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Al eclipses record, and Blue Jay visits feeder

Red-crowned Ant Tanager

Red-crowned Ant Tanager

October and the first few days of November were a frenzy of work that left no time for birding.  As a result . . .  nothing to report on except that we now have regular visits from Blue Jays.  Cris is thrilled by this.  The big blue birds announce their arrival, as most species do, which gives her time to get her admiring eyes to the kitchen window.  The big Jays struggle on our red sunflower chip feeder, but hang on long enough to grab a mouthful of seed before awkwardly slipping off.  They also clearly enjoy the water when it is not frozen as it has been for the last few days.  In place of a Blue Jay photo is a teaser of a bird we saw on Ilha Bella in Sao Paulo State of Brazil.  A post with the Brazil birding story will come soon.

There have been no new species for me though, but my good big year buddy Al sent me an update on his year which is the feature of this post.  His area is the Camp Heidleburg property where he runs an Outdoor Education Centre for the Waterloo Region District School Board.  I worked with the Waterloo Board for over 20 years until 2006.   His outdoor centre has a small building and indoor classroom within a diverse forest patch that includes mature mixed forest, cedar swamp, a bog, fields and edge habitat.  The property is bordered by farmland but very close to other large regional forests.  A halloween surprise awaits in Al’s tale below:

Al and Chickadees

Al and Chickadees

Big Year Update…(from Al)

“My previous big years from 2011 and 2012 reached the
same totals, of 111.  I was a little sceptical that I would ever be able to beat
that, since I had recorded new species for the property in each of those years.
I had, however, missed typical species in each, also.

This year had been
quite productive, including a 38 species month of May.  By the end of May I had
106 species and I thought it would be impossible not to break 111.  Afterall, I
had not yet had Great Egret, Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Screech or Great
Horned Owls, etc.  How could I not get 6 more species in the second half of the
year??

June yielded only 3 new species – Common Loon, Veery, and Savanah
Sparrow – now 109 total.  August was August…  but I did manage to pick up 2
new species by chance – Great Egret, for which I made a special walk to the
wetland here, as I knew they were dispersing and beginning their migration, and
Purple Martin (new for the centre list).   That seemingly only left the owls,
which can be hit-and-miss after the spring, and perhaps Swainson’s Thrush,
etc.

I encountered a very nice day in mid-Sept and after the day or work
I thought I would check the wetland again for potential duck species.  None were
found, but fortuitously, there was a Greater Yellowlegs returning from the
breeding grounds….  #112!!!!!!  And on the walk back I found a nice mixed
flock of warblers, chickadees, and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  Mixed in was
#113, the American Redstart.

Fast-forward to yesterday, Oct 31st, and
while at the pond I could hear chickadees in a frenzy.  I was with a class so I
could not spend time searching for what was certainly a saw-whet or screech
owl.  However, AFTER work it was game on!  I walked back down in the driving
rain to find an Eastern Screech Owl hunkered down near the top of a medium-sized
cedar, looking as drab and wet as its assessment of me, to be sure.  How
cliche…  an owl on Oct 31st.  But that brought my 2013 list to 114
species!

Now, I know Swainson’s Thrushes were moving through the property
last week – I saw them all over the place elsewhere, but like Ted, sometimes
available time dictates what one sees or misses.  If that was going to be the
species to put me over the top I might have made the excuse, but I am
comfortable know I have surpassed the previous years totals and have another
mark to shoot for next year.  The tone seems like I am ending my challenge with
114, which is untrue.  Rather, it will have to be a very unexpected species (or
the undetected Bald Eagle or Great Horned Owl) showing up to reach 115.  All of
the expected irruptive winter species were achieved in Jan/Feb, so my list might
have come to its summit…  or has it…”

