Tuesday, December 13, 2016

World record attempt

This Thursday, Ken Burrell and I are going to attempt a world record

15 species of gull in a single region/day!

 It will take 14 to tie Which has happened before along the Niagara River and also in St. Johns, Newfoundland Old-school blog readers will know that I have broken this down before, but never fully succeeded in getting the record.

While a Black-headed Gull and a Black-legged Kittiwake seem to be hanging around, we will other semi-regulars have yet to be seen this fall… So rather than wait for them to be found and do a twitch fest, we decided to pick a great weather-day and do it ourselves.

Here’s the plan:

Dawn at Fort Erie: small gulls will be the rule here, with Ross’s on our minds… Hopefully the mild fall (up until recently) means there will be a lingering Sabine’s as well… Back in 2012, post Hurricane-Sandy our group scored Ross’s, Sabine’s, Kittiwake and Black-headed here in a single morning… This may be our primary hope for Franklin’s and the only prayer for an outside-chance Laughing.

Fort Erie north: after our dawn-watch, we’ll probably struggle to scan the small gulls that love Buffalo more than Canada… If we have already scored some big-name small-gull rarities, perhaps we can scan faster… Fingers will also be crossed that decent numbers of ducks and large gulls will be foraging closer to the Canadian side in order to avoid the frigid NW wind. We’ll be lucky to score a Franklin’s or California.

Drive: we’ll zip past the mid-river “dead zone” and arrive at Dufferin Islands ASAP. And no, we won’t be checking for Titmice or the Mandarin Duck. This is a record attempt!!

The falls: extra walking will mean extra species… We will walk from the control gates, down below the falls and back – ensuring we get multiple angles on each feeding frenzy and roosting congregation. If the winds are more N than W, hopefully water levels will be lower allowing for more roosting & foraging opportunities.

Above the falls: this is thee place for large-gull rarities at this time of year. Slaty-backed seems to be quite fond of the area, but it has turned up nearly everything in the past (Mew, California etc.). I’m sure many of us have this as thee hypothetical Glaucous-winged location for the river…  

Below the falls: not skipping out on this gem. Short on large-gull rarities in the past, there is a certain “magic” below the falls. Sometimes there is hardly a bird, but today we’ll be checking every nook and cranny for something special (our best chance for Ivory Gull??).

Whirlpool: another small-gull spot. We expect to check it for the lingering Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake or another small gull… If by some fluke we already have all the small gulls, we can easily skip it!

Roosting Rocks: medium-gull magic? Has an odd nack for turning up rarities that we just don’t see elsewhere… Probably our best chance for Mew Gull, but also worth checking for any small gulls, Franklins or even California… The first river-record of Black-tailed would do us wonders.

Adam Beck: can’t overlook it. Long gone are the days of the resident California Gull. This is a very popular stop on any birders river-day, but I suspect we will carefully measure our time here… The “constant action” atmosphere of this lookout may not be suited to a world record attempt… This may be where we start to question our definition of species if a “Vega” or “Kamchatka” Gull are circling around…

Queenston Docks: a difficult vantage point, but one that has turned up goodies like Mew, “Common” Mew and Black-headed in the past… Depending on conditions up-river, massive numbers of birds can be present here. By this point in our day, we will very much need to make decisions based on our current list… That leads us to:

THE DECISION: Two hypothetical scenarios. Only one more stop remains!

1)    – We went on a small-gull tear, and have already picked up Ross’s, Sabine’s, Black-headed & Kittiwake…

2)    – We went on a large-gull tear, and picked up California, Slaty-backed and Laughing…

1) Return to “Above the falls”: If large gulls are lacking on our total, we head back to the control gates & the “above the falls” area… At dusk, large numbers of large gulls return from nearby landfills to roost… As the light fails, a stunning Slaty-backed will cruise down to solidify our day…

2) Niagara-on-the-lake: If we somehow missed Ross’s or Black-headed, we’ll zip down the NOTL. A quick check of the rivermouth could also help us pick up that missing Kittiwake (if need be), but most likely we will begin the vigil of the “dusk flypast”. Working over the rapid-fire flocks of Bonaparte’s heading to roost. A stiff W or NW wind will keep the birds close to our shore, making the Franklin’s or Black-headed that much sweeter as it passes.

