Friday, August 31, 2012

Raven in Hagersville??

Just north of Hagersville, this Common Raven! I tried to use the photos to eliminate Chihuahuan Raven, and I couldn't...... So yeah... It's a Common Raven, but I was disappointed in that aspect... 

According to ebird, this bird (or more) have been in this area for several months!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Isaac + Blog Milestones

You know what rare birds Isaac is going to bring to Ontario?


The storm never formed properly, and is barely moving... We typically need a MAJOR hurricane to bring birds WITH it... And then it usually helps to have them moving quickly.. Isaac is like an old poodle...

What will Isaac do?

Isaac will be a lovely little low pressure system that passes near southern Ontario - which is always fun for birding and rarities. I hope you enjoy it :)

Isaac will also try and BUST the drought in many places below us, that are probably responsible for providing some recent rarities like Frigs and Pelicans... Ah-well..


The blog passed a few milestones in August, and I just wanted to say thanks for reading along... I was originally happy with the traffic it generated for my website, but I soon decided that it was just plain fun...

Since I started this new blog format in late September, 2010 (after my website was hacked and taken down)... The milestones:

Broke 100,000 page views!

Broke 500 comments (now over 560) -- sure, a bunch are my own, but 500 is a nice number!

and finally, 500 posts! (This post is post #500) !


Just for fun, here's a random stat: The top 10 countries that visit the blog (all time):


Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Can you say, Mega?

I'm going to bask in the mega-y goodness and just post some of my favourite pics from the bird today... If you want information of the sighting (at Presqu'ile Park in Ontario) -- check out the blog roll on the right side (Josh, Ken, Mike's blogs) or ontbirds....

I put these online large, so please feel free to take them for the background on your computer etc ;)

dats a thick bill... 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pelee Island Report

I arrived at Pelee Island late on Thursday (23rd) and left Saturday night late (8pm)... I WAS going to stay for Sunday, but it was stinkin hot and I didn't feel like sleeping in my car for a 3rd night in a row...

Birds: not much in the way of rarities.... I had some mixed pockets of warblers, without really looking for them, so that was nice.... Common Nighthawks each evening, and two Olive-sided Flycatchers

Dragonflies: very very little...... No Red Saddlebags, a handful of Carolina's, few gliders... Not much of anything really.....

Butterflies: --- species list, with some guesses at my 2 day totals...

Silver-spotted Skipper - ~7/8
Common Checkered Skipper - ~75 ?? -- LOTS, especially near the ferry dock
Least Skipper - ~15
Fiery Skipper - ~200/250??? INSANE numbers...
Sachem - ~40/50? -- one field in particular had very impressive numbers...
Dun Skipper - 1
Black Swallowtail - ~50?
Giant Swallowtail - ~25
E. Tiger Swallowtail - 3
Cabbage White - X
Clouded Sulphur - X
Orange Sulphur - X
Little Yellow - 1  (near Sheridan's Pt)
Dainty Sulphur - 1 (big NCC lot near Lighthouse Pt)
White-M Hairstreak -1 alive, 1 dead....
Grey Hairstreak - ~20
Eastern-tailed Blue - X
American Snout - ~15
Crescent - X
Question Mark - ~7/8
Eastern Comma - 3
Red Admiral ~5/6
Common Buckeye - 200??
American Lady - 1 (I stopped looking closely after I found one on the first day)
Painted Lady - lots
Viceroy - ~12
Red-spotted Purple ~8
Hackberry Emperor - ~30?
Monarch - a bunch...

White-M Hairstreak!! On my finger! This was a life butterfly for me and my 100th Butterfly species for Ontario!

So yeah! It was pretty fun, and crazy seeing the huge numbers of skippers everywhere... I can only assume I under-estimated some of the little guys.. I actually have a photo with 8 Firey Skippers on the same patch of clover... But yeah, I'll stretch this out into multiple days of blog material ;) 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Review Time! -- Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America

Disclaimer! Princeton Publishing provided a copy for review!

