Wednesday 14 November 2018

Canada 2018 - Ending the day at Hillman Marsh

With Stephen again at the wheel we headed west towards Point Pelee, it was approximately a 3 hour drive, we were looking for flooded fields or anything that might yield something new on the way. We actually didn't see too much so we found our Motel in Leamington (pretty much the closest place to stat for access to Point Pelee) then headed off to Hillman Marsh. We had heard this wasn't as good as it used to be, maybe this was so, but we found it entertaining nonetheless.
The light was beautiful and the shallow muddy was situated on the west, where you could stand on the bank and view with the sun behind, perfect. Amongst a good number of waders 2 stood out and had drawn a crowd, AMERICAN AVOCETS, really smart birds, surrounded with LESSER and GREATER YELLOWLEGS, lots of DUNLIN, LEAST SANDPIPERS, SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Stephen did a great job finding a single SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER in among all the peeps.
American Avocets

Adding to the assembled waders were at least 40 BONAPARTE'S GULLS, 10 RING BILLED, 20 CASPIAN TERNS, a handful of COMMON TERNS and a FORSTER'S! There was plenty more to see as we scoped the rest of the marsh and walked round the main lake ducks included BUFFLEHEADS, NORTHERN SHOVELER, RING NECKED DUCKS, GREEN WINGED TEAL and 3 RUDDY DUCKS, these ones safe from any cull. HORNED GREBES were also on the water.
Mixture of Gulls and Terns

By standing in the correct spot before we walked the lake we managed to find a GREAT HORNED OWL perched some distance away a nice distraction from the waterbirds. A SANDHILL CRANE made us look to the skies, where a CHIMNEY SWIFT whizzed in and out view at speed. On the walk we found a couple of WOOD DUCK and a couple of DOWNY WOODPECKERS gave good views.
Sandhill Crane

That was a great introduction to Hillman Marsh, and I haven't mentioned the hundreds of TREE SWALLOWS in attendance...

Next stop an early start at Point Pelee.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Canada May 2018........Long Point

A fairly short drive this morning from Grimsby to Long Point approx 1 hour 30 minutes, on the way we added SPOTTED SANDPIPER, 4 in total including 3 in small puddle in a field we also added a close immature BALD EAGLE and several YELLOW WARBLERS.
My first Bald Eagle

 We arrived at Long Point and were greeted with GREY CATBIRD. A chat with a couple that knew the area headed us in the right direction towards the observatory at Old Cut. Loads of TREE SWALLOWS filled the air with the odd PURPLE MARTIN. We only stayed briefly around the obs after catching up with Paul and Dan from Spurn who were there on an exchange visit. A walk along Lighthouse Crescent produced SWAINSON'S THRUSH, VEERY, YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER and LEAST FLYCATCHER. Just passed the lighthouse itself a small area of bush held CHESTNUT SIDED WARBLER and a brief CAPE MAY WARBLER, Yellow Warblers were everywhere. HOUSE FINCHES were appropriately around the streets, a BLACK THROATED BLUE WARBLER was seen at the new park and soon we added BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER, DOWNY WOODPECKER and EASTERN