2012 total tied

At the end of August, when the bird observatories are in full swing sampling the trickle of migrants that can transform into a gush after a cold front passes, it occurred to me that some individuals of those species that nest by the millions in the boreal forest that had I missed in the spring, might spend a day or two feeding in the forest across from our place, or even in the trees in front of the balcony.  I just needed to check from time to time – something more difficult than it sounds as I was frantically trying to finish many work assignments prior to starting our vacation in Brazil.  So over the last few days in August and the first 5 in September, I spend a few minutes each day checking for bird activity from the balcony and the dining room window.  On September 1, I was surprisingly rewarded after pishing  blindly into the Japanese Elm in front of the balcony.  As luck might have it, a Black-throated Green Warbler flitted into view.    #82!   What was it doing there I wondered?  This suggested to me that anything is possible.   A few days later, I heard a different sound emanating from deep within the leafy veil of the same tree.  A few pishes and out popped an American Redstart – #83!   Suddenly I was within one of my 2012 total (despite very minimal effort).

Flower on the balcony attract birds!

Flowers on the balcony attract birds!

Just as I seemed to be on a roll, we went to Brazil, spending three weeks vacationing and visiting Cris’ family, but observing lots of birds which I will report on in my next post.  Surprisingly, I did not once lament about not being in our apartment or on the balcony adding to my list.

Upon returning, there was no time to bird but Thanksgiving was coming.  We were heading to the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, where I would be bander-in-charge for the weekend, giving our station scientist a few days off.  On Thursday October 10th, we chatted on the phone about what to expect, and he told me that thousands of Golden-crowned Kinglets had moved through the station, and there were still lots around.  The next morning, before heading to work, I stepped out onto the balcony, and within seconds I heard the high-pitched tsit tsit tsit of a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  It revealed its lovely golden crown and even displayed red in the middle of it to us in response to my pishing.  Eighty four species, the same number as last year, with two months left.  If I am lucky, I could add another 6 species and hit 90, my new goal for this year.

I have not heard from Al yet, but I recall he was near his total of 108 last year, and may well have passed that by now.

My next strategy is to do some early morning birding to listen for finches that I missed in the winter, or waterfowl along the river once the leaves depart, or even gulls that fly over our apartment on route between the Gatineau River and the Ottawa River.  All I need is time:)

My first day back to work, October 1, I found myself doing media interviews for Nature Canada about Environment Canada’s freshly published reports on direct human causes of mortality in birds in Canada.  These publications attributed about 90 percent of human-caused mortalities to cats and windows (not including massive habitat loss, climate change, disease or natural predation).  I immediately cleaned out and washed the nyjer feeder and the sunflower feeder, as I didn’t want to be contributing to the human-caused mortality in birds by not cleaning and maintaining our own feeders.

Early August and birds on the move

I added up my year totals and realized that I had missed adding Cedar Waxwing to the list, given me 81 species from the apartment and balcony so far this year.  And, I don’t think it is over.   The 84 total from 2012 is easily attainable.   But it is over for the Andorinhas (Purple Martin) in Gatineau this year.  August 8 was the last day I heard their flight calls from our balcony.  Since then there has been no sign of them.  I even ran past their apartment which was quiet and empty.  So they have left their cosy apartment to meet up with many more of their kind in large post breeding, pre-migration roosts somewhere, maybe along Lake Ontario or the St. Lawrence.   We are looking forward to seeing those beloved Andorinhas in Campinas Brazil later this year.

Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits the feeder on August 10

Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits the feeder on August 10

Otherwise, some birds that we had observed in the spring but not seen since, have returned, even if just to say hello and goodbye.   About 10 days ago, while enjoying the inexplicable antics of the entertaining families of Chickadees, a Yellow Warbler popped out of the Japanese Elm foliage right in front of our dinner table!   Then, three days ago, Cris called me a work to tell me that Beija-flor (hummingbird) has returned.  In fact it has stayed and appears to be enjoying both our feeder with fresh 4:1 water – sugar solution, and the multitude of reddish flowers on the balcony including scarlet runner beans, geraniums and nasturtiums.

