Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hurricane Joaquin

Some key messages related to Great Lakes (and east coast) birders, pulled directly from NOAA -

5pm discussion:

There is an increased
disagreement between the GFS, UKMET, Canadian, and NAVGEM models
versus the ECMWF since the last advisory.  The ECMWF has continued
its forecast of showing a northeastward motion after 72 hours,
taking Joaquin just west of Bermuda and out to sea.  The other
models have all shifted their forecasts to the left and now
call for landfall in the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states

Why this matters: the ECMWF (Euro) is typically the BEST model, but it is the only one that is NOT calling for a landfall in the USA (of the big boys). It has Joaquin going out to sea near Bermuda. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE compared to a storm hitting the USA.The Euro is the model that nailed Hurricane Sandy - predicting the landfall well in advance of the others. Who do you trust?! They just don't know...

 the intensity forecast calls for Joaquin to peak as a
major hurricane in 48-72 hours, and it is possible it could be
stronger than currently forecast.

Why this matters: powerful storms = better birds. Also important to note that it is quite large (in surface coverage) already. Nowhere near Sandy in size, but this isn't the same storm! 

A significant adjustment to the forecast has been made this
afternoon, and this shows an increased threat to the mid-Atlantic
states and the Carolinas.  However, confidence in the details of the
forecast after 72 hours remains low, since we have one normally
excellent model that keeps Joaquin far away from the United States
east coast.   The range of possible outcomes is still large, and
includes the possibility of a major hurricane landfall in the

Why this matters: We need to wait and see some consensus between the big boys (models) before we start getting excited and the blog switches over to Hurricane Mode. Sometimes the best weather events (for birding) are on a knife edge - could be fantastic, or freakin terrible - and this storm is one of those situations. 

Every effort is being made to provide the forecast models with
as much data as possible.  The NOAA G-IV jet has begun a series of
missions in the storm environment, and the National Weather Service
is launching extra balloon soundings.
Why this mattersPeople like to bash weather forecasters. The effort going into this hurricane is immense. They want to know more than anyone (including us birders) so people can prepare in advance for a major event. Hopefully we'll know sooner rather than later, thanks to this new information being gathered. 

5:15pm Wednesday. Getting that "scary" look... 

BE SURE - to check back with the blog for all your birdy weather news. 

OH - and I'll also be posting things on twitter. Why twitter? I dunno... But I will... Tweets appear on the right hand bar...

Monday, September 28, 2015


The third best rarity period of the calendar year began a few days ago... From now through early November, interesting weather means interesting birds... Verrry interesting....

Look at those winds! Why is there for days of strong NE winds in the forecast? 

Looks like a blocking pattern out over the ocean.... Then a frontal boundary will stall just offshore the atlantic - and the nature of the overall pattern will lock us into some NE winds!

Then we have TD11 hanging around the Bahamas. No matter what happens with this cyclone, we will have NE winds... BUT - due to the blocking pattern, there is a chance that any prospective cyclone may be pushed inland and towards the Great Lakes. 

The storm has high uncertainty at this point in terms of where it's going. Then there is uncertainty if it survives at all. It will be a few days before I get excited about this one, which is good because I think the weather will still be exciting without it!

The front will pass through during the day tomorrow (Tuesday)... This visual rendition of the GFS model for Wednesday morning is showing a strong NE wind pushing to Hamilton at that time.

Jump ahead 24 hours to Thursday (8am) and we have winds pushing down the St. Lawrence! The frontal boundary is clearly evident offshore and TD11 just barely shows at the very bottom of the frame. 

24 hours after THAT, dang... This is Friday morning, and open to uncertainty, but I'm seeing visions of Kittiwakes dancing in my head. The winds are pulsing right down the St. Lawrence. I don't want to get carried away, cause it's a few days away still and forecasts (and model runs such as this) are subject to great change... But we'll be rollin in Kitti's if this happens! 

I really don't want to get carried away, but a Gannet, Razorbill or Manx Shear would go a long way in really spicing up this condo big year... 

Above is an archived surface map from Oct 20th, 2011 - a storm that brought a Gannet and Razorbill to Ottawa... This one has serious punch, unlike the prolonged winds we may be experiencing later this week... What will the differences be? Will we see anything really exciting? Or will it be a total dud? Only way to know is to be out looking!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 8 most uncool birds in Ontario

In no particular order... All of these birds have the "it" factor - something that makes them stand out among the rest; for the worst of reasons... This is a follow-up to the 10 coolest birds in Ontario (thanks JB). Be sure to check that one out if you missed it!


- has dick in it's name
- it's banding code is DICK
- it's flight call sounds like *dick!*
- Dickcissel hardly justifies the presence of all this dick 
- can hardly decide if it wants to live in Ontario at all... 

