Thursday, February 28, 2013

North wind event starts Friday for us

Friday will be the first day of N winds that are abnormal... I'm interested to see what happens Mar 1-4.... No promises of anything, but a fun time to monitor the lists (and maybe to get out to your favourite Gyr spot in Ontario this weekend)...

Newfoundland is getting their own blast of fun as well from this... N/NE winds blowing for days due to a nice low pressure system offshore... TWO Ivory Gulls already... I'm excited, and I can't even be there..

Watch nf.birds for updates:!forum/nf.birds

As well as Bruce MacT's blog:


All of this comes down to a huge blocking high pressure pattern over Europe and a negative NAO...

Everything is getting bunched up, and ususally the NAO sucks away our weather before cold dips this far south and this long...

There's a chance of snow flurries in Florida (central) in the forecast due to this!

As you can see - far reaching implications from a global weather pattern thats a bit odd.... And as birders, it's times like this (abnormal times) that are prime situations to watch for abnormal birds! They may not occur, but it's a great learning experience...


Had another group of Bohemian Waxwings today on my drive to work. This time at Hwy 6 and York Road - right in the heart of the HSA! Haven't seen them then far south very often.. (my southernmost is Port Stanley with Kentucky a few years ago in the winter)..

Last week I had a flock just south of guelph, and before that half way between the two places on Hwy 6... A pleasant observation considering the cirucmstances (and lack of binoculars)...

It took me until 2007 to get my first BOWA for Ontario (7 years of birding) as they were really scarce in that time frame (along with birds like EVGR and PIGR)...

Fast forward to today and Pine Grosbeaks are one of my absoloute favourite bird species, and Bohemian's are pretty high as well... It may be due to my love for all things northern, but you can't deny how awesome they are. Two of my all-time favourite bird photos are also of these species (probably partially for the same reasons):

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Expect a slow drawn out start to spring migration

The Niagara Penninsula Hawkwatch starts this Friday... And many a year have passed where we get a blast of warm air in February and Killdeer start arriving...

This year, we could get at least 15cm of snow tomorrow  (Feb 27) and cool temps should persist for at least the next 10-12 days. Check out the 8-14 day temp anaylsis for the USA (where are birdies will be coming from):

The beauty of spring migration is that birds are all crazy trying to get back to the breeding grounds quickly, so I'm sure things will continue to progress.. Heck, Tundra Swans fly regardless of any external factors that are in place. Tundra Swan don't care.

But it'll probably be a while before we get a major migration event where there are thousands of Robins, Blackbirds and Killdeer pouring overhead at any given moment and hurls southern Ontario back into constant bird activity and song...


I finally had the chance to do some digging and look for any significance to our north winds... I used the GFS forecast wind maps, and this is what I found:

Winds forecast for Feb 28th around Mid day.... The low is drawing air from norther hudson bay!

Mid day Mar 1st - the winds are STILL blowing from the far north.. North of James Bay...

Mar 3rd - winds are still coming from far northern Ontario to Lake Ontario-ish...

So we have at least 60-ish hours of sustained long-distance winds starting on Feb 28th... Meaning the 28th- Mar 5th will be the time we start to see any unusual bird observations from the storm - IF there are any...

This is a bit of a theory that I've been working on with vagrants - it seems basic - but a good indication of where your rare birds will be coming from is to trace the winds backwards... Now I focus on usual wind conditions (like winds coming very long distances in a specific direction without any breaks) and then watch the eventual outcome...

So what kind of birds are north of hudson bay this time of year? Not much.. Not much at all... King Eider or Hoary Redpoll may be a decent bet... Maybe a slight increase in northern owl sightings in Ontario like Great Grays or Boreals... Maybe a nice Gyrfalcon somewhere - if we're lucky.. Ivory Gull? - Yes, they're up there on the ice... Althouhg I clearly pump this species constantly (if you haven't noticed) due to my personal desire to see one in ON...

Again - I'd file this one in the 6/10 excitement factor.. I will probably keep a closer eye on the lake from my Condo for a few days, and keep an eye on ontbirds, but I'm not excactly going into red alert.. Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised though with something epic!


Many thanks to those who made it out to my talk on Sandy last night! I hope it was enjoyable and that I didn't ramble about the weather tooo much ;)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Something may be happening - to our north

But I can't find any good surface forecasts for areas far enough north to make sense of it!

I first noticed that shows generally north winds for Burlington for several days in a row, starting tomorrow..

