Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Go Devils

Humidity = rare butterflies

I was somewhat shocked (ok very shocked) to see a Pipevine Swallowtail in northern Lambton county today (working with Kathryn Walpole)

Then I got home and checked the butterfly group for the first time in several days, and noticed the "interesting weather" i noted a few days ago brought another wave of butterflies into the province (highlighted by mega numbers of Pipevines!)

Each of the major flights so far this year haven't just been on the hot days, its the HUMID hot days...

record from today..

Devils play soon! Lets go Devils! 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Some actually interesting weather

I'm taking a bit of a break from a busy work schedule... It's kinda fun that McDonalds all have wifi now!


Today's weather is probably some of the more interesting in the last 6 weeks. We finally have some longer-distance south winds to go along with the heat... It isn't great, but it sure is better than what we had in the peak May period...

There's a look at the SW winds coming from the southern end of the US midwest into SW Ontario... The further the winds "come from" - the better...... 

Temps of 33-35 C with humidity nearing 40 C sounds pretty interesting... Could be good for butterflies as well... But it also makes you wonder -- is anyone still looking??? I know I'm not... I'm burnt out for the spring season, and just waiting for the NHL playoffs to resume (go devils) 


After looking at the wind map I posted above, you're probably asking - what the heck is that in Florida? 

Well that is tropical storm Beryl, (yes, the second named storm of the year in the Atlantic).. Impressive, since the season doesn't officially start until June 1 (and often nothing happens until August). 

Beryl started life as a sub-tropical system, but eventually went full-out tropical before making landfall in Florida... Low wind shear allowed it to form up rather nice, but the water isn't too warm in that prat of the world, so she wasn't going to make it to hurricane strength. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Go Devils

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final goes down this Wednesday (May 30th)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Here's a comment left by Fred on a recent blog posting (about some potential "new" species for the provincial list) that were hard to ID... It was good enough that I thought it deserved its own post:


Do you mean it's never been seen in Ontario or
it's never been described to a record committee?

Because whatever I see or hear is my reality,
and I would not bother having it voted on by
people who I have seen make mistakes at Pelee.
(Not you personally).

And birds do pop their heads out the leaves at
Pelee for 10 seconds and are never seen again. 


I was going to reply in the comment section, but I thought I would do an entire post!

In direct reply - I can say that the article was based solely on the flawed process of the OBRC review. There is one thing to be said about "experts" - if you think you don't make mistakes when identifying birds, then well, you're mistaken. 

With that said, it really is the best option we have to document these things. There is nothing wrong (at all) with  taking the approach that "I bird for myself, and I don't care what other people think" --- but at the same time, it doesn't help anyone else either.  I can speak from personal experience that reading past OBRC reports (especially older copies from the 80's - before I was born) were of extreme interest to me, and allowed me to expand my knowledge of birds/birding/vagrants in Ontario far beyond what I would be able to know without them. I think this resource is more valuable (especially to the younger/starting birders) than most people give it credit for, since these records would start to fade away over time without the reports. 

There seems to be a fair bit of negativity regarding records committees at times, and I understand it completely. I (personally) think the best way for the OBRC to move forward and be more accepted is to openly admit that the process is flawed to a degree, that mistakes are made, good birds are voted down, bad records are accepted, etc and that the only way to improve it is to be comfortable with the "flawed process" idea..

In short, we should all try to have short term memory loss when something happens we don't approve of - deal with it - and move on. Deciding to "no longer submit" because person X said something you didn't like is very likely going to hinder someone down the road (who has no knowledge of your current "beef"). 


I was going to hold this off for a while, but I figure it can't hurt to do it multiple times. 

As chair of the 2012 voting year, I can say that this fall we are going to have an OBRC policy meeting! There will be a huge list of things to discuss. As a sample: 

-- What do we do with potential hybrid OBRC rarities (like plegadis ibis hybrids) 

-- the duties of the chair, the secretary, and potential duties to be added for voting members

-- deciding on if we need a policy to re-review records (accepted and rejected) by past years) 

Which all sounds great... But a MAJOR focus is going to be how to make the OBRC more friendly to the general birding population.. And no, I don't mean updating the online report form... I mean things like:

--- How do we get people contributing "again" - after giving up on the process years ago? 

