Friday, June 9, 2017

B... Butterfly Alert!?


There's a huge surge of hot/humid air approaching. I suspect it'll be good for a vagrant bird or two, and whatever is still migrating this time of year (terns, swifts, uber-late shorebirds/warblers, immature gulls?)...

I've noted a number of rare tern records in June / early July in the Great Lakes, and wonder if this is the type of weather that could help make it happen. Wouldn't put it past another rare heron or two to arrive as well! (I'm hoping for Black-bellied Whistle Ducks)..

Here's a look at a few upcoming maps:


Sunday 



Monday 




Thursday



Beyond the birds, I suspect this will be primo-weather for butterfly and dragonfly migration. I've haven't really had the chance to poke around in June for a NUMBER of years now, but there's a chance I'll get a bit of spare time during this surge. Should be fun!





Sunday, May 14, 2017

Inside a swallow roost!




I was pretty blown away to discover there's a Swallow roost practically visible from the end of our driveway... Last night was my first attempt at getting out there with my scope/camera and figuring out exactly what the birds were up to...

Things started off with small groups of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallow foraging around the pond... Low numbers of Bank Swallows at this time....


The primary suspects... Tree, Bank, Barn


Soon the first pioneering Trees & Barn's were swooping around the roost... Around this time there were swallows at all heights (some very high) appearing around the pond/neighbourhood... 



On this night, small groups started landing every few minutes... The first bunch looked a bit lonely! I was a bit surprised to see that the majority of Tree & Barn Swallows would approach this way - low over the water - with a quick circle or two of the roost - before settling down...



As the roost slowly started filling, it suddenly became apparent that a second group had formed high over the pond... As far as I could tell, it was mostly Bank Swallows (!) although all species were represented...




The roost was beside a blackbird roost (low numbers this time of year), and sporadically a Red-winged Blackbird would try to join the bunch, but otherwise not a lot would happen... If a Ring-billed Gull passed overhead, the "Bank Swallow" group would get nervous... 




Numbers continued to build... Primarily from birds coming in low along the pond surface... One issue they seemed to have was finding a good place to rest - as more birds landed on your perch, the more it started to sag towards the water... If 2-3 took off, then the rest would get catapulted back into the air - and subsequently landing elsewhere and continuing the process...




AND THEN - the grande finale! The Bank Swallow flock would DIVE at top speed (not unlike Chimney Swifts coming in to roost) and rapidly settle into the bunch! Some would settle in, and some would break free and fly higher before trying again.... By this time of night, my shutter speed was so slow I couldn't really capture the zooming mass, but it was an absolute spectacle to watch.




And then, everyone was settled!! Which is relative, because they were LOUD! 

What a show!!! Can't wait to see how it progresses throughout the summer. 





Thursday, May 11, 2017

A dull cormorant



I was a bit worried about my Neotropic Cormorant streak, but I managed to see one today at VWB... Five years and counting!!!

After my lakewatch (with work calling), I decided to do a quick check of the Tollgate ponds... I can say that watching the flocks on the lake is a 1000x better way of spotting a NECO than looking through the masses there...

BUT WAIT!

Down low, on the edge of a mass, a cormorant sitting low with a dull/plain looking head... Surely I've spotted it on the ground!? I grabbed the scope, and was a bit shocked to see a decidedly-NON-Neotropic Cormorant...



Due to the dull features, I pondered Neotropic X Double-crested hybrid, but alas I wasn't really seeing any slam-dunk NECO features... Could this possibly be an uber-dull bird?? (I also decided it wasn't oiled, as the few head plumes it showed were white)...



It seemed to be paired up with a sub-adult DCCO... And was very clearly on the very edge of the nesting bunch (seemed to be on a nest)... So the jury is out in my books if this is NECOxDCCO or just DCCO (if "just DCCO" - it's a very odd bird)..



I did my best to get some record photos with my iPhone & scope. I even managed a video!


And more pics...





If you have any desire to visit & get better pics of the beast, here's where it is! (pond side, low on the berm) 




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

vlog + vlog



Wanted to do another video, but decided it'd be better as two (shorter) clips! So here's part one:

(reading some recent radar & how that translated into birding)



Then part two:

(a look at the weekend weather, and then some)





That's it for now!

Monday, May 1, 2017

WHAT WENT WRONG (vlog)





Watch it on youtube at 1080p quality for the best viewing experience!

Any questions? Leave them below (or on the video) and i'll do my best to answer.

Lots of exciting birding to come! Although perhaps not in the traditional "first week of May" sense!

Friday, April 28, 2017

FALLOUT potential Sunday (vlog)





I'm vloggin' left, right and centre these days.... A video above to explain why there is potential for big numbers of birds on Sunday. It's not a sure thing at this point, but it looks promising... Watch for details!!!

I didn't even get to Monday - which looks AMAZING in it's own right (migrational surge into the Lake Erie area + overshoots & maybe even mega rares)...


It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's GO TIME!!!



We've been spoiled with great early-season weather in the Great Lakes, and we're already saturated with early migrants, bugs & vagrants... So what happens next?


MORE BIRDS, MORE VAGRANTS, MORE MIGRATION!!!


I'm a bit tired to do a vlog, but I need to post.... Weather models have had a hard time nailing this forecast down, and it might still change a little (esp Sunday-Monday)... But here's a short-term look-ahead....



