PAUL ROEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘Birding’

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
November 10 – 17, 2017

The movements of Cedar Waxwings can be incredibly predictable during the month of November. I often find flocks of these birds each year in the same fruit trees.

The movements of Cedar Waxwings can be incredibly predictable during the month of November. I often find flocks of these birds each year in the same fruit trees.

I have always enjoyed birding in November. Sure the big push of migrants has already moved through and the weather can be fickle at best, but great birding opportunities exist for a variety of species. It is at this time of year that I have some of the best views of Cedar Waxwings as their movements can be extremely predictable.

With seasonal temperatures not conducive to insect activity, waxwings are easily located feeding on fruit. Find fruit trees and you will most likely find waxwings. That being said, be extra observant when searching for Cedar Waxwings in November. During spring and summer months waxwings will regularly give away their location with their high-pitched whistles, but at this time of year they tend to remain almost silent as they gorge themselves on berries. 

With most of the leaves now gone from the trees, locating birds is less challenging and one of the many things I like about birding in November.

With most of the leaves now gone from the trees, locating birds is less challenging and one of the many things I like about birding in November.

This week I decided to check one of my favourite locations for finding Cedar Waxwings and in particular a few specific trees. Sure enough, as in previous Novembers, waxwings were present. Also observed among the sizable flock of Cedar Waxwings were large numbers of American Robins also enjoying the bounty of fruit.

As I watched this feeding frenzy I heard the occasional soft call of a robin and the odd whistle from a waxwing, but otherwise this group of hundreds of birds was silent. Cedar Waxwings will not remain in one area long at this time of year though, as once the berries are gone so too will the birds. Finding more fruit trees in areas that are close by and following the flock is key to achieving continued views over the course of the month. 

Bald Eagle activity increases along the Thames River in London, Ontario during the month of November.

This Bald Eagle was observed along the Thames River in Springbank Park. This is one of my favourite sections of river for observing these majestic raptors all winter long.

November is also when Bald Eagle activity along the Thames River in London, Ontario begins to increase. Eagles that have migrated from our north are often attracted to the river due the fact many sections remain open year round, offering a sustainable food supply throughout the winter months. Combine this with the local population consisting of many first year birds from several nest sites in the area and chances of spotting a Bald Eagle along the river are pretty good. This week I had great views of a mature eagle as it flew downstream in Springbank Park. 

This Blue Jay was one of the many birds I have observed so far during the month of November.

This Blue Jay added a touch of colour to an otherwise grey day.

Other plentiful birds around the Forest City in the past seven days were Blue Jays. These birds are often quite vocal revealing their whereabouts making them an easy bird to locate. Speaking of vocal birds, I was treated to great views of a male Red-bellied Woodpecker as it called from high up in a dead tree. Northern Cardinals were yet another songbird heard long before they were seen. 

With the leaves off the trees in November, birds like this Red-bellied Woodpecker are much easier to locate.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker takes a break from trying to extract a meal from beneath the bark of a dead tree.

Waterfowl numbers on the Thames River really seemed to increase this week, with mostly Canada Geese and Mallards observed. I always look closely at these large flocks for any ducks that look slightly different as November is when I often find the odd Gadwall or other dabbler mixed in with all the Mallards. This week I did locate an American Black Duck/Mallard hybrid while birding along the river. Within the next month, good numbers of overwintering waterfowl including mergansers and Common Goldeneye will appear on the river for another season. 

This male Northern Cardinal was busy foraging on seeds that had fallen to the ground.

This male Northern Cardinal was busy foraging on cedar seeds that had fallen to the ground.

If you are not convinced that great birding opportunities are available throughout the month of November, I encourage you to get out and give it a try. Resident birds are always abundant and overwintering species will continue to arrive in the area as the weeks progress. Dress accordingly to the day’s predicted forecast and always be prepared for rain or wet snow as weather in November can change at a moment’s notice. Be extra observant as sometimes birds can be right in front of you while not making a sound, as evidenced by the Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwings are just one of the many songbirds I target at this time of year.

Cedar Waxwings are just one of the many songbirds I target at this time of year.

Birding in November has always been rewarding for me and is why I look forward to the change in weather so much. I think if you visit your favourite natural area this month you too will agree November birding is incredibly rewarding. 

Good birding,
Paul 

*If you were unable to attend one of my November workshops, I have added more dates in January. If you were able to participate, I have added a couple of new workshops that might interest you as well. Please view my upcoming events for more details.*

Green Herons Present Phenomenal Views At The Westminster Ponds ESA

Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds to our south. Fortunately, these birds are currently providing exceptional views at an area ESA. 

Over the past three weeks, I have been enjoying incredible views of Green Herons. In fact, the views achieved have been the best I have experienced. If you are unfamiliar with these birds, Green Herons display the most beautiful combination of iridescent blues and greens combined with a reddish brown neck. Standing only 18″ tall, Green Herons are often a challenge to locate within the swampy habitats they prefer despite their colouful plumage. This however is not the case currently at the Westminster Ponds ESA located in south London. 

Under the right light conditions, the iridescent plumage of the Green Heron becomes quite evident.

