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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Birding at Charlie's 'Little Big Year" Part 9


May 23 2015 Whytewold, Manitoba Sunny and no mosquitos.
I arrived at Charlie McPherson's place and right away was invited to sit in his garden. Charlie has constructed a pond that attracts all kinds of birds.
Over the pond Yellow Warblers and American Redstarts hawk insects from above the pond. A raucous Red-winged Blackbird tries to attract a female to his lair, she's not at all interested, perhaps too tired after just arriving from a long migration. An Eastern Kingbird hawks a large insect and lands on the same bullrushes claimed by the redwing.
Where's the camera, the ever ready photographer/birder asks!

Eastern Kingbird

There's a squabble and the larger kingbird is sent packing to another tree. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird checks out the feeder, a lifer for me and I only arrived a few minutes ago. A picture of that little beauty will have to wait until later. A Common Yellowthroat feeds on insects and an American Redstart flits from branch to branch, closely followed by its female companion. It has been a very long day and tomorrow we will be up at 5 am to go birding down at Warner Road.

*Skip the next paragraph or two if you are only interested in birds

A quick note about early starts or lack thereof. Being the kind of person who likes to be punctual I wake at 4.30 a.m. despite being knackered from a full day driving and birding the day before. It's 5 a.m. and no sign of Charlie. I down my coffee and plod around the garden, even the birds are asleep and the frogs won't be up for hours yet. It's 5.20 a.m. and Charlie's place is quiet. Eventually around 6.a.m the man himself appears, coffee in hand and we sit by the pond and chat about life....and birds and how Winnipeg Lake water levels have turned what used to be a productive wetland into a wasteland. More about that in a separate blog. We laugh about wake-up times and promise to sleep in until 6 a.m. in future.

LLake Winnipeg's watershed is one million sq kms.


Charlie McPherson and a spectacular Lake Winnipeg sunrise. May 23/15. Nikon P900


May 23 2015 Warner Rd
As promised Charlie's good friend and birding buddy Ray Methot came over to show me some of his and Charlie's favourite birding spots. I was warned that Ray is going to bird me all day so I better be prepared. More on that later!
Our first stop was an abandoned pasture with a large For Sale sign on it. I would have driven right past it but Ray knew better. Ray asked me to listen and sure enough a LeConte's Sparrow is chirping away. It wouldn't show so we resorted to a cunning plan, we played a call and it came close enough for a photo. The Le Conte's, was a second lifer since arriving in Whytcold, a small community on the shore of Lake Winnipeg about 80kms north of Winnipeg. The area is right on a migration pathway and the trees are full of warblers and vireos which have funnelled their way northward along the Red River. Check out IBA009 for exact location.


Le Conte's Sparrow.

If that wasn't good enough we proceeded down to the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Common Terns and  American Pelicans fished just offshore.

In the bushes near an abandoned cottage a Least Flycatcher was catching insects. We walked back to the car when Ray nonchalantly mentions (it's a little game he likes to play) that this is the very place to find Sedge Wrens. Charlie must have told him it was one of my target birds! Prior to my arrival I thought it would beside a beautiful lake, not the nondescript tangle of grasses Ray had me standing in front of. The same ditch also held Marsh Wrens and a few American Tree Sparrows. Had it not been for Ray's experience locally  I would have just passed it by.


Sedge Wren


When I arrived on Friday Charlie had been telling me about a once in a lifetime experience he had had in 2012 when for hour upon hour a huge flood of migrating birds had funnelled through the area. He had sat in his folding chair and taken in the whole experience. It is one of the many birding experiences we talked about over a beer. Next morning Ray and I headed down to Warner Rd where Charlie was already experiencing a severe case of 'Warbler Neck'
Flock after flock of birds funnelled in from the Red River, Netley Marsh and from the surrounding area. The mixed flocks including orioles, vireos, blackbirds, flycatchers, warblers and thrushes, many landing in the tress beside us, others flew into the thickets across the road. It was first light and they never stayed still long enough to photograph, besides the sights and sounds could never have be recorded. I tried to do the scene justice, but little blobs of black and brown against the dawn sky don't really work even with my amateur video, i'll leave that to the Nature Channel.
Anyway, I just wanted to be in the moment and experience something I had only ever seen one before. Two years ago I visited Point Pelee and witnessed not only an influx of birds but also a rare reverse migration when with a sudden wind change scores of birds flew back out into the storm clouds of Lake Erie. This fallout however was way more intense. This is just like the once in a lifetime experience Charlie had told me about the night before.
I/We had hit the birder's jackpot. Forget about buying a lottery ticket when you have experiences like this. Apart from the birds overhead there were shorebirds arriving around the lake including Dunlin and various sandpipers in full breeding plumage as well as numerous terns and gulls wheeling around above our heads. A Cooper's Hawk looked on from a branch and a  Merlin streaked across the sky like a jet plane, hunting for any hapless stragglers. WOW! 

                       Back in the village the resident woodpeckers had lots of new company.

Yellow-Breasted Sapsucker.
There were a number of pairs nesting around the summer cottages, many of which were still empty, their owners waiting for the weather to warm up a little.
This woodpecker had a nest nearby so we didn't stay too long. There were plenty of
pPopularWhispering Aspen available to make a nest.
Another recent arrival was the American Robin. He or she was quickly making a nest at the local park.
American Robin gathers nesting material

Grab Shot. Warbling Vireo.

I took this picture in Charlie's garden while sitting in my VW Westfalia. That is why I like to have the small Tamron 150mm-600mm always handy for grab shots.

Eastern Phoebe
This phoebe was another bird we found in a village back lane. There were also numbers of Baltimore Orioles but the rarer Orchard Oriole was MIA.

The village proved quite productive but as the day wore on we decided to head out into the surrounding fields and backroads to see if there was anything to be found. Ray had word about an Upland Sandpiper, a bird I had never seen. 
It's the old story. Last time I visited the UK an Upland land Sandpiper was spotted at Iona. The day I left for the UK in 2015 a pair of Rosy-Finch turned up as well as a Great Gray Owl so for once I wanted to win one and so I was hopeful for a sighting.
On the way and as an added bonus we found Dunlin, Wilson's Phalarope, Semi-palmated and White-rumped Sandpipers. As Ray looked for the sandpiper I scanned the other side of the road and spotted a Wilson's Snipe.

Wilson's Snipe

Finally as the 'Sweet Light' of evening bathed the countryside in an orange glow Ray spotted two tiny heads protruding out of some uncut grass. The Upland Sandpiper needs grass about their same height of about twelve inches to breed, feed and shelter in. Undisturbed grassland that fits this criterion is increasingly rare.  Either fields are ploughed, mown or if lucky enough left fallow and birds can breed. In reality these grassland species have to be extraordinary lucky to survive predators and nest destruction when their territory is only the size of a soccer field, little wonder many species are on a dramatic decline. 
Think of all the ground nesting birds who have broods only to have the farmer come and mow at haying time or the clearing of forests at prime nesting times or idiots running ATV's over fragile dunes.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the Upland Sandpipers. It was clear that they were going to take off so I took a few distant ID shots for the record.

Upland Sandpipers
Charlie, Ray and I bird saw 104 species that day. I had added Le Conte's Sparrow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, heard both American Woodcock and Whip-Poor Will as night fell, both were within feet of us. Add to that Sedge Wren and the migration spectacle the day can be considered a spectacular success.
Time to catch a few hours of sleep, a sixteen hour day of birding can make a person really, really tired.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale 
BC Canada



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1 comment:

  1. stunning shots especially the Le Conte's sparrow! Congrats on those lifers!

    ReplyDelete