Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Ever since I started birding and learning about geography, South America has been #1 on my list of places to go. Last winter I did a bit of a warmup, making my way through 5 countries in Central America over 7 weeks, seeing 845 species of birds. The trip report for that is still in the works, photo editing is taking much longer than I thought and I have been spending all of my time planning for Colombia or just relaxing and enjoying not having to be on the move. One of these days I'll sit down and get all this finished, but not today!

In two days, I will finally be getting to the legendary continent, and what better introduction than to visit the most bird-diverse country on Earth? What started as sort of a joke among coworkers last summer has turned into a reality, and I am headed to Colombia for the next 2 months! Over that time I'll be travelling with a number of friends on-and-off, and doing a few parts on my own. For the first week or so, I'll be joining my Panama partners-in-crime, Steve Pike and Josh Vandermeulen, along with fellow UofGuelph alumni Dan Riley (who actually has the same birthday as me - weird) as we work our way through the three Colombian Andean ranges (East, Central and West). They have already been down there for a while so should have a pretty good handle on the birds, hopefully I won't be long in catching up! Afterward I am meeting up with Adam Timpf, who was in Colombia last winter and is actually down there already, having left yesterday, as we do more Central and West Andes birding. In mid-Feb, Avery Bartels and Jeremy Gatten will be meeting us for nearly a month of birding some of the least-visited (but still relatively safe) birding spots in Colombia, scattered from the Panama border across to the Venezuela border. Avery has done quite a bit of guiding in the country and Jeremy is no novice to tropical birding either, so my hopes are high that we will see a fair bit! After their departure, Adam and I will continue on to visit the north coast and another East Andes site before his departure, at which point I'll be on my own for a few days of birding around Bogota. Here's a link to a map of planned sites that we will be visiting - note most of them are rough placements, not precise locations.
As far as goals for the trip go, I am looking forward to having a great time on a new continent! Seeing a good chunk of the Colombian specialties and cracking 1000 species for a country are things I definitely wouldn't complain about either.

Pic taken from Steve's facebook - sunrise on the San Lorenzo Ridge a few days ago - I am very much looking forward to getting away from winter and into the land of birds!

Monday, January 12, 2015


I feel like I didn't post enough of my adventures from last year to really do an in-depth review post, so I'll keep this brief. 2014 was an eventful year for me, filled with travel and generally living a nomadic lifestyle. This didn't lend itself well to keeping the blog going, as I often had limited (or no) internet access, or if I did it was following a 12-17h work day and I didn't feel like posting! Last year I found myself visiting 8 different countries (48 provinces/states) and racking up over 1000 species of birds, about half of which were lifers. Seeing 1000 species in my life was something I had been hoping for since I first started birding and doing it in a single year was simply amazing! Here is a short summary:

January - at home in the Sault, scheming! Then off to Mexico

February - Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama

March - Panama back to the Sault, then to Long Point to start work

April - based at Long Point, going to various work sites all over southern Ontario

May - same deal then shipped out to New Brunswick where I was based out of Sackville for most of the summer, setting up towers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

June - NB/NS tower work with a 10-day trip to Seal Island for Blackpoll research

July - a week in NB/NS then off to Quebec for 3 weeks of towers along the St. Lawrence river and capping it off with 2 days on Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine as a sort of working birthday present!

August - shipped off to Bon Portage Island for more Blackpoll work

September - BP and then to Seal Island for a month

October - Seal back to BP

November - off the islands and into the office in Wolfville, with a brief sojourn around Nova Scotia checking on towers

December - Nova Scotia, back to New Brunswick for a few days then a drive back to Long Point, quickly followed by a 10-day trip to Barbados and some time in Guelph catching up with old friends to finish off the year!

Other than being somewhat sedentary for the fall, I was almost always on the move, and ended up travelling somewhere around 65 000km for the year (by plane, car, bus, boat, bike, foot, etc). I met a lot of great people along the way, making new friends and catching up with people I hadn't seen in quite a while. It was also fun to practice my (terrible) Spanish at various points through the year, surprisingly not just while in Latin America!

2015 is already shaping up to be a similar deal to 2014, as I kick it off in Ontario before heading to the tropics to ride out the rest of the winter. Stay tuned for more info on that, as well as my Central America 2014 trip report - I actually have most of it written already, I just need to add in some photos and then you'll have about 20 posts to read while I am on yet another adventure!