Throughout September, I have seen as many as four Green Herons, both adults and juveniles (juveniles are heavily streaked on their necks and breasts) at one time at the west end of Saunders Pond. On most visits, these birds have been viewed within 20-40 feet of the path running alongside the pond. Green Herons will soon be leaving our area for their wintering grounds in the Southern United States, Central, and South America, so opportunities for these close encounters are running out.

The mix of cattails and fallen timber on the west side of Saunders Pond provides the perfect habitat for Green Herons.

The easiest access to these Green Herons is from behind Tourist Information located at 696 Wellington Road. From the parking lot head north on the paved path until you reach the boardwalk. Continue north on the boardwalk and begin scanning the fallen timber to your right and the cattails to your left. My best views have come from just north of the boardwalk along the dirt path where Saunders Pond comes to an end. Both sides of the path throughout this area have provided satisfying views.

When alarmed, Green Herons will extend their necks and raise the crests on the top of their heads. This particular bird heard children playing in the area and exhibited this classic behavior.

In my experience, time of day does not matter for viewing these Green Herons as I have found these birds both in the morning and afternoon. If you are wishing to photograph these birds, I would recommend waiting until about mid morning as this will allow the sun to get high enough in the sky to light up the birds nicely while achieving a faster shutter speed, If you cannot make it in the morning than late afternoon has been quite good too. Try not to leave it too late though as once the sun drops low in the sky the area becomes quite shaded. Great views of these birds can still be obtained, but your image quality may suffer due to the lack of light.

Click on the two above images to enlarge these photos of a Green Heron with a Northern Leopard Frog. 

These particular Green Herons at the Westminster Ponds ESA are not overly wary of people, but moving slowly and speaking in a soft voice is still recommended to avoid stressing the birds.These Green Herons are in this area feeding heavily in preparation of their long migration south, so remember to respect their space and allow them to feed in order to accomplish this feat. The only times I have seen these birds startle is when a group of children ran by while shouting in loud voices. Even then the birds did not move far remaining in the area where there is an abundance of food. While watching and photographing these Green Herons I have observed them capture small fish, tadpoles, and Northern Leopard Frogs.    

The heavy streaking on this Green Heron’s neck and breast indicate it is a juvenile bird.

If you are hoping to achieve great views of a Green Heron, I highly recommend visiting the Westminster Pond ESA soon. As mentioned earlier, these birds won’t remain in the area much longer, so time is running out for potentially the view of a lifetime.

Good birding,
Paul

*My 2018 calendars have arrived and are now available for purchase. To see the images featured and to purchase click here.*

  

Shorebirds Abound At The West Perth Wetlands

Shorebirds including the Lesser Yellowlegs can be found in large numbers throughout August at the West Perth Wetlands

Lesser Yellowlegs and other shorebirds can be found in large numbers throughout August as they migrate across Southwestern Ontario.

When it comes to shorebirds many species begin their fall migration in late June with Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs being the first to make their way south. As summer progresses, shorebird numbers steadily increase throughout Southwestern Ontario and by August shorebirds can be found in large concentrations throughout our area. Consequently, this is when I begin my search of area drainage ponds, sewage lagoons, and wetlands hoping to observe and photograph these long distance migrants.

This Pectoral Sandpiper was among the many shorebirds recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands

This Pectoral Sandpiper was among the many shorebirds I recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands

One of my favourite places to observe shorebirds is the West Perth Wetlands located in Mitchell, Ontario. A series of shallow ponds and exposed mudflats provides an ideal habitat for shorebirds looking to rest and feed as they migrate south. Navigating around the wetland is quite easy thanks to a network of meticulously maintained mowed grass trails that sit on top of the berms surrounding each pond. Not only does this make for easy walking, it also provides an excellent vantage point for observing and photographing birds and other wildlife readily located along the edge of each pond. Naturalization of the sloping banks from the top of each berm to the water’s edge has occurred consisting of variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs all of which attract a nice mix of both songbirds and butterflies. 

Lesser Yellowlegs were by far the most abundant shorebird I observed on a recent visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

After checking eBird and seeing that good numbers of shorebirds had been reported at the West Perth Wetlands, I grabbed my binoculars and camera and made the one hour drive from London hoping to observe some of these birds. Upon arriving at the wetlands, I could hear the echoing calls of several birds coming from the other side of the berm as I strapped on my camera and binoculars. Following the trail from the parking lot up onto the berm the first pond came into sight, and so too did a large flock of shorebirds.

Shorebirds at he West Perth Wetlands are always on the move which presents excellent opportunities for flight shots.

Shorebirds at the West Perth Wetlands are always on the move, providing excellent opportunities for flight shots.

Raising my binoculars and scanning the first pond, it became evident that Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most abundant of the shorebirds as dozens of these birds could be seen foraging on the large mudflat in the centre of the pond. After observing these birds for several minutes, I began to circle the pond in hopes of locating more shorebirds.

In my opinion, young Killdeer are among the cutest of all baby birds.

While some shorebirds have already started to migrate, others including Killdeer are still raising their broods. This young Killdeer was one of three observed. 

