Friday 31 July 2015

"Little Big Year" Stats and Thanks Part 24

"Little Big Year" Road Trip Stats

Blue-headed Vireo Assinboine Park Winnipeg.

 Prior to my trip which began May 11/15 I had 152 BC species for my 2015 Canada list. I ended the X-Country trip on July 8 with a further 117 

I would like to thank the following birders who contributed their time and expertise and made my trip that much more memorable, more so than had I been left to my own devices.

Calgary's David Lily who drove me to Frank Lake where we found many birds including the first lifer of the trip, a White-faced Ibis. His hospitality and birding knowledge set the tone for the rest of my trip. Thanks David.

Whytewold's Charlie McPherson who took the time out of his busy schedule to show me around  Manitoba's Netley/Lebau IBA MB009 and to Ray Methot who took me on two 16 hours mega birding days to MB 091 Riverton Sandy Bar and other locals. Both these birders, Ray for his unbounded energy and Charlie for the hospitality are what make this pastime so enjoyable.
 I'll never forget watching the dawn sky unfold on the windy shore of Winnipeg Lake as thousands of Orioles, Blackbirds, Warblers and Sandpipers migrated over our heads. Charlie told me it was a once in a lifetime event, those scenes will be indelibly etched in my memory. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I hope to return very soon, maybe for winter owls and raptors.

Winnipeg's Christian Artuso for his invaluable help, tips and suggestions.

Iain Wilkes of Carleton Place, Ottawa who led me to two lifers just outside Ottawa and set aside some of his valuable time to show me, a complete stranger around his local patch. Whereas I bird by sight Iain birded by ear, something I hope to develop as I bird in the future.

in New Brunswick
I want to thank Denys Bourque who took me out with the Edmundson Naturalists Group for a day of birding. Denys found us a number of great birds in the decidious forests including some beautiful Evening Grosbeaks, Northern Waterthrush and Eastern Phoebe.

Author Roger Burrows who showed me around Whitehead Island in the Bay of Fundy. He even gave me a signed copy of Birds of Atlantic Canada (Lone Pine) one of the ten books on birds he has had published.

Finally to all the birders I met online who gave me tips about where to bird in places like Sault Ste.Marie,  PEI another and other places. To the BirdPal network which I used and highly recommend if visiting a new local both here or abroad.

Finally to all the birders on,,, Mark Olivier in Sault Ste.Marie ONTBIRDS and PEIbirds Facebook page.

'Little Big Year' LIFERS


White-Faced Ibis (1**) Frank Lake


McCowan's Longspur (2**) Red Coat Rail/Hwy 3

Eastern Phoebe (3**) Souris Valley SW Manitoba

Assiniboine Park/Winnipeg

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler (4**) Assinboine Park, downtown Winnipeg.

Whytewold, Manitoba

LeConte's Sparrow

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (5**)
LeConte's Sparrow (6**)
Sedge Wren (7**)
Red Knot(8**)
American Woodcock (heard)(9**)
Whip-per-will (heard) (10**)
Upland Sandpiper (11**) 
Northern Flicker Yellow-Shafted*(12)
Blue-headed Vireo(13**)
Red-headed Woodpecker(14**)

All birds in the around the village of Whytewold and IBA 009


Lake Superior Prov Park

Northern Perula (15**)
Ovenbird 245 (16**)
Black-throated Green Warbler (17**)

All around the visitors centre of the park except the Ovenbird which are found a little inland along any walking trail. 

Northern Paula


Carlton Place

Eastern Meadowlark (18**)
   Eastern Towhee (19**)
              Field Sparrow (20**)                                     

Grand Manan Island/Whitehead Island. New Brunswick

Black Guillemot (21**)

Razorbill (22**)
Common Eider (23**)
Greater Black-backed Gull (24**)
American Black Duck (25**) Whitehead Island
White-winged Scoter (26**)
All on the ferry ride from Grand Manan to Whitehead Island except Black Duck.

Lars Marsh NB

Nelson's Sparrow (27**) Bay of Funny

St Mary's Newfoundland 

A small part of the St Mary's Gannet colony.

Northern Gannet

 Black-legged Kittiwake (28**)
Common Murre (29**)

Black-legged Kittiwake

Bird Island 

Nova  Scotia

Atlantic Puffin (30) 

Great Cormorant* (31**) 

 Bird Island Boat Tours

Great Cormorant

June 20/15 PEI

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  (32**) 

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Britannia Point/Ottawa

Little Egret (33**) 1st in Ontario
 Distant ID pic.