On Sunday, during breakfast, the latest arrival in the Elm was a pretty female American Redstart.    Having breakfast and supper on the balcony is really making a difference and confirming that birds are moving around and that they turn up in unexpected places.  We just need to be watching or listening when they come by.

Eightieth species right on time

Every day around dinner time over this past week, I have kept my ears pealed for the beautiful call note of Purple Martins.  For each of the past few years, their movements are like clockwork.  The nearby Martin colony is exactly 1.4 kilometres from our balcony, yet we never see or hear these birds before the very end of July.  They are busy with nesting, brooding, raising family, helping raise family, all of those things that Martins do so well.  IMG_3719Any feeding flights are over the river, and out of my sight and earshot.  Then, just before they begin their migration, their world expands, perhaps at the encouragement of their parents, and they spend a few days exploring their Val Tetreau neighbourhood.  For a few days we are graced by their presence, seeing them occasionally flying overhead in what appears to be playful flight, sampling the fish flies, damselflies and midges on the ‘other side of the tracks’ and in the process becoming familiar with their neighbours.  Then suddenly they are gone . . . .

Well today was the day – about 8 pm, I heard the Martin’s talking to each other through the closed living room window, and I rushed out to see them flying buoyantly above the maples down the street.  Species number 80 for the year!

I love the Andorinha  azul – that we share with Brazil.  Researchers in Canada have determined that those in the north-eastern USA migrate to Amazonia, whereas British Columbia Martins fly to Sao Paulo state where Cristina is from.  Their journey south is not without risks, one of which is being struck by wind turbine blades at the wind farms on the eastern end of Lake Ontario – in particular Wolfe Island which annually kills large numbers of Martins.  Purple Martins gather in large communal regional roosts subsequent to breeding.  It is possible that some roosts exist in the Kingston area, and that these birds are at a particularly high risk to collision with turbine blades where they would hunt for the abundant insects that hatch from the nearshore waters of Lake Ontario.  A large build-out of Wind projects in this area (e.g. Amherst Island) would sadly likely have a significant impact on this species.

Last week during dinner on the balcony, three Caspian Terns flew over the house, along the flight path of the Ring-billed Gulls between the Gatineau River and the Ottawa River.  That was species number 79.  I have seen thousands of gulls fly over, and never thought that Terns could follow the same path, but why not?

Then there are those endearing Chickadees.  The kids of at least one, and possibly two nearby resident pairs of Chickadees spend most of their time between the large Japanese Elm and our diverse balcony.  One particular bird is special.  It still talks like a baby, though the others appear to have stopped.  It IMG_3679doesn’t fly with he same agility that one associates with a Chickadee, and spends much of its time foraging underneath the feeder like a Junco.  It particularly likes finding bits of sunflower seed in the planters, then hopping onto the edge of the planter, or a branch, or the close line to carefully pick at the morsel of seed.  It seems more fearless than other Chickadees.  It sat on the perch beneath the water container the other day while I filled it with water, about 20 cm from my hand.   We commented that one day it will not be there and we will wonder . . . has it migrated, became an ‘adult,’ or died?

Dog days of summer

Sorry, this post is about birds not dogs.  Not even bird dogs, though I vaguely remember that Everly Bros song about birddogs.  Maybe that is what got me into birds.  Well, our balcony is a happening place these days.  The delicious summer weather means supper, and sometimes breakfast (always on weekends) for us on the balcony with the birds.  We have 4 water containers – two medium clear plastic olive containers that I have screwed to the posts on either side of the balcony, with wooden supports/perches beneath, a third on the ground as well as a small shallow earthen flower pot holder that is perfect for our newest mammalian visitor to our third floor, a Chipmunk.  Those messy chickadees and goldfinches scatter so much seed on the ground, it is really like they are working together with Pretinho (the black Gray Squirrel), the Chipmunk, Chipping Sparrow family, Cardinal, House Sparrows and their friends cleaning up the floor.  The Chickadees are all here now with the new family.  The sharply dressed babies look bigger than their dishevelled parents that appear to have been run ragged.  The new little dee dees are fearless, and relentless in their food begging that includes wing trembles, what must be irritating but cute calls that they incessantly make to mom and dad, as they awkwardly follow them around our complex balcony, moving from flower to bean stalks to planters, to hummingbird feeder, water feeder, sunflower feeder and the tree less than 2 metres away.  The birds have been loving the water.