As I made my way down the trail I observed a lone Killdeer watching over three small chicks. In my opinion, you can’t find a cuter baby bird than a Killdeer. These tiny balls of fluff were a treat to watch as they foraged in the mud and waded in the shallow water.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Coming to the end of the pond, I scanned through the abundance of vegetation with my binoculars and counted the heads of four Great Blue Herons. I decided that if I made my way to the other side of the pond I would be able to get an unobstructed view of at least three of the birds. As I rounded the corner a fifth heron flew in from the east. I raised my camera and captured several images of the bird before it landed in the middle of the pond.

This image demonstrates the wide variety of shorebirds that can be observed at the West Perth Wetlands. From front to back are Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the upper left corner of the frame just in front of the green vegetation is a Least Sandpiper.

This image demonstrates the wide variety of shorebirds I observed at the West Perth Wetlands. From front to back are Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the upper left corner of the frame just in front of the green vegetation is a Least Sandpiper.

Continuing east deeper into the wetland, I came to the second pond. As I looked down at a small section of mud bank in the near corner of the pond, I was treated to an extraordinary view of four shorebirds perfectly lined up from smallest to largest. Fortunately these birds were not moving around too much and I was able to capture several images of this unique scene. As mentioned, Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs were the most prevalent shorebirds present on my visit, but I was also treated to exceptional views of Spotted Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers.

This male Common Yellowthroat was one of two warbler species observed.

This male Common Yellowthroat was one of two warbler species observed.

The West Perth Wetlands is a great place to bird and not just for shorebirds. Songbirds are also plentiful in the mixed habitat within and surrounding the wetland. Warblers including Yellow and Common Yellowthroat were both observed. Other notable species observed included an Eastern Meadowlark, Chimney Swifts, and two Green Herons. Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches were plentiful in the row of evergreens located at the southeast end of the property.

I was happy to see that the Monarch was the most abundant butterfly observed around the wetland.

Monarch Butterflies were the most abundant butterfly observed around the wetland.

A collection of butterflies were also observed, and to my delight Monarchs were the most abundant. Swallowtails, Viceroys, and both American and Painted Lady were all photographed. Dragon and Damselflies were present in good numbers with a variety of each observed.    

This male Widow Skimmer was one of many dragon and damselflies observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

This male Widow Skimmer was one of the many dragonflies observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

The West Perth Wetlands really is an impressive place to get out and enjoy nature. Whether you are searching for birds, insects, reptiles or amphibians there is something for everyone. One non nature observation I made that I think is worth sharing is that of a gentleman using an electric mobility device to get around the wetland, demonstrating that the well-maintained grass tails are accessible to everyone. If you are searching for a fully accessible location for birding, the West Perth Wetlands is a great option.

The Killdeer is one of the most commonly found shorebirds in Southwestern Ontario

This Killdeer was one of dozens recently observed at the West Perth Wetlands.

Throughout August and September, look for shorebird numbers to increase further in Southwestern Ontario as they make make their way south. Area wetlands, sewage lagoons, and stormwater management ponds area all great places to observe shorebirds as they are drawn to these habitats to rest and feed. If you are looking for a place where great views of an abundance of shorebirds can be obtained, I highly recommend a visit to the West Perth Wetlands.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

 

A Look Back On Spring Birding 2017

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are one of the species I look forward to seeing most while spring birding.

Seeing so many first of year species makes spring birding incredibly rewarding. This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed on one of my many visits to Cavendish Woods. 

With spring coming to an end, I can’t help but reminisce about some of the fantastic birding I experienced over the past several months. With record breaking temperatures in February, many of the birds we typically don’t see until March arrived early, but as the weather returned to normal, so too did the arrival of spring migrants.

Spring birding often reveals many first of year species including this Eastern Phoebe.

The Eastern Phoebe is the first of the flycatchers to return to our area each spring.

April saw the return of Eastern Phoebes to our area. These birds are always the first flycatcher to return each spring. I was pleasantly surprised to see my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year on Good Friday as it hovered over my yard. This was the earliest I can remember ever seeing a hummingbird in the area. As the month progressed, aerial insectivores including swallows and Chimney Swifts were observed throughout the area.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the many brids you can expect to see while spring birding.

Yellow-rumped Warbler showing off the yellow rump for which they are named.

As May approached, I patiently waited for the return of warblers to Southwestern Ontario. First to arrive this year, as is the case each year, were Yellow-rumped Warblers. In the days following, Yellow Warblers and Palm Warblers were also observed in good numbers.

Warblers are synonymous with spring birding.

Palm Warbler

Due to some stretches of unseasonably warm weather, leaf cover this spring was further along than in previous years, which made photographing warblers and other songbirds more challenging, but I am always more than happy to just watch these colourful birds through a pair of binoculars as they flit from branch to branch.

Spring birding at the Westminster Ponds ESA revealed this Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Westminster Ponds ESA is my favourite place to bird anytime of year, but especially during spring migration. With an abundance of mixed habitat, songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey can all be observed in good numbers. During migration, it is not uncommon to see 50-70 species in a single day.