What do I have to say about this book? Answer:  Boom goes the Dynamite 

Book review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America

The Skinny: 

Price Listed on the Book: $45
Author: Steve Howell
Pages: 520
Size: 7x10
975 photographs!!!

What is it? It's one of those sweet (oh so sweet) reference books where you can take off the goofy cover jacket and the cover itself is just hard fabric... Some of my absolute favourite bird books are reference books like this, and I could tell I was going to like it right off the bat

So you pretty much know what it's about (seabirds of North America - every species)... and if you don't want to read any further: my overall opinion is that this book is awesome. If you're going to look at seabirds in North America (as vagrants, post hurricanes, from a fishing boat, or organized pelagic --- on either ocean) --- this is the book you buy and excitedly study as you wait 3-4 months for the trip to actually happen. It has superb photos and all the info you need. Get it!


The book is set up like many other reference works...  A cover photo at the start, important text (description, similar species etc etc), range map etc... followed by a spectacular array of photos... There are general clumps of species put together depending on what ocean you're observing (eg,/ the pacific petrels and Atlantic petrels are generally grouped together) - which makes reading/studying easier... 

I was extremely impressed with the (implied) importance --- when dealing with "vagrants "to north america - to use ACTUAL photos of these vagrants that were seen in North American waters... A big peeve of mine with photographic bird books is when they show a vagrant** that isn't a good representative of  how they would be seen here... And not only that, but it is a lot of fun to look at "rarity photos" to begin with.. And see almost exactly what the observers saw in real life!

The author also does a fantastic job in dealing with future splits... I won't dive into too much detail here, but seabird taxonomy always seems to be changing -- and jumping the gun a bit --- to keep the book relavant in the future, was done extremely well... 

So what didn't I like???

Well with pretty much every "North American" bird book, it just feels like it's written about the USA only... Maybe I'm just jaded by now, but it feels that way to me...

I was very excited to study the range maps for Atlantic seabirds, given my interest in Netitishi Point on James Bay... Just how far north did they map Great Shearwater? How about Manx? The closer they travel, the better odds we have at Netitishi, right?

Well the "atlantic" maps just barely reach St. Johns, and don't show anything higher... Now sure, I'm probably one of a handful of people who actually care (and I know real information is limited anyways) -- but it was a bit of a let-down to see that nothing was illustrated.. 

And while I was happy to see that "Northern Fulmar" has been recorded from James Bay in the text, there was a seemingly modest discussion of the "atlantic" fulmar in general, with less photos that I would have liked..  But I guess that's the way it goes!

For ~$45 the book is absolutely a steal. 975 photos!!! 

Who should buy itanyone who wants to learn about seabirds... Heck, maybe if more people had this book, our Yellow-nosed Albatross in Kingston would have been seen by more observers (ha)... But seriously, its a great book to have around home... Great to study before going on a planned pelagic, a required book if we ever get another Hurricane ---- and hey, you'll kick yourself if you ever find a seabird as a vagrant, and you can't use it as a reference...

Who shouldn't: buy itumm, birders who can't afford to spend $45? Birders are known to generate superb book collections, and this one is a gem... Heck, Ontario has enough water to justify it... Maybe if you life in North Dakota, and never plan on seeing salt water - you could skip it... But even still, its fun to just look at the photos....

Remember this Manx from Van Wagners in 2006? 


**  something like a Red-necked Stint in "breeding plumage" --- when its actually a bird photographed somewhere in asia in April (and only 30-40% in breeding plumage).... Since these birds look NOTHING like the worn adult vagrants seen in N.A. in JULY (and are useless)... 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I finally got a Sachem - in my parents yard in Burlington! What a yard species eh?  (from August 23rd, a bit delayed here)

Also had a worn Spicebush Swallowtial, which was also awesome to see (should start a yard list)...


If all is going to plan, I'm still on Pelee Island (23rd late to 26th) seeing rare leps and odes galore! Will post the highlights when I'm home...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scopes: straight or angled?

I've been putting this off for far too long... What style of scope is better, straight or angled??? I happen to use both regularly, and decided the time was ripe to deliver some sort of analysis on this hotly debated topic in the birding world...