Then I checked out the HPC medium range forecast and saw those isoabrs flowing from Labrador down into southern Ontario..

see here:
HPC - CONUS view forecast for 4 days from now...

I don't really know what to make of it, but it holds on for a few days in a row... And doesn't seem to be 100% due to any specific powerful storms...

But I do know it looks odd, and we rarely get 4-5 days in a row of north winds (usually NW turning W before then for 2-3 days) or NE turning some other crazy direction after 1-3 days...

And not only is it sustained, but it comes from great distances.. This seems to be a majorly important factor in vagrant birds based on my personal observations.. Winds in Moosonee should be north every single one of those days as well...

So what's the dilly?

I'm not exactly going into red alert, but I think it may pay off to focus a bit more attention on those birds in the Feb 28 - Mar 3rd time frame for northern goodies like Gyrfalcon or Eiders ... Or maybe even something like an Ivory Gull (one of my most wanted ON birds)..

The only thing that may be lacking is a major weather event tied to it... For fun check out these weather maps from 2010 in February -

Above is a 3 day stretch... Note how around the 13th the Isobars connect from Labrador right into southern Ontario for a few days...

Also note than an Ivory Gull was found at Cherry Beach in Toronto on Feb 15th (last map)..

Also note that the IVGU event was the same I experienced in Newfoundland where I saw 116 Ivory Gulls in a 6 days strech..

Also note that the event was created by a 969mb mega-storm over NL - something that this event does not have...

So what'll happen?! We'll have to wait and see if anything at all...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dandy Sandy Talk!

Doing my talk on Hurricane Sandy for the bird study group (Hamilton) this Monday! Be there or be square.

From here:

Monday February 25, 2013 : Superstorm Sandy – Brandon Holden
Meetings start at 7:30 PM. Visitors are always welcome.


NEW Location!
Burlington Senior's Centre
2285 New Street, Burlington
Auditorium B
Lots of free parking near the New Central Library.


Click HERE for a Google Map to the Burlington Senior's Centre,%2BBurlington,%2BOntario&sll=43.333529,-79.790574&sspn=0.006782,0.01649&ie=UTF8&z=17&iwloc=A


The Bird Study Group meetings are normally held on the third Monday of the month.
Bird Study Group meetings normally feature reports of recent sightings, news of birding events, an Identification session focussing on birds which can be difficult to identify in the field, and a main program whose subject can be anything from a talk on bird skins to a slide show on the birds of a distant place.
If you are a beginning birder, come out to learn more about birds. If you are an experienced birder, come out to share your knowledge and enthusiasm.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Photog idea #1 takes flight

Just a quick update to make use of the blog! I've booked my first trip for this new goal of becoming more active in the photography game again...

Thunder Bay!

A non-birding friend of mine has always wanted me to "show him some owls" and has also always wanted to see the shores of Lake Superior (perhaps a strong candidate as a future birder, as an avid camper and really enjoys the outdoors - but I won't go there at this point in time)

So anyways, a prime candidate to team up with and do a mini trip!

The plan:

Mar 6th - leave Hamilton after work in the evening, drive to Sault Ste Marie - arrive around midnight/1am..

Mar 7th - do SSM towards Thunder Bay looking for any/all goodies and checking out the fantastic scenery...

Mar 8th - 11th - staying 5 nights in Thunder Bay, leaving 4 full days to explore! It seems like a hotspot for GGOW's is in the Pass Lake area, so that will likely be an early focal point. Sleeping Giant, Kakabeka Falls, Mission Island etc can all be checked for fun - along with random searches in all directions from town...

My goals -

GGOW photos

Find a Boreal Owl (would be new for my "self found list")

- maybe photograph a Boreal Owl (would be really awesome) - they're putting on a major show to the south in Minn right now...

-- any and all other winter bird goodies - sightings and/or photos of something like a Gyr, Hoaries, Grosbeaks, Crossbills, BB and TT woodpeckers, Snowy Owls, Hawk Owls, Spruce Grouse etc

-- winter wildlife - fingers crossed for something really sweet like a Wolf or Lynx, but will be happy with Moose and Hares etc

Mar 12th - check out early (or the night before) and explore towards home... (along Superior) .. When it gets dark, drive like a mad man back towards home for work the next day.

