Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hurricane Season Forecast

Good gravy, could there be anything more exciting to birding than having Hurricane leftovers arrive in Ontario and bring a soaking of spectacular vagrants along with it? The above Black-capped Petrel was picked up by my Dad in Sept 2003, while we were birding on Lake Erie looking for waifs after Hurricane Isabel. We never saw anything alive, but finding the specimen was fun too.......... (NOW I WANT ONE ALIVE !!! &@@#&)

Anyways, my love of biridng and weather couldn't come together any better when it comes to storms, and each year I check the NOAA hurricane page every few minutes throughout August, September and October (despite updates being every 4-6 hours or so)... 

I present here, the first Ontario Hurricane Season forecast:

Before we get too excited, lets look at the history. Hurricanes that have brought "true pelagics" to Ontario from the Atlantic Ocean occured in:

1893 - two storms in October brought 2 Black-capped Petrels into Ontario

1933 - a storm just barely grazes eastern Ontario... A Band-rumped Storm Petrel is found near Ottawa. 

1955 - a storm in mid August hits perfectly. Black-capped Petrels and Wilson's Storm Petrel are found in Ontario

1996 - the famous Hurricane Fran brings numerous vagrants into Ontario including storm petrels, Black-capped petrels galore, Sooty terns, American Oystercatchers etc. 

2003 - Hurricane Isabel brings a Black-capped Petrel or two, a Sooty Tern, and a few Storm Petrels into Ontario. New York fares better with more rarities observed. 

Annnnnndddddddd that's it!!! Hurricane Hazel in 1954 should have brought birds, but who was looking? Hurricane Hugo in 1989 also looked very good, yet there are no records.. I wonder why? 


So there's the history.. In 120+ years, we've had 5 storms "bring birds"... 4 if you discount the 1933 near-miss.. Or roughly 1 storm every 30 years on average........

So guess what? It's not likely to happen, but will happen again! The above storms are all "cape verde" storms, that form off the coast of africa, and eventually hit the East coast and move into Ontario. Check out the route taken by Hurricane Fran:

Another type of storm pattern exists, and can produce fantastic rarities, but not in the same number or variety... One of the biggest in recent times was Hurricane Katrina, that brought Lesser Frigatebird, Gull-billed Tern, and Anhinga (to name a few) to Michigan waters on Lake Erie.. Check out that storms track here:

For the purpose of this post however, I'll focus on the "Carolina" hurricanes, since those are the most desirable. !!


History lesson complete, lets look at how Hurricane forecasters make their early season predictions... From what I've read, we are well into a "period of heightened activity" - meaning we are likely to have "above average" years for quite a while. This year, after last winters La nina has ended, looks pretty darn good for storm formation. 

Last years La nina seemed to push storms out over the ocean, with essentially no landfalls anywhere in the USA. We remain in a "neutral" state, which is good for storms, since the opposite (El nino) typically has conditions that are very poor for storm formation and end up being slow years. 

One popular item they take into account is "analog years" ... Forecasters look at past years that had similar weather patterns (to date) to 2011... Now this is all just stuff I've read online, but I was pretty shocked to see the "analog years" for 2011... Take a look:


Yes, you read that right, those years listed above had the most similar global weather patterns to 2011... Out of all the years they've been keeping records, the years MOST similar to this year, includes 1955 and 1996!! (the two biggest bird-storms in Ontario birding history)... What are the odds of that??

Now please keep in mind I don't really know what the heck i'm talking about with this weather stuff, but my understanding is the weakening la nina has a habit of shifting the "bermuda high" into a sweet spot in the Atlantic, which may help curve storms up the east coast and into the general area of the Carolinas. 

And if that isn't enough, the global weather patterns since that prediction has been made, did not follow 2008 at all. In 2008, we developed into a strong La nina, which dumped rain on us every freakin day for most of the summer... If you remember back, it actually rained virtually EVERY day in July... Kinda different to this year eh?

(Hurricane Isabel, 2003)

So being armed with the knowledge of how rare these storms are (25/30 years per storm)... You should understand that we can never really expect it to happen.. BUT,,, but... if there was a year to have higher hopes than others,,, this may be it... 

