Cerebral Escape

a photo journal of my escapes

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.


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.


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.


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