Should be fun methinks! And hopefully good stories and photos will ensue. My slight concern is if the dates are getting a bit late for GGOW's and BOOW's? I seem to remember reading somewhere that they tend to start dissapearing again in late feb/early Mar - but I can't find it now... Anyone?

Friday, February 22, 2013

More photog ideas

Another idea I've had for a long time is to spend March/early April in southern Ontario and construct a floating blind..

A photographer who's work I greatly admire does a good job of breaking down the floating blind idea:

and the pics:

--- simply put, I'm not all that happy with many of my duck photographs (several species) - and this just seems like a really fun thing to do

I don't really think this is the sort of thing I need to do in order to "kick start" my photography, so it likely won't be in my short term plans... But sooner or later I'm gonna have to do it...

Current travel plans:

Edmonton may be on my agenda for Jan/Feb 2014, but I don't think it is going to work this year.. Which is fine, because now I can be excited about it for a while

Thunder Bay - I'm starting to seriously think about a 5-6ish day photography trip that way for Great Gray's and any other goodies I may find...

Texas - March 19th-ish to Apr 4th-ish ???????? I'd consider flying down and renting a car to save time, then maybe just stick to the Rio Grande area??


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Other photography ideas + negative NAO

Other photography ideas... The semi-local ones...

#1 - photograph some Great Gray Owls ! They're around this winter, but fairly slim pickings it seems (combined with the effort to generally keep the info secret from photographers in general)...

I'm not really that happy with my GGOW shots these days, and they're a mega-charismatic species that is very high on the list of popular birds to see photographs of... I could potentially take a random trip or two and try to get some... Some locations:

Ottawa - probably won't go there, to avoid the photog's

Algonquin - probably won't go there - to avoid Algonquin

Somewhere else close-ish? - The Bruce or Orillia area? - not sure if there are any/many in these areas however...

Further north - up hwy 11 towards Temiskaming and north (towards Cochrane?) - already been there, but not for GGOW's..

Thunder Bay - seems like a sweet bet.. With all the Boreal and GGOW's in Minn recently, they'd be hard to miss.. The only problem is Thunder Bay is rather far away in its own right... I'm not sure if I'd be willing to drive or fly there?

Anyways... Another idea... Will post another tomorrow...


NAO goes negative, that means we get east winds!

Remember last wither with a crazy positive NAO? All we had were W and SW winds for months on end.. Now that it's going negative, look at the change:

NW  20km/h E  25km/h SW  20km/h W  20km/h W  10km/h E  25km/h

Winds for Burlington:

21 NW 20
22 E 25
23 SW 20
24 W 20
25 W 10
26 E 25

Negative NAO seems to put our weather in a state of flux, with low pressure systems spinning past us every so many days....

But what does it mean!??! Not much right now...


Here's a cool gif showing the declince in Arctic Sea Ice:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The response to my potential Texas trip was rather surprising and welcome! Now I'm going to feel guilty as can be if I can't make the trip work..

Days that I have notable events happening or potentially happening (work related or other).. Yesterday after I posted, I discovered I had 9 more "noteworthy" days added to my schedule...Anyways here's a rough

Feb 25

March 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26

Apr 6 (OBRC annual meeting)


Of the days in March, the 15th-17th are my strongest commitments that I really wouldn't like to break..

Which leaves an issue where Feb 25 - March 15-17 - Apr 6th leaves very little time in between for an adventure...

After Apr 6th is still an option as well, however then my field work season/schedule ramps up - meaning if I were to go anywhere, then I'd be missing out on large numbers of easy fun/bird/wildlife related field work..

Not to mention the fact that I'm already (as per usual) essentially taking the month of May off for birding in Ontario...

Suddenly things aren't looking so bright for a grand adventre...


Which leaves me with another option:


Recently Michael Butler sent me some awesome info regarding a regular happening in Edmonton - a Prairie Falcon and a few Gyrfalcons that are reliable at a Gran Elevator:

Now the problem may be that the falcons aren't going to wait around until I'm ready to travel... Grr...

Prairie Falcon would be my main target on the trip - as I've always wanted to see one - and it seems like few photographers have had really good chances to photograph the species...

Maybe tomorrow I'll post some more of my ideas to kick start the photography... Texas would be my first choice, but it's rather amazing how 24 hours later the odds of it happening look rather bleak..

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I'm in the very early stages of planning a trip to Texas.. Here's my plan so far:

Feb 25th - talk at the bird study group meeting in Hamilton...