--- How do we make the process of "rejecting" a record better for the person who submits it? (I can speak from personal experience that it !&%#*$& sucks to read the comments on a personal record that has been rejected). 

--- how do we make the OBRC voting process more open to the public? 
(as some examples)


Hopefully there will be a post about this in the future on Ontbirds --- but a GREAT way for the OBRC to become more user-friendly will be to hear DIRECTLY from birders in Ontario

PLEASE feel free to leave a comment, or email me directly ( to let the OBRC know exactly how you feel about the job we've been doing (negative responses may help more than positive ones!) 

All responses that I get will be printed and circulated at the policy meeting. Heck, even if you just want to rant about something that has happened in the past, please send it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


New Jersey Devils win game 5 of the eastern conference finals against the New York Rangers! Jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, the Devils decided to confuse and frustrate fans for the next 30+ minutes, allowing the Rangers to climb back and tie it at 3-3 early in the third.

With only 10 minutes left in regulation, the devils returned to form and started reminding the Rangers why they're the favoured squad. The NJD's upstart fourth line finally got the rubber back in the NYR goal thanks to a quick one-timer by Ryan Carter with 4 minutes left to play.

Captain Zach Parise put one in the empty net, allowing NJD fans to breathe once again as they take a commanding 3-2 series lead back to New Jersey for Friday night.

Go devils 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Top 10: New species for Ontario, that are hard to identify:

Just a bit of fun. Not a lot of explanation here, you'll have to do the research on your own... Thought it would be a fun time to post, given my recent fun with the "Solitary Vireo" stuff:

10. Pacific Golden Plover – Records for Newfoundland (3), Quebec, New Jersey etc. This is a really difficult species to tell from American Golden Plover. The hardest thing in finding this species in Ontario will be getting good enough looks (or documentation), to note the ID features.

9. Yellow-legged Gull – gulls are tough to ID, but easier once you learn the features. Adults are much easier for this species (from Nov-Feb only). 

Yellow-legged Gull

8. Allen’s Hummingbird –  several hummingbirds would be new for the provincial list, but this one needs an in-the-hand ID, so it makes the "hard to ID" list.

7. Red-naped Sapsucker –  I don’t really like species like this..  Split from “Yellow-belled”, would be very difficult to confirm in Ontario. A hybrid was found at Long Point (Mike Burrell (et al?)) in 2010.  

6. Hammond’s Flycatcher –  “overdue”, but these empidonax are tough to deal with! Its sister species (Dusky) was caught in a mist net for the first and only record. New york had one or two recenty

5. “Western" Flycatcher –  Two species here – if and when it shows up in the fall, it will get the “western” label since they’re virtually the same on looks alone. (Pacific slope and Cordilliean)

4. Cassin’s Vireo –  similar to the sapsuckers,  a “virtually impossible to confirm” sister species to Blue-headed. They probably aren't even a species ;) 

Cassin's Vireo proof- Pelee

3. Clark’s Grebe-  One of these rare “Western Grebes” reported in Ontario will one day be the sister-species: Clark’s Grebe. Watch for that brighter yellow bill!

2. MacGillivary’s Warbler – hard to find, adults much easier to ID than any possible fall records. Mourning Warbler’s with thin eye arcs are out there to confuse you. 

1. Glaucous-winged Gull – hybrids make this ID tough, some ages would be easier than others – but not too hard. My vote for “most overdue” species for Ontario as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Birds so close, birds so far: Part 5 (Manitoba)

A look at provincial and state bird checklists, and the species they have that we (Ontario) don't!

Past states/provinces are archived somewhere on this page:


While Manitoba is massive, with lots of great birding to be had --- it may not be a huge shocker that the population of just over 1.2 million hasn't turned up a pile of species Ontario's 13.3 million hasn't...