To bring things a bit closer to reality, here's a posting I found on an online weather forum... You'd almost think this person knew me:

by wxman57 » Fri Apr 08, 2011 10:30 am

Yes, that 1995 should read 1955 (fixed it). Analog years aren't "the law" as far as paths for 2011. They just suggest patterns that might be observed as far as development and movement. There are so many variables involved in determining where a hurricane eventually makes landfall. A small pocket of shear that develops in the mid Atlantic east of the Caribbean may delay development of a disturbance for a day. That delay in development might mean the difference in a Florida or East U.S. Coast hit or a Bermuda hit. Timing is everything. No one is safe from a possible impact because of any pattern indicated by analog years.


Here's the path for Hurricane Connie in 1955, just to finish this up:

Keep an eye on those Hurricane Paths!!! 

I know I will be! And there will be more here on the blog. 

Oh how we need a storm... Pennsylvania has inland records after Hurricane Hazel in 1954! It's very possible under the right conditions. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

this doesn't even count

as a blog posting....... But I'm gonna do it anyways. To prove that I don't live in the wilderness (with internet access), I figured I'd do a blog post to show the world that I do actually have a home.. And yes sometimes it needs to be cleaned.

Jennifer can attest to that, who has somehow managed to survive a day with me as we cleaned up our apartment. I'm sorry I'm such a pain in the backside darling.....


I'll post some limited bird news on a slow day:

Rare Herons are kickin, like always, just not here!! Michigan has been recieving HUGE numbers of Snowy/Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, White Pelicans etc etc.. Check out this awesome blog for some pictures taken less than 5km from Ontario:

At the same time, Ohio kicks our butts in the unusual shorebird dept:

Just a few Avocets and Willets in Ohio:

Try as you might... It's tough to get them in our province..........


Some random news stories:

Mountain Lion goes for a stroll:

A job I wouldn't mind having:


And keep an eye on the NOAA Hurricane page. Tropical Storm Don may be making landfall in Texas right now, but there's also the possibility of the first Cape-Verde type storm forming over the next few days..... Soon I hope to update my own Hurricane-birding season forecast!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


To end off this random useless post, some photos from the zodiac on Lake Ontario..... since i'm already mega-excited for the zodiac season to begin:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grumpy birders

Work brought Jenn and I to a few modest shorebird locations.

Ressor Pond:  very little of note, other than several Greater Yellowlegs out-numbering the Lesser Yellowlegs. This is a pretty unusual ratio for southern Ontario in July.

There were 2 Common and 1 Caspian Terns, a handful of Great Blue Herons and the same lingering Trumpeter Swan.....

The KFN property was also pretty lifeless.. We had few shorebirds ( a semi sand and some least's).... a few Herons (including an ugly/molting adult American Bittern, followed by a stunning fresh Juv. American Bittern).. . and a fairly expected group of ducks (similar to previous visits: Being Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Red-breasted Mergies etc)... Note worthy was the same summering Tundra Swan (see below) and a pair of Redhead! Which I'm guessing could be fall migrants?

Same Tundra, photo taken a few weeks ago. 

So yeah, nothing crazy on the bird front, but it was an odd visit all around. The strangest part of the day was the people:

Case A). --- In Kingston, we stopped in a local outfitters store advertising a big sale. We received the usual annoying treatment of every employee asking if they can help us with anything, but it went a step further when they downright followed us around as if we were criminals (watching our every move)... It actually went far enough that a store manager instructed another employee to "follow them" (us) up to the 2nd level of the store... After we insisted we wanted to look up there in the first place (he said actually said "you wouldn't find anything that fits you up there, you shouldn't go up"... Hey, guess what buddy... I was LOOKING... not trying on everything to see if it fits. So in the end, there was no way they were getting our business! 

Case B). --- after being chased out of the last store, we decided to grab some lunch at a local "seat yourself" veggie-friendly restaurant. We sat in a booth, a good 10ft away from the front counter, and waited a steady 10 minutes before getting up and decided we must have to place our orders at the counter, before choosing a seat??? 

So we arrived at the counter, placed our orders (to a rather spaced-out waiter/cashier... Who seemed as entertained by the menu as we were)..... He follows up the order with a curious question of  "OK, so do you know where you want to sit then?" .......... umm........ yeah buddy! Remember standing here and watching us sit 10 feet away at that booth? for 10 minutes? without menus or any idea on how to get food at this place? Try delivering it there!!!!!

-- anyways once again it's not uncommon (i guess) to run into some odd ducks while exploring commercial opreations, which makes case C all the more bothersome to me:

Case C.) --- We openly discussed the possibility of there "being something in the water" that was maybe causing our strange encounters (that, and how the frogs and garter snakes on Amherst have a surprising amount of Orange on them,, water?).... as we strolled out onto the KFN property. 