Feb 26th onwards - when ready, drive to Texas... Plan to do lots of in-car sleeping and at least 90-95% bird photography...

Sometime in March - drive home from Texas...


Note how I'm lacking any actual destinations or specices specific plans... The general goal of my photography trips is to shoot species that we don't have (or a are very hard to photograph) around here..

Presumably I'll have the best luck in the Rio Grande area, so that's probably where I'll focus..

I went through ebird, and picked out some species that I'd really like to photograph (as examples)..

-- I'd probably limit my time with waterbirds, but I would NOT pass up the chance to get some really awesome species like Long-billed Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, etc

--- I'd LOVE to get some of the different raptors like White-tailed Kite, Zone-tailed and White-tailed Hawk etc

-- Plain Chachalaca

--- Unusual doves like Inca, White-tipped etc

-- Roadrunner

--- Green Kingfisher

-- Golden-fronted Woodpecker

--- Vermillion Flycatcher - very high - with other cool fly's like Scissor-tailed or Kiskadee

-- Green Jay

--- Verdin

-- Cactus Wren

-- Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers

--- Sprague's Pipit

-- Tropical Parula

--- Olive Sparrow

-- Other cool sparrows like Lark, Black-throated, Cassin's etc

--- Pyrrholuxia

-- Bronzed Cowbird

--- Hooded/Altimria/Audubon's Oriles (high on the wish list)

-- Lesser Goldfinch

Just some examples, but I figure if I chose some specific species as general targets, I'll photograph everything else around as well - and that should give me a pretty good haul...

The only species I'd probably specifically target (and really go out of my way to get) is Golden-cheeked Warbler...

So yeah.... Any tips??

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Occurrence and ID of Hybrid Gulls in Ontario: Nelson's Gull (Herring X Glaucous)

Close study of gulls, throughout Ontario, has lead to an increase in the discovery of hybrids and abnormally plumaged individuals. Gull ID is often considered one of the most difficult areas for a bird watcher to learn, and hybridization is one aspect that can compound the problem when looking to identify them correctly.

Hybrids are problematic when trying to include in field guides, due to the massive amount of variation that can be shown when they start mixing their genetics. This makes them poorly understood and infrequently studied by the birding community as whole. The common belief is that since a hybrid does not count as a check on a list, many birders are potentially (if I dare say) un-interested in delving into this aspect of gull ID.  

This article will try to deal with some ID points of gull hybrids recorded in Ontario, and will make some comments on how often I tend to come across them. We’ll start off with some of the combos I encounter the most:

Nelson’s Gull (Herring Gull X Glaucous Gull)

Hybrid Gulls are amazingly variable. Considering the massive amount of variation shown by some species of gull, mixing genes can create quite the mess of plumage features. When identifying hybrid gulls, a number of general features are often used to make the observer more confident in the ID.

Starting with the Nelson’s Gull, we will break the “hybrid” down into two types. First up is “Type 1” – birds that largely resemble Glaucous Gulls in appearance:

This hybrid combo is most frequently identified when dealing with a bird that looks like a Glaucous Gull, but has dark pigmentation in the wingtips and tail. Pure Glaucous Gulls always have pure-white (or nearly so) wingtips, so dark pigmentation is an easy to see sign of hybridization. See below for examples:


Photo on the left is a “Nelson’s” Gull, showing dark wingtips (and tail in flight). Compare to nearly-white wing tips of the pure Glaucous Gull shown in the photo on the right. This is a good example of a Nelson’s Gull that looks very similar to a Glaucous. Birds of all ages can show this general trait -> Similar to a Glaucous Gull, but with dark pigmentation in the wings and tail. More examples below:


Left photo: Another case of a “Nelson’s Gull” (this time in 3rd ba plumage), where this large Glaucous-gull like bird is showing dark wingtips/tail, vs. the pure-white wingtips of the Glaucous gull shown in the right photo (of the same age).

Next up will be the opposite end of the spectrum (called “type 2” here for clarity), being more like a Herring Gull in plumage:

Nelson’s Gulls that look like more like Herring Gulls can be harder to detect and identify. They often appear very similar to Herring Gulls, however can have a “washed out” look to the overall plumage, even recalling Thayer’s Gull at times. See photos below:


“Nelson’s Gull” on left, appearing similar to a Thayer’s Gull but much larger than that species (noticeable in the field with good looks) compared to a Herring Gull of the same age on the right. Hybrids often have a pink bill base with a black tip, although not as clean cut as a “typical” Glaucous Gull would be at this age. Although uncommon, pure Herring Gulls can show the same bill pattern. Note the “washed out” look to the plumage. Especially in the wingtips, secondaries and tail. 