I was away a lot in May including attending International Migratory Bird Day reception at Canadian Embassy in Washington

I was away a lot in May including attending International Migratory Bird Day reception at Canadian Embassy in Washington

We watched the dee dees drinking, then later House Finches, and Goldfinches.   Cris’s “boyfriend,” that macho Red-winged Blackbird appears to have moved on.  She hasn’t mentioned anything to me, but I have noticed that she has been a bit distracted lately. . .   Her favourite species though are the Goldfinches or Goldies as she calls them.  They will not come to feed or drink when we are sitting on the balcony.  Every day the Downy comes by, as likely does the White-breasted Nuthatches.  I expect to meet the new kids soon!  Speaking of new kids. last week, to my amazement, a little Red-breasted Nuthatch almost landed on me, while I was tending to the beans.  It proceeded to pass a few minutes trying to extract nyger seed from the feeder, before moving on.  That was the second one that I’ve seen this year!

So, the songbird migration this year did not dazzle and sparkle like in 2012.  There was no parade of warblers in front of the house, or mornings with Wood Thrush song to wake to.  No White-crowned sparrows, Tanagers and Grosbeaks wandering through the Japanese Elm like last year.   I did manage to spot or hear a few species that I did not last year during some stormy weather, including Common Nighthawk, Black-crowned Night Heron, and a smattering of warblers, thrushes and flycatchers, but not the numbers of last year.  However, despite being incredibly busy at work in June, that mid-June moment when unmated males wander paid off as I did hear a Scarlet Tanager singing a few houses over in our neighbourhood, and a few times have heard the call notes of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, including yesterday.    Last count I made of the year list was 78 species.  I added those two in June.  I am now waiting for the Purple Martins to wander my way as they young get ready to move to their pre-migratory roosts.   Though last year’s final  total was only 6 more birds – 84, I think I will be challenged to break this total in 2013 with a 3 week trip to Brazil planned this fall.

Last I heard from Al, he was near or at his total for last year.  New post will include an update from him.

Birdathon weekend

Heading off to do the annual birdathon on the northern itp of the Bruce Peninsula with Rod.  Please read my request below and consider sponsoring me.

Birdathon sponsorship makes our migration monitoring possible!

Understanding the state of our birds requires good data – the type that comes from the network of migration monitoring stations across Canada.  I’ve been involved as a founding board member, past president and current vice president for the entire 12 years history of the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (www.bpbo.ca)

The key program of Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO) is our migration monitoring efforts at the Cabot Head research station. Through this program we are able to track the migration of birds through Cabot Head each spring and fall. You can see the value of this work in the rich information in our 10 year report that we completed this year and is available on our website. This is also the type of information that allows us to understand the status of our birds. An important cost associated with this activity is support that we provide to long-term volunteers, those who commit to spending 3 weeks or more volunteering their time to the operation of our migration monitoring station. This 3 week commitment is important, as 3 weeks of intensive training elevates a volunteer’s skills significantly to the point that they are making a very positive contribution. We offer all long-term volunteers free accomodation and a $10 per day food stipend. We ideally like to have 3 volunteers at the station during operations, so this cost could potentially add up over 50 days in the spring and 70 days in the fall to $3600 (usually more like $2500 to $3000 as we rarely have complete coverage).