Boom! I’ll be live-tweeting the record attempt, so feel free to follow along… I’ve touched on a few *variables* that will aid our day, but wanted to jot them down here:

-       A warm fall may help a few species “linger” – such as Sabine’s, Franklin’s or even Laughing…

-       Recent & ongoing west or NW winds will push gulls off of Lake Erie and into the river (Ross’s!)

-       W or NW winds may help keep birds closer to the Canadian shore in specific areas (Black-headed during the evening flypast!)

-       Recent snowfall will concentrate some species at the river… I’m thinking California or especially Mew, that are more likely to shift to aquatic habitats (from fields etc) in “times of need”

-       COLD weather will increase food demands on the birds. More flying/foraging means easier detection, but hopefully some larger gulls who aren’t getting their fair share at the landfills will return to the river early… (California, Black-tailed, dare I say Yellow-legged?)

-       Recent cold fronts will hopefully have brought the “Arctic” gulls down in greater numbers… Slaty-backed seems like a bit of a “freeze out” species, Ivory s a mid-late December bird, and it would also jive for Glaucous-winged…

Of course, some of these factors could really give us grief… Cold air can = shimmer and poor visibility. As can lake-effect snowsqualls. Fingers are crossed the NW wind helps prevent squalls from the best spots…

Finally, there is always a magical, unknown date that occurs in late fall – every single year. It’s the date when birding during stormy weather is no longer productive or fun… You suddenly realize that birds just shelter during COLD winds, and actually fly around more on the nice days… When that happens, migration is essentially over, and you wonder why you froze your @$$ off for nothing… Hopefully it hasn’t happened yet.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Migrants on the road - Pelee

Waaay waaay waaay back on October 30th, I was lucky to enjoy a decent drop of migrants at Point Pelee. Overnight & morning rains dropped the standard fare in decent numbers, and one could tell it was going to be a great day by the number of songbirds sitting on the road as I drove in (pre-dawn)... While not amazing, I did my best to take a cell-phone recording as I drove towards the tip. If you're keen to watch them, I'd highly recommend viewing them on youtube proper, and in full screen mode!

A little bit of fun - as we wait for the passerine migrants to return again!!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A little more rarity weather

Can hardly complain with the weather this fall... Great conditions & great birds... Another interesting low pressure system is poised to pass near/through the Great Lakes early this week... Once again the winds may be lining up a little better for Wisconsin/Michigan & area than Ontario/New York - but everyone should get in on the fun...

I'd say this is more of a "classic" fall low - with lost of moisture - although not exactly "classic" with only moderate winds... Here's a rapid breakdown:

Early Monday: Monster 979mb low to the west... Precip-free southerly winds moving into Michigan & Ontario... This is near "peak" for this event, but as of writing (Sunday) they've already started...

Early Tuesday: low stays at max intensity for ~24 hours then starts to weaken/become "cutoff" - however a lot of energy has been pulled into the S. Great Lakes by this point - including moisture...

Early Wednesday: Primary low is weakening fast, new low pressure forming near James Bay and also near the east coast... Odd/fun wind structure pulling into the southern Great Lakes where post-frontal (cutoff low) SW winds (and potentially some warmth) are reaching the region, despite the fact this would normally be the "cold" side of the storm

Early Thursday: The east coast low has left, and the "primary/weakening" low phases with the "James Bay" low, giving us another shot of fun wind/weather (and by this point, genuinely colder air)... The wind doesn't "come from" anywhere all that interesting, but should help get whatever birds are around/left (gulls, ducks?) moving. 

Early Friday - the "phased low" hangs around and weakens, but may be in a good position to bring even more N winds off of James Bay (which eastern ON birders thoroughly enjoyed this week)... Nothing too special, but a fun setup for the fall - anytime. 

Keep your eyes peeled, and find some late-season birds to enjoy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rapid-fire weekend weather breakdown...