Virginia Rail Westminster Ponds ESA

Virginia Rails prefer to stay hidden among thick vegetation making them a difficult bird to observe and photograph.

One morning in early May as I made my way along the boardwalk behind Tourist Information on Wellington Road, I observed a Virginia Rail as it walked through the emerging cattails in this swampy section of the Westminster Ponds ESA. These secretive birds are fairly common in our area, but are extremely difficult to find as they typically stay hidden within the thick vegetation of their preferred marshy habitats.

Male Wood Duck making its way though the cattails in a flooded marsh.

Male Wood Duck photographed at the Westminster Ponds ESA.

Early May was also great for observing Wood Ducks within the Westminster Ponds ESA. Looking through the wood cover surrounding Saunders Pond revealed many pairs of these beautiful dabblers. Since Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, several of these ducks were inadvertently seen high up in trees adjacent to the pond as I scanned the branches for warblers and other songbirds. Surprisingly, I also found a few late overwintering ducks on Saunders Pond with a pair Long-tailed Ducks and a lone female Greater Scaup observed. Both of these waterfowl species breed far to our north and are typically gone from our area by this time of year. 

Trilliums and other wildflowers are often observed while spring birding.

While enjoying the many trilliums emerging from the forest floor in Hawk Cliff Woods, I observed this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak on a fallen log.

If asked what bird I look forward to seeing most return each spring, my answer would be the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The unmistakable plumage displayed on the males of this species is simply stunning, and I was happy to see these birds once again back in our area in early May.

Whimbrel landing on the east breakwater in Port Stanley Ontario

This heavily cropped image represents only a small portion of the flock of 250-300 Whimbrels I observed on the east breakwater in Port Stanley, Ontario.

Each May, Whimbrels can be observed in large numbers along the north shore of Lake Erie as they pass through the area on route to their breeding grounds across the Arctic. The largest flocks are typically observed around the Victoria Day long weekend give or take a few days. In years past, my timing has always been off just missing these large shorebirds by a day or two. On May 17, I took a short drive down to Port Stanley, Ontario and to my delight between 250 and 300 Whimbrels were resting on the east breakwater at the mouth of the harbour. Other shorebirds present were Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, and Least Sandpipers.

Pileated Woodpeckers are often heard drumming on hollow trees during spring birding.

This particular dead tree proved to be a favourite for this male Pileated Woodpecker as I observed it drumming on the hollow trunk on several occasions.

Birding this spring wasn’t just about the many migrants returning to or making their way through our area. Resident birds are always fun to observe and I was treated to excellent views of many, including Pileated Woodpeckers. These crow-sized woodpeckers truly are a sight to see and can readily be found within the Westminster Ponds ESA.  

Male Northern Flicker London, Ontario

Woodpeckers including the Northern Flicker are among the many resident species that can be observed in good numbers throughout our area long after spring migration is over.

Just because spring migration has come to an end doesn’t mean that great birding can’t still be enjoyed throughout our area. With so many birds spending at least the summer months in Southwestern Ontario, productive birding will continue right through the summer leading us into fall migration.

As the temperature warms up, I recommend getting out as early in the day as you can to not only avoid the heat, but this is when birds are most active. Summer birding can be incredibly satisfying as this is this only time of year to witness interactions between adult and baby birds. You may have to be a little more patient to see some of the birds through the leaf cover, and daily species counts may not be as high, but birding during the summer months is just as rewarding as birding any other time of year.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

 

                

John E. Pearce Provincial Park Reveals A Nice Mix Of Species At Risk

The Red-headed Woodpecker is currently listed as special concern on Ontario's species at risk list. This particular bird is one of three I observed last week while visiting John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are currently listed as special concern on Ontario’s species at risk list. This particular bird is one of three I observed last week while birding at John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

Last week I decided to pack up my gear and head to Elgin county with John E. Pearce Provincial Park my destination. Situated on the north shore of Lake Erie and only a short drive from my home in London, this park is an area I had never birded before. With migration numbers having already peaked I was unsure what to expect, but knew this Carolinian habitat would be home to variety of birds.

John E. Pearce Provincial Park is home to a variety of birds including the Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Orioles could be seen and heard high in the treetops as I made my way through the park.

Upon arriving, I parked in the large lot on the north side of the road next to the Backus-Page House Museum. I was instantly greeted by the songs and calls of several birds with Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers being the first identified. Before strapping on my camera and binoculars, I walked over to a large sign containing a map of the area in order to formulate a plan of where to begin. I decided to commence my hike on the Spicer Trail, a 1.5 km loop that circled the north side of the property. This trail would take me through a mixed habitat of meadow and hardwood forest before leading me to the entrance for the trail on the south of the road overlooking Lake Erie.

Yellow Warblers were by far the most prevalent warbler observed while birding at John E. Pearce Provincial Park

Yellow Warblers were one of the most prevalent birds observed within the park.