Sault Ste. Marie

Chimney Swift (34**) Downtown Canada Post office roost

Manitoba Grasslands Birding Trail

Grasshopper Sparrow(35**) Melita, SW Manitoba

So the trip ended with 35 lifers.
117 "Little Big Year" species (BC-Newfoundland)
269 2015 Canadian species to Jan 1/15-July 26/15
 Total Canada Lifetime (367)

* This is the first list year list I have. I guess I'm catching the birding bug!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday 30 July 2015

"Little Big Year" Part 23 The Last Leg

July 2-8 2015 Chaplin Lake Saskatchewan. Smoke no sun due to forest fires.
The skies from Manitoba all the way to just outside Calgary were thick with smoke. Forest fires in the NWT, Alberta and Saskatchewan had been burning for weeks.
After spending Canada Day in Regina Beach I made my way west to Chaplin Lake. Chaplin is situated on the Trans-Canada Highway between Moose Jaw and Swift Current. The lake encompasses nearly 20 square miles (52 km2) and is the second largest saline water body in Canada. The area is noted from the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) for its shorebirds. I had visited it on my outward journey. It is one of my favourite prairie birding locations.

The grand plan was to check on the Piping Plover to see if they had had fledged chicks. First though I came across a number of American Avocet with young in various stages of development.

The Van. I made the 20,000 kilometre trip across Canada with just an oil change. The salt flats can be seen in the background.

The lake is fed by a fresh water spring. Water is then siphoned off to extract the salt content. The area is a working agricultural and industrial area.

More about
Chaplin IBA Canada

Gadwall mother and chick search the flats for food.
I think these are Gadwall as they were the most common dabblers on the lake.

Next up I noticed a disturbance to my left. An American Avocet took offence when a Marbled Godwit got a little too close to its nest.

American Avocet chases away the intruder, a Marbled Godwit.

American Avocet with chick.
I couldn't quite get both birds in focus as the skies were grey and dark even in mid-afternoon due to the thick smoke. Occasionally the sun would peek through though most of the pictures are somewhat muted but no complaints.

An American Avocet makes clear that I was too close to the nest.

Next up and the main purpose of the afternoon was to check on the Piping Plovers chicks. It wasn't long before we found two pairs. One bird had two chicks the other four young. They were so small they could have fit in a teacup.

These pictures were taken deep with the working area of the lake. Several times a day and for a small fee the interpretation centre runs a short guided tour. Due to the lack of rainfall we were able to get far out into lake via a raised dyke road. The lakes moon like appearance makes it a landscape photographers heaven with all the colours and shapes. Had I had several more hours I would have dragged out my wide-angle lens. Sadly the area is closed to the public except for the half hour tours which end at 3 p.m when the light is too harsh and sun too high in the sky.

Adult Piping Plover 

Adult and two chicks and the sun has gone. 

Two of the four chicks. The little guys rarely stood still.

Piping Plover chick in the foreground.
As is required by regulations we stayed in the vehicle and left the birds soon after taking this series of shots. There are 200 pairs breeding in the area and as many as 700 birds have been noted on the lake at peak migration time.
Spring and Fall would be the best time to visit to observe mass migration of shorebirds and ducks. The surrounding area is also very good for Swainson's Hawks, Black-crowned Night Herons, Upland Sandpipers, Sprague's Pipit and numerous other species of grassland birds. However beware of ticks in the springtime and wear light coloured clothing so they can be picked off after the photo session.

Chestnut-collared Longspur.
 I wasn't expecting to see the Longspur at the salt lake and the day before my guide saw a Wolverine so anything is possible.
Wilson's Phalarope captures a brine shrimp. 

Finally but not least I include a post from Trevor Herritt on the mad plan to install wind turbines at Chaplin Lake. When you have read it check out some of his other blogs, they're informative and to the point. A must read for those from the prairies and anyone interested in the welfare of the environment.
Some P900 shots from the Rockies
Common Raven
P900 was used out of the car window to photograph this raven perched on a garbage bin.

Lincoln Sparrow/Bow Valley Alberta
P900 point and shoot camera handheld at 2000mm
It was just a grab shot but as I have blogged before, the camera is perfect for the birder who wants a pic like this while photographers are going to prefer a DSLR for higher quality images. Every scenic in the past two months except one in Quebec was taken with the P900.

Bow Glacier between Banff and Jasper.

I hope you have enjoyed my account of the trip and since my returned many of you have said it was an interesting read and for that I am grateful as my command of the English language can be a bit dodgy at times. It was an eight week dream come true. If I was to try the same X country trip again and there is no reason why I wouldn't I would set aside three months instead of two. I would also leave earlier, perhaps the last week in April when there would be less leaves on the trees. Even then it was too late for much of the migration so perhaps mid-April but then one might run into snow storms or any kind of inclement weather. Two years ago I was forced off the Trans Canada at Chaplin Lake in a fierce was Victoria Day, the May long weekend. My time in Newfoundland was way too short at seven days and rain in Quebec and New Brunswick curtailed a few boat trips but I feel content with what I achieved. On the return leg many birds were hiding away with young and the trees acted as camouflage and the bugs became unbearable.
In my next blog or two I will post some of my favourite sighting lifers and some stats.