Your sponsorship of me, and the BPBO President’s Choice team, will directly offset some of these costs. The more that you sponsor the team, the higher the proportion of funds that flow back to BPBO (a portion goes into the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund).

Consistent with the last several years, I will be doing birdathon as part of the BPBO “President’s choice” team that will include myself, Rod Steinacher and friends and family. Last year, birding with Salvadora Morales and Andrew Sawyer, we observed 135 species on the very upper tip of the Bruce Peninsula between Dyer’s Bay and Tobermory. Though we will drive a bit, driving will be minimal. I would greatly appreciate your support for this fundraiser as it means so much to our little organization. We will start around 3H30 am and finish around 11 pm, so work hard that day.

Sponsoring me is simple, go to the birdathon homepage http://birdscanada.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1048292, click on sponsor a participant, and enter my name. At that point just follow instructions and do it on-line. I’ll provide all with an account of the day that likely will be published on the BPBO webpage www.bpbo.ca.

Many thanks for your kind support.  It is genuinely appreciated and motivates me to go that extra mile:)

 

Ted

Big April, early May goes south

Goldfinch photo Cris Navarro

Goldfinch photo Cris Navarro

After a slow start to the year, and only 30 species at April 15, the winds changed and the birds came.  I finished April with 53 species, 7 more than last year, and a record 28 for the month!   It seemed like I couldn’t go wrong – almost every time I looked out the window or went out onto the balcony there were new birds.  The warm front that arrived on the 20th of April brought more species including Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated and Fox Sparrows.  April was raptor month also for me with a few new species for the balcony and apartment including Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk, along with Cooper’s hawk, Merlin and Turkey Vultures.  Another unusual species, a Cackling goose, a pint-sized version of the Canada Goose, stood out in a “V” of passing Canada’s.

Of course the flood of birds left me with a false sense of hope that I would demolish last year’s total of 84.  After all, I was up by 7 species on April 30, and the year was only 4 months old.   Then the weather changed.  A dome of high pressure settled over eastern North America and the jet stream brought warm southerly winds into eastern Canada to dispense quickly with remnants of winter and accelerate the delayed spring.  With clear skies and south winds, bird had no reason to stop and pushed past us at 1000 metres above the ground.  The parade of warblers from last year has not happened (yet hopefully). So far, 7 days into May, I’ve added only 2 species – Chimney Swifts which turned up in numbers on May 1, and a Nashville warbler today.

April 29th was the last day for our Redpolls, which had brought us so much enjoyment this winter.  Their numbers dwindled quickly after April 20th, and by the last week of April only a couple stragglers remained.

Red-winged scoundrel photo by Cris Navarro

Red-winged scoundrel photo by Cris Navarro

A Red-winged Blackbird has provided Cris with entertainment – loudly announcing its arrival before struggling for a few seconds on the sunflower feeder.  She calls it her “boyfriend.”   His confident arrival, striking black feathers and stunning red epaulets that he proudly displays, combined with that “tough guy” attitude has me a bit worried.  Chicks fall for this type of guy, so I’ll have to keep my eye on him.  Then are the “Goldies,” as she calls them.  I’m not sure I like that attention she is giving them either. . .

Turning to my good and patient friend Al.  He has provided me with two updates that I share below.  His lead is not as significant as it was last year at this time, so I believe that I can still catch him.  Here is what he had to say on April 23:

“Good to hear from you, Ted.  I actually read your blog the day you posted it – you have been doing VERY well. I have been meaning to send you an update from this end of town, but had not done so until now.  Brown Creeper is a good bird for your balcony list!  Sean had Fox Sparrow, but I think I missed it again this year.  I am at 60 species, even.  After a fair January, I only had Great Blue Heron and Horned Lark in Feb, both on the 7th.  I had 8 species in March, including Common Raven, for the 3rd year in a row.  So far this April I have detected 22 new species, including an early Broad-winged Hawk.  The rest of the species are expected.  In 2012, my 60th species was Chipping Sparrow on April 16th.  This year my 60th was also Chipping Sparrow, but on April 17th.  So I am at least on pace with last year.  I have missed Common Grackle so far this year…  not sure what that means, but I hope to get it at some point.  Come to think of it, I have also missed Ruffed Grouse…

I hope to have close to 70 species by the end of the month.  Got my 70th on May 1st last year and on May 7th in 2011. . . .”