To start things off, I should let everyone know which scopes I'm using --- The Vortex Razor

It's pretty much THEE best scope for your $$, and I know of a large group of Ontario birders who have seen the light and switched to Vortex ... but that's not the goal here.. I'm working on picking which version is better!

 Lets start with the:

 STRAIGHT: when do I use it?

I use it when time is a factor... Generally birds in flight, but ESPECIALLY when I'm hawkwatching... Or using a scope in the woods (sometimes for passerines) - or generally anything that is flying IN THE SKY...

ANGLED: when do I use it?

When I'm birding in a group!!! It is considerably easier to get an entire group to look through a scope when you're using an angled eye piece....  Also when I'm birding INSIDE my car.. For some reason, I just can't do it with the straight, but the angled works perfectly on my window ledge...

Finally - I use it when stability is a factor... Often at Van Wagner's Beach or the Niagara River in big time winds, I enjoy keeping the angled eyepiece lower (for a taller person like myself) which I find really helps keep the image stable....

When does it not really matter???

Well to be honest, most of the time... Most of the birding done with a scope is pretty simple... (Eg,/ a flock of shorebirds at a sewage lagoon.. Or a flock of ducks on a Lake)... No matter what scope you use, you will generally get the job done... My personal prognosis is this: I CAN NOT find flying birds with the angled eyepiece very easily, even with LOTS of practice... I NEEEEED a straight angle for this... Yet 75% of the birding I do is more COMFORTABLE with the angled.... You'll pretty much just have to pick one and stick with it!!!

So which do you prefer and why??? 


Just for fun, here's a list of situations where I GREATLY prefer one over the other...


--- If I'm with a group of people, I ALWAYS have my angled... Its 968% easier to get everyone to look down into the angled...

--- In winds 40kmh or stronger: (lakewatches, niagara river) - I notice a huge difference in stability due to my height (6'2"), by keeping it lower on the tripod...


--- birds flying against the sky or close to me!!! --- I can find flying birds MUCH faster with the straight... At Van Wagners, looking for dots on the horizion, you have lots of time and the angled is fine... If a shorebird races down the beach right past me, I may not find it in time with the angled....

--- at NETITISHI POINT, I bring the straight... This is a funny one, but when I'm hiding behind "the fort" in sub-zero temperatures and strong winds, my head doesn't have to stick above "the protection" to see into the straight eye piece, keeping me warmer! (An odd example, I know)...

Let me know what you think/like and why!! And give Vortex a look! They're my favourite otpics company by far, and you will not be dissapointed with their birding gear (and incredible warranty)... If you have any questions about Vortex, or the scope above (The razor, which I use), leave a comment or send me an email! :

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Birds so close, birds so far: Part 6 (Wisconsin)

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: 


Nothing like comparing our checklist to someone else on the Great Lakes... Gives us an idea of what we're missing, or just HOW CRAZY some possibilities are... Turns out, Wisconsin has 12 species on their "official checklist" that Ontario doesn't....

White-tailed Kite
Harris Hawk
Glaucous-winged Gull
Black Turnstone
Masked Duck
Green-breasted Mango
Gray Vireo
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Macgillivray's Warbler
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Streak-backed Oriole

Not a bad list! Let's break it down.

Category 1: species we aren't going to get in Ontario due to "other" factors:

Harris Hawk

It's not happening, due to captive concerns... Their record was trapped and banded on Oct 25, 1994 -- and I guess they were happy with it. Great time of year for a vagrant, and not impossible either... But I see it being pretty tough for Ontario...

Category 2: COSMIC INSANE RARE ... when I read their checklist and say "WHAT!?"

Black Turnstone   (May 22, 1971)
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Rufous-crowned Sparrow  (Nov 25-26, 2000)
Streak-backed Oriole (early Jan for 2 weeks, 1998 - died) 

We've got dozens and dozens of species that would be waay more likely (as a new bird for Ontario) than those megas... Nicely done Wisc.... 