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday 24 July 2015

Netley-Libau/Bird Count Way Down

Hi readers,
As some of you know I crossed Canada during the spring and early summer on a "Little Big Year" where I had the luck to meet some incredible people. Included on that list is Manitoba birder, environmental activist and altogether good human Charlie McPherson. Not only did he find me a number of lifers he also took me out in his boat and into Netley-Libau Marsh for an afternoon. He was recently interviewed about his stewardship work and his concerns about the effects of Lake Winnipeg on the surrounding marshlands near his home.

Please click on the link below for more information and the Winnipeg Free Press story.

Charlie McPherson scoping Lake Winnipeg.
American White Pelicans fly over what was once hay fields.
Bald Eagles have increased while ducks, grebes and shorebird numbers have plummeted. 
The summer cottages are now gone and the rising water level has submerged hundreds of acres of woodland. The roots become waterlogged and rot. The only birds using this type of shoreline were Spotted Sandpipers.

More from the trip

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday 21 July 2015

The Return "Little Big Year" Part 22

June 22-July 3 2015 The Return Trip

Bas-St-Laurent/Rimouski/Parc National du Bic to Toronto.

Morning fog rolls off the Saint Laurent River at Parc National du Bic.
After crossing Canada in six weeks I had to plan a return trip in two weeks. Here is a selection of images from the last two weeks of the journey. Enjoy!

After driving through a wet and soggy New Brunswick I spent a few days relaxing in Quebec. I arrived a day before St Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec national holiday. On my outward journey I had booked my van in for an oil change not realizing my error. The extra day stopover was a good chance to practice my rudimentary Quebecois. It was enough to order my favourite comfort food, a large poutine with extra gravy. Most Quebecois I spoke to only had a few words of English, some were fluent even the mechanic who changed the oil spoke no English or wasn't comfortable enough so I had my brother-in-law explain some things I might want to fix on the van when I returned home.
Note: I made it back to BC after 20,000 kms with just an oil change. Gotta luv VW Westfalia's.


I stopped off in Ottawa's Andrew Haydon Park for a few hours where a Little Egret had been reported. I searched and searched finding a Great Egret and a Groundhog but no Little Egret. I was about to leave when another birder approached me and one thing led to another and soon were on our way to the other side of the lake where we joined about twenty other birders who were good enough to share their scope views of the rare egret. I believe it is the first record ever for Little Egret in Ottawa. Too far for a photo but yet another lifer for me.
Groundhog or Woodchuck (Marmota Monax) Hayden Park, Ottawa.
Great Egret with fish at Andrew Haydon Park, Ottawa.

Agawa Rock Paintings

The next notable stop after a scenic drive through Northern Ontario was Agawa Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Fortunately Lake Superior was calm and most of the rock paintings were accessible. A precarious 45 degree slope leads to the cliff face and one slip would lead to a very cold dip in the deep water below. The forest trail was very birdy with Magnolia Warbler, Ovenbird, Swainson's Thrush and Ruby-crowned Kinglets the most evident. The mosquitos were in a miserable mood so I high-tailed out of the woods after visiting the rock paintings.

Agawa pictographs and rock paintings.

More on Agawa Rock Paintings

Sault Ste.Marie

The next stop was Sault St Marie to observe a colony of Chimney Swifts where I shot some video of the swifts but a better version from Tube is posted below. My video only shows a hundred birds. The swifts were lifers for me. It was too dark and they were to far way to photograph but the UTube video shows thousands milling around the post office chimney before plunging down to roost for the night.

The Roost

More on Chimney Swifts

Chimney Swift Video

Terry Fox Memorial.

As I made my through Northern Ontario I promised myself to visit the Terry Fox Memorial. I have to admit it was an emotional experience. I had lump in my throat as I drove up a beautiful tree lined avenue to the memorial. The site is a fitting memorial to Terry Fox and his legacy. Having just driven from St John's Newfoundland I cannot imagine the effort it must have taken him to reach Thunder Bay where his journey prematurely ended. 

Canada Day July 1 2015 Regina Beach, Saskatchewan.