(Same individual birds as above photos) 

This "variety" of Nelson's Gull can be difficult to detect when standing, or at a distance. The identification of this (always presumed) hybrid bird was made with a host of sanding and flight views/field marks. See below for another example of a Herring-like Nelson’s Gull. 


2nd winter "Nelson's" Gull on left, 2nd winter Herring Gull on right. These "type 2" Nelson's Gulls are much harder to detect when standing (as mentione dabove) but show a messier and more "washed out" look due to the influence of the pale Glaucous Gull genes... 

Adult Nelson's Gulls:

"Nelson's" Gull on left, Herring Gulls on right. 

Adult Glaucous Gull

My experience with adult "Nelson's Gulls" is roughly similar to the immature noted above (and most hybrids in general) in that you're looking for a bird with intermediate characteristics. Given that adult Glaucous Gulls have little to no variation (with their pure white wingtips), you as the observer will be trying to separate adult "Nelson's" Gulls from Herring Gulls in the field. 

Adult Nelson's Gull (tallest bird) with Herring Gulls

Many adult "Nelson's Gulls" in my experience, are quite large when compared to Herring Gulls (as seen here). The head structure can recall the big head of a Glaucous Gull and can sometimes have limited streaking (also seen here). Another clue that is sometimes present is a mantle shade paler than nearby Herring Gulls. With all of these features present, I felt the clinching mark was the primary tip pattern of this bird. Note that the white primary tips "bleed" into the black wingtips - unlike the nearby Herrings. I can only assume this is the "white" of the Glaucous Gull genes battling with the "black" of the Herring genes in this hybrid!

Same bird as shown above


Different adult Nelson's Gull on left. "Extreme Variation" of Herring Gull shown on right. 

Note in both of these Nelson's Gulls above how the white in the very wingtip "bleeds" into the black markings, washing it out. Many Herring Gulls have extensive black wingtips, however there are some extreme variations that sometimes show very little black in the wings as well. I photographed a bird like this (shown above) years ago in Hamilton - however note that the black borders are still sharply defined - unlike the "bleeding" look of the Nelson's. 

With hybrid gulls - it is important to note that you're looking for general characteristics and nothing is a "set in stone" field mark. I'm sure there are adult Nelson's Gulls that do not have the "bleeding" look in the primaries etc, - however these are just field marks that I have found useful in trying to "figure these birds out" when in the field. It is also not certain that all of these hybirds ARE ACTUALLY Nelson's Gulls. How do we know for sure that some of the above birds aren't Herring X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrids? Well, we don't know 100% - but all signs point towards Nelson's, so I'm pretty comfortable with it. 

For ongoing learning, here's just a few more different individuals; with brief comments on their unique genetic blend of Glaucous and Herring Genes. 

A 2nd basic "Nelson's' Gull. Looks very much like a Glaucous on the head and upper body - but rather dark wingtips!

A 3rd basic Nelson's Gull. Again, looks like a Glaucous on the head/eye - however this bird also shows an exceptional amount of dark markings on the primaries. At this age, the bird doesn't have that "bleeding" look - but the dark is much paler than the black expected on Herring Gulls of this age. 

Similar species or hybirds: Thankfully there aren't many rarities one can confuse Nelson's Gull with in the field... The species that would cause confusion are Thayers's and Kumlien's Iceland Gulls - which can look very similar to Type 1 (Kumlien's) or type 2 (Thayer's) Nelsons Gulls in the field. Best field marks to separate them would be size and structure, as both Kumlien's and Thayers would be much smaller overall. 

Abundance - this is one of the more commonly encountered hybrids in Ontario, however I do not believe that I have ever seen more than 2 in a day. It is greatly outnumbered by pure Glaucous Gulls in the province. Even with my extensive gull watching, 1 to 3 personal sightings per year would probably be the norm (upwards to 5 or 6 at max). 

When do you see this hybrid??  It seems to be the belief of many birders that you find this hybrid combination when you're also seeing Glaucous Gulls around. This is 100% correct in my field experience in Ontario! If there is any place where you get concentrations of 10-30+ Glaucous Gulls, you can expect a "Nelson's" to appear eventually. With this said, I have also noticed that Nelson's can often occur somewhat earlier in the fall than the average Glaucous, and also staying later in the spring than most Glaucous Gulls would. 

