Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Neotropic Cormorant (TODAY) at the Condo

Details on ontbirds shortly (check it out)!!!

(the little one) 

(was not getting along with the other DCCO's)

Monday, March 16, 2015


I am a lifelong birder, love virtually all things natural-history related (sorry plants), and work for a large environmental consulting firm. All of these experiences provide me with a unique viewpoint on the world we live in – and as time goes by I find my focus is drawn more and more to our “endangered” or “at risk” species found in Ontario and beyond…Ever since I was a child, the word “endangered” carried a certain mystique, an allure of scarcity… These species can define a habitat or location… And heck – they can even provide a living if the circumstances are correct. 

Despite my limited time taking interest in such things, I can’t help but feel we are at a crossroads in such processes… Sure, I’m new to all of this – but I can say (with some conviction) that things just ain’t like they used to be. Some of the shine has worn off, as it were… I can beat around the bush for hours, but once you slap “Threatened” next to “Barn Swallow” – well, people just won’t be takin you seriously anymore.

So I'm taking matters into my own hands... The process is too slow, and may well be outdated… In the age of instant information and communication, the everyday man (or woman) has no time for delays, debates, consultation, facts or reading. We need these matters dealt with as quickly (and inexpensively) as possible. I have therefore decided to start COSBIRDF, or;

the Committee On the Status of Birds Internationally, Really Declining or F#©ked

I've taken it upon myself to create the new species list for Ontario... Criteria are utterly subjective and rigorously applied. Let me know if you have any suggestions and we can adopt them ASAP... The list! -


Eskimo Curlew
Greater Prairie-Chicken


Barn Owl
Northern Bobwhite

Really F’in Endangered:

Kirtland’s Warbler
Henslow’s Sparrow
Prothonotary Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
King Rail
Piping Plover
Loggerhead Shrike


Cerulean Warbler
Acadian Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Least Bittern
Golden Eagle
Red Knot

Actually Threatened:

Rusty Blackbird
Golden-winged Warbler
Red-headed Woodpecker

Kinda Threatened:

Olive-sided Flycatcher
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Wood Thrush
Eastern Whip-poor-will

Should be Threatened:

Louisiana Waterthrush
Short-eared Owl

Not Actually Threatened:

Barn Swallow
Bank Swallow
Eastern Meadowlark
Canada Warbler

Not sure if Threatened:

Yellow Rail
American White Pelican
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Western Meadowlark

Especially Concerned:

Black Tern
Upland Sandpiper
Purple Martin

Special Concern:

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Grasshopper Sparrow
Clay-coloured Sparrow
Evening Grosbeak
Tufted Titmouse
Ruddy Turnstone
Marbled Godwit

Not concerned:

Peregrine Falcon
Bald Eagle

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Window Views!

It has been a while since I've pulled together some condo-window-views... Doing this big year has not only resulted in some great birds, but some great scenes too!

Some of my early favourites from 2015:


Advancing dry-front with steam-fog

Already posted - but a goodie. A frozen lake!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review Time! Lost Animals - Extinction and the Photographic Record

Disclaimer! Princeton Publishing provided the copies for review!

(Cover - an awesome one, I must say)

Price listed on book - US $29.95
Author - Errol Fuller
Pages - 256
Size - ~8"x10" - and a little more than an inch thick. 
Topics covered - This book is pretty much 28 species accounts of extinct animals - all featured because of the reprinted photographs of these lost beasts... 
Photographs - Numerous! (148+?) And they're all marvellous and terrible to see

The Skinny: This is a book filled with photographs of extinct animals... The images pull you in, and the (simple) text/accounts keep you thinking about the horrible things humans have done to this planet from a natural history point of view. It's well done. 

The good: It is an interesting book to say the least. Typically I have been reviewing field guides or reference works, and this one is a bit different... It's more of a "book-proper" and therefore may not be the type of material a naturalist is rushing out the door to add to their collection. With that in mind, the book itself is very well done. I could picture an author focusing on the horrible stories of extinction, and the book could have become quite depressing. This isn't the case here, where the figures are labeled in a very factual manner, and the accounts provide relevant details without pointing any fingers. 

If it were darker - it wouldn't be as enjoyable to flip through...
If it were lighter - it wouldn't do these "lost animals" justice...

I quite enjoy it! The "species accounts" structure also allows one to simply pick up the book, and open to any random page - and enjoy it... Rather than reading from start to finish, then putting it on the shelf to collect dust..

The Bad: Extinct animals! But seriously.. The book is quite nice, just don't expect tooo much from it. Many of the images are old (surprise!) so they are hardly the bright stunning images we see in todays print... Shouldn't be a big deal... Also, it acts somewhat like a reference piece, and a lot of work has been put into pulling these images together - but it is hardly a lesson in rigid scientific writing. None of these things are "bad" per-se, but something you should be aware of in advance!

(A good example of some images and how they are presented)

Who should buy it? 