We notice we are about to be overtaken by another birder with a scope... We slow down a bit (figure we could arrive at the same time, since one usually flushes up a few bitterns etc (see above).... Yet to our total dismay, in what was possibly his best attempt at barking/being condescending - he yaps "ARE you a member of the KFN??" --- (and that may not do it justice... Picture this grumpy old man saying it while deciding there should no longer be rainbows in the world) --- to which I replied "uhh yep"... before (without a reply/smile/glance/hello/how are you) he put his head down and continued to march past us.... We actually stayed fairly close to the grump for the next 30mins as we birded along... And he really didn't acknowledge out existence again.

Thankfully he had a birding companion 100ft behind on the trail, who eventually caught up, and couldn't have been nicer. Not that we talked much, but provided the typical birder smile and wave at the very least. 


I always wonder why birders end up fighting among each other, when there are so many people out there who don't give a darn about birds. Heck, I can't even understand why birders don't team up with hunters more often (considering we'd be a much larger group in conservation of land etc)...... But for cryin out loud, you can be grumpy all you want, but please, please don't try and spread it.. Keep it to yourself!

And that ladies and gentlemen, is hopefully one of the very few rants you'll ever see on this blog. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Heading to another ocean for a while

Now, I've rambled about Netitishi Point (James Bay) on here a few times over the past 5/6 months, but now there's even more to get excited about.  I've been wondering (along with other birders) about birds "crossing" oceans in the arctic, due to melting sea ice in recent years (NW passage has been wide open each year for a few years now)...

I'd heard of some reports, and seen a few others confirmed, such as the following:

--- Tufted Puffin's in Britian and Greenland

--- Short-tailed Shearwater reports off Britain

--- Northern Gannet/Great Black-backed Gulls off Alaska.

All exciting stuff, but it really was just the beginning of some hopes and wishes. Thinking about finding a Tufted Puffin in Ontario seemed really insane, but it really could be possible if the melting ice allowed them to move. It was enough to get me up to James Bay last November and look for myself. And what happened?

Well we did find this thing:

The theories were good enough to slap this thing down as a Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater after a lot of considerations. In some ways, it's crazy to think a Short-tailed Shearwater could have been ~3000km's away from it's normal range... But not really as crazy as I first thought. 

Cue this insane news article, brought to you by my Dad:

Yes, you've read that right, a Gray Whale swam through the Northwest passage and ended up in the atlantic (actually, all the way to Israel).. Now I'd like to pull away from Israel for a moment, and focus on the route. Yes, a Gray Whale made it through. So if a Gray Whale can do it, how about birds? You know, the ones with wings?

Now I'm all excited again!

Here's an archived gif. of Ice conditions on Sep 3, 2008. One thing that's obvious is there's a lot of open water above mainland Canada, but you'll also notice that there really isn't a clear route from the Pacific into Hudson Bay. It's much easier for sea creatures/birds to get into the Atlantic (via Baffin Bay/Labrador Sea) than into Hudson/James Bay... 

But, here's the part that keeps me excited:

The snow/ice map from the same year, but on Nov 1st. Note how all that water north of Nunavut has frozen up! Any Tufted Puffin/Short-tailed Shearwater/Short-tailed Albatross that's stuck in a dead-end inlet is faced with a dramatic choice: Fly or die... And considering the N or NW winds that typically occur post-cold front, it seems likely that Hudson Bay is the first place they would head when faced with the daunting task of an over-land flight. 

Once on Hudson Bay, these mega-vagrants would hopefully continue to wander south in search of better climates, and the best place to look could very well be Netitishi Point - the prime sea-watching location in the whole area. 

So, to sum up:

Gray Whales @ Netitishi - probably not

Mega Rare pacific seabirds @ Netitishi: possibly the best place south of the arctic circle to find them!

It's so deliciously exciting, I may just have to get back there and do some more looking. 