      (eg,/ I have seen Nelson's on the Niagara River in November prior to seeing any individual Glaucous Gull. However in mid winter I can easily see 50+ Glaucous without any Nelson's recorded).

     (eg,/ #2  I have seen Nelson's on Pelee Island in late April, after almost all Glaucous Gulls have returned north) 

Although the extreme early and late dates for Glaucous Gulls are similar, Nelson's occur in dramatically lower numbers overall, making this noteworthy in my opinion. I can only assume this slightly extended "relative" window of occurrence is due to the influence of the Herring Gull genes!

Conclusion:  I hope you have as much fun in the field with these hybrid gulls as I do! Here's a link to all of my online Nelson's Gull photos for any future looking you may wish to do:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bohemian Waxwings in Freelton

An older pic, but one of my all time favourites

A copy/paste of a message I posted two days ago Hamilton Birds (Feb 13):

On route to work this morning I had a flock of roughly 40 Bohemian Waxwings fly over my car at Freelton Rd. and Hwy 6. They were pretty low, and I can only assume they were planning on stopping somewhere in the town. Just a heads up that they may soon be at traditional areas around here if they continue "moving in".
As a side note, spring migration appears to be underway with the expected Horned Larks - along with a noticeable movement of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls in the past two days along the lakeshore in Stoney Creek. A bright male American Robin (that was rather vocal) in front of my Condo in Stoney Creek was also rather suspicious as a potential migrant.
For sure spring appears to be in the air... Just think - we're only a few weeks away from the undeniable start of epic bird migration with Blackbirds, Robins, Killdeer and the start of the spring hawk migration!
Sure is exciting, isn't it?


Wicked post on Alberta Gyr's and Prairie Falcons:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Major Hurricane Sandy

The National Hurricane Center (for the US) released their report on Hurricane Sandy yesterday...

Some tidbits:

--- the "start" of the system was actually a poorly defined and weak tropical wave that left Africa in Mid Oct- some 18-ish days before landfall in NJ (not that it really matters, but I don't think many noticed that)

--- prior to making landfall in Cuba, Sandy was undergoing rapid intensification and (at the time) peaked out at 100kt sustained winds - just below category 3 strength. Realaylisis of the data indicates that Sandy actually peaked out at 105kt just before landfall in Cuba - upgrading it to category 3...

--- Category 3-5 Hurricanes are considered "Major's" and therefore Sandy can now use the name "Major Hurricane Sandy" for all time - even if she was only a "major" for a few hours.

--- Sandy’s impacts in the United States were widespread. At least 650,000 houses were either damaged or destroyed as a result of the cyclone, with the vast majority of the damage caused by storm surge and/or waves.

--- Preliminary estimates compiled from a variety of sources suggest that Sandy was responsible for at least 50 billion dollars in damage in the United States. This figure is highly uncertain and it will probably take several more months before a more accurate total is obtained. Sandy is expected to rank as the second-costliest cyclone on record, after Hurricane Katrina of 2005, and will probably be the sixth-costliest cyclone when adjusting for inflation, population and wealth normalization factors11. It is notable, however, that these preliminary estimates likely include damage from the non-tropical portion of Sandy’s lifecycle, and this complicates the comparison of Sandy to previous tropical cyclones.

--- In Canada, about 200,000 customers lost power at the height of the storm in Canada. Property Claim Services Canada estimates that insured property damage to be about $100 million CAD

--- Sandy hit a secondary peak of Category 2 (85kt) offshore of New Jersey - previously not reported above cat 1 at that time 

Full link here:

Monday, February 11, 2013

400 in Ontario - part deux

I forget how I stumbled upon this, but over TWO years ago I wrote a blog post about my predictions on when I could hit 400 species in Ontario.

Well here's an update:


At the end of 2010 my Ontario list was sitting at 352 species (says the above post)… And I had picked 48 species that I expected to see in my attempts to hit 400 in Ontario!

I broke the 48 down into two categories. Category 1 was birds I “expected” or “knew” I would see prior to hitting 400 in the province (30 total)..