Thursday: Precip-free strong SW winds from a distance (decent contrast between high and low centres as the cause)

Friday: Strong low, turning a bit cyclonic here... Strong S/SW winds and warm air in the S. Great Lakes..

Sat: Low over the Great Lakes.. "Cold side" pushing through S. Great Lakes mid-day... 

Sun: some odd phasing of low's between James Bay and the east coast results in a "long distance" northerly wind event, cold temps and lake-effect snow bands...

Mon: Winds waining, still northerly and cold

Could be fun! Depending on what you want to look for... Or how tolerant of the cold you are??

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hypothetical "catch basins" for Great Lakes birding hotspots

Yes, this post was written with the recent Sagebrush Sparrow at Whitefish Point in mind...

Three hypothetical "Catch basins" for Great Lakes birding hotspots...


Red = overland migration / concentration (primarily diurnal migration, such as hawks)

Black = overwater migration / concentration (primarily waterbirds like ducks, jaegers, etc)

Purple = overwater concentration (primarily songbirds, shorebirds, etc) - eg,/ birds that find themselves over water but are looking for land...

... I've also tried my best to keep the scale the same - so each figure & basin you're viewing should be comparable to other sites...

Whitefish Point


Massive "Catch area" for birds moving in from the southwest. This is where records like Short-tailed Hawk come from... It is also potentially the cause of many mega-rare species that arrive on SOUTHWEST winds (Eg,/ Lucy's Warbler, Hepatic Tanager).... I somewhat suspect that this recent Sagebrush Sparrow didn't "arrive" in the Great Lakes yesterday --- it just finally wandered its way to Whitefish yesterday (this would be a similar process to the Grace's Warbler at Pelee this spring


Whitefish has a massive "catch area" for waterbird movement/migration (hence their awesome counts) - but also vagrants.. This is why they have so many Ancient Murrelet records... 


For birds passing over water and looking for a place to land (eg,/ Nocturnal migrants) I would guess that there is not an exceptional catch basin... YES - it would be very good given the location of the point related to good migratory weather (eg,/ SW or NW winds) but as we compare with other hotspots, I'd say it's the smallest factor of the three in bringing volume or rarities to Whitefish.

Long Point


The catch basin for diurnal migration isn't massive (imo) for the point... It is possible under specific weather conditions for this to be greatly expanded, but with typical winds/weather I would suggest that the point itself does not benefit from its geography in this way... (eg,/ a wicked west wind would be ideal, SW or N would be average)... 


Lake Erie is a great place for waterbirds (volume and rares) but the Long Point catch basin is simply the nearby waters... Specific weather will really help, but the norm is only a degree better than lakewatching would be at any other vantage point on Lake Erie or the Great Lakes in general... 


Boom. Long Point has an exceptional "over water" catch basin - particularly in spring or SW winds in general... Something that hurts its status is the fact that multiple places can receive birds under these conditions, rather than one specific site (eg,/ you can't be at the tip and breakwater at the same time) but it sure helps ratchet up the list... I would bet some benjamins that records at the tip of Long Point such as American Oystercatcher, Varied Bunting and Hooded Oriole were brought in under this effect (over water, looking for a place to land). 

Point Pelee

Pelee is Whitefish Point in reverse (or is Whitefish Pelee in reverse?) in terms of volume-migration and rarities... Pelee catches birds going south... This means awesome hawk migrations in the fall, and re-orienting vagrants in the spring (Grace's Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Black Swift) The basin could potentially be extended into Michigan to the NW, but it's really quite hard for me (or anyone!) to say if that effect truly takes place... 


Similar to Long Point, Pelee likely sees waterbirds from a relatively small area... It just happens to be a bird-magnet type region like the western Lake Erie basin... So you get awesome volume of Bonaparte's Gulls and the occasional/associated Ross's Gull... A notch or two above the Great Lakes norm - but not "out of this world" results... 


I suspect Pelee is hampered by Pelee Island in terms of "catch basin" of birds coming from off the water... They have other options in many directions, so the basin is quite small.. I suspect this is part of the reason why there is no particular concentration of vagrants or migrants from over-water on a regular basis (similar to Long Point and hawk flights, suitable weather is the exception and not the norm)... Yes there was an epic drop of migrants at Pelee this year on May 11th - but there was equally insane numbers at Pelee Island... IF Pelee Island were wiped of the map - would there have been 3x more birds at Pelee??