As it turns out, I found 6 species that we could add ourselves. They are:

Clark's Grebe
Glaucous-winged Gull
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Western Scrub-Jay
Pinyon Jay
Curve-billed Thrasher

Some of these would really be CMF's if they turned up in Ontario. Having these Manitoba records puts them on the radar, but damn - it would be nice to find one of these:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay...

Two are on my "top 10 for Ontario" list (eg,// some of our most overdue species) --- Clark's Grebe and Curve-billed Thrasher

(from wiki)

And the last one, Glaucous-winged Gull, is (in my opinion), the most freakin overdue bird for the Province. I'm always dumbfounded that we haven't managed to find and document one yet. Heck, I EXPECT to find it someday, considering my crazy obsession with gulls... So where is it!??!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Vireo info from the Vireo Guy!

Risking it all by leaving Pelee today, with no birding plans until May 22 at the earliest.... Seriously dangerous idea considering the warm weather in the forecast - but I'm not totally impressed with the winds... And besides, I plan on being intoxicated to the point that I forget I've ever looked at birds in the first place...... 


Onto the vireo!


The more I learn about these vireos, the more I like them :) So much so, that I've started a "Solitary Vireo" gallery on my picasa ID pages --- and this won't be the last bird you see added there :)

I haven't added the 2006 bird yet, but I'll get around to it eventually.... 

Got some comments from Matt Heindel, who is widely considered the go-to guy for Solitary Vireo questions, which were awesome from start to finish... I asked permission to put them on the blog, and got the green light --- so I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Hi Brandon- no bother at all.

This identification just keeps getting harder and I am not sure what subspecies your bird belongs to. Let me discuss some general topics first and then specifics to your bird and why I can't call it a vagrant.

First, this taxonomy is a mess as the powers that be split this into three species without consideration of certain taxa and we know that CAVI and BHVI interbreed in AB, which means we'll have offspring that are tweeners and impossible to correctly assign. A problem rarely discussed is alticola, the Appalachian race, which has much less color than solitarius, and matches your bird fairly well, but I have no clue as to the extralimital records of that taxon. Now, even though I disagree with the AOU did, we have to deal with what we have, which means putting this into one of the slots. The adult males are more slaty, lacking the intensity of blue and green, with diminished yellow; and females and ims are more gray, lacking blue tones, not as green, and with reduced yellow.

A poorly understood tidbit in this complex is the variation in plumage from adult males at the bold end, to im females at the other. This difference is at its maximum in spring, when SY birds are faded. So, some of the items you point out, while good for CAVI, are also indicative of an SY bird. Wing bars are worn, yellow is diminished, etc. So, when comparing it with any adult BHVI (incl female), the adult will look bold and beautiful.

To your bird:
I can see why it got your attention, as it is dull and relatively colorless. No blue tones, no bright green, and little yellow. All features consistent with CAVI. The tough part is determining if it is "extreme" enough to eliminate duller solitarius or alticola, and I can't get there. The lack of head-back contrast is reduced as the age-sex continuum goes to im female, and the same can be said for depth of blue and green, extent of yellow, etc. Wing bars on the bold end are thick and yellow, but on a worn bird, they can be thin and whitish.
You correctly point to the contrast at the malar, but this is a bit of a tweener. While the contrast is marginal at the lower rear border, it is fairly good half way towards the bill and I note how this feature looks better and worse in different photos. The center of throat is snowy white and this runs down towards the bottom of the throat and CAVI AVERAGES more dingy here.

To challenge myself, I approach each potential vagrant claim by reversing the situation, which in this case means, if this were reported from CA as a BHVI, would I accept it? I don't think so. It is on the dull end, and a decent part of the malar has good contrast, snowy throat, etc, but given the interbreeding and mixed offspring, I would feel better saving vagrant BHVI for ones that fit more comfortably in the BHVI bell curve. Your bird fits in the middle of the Solitary Vireo bell curve, meaning it is in between the two bell curves. But, it also could be alticola (SY female probably) and I suspect no one can tell you the likelihood that taxon getting to your area.