Category 3: CMF ... below category 2, but still nutty... 

Masked Duck  (1870)
Green-breasted Mango
Gray Vireo (Oct 3, 64)
At the very least, there is some realistic hope we will someday be graced by one of these beauties in Ontario...

Category 4: Overdue New... sure, these birds are super-rare in the fact that Ontario has never seen one... But we want one, and expect one (or more)..... 

White-tailed Kite (4 WI records)
Glaucous-winged Gull (6!!! Records.. 96, 97 (2), 05, 06, 09... we're due) 
Curve-billed Thrasher (2 overwintering records)
Macgillivray's Warbler (1 banded on May 10, 2000)

Those 4 species are easily some of the more "overdue" birds for Ontario!!!

Any predictions on the next new Ontario bird? We're "overdue" for that too! (fall 2010 was the last?)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Random stuff that's up

Got the zodiac ready for fall Jaeger season on Aug 19th! Out on the lake for a few hours, but wasn't really birding...

Then on Aug 20th the first jaeger sp's of the season were seen by Rob Dobos et al..... Current forecast is for DAYS and DAYS of high pressure, which means each afternoon the lake will create its own east winds.... I remember waay back to 2006 when we had a pattern like this for 10+ days through the end of August, which ended with the Manx Shearwater on Aug 31st........... 


Parents yard continues to show some fun species.... REALLY makes me wish I had my own place.... Hopefully not much longer,,, I hope......

Somatochlora emerald sp. on Aug 18

Bobolinks (3 flocks) on Aug 19th

daily nighthawks

Fiery Skippers on 5 of 6 days (where's my Sachem?)

And a Red-breasted Nuthatch that looked migratory...


When is our hurricane going to hit??

This is the classic time of year for activity to peak... Keep an eye on Jeff Master's blog (or Levi's: --- which is FANTASTIC) for speculative and informative information... But don't worry, if anything starts coming in our direction, I'm POSITIVE you'll hear about it here :)


Sea Ice? A huge storm in the Arctic took a massive chunk out of the sea ice recently (north of Alaska)...


And I mean HUGE! (Aug 19th image) 


My personal ponderings over "OBRC-level" rarities seems to show that the last 7-10 days of August have turned up a very healthy collection of rarities over the years... Here's a history of mega's in Ontario:

Aug 20 - Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

21- Spotted Redshank

23 - Long-billed Curlew, Black-headed Grosbeak

24 - Prairie Falcon, Eurasian Tree Sparrow

26 - Manx Shearwater

27 - Western Wood Pewee

29 - Black-throated Sparrow, Virginia's Warbler, Great-tailed/Boat-tailed Grackle

31 - Manx Shearwater

Not a bad run... Compare that to Sept 1st - 6th, which only has Fork-tailed Flycatcher (3rd) on my "mega's list"....  Or Sept 13-21st which has a Green-tailed Towhee from Thunder Cape (19th)... 

So it could mean two things... 

1.) the typical "dog days of summer" of light winds, no rain, and high pressure allows vagrants to make long-distance flights (to Ontario) with relative ease... 


2.) -- nothing... doesn't mean anything at all.... 

It's probably #2, but you know me.. I enjoy crazy theories...

Monday, August 20, 2012

More on the 2012 big year stuff

Yeah I was bored.....

Went through the OBRC reports from 2004 to 2011 and wanted to see what type of "Code 4 + " rarities turned up each year after August 20th-ish.....

Note: these are the "twichable / gettable" birds for each year.. .Not every occurrence... (Eg,/ a bird banded at the tip of long point is not get-able"

Also note, I'm only using species Josh still needs for his big year...

final note: I'm not counting either "plegadis" ibis species... just cause...


Northern Gannet
Rufous Hummingbird
Black-throated gray Warb
Black-necked Stilt
Fork-tailed Flycatcher (long-staying in Thunder Bay - worth the drive!)