Wednesday (tomorrow):




This is 850mb winds with the temperature overlay... WARM SW WINDS over ALL the southern Great Lake... This is AWESOME migration weather, moderate vagrant weather, and moderate chances of super-exciting birding at traditional lakeshore stopover sites... Personally, I'm hoping for a light to moderate reverse migration at Pelee (with a recent, or even holdover vagrant taking advantage of the light SSE winds to fly off the tip & get photographed - by me...)


Thursday:



The front & low gets stalled to some degree - so there are still strong SW winds & warm temps happening... This isn't the best vagrant or migration setup IMO, but I can only assume things will be moving - and given that we're already saturated with good birds from previous events - anything can happen (e.g. that Long-billed Curlew curretly undetected in Indiana, may wander to Hillman Marsh...) 



Sunday: 



This has MEGA EXCITEMENT potential written all over it... I should really do a vlog post to explain this properly, but for now here's a sneak peak.... 850mb winds are warm & out of the south... surface winds would be cool & strong out of the NE or E... Migrants will fly to the very limit and then drop in spectacular numbers....

The problem - is where exactly will this edge (of warm & cold air - OR the precipitation edge) end up?? If it's south of Lake Erie, you may have a cold dull Sunday am.... If it lines up just right, there could be 5,000 Yellow-rump Warblers at the tip of Point Pelee... It's the knife edge - as the fallout potential increases, so does the potential for nothing... Keep an eye on this day!!!


More to come! Exciting times! 


Monday, April 17, 2017

A real vlog



So... instead of writing a blog post on the limits of air masses/rain & vagrant birds (with exciting weather systems) - I  decided to talk to my computer instead...



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Visual ID of American vs. Fish Crow...



How does that make you feel? I'm posting a few crow photos from today with the hopes of generating some discussion as to everyone's comfort level in using visual characteristics in separating these species in a semi-vagrant setting (Ontario).

Set/bird #1:







Set/bird #2 (plus an OOF bird) -







What say you?! I'll write my (100% honest and not influenced by whatever anyone else says) opinions in a few days...

Right now, mega migration is unfolding!!

PS - if you want to know more on these species, check out the holy grail link here: 




UPDATE:

Radio-silence leads me to believe that no one is comfortable with visually ID'ing crows... Here's a few more pics from today (one day after the pics above) - if you want to try some more before commenting! 

(I think there are 3 birds in this series, but I may have included a fourth) 











And one more bird:






===================


Edit #3 - 

Here's my take.... 

The fieldmarks for birds in flight are generally not reliable... It may be that there are differences in size/shape in the flight feathers between adults & first year birds (anyone have pyle handy? mine is buried)....

The moe "swept back" the wings are, the harder it is to assess the appearance of P5 vs. P4, P6 & P9...

I can find "one off" pictures of both AMCR & FICR that appear to show exactly what that species SHOULD NOT show... (both primaries and bill structure) 

Therefore I think it'd take 10+ photos (with different postures) to properly assess any differences in primary ratios...


Here's my thoughts on the above birds:


First five photos: 

A key problem here is all my photos show the bird with the wings swept back, which seems to favour FICR appearance regardless of species... 

However, in each photo, P5 seems to have no interest in looking like a finger (or at all longer than P9) and the bill is very hooked, so I'm inclined to identify it as a Fish Crow (with the full disclaimer I'm not really worried if I'm wrong, and am happy to adjust going forwards as we get better information on these birds). 





Second set of five

This bird, and the previous (first set of five) were a flock of five crows that flew past... I managed to get a series of two only... This bird spreads out a bit more, and I'm inclined to say the same features apply regarding the primaries (P5 looks more like P4 than it does P6 - aka not a finger)... The wing spread is a little better in trying to say that P9 is roughly equal to P5, although you can see that each wing looks a bit different, highlighting how awful this is to try with photographs..

(the bill is hard to see)



One other interesting element is that the out of focus crow in the background of two of these images is clearly showing P10-6 in both shots (with the third and final below) with P5 MIA... 



So in summary, I had a flock of 5 crows - that all looked odd to me - so I took pics.... I now have ~30 photos of three birds, and none show any features either strongly against FICR, or strongly pro AMCR, so I'm inclined to say the flock was a group of FICR... So if you're like me, and you enjoy trying to identify every single bird you see regardless of circumstances - it's an interesting thought/conclusion... 

IF you like enjoying your bird observations and NOT making mistakes when identifying birds, then this process probably seems insane...

----------

The last 12 photos (of 5 different birds, I think) - were all taken the next day, as I tried to get some new reference material to test these ideas on... I suspect they're all American Crows.... The vast majority of photos seem to show a semi or strongly-pro AMCR feature on first glance... Some images showed features that seemed to align with Fish Crow, however once I tried another mark (e.g. P5 vs. P9) it was more in line with AMCR... Check out some markups of the origional bunch:








Long story short:

The marks aren't definitive - photos can be misleading - take 15-20 photos of a bird in flight, and then you'll have a chance of being more confident, but not totally confident, if you care. 

Oh, and context is huge as well (I had 5 birds together in a FICR-plausible time/place, when peak AMCR migration has passed, which gave me a really weird vibe - after watching for these things fairly steadily since 2011).