So, not only do I wish I could give you what you are looking for, I wish I could more confidently put a name on it. I live in TX, so see plenty of BHVI and if I saw this I would spend a lot of time on it, but I would likely leave it as uncertain, and lean BHVI. Hope that helps, although I suspect it might just muddy things up!
Best regards, matt

Matt Heindel
Fair Oaks Ranch, TX

Got a second comment from him a few days later: 

Sure, feel free to use anything, and you might want to clip this in there, too. 

I checked two resources regarding alticola: Peterjohn does not mention it in his Ohio book. Phillips, in his Known Birds book, has some interesting comments about how some breeding BHVI in New York and PA, look like alticola, although that ssp is not known to breed north or east of West Virginia. at any rate, I still don't know the likelihood of an extralimital record of alticola in ONT, but it does deserve consideration. Their back is typically suffused with gray, so lacks contrast and is generally less colorful. Oh joy- as if solitarius from cassinii was not complicated enough! mh

Matt Heindel
Fair Oaks Ranch, TX

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pelee May 14/15

Boy, sure doesn't seem like May 14/15.........

A bit of a late night post, but I felt like throwing something up...

Highlights from May 14:   Lesser Black-backed Gull, Little Gull (both tip). - Rough-legged Hawk (VC lot)... Clay-coloured Sparrow

May 15: Juniper Hairstreak, a different Rough-legged Hawk (VC lot), Lesser Black-backed Gull (wheatley), and some real photography of Swallows (Bank + a Purple Martin) that I was excited about

And that's all she wrote!


A fun photo of Peter Burke getting some shots of the Juniper... I've always been very fond of Hairstreaks (all species) - partially because they're superb subjects for photos! 


As of 10:30pm --- the migration on radar looks better than it has for DAYS and DAYS... And the forecast for tomorrow (16th) looks damn fun... I have very high hopes of some good passerine birding in the morning, followed by an afternoon of vagrant hawkwatching.......  We're overdue...... 

Monday, May 14, 2012

please, send birds...

Pelee has been slow. There, I said it... It's been slow enough that we quickly run out of birding ideas by mid day.... It's been slow enough that I've tried to convince the blond girl at the front desk to go out together and look for butterflies (to decidedly lackluster results)... Heck, it's slow enough that I'm studying the "Solitary Vireo" Complex........... !


I've actually gone through 1500 photos labeled "Blue-headed Vireo" on flickr... I figure that there must be enough people out there with digital cameras to document a wide range of plumages and variations to see if a pattern of these truly pale individuals in the east exists...

Despite what you may think, I'm trying to be really un-biased, but there is very very little in the way of abnormally pale BHVI's to be found on there... Here are the highlights:

THEEE Highlight bird from Ohio: (May 28th!!) --- limited tertial edging/wing bars, but still fairly colourful - not unlike the bird we had at Pelee in May 2006

Texas: worn-ish bird, but has lots of colour:

Then there's a fun one:

Blue-headed Vireo in California? Looks like it may be a Cassin's (and a lot more like our recent bird):


Honestly, in 1500 photos... there's VERY little in the way of abnormally pale birds....  The above photos were the most dramatic by far...

I did some more Cassins' photo searching as well.. Some of these may be the same as yesterdays links, but I'm too tired to compare:

It seems like a lot of them have these really ugly wing bars.. I wonder why? :

A lot of them also have the healthy wingbar/tertial marks -

umm - blue-headed?


There's only a few minutes left in the hockey game, and my devils are losing, so maybe that's enough for one night! Migration currently looks poor on radar as well.. What can you do?


11pm edit: my devils lost :(

Here's some Plumbeous Vireo pics from flickr:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Oops - Solitary Vireo's strike back

Point Pelee, May 13, 2012 --- A "Solitary" Vireo that my Dad (Eric Holden) and I had just a ways north of the Sparrow Field near the tip of Point Pelee.

Here's the pics: (everything I got of the beast)

Not a lot of throat contrast in my opinion... 

Hard to see, but in most of these photos you can see how weak the upper wingbar is.. 

Very limited yellow colouration on the underside

I really wish this one was in focus... 

