Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Photographic Year in Review

Check out past years here: 20142013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009

These are the twelve eight images that summarize my photographic moments of 2015. In the past, I scoured through my files and pulled out the images that highlighted my travels or personal favourite moments. In 2015, I found myself pulled towards non-photographic endeavours, so the selection is somewhat limited. No complaints here!

A brutally cold winter was exciting for both meteorology and photography. More and more I find my birding and photography are tied to interesting meteorological events - sometimes seeing or photographing very little but having a blast enjoying the weather. The flock of ducks (below) really showed how difficult life could be in the frigid weather - locked into a tiny pool on Lake Ontario. 

2015 was also the year I partook in my first "big year"! The final tally was 196 species - all from my condo. I don't mean to spoil the fun, but it really wasn't much of an effort. I knew I would be home for extended periods and kept track of the birds I saw... The best days in spring and fall were spent birding elsewhere... I hope this revelation doesn't ruin anything regarding my 2016 efforts.... Anyways - this Wood Duck is my favourite bird image from the condo in 2015. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - in flight! Given my limited availability, I was really happy with my ability to predict some exciting birding weather in May and make the most of two 2.5 day visits to the Pelee peninsula. Not only "rarity weather" - but volume days as well. 

A fall trip to Pelee went exactly as planned with huge numbers of Monarchs roosting at the tip (thousands). If I ever get around to it, I have a LOT more photographs to share from the adventure. 

Lunar Eclipse!

So that's all she wrote. I hope everyone has a great 2016! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2016 BIG YEAR plans

With El Nino raging, and the potential for an La Nina later this year (often, but not always follows an el nino) - I thought to myself, now is the time. Now is the time to do a big year. Not only that, but it's a leap year, meaning I'll have 366 days to break records. All the records.

It's not a decision I make lightly, and I've spent time consulting with my family to ensure that everyone is on board. Many who have come before detail the hardships associated with doing a big year and the stress it can put on your day to day activities.

The majority of big-year-patrons spend considerable amount of time on the fringes of their self-inflicted areas - such as the outer islands of Alaska in an ABA big year, or the hostile Mexico Michigan border for an Ontario attempt. In Ontario, my personal record is 301 species in a single year - a far cry from the records.

Throughout the year I may be chronicling my adventures on the blog in monthly updates - potentially with species totals and thoughts on what future months will hold.  Not unlike my 2015 Condo Big Year, there will be rules. They are:

1) - I will only count birds that I see while I'm standing in Ontario

2) - Taxonomy will follow the eBird checklist, unless I decide otherwise.

3) -  I will not take any trips specifically to add species to my big year

4) - I will not twitch anything

5) - It's gotta be fun

Be sure to check back as things unfold!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review Time! Penguins - The Ultimate Guide

Disclaimer! Princeton Publishing provided the copies for review!

Price listed on book - US $35.00
Authors - Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, Julie Cornthwaite
Pages - 240
Size - ~8"x12" - maybe an inch and a half? - with a good thick cover
Topics covered - Penguins (duh)... Life cycle, general species groups, science and conservation, their natural history, where to see them etc. Not to mention some epic photos...  
Photographs - So many! I just hinted at this, but the book is visually stunning... Nearly every page is coated in some of the most spectacular Penguin photos I've ever seen... It seems to me that this charismatic bunch of birds has been worked from virtually every angle by highly skilled photographers... 

The Skinny: The large size and epic photos are more than enough to suck you in... Then, if you actually enjoy reading, you'll find a wealth of information to keep you busy! It may just take a while to get there, cause you'll want to keep flipping the pages to see the photos of the birds...

The Good: Penguins. I am going to sound like a broken record 

I should also add a disclaimer that I am no Penguin expert, so if there are any factual errors in their identification or life history 

The Bad: There is nothing bad about the book. I would say that it is rather hefty, falling somewhere between a reference work and a coffee table book. I certainly wouldn't bring it on a trip, or (heck) even in the car for a long road trip... But as long as you know about the size - there is nothing to complain about. 

Who Should Buy It:

Buy it for birders, naturalist, friends of birders/naturalists, children, schools, libraries, people looking for travel ideas, people with too much money, etc. etc. etc. 

There is going to be part of society (or just the people you know) who will think they're "above" something like a silly book about Penguins - but in reality, everyone loves Penguins and the only people who won't appreciate this book are the people who don't like books in general... I highly recommend it!

More info here: 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

2015 BIG YEAR - November Update

November 2015

This is the eleventh 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) (hint - there are none)-

Canada Goose - 165
Tundra Swan - 39
American Wigeon - 19
American Black Duck - 120
Mallard - 214
Northern Pintail - 2
Green-winged Teal - 1
Canvasback - 2
Redhead - 168
Greater Scaup - 423
Lesser Scaup - 59
Surf Scoter - 2130
White-winged Scoter - 4440
Black Scoter - 475
Long-tailed Duck - 36500
Bufflehead - 55
Common Goldeneye - 745
Hooded Merganser - 1
Common Merganser - 15
Red-breasted Merganser - 7800
Red-throated Loon - 117
Common Loon - 170
Horned Grebe - 2
Double-crested Cormorant - 129
Great Blue Heron - 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Cooper's Hawk - 2
Red-tailed Hawk - 6
Rough-legged Hawk - 1
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Bonaparte's Gull - 47
Ring-billed Gull - 730
Hering Gull - 805
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2
Glaucous Gull - 1
Great Black-backed Gull - 47
Rock Pigeon - 8
Mourning Dove - 21
Downy Woodpecker - 7
Northern Flicker - 1
Merlin - 1
Peregrine Falcon - 2
Blue Jay - 4
American Crow - 6
Black-capped Chickadee - 11
American Robin - 48
European Starling - 170
American Pipit - 1
Cedar Waxwing - 165
Snow Bunting - 160
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1
Dark-eyed Junco - 17
Northern Cardinal - 8
Red-winged Blackbird - 15
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1
House Finch - 29
Purple Finch - 1
Common Redpoll - 8
Pine Siskin - 11
American Goldfinch - 696
House Sparrow - 55

Total species - 64

Total ebird checklists - 16

Best birds of the month:  Were hybrids? Parasitic Jaeger, Purple Finch, Canvasback... ugh. 

