Cerebral Escape

a photo journal of my escapes

After Work at Col. Sam Smith Park

A trip to the office would not be complete without a little after-work excursion to Col. Sam Smith Park in Toronto.  It was nice to get out for a little walk on a warmish evening (relatively speaking).  The bird numbers were not high but it’s all about the quality!

Long-tailed ducks were in close giving crazy good looks and a lonely White-winged Scoter drifted by.  The long-staying Snowy Owl was still at the marina. My sort-of target bird for the trip was ‘Red-necked Grebe’ which are easy to see here compared to back home.  They didn’t disappoint!   What more could you ask for?  Well sure – a rarity or two – but that’s birding!  You never know what you’re going to see (or not see).  Just nice to be outside.

RANT WARNING – The only disappointment this evening was the amount of dog poop in the park!  What’s up with that? I also saw used “doggy bags” just sitting along the trail.  Is it that hard to pick it up and toss it in the garbage bins? Sheesh.  RANT OVER.

Snowy Owl – Col. Sam Smith Park – Toronto, ON

A video posted by Kory Renaud (@kory.renaud) on

A Brisk Start to Spring

With a few errands to run in Leamington, I decided to get up a little early and head to Point Pelee for some first of spring birding.  The weather forecast, when I had last checked, was for a warm and partly sunny day but on the way in, I was welcomed with some light rain showers and the wind was brisk and cold.  I got to the park gates at 7 am and made a quick stop at the Marsh Boardwalk to see if I could hear the pair of Great Horned Owls I had heard last weekend.  As soon as I opened the car door, I heard the distinct hoots amongst the loud songs of American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds – a true sign of spring.

After that quick stop, I headed down to the tip to try for the sunrise but the clouds were obscuring the view.  Still lots of ice built up around the tip, but a lot more open water now.  This open water was a welcomed sign, and the birds were already streaming by.  I was hoping to see some Scoters or some grebes but came up with a big ole zero on both.  Still lots to look at though with flocks of Goldeneye, Redhead, Wigeon, Scaup, Commmon and Red-breasted Mergansers.  It was definitely nice to see this movement.  After a while, I was joined by Richard Carr and Alan Wormington and we scanned for a while but weren’t seeing much so we decided to head back north.  I left Richard and Alan, and headed up to Sparrow Field.  Lots of Song Sparrows but not much else.  I did run into a raccoon that didn’t seem to healthy.  He kept his one good eye on me the whole time.  Poor lil fella.

The next stop was Cactus Field and just as I arrived at the field, a strange looking junco flew into view.  I think it looks decent for an “Oregon” type.  Thoughts?  Jeremy Hatt and Mark Field joined me and I got them on the bird for a quick look before we lost it.  All-in-all, it wasn’t too bad of a morning.  The lighting was poor for photography but I still fired off some frames.  It’s digital anyway so why not?

 

 

A Quick Dash for the Trumpeters

I got word of some Trumpeter Swans being seen at Lakeview Marina just before lunch today (thanks Tom!)  The sun was shinning brightly so I decided to take my lunch break on the road.   I grabbed my camera, car keys and my sandwich and dashed off to the marina.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see a group of Mute Swans in close to the docks and then the three Trumpeters just jumped right out.  It’s not a species we get a lot of in this area so to see 3 together up close was a nice little treat.  I fired off as many shots as I could before my time was up – Had to get back to work.  Unfortunately they had their backs to me most of the time!

It was really nice to get out there to enjoy a few minutes of the sun, especially after feeling under the weather for over a week now!

New Year’s Day Birding

Happy New Year!  Of course I had to start the New Year off with a little birding…

This morning I joined the team covering the Canadian side for the Detroit River Christmas Bird Count.  Dan and I were tasked with counting birds in some woodlots around the area and we managed to turn up a decent number of birds despite the harsh cold winds.  We didn’t find anything too rare but it was a fitting start to a more relaxed year of birding.  No “Big Year” this year.  I’m just going to enjoy being out and seeing what I see instead of spending a lot of time chasing.  Don’t get me wrong, “Big Years” can be a lot of fun! I had an amazing time chasing down the 266 species during my 2014 Essex County Big Year but I want to do something different this year (look for my 2014 wrap-up soon).