Al sent me his next post on May 3rd:

“I am now at 78 species, with 11 new ones in the last 2 days. (editorial note . . .”shit!”)  My arrivals last year and this year correspond with only a day or two of variance.  I am hopeful that I will be able to use warblers to help me springboard past the 111 mark of the last 2 years.  I finally got Common Grackle!  But I don’t think Ruffed Grouse is in the cards…  and I have not gotten Great Horned, nor Eastern Screech Owls yet…  hmmm…  Got Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Blackburnian, Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Blue, Pine Warbler, and Black and White Warbler…  all the expected…  Should have Eastern Kingbird tomorrow.  Got Purple Finch today, also.”

So, we can see that Al has been doing well.  I think that luck will turn my way now after a slow start to May, I can sense things picking up.   Rain tomorrow night, the torrid temperatures of 29 degrees today will get doused and the jack brake will be pulled on the bird migration as temperatures plummet to highs of 13 by Sunday (unfortunately the day on which we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day here in Gatineau/Ottawa at Nature Canada’s first Bird Fair).

Finally, Spring arrives!

Winter has clung to the Outaouais region tenaciously – I am reminded each day as I bus rather than bike to work – the bike paths on my route still have patches of snow and ice.  I am reminded by our lovely flock of Redpolls, that can empty both our sunflower seed and nyjer feeder in a day when they put their beaks and bellies to it.

Cris with novel way of hand-feeding our Redpoll friends

Cris with novel way of hand-feeding our Redpoll friends

However, crocuses are finally out in full bloom (a month later than last year), and a colleague returned from some field work with a mild sun burn.  The biggest sign of spring for me happened this evening, about 6 pm.  A flock of 15 Tree Swallows and a couple Barn Swallows drifted over our apartment, moving gradually north towards the Gatineau River.   Yesterday morning, after the first southerly wind of the year on Monday, the back of winter was finally broken.  Though spring may have come to many other parts of southern Canada, particularly southern Ontario a week or three ago, a mass of cold air was blocking the birds and keeping the harbingers of spring from returning home.  The first numbers of Robins arrived back in my neighbourhood really only a few days ago, though I spotted my first on the 2nd of April – a very late date at that.  But this past Monday night the winds were right out of the south, the sky was clear, and in flowed the birds.   I was up at 6:00 am, on Tuesday morning, before sunrise, squinting out the opened east window with a view onto the strip of forest along the edge of Gatineau Park on the other side of the street.  I had observed 30 species up to Monday, over the first three and one half months of the year, far behind my pace of last year.   Most of the usual winter suspects were on my list, though there are significant gaps.  But “spring birds” were limited to some Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Song Sparrows, which showed up the past weekend, a couple Cormorants, etc.

Robin at my brother's on Easter Weekend near Toronto

Robin at my brother’s on Easter Weekend near Toronto

My spirits were high in anticipation of some new birds at last, and I was not disappointed.

Ten minutes into my vigil, still too dark to see colour, I picked up my first new species – a high, thin call note of a Brown Creeper.  It was followed moments later by the inflected ‘jeeeep’ of a Hermit Thrush.  “How good is that” I said to myself – both species I missed in 2012.   The parade continued with a pair of Wood Ducks, whizzing past towards Lac des fees before ducking behind the trees, a Northern Flicker, flying  along the edge of the forest, then landing somewhere in the distance, and announcing its arrival in fine flicker fashion, an Eastern Phoebe, clearly overjoyed to shout out its name to the Val Tétreau neighbourhood, and a Rusty Blackbird, revealed by its squeaky door-like call.  My vigil ended with a flock of six small birds dropping out of the sky into the tree directly across the road from me.  A quick check with my binoculars revealed the central breast spot and the distinctive facial pattern of American Tree Sparrows.   I heard only one fly over last year, so this was also a treat!