As I entered the Spicer Trail, a House Wren was observed perched on the sign marking the trail entrance. I could hear a loud ruckus of breaking sticks and shaking grass just ahead of me to the right. Glancing through the trees and shrubs I saw a White-tailed doe as she ran through the meadow and into the cover of the thick timber. A variety of wildflowers lined the trail where several butterflies were observed including an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From within the dense thicket as the meadow transitioned to forest, Gray Catbirds could be seen and heard. Once in the forest, ostrich ferns and moss covered logs concealed much of the forest floor. Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos could be heard singing high up in the canopy. Deeper in the forest, I saw a White-breasted Nuthatch emerge from a tree cavity, presumably in search of more food for its brood.  

Butterflies including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail were observed with the boundaries of John E. Pearce Provincial Park.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were among the variety of butterflies observed.

After exiting the Spicer Trail, I crossed the road and picked up the path on the lake side. Again, Great-crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos were heard high overhead. A Hairy Woodpecker called as it flew in front of me and landed on a leafless branch. The sound of rustling leaves on the forest floor directed my attention to an Eastern Chipmunk. At the midway point of the trail I stopped at an opening in the trees overlooking Lake Erie. Due to erosion, a fence has been installed running parallel to the lake keeping visitors away from the edge of the bluff. As I looked past the fence out over the lake I could see several Bank Swallows, a species at risk in Ontario, circling the sky. As their name suggests, Bank Swallows build their nests in the high banks after burrowing a tunnel in the sand. The addition of the fence will also prevent park visitors from disturbing the nesting colonies of this threatened species.

Heading back towards the road a flycatcher grabbed my attention as it flew from one side of the trail to the other. I watched as the bird landed in a small tree, one of only a few in a isolated group in this otherwise mature forest. I raised my binoculars hoping to get a better look and identify the species. As the sun filtered through the canopy onto the bird, I could see that it was greener than other flycatchers and displayed a thin eye ring. Given these field marks and the surrounding habitat, I was thinking this bird might be an Acadian Flycatcher. I watched this flycatcher for several minutes as it seemed quite content on its chosen perch. Before taking flight and moving to the next tree it let out a distinctive “peet-sah” call. I knew at that point that this was in fact an Acadian Flycatcher, a species currently listed as endangered in Ontario. Excited by this sighting, I continued down the trail as I did not want to disturb this bird especially if it was nesting in the area.    

There were plenty of colourful birds to see on my visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park including this male Indigo Bunting.

There were plenty of colourful birds to see on my visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park including this male Indigo Bunting.

Exiting the woods, I scanned the trees and shrubs as I followed the main road back to the parking lot. This is not a busy road and the shoulders are quite wide, so I felt safe with my decision. Hearing the song of an Indigo Bunting I glanced up and saw a beautiful male singing from a tree top. Sensing my presence, the bird dropped down into a low lying area beside the road surrounded by the forest. While trying to relocate the bird I noticed a second male bunting perched low in the grasses not far from a female. This area had all the characteristics of typical nesting habitat for buntings, so I was not surprised to find three of these beautiful birds in such a small area.

Red-heaaded Woodpecker John E. Pearce Provincial Park June 1, 2017

Red-headed Woodpecker

Continuing along the gravel shoulder, a bird flying from south to north across the road caught my eye. After watching it land in a tree adjacent to the road, I raised my binoculars. To my delight the bird was a Red-headed Woodpecker. This was the second Red-headed Woodpecker I had seen in as many days as I had observed one the previous day in my backyard. As I lowered my binoculars and raised my camera I could hear a second Red-headed Woodpecker calling from across the road. While watching the first bird move to another tree, I picked up yet another Red-headed Woodpecker in my line of sight. Tallying three of these birds, currently listed as special concern in Ontario, in such a small area was one of the many highlights of my visit. 

I was certainly impressed with my first visit to John E. Pearce Provincial Park, and will definitely visit again. The park’s geographic location and Carolinian habitat make it an incredible place to bird any time of year, but I can only imagine what it must be like during the peak of spring and fall migration not only for songbirds, but birds of prey too. I am already planning on returning in September to observe the large flights of raptors that make their way down the Lake Erie shoreline each year on their journey south. I highly recommend John E. Pearce Provincial Park to anyone that has not visited. It truly is a beautiful park loaded with wildlife and offers an excellent opportunity to observe some our province’s most fragile bird species.  

Good birding,
Paul

Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend

Many Northern Cardinals could be heard over the Family Day weekend as they try to attract mates and defend territories.

Birding so far this Family Day Weekend has been quite productive. Northern Cardinals can be heard actively singing throughout our area.

Last week when I saw the forecast for the Family Day long weekend I knew it was going to be a great weekend for birding. Above seasonal temperatures and sunshine would be a nice change from the what seems like never ending cloud cover we have experienced so far this winter. What really peaked my attention about the forecast was the predicted winds, which were to be out of the south. I was optimistic that the combination of warmer temperatures and south winds would bring a few migrants back to our area ahead of schedule.  

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen and heard in good numbers so far this Family Day weekend.

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen and heard in good numbers so far this long weekend.

One of my first observations of the weekend was that several birds were beginning to vocalize much more with Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens heard signing loudly throughout many of my favourite areas. While the wrens were a challenge to see and photograph due to their propensity to remain in heavy cover, many of the cardinals were observed singing out in the open. Blue Jays are regularly observed all winter long in our area, but I noticed increased numbers as several large flocks moved through a local park. I couldn’t help but wonder if these flocks may have been birds that overwintered to our south and were making their way north. Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches were also seen in good numbers and much more vocal than in previous weeks.  