Brown-headed Cowbird

- parasitises our other birds nests
- is kinda ugly
- unnatural numbers (thanks to us) 
- not part bird, part cow as name implies

Gray Partridge

- you never see them
- they're non-native
- they aren't really surviving (hardly "established")

Canada Goose (specifically, Maxima

- they poop everywhere
- get overly aggressive at times
- they're wrecking our tundra
- they're wrecking the "cool" Canada Goose subspecies
- not to be confused with the "other" Canada Geese, which are quite fun! (Interior)

House Sparrow

- They're noisy
- non-native
- displace our cavity nesters like Tree Swallows, Bluebirds etc
- fail to attract *cool* vagrants. Just other laughables like Dickcissel and Eurasian Tree Sparrow
- aren't actually sparrows

European Starling

- they stink
- they're greasy
- they make Meadowlark calls too often
- non native
- displace our "cool/native" cavity nesting species
- they eat my grapes
- they eat too much suet (stuff's expensive)
- fail to attract any vagrants with them
- roost poop gets everywhere
- they're just.. the worst... 

Mute Swan

- their grunting makes me uncomfortable
- non-native
- killing our marsh birds
- expanding where they aren't welcome

Bicknell's Thrush

- not even a real species
- NL Gray-cheeked Thrushes are intermediate
- nearly impossible to confirm
- this photo is of a Hermit Thrush, but it doesn't make a difference...

Agree/disagree with the list? IF you disagree, what species would you add? And why?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top 10 SATISFYING Birding Locations in Ontario

A little fun on the blog.... Presenting, the top 10 satisfying locations for birders in Ontario! (Just for fun.. I swear..)

10. Pelee Island

Seclusion like no other, and with birding potential oozing out of the reclaimed land (and into very large canals)... The big issue with Pelee Island is getting there. The ferry is a disaster (at best), and you'll be hard pressed to find a decent place to stay. Sure, you can camp. Sure, you could find a B&B and stay fairly comfortably. Or even rent a cottage! But the hassle is 10x that of the mainland, and exactly why this place is an under-birded gem. Don't forget - there is something for naturalists of all sorts (plants, bugs, mammals, herps etc)If you DO get there, you're in for a spectacular time. 

9. Whitby

Gets the nod as (perhaps) the best metropolitan area on the lower Great Lakes for year-round birding (the "live here" potential). You have a bit of everything, big water, small water, marshes, woods, hawkwatches, shorebirds, warblers... Plus, you're close enough to the highway to reach other "hotspot" destinations anywhere in southern Ontario (just plan your drive through Toronto!)

8. Marathon

Lake Superior may be the "last frontier" of great birding locations in the province. At least, ones where you won't be eaten by Polar Bears... Marathon has a nice mix of habitats and accessibility, and is in an excellent location along the lakeshore to have massive numbers of birds concentrated along it. Areas near Thunder Bay or Sault Ste. Marie may be affected by various peninsulas or islands that may detract a bit from the local potential. Oh - and don't forget that boreal flair!

7. Ottawa Birding Area

In my list of disappointing birding locations, I picked a few areas that had high appeal to naturalists (schools, jobs etc) - but massive letdowns in terms of birding potential. I think it's only fair to show that our nation's capital has excellent year-round birding at several sites; and is a city large enough where you can actually find a decent job. Admittedly you lose out on some concentration effects observed near the Great Lakes (hawk, warblers etc) - but you can still find these birds without much effort. The Ottawa River provides numerous sites and a variety of habitats that are pretty accessible! 

6. Netitishi Point

Highest marks for the birding potential; very low marks for access. I've chosed Netitishi Point because it's my favourite (and perhaps the most well known) birding location on the James Bay coast in Ontario. No one has ever been birding here in the spring; but the potential is presumably huge. What we know about the fall is a spectacle that may be unrivaled anywhere else in our region. 20,000+ Brant? 1000+ Hudsonian Godwits? 8,000+ Long-tailed Ducks? 500+ Red-throated Loons? 7500+ White-rumped Sandpipers? 6000+Northern Pintail? You get the idea... If vagrants are your thing, well, those are in abundance as well. If you can't get to Netitishi; be sure to check in with the summer shorebird surveys at other locations along James Bay. 