This is a rapid-fire un-edited post, and part of a bigger idea in terms of what truly makes a birding hotspot enjoyable (and when)... I wanted to get it out of my head - which is how these things end up on the blog... Perhaps more later (or perhaps not)...

Two quick case studies on the same topic before I go:

Caribou Island


Hypothetically there is no effect of this whatsoever.


Hypothetically an average location for waterbird concentrations.


Hypothetically an AMAZING / very large catch basin of things lost over water... Presumably this is what pulled some of the rarities observed here to the island (Clark's Nutcracker, Black-headed Grosbeak, spring Purple Sandpiper)... In theory, spring and fall should be good here (with spring perhaps better)  --- and --- in theory --- the right weather conditions could lead to some truly spectacular fallouts from time to time... 

Netitishi Point

RED/PURPLE combined

Presumably the point-effect is decent, but nothing particularly special when compared to these other sites...


The catch basin for waterbirds is off-the-hook... Just a question of A.) being there and B.) actually having them visible due to distance or conditions... 

OK! That's it... 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A little more rarity weather a'brewin'?

Nothing SPEC-tacular, but at least two more low pressure systems packin SW winds and a general lack of precipitous on route.

Saturday morning:

850mb winds, pushing from Texas to ON

Tuesday morning:

A lack of rain in the southern Great Lakes... 

Yet some ballin' SW winds (and a high-vorticity-ish dryline of sorts?) 

Neither event should be particularly long-lived, which may not be 100% ideal - but the formula is there... 

Question is - what will show up? Is it getting a bit late? It's not quite Cave Swallow weather, but maybe it's close enough??? Maybe we'll get more Cattle Egrets??? Will Cattle Egrets continue to move north, so long as the temps are >15C??? What if we get another western-goose-invasion??? Will it be Ross's Geese this time??? Snow Geese??? Where does one go to "find" rare passerines in this weather??? 

Stay tuned... 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

White-breasted Nuthatch movement

Have been seeing White-breasted Nuthatches EVERYWHERE recently...

Not expected... (including places like Point Pelee - where I saw 5 at the tip TOGETHER recently)

Didn't bother to do  a quick search of eBird, but I assume one would  fimd several other "new" or "high count" style records - wherever they aren't expected - in the last month or so....

(insert your ebird checklists you found here)


So - keep your eyes peeled for WBNU!! Perhaps this is a good time to look for other unlikely-irruptive species too? (Who knows?)

Rare bird weather is slowing down a bit (see the previous post before the titmouse post) --- sooner or later a dynamite bird is going to be found somewhere OTHER than Chippewa County in the UP of Michigan...

Will it be you?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Titmouse Movement

Had a Titmouse in the yard today...

Not expected...

Did a quick search of eBird, and found several other "new" records - somewhat north of their normal range - in the last week or so....



There have also been several recent records at places where they aren't normally around -

Pelee: http://burgbirder.blogspot.ca/2016/10/more-thanksgiving-birding.html

Long Point (Old Cut): http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32049738

Holiday Beach: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/view/checklist/S31981302


So - keep your eyes peeled for titmice!! Perhaps this is a good time to look for Carolina Chickadees too? (Who knows?)

Rare bird weather is full-steam-ahead (see previous post) --- sooner or later a dynamite bird is going to be found. Will it be you?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gearing up for some October rare-birding

I wasted considerable time watching the track of Hurricane Matthew - waiting and waiting to see if Ontario, Quebec or Atlantic Canada was going to reap the bird-benefits that can be associated with destructive tropical weather systems to our south...

Needless to say - it didn't happen... (Which isn't entirely true, as a lot of energy from Matthew pulled into Newfoundland yesterday --- but I don't think anyone was out looking??)