Red-winged Blackbirds returned to Southwestern Ontario over the Family Day long weekend.

The above seasonal temperatures and south winds brought several birds back to our area ahead of schedule.

On Sunday I drove down to Port Stanley, Ontario to see what species may be present on or along the lake. As soon as I stepped out of my truck I could hear the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds, my first of the year, echoing from a patch of phragmites near Little Beach. Song Sparrows could also be seen and heard calling from the shrubs adjacent to the rocky shoreline. As I walked out further towards the lake, a lone male Redhead swam close to shore. A pair of Common Mergansers passed by overhead while a few Canada Geese landed on the east breakwall. As I glanced out at the hundreds of gulls, mostly Ring-billed and Herring, that stood on the remaining ice, I heard the call of an Eastern Meadowlark, another first of the year for me. I turned and located the bird singing from one of the few remaining tall trees on the far side of the meadow. As I raised my camera to take a very distant shot, the bird dropped down into the thick tangles of grasses and brush below before I could press the shutter.   

The unseasonably warm weather this Family Day weekend has make for some great birding.

This male Redhead was observed in Port Stanley, Ontario near Little Beach.

While driving back into London, I observed a few Turkey Vultures soaring over the open fields. Turkey Vultures are known to overwinter in Port Stanley and I have observed them there in previous trips this winter, but these were the first birds I have noticed inland, leading me to believe that maybe these birds too were ones that have recently returned to Southwestern Ontario. 

This Song Sparrow was photographed over the Family Day weekend in Port Stanley, Ontario

Song Sparrows are among the many birds that have become more vocal with the warmer weather.

Seeing the first wave of migrants arrive back in our area ahead of schedule has made for an exciting start to the long weekend. With more beautiful weather in the forecast for holiday Monday, it looks like yet another great day to get out birding. In fact, most of the week looks nice with continuing warm temperatures and more south winds. If the forecast holds true, we should see even more early migrants arrive back in our area. If you get the chance this week, I highly recommend getting out and enjoying the sights and sounds this beautiful spring-like weather has brought with it. 

Good birding,
Paul

Seed Cylinders: An Inexpensive Option For Backyard Bird Feeding

Male Hairy Woodpecker feeding from a seed cylinder consisting mainly of peanuts.

This male Hairy Woodpecker is one of the many birds I have enjoyed watching feed from a seed cylinder I recently hung in my backyard.

As an avid birder I spend a lot of time at various locations around the city looking for, watching, and photographing birds. One of my favourite locations to view birds is in my own backyard. Since purchasing my house in 2007, I have slowly transformed my yard from an area void of vegetation, to an inviting bird habitat filled with a variety of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Along with the natural habitat, I have also added a water feature and several bird feeders.

Male Northern Flicker feeding at a backyard peanut feeder.

Several woodpeckers including this male Northern Flicker are regular visitors to my peanut feeder. With an abundance of woodpeckers in my yard, I wanted to provide another location for these birds feed.

Of the birds that visit my yard, woodpeckers are among my favourites. In fact, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, a common visitor to my yard, is my favourite bird. Other species of woodpecker that regularly visit my yard include Downy, Hairy, and Northern Flicker. Late last year, I decided I wanted to add another feeder for these birds to feed at. With ten feeders already spread out across my yard, I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money on another feeder. Already having suet and peanut feeders I wanted to find something different. After considering several options, I decided to go with a simple seed cylinder and holder.   

Female Downy Woodpecker perched in a Sycamore Tree.

Even with eleven feeders in my yard, birds like this female Downy Woodpecker still must wait for an opportunity to feed.

Seed cylinders, also referred to as seed logs, are made from various seeds and held together with an edible binder. They are similar to suet cakes, but much more dense. One advantage to this is that birds have to work a little bit to free the seed, which provides longer views than a feeder where the bird can simply grab a single seed and go. Since I was wanting to attract mostly woodpeckers, I decided on a seed cylinder that consists chiefly of peanuts, but also happens to contain hulled sunflower seeds and cut corn. The holder I purchased is a simple metal design that slides through the cylinder and doubles as a perch. The cost of the holder was $7 while the log itself was $10, so for just under $20, taxes included, I found an inexpensive option.

Red-bellied Woodpecker peeking out from behind a tree trunk.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is my favourite bird and one I quite enjoy watching in my own backyard.

Only a few hours after hanging the cylinder I noticed the first bird feeding on it, a male Northern Flicker. Since then, several other birds have found it and have returned regularly to feed. Along with all of the woodpecker species previously mentioned in this post, other birds that I have noticed using this feeder have included American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, and Carolina Wren,    

American Goldfinch in winter plumage feeding from a seed cylinder.

American Goldfinches have been attracted to the hulled sunflower seed in the cylinder I selected.