I then picked 18 “guesses” that would round off the list to 400 for category 2…

My list is now 365 species two years later… So what did I add? In order of occurrence:

Neotropic Cormorant

Fish Crow

Western Tanager

Common Eider

Black-throated Gray Warbler


Mountian Bluebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Thick-billed Kingbird

Leach’s Storm-Petrel

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Notice a problem here? How did I go from 352 to 365 only adding 11 species? Well at the time of my last post, I had forgotten to add American White Pelican and Brown Pelican to my ebird list, so that was just an error… Anyways…

Of those species, I had the following as “for sure – code 1” birds: Fish Crow, Western Tanager, Common Eider, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Mountain Bluebird. 5 of 11 ain’t bad! Right?

Signed and sealed

A further two species were on my “code 2 guesses” – Neotropic Cormorant and Magnificent Frigatebird. So you can pretty much say I’ve guessed 7 of my 11 last Ontario birds with some sort of accuracy..

Leaving the unpredictable birds like Smew, Thick-billed Kingbird, Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm Petrels left (Thanks Sandy)…

35 species from 400! Here’s an updated list of “code 1” birds (just a copy of the 2010 predictions, minus the additions)

Cinnamon Teal
Gray Partridge
Willow Ptarmagin
Northern Bobwhite
Northern Fulmar
Great Cormorant
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Swallow-tailed Kite
Yellow Rail
Purple Gallinule
Snowy Plover
Ivory Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Eurasian-collared Dove
White-winged Dove
Say's Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Northern Wheatear
Townsend's Warbler
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch
Glaucous-winged Gull
Clark's Grebe

You’ll note just how many I could probably add if I spent some time twitching (G. Partridge, N. Bobwhite, WW Dove and SB Gull would have already been get-able in 2013 if I had tried). I’m starting to worry about my Clark’s prediction too..

Nemisis bird. Right up there with Slaty-backed Gull

Remaining code two “guesses” -

Barnacle Goose
Prairie Falcon
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Least Tern
Ancient Murrelet
Lewis's Woodpecker
Vermillion Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Bell's Vireo
Bewick's Wren
Hermit Warbler
Swainson's Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Cassin's Sparrow
Bullock's Oriole
Red-necked Stint

Mind you I should really delete two of these, given that getting all of them would get me to 402 species… I’d like to delete Clark’s Grebe, but I feel like that’s cheating. So I’ll remove Prairie Falcon and Least Tern for future reference.

At the same time, I was a bit bored and decided to look in reverse at my “new Ontario birds” prior to the first post in 2010. For 2010 and 2009 They were (in reverse order);

Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater*


Black Guillemot

Arctic Tern

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck*


“Kamchatka” Mew Gull – counted as Mew Gull

Tufted Duck


Black-tailed Gull*

Western Kingbird

Black-throated Sparrow*

Black Swift*

Western Meadowlark

Lark Sparrow

Blue Grosbeak

7 of those 16 species would not have been on my hindsight prediction list – marked with a *(I’m guessing) or 44%... As mentioned above, I’ve sorta-predicted 7 of 11 in the last two years, which is 5 of 11 - or 45% - unpredictable.

Which leads me to believe that on the 35 species I need to hit 400, 15 of them will not be on my list..

I’ve added unpredictable species at an average of 2.75 birds per year, over the past four years. If I can keep that pace up, I should hit 400 in 5.5 years (or when I’m 31).

I’m also adding species to my Ontario list at the rate of 6.75 birds/year over the past four years, meaning I’ll hit 400 when I’m 30. But I think that is skewed a bit high by easy species 3-4 years ago, so 31 still seems like a safer bet… Note that I predicted my mid 30's in the first post, but that was an uneducated guess. This one is better ;)

Why did I spend time calculating this? I have no idea…

Here's looking forward to those surprise birds

Sunday, February 10, 2013

incredibly boring photoshoot

Back in October I saw the lift bridge was reading 20kmh ish NE winds, so I zipped down to Van Wagner's for some mega rarities... I arrived to a lake that was calm as glass... I guess the wind was happening 50 feet up, but ground level had nothing...

Ended up walking around taking pictures of anything I could find, which resulted in this boring photoshoot:

Canada Goose:


So ya... All of this would have been pretty sad if it weren't for the insanity that ensued in late Oct and early November with Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy...


Speaking of which, I'm actually doing a talk on Sandy to the Hamilton Bird Study Group on Feb 25, 2013

Monday February 25, 2013 : Superstorm Sandy – Brandon Holden


NEW Location!
Burlington Senior's Centre
2285 New Street, Burlington
Auditorium B
Lots of free parking near the New Central Library.