Northern Gannet
Rufous Hummingbird
Swainson's Hawk



Manx Shearwater
Tricoloured Heron
Swainson's Hawk
Slaty-backed Gull


Eurasian Collared Dove
Rufous Hummingbird
Northern Wheatear
Townsend's Solitaire (note, the only OBRC records are from the south...North not included here)
Black-throated Gray Warb
Northern Gannet


Northern Gannet
Slaty-backed Gull
Fork-tailed Flycatcher (was the bird at Pelee twitchable the day of? Or was it too late in teh day? I don't remember)...
Townesend Solitaire
Black-throated Gray Warb


Rufous Hummingbird (? maybe)
Black-tailed Gull (?) - this was a very easy bird to miss, so unlikely)
Barn Owl (?) -another poorly known bird at the time
Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Gray Warb


Anna's Hummingbird (no one really saw it, but maybe in a "big year" setting like this, word would get to him sooner?)
Rufous Hummingbird (possible)
Golden-crowned Sparrow (another poorly reported bird)
Painted Bunting


Common Eider
Purple Gallinule
Slaty-backed Gull
Smew (although he doesn't need this, it was too rare to ignore for 2011)

Two of the more recent "regular" code 4 birds for Ontario...... 

So it looks like you could reasonably hope to twitch 4 "code 4 and above" level rarities in the fall, unless everything goes to heck... 

Which is sort of what I predicted he still needs...

So in short, finding 1-3+ "rarities" aside from twitching, which is doo-able in a decent fall, with lots of spare time, should still keep the record very much in reach (still banking on 340!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Since I'm hurtin for blog material.....

Why not do an update on Josh Vandermulen's big year? I'm sure there aren't many who read my blog, who aren't following Josh's --- so I'll keep this simple and update my own predictions from back on July 8th...

42 days have passed (6 weeks) ;) ... since I made that breakdown.. So what has happened?

---- He's currently sitting at 326 ---- 

Code 1:

No more birds left!

Code 2:

Purple Sandpiper
Parasitic Jaeger

--- both easily done I should say.... (328)

Code 3: 

I personally broke code 3 into two parts... Part 1 was the "locks" 

Red Phalarope
Long-tailed Jaeger
Black-legged Kittiwake
Sabines Gull 

--- and over the past 42 days he hasn't added any of these! Although Jaeger seasons is days away (two years ago I had 2 Long-tailed and a Parasitic at VWB on Aug 23) 

Hey Josh - want to go out on the lake in my zodiac sometime? 

Then there is (my personal opinion) of the "tough" code 3 birds:

Pacific Loon
Glossy Ibis
Black Guillemot ----- CHECK! 
Western Kingbird
Cave Swallow

I predicted he would get 3 of these species, and thankfully he nailed Black Guillemot at James Bay recently ---hopefully making me not seem too dumb with these predictions ---  ;)  only two more needed!

If my "code 3 predictions" come true, he will be at 335!!!

To seal the deal, I then predicted he would have needed 5 code "4" birds to get 339 (new record)... I pulled out a list of species that I thought would be "very get-able" 

More gett-able:

Northern Gannet
Swainson's Hawk
Townsend's Solitaire
Little Blue Heron --- CHECK! 

Harder, but doo-able:

White-faced Ibis
Eurasian Collared Dove
Northern Wheatear
Northern Fulmar
Rufous Hummingbird

Again, he did me some justice in getting Little Blue Heron in late July,  meaning only 4 remain to get that record...

(these things were dirt birds in 2007)

SO how do things look ??? I'd say pretty damn sweet --- considering there is always a very strong possibility of something REALLY rare (not predictable like the above birds)..... 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

you can't make this stuff up......

Nothing like a little opposition while you're out working.. 

But not 2 minutes later, I find this: 

Dead on the side of the road...... YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS UP! Two minutes later!!! 


And to top it all off, I got passed by the SAME red car, 3 times, on two different roads (close to 20km apart)... That seems really strange in itself, but the licence plate put it over the top of weirdness.... 

I promptly went home and hid under my bed..... 

Friday, August 17, 2012

yard related things!