An interesting question! (Thanks!) - I think there are some criteria here to avoid:

- Young children (the images are pretty dull, and they may not appreciate that.. And, 

- People lacking an appreciation for the natural world

I think younger children are not going to become absorbed in this book... Maybe 10+? (I've never had kids, so I'm not exactly sure of this)... But I can tell you that the flying fish book is the type of thing that is going to capture imaginations of little munchkins... The text is easy enough to read that it is very much suitable for "kids" if you think they're ready for it... The other group to "avoid" is people who could care less about our natural world... It's almost the same situation as with the young children (which is how I feel about those people as adults - thinking about things as small kids!) This is not the book to build an appreciation for the natural world... 

To sum it up, if you know someone 10+, and has a basic understanding of what a "species" is, or has heard the word "biodiversity", or just likes being outside in nature - they are likely to enjoy casually flipping through the pages of this book!

(I can only hope my name never appears in a work like this in the future) 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ducks: the Undead

Hopefully this is the last of my "Lake Ontario Ice" series... Over the past 5-6 days there has been some big swings in ice formation/loss, form and structure... The start of the period saw ever increasing (and thickening) ice stuck along the shoreline... I was starting to think it may not leave until things began melting, but a wicked WNW finally broke it free and sent it packing... 

Over the following days we went from solid/tick ice, open water, slush, new/thin lake ice, broken (almost pancake like) ice, open water, more thin lake ice, to fully open water once again. The ducks and gulls adjusted accordingly, and the birding was different with each passing day. In between new lake ice and pancake ice was a day with fairly steady NE winds, slowly breaking away at the offshore edge... Any small pockets inside the ice was packed with ducks, while the edge was steadily patrolled by eagles and gulls. 

Above image: the NE wind morning. New/thin lake ice with scattered (small) open pockets. Further out is open water.... It was on this morning that I witnessed one of the strangest ice/duck related events at any point in these past two (freakin cold) winters... I had the camera ready, and am now able to tell the tale through my images!

You'll have to excuse the poor quality of the images.... Introducing the star of the show - this Long-tailed Duck (we'll call him Steve). Steve is one of those Long-tailed Ducks that decide to land on the solid/slick ice and sit around hopelessly. I have recently began to wonder if ducks like Steve are simply freezing to death and/or going delirious due to the extreme cold. Steve clearly has access to open water within a few feet, and there should be no shortage of food (zebra mussels) in the west end of Lake Ontario... Yet Steve sits on the ice... 

Unfortunately Steve has attracted the attention of a Bald Eagle... I immediately begin to wonder what sort of evasive action he will employ to escape this large and dangerous predator. Take flight and run? Scramble for the open water and dive? Fight back? ... 

If you chose "flail around on the ice uselessly", you have chosen correctly. This awkward flapping occurred for a few seconds as the eagle actually landed BESIDE the duck, before taking flight once more and landing directly on top. 

With a horrible display of survivorship, it is no surprise that this has occurred. I watch the Eagle for a few seconds before turning by gaze elsewhere. I've seen this part of the movie before... With upwards of 5-6 Bald Eagles cursing around the lake, there is no shortage of snacking going on out there.. 

If anything, I was surprised to see the Eagle LEAVING only a few minutes later. I would have thought a Long-tailed Duck would provide a better snack then that!!! Note the surviving White-winged Scoter - in the WATER... 

Within 30 second another Eagle decided to fly over and investigate the leftovers. I can't help but think (once again) that these birds are LAZY when it comes to hunting, but I guess it works for them... The new Eagle swoops down for the easy meal, and then it happend!!!

Steve raises his head!!! AHH!!!! ZOMBIE DUCK!!!!!!!!!

Even the Eagle was scared, swooping upwards and hovering overhead..... Zommmmbiieeessssss!

Doing the only logical move, Eagle 2 lands beside the undead Steve to investigate before making any further moves. It was at this moment that I began to understand the brilliance of this predator-defence unfolding before my eyes... 

Zombie Steve plays this to it's fullest effect... He once again flails around on the ice, wings beating - hardly moving - and presumably screaming "ZOMBIE DUCK!!! OOoooOOoOOOOooOoo... Don't eat me!!! I'm zombie duck!!!" 

If you've ever heard that people who exude confidence are likely to succeed, zombie Steve is the poster boy for such thoughts. After a rousing display, he throughly breaks the will and confidence of Eagle 2 by promptly FALLING ASLEEP... No more than 2 feet away from his towering predatory foe. 

After spending a few minutes contemplating life, Eagle 2 is left with no choice but to fly away and search for undead ducks in their appropriate habitat of open water (see image below). 

I felt privileged to watch such a remarkable display, potentially one that has never been fully documented before... This single Long-tailed Duck decided that cheating death would not be enough, but truly transcended the situation and became death itself. As the human onlooker, I now need to decide how best to publish the events I have witnessed and documented (beyond the blog, of course). Will it be in the Auk? The Condor? The Wilson Journal? Check back later for an update, but I can tell you right now it won't be the Canadian Field Naturalist... 