Much like other bird feeders, seed cylinders can be hung just about anywhere. A tree branch, shepherd’s hook, or even from your eavestrough in front of a window, are all great options. As with most feeders, choose a location where it is not accessible to squirrels, unless of course you don’t mind feeding them too. Seed cylinders are made with a wide variety of seeds so choose one based on the birds you wish to attract or the birds in your area. 

If you are looking to add an inexpensive bird feeder to your yard, I highly recommend considering a seed cylinder. I have enjoyed watching the birds feed at mine over the past month, and my only regret has been not purchasing one sooner.

Good birding,
Paul 

 

A Proven Technique For Easily Locating The Subject In Your Camera’s Viewfinder

Trying to locate birds in flight in your camera's viewfinder is made much easier by following this simple technique.

Locating a fast flying bird in your camera’s viewfinder can be quite challenging. Fortunately there is a simple technique which makes achieving this incredibly easy.

Wildlife photography can be quite challenging. Unlike landscape or portrait photography where the subject is large and stationary, nature photographers must deal with much smaller subjects, and ones that are almost constantly moving. Whether its a bird of prey in flight, a small songbird flitting among the branches, or a butterfly moving from flower to flower, one of the hardest elements of wildlife photography can be locating the subject in your camera’s viewfinder.    

Fortunately, there is a simple trick photographers can use to make locating their subject much easier. By using your camera’s hot shoe as a sight, locating your subject will become much faster. If you are unfamiliar with what a hot shoe is, it is the mount on top of your camera where an external flash or other accessories attach. If your camera is not equipped with a hot shoe, you can simply use the top of the camera body itself as a sight.

With many other objects for your camera to focus on, locating the subject in your camera's viewfinder can be a challenge.

This well camouflaged America Robin was quickly found in my viewfinder by following this simple technique.

Once you have determined your subject, instead of looking through your viewfinder trying to locate it, simply look above the viewfinder through your hot shoe moving the camera until the subject is located. When your subject appears, slowly lower your eye into the viewfinder and you will see your subject in the viewfinder. Next, acquire focus and take the shot..The key to this technique is moving only your head slightly, enough to see through the viewfinder without moving your arms and subsequently the camera, losing sight of your subject.

This technique can be practiced with larger, stationary objects until perfected. Once you are comfortable with moving just your head slightly and not your arms and camera, you can move on to smaller moving subjects. As I mentioned above, this technique is incredibly helpful for photographing birds in flight as locating a bird against a large expansive background through your viewfinder can be incredibly difficult. It is equally effective for quickly locating a bird surrounded by branches or other objects. In fact, this technique can be used in any in any situation regardless of the subject. 

Using my  hot shoe as a sight, I was able to easily locate this Black Swallowtail Butterfly in my camera's viewfinder.

Using my hot shoe as a sight, I was able to easily track this Black Swallowtail Butterfly as it moved from flower to flower.

If locating the subject in your camera’s viewfinder is something you struggle with, give this technique a try. I think you will find that with a little practice this approach will alleviate a lot of frustration and ultimately lead to more keeper images.    

Good birding,
Paul

Long Lenses Are Not Always Required For Nature Photography

Black-throated Green Warbler perched on a small limb with emerging green leaves and a blue sky.

This Black-throated Green Warbler was photographed at a focal length of 190mm. This uncropped image demonstrates that a long lens is not always required for nature photography.

When it comes to nature photography, many of today’s top professionals are wielding telephoto lenses in the 500mm – 600mm range. Add on a teleconverter and focal lengths of 700mm – 1200mm are achieved. Sure this gives the photographer plenty of reach, but some of these combinations also come with a five figure price tag. While many of us, myself included, may dream of a lens of this magnitude, results are achievable with much more affordable gear.

Fortunately, these long focal lengths are not always required when photographing wildlife. Most of today’s DSLRs come with either a 250mm or 300mm telephoto zoom at the time of purchase, and these kit lenses are more than adequate for nature photography in many situations. When shooting with a shorter lens, getting close to your subject is paramount. One simple technique I use to get closer to my subject is to study their movements. After watching their behaviour and direction of travel, I try to put myself in a position where I believe the subject will be next. This technique is extremely productive especially when birds are feeding in the wild, and yields far better results than trying to directly approach them. Many wild animals are routinely pursued by predators and will quickly flee if they feel they are being stalked. By not pursuing your subject, and waiting for it to come to you, you won’t be perceived as a threat and closer views will be possible. Be sure to avoid sudden movements as this too will startle wildlife, causing them to run or fly from the area.

Black-capped Chickadee perched on a leafless branch.

This Black-capped Chickadee was photographed at 250mm using a Canon 55-250mm kit lens.

If you are shooting with a lens in the 250mm – 300mm range, photographing nature at your local park or own backyard can be your best options. Many of these animals are accustomed to human activity and are easily photographed with a shorter lens. Remember to avoid pursuing your subject as well as sudden movements as this will scare them off. Over the years I have taken many images with these shorter focal length lenses that I am more than happy with.

Next time you are out, keep these tips in mind. I think you will agree that regardless of what focal length your lens is, you will find yourself getting closer to nature.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
May 13 – 20, 2016

Tree Swallow perched on a limb with newly emerging foliage.