I will still list all of the birds I see.  Yes – I am a lister and proud of it! According to eBird, I recorded 37 species today without really even trying to add them.  Not a bad start to a lazy year.  I did have a couple surprises today too.  My first bird was not the expected House Sparrow or European Starling, but rather a nice male Cardinal.  The lighting was less than ideal but a decent bird to start off with!  The second surprise was a Snowy Owl that I spotted on the fence at E.C. Row and Lauzon on my way home. Unfortunately it wasn’t in a good spot for photos.

Cardinal

FOY Cardinal

Looking ahead… I hope that Sarah and Emily can join me more often on the trails this year.  I’m looking to forward to enjoying a slower pace to birding with them.  I think this will also help me to work on my photography skills.  I need a lot more practice and that’s my biggest goal this year.

 

 

 

Netitishi Point Trip Summary – Sept 26 to Oct 10

Earlier this Fall, I spent two weeks on the coast of James Bay at Netitishi Point with Alan Wormington, Josh Vandermeulen and Jeremy Bensette.  Josh is in the process of putting together fantastic summaries of each day on  his blog so I’ll spare you all of the details here.  Below is just a quick summary of this trip of a lifetime.  Click on the pictures to view them at full size.

Travel: After work on September 25, I left Kingsville to meet up with Jeremy in Aurora and continue on for the first leg of the trip to Cochrane.  The plan was to drive through the night to catch the train to Moosonee. Alan and Josh had gone up a day earlier to do some birding and then caught the Thursday train.  Jeremy and I were to meet them in Moosonee on Friday and then we were all going to take a helicopter to the coast.   A few hours into the drive, we got a call from Alan letting us know that the plans had changed slightly.  The helicopter company had requested that we meet them in Cochrane and that they would fly us up to Moosonee to pick up Alan & Josh and then continue on to the coast. They were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to get the pilot back on the train to Cochrane that night.  This was going to cut hours off the trip and we give us even more time on the coast so I didn’t mind at all.  I did miss an opportunity for a lifer on the train though (Sharp-tailed Grouse). This was my first helicopter flight so it was a definite highlight.  We did take the train back from Moosonee to Cochrane but it was in the evening and we didn’t spot any grouse.  I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Weather: We experienced a mixed bag of weather – A lot of it not very conducive to good birding but it’s not something you can control.  We had some unseasonably warm days and then some very cold days.  A fresh batch of mosquitoes and black flies was a huge surprise for Fall!  We wanted those cold north winds but unfortunately we didn’t get much of them.  South, Southeast, and Southwest winds dominated and put a halt on migration – winds we would have be so thankful for in the Spring at Pelee but not here on the coast of James Bay where we wanted the Gyrfalcons to be blown south.  I got bored one day so I started to put together a little covered windbreak at the sea-watch spot to at least keep us somewhat dry while we stared out into the bay.

Birds:  Even though we didn’t have the most ideal weather, we still did manage to stir up a few good birds and even a few rarities.  The highlights for me were Pomarine Jaeger (lifer), two Northern Gannets (Ontario bird), large flocks of Hudsonian Godwits, Three-toed Woodpecker (lifer), a very lost Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that I spotted, a late-ish Red-eyed Vireo,  and a Northern Hawk Owl (lifer).  Unfortunately the owl succumbed to a barrage of attacks out on the bay by Bald Eagles and Ravens.  It must have been knocked down by something — but what was it doing way out over the bay?  What a way to lifer a bird but that’s nature!

Mammals:  Bear scat was everywhere and it was almost impossible not to step in it (yes of course I stepped in some almost immediately after arriving at the cabins).  We never did see a bear though.  We saw fresh tracks and even some fur caught on a nail on one of the cabins but that was it.  We heard wolves howling nearby a few times, and a fox made a brief appearance on the beach toward the end of the trip. Of course Red Squirrels were scolding us constantly. I did manage to get a few lifers in the mammal department.  Beluga Whales were frolicking at the tide line and a Ringed Seal showed itself a few times during our sea-watches.