5. Rondeau Birding Area

This may well be your #1 place if you dislike crowds of people. Rondeau is the perfect mix between it's two better known cousins (Pelee and Long Point). It has excellent access to its varied habitats, good infrastructure nearby, and many days of the year it feels like you have the park mostly to yourself. With that said, everything feels a bit watered down compared to the fanfare elsewhere. There are no "big ticket" hotspots quite like the tip of Pelee, tip of Long Point, Hillman Marsh etc. Not really a big deal though if you're out enjoying the birds :) 

4. Van Wagner's Beach, Hamilton

If I may be so bold; this is more of an "advanced" birding destination than the rest of this list... Not everyone is going to get a kick out of a VWB Jaeger watch in October... IF you're keen on it; there isn't really a birding event more exciting than watching a Parasitic Jaeger beat the tar out of a young Ring-billed Gull. It never gets old. The identification is an extreme challenge, you need specific weather (NE!), they require a bit of an effort to find (= more rewarding when you do) and there are several other exciting rarities that occur regularly (other Jaegers, Kittiwakes, Sabines, Gannets etc). Something overlooked is the excellent ducks, shorebirds (few and far between, but I've seen 25+ species here!), raptors and occasional fallouts of passerines. A good day here is hard to match for excitement and satisfaction. 

3. Amherst Island

Owls. Everyone loves owls. Amherst is THEE owl destination. You probably already know this, but it's worth mentioning again. Amherst on a good day could easily be the most satisfying birding anywhere in North America. What many people don't discuss is the hawks, waterbirds, shorebirds, passerines etc that can be found at the same time! Famous for being a semi-reliable location for Boreal Owl (when they're around); I think there is added appeal in a December-January-February visit when all other birding locations are generally slow. 

2. Presqu'ile Provincial Park

The name of the game with Presqu'ile is diversity. Shorebirds, Warblers, Sparrows, Raptors, Ducks, etc etc etc can be good almost any month of the year in any weather. The surrounding area isn't exactly primed as a vacation spot; but it's close to the highway and good enough! I'm surprised more birders don't take advantage of this excellent location. It also has a history getting some of the rarest birds ever seen in Ontario... 

Thee Thick-billed Kingbird

1. Point Pelee Birding Area

There is is! Numbero uno! The Leamington area is a fine vacation destination for birding (cheap motels, cottages, nice hotels, camping - etc) and is within striking distance for most of Ontario's population. Boom! But what about the birding?

May - is THEE best birding anywhere in the world; as far as I'm concerned. Know why?

- Neotropical migrants in May are stunning
- They are highly anticipated after the slowest birding in Jan-Mar
- Late leaf-out allows for great viewing
- Anticipation remains high hoping for a fallout

You can have your epic hawkwatches, shorebird staging areas, gulf coast groundings, ducks etc etc etc - but Neotropical migrants in bare trees in May is THE BEST. Pelee also offers:

Vagrants Year round
Spring Hawkwatching (slow/quality)
Fall Hawkwatching (fast/volume) 
Shorebirding (Spring = reliable, Fall = questionable)
Fun overwintering species
Excellent trails
Variety of habitats (beach, woods, grassland, fields, marsh, lakes, ponds, dry, wet, etc)
Great insects
Some herps/fish/mammals
Decent botany

Not only that, but it's all ACCESSIBLE!

A Pelee speciality! 

Think I've hit the nail on the head here? Any sites you'd add/subtract?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The 10 COOLEST birds in Ontario

In no particular order... All of these birds have the "it" factor - something that makes them stand out among the rest; even to very casual to non-birders!

Pileated Woodpecker

- A massive woodpecker
- spectacular colour/pattern
- the symbol of the Ontario Field Ornithologists
- found here year round
- has made a comeback into southern Ontario
- can be found over most of the province

Common Raven

- Largest songbird in the world
- found in nearly every part of Ontario
- has exceptional intelligence
- adapts to most environments 
- wide range of cool noises
- very social

Long-tailed Duck

- winter concentrations are a spectacle
- found near large population centres; but still largely unnoticed
- charming behaviour
- charming sounds
- spends the entire winter on the Great Lakes and doesn't seem bat an eyelash at rough water or frigid storms. 
- can dive to 200ft

Black-capped Chickadee

- charm for miles
- will eat out of your hand
- song is strongly associated with the end of winter/spring
- apparently have their own language

Sandhill Crane

- All cranes are enchanting creatures
- Ours has a heart on the top of its head
- Found throughout most of Ontario
- distinctive calls can be heard from great distances 
- they dance

Great Horned Owl

- found throughout Ontario
- apex predators
- distinctive calls
- remarkable hearing and eyesight
- start nesting in the dead of winter
- both eyes face forwards, not unlike us! (Which is why they look "wise")

Gray Jay

- a rare non-migratory passerine 
- survive the winter on food they stored the previous summer
- can raise young in the late winter; using the previously stored food
- they use sticky saliva to help store the food 
- big fluffy balls of cuteness
- will eat out of your hand

Red Knot

- the subspecies we see is endangered
- the James Bay coast of Ontario is of paramount importance to the species
- helped kick off the summer James Bay shorebird surveys
- a large percentage of the subspecies is banded (see photo)
- breeding adults are a beautiful salmon pink colour