Regina's Tavria Ukrainian Folk Dance Ensemble

July 2-3 The Manitoba Grasslands Birding Trail
                                                "Where the Grassland Birds Still Sing"

The Southwest corner of Manitoba is one of the best places in the province to see grassland birds. There are two well documented routes to take. 
A handy map with detailed description of birds that might be encountered can be found at Manitoba Tourism offices along the Trans-Canada.
I based myself in the town of Melita. The community run campground was quiet, clean with heated facilities including laundry and was very affordable at $20 a night. A good place to make a base for a few days. There are also a hotel in town.
On my arrival in the early afternoon I decided I had just enough time to drive the Northern Route with total driving distance of 53kms or 33 miles.

Here are some images from my four hour drive along gravel roads, past historic settlements, old school houses, farms, washed out bridges and incredible scenery.
Black Tern

     Note: the speckled head which is normally jet black occurs during the summer and the breeding period.


Swainson's Hawk v Eastern Kingbird.

I include this series of an Eastern Kingbird dive-bombing a Swainson's Hawk.  Forest fires made visibility difficult, there was no sunlight even in the late afternoon. There were two Swainson's which I would assume were a pair and they were up to no good. In some pictures the hawks were being attacked by another kingbird, a Red-winged blackbird and a Common Grackle, all at the same time! I think the pictured Swainson's acted as a decoy while the other went after nests. Later I observed the two Swainson's flying over the nearby wetland where both the kingbirds and blackbirds were nesting. 

Technically the images are below par as they were taken from quite a distance in lousy light but I think they are interesting enough to publish.

Dive bombed
An Eastern Kingbird comes into harass a Swainson's Hawk

Pecking Order
The Eastern Kingbird pecks the head of the much larger Swainson's Hawk.
In some pictures the red crest of the kingbird is clearly show.

                                                                         The Landing
Ouch! I am sure this hawk is more than a little angry.

Quiet Backroads

Away from the busier roads the number of species I found increased exponentially. These Bobolinks were quite happy with me photographing them from the van window but when a farmer drove by the birds were flushed.
Clay-coloured Sparrow
The entire time I was in the prairies I never saw a blue sky due to forest fires in NWT, Alberta and Saskatchewan blanketing the entire province in smoke.
Eared Grebe with young hitching a ride.

Another Eared Grebe with s a singlechick.

I just had to find a Grasshopper Sparrow. I had already found LeConte's and Field Sparrow so a third rare or difficult to find sparrow would be a fitting end to my grassland adventure.

Grasshopper Sparrow
Next day I attempted the Southern Manitoba Grasslands Birding Trail Southern Route. The trail is a 150 kms or 93miles and begins just outside the town of Melita, the same starting point as the previous day. The trail takes the visitor through native prairie, riparian woodlands, along and into the historic Souris Valley. Alhough I didn't see any, the chance of seeing a Burrowing Owl is as good here as anywhere in Canada.
Anyway I drove along gravel roads and some smaller side-roads where the grass scraped underneath the van. I was also on the lookout for Upland Sandpipers which I had seen north of Winnipeg close to Oak Hammock. Because of the remote location I was lucky enough to see several pairs hanging around a cattle pasture. The grasses about the same height as the birds themselves, the perfect nesting site.

Upland Sandpiper

I was pretty exited to get this close to such an elegant bird. A few miles down the road I found another bird and set up to photograph it when suddenly its mate or a competitor appeared out of nowhere, flushing my subject.

Had I looked away for a second I would have missed this scene.

Just another Upland Sandpiper!
         I eventually saw eight Upland Sandpipers on my drive, seven more than I had ever before!

Western Meadowlark
A ground nester, a Western Meadowlark collects food and keeps a wary eye open for predators like crows, magpies, coyotes and foxes. She also has to look out for flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds who are looking for a host nest in which to lay their eggs.

Wilson's Snipe can usually be heard before they are seen.

A snipe makes the familiar winnowing sound.
Snipe were quite common on my prairie travels and I often saw them near human habitation, on  fence posts, adjacent to playing fields but none were as elegant as these two birds from the windswept grasslands.

Eastern Phoebe

Yellow-headed Blackbird binging food to the nest.

Wherever you find cattle you will see cowbirds. Certain species like the rare Brewer's Sparrow and to some extent the Grasshopper Sparrow need a specific type of grassland to nest in. They prefer native pasture which has been grazed by ungulates. Now that there are very few Pronghorn Antelope and no Bison the grassland is either sown for crops or used for oil extraction.
Brown-headed Cowbirds look for a host nest.
These Brown-headed Cowbirds were on the look-out for any unsuspecting birds to lead them to their nests. The cowbirds can then lay their own eggs just as they would have done each year as they followed the millions of bison that used to migrate from Yellowstone to the Prairies. 
Of course, we still haven't learnt our lesson and as I look out at the remaining 3% of Manitoba'a grasslands I wonder why there are new oils wells are even being allowed on the last remnants of native grassland.

Parting Shot

Grasshopper Sparrow

"It's never late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada