Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waterbirds, etc after the weekend

These past few weeks have been a little more hectic than usual. Family things going on, my sister from BC visiting for a couple of weeks, and also it was Marie's and my 40th anniversary! (Congratulations to Marie for putting up with me for so long.....and sharing some of my fascination with natural history as well!)

As a result of these commitments, I missed out on the Black-legged Kittiwake, Laughing Gull and Franklin's Gull seen along the east beaches of Rondeau on Sunday. So when Monday morning arrived, I had time to see what I could find there.

Dog Beach access seems to be the best vantage point to see waterbirds flying through, so that is where I headed first. Not surprisingly, a couple of intrepid birders were already there.
Steve and Reuven scanning the gulls
There was a steady stream of waterbirds passing by: Bonaparte's Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Greater Scaup, etc. Alas, none of the aforementioned 'good' birds that showed up on Sunday were noted. But as usual, there are often other interesting sightings, which included White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Little Gull and Peregrine Falcon. All of these were too far out to attempt a photo, especially given the light conditions. Shorebirds were on shore, as expected, and included Sanderling and Dunlin, while a couple of Greater Yellowlegs flew briefly overhead.
Dunlin waving to the camera
As these shorebirds were searching for something edible on the sand, I noted several little dark winged things taking a brief flight before finding another sheltered place to settle in. They were moths, a species which I have yet to determine.

Half an hour after Steve and Reuven left for other birdy parts of the park, I noted a small loon flying by. Its shorter feet, smaller size, white face and neck all added up to a likely Red-throated Loon!

Eventually I left the Dog Beach access as well, looking for a different array of avifauna. There were both Kinglets, numerous blackbirds and a few warblers, mostly Yellow-rumped and Palm.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler

As has been the case in the last few days, the sunny warm conditions have encouraged basking by snakes.

The warmth has been good for some lingering butterflies as well. I noted 6 species of butterfly, including at least 10 Eastern Commas. Monarchs and Red Admirals were also noted.

Turkey Tail, a type of bracket fungus, is commonly seen on rotting hardwood logs in the forest.

But the sunny and excessively warm conditions will be gone soon, probably by the time most readers will see this post. And autumn colours are becoming more prevalent even here in the banana belt.
Autumn maple along Bennett Ave
Virginia Creeper is typically loaded with berries at this time of year, and are great places to find berry eating birds such as American Robins, various other thrushes and warblers.
Virginia Creeper

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Birds and other critters on some warm days of October

As is often the case, there have been a few warmer than normal days in October. It is almost summer-like, and lots of sun. It isn't really Indian Summer....that is a few weeks away, hopefully.

Yesterday I checked out the Erieau waterfront, hoping to catch up with a Hudsonian Godwit that Steve Charbonneau had seen the day before. The water levels and weed mats in Rondeau bay are such that they provide excellent habitat for ducks, shorebirds and herons. Unfortunately they are a long way from shore, so that even with the 'scope cranked up to 50-60 power, viewing especially during a breezy day can be challenging.

I didn't see the godwit. I didn't see the Eurasian Wigeon that Steve had seen either, but with the 5000+ ducks scattered as far as the eye could see, the wigeon was probably there somewhere. As for the godwit: there were shorebirds, including Pectoral Sandpiper, both yellowlegs and both American and Black-bellied Plover, plus a few peeps that went unidentified due to the distance and haze. Who knows where the godwit is by now.

I headed over to Rondeau next, going to the east branch of the South Point Trail. Birds weren't especially plentiful, but I did see a few warblers skulking in the wind-blown shrubbery. The most notable avian species was an abundance of Rusty Blackbirds (it was being considered as a Species At Risk recently, although it hasn't happened yet).....there must have been upwards of 1000 in several flocks. It was really hard to tell the number, as they kept emerging from the wetland shrubbery only to stream by to the other side of the trail. They were constantly on the move, and difficult to get a photo of.

Even though it was windy, where the sun was hitting the trail in some sheltered areas, it was good for butterflies. I saw at least 8 Eastern Commas.

There are a few Monarchs still passing through.

A small number of Pearl Crescents are still around.

 A single Common Buckeye was fighting the wind looking for shelter.

The sunny pavement also attracts snakes trying to soak up a bit more warmth before going underground for the next few months. I noted several Eastern Gartersnakes, as well as this Northern Brown Snake.
The park roads open to vehicular traffic showed evidence of slow moving snakes, unfortunately, with several Eastern Gartersnakes in various states of wreckage.

When one got to the southeast corner, it was easy to see the results of the early autumn storms of the last couple of weeks. This remnant from the old south campground camp office was exposed during the major east wind storms of 2015, but then got mostly covered up again for most of the next few months....such is the norm for dynamic shorelines. But now, once again, the strong winds from the east and southeast have brought it back into view.

Along the sandy trail to the shoreline, I noted a small, orange ball on the move, struggling to escape a shallow sandy pit. It turned out to be a Marbled Orb Weaver, a colourful spider that is fairly common in late summer.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons can be a worthwhile stop. On this day a male Lesser Scaup was the first bird I saw.