Useless rarities: Northern Pintail x Mallard hybrid (spankin male too), Herring X Great Black-backed Gull hybrid (spankin 1st basic too)... "Northwestern" Red-tailed Hawk

Highlight "big year" birds: 

Total species added to the big year this month: 0

Big year total to date: 194

Target species going forwards:  Harlequin Duck, Black-legged Kittiwake, Ross's Gull

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 |August |September | October



Welp... I appreciate all of the encouragement from last month, but I think we're at the end of the line here. After November failed to produce any "big year" additions, I feel like the chances of adding new species will come down to luck... 

Passerines are pretty much impossible, shorebirds are nearly so... Remaining species are generally "rare"  - I will cross my finders for some blistering N or NE winds and something totally unexpected. Here's hoping for one last addition! 

(Boy, I didn't even take any window "sun/weather" photos in November)... 

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Unique Opportunity? - Netitishi Point Dec 10-16th

While the weather is hardly "mild" - I can't help but notice things are exceptionally warm in Moosonee these days. Check out the temperature anomalies: 

And all of the major models agree - there are no "deep freeze" conditions in the forecast for the next several days around southern James Bay

Other than a big blast of cold air in late Nov/early Dec, it has been very mild for weeks on end. The cold blast did allow a large amount of ice to build up along the Ontario coast, but as far as I can tell, it has been breaking up since then...

I'm looking forward to a proper update from the Canadian Ice Service, which has high quality mapping for James Bay - but hasn't provided anything new for several days. I'll probably turn it into another riveting tweet when it arrives. 

As the title implies, I can't help but wonder what the birding will be like at Netitishi Point, one of my favourite scraps of land on the planet, over the next week or so... Warm-ish weather and open water in mid-December probably doesn't happen very often... So I wonder what birds are around to be seen?

Many of the major models keep things warm (ish) through at least Dec 16/17th... 

What I find particularly strange about the warm(ish) temperatures is that they haven't always been accompanied by southerly winds... 

Here's some 15 knot (~25kph) due N winds for Saturday Dec 12th - 

Which either stay a gentle NW to NE, or go light right through until Monday/Tuesday (Dec 14/15) when they really pick up again to nearly 30 knots, due N... That's 50-60kph!!!

And as far as I can tell, snowfall probably (probably) wouldn't be too much of a hinderance either... Allowing one to actually look for birds - 

So with reasonable temps, decent ice conditions, modest precipitation and sublime north winds - I would be VERY interested to know how the birding is at Netitishi Point over the next 7-10 days!!!

Will it be overflowing with King Eiders? Will Common Eiders and Black Guillemots be zipping around as they flee the rapidly freezing hudson's bay? Will Gyrfalcons be chasing them down? Will Ross's Gulls be hiding amongst the flocks of Glaucous? 

Perhaps in another life - where I had unlimited free time and money, these questions would be answered... For now, I'm content to wonder! 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dovekie Weather

This late-to-the-party Dovekie photographed on Nov 30th came from James Bay. Want to know how I know?

To begin, some background. I firmly believe that Hudson and James Bay trap ungodly numbers of rare birds (especially waterbirds) that "birders" never get to see... There's no one up there. Since much of this coastline is in Ontario, you'd think Ontario birders (and the Great Lakes) would be the secondary location where these birds occur, but I don't think that's the case. It is generally COLD NW to W winds that push birds off of Hudson Bay in the fall, and as the green line shows above - I think they fly over Quebec and towards Massachusetts (etc), meaning Ontario birders miss out. (And also why MA birders get nutty things like Gray-tailed Tattler)

So what does this have to do with the Dovekie in Oakville?!

Nov 28

If we rewind the weather, the important feature is the weak cold front over Hudson Bay (green) 

Nov 29

A day later, it is pushing SE - or bringing NW winds, right where it usually would... This front is fairly weak, but notable in that it was a blast of freezing/arctic Air (think -20 at night)... And it has been very warm on James Bay this fall, so this was one of the first mass-buildups of ice along the Ontario coast....

Nov 30

A day later, (Dovekie day) the front has pretty much died, and - which is somewhat unusual - high pressure has formed over the St. Lawrence, and is (hypothetically) blocking any migrating/freeze-out birds from their usual route into Quebec/NE USA and towards Lake Ontario. There were NE to NNE winds at the lift bridge in Burlington all day and the Dovekie is found in Oakville that evening. 

Supporting this theory is a small rash of King Eiders that hit Lake Ontario (and Erie) at the same time... One thing i'd really like an answer to (if this theory is true) is --- Did the Dovekie and/or King Eiders fly at night or at day? Or Both? And did they hit Lake Ontario at the west end? Or did they actually get blown (or just fly) to the west end on the NE winds? 

Overall this is not a weather event I would (normally) get excited about. I think there was a heavy dose of luck involved in bringing/locating a Dovekie... Pretty exciting stuff!