Anyhoots -

Here's a very rough breakdown on some upcoming weather - that I think could make for some darn entertaining vagrant/rarity hunting style birding in the southern Great Lakes (or enjoyable birding in general - but this isn't a "fallout forecast") Some general thoughts:

- the persistent high pressure we've had in our region is finally sliding southwards - perhaps due to little more than normal climate/climatology

- as it slips south, we will be getting southerly flow and warm temperatures into our area from both receding high pressure centres and advancing low pressure systems (that are scooting NNE - unlike the usual NE or ENE)

- the pacific jet is burning up right now, pushing energy onto the continent

- some of that energy is related to ex-typhoons (maybe even the MJO a little?) - so we'll get some potent weather and lower pressures for the next little while....

So what's the weather breakdown?? -

Rapid fire:

Tomorrow (Weds) - SW flow aloft in advance of the front. Warm. 

Thursday: Front passing the great lakes. Strong NNW winds and clearing skies (hawks, diurnal migration!) 


Friday - calm, but note Hurricane Nicole and a powerful chain of low's coming ashore from the pacific

Saturday - SW flow starting over the great lakes. Note the two low's mid-continent from the energy that arrived on Saturday. Hurricane Nicole still visible (leaving) ... Low "Bombing" out on the west coast

Sunday - continental lows zipping north - leaving DRY SW flow into the southern great lakes

Monday - fairly calm, but SW flow STILL reaching the S. Great Lakes after the earlier "mid-continental" lows zip off the screen... Energy from the pacific bomb is now consolidating east of the rockies...

Tuesday - energy has pulled into one low... Only shows 1000mb on this map, but it's also 7 days out... GFS has been hinting at a ~980-985mb monster approaching the great lakes...

Wednesday - after semi-bombing-out on the GFS, the low is really wrapping around and bringing Franklin's-Gull-ish winds whipping out of the W... Could be grand Fort Erie lakewatching winds too!

So yeah... Could be great weather for those who like to get out and find something unexpected! Or perhaps will provide some sort of rarity to chase once it's found on that December 17th CBC in your area!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Along came a Sucker

A quick check of Van Wagner's Beach during our recent run of east winds yielded - what I thought was - my new favourite fish species (family!) a Redhorse!!

Check it out!

Hindsight is 20/20 - and I think I should also have photographed the pelvic fin??? But this is all we get!

Then, based on my barely-intensive internet searching - I'm started to wonder why this isn't just a White Sucker or some other sucker species... 

Which leads me to one question... Are there any good Fish ID resources for Ontario?? Any good books I should pick up in my new-found-quest for fish? I'm somewhat surprised at how difficult it was to find a basic "What fish are found in Lake Ontario" checklist online... Perhaps they're all swamped out by sport fishermen looking for trout... 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

(First Ever!) PeregrinePrints Butterfly Quiz

Some Butterfly pics from Pelee!!! Rather than label them all, I've left them blank. Therefore, you can use it as a quiz (if you so desire!)

If you know them all - enjoy!

If you want to cheat a little, they all come from the list I published on the 24th...

If you really want to know what any of them are without looking it up, leave a comment and I'll reply!

This was a VERY small individual... (above)

?? (above)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Odd Ruby-throated Hummer (late juv?)

We watched a rather lackluster showdown between two Hummingbirds on Sept 25 --- where a seemingly normal Ruby-throated Hummingbird took a few swipes at another hummer with dingy/dusky sides and an obviously shorter bill... Olde short-bill seemed rather disinterested in the whole affair, not really fleeing or doing much of anything... 

It them proceeded to feed for quite some time, (after RTHU #1 left the scene, seemingly perplexed at its inability to defend the feeder) and then landed in a nearby Mulberry tree... Soon thereafter we heard a series of high pitched calls, that were (at least to me) unfamiliar as Ruby-throated... 

So with the combination of odd shape + odd calls, it was time to break out the camera gear. I was able to record a few of the calls (which it did constantly, the video is just short) with my point and shoot - which you can watch (or listen to) below:

High pitched calls... 

I then broke out the "stills" gear - and fired off a series. As best I can tell, this is a Ruby-throated... But I'd be happy to be wrong... I can't find much on the calls, but suspect it may be some sort of juvenile/begging type noise? Or perhaps it's just a bit under the weather and has a head cold?? 

Leave a comment if you please!