There were almost 150 Ruddy Ducks in various sized groups in each of the ponds.

One of the Long-billed Dowitchers was still around. This one has a shorter bill than some of the others of a week or so ago.
LBDO, October 12, 2016

LBDO October 1, 2016

This next photo shows a Greater Yellowlegs on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs on the right with the dowitcher busily feeding in the middle.

Savannah Sparrows are widely scattered and plentiful.

And there has been a recent influx of American Pipits. I observed more than two dozen flying over the sprinkler cells and dropping into the drier, weedy portions.

Butterflies are still around, with the only unusual ones noted at the lagoons being two Common Checkered Skippers. They were on the move and this photo is from a previous visit.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Late season prairie veg and leps

This early autumn splurge of warmer weather has benefited some lingering tallgrass prairie vegetation as well as the persistence of butterflies. A good spot to see this in Chatham-Kent is the Mitchell's Bay North Shore Nature Trail. Butterfly diversity is diminishing, and with the forecast cooler trend beginning this weekend it will likely continue to diminish. But the ones that are around do provide some good photo ops.

Cabbage Whites continue to be super abundant. Clouded Sulphur and Orange Sulphur are also fairly abundant.

Cabbage White

Clouded Sulphur

Orange Sulphur

An occasional Red Admiral, here sipping nectar on a Spotted Joe-pye-weed, may still be around.
Red Admiral

Monarchs are on the move, heading southwest towards their overwintering site in the Mexican highlands..

Common Checkered-Skippers, those diminutive and attractive little later season visitors, are still around. Some of the later blooming asters are good spots to check for them.
Common Checkered-Skipper

While the dominant colour of flowering plants in early autumn is the yellow of various goldenrod species, there are a few others tucked away. Surprisingly this Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) was seen in good flower recently.

One that does not occur very commonly anywhere in Ontario is Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis). It blooms early on a sunny day, and typically closes up by late morning.

A relatively rare autumn orchid is Great Plain's Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) occurs. There are several Spiranthes in the area in the late summer and early autumn, but even though this is S3 and therefore ranked as reasonably rare, it is by far the most common Spiranthes located here at this time of year here in the southwest.

Not restricted to prairies by any means, is this Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). It has attractive white flowers that develop into succulent looking bluish-purple berries. Birds love them! But don't you try eating them....all parts of the plant are quite toxic to humans and other mammals.

This next species, the brilliant Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), normally is in flower in early to mid-August. For some reason this one decided to extend the season.

If you have been paying attention to non-raptors passing by the various hawk watches in southern Ontario recently, you may have noticed tens of thousands of Blue Jays passing by, heading southwest. Are they all heading to Texas in support of their American League namesake???

Go Blue Jays!!!!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Raptors, shorebirds and butterflies

Over the last couple of days I have spent time at Erieau and the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. I've continued to hope that a good gull or two, or a jaeger might show up at Erieau.

It hasn't happened so far.

But yesterday when I was scanning the several thousand gulls resting on the western tip of the Rondeau peninsula or on the adjacent Lake Erie, something put the gulls up in a frenzy. I searched the air hoping for that jaeger, but no, it was a raptor. A Peregrine Falcon in fact. It never came all that close to me, so even with the equivalent of 22X lens and heavy cropping, this is the best I could get. It was my first Peregrine of the year.
 And this next one shows a head-on view. Note the distinctive wing profile.

Minutes later I saw another raptor, but this fish-eating species did not stir up the gulls like the Peregrine did. I guess the gulls can tell the difference fairly readily.

The black-and-white raptor against a white sky made getting the photo a little challenging.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons are conveniently located on my most direct route between home and Erieau, so a stop there happens pretty regularly. Especially since Steve C had been there earlier and seen 5 Long-billed Dowitchers. When I got there on Saturday afternoon, there was one still hanging around.

There were also a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers. This one doesn't show the white rump, obviously, but it was in flight a couple of times and the white rump really stood out.

I noted a fair number of sparrows, and with hopes of discovering a Nelson's Sparrow, a rarity to be sure, but which has recently been recorded farther east and north in the last few days, I looked at a lot of the sparrows I could get the binos on.

All I saw were about 15 Savannah Sparrows and a couple of Song Sparrows.
Savannah Sparrow

I got my first of the fall season Rusty Blackbird....4 of them were in a group in the shrubby willows along one of the ponds.
Rusty Blackbird

Today I went to the Blenheim lagoons for a different target species. What does the bird in this next photo remind you of?

If you said 'phalarope', good answer. And in this case it was one of the two Red-necked Phalaropes that showed up earlier today. At first they were always on the far side of the pond, but persistence paid off and eventually they decided that I and the 3 other folks nearby were not a threat so they came reasonably close.

With the still relatively warm weather, butterflies are making the best of it. I noted about 10 species in the last couple of visits, including the following:
One of at least 5 Common Buckeye

One of 6 Common Checkered-Skippers

Fiery Skipper
One of the local groundhogs was out keeping an eye on things as well.

So no jaegers or rare gulls....maybe on the next time out!