With word of Sachem's running rampant throughout southern Ontario (very rare butterfly), I've been keeping an eye on my parents flowers in Burlington... No Sachem's yet, but I was still pretty happy to find a Firey Skipper three days ago!! (Photo below): 


Female Fiery Skipper in my parents front yard!

The next day was another female Fiery Skipper... Based on the wear on the wings (this individual was in better shape) I could tell that it was a new individual... The funny thing was, it was being constantly harassed by a male Peck's Skipper, who never left her side... Pic below: 

Female Fiery being harassed by her Peck's Skipper follower...

I spent a prolonged afternoon/evening cleaning my car, and as dusk arrived, I was suprised to see a large Darner arrive and start patrolling the driveway... I actually had my net nearby (was in the car, prior to cleaning), so I grabbed it and got lucky by snagging this Shadow Darner (pic below): 

Male Shadow Darner from my parents paved driveway.. Their yard isn't all that big, considering the goodies its turning up! 

My parents soon returned from the RBG property nearby where they went for the evenings entertainment (music),,, and told me that they had ~9 Common Nighthawks take off in the evening and migrate past... This was the FOY for the area, and its pretty sweet ! Although since they've moved here, you can pretty much see CONI every evening from Mid August to Mid-late September.... 

As it started to get dark, we picked up a new "yard bird" in the form of a calling Solitary Sandpiper as it flew overhead - calling - gaining height to begin its night migration.. Probably came up from the Hendrie Valley  - and a good "addition" to their yard list - given the suburban setting... 

Kind of makes me wish I had a gawd darn monkey flying place of my own to live!!! Hopefully soon............. 


On a semi-related note, my Dad and I swung by the Urquhart butterfly garden in Dundas on the 15th... Hoping to get a glimpse of a Sachem (as they'd been reported here recently) --- but turned up empty... I guess I'm actually going to have to get to SW Ontario (as I had planned all summer, and haven't done) to see some of these new rarities that are turning up..... 

What we did see at the garden was this Crossline Skipper (pic) --- seemed kind of late for August 15th to me, but what do I know? 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nature Photography 104: Part 14: Winter Raptor pics from, well, last winter...

To make a very long story short, I keep finding myself annoyed with nature photography. I was very worked up a few days (now months) 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.


This one is little more than my personal curiosity... I felt like my editing has been slowly changing (well it has) since I started photography... But more recently it seems like I'm doing less and less when it comes to changing the colour and contrast (among other editing options).. And figured the best way to do that would be to do an NP104 on some "recent" images... I happened to have the un-edited originals from some winter raptor pics handy, and it was just easy to use them!

A "drive-by" shooting of a SEOW, I had to rotate the image a bit... But that is sort of expected when shooting hand-held from a driving/moving car... I cropped it a bit tighter in the process, but not a lot else done I think?? 

Dark Rough-legged Hawk -- I think I took all 4 of these photos while working --- whoops.... Anyways, this was one of my first times where I intentionally used my new 300mm F 2.8 lens with the 2.0 x teleconverter... I don't really like the 2.0x TC --- and no one is going to change my mind --- but yeah... It wasn't AS sharp as I would have liked, so I left it without cropping... Not one of my favourite photos ever, but it was still ok enough to make it online... 

I have a huge number of SNOW pics, but most of them are flying and baited (something I do a LOT less of these days)... This one was a natural perched shot at the side of the road... Similar to the Rough-legged Hawk, I really wasn't THAT happy with the image, but decided to put it online anyways... Heck, most of the time pictures I "sell" are the ones I like the least anyways... 

Short-eared Owl at dusk --- one of my favourite pics from 2012 already, I was EXTREMELY happy with this one... And yes, I did push the colours a bit more in the final version, I didn't feel like I was cheating anyone with the results... The key was the distance involved --- when the bird is farther away (and using big glass), I can take better advantage of the extra-colourful strip right on the horizon... 

Which I guess sort of IS trickery, considering the entire sky wasn't orange as this photo implies... but yeah.... 


So what do you think? Any comments? Anyone care? ;)