A beautiful  reddish male Redpoll

A beautiful reddish male Redpoll

Now I am awaiting Friday, another day where south winds are promised.  What will they bring?   One thing is for certain that I’ll be up early to witness another early morning migration unfold before me.

Where do the birders go when it is minus 40?

Downy on Suet feeder

Hairy on Suet feeder

Weather has been crazy this January!  Big snow falls, a crazy one day warm spell, and the coldest weather since I have been here in Gatineau.  Last week, for several days, Gatineau had temperatures near minus 30 , and one night that was about minus 34 befor wind chill.  Wind chill values have been below minus 40 a few days.   So when it is so cold that the gas meter freezes and the heat goes off for over eight hours, one asks, where do the birders go?   Under the sheets?   To their neighbours?  No!  Those of us with feeders go to the pantry to pull out the bulk bags of sunflower and nyjer, and to the freezer for suet to stock those feeders with lots of food to keep those Redpolls, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Woodpeckers and Nuthatches happy.  We even take pity on House Sparrows here.  I’ve watched them perch on the branches of the Japanese Elms between our kitchen windows and the windows of the apartment building units across from us.  They tuck one foot into their breast feathers, and do their best to hide the one holding the branch in their feathers.  I imagine that branch is about the same temperature as the air – minus 30 and must be cold for their little tootsies.  At the same time, the Redpolls don’t seem fazed.  They eat snow, burrow into the snow, and show up with panache that the sad House Sparrows can only be envious of.

Pileated Woodpecker works tree over across the street in Gatineau Park

Pileated Woodpecker works tree over across the street in Gatineau Park

Well, getting to the details.  January 2 was the launch of BIG YEAR FROM THE BALCONY TWO for me, and BIG PROPERTY YEAR for my friend Al, and perhaps Sean and Rod.  After 3 hours of observing the balcony feeders and checking across the road into Gatineau Park, I was at 13 species, one more then all the month of January 2012!  This was an excellent start by all accounts, with 3 species of woodpecker on the day list!   A few days later, Cris photographed a large flock of redpolls feeding on the balcony floor.  I checked her photo out, and in it  spotted at least one Hoary.  That motivated me to get up early on Saturday morning and carefully check the growing flock of redpolls that seemed to be over 30.  Sure enough I saw one clear Hoary and another likely one.  Hoary and Common Redpolls are very similar, though Mr Sibley does a nice job of describing the differences in his great guide to North American birds.  Nothing new has been added since, so I sit at 14 species, still two more than at this time last year, though those beautiful Bohemian Waxwings and the Ravens have not yet been spotted.  I know they are around!

Al has sent me some good updates on his early efforts.  They seem pretty much similar to last year, and he has jumped out to a significant lead over me . . . not that either of us is considering this some sort of competition:)  His two messages follow:

January 4:

“TED!  I was working away in the classroom (it is 50km/h winds so I am not outside today) and I heard a tap at the window.  I looked up and saw a bird fluttering against it.  Then I saw it turn and fly a bit.  It had white on the outer tail feathers and was looked Blue Jay sized…  so it was a Blue Jay…right?  WRONG.  I heard something hit the window again…  looked up and saw fluttering… then I thought…  SHARPIE (Sharp-shinned hawk)!  Cool!  Run up and out the door to watch the battle…  NOPE!  NORTHERN SHRIKE HAMMERING A FEMALE Dark-eyed Junco!  What a way to start the birding year for me : )  That was quite the show!