Some extra articles on the subject:


And a fun quote on Arctic Sea 
A better candidate for the last previous opening was the period 6,000 - 8,500 years ago, when the Earth's orbital variations brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer than at present. Funder and Kjaer (2007) found extensive systems of wave generated beach ridges along the North Greenland coast that suggested the Arctic Ocean was ice-free in the summer for over 1,000 years during that period.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's like getting excited about Christmas! On November 24

My Dad and I spent a few hours this morning watching at Van Wagner's Beach. The only notable birds were:

1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st alternate, summering bird. Very large numbers are summering around the great lakes this year)
1 Black Tern
3 Green-winged Teal
2 Greater Scaup (male and female)

It was actually more than we were expecting.. And really nice to get out of the heat (20-23 degrees at the lake)...... Not much else to report, although I did see some more migrant odes near their house (wandering glider, swamp darner).....


Birding report is pretty slim, so I went looking for recent photos that I've uploaded to the main site (you know, my real website)........... And discovered it's also pretty slow. One of the only thigns recently is some Purple Martin photos:

Nothing really all that great..... slow news day 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Videos from Lake Erie

Two video highlights from my trip a few days ago:

Adult Little Gull on the beach at Port Burwell PP. These adults (with a handful of adult Bonaparte's) are on their way south already... Not too different from the many early migrant shorebirds. Click on the link a few times to view it on youtube proper (where you can make it full screen). 

Some more video fun from Hillman Marsh CA.. This adult Black-crowned Night-Heron would take a ridiculously long time to finally go for the catch, but often turned up empty handed. 

Nothing earth-shattering, but fun!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lake Erie Bir-ding ding ding

I spent the better part of 2 days birding along the Lake Erie shoreline, and for purposes of stream-lining with Ontbirds, I'll jump to the highlight!

(click for larger view)

Yes that delicious pink and white blob is an adult Cattle Egret that Ken Burrell and I found very early this morning (Jul 22) at Holiday Beach CA... A new addition to my already good "self-found" year!

The bird was viewed from the hawk tower, preening on the snag shown in the above photo for the duration of our observation... Fairly distant (as you can tell from the photo) but nice views in the scope (and morning light).

A final view of the scene


Here's a rundown of some other locations I visited:

Townsend Sewage Lagoons:

Baird's Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper

(habitat still looking decent here)

(possibly worse than the CAEG pics, the Baird's)

Port Burwell PP

Little Gull - 2 migrant adults, 1 summering 1st alt. 
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2 (1st alts)
Short-billed Dowitcher - 1
Semi-p-sand - 1 

Did you know that the furthers 1/3 of the beach at Port Burwell is private? And also appears to be a nude beach? I had no idea until yesterday.............

(1st alt Little Gull, behind similar age Bonapartes')

Port Stanley:

Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2 (1st and 2nd alts)
Ruddy Turnstone - 1 (alt adult)

Blenheim SL:

Greater Yellowlegs - 1
and yeah I can't think of anything else. There was a decent number of shorebirds in "the sprinklers" - but not much noteworthy. Didn't look for the Dickcissels


Little Gull - 1 (alt adult)

Wheatley Harb - 

1 (or 2?) 1st alt Lesser Black-backed Gulls
1 (dead) Swamp Darner

(1 of 10 Lesser Black-backed Gulls I had this day... Summering much?)

Hillman Marsh - 

2 Black-crowned Night-Herons
1 Osprey
1 Blue-winged Teal
1 Solitary Sand (only shorebird)
1 Fiery Skipper
1 Wandering Glider

Pelee Tip:

Lance-tipped Darner -1
Sanderling - 5
Lesser Black-backed Gulls - 3+ (didnt really pay attention)

Seacliffe Beach

Not much, but a good place to mention that adult Bonaparte's were observed at several locations (fall migrants!)

Holiday Beach:

previously mentioned Cattle Egret with Ken Burrell
numerous other herons, pied-billed grebes, moorhens, (too many) Mute Swans etc etc

Detroit River (near mouth):

Lesser Scaup (pair) - ???

Tilbury Sewage Lagoons:

Stilt Sandpiper - 2
Short-billed Dowitcher - 2 (very few in ON this fall... need rain to ground them (which we haven't had)
Greater Y-legs - 1

--- habitat here looks goood for herons/shorebirds... Lots of Pectorals indicate this would be a nice place for a Ruff to show up...

The biggest highlight for me at Tilbury was a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs!

(so fresh, so... early? -- Juvenile Lesser with Pectoral) 

And I think that's it! (for now)...........   videos and more photos from my adventure soon... maybe...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"My mind changed me so much I cant even trust myself " - Modest Mouse

The plan was simple - zodiac - and zodiac some more.

