season expected for the U.S., which will see more storms track into the Great Lakes basin than usual.

Yes, things are desperate this time of year, but storm systems are typically the cause of rare birds, shorebird groundings and fallout conditions (depending on how and when they hit). More storm systems = more birds, right? 

We can only hope!!!

Chuck-wills-widow from the Tip of Point Pelee in May!
(where else in Canada would you have a sight like this?!)

I've always been excited when April 24th rolls around. Usually by then, there has either been a blast of warm air already, or one is in sight. Introducing the day counter:


days until April 24th! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Real life bird sightings

My Dad and I spent the day at the Beamer Hawkwatch! Actual birding! Fun birds today:

Common Merganser: 20+ birds
Northern Pintail: ~20 birds (not bad for no water)
~25 Tundra Swans
Eastern Bluebird: overhead migrant
Great Blue Heron: 2 (together, migrants!)
Common Raven (migrant along the cliff edge).


7 Bald Eagles
10+ Red-shouldered Hawks
Rough-legged Hawk

Plus a steady flow of expected raptors, the most numerous being Red-tails and Turkey Vultures. Not a bad day at Beamer for March 15.


With that said, there was less birds but more action not far away at the Braddock Bay Hawkwatch in NY. They had less than 100 birds, but nailed Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk and a BLACK VULTURE before the day was done.

At least I can say I was right about the "early" BLVU post a few days ago... Maybe Thursday will bring one into Ontario.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It only gets better from here.

It's no secret that the February-March period is painfully slow (at times) when it comes to birding in Ontario.  The good news, is that things are only getting better from here. 

Ken Burrell and I made an unexpected trip down to the Point Pelee area on March 9, and turned up just about everything you'd expect for the date. Notable were 8 Snow Geese (5 at Pelee, 3 near Erieau) and an early Wilson's Snipe. Not to mention the roughly ~5000 Tundra Swans seen at various places!

2 of 3 Lesser Swans at Erieau

Now i'm looking at the weather for Grimsby, and seeing the following:

Tuesday: Mainly sunny, Wind E 10kmh, 7 C

Wednesday: Isolated Showers, Wind S 20, 8 C

Thursday: Cloudy Periods, Wind SW 20, 11 C

Any one of those days (or all 3) has the potential to be 100-150+ hawk days at Beamer CA hawkwatch. What you're really hoping for is a rather COLD day, when the wind is E or NE off the lake but very light. Often times, the wind will be MUCH warmer and south further inland, so birds migrate in, then ride the NE wind along the escarpment edge, fairly low and close all day long. The end result is some good looks at Red-tails, Red-shoulders and maybe some eagles if you're lucky (also not a bad time for Goshawk). 

I'm probably going to give it a try one of those days. Just keep an eye on what the rain is doing!!!

Things to come at Beamer!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hornemann's Hoary Redpolls !!!!! finally done the writing

I've finally put together the redpoll article I was writing. About time eh?

The next month could be a great time to find a Hornemann's in the south. It's designed to shed some light on the subspecies, no matter how familiar you are with them:

Let me know what you think.. I haven't really done much writing like this before!

Adult male Hornemann's Hoary (left)

female-type Hornemann's Hoary (top right)

Ad. Male "Southern" Hoary (bottom right) 

Makes me want to head north again... Boy they're nice birds!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Less than 10 records for Ontario!

I spent some time doing something I probably didn't have time to do: looking over OBRC reports from the past 30+ years - to see what sort of rarities arrive in March:

The criteria was any bird species with less than 10 records for Ontario (the really really rare birds)... So what, in the last 30 years, has been FOUND in March? The answer:


Well, that's not 100% true. One Ontario record of Ferriginous Hawk is from March 17th... But other than that.. Nothing... It's really terrible... Yes, you can find Black-headed Gulls, rare geese/ducks, maybe a Gyrfalcon, Hoary Redpolls, etc.. But there is virtually NOTHING in the super-duper rare department to be found.

A good March bird for Ontario

Then it happens! A rare bird in Ontario? No... Ohio:

Ohio's 2nd record of ROYAL TERN.. in MARCH!!! ... It seemed almost impossible, but it's true. Reported as a Caspian Tern for a few days, it was eventually nailed down (and it sounds like a lot of people got to see it as well)..

Not bad.. not bad at all, Ohio! 

Just for Ohio fun... Some samples of Royal Tern photos from my Florida trip a few years ago. All pictures taken this time of year! 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Early migrant Black Vultures

I'm sorry the Redpoll thing I was working on got delayed, hopefully in a few days I'll have it online.


We're getting back into the swing of things, with migration moving full steam ahead. One thing I've been noticing in recent years is that Black Vultures seem to migrate fairly early in the season (as vagrants) with Turkey Vultures. I saw a bird last year on Mar 19 at Beamer C.A. in Grimsby - Well before the expected peak of TUVU migration in late March / early April.

So far there has been at least 1 bird fairly far north in Ohio, and two near Lake Ontario in New York. The Great Lakes probably "block" some birds from entering the province, and nearby hawkwatches have average 4:1 on their sightings of BLVU compared to the hawkwatch in Grimsby, but it's something to note!

Flying earlier in the hawk migration than you might expect!