So…  can I count the Junco?? “

January 25:

“As we approach the end of January, I thought I would provide an update for the 2013 Property Big Year. I thought I could reach 25 species by the end of January if everything fell into place. Well, yesterday I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk ‘floating’ motionless in the air about 40′ above the farm field adjacent to the property. After me saying ‘Roughie!’out loud to myself, my next thought had something to do with how it could keep its eyes from freezing as it faced into the 30km/h wind with a temp of -23C (wind chill included). My eyes were watering as I watched it, and this darn thing was seeing well enough to hunt! It was a nice 25th species.

Today I had #26, the elusive Mourning Dove! I can’t believe I had to wait 23 days to detect one. Last year I got one on January 13th.

It took me until Feb 3rd to reach that same total last year, but almost all of the 2013 species are to be expected on the property at some point throughout the year – I just detected them earlier on in 2013. Of the 26 this year, only Northern Shrike and Hoary Redpoll were not detected in 2012.

In order to have a complete winter-species list I would still need to find Pine Siskin, Snow Bunting, White-winged Crossbill, Bohemian Waxwing (only records for the property previously), and both Pine and Evening Grosbeak (one record each for the property previously), which are possible with lots of luck.

I imagine my total will not change much between now and the first week or two of March, when Tundra Swans and some of the early migrants begin their return.”

Out with the old and in with the new! Recap on 2012 big year, and speculating on 2013

Happy New Year!  Our project to do our 2012 big year is over, and, for me at least, a new one is starting.  Still no birds to report on for 2013, as the entire first day of this new year was spent around the dining room table  of friends in Casselman Ontario.  I was going to spend several hours the last two days of 2012, pushing for species 85.  However, a combination of cold and busy determined that it was just not meant to be.   I have settled for 84 species. My final species was Hoary Redpoll.   A few visited the feeder the day before heading west for Christmas to Tobermory.   In the end, only the Red Crossbill eluded me of the potential finches to see in the Outaouais.   As I reflect back on my big year, and this blog, I admit that I have enjoyed this, even thought it has been so low-key.  There were moments, especially in the spring, when I was pretty serious, and it paid off.  I think there were some remarkable observations.   The sapsuckers in the tree in front of our balcony were amazing.  The march of warblers, especially the budworm warblers – Cape May and Bay-breasted, along the edge of Gatineau Park, on the other side of my street, at the same level as our east window, was impressive.  I also was fortunate to identify many birds from our bed.  Sleeping with the window wide open, I was graced by the song of many birds, including Wood Thrush, Veery, Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Some I actually was dreaming about, and woke only to realized that their songs had somehow woven themselves into a dream, and the birds were really there, singing not far from our window!   My wife got used to my antics, waking up, saying a bird name and celebrating with a fist pump.   However, the most amazing and inexplicable moment was that Peregrine.  I sware it drew me to the window with its calls, then hovered 15 metres off our balcony, just long enough for me to see it well, before it high-tailing away.   I don’t every recall such a feeling of gratitude from observing a bird.

My friend Al, at his Outdoor Education Centre had tied his all-time best with 111 species.  He described to me how he was celebrating number 112, (White-winged Crossbill), then checked his records and found that he had observed the species in the spring.   Not sure where Sean or Rod ended up, though I believe Rod was over 130.    I think back to the gaps, and realized that next year I can do better with more effort during certain times of the year.   Almost no waterfowl.  No shorebirds.  Few raptors.   Few sparrows.    Part of the problem is that I am a busy guy, and life gets in the way.  Maybe that is a good thing.   This year, my goal is to better my 2012 total of 84.   With any luck I can observe 85 species.   With lots of luck, 90.   If everything goes extremely well, I think that 100 is within range.   Tomorrow the new big year from the balcony starts.  I hope that I can sleep despite the excitement!

Species 84, Hoary Redpoll with Common Redpoll

Species 84, Hoary Redpoll with Common Redpoll