Turning back to reality, I wonder what other excitement will occur on the Lake before we finally start to see warmer temps? I had my first migrant American Crow's on the 2nd, and weather forecasts are hinting that we may start to see temperatures closer to the freezing mark over the next two weeks. The magic of migration will be moving at a rapid pace before we know it... NOAA has shown us around 88-89% ice cover on the Great Lakes over the past few days, and I think the night of the 2nd-3rd (before I wrote this) may be one of our last good chances for ice buildup on Lake Ontario for the winter! Bring on the birds!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015 BIG YEAR - February Update

February 2015

This is the second monthly summary of my 2015 CONDO BIG YEAR!!!

Red dot is my condo building

Red mark is the blue area defined in the first map

Click for - BIG YEAR RULES

The birds! (new species in bold)-

Canada Goose - 268
Mute Swan - 4
Gadwall - 2
American Black Duck - 2
Mallard - 17
Redhead - 11
Greater Scaup - 241
Lesser Scaup - 1
Surf Scoter - 762
White-winged Scoter - 8745
Black Scoter - 14
Long-tailed Duck -16121
Bufflehead - 19
Common Goldeneye - 1345
Common Merganser - 263
Red-breasted Merganser - 2409
Common Loon - 1
Horned Grebe - 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Bald Eagle - 22
Red-tailed Hawk - 6
Ring-billed Gull - 453
Hering Gull - 2900
Thayer's Gull - 2
Iceland Gull - 14
Glaucous Gull - 76
"Nelson's" (Herring X Glaucous) Gull - 1
Great Black-backed Gull - 450
"Great Lakes" (Herring X Great Black-backed) Gull - 1
Rock Pigeon - 2
Mourning Dove - 387
Snowy Owl - 7
Downy Woodpecker - 2
American Kestrel - 1
Merlin - 1
American Crow - 1
Common Raven - 2
Black-capped Chickadee - 4
American Robin - 1
European Starling - 134
Snow Bunting - 4
American Tree Sparrow - 11
Dark-eyed Junco - 2
Northern Cardinal - 28
House Finch - 7
Common Redpoll - 1
House Sparrow - 655

Total species - 45

Total ebird checklists - 22

Best birds of the month: COMMON RAVENS(2), Snowy Owls (7), Thayer's Gulls (2), Hybrid Gulls

Useless seasonal rarities: Common Loon, American Robin

Highlight "big year" birds: COMMON RAVEN!!! But also some copies from last month (Snowies, Redpoll etc)

Checklists of the month:

#1 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21756932 (3 snowies?! good gulls!?)
#2 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21710939 (several neat sightings)
#3 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21726800 (storm! hopefully March is better...)

Total species added to the big year this month: 5

Big year total to date: 50

Target species going forwards: Should I try for Great Horned or Eastern Screech via audio calls? From my balcony? Or on the ground? I didn't do it in February, that's for sure... Now hopefully we get some epic migration in March! Maybe some good raptors? Golden Eagle? Goshawk? And dare I say Gyrfalcon!?

eBird needs alerts - ebird seems to have deleted this feature (???) but you can be darn sure I should have had American Goldfinch by now...

KM driven: 0
KM flown: 0
KM by boat: 0
KM by train: 0
KM by helicopter: 0

(1 Kilometer = 0.621371192237334 Miles)

Previous summaries: January



I could have gone to Florida for the month without hampering my big year effort what-so-ever... But I saw a number of exciting birds - so it was worth staying around! To heck with freezing cold weather, the beauty of condo-birding is staying inside (and warm) while still getting my winter birds... The Ravens on the last day of the month were a major boost and have me ready for migration! (Species 183 all-time for the condo)

Some of the species tallies (7 Snowy Owls, 22 Bald Eagles, 76 Glaucous Gulls) tell me that I'm doing everything right, but there just aren't many rarities around... It takes time to find these megas! If you have been reading along, i'm sure you're well aware that I REALLY want a Gyrfalcon - and keep looking (nearly) every day... This is THEE time to do it!

The behaviour observations and watching the formation of lake ice has also kept my interest. How much longer can we sustain this cold?! In the past 10-15 years, it was not unheard of to get some early spring migrants by now (blackbirds etc), so presumably they're primed and ready to go at the first sign of warmth...

Beyond that, I'm still doing my thing! There is clearly no eiders at my end of the lake... I didn't really add a useful big-year-species - and March is categorically the worst time of the year for mega-rares... Oh well - you can bet I will keep on lookin! By the end of the month I will hopefully have scored some highlight-species - especially in the hawk department where my position along the south side of Lake Ontario catches some of the flight counted at the Beamer Hawkwatch...

Exceptional lake ice - right to the horizon - on February 17th...