Cerebral Escape

a photo journal of my escapes

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.


While Whales Sleep – Debut EP

WhalesAlbumCoverNope.  This post isn’t about the outdoors or birds but rather another one of my passions – music.  More specifically about some tracks some friends and I have recorded under the band name “While Whales Sleep”.  I’m one of 3 guitar players in the band – not something you’ll see or hear everyday.  If you have a look at our Facebook page or our Bandcamp page, you’ll see that we’ve labelled ourselves as a post-rock instrumental group.  Whatever it is, it’s a lot of fun to play.

If you’re interested, you can stream our release for free on our Bandcamp page or while you’re there, feel free to make a donation to download the tracks.

Back in September, we played our first show – Phog Fest 6.  We got to play on the main stage.  Tons of fun.  Here’s a few pics from the show – Photos courtesy of Jay Verspeelt.

I can’t wait to play some more shows – hopefully in December – Stay tuned!


Golden Day at Holiday Beach

This morning the winds were blowing fiercely out of the north but I decided to hit Point Pelee anyway (North winds are not great for lake watching at Pelee).  I ran into Alan at the tip and he mentioned that he wasn’t seeing much – not surprising.  I figured I would just do a quick scan of the lake and head back north in the park since I did see a lot of hawks flying around.  Just before Alan left, he got me on a Woodcock he spotted flying way out over the lake.  It must have been blown out by the strong winds.  After my scans, I decided to bring the scope back to the car and head north up the West Beach footpath up to the Serengeti tree to see what was around.  On the way up, I flushed a few more Woodcocks along the trail (4 more) so I ended the day with 5 Woodcocks!  After a quick look around Sparrow Field I decided to head out to do a few things at home.

Windy Tip

Very windy tip

In the afternoon, I ran out to Holiday Beach to join Jeremy Hatt on the Hawk Tower.  It turned out to be a great decision.  My goal of the day was to try and find a Northern Goshawk – a year bird and a big one for Essex County for me.  I’ve been having a pretty good year, seeing 264 species in Essex County so far.   Not bad for working full time and with a 1 1/2 year old at home!  Goshawk would be 265 – much higher than my previous Essex best of 261.

Within a short time of being on the tower with the crazy north winds, a gorgeous Golden Eagle flew up over the trees.  This would be the first of many that I’d end up seeing.  A little while later, a call came over the radio from the Hawk Banding Station that a Juvenile Goshawk was headed in our direction.  We all trained our eyes on the skies to try and pick out the bird.  A few minutes passed and it looked like it was going to be a no-show but nope, it popped up right over the trees in front of the tower – #265 Essex bird for the year!

Juvenile Golden Eagle - Showing golden nape

Juvenile Golden Eagle – Showing golden nape

The birding was great on the tower and it was tough to leave but I still wanted to drop by the banding station before heading out.  I’m sure glad I did!  I got to witness a 2nd year Goshawk fly into the nets, get banded, and released.  What a gorgeous bird to see up close!  As the bird was being released, 3 more Golden Eagles soared over head.  A truly Golden Day at Holiday.


Slo-mo Release Video


A few other shots from the day.


White Ibis Madness

Last night I was flipping through some emails and I noticed an eBird rare bird alert for Chatham-Kent county that really peaked my interest.  An Immature White Ibis was reported earlier in the day at Wheatley Provincial Park – an extremely rare bird for this area!  I immediately texted Jeremy Hatt to see if he knew anything else about the posting.  After some quick emails back and forth with the original eBird poster, he found out that a camper, the eBird poster’s mother, had seen the bird and had no easy way of getting the word out about this rarity.  Some clever thinking led them to have their daughter, who lives in Michigan, make an eBird report about the bird to start spreading the word.  Well it worked.

I checked to see what time sunrise was going to be and planned on getting there to have a look before I had to get back home to work.  The bird did not disappoint.  The sun was not even up yet and I was set up on the bridge that leads from Two Creeks Campground down to the beach and started scanning.  Within 20 minutes, I noticed a dark bird land right in the middle of marsh, directly in front of me.  There was no mistaking what this was.  That bill is unlike any other common bird around here – everything checked out on the bird!

White Ibis

White Ibis – Pre-sunrise

I made a few quick calls, texts and a post to Ontbirds to help continue spreading the word.  Within 15 minutes, the birders started arriving to add the bird to their Point Pelee Area bird list.  I watched the bird for a little longer but had to get on my way and get to work.  Nice start to a Monday! Point Pelee Area bird # 284 for me  – and Ontario Bird # 315.


Heavily cropped Immature White Ibis

Thank you again to the original finder – a great bird!  Point Pelee area’s only 2nd record for this species!

Labour Day Lifer!

I spent Labour Day morning at Point Pelee.  I was up an out of the house by 6:15am with plans to be one of the first to the tip.  Not sure why but I was just trying to motivate myself to get out of bed.  I parked at the Visitor Centre and walked down.  I thought about bringing my bike but just decided to enjoy the walk instead.  It was a very warm and sticky morning and the woods seemed awful quiet other than a few little chips and the occasional Eastern Wood-pewee calling.

As I made it to the tip, another birder, who had passed me on a bike, was already set up and scanning the Gulls.  He mentioned that I hadn’t missed anything exciting.  There wasn’t a lot of birds moving around yet.  The occasional Swallow flew over head and a few gulls were passing by but not the great movements I was hoping for on a Southwest wind.  But that would soon change.


Gulls at the Tip. What’s up with that GBBG in the middle – molting?

Blake Mann showed up just after 8am.  By now, things were starting to move around out over the lake.  Within 10 minutes of his arrival, Blake yells out “Sabine’s Gull!”  He quickly got me on the bird – a lifer- thanks again Blake!  We also got the other birder, who was just packing up, on the gull.  I watched it dip and fly fast past the tip from west to east.  I was too busy watching the gull to get a great photo but I did get an identifiable record shot.  Blake got a much nicer shot.


Sabine’s Gull – Lifer #382

After watching the lake for a few more hours, more birders showed up, including Alan Wormington, who mentioned that he had spotted a Parasitic Jaeger earlier in the morning from a beach further north in the park.  I decided I would stay a little longer and keep scanning the lake.  We didn’t come across anything new so I decided to go for a little walk up to Sparrow Field to see what was around.


Five-lined Skink

In Sparrow Field, a large group of Warblers were flitting around at the northwest corner of the trail just before it meets Post Woods.  The trail is really overgrown in this area!  I watched for awhile and ended up with about 10 species before I decided to keep moving and check on the beach.  On the way over to the beach, I spotted a Black-billed Cuckoo about a foot off the path, low in the scrub.  I slowly walked up to get a better angle and a picture.  I couldn’t get all of the branches out of the way but I was happy with the pic I got below.


Black-billed Cuckoo destroying a Cicada

After the Cuckcoo photoshoot and an uneventful check of the beach, I decided to head home and see what Sarah and Emily were up to.  Another fabulous day in the park.



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