Come check it out! I hope to talk a fair bit about the weather, instead of just a straight bird talk, so hopefully you'll find it interesting and learn something?? Maybe??

Friday, February 8, 2013

Condo Bird-zing update!

Been a while since I got around to putting some notes to the keyboard (doesn't have the same ring as pen to the pad, does it?)

Condo birding update:

Jan 11 - first Northern Cardinal for the condo

Jan 12 - first Belted Kingfisher for the condo

Jan 12b - went for a rollerblade (it was 16+ degrees this day).. Added BC Chickadee and DE Junco to the patch list. Also got a Ring-necked Duck! Which was odd and alone just offshore on the open lake.

Jan 13 - went cold again. Shimmer (for the first time) made it hard to see... Lots of ducks moving about. A wind shift to strong W gave a cool flight of Surf and Black Scoters

Jan 14 - a flock of 20+ Redhead along shore are undoubtedly record early fall migrants for Hamilton (after they "migrated north" two days earlier.

Jan 17 - a distant Loon Sp in flight was cool, given the date. Also a Glaucous Gull

Jan 19 - shimmer on the lake again. Got one of the adult Peregrines and also a sweet adult Kumlien's Iceland Gull along the shore.

Jan 21 - a Mute Swan swam past the condo again... The third(?) time one has done this I think..

Jan 22 - very cold. The lake was steaming!  A cool sight

Jan 25 - the biggest movement of Scaup I had seen all month, including some Redhead mixed in. Also picked out a Common Loon on the water - trying to over winter I guess...

Jan 27 - NEW condo bird - a MERLIN right past the window at light speed. Also another Kingfisher

Late Jan snow squals over the lake

Jan 31 - two flyby Gadwall were the first from the condo in a while

Feb 2 - NEW condo bird - a light morph Juvenile Rough-legged Hawk! Right past the window. Hawks seem to enjoy riding the air currents between the two buildings, so now I'm very excited for spring hawk migration to begin and to see if the migrants do the same. They're often really close.

Feb 3 - Why are Surf scoters the most common species of scoter now? Where did the White-wings go? Heck, I may see more Black Scoters (great numbers for winter) than WW's these days! There was also a big flight of Common Mergansers today - first in a while.. Frozen out of somewhere and moving south... Overall a good day with a/nother Common Loon on the water and singles of Kumlien's Iceland Gull (juv) and a Glaucous Gull (adult). I guess that'll happen when its a Sunday and I can watch for more than 30 mins!

Just a fraction of the SUSC and BLSC hanging about 

Feb 5 - a first winter Kumlein's Iceland Gull early.

Feb 6 - NEW patch bird. On my way to work, I noticed a swan in the creek bed at Confederation Park. Turns out it was a Trumpeter! Sa-weet!

The Trump! Didn't think it'd be very easy at all to get this one for the patch... 

Looking forward to the next few days - forecast E and N winds! Which were awesome back in December.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Photoshoot: Transit of Venus in front of the Sun !!!!!!

Back in early June, I made sure I spent some time photographing Venus passing in front of the sun... Why? Because it will be the only time in my life I will have had the chance to do so!

I was working up on Lake Superior, which provided an excellent chance to get some clear photos.. Thankfully the clouds also helped out... Here's my take on the event:

The sun is too bright for mortals like myself to photograph during the typical daylight hours... At first, I had to use some passing clouds to "dull" the sun in order to see Venus! (Top right circle on the sun)... 

It didn't last long, so I played around a bit... Not really sure how to set the "colour temperature" of the sun, so the above two photos are set very differently... 

As the sun got lower to the horizon, it became dull enough that I could just barely make out Venus again! Even though the sun was still too bright, I was happy with how it looked... 

By the time the sun was low enough to get a decent exposure, it was starting to feel the effects of distortion from the earths atmosphere (Venus also didn't look as circular as before)... 

Similar to before, I tried a few different takes on the scene when everything was at its clearest... I think the other "flecks" are sunspots... 

The Sun + Venus + Lake Superior! 

Another take.... Setting the exposure differently changed the "colour" quite a bit... 

Right before the sun was ready to set, the distortion really took over and made things a lot less circular... 

To make the best of the situation, I combined several frames together to show the sequence of the sun setting, combined with Venus for a little extra flare... Was pretty happy with this one (well, all of them really).

If you want some more info on the event, check out wikipedia:

Overall I was very happy with the result!