I haven't really made any resolutions for 2015, but keeping my eBird-a-day challenge going and seeing another 1000 species seem to be in the cards!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas in the Caribbean Dec. 17-27

At Christmas time last year, my family decided that we'd had enough of the 'typical' Christmas - i.e. gifts, decorations, cold, etc. - and that this year we would do a trip to somewhere warm instead as a gift to everyone. I had originally tried for Trinidad & Tobago as they fit the bill quite nicely (and have some good birding to boot) but that got vetoed and instead we went to Barbados. Overall it was a nice trip, spending time with family and exploring the island while soaking up the sun, warmth and rum punch. Unfortunately I lost my phone partway through the trip, and all of my landscape/people/random photos along with it... I may do a post when I get back to the Sault featuring some of my parents' photos to make up for that though.

Due to the nature of the trip and the relative lack of bird diversity in Barbados, I didn't really do much birding while there but did manage to pick up 13 lifers (out of 41 species total), only missing 2 of my targets (Caribbean Martin and Gray Heron). Luckily most of my targets were common on the island - I think I had 7 on the first day just walking to the beach! These 13 were Carib Grackle, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Barbados Bullfinch (the only endemic on the island), Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib, Gray Kingbird, Orange-winged Parrot, Black-faced Grassquit, Black-whiskered Vireo, Eared Dove, Caribbean Coot, Little Egret and Masked Duck. Other birds of interest were the endemic subspecies of Bananaquit and some such as Zenaida Dove, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Brown Booby and Caribbean Elaenia which I had only seen on one previous occasion each.

Other wildlife seen included the endemic Barbados Anole along with Johnstone's Whistling Frog, Cane Toad, Velvety Free-tailed Bat, Greater Bulldog Bat, Jamaican Fruit Bat, Green Monkey, Mongoose, Green Sea Turtle, several species of crabs, flying fish, quite a few other fish, butterflies, etc. On our deep-sea fishing trip we caught Barracuda and Wahoo, both of which were delicious!

Barbados Anole

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Black-whiskered Vireo

I never managed any decent photos of Carib Grackle despite their abundance - they always seemed to be around when I didn't have the camera on me. They are quite tiny compared to our Common Grackle though!

Barbados Bullfinch was probably my favourite bird of the trip

Anole again

Green-throated Carib


Another Anole

 Brown Booby

It came in pretty close!

Scaly-naped Pigeon

One of my only surviving landscape shots...not sure how he got out there!

Black-faced Grassquit

Zenaida Dove

Gray Kingbird

Snowy Egret - I didn't manage any shots of adult Little Egrets but I may have a photo of a nestling

distant Caribbean Coots with some Gallinules

Scaly-naped Pigeon again

Shiny Cowbird

Masked Ducks

Common Gallinule

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BP/Seal rarities!

I already did a little blurb about why BP is a good spot for turning up those most sought-after feathered creatures: vagrants. See here: If BP is in a good position to turn up vagrants, Seal is even better. It was actually pretty mind-blowing to see just how many lost birds turn up there - the list of rarities found over the years is extensive including quite a few first records for Nova Scotia (and even a few for Canada as a whole!). I can't even imagine what would be found there if it had regular coverage - as it stands it is usually only birded for a week or two every fall! As with last year, the list below covers all species seen (by us) on the islands which are noted on the NSRBA as 'reportable' species. Again, bold indicates a 'good' rarity, CAPS indicate megas! Apologies for some of the photos' quality, many of these were taken with my cell phone!

Eurasian Wigeon - 1 - molting male on our second visit to Seal!
Northern Shoveler - 1
Redhead - 1
Harlequin Duck - 8 - one individual hung out from late August to early October!

Ruddy Duck - 1
Pacific Loon - 2 - somewhere around the 20th and 21st records for the province
PTERODROMA SP. - 1 - distant bird on seal that gave me the impression of being a Fea's...aghhh
Cory's Shearwater - 59 - banner year for this species due to warm water anomalies north of their usual range, many thousands seen in Massachusetts all fall! This photo is to show why there are generally no seabird photos here...