Very poor contrast between the head and the back

The bird was first seen in a Red Cedar/Juniper and was responding to some light pishing by an unknown observer (actually not me!)...  I heard them say they had a Blue-headed Vireo, when I was pretty surprised to look at the bird and see a very un-contrasting back with VERY LIMITED white/pale edging to the tertials... The bird shuffled a bit, and I was able to see that it also had very thin wing bars...

After an experience with this bird at Point Pelee in 2006 (found by Dan Salisbury):

I was more prepared than one might expect to try and ID a bird like this. I knew that the overall paleness and limited contrast, combined with the thin wing bars and limited white edging on the tertials was a dangerous combination to not see on a "Solitary Vireo"... 

Right away I went for my camera, and was able to get the photos you see above --- when the bird made a serious flight overhead and far/deep into the woods on the east side of the road --- and we didn't see the bird again. (We took a break, then returned just over an hour later and still didn't see it) --- Although Barb Charlton and David Bell were able to get some views of the bird in roughly the same area during our lapse in searching. 


And for some added fun, here's three photos of a Blue-headed Vireo taken at virtually the same place, just over two hours later.. 

The fun part, is they have the EXACT same post-processing done as the above images, with the same camera, contrast, saturation etc. etc. etc.


Will post any updates/edits below, this line... But for now (8:30pm) I'll publish what I've finished above!



Some Cassin's Vireo photos I've found interesting: - a bird with the "fresh" wing bars, but similar reduced colour below... -- more colour that todays bird? -- taken in May, like todays bird - with the worn/ugly tiny wing bars... -- june with similar colour/wing bars..'s-vireo/slides/Cassins-Vireo-30.html -- I guess they can look just like Blue-headed Vireos too??? 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dip on the first lep twitch

Tried to do my first Butterfly twitch today, and failed. Was at the visitors centre when I was shown a photo of a Sleepy Orange from NW beach... We zipped over, but missed...... I still want that species! (It's the principle of the thing now)

Butterfly highlight of the day was two Spicebush Swallowtails + 1 Giant feeding together on the east beach... Here's a pic:

Also had a Black Swallowtail inside the park today.. Not something I see all the time in there..... Not sure if there is much else.... 

Actually come to think of it, it was probably one of  the slowest days inside the park (or pelee island) so far this "spring migration" period...... 


Hopefully some birds take off tonight and get hit by some rain... Would really spice things up a bit... 

Looking at the long range, there is (currently) a major heat wave/spike in the forecast for next weekend (26+ degrees for Saturday) but we'll wait a few more days to see how it's actually going to pan out... 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pelee May 11

May 11th! Where have all the days gone....

Over the last two days, I've been working on exploring the park via rollerblades.. It's actually pretty fun (coined Rollerbirding by my Dad).

Blading to the tip this morning resulted in my first Louisiana Waterthrush in at least two years. It sang a few times from a thicket on the west side, and was never seen or heard again. Not the best, but I'll take it.

Butterfly highlight yesterday was my FOY Spicebush Swallowtail. Today was my FOY "Black Form Female" Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

"Black" Tiger from today..... 

"Typical" Tiger from yesterday

I took a patented nap this afternoon, so hopefully I'll be fresh and ready for tomorrow (Saturday). It's not exactly barn-burning weather, but it's probably the best rarity weather we've had for 2 weeks - so I'm sure  a few things will be found..... 

In the evening I watched the pelee marsh with my parents to little fan fare..... Hopefully the winds tomorrow bring a new wave of leps too.. I'd still very much like to get one of those sleepy orange critters.....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The fizzle of May 2012

"Nobody calls me a fizzle and gets away with it! Except that one guy who called me a fizzle and then ran off. He got away with it. But most people who call me a fizzle don't get away with it. Well, actually, that guy who got away with it was the only one who ever called me a fizzle. After today... only half the people who ever called me a fizzle will have gotten away with it. "

~ - Peter Griffin


But seriously- May so far has been a major fizzle in terms of rarity weather (stagnant weather patterns) - and the lack of CMF's in May proves it... But hey, the next CMF is right around the corner this time of year...