Peregrine Falcon

- fastest creature on the planet
- recovery efforts were a great success 
- can be found in the wildest of places; AND in the most urban centres
- remarkable vision

Common Loon

- the symbol of Ontario and Canada
- calls are iconic 
- so beautiful; it's illegal to get one mounted
- unique to loons; solid/heavy bones 
- can dive to 200ft 
- surprisingly tough and aggressive at times 

Runner up: Cerulean Warbler

Agree/disagree with the list? IF you disagree, what species would you add? And why?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

2015 BIG YEAR - August Update

August 2015

This is the eighty 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 - 81
Gadwall - 9
American Black Duck - 3
Mallard - 75
Blue-winged Teal - 8
Northern Shoveler - 3
Green-winged Teal - 15
Redhead - 5
Lesser Scaup - 1
Surf Scoter - 1
White-winged Scoter - 44
Long-tailed Duck - 169
Hooded Merganser - 1
Common Merganser - 26
Red-breasted Merganser - 2
Common Loon - 22
Horned Grebe - 1
Red-necked Grebe - 4
Double-crested Cormorant - 12550
Great Blue Heron - 14
Black-crowned Night-Heron - 3
Osprey - 2
Killdeer - 17
Spotted Sandpiper - 4
Solitary Sandpiper - 1
Whimbrel - 1
Least Sandpiper - 1
Short-billed Dowitcher - 1
Red-necked Phalarope - 18
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Long-tailed Jaeger - 1
Sabine's Gull - 1
Bonaparte's Gull - 237
Little Gull - 1
Ring-billed Gull - 2775
Herring Gull - 850
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1
Great Black-backed Gull - 4
Caspian Tern - 310
Common Tern - 215
Rock Pigeon - 52
Mourning Dove - 17
Chimney Swift - 274
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 8
Downy Woodpecker - 9
Hairy Woodpecker - 4
Northern Flicker - 6
American Kestrel - 2
Peregrine Falcon - 6
Eastern Kingbird - 4
Warbling Vireo - 3
Blue Jay - 14
American Crow - 10
Purple Martin - 40
Tree Swallow - 162
Bank Swallow - 479
Barn Swallow - 1160
Cliff Swallow - 197
Black-capped Chickadee - 12
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Carolina Wren - 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 2
American Robin - 25
Gray Catbird - 3
European Starling - 537
Cedar Waxwing - 134
Tennessee Warbler - 1
American Redstart - 2
Yellow Warbler - 29
Chipping Sparrow - 7
Song Sparrow - 4
Northern Cardinal - 7
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 13
Common Grackle - 56
Brown-headed Cowbird - 65
Baltimore Oriole - 30
House Finch - 19
American Goldfinch - 46
House Sparrow - 86

Total species - 80

Total ebird checklists - 25

Best birds of the month: Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed Jaeger, Little Gull

Useless seasonal rarities: Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter (October birds)

Highlight "big year" birds: Glad to get Long-tailed Jaeger and Sabine's out of the way, but Least Sandpiper and Blue-winged Teal count just the same (and may be harder to get!)

Checklists of the month:

#1 -
#2 -
#3 -

Total species added to the big year this month: 6

Big year total to date: 175

Target species going forwards: September is the "poor man's" May. There is a huge number of birds moving; so the potential is there for several big year additions. I need a number of passerines, my shorebird list is still full of holes, and there are some "unusual" birds that I expect (Pomarine!). Stay tuned.

eBird needs alerts - The same as before House Wren, Swamp Sparrow, Veery, Canada Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Ovenbird, and more...

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 | February | March | April | May | June | July


I wanted 5 new shorebirds, 2 Jaegers and a rarity that wasn't a NECO... I failed. Sure, I scored 2 Jaegers, and had some great additions (Sabine's Gull, Red-necked Phalarope, etc) but I managed to see some shorebirds for a "second" time in 2015 - like Short-billed Dowitcher or Whimbrel...  Can I trade those for a Golden Plover? Or a Greater Yellowlegs? Stilt Sand? Pec? Turnstone? Godwit? eh? eh?!

I think September will involve playing a game with the weather. Late August provided several days of really boring weather-birding with a cutoff low bringing the same thing day after day. I could use some really good storms - from any direction - to whip up some action along the lake for just about any family. With lots of birds around, it will be fun to check back in October and see if I was able to plug any holes.

I don't typically think of September as a big "rarity month" (although the last week of September can be great); yet I only need moderate rare. I also happen to be sitting at 199 *all time* for my condo; so it would be nice to get #200 as a real highlight bird, rather than something overdue. I'm thinking Western Kingbird or American Avocet.... Instead of Canada Warbler or Ruddy Turnstone... 

Aug 10

Aug 4

Aug 5