Manx Shearwater - 23
AUDUBON'S SHEARWATER - 1 - likely due to the same warm water anomalies that brought us a lot of Cory's
Great Egret - 2

Cattle Egret - 1

Green Heron - 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron - 2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 1 - found on BP just after I left........
Turkey Vulture - 60 - should be removed from the list
Red-shouldered Hawk - 2 - both on BP while I was on Seal
Cooper's Hawk - 5
CLAPPER RAIL - 1 - 10th NS record - good story behind this one, ask me privately!
Virginia Rail - 1 - I have a photo but it really shouldn't be posted anywhere, it's that terrible
American Coot - 6
COMMON RINGED PLOVER - 1 - flyover on BP, calling its distinctive tooee!
Solitary Sandpiper - 6
Red Knot - 14
Stilt Sandpiper - 1

Long-billed Dowitcher - 1
Red Phalarope - 36
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 19 - not really a rarity anymore
Caspian Tern - 2
Forster's Tern - 1
(also dead Laughing Gull and Black Skimmer, remnants of Hurricane Arthur) 
Great Skua - 8 - mostly due to some crazy ENE winds we had in early October
South Polar Skua - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 217
Parasitic Jaeger - 73

Long-tailed Jaeger - 4
Common Murre - 1
Thick-billed Murre - 1
White-winged Dove - 1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - 11
Long-eared Owl - 1
Red-headed Woodpecker - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 6

Willow Flycatcher - 18 - almost all identified in the hand, a couple identified by voice 
DUSKY FLYCATCHER - 1 - 3rd NS record - banded on BP while I was on Seal! I will add a photo here if/when I receive one
HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER - 1 - 2nd NS record - banded on Seal!

Eastern Phoebe - 34
Great Crested Flycatcher - 1
White-eyed Vireo - 2

Warbling Vireo - 7
Philadelphia Vireo - 8
House Wren - 8 - I think this one is the western subspecies, due to the amount of barring on the back+flanks?

Sedge Wren - 2

Marsh Wren - 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 4
Gray-cheeked Thrush - 6
Wood Thrush - 1
Brown Thrasher - 1

Blue-winged Warbler - 2

Orange-crowned Warbler - 22
Cape May Warbler -18
"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1

Yellow-throated Warbler - 1
Pine Warbler - 14
Prairie Warbler - 11

Western Palm Warbler - 19
Prothonotary Warbler - 1

Hooded Warbler - 1
Yellow-breasted Chat - 2

Eastern Towhee - 1
Clay-colored Sparrow - 16

Field Sparrow - 6

Vesper Sparrow - 1
Lark Sparrow - 3

LE CONTE'S SPARROW - 1 - 7th NS record

White-crowned Sparrow - 22
"Gambel's" White-crowned Sparrow - 1
Scarlet Tanager - 2
Blue Grosbeak - 3

LAZULI BUNTING - 1 - 2nd or 3rd NS record - gray nape+rump, wingbars (noticeable in field), buffy breast with white belly, lack of streaking on flanks/breast lead me to this ID - showed up after a nice front that brought the above Blue Grosbeak, 10 Indigo Buntings and a few other goodies

here with an Indigo bunting for comparison

Indigo Bunting - 53 - probably some duplicates

Dickcissel - 14

Yellow-headed Blackbird - 2

As you can tell, it got a bit ridiculous out there. Despite a multitude of SLOW days, there were occasional bursts of migration, and W/SW winds predominated throughout the season bringing us a large number of southern/western vagrants, especially on Seal Island. This list comprises a whopping 81 species, or 32% of our season total. Of these, 58 were observed on BP, a bit more than the 54 we had last year (about 25% of the total on BP both years). 59 were observed on Seal, 29% of our total during the month we spent there. If you take a look at my potential rarity list at the end of my post last year, you will see quite a few of the species mentioned above! We did very well in terms of both 'regular' rarities and true megas this season! Seal Island is probably one of the best places in Canada in terms of sheer numbers of vagrants and 'quality' of vagrants, due to its position 17km out in the ocean and wide variety of habitat types (salt marsh, short-grass, dunes, rocky and sandy beaches, sheltered coves, spruce/fir forest, alder and mountain ash patches, etc, etc!). I think it would be fun to spend a whole season out there... who knows what would turn up?