Cool mornings last weekend made for little insect activity. This Tree Swallow seemed quite content to remain perched conserving energy until temperatures warmed and food became more abundant.

It was another incredibly rewarding week birding around the Forest City, with several more first of year species observed and a couple for my life list. High winds and cool mornings forced many birds that typically forage high up in the canopy much lower, resulting in excellent views. Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings were all observed and photographed at eye level, while thrushes, wrens, and sparrows foraged on the forest floor.

Scarlet Tanager perched on a small limb near the forest floor.

Scarlet Tanagers can be challenging to locate as they typically reside in the forest canopy. High winds earlier in the week forced these and other canopy dwelling birds much lower.

As usual, I found myself birding in several city parks along the Thames River, and within the city’s ESAs. Birding around the city this week was so good I decided not to go to the 2016 Festival of Birds located at Point Pelee National Park. I could not justify a four hour round trip when exceptional birding could be found only five minutes from my house. There were species reported at this year’s festival that definitely peaked my interest and I would love to see. However, on Monday morning after locating a female Cerulean Warbler, currently listed as threatened on Ontario’s Species at Risk list, my mind was made up. Great views from close range and at eye level were achieved, allowing me to see the necessary field marks to properly identify this species, a lifer for me. The area where I located her was dense with cover, and I was unable to manage a picture. So instead, I used my binoculars to enjoy this rare sighting and now have this beautiful image permanently stored in my mind.

Canada Warbler photographed while birding in London, Ontario.

This Canada Warbler, a lifer for me, was one of the many highlights of my week.

Warbler numbers continued to increase from last week. American Redstarts and Black-throated Green Warblers seemed to be the most abundant species this week, with Chestnut-sided coming in a close third. Watch for an in-depth blog post featuring the warblers I’ve observed and photographed this season coming soon. A complete list of warblers I have observed so far this season within London is as follows:

  • American Redstart

    American Redstart

    American Redstart

  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Northern Parula

    Black-throated Green

    Black-throated Green Warbler

  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Ovenbird
  • Palm Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wednesday proved to be my best day birding with 61 species in total being observed, including another lifer, the Canada Warbler. This bird too is a Species at Risk in Ontario, currently listed as special concern. Like the Cerulean Warbler, this bird was in an area of thick cover and shade, not making for the best conditions for a photo. I bumped my ISO up to 1600 in order to get a faster shutter speed, then waited patiently for the bird to come into view.

Swainson's Thrush perched on a large Ash log near the forest floor.

The buffy eye-ring of the Swainson’s Thrush helps separate it from other thrushes.

This past week I noticed an increase in the number of thrushes present as well, with Hermit, Veery, Swainson’s, and Grey Cheeked all being observed. These birds could all be observed hopping along the forest floor in search of food. Sadly, I did not observe any Wood Thrushes, perhaps a sign of this species’ recent decline in numbers.

Great Crested Flycatchers have migrated back to Southwestern Ontario, and are on of many birds observed while birding.

Like the Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatchers are regularly found high in the forest canopy. Fortunately, high winds brought these birds down to eye level for great views.

Other species that were observed in good numbers included a variety of flycatchers. The call of the Great Crested Flycatcher could be heard throughout many of the wooded areas I visited. Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and Least Flycatchers were also observed.

Eastern Kingbird perched on a dead limb adjacent to an open meadow.

The Eastern Kingbird, a large flycatcher, was observed at several locations throughout the city this week.

Another observation I made this past week was how quickly the leaves are emerging. Early in the week the smaller trees and shrubs that make up the forest’s understory were beginning to leaf out, while the majority of the main canopy was just beginning to emerge. What a difference a few 20+ degree days can make. By week’s end the forest canopy had thickened considerably, making observations much more challenging, especially on days when there was no wind to bring the birds down.

Northern Parula showing off its colourful yellow breast feathers.

This Northern Parula is one of 21 warbler species I have observed so far this year in London, Ontario.

If you have not made it out yet to partake in spring migration, it’s not too late. Many birds, including several warblers, will continue to make their way through our region well into mid-June. Windy, cooler mornings can help bring the birds down out of the canopy making for better views. If possible, try to plan your birding around these weather conditions. If you are considering birding this long weekend, Sunday’s forecast shows higher winds with a low of 8 degrees. Early Sunday morning could be the best conditions for locating an abundance of birds.

Blackburnian Warbler foraging for insect low to the ground in a small shrub.

I was very pleased to get excellent views of my favourite warbler, the Blackburnian, this past week while birding in London, Ontario.

If you are still not seeing the variety of birds you wish to within London, consider scheduling a guided Nature Walk with me. I would be more than happy to show you around some of my favourite birding hotspots, and help you locate more birds. Bring your binoculars, bring your camera, bring a friend, or bring all three. A great day of birding awaits.

Indigo Bunting perched in a tree against a blue sky.

Indigo Buntings were among the many colourful birds observed over the course of the week. This bunting was photographed ruffling his feathers after a recent bath.

It has been great running into so many of my blog followers over the past several weeks. I always enjoying sharing sightings and talking birds with each and every one of you. Have a safe and happy long weekend.

Good birding,
Paul