Scenery & Surroundings:  The scenery along the coast is breathtaking and a little surreal.  When walking out on the mudflats, you feel like you’re on a different planet.  There is driftwood as far as the eye can see.  The cabins, where we slept, were nestled in a clearing a little ways from the coast, protected from the non-exsistant north winds.  Once cleaned up and a little waterproofing was done to the roof, we had a comfortable place to sleep.  There are many small ponds and a great fresh water stream was nearby for drinking water and bathing (COLD!).

 

All-in-all it was a great trip with a great group of friends – Thanks to Alan for organizing this trip!  It was really tough being away from Sarah and Emily that long. Thankfully I work for a satellite phone company so I did have the technology with me to check in a few times.  It was nice to have the piece of mind without feeling “too” connected.  It also helped us to get disappointing weather updates!

Thank you to Sarah for being so amazing, and for reassuring me that things would be fine at home (which I knew they would but I still had the guilt about leaving them for that length of time).  My hope is that Emily continues to enjoy the outdoors as much as she does now so we can do a trip like this together as a family some day.

Newfoundland – After Work Lifers

Late last week, I had to fly out to Newfoundland for work.  We were exhibiting at the North Atlantic Fish & Workboat show on Friday and Saturday so I decided to book a little later flight home on Sunday with hopes of getting in some quick birding around the St. John’s area.  Lucky for me, Alvan Buckley, who lives in St. John’s, was able to show me around.  He had plans to go birding with Liz and Maurice from Massachusetts so I was able to join up with them for the day.  Liz and Maurice were in the area specifically looking for the famous Yellow-legged Gull that Alvan found earlier this fall.   I was hoping to see this bird as well!  Unfortunately we didn’t end up relocating the bird but we did see some other Newfoundland specialties, many of which were lifers!

Quidi Vidi Lake

Quidi Vidi Lake

The plan was to meet up at Quidi Vidi Lake at first light.  While I was waiting for the group to meet up, I did a quick scan of the lake and noticed some very friendly Mallards and a Bufflehead swimming close to shore.  Within a few minutes, everyone showed up and we got on our way.  The next stop got me 2 lifers in span of about 5 minutes – Mew/Common Gull & Black-headed Gull.  We continued on and scanned the rooftops of many of the buildings but there was no sign of the YLGU.

Rooftop Gulls

Rooftop Gulls

Alvan guided us to many of the local ponds where we turned up some other good birds, including a Common Teal, and my next lifer – Tufted Duck.  Again – no sign of the target gull.  We made another quick stop at Quidi Vidi Lake, then on to Signal Hill.  Here we saw a group of Pine Grosbeaks eating berries and posing for pics.  Too bad I didn’t bring a good camera with me!

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

With no sign of the gull, we decided to head out to Cape Spear for a change of scenery and to hopefully see a few more of my targets.  Along the way, Alvan spotted some Evening Grosbeaks.  We followed them back to a feeder where we watched and listened to them.  I kept thinking… “I hope a few show up back home this winter!”

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks

At Cape Spear, we spotted some great birds including Black Guillemots, a large flock of Purple Sandpipers, Great Cormorants, and 2 more lifers – Dovekie and Common Eider.

Cape Spear

Cape Spear

We still had lots of time left in the day so we headed back into town to continue the quest for the YLGU, which unfortunately was a bust. While discussing what to do next, Alvan got word of a large group of Bohemian Waxwings being seen up on Signal Hill – another lifer.  Alvan took us to the spot he thought we’d have the best shot of finding them.  He got on a single bird flying around and then 2 large flocks flew right over our head and circled a few times.  Unfortunately they didn’t land but we still got great looks.

Even though we didn’t catch up to the target gull, it was still a great day of birding with some great people.  Thanks to Alvan for showing us around and Liz and Maurice for allowing me to tag along.  I ended the trip with 6 lifers in 8 hours of birding!  I also added 20 birds to my Newfoundland provincial list.

 

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