I still don't see anything major happening in the long range, but it looks good enough from the weekend onwards considering the time of year... 


I'm sure you can tell from my blog, and everyone else who is working the "pelee" area that you can get pretty tired doing this sort of birding.... And it's amazing...... But things like a blog are forgotten.... 

Back to the point!!!

-- May 9 had highlights (for me) of a Melanistic Swallow at Hillman Marsh, and a 1st ba/alt Herring X Great Black-backed Gull at wheatley harb...

--- May 10 was a fun day - spent almost the entire day on roller blades in the VC Parking lot (and the road to the tip). I looove me some spring hawkwatching... And I did just that.. Too bad it was pretty slow. There was some large groups of martins (and swallows) in the evening, and I worked them pretty good - but had very little to show for it...  (typical hawks - BW's, RT's, NH etc --- 2 Bald Eagles locked talons and fell - which was super cool) 

Highlights was probably the same melanistic swallow (crazy eh?) and a Martin with a really white belly:

Same bird, 2 pics..... 

I know nothing about rare martins, so if someone wants to convince me this isn't a Purple, I'll listen....... 


The photography has been pretty damn good this year, considering how much it feels like it sucks....

Today was this GH Owl pic from outside the park in the morning....... I have NO photos of adult GHOW's (until today) so it was a major bonus!!!!!


sleep time 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nature Photography 104: Part 12: spring warblers

To make a very long story short, I keep finding myself annoyed with nature photography. I was very worked up a few days ago, when I became quite confident that the winner of a fairly large photo contest must have edited/doctored the photo... I then look at said persons website, and found some very blatant editing along with large amounts of shameless self-promotion as a truly expert photographer. 

This really wasn't anything new, but I learned something from it: People can do whatever the heck they want, and I shouldn't care about it. If it bothers me, I can just focus on how I conduct myself and my photography! And with that said, I had the idea to reveal some of the work done on my own photos on my personal website. 

Are you ready for a look at everything you may or may not already know about nature photography? I'll post the website version first, followed by the totally un-edited original.


In the spirit of spring warblers, I decided to pull a whole species page for a look:

Bit of a funny story here.. I was photographing warblers on a very busy day in September a few years ago at Point Pelee... I was using flash, and the above image was one of a few that didn't fire properly... Interestingly enough, my use of flash wasn't 100% correct at the time, and the image without flash actually looked better. True story... 

When I first put this photo online years ago, I removed the stick in the top right.. Why? Possibly because I was brainwashed by online photography forums, but now I'm much happier leaving it in.. Although you'll also notice that I removed a bit of a white blob from the right (middle) edge of the image... Ah-well

All natural image from Point Pelee in May... Just walking down the road from the tip, doing some spishing and taking photos.. I cropped this one a tiny bit closer than the full frame version, which I probably wouldn't do these days, but that's juts a sign of how my preferences have changed (ha) 

This is an old one (migrant from Pelee in May), back from the days where I really had fun changing stuff and cloning out sticks.. I've always enjoyed the end result of the web version, but today I'm not happy seeing how much work had to be done to get there...... 

Funny story about this one too.. I once posted it on an online forum where the weekly "Motif" was "cropping your photo in a unique way"... and the first comment I got was "Why is it cropped in such a strange way?"... Thankfully someone else responded before I had to...

Looking back to the original series here (Part 3) I talked about some questionable practices...  If you take a look (focusing on Parula images), you'll notice the bottom image is darn similar to this one.. In fact, it was taken the same day... And actually on the same branch...

All I did was switch the song on my iPod to Black-and-White Warbler...

There is no denying that these "set up" situations provide results... And often results that "pay" (a cleaner image seems better for ads in my experience), but man I often find them pretty boring... They lack that "birding excitement" you get when getting migrants, and when the shot eventually falls into place, I typically get the "FINALLY" feeling, instead of the excited feeling..

But regardless, I just thought I'd show off some images of this species today! More in the future... (maybe a few more Warblers).