Problem: weather forecasts vs. reality


Well we have the zodiac primed for the 2011 pelagic season, but yesterdays weather forecast (calm) was wrong (20+kmh NE winds)... So my Dad and I decided to hit the dusty trail around my parents new home (RBG/Valley Inn/Woodland Cemetery). 

Not surprisingly, there is very little to report, but it was a fun walk. I played around with the new camera, and we saw just about everything you'd expect (Green/Black-crowned Night-Herons, Trumpeter Swans were maybe the highlights?)

(said Trump's - I know someone who hasn't seen these yet this year, but I won't name names

Maybe the most interesting thing we saw was some uncommon bugs:

Namley, this Silver-spotted Skipper in the Hendrie Valley, and a Spot-winged Glider at Woodland Cemetery

For reason's unknown, we went to Van Wagner's Beach for just over an hour, and had very little there too! (Who woulda guessed). My Dad actually spotted an adult male Red-breasted Merganser, which was a fun observation. Although the highlight might have actually been this fire:

I have more field work "on the go" for the next few days, so I'll hopefully be stopping in at some sewage lagoons etc. and have some real birding reports. 


Only a few other things of note recently. Ken Burrell and I actually spotted an odd duckling a few days ago, which I was able to document:

Orange bill points to some pretty heavy leucisim? Or is it partial albinisim? actually I'm not that worried about it. 


Ok I think that's it... I'll leave with a new Frog Photo (taken yesterday).. I'm not thrilled by it, but maybe Frog Photography will become a new hobby:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


So yeah, my new Point and Shoot also takes videos. My DSLR takes video, but I've never been that interested in figuring it out... For the P&S though, (my new "documentation camera") it's kinda fun. Hopefully soon I'll find some rarity, and have a video to share. For now, these were my first attempts:

Savannah Sparrow on Amherst Island... The bird wasn't exactly close, so it would be fun to get some "better" birds like this!

You can click on the videos (a few times?) to eventually view them on youtube proper, which allows you to view them "full screen" sized.. Hand holding the camera means some shaking... Not much I can (or am willing) to do about that. Here's a Wilson's Phalarope male

Another trial. Turn up the speakers to hear a Gray Catbird singing in the bushes in the distance. Pretty good sound quality for a distant bird. If it was a Kirtland's Warbler singing in the shrubbery, I'd have it pretty well!

One of my earliest videos, listen to me explaining to Alan Wormington that I'm "documenting rare birds"  and him proclaiming I should "do a blog posting on it".. Take that, Alan. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Can I get a seal of approval on these things or what?

This is more of a post for my own sanity, not for a legible blog posting. We're heading back to my November 2010 trip to Netitishi Point, James Bay to look at Seals...

It turns out, seal identification is unbelievably confusing. It makes me want to study Empidonax Flycatchers for a living...

Ok maybe that's a bit much, but I've finally had the chance to go through all of my seal photos, and pulled out a collection of pictures to really nail down the ID (the first set were just random, not chosen properly for field marks etc)

Without further delay, on a seal by seal basis, I give you the collections:



This was a small youngster that allowed for some great photos.. ALL of the next photos are of the SAME individual:

All of those photos are posted here in order, as I took them. Note how the fur dries out and changes colour! 

I should also note, that the next several seals (until I say otherwise) were all taken on the same day!



The day these photos were taken was VERY Nice for november. Warm, and virtually no wind. We saw LOTS of seals this day, whereas we only saw 1 or 2 a day on every other day of our visit, and not often up on rocks. 


Seal #3

One of the larger, (or largest) seals I got photos of this day. The larger animals seemed to drop into the water earlier, when it was still too deep for me to get closer for photos. 


Seal #4 

Taken the same day! This was the ONE seal that just about everyone agreed was a RINGED SEAL... As I pulled out more and more photos (for this blog post), I started to think that all of the seals I photographed this day were maybe this species, but I'll re-send this stuff to the experts one last time! (and update) 


(I almost added an extra Seal to make it Seal team 6, but never mind)


Ok, so that's all the photos taken on that fateful day. Interestingly, I took photos of this ONE seal the day before, and was really happy to get it. I made the ID of Bearded Seal at the time, and was wrong.. But I do (kinda) think it's a different species than all of the above animals (which would leave Harbour Seal? Which wasn't a "regular" species on the Ontario checklist before our visit)... But I just don't know... 

So there you have it.. I'll figure out some sort of way of updating if anything new happens. I'm going to try and get the photos to the people who commented on the limited first set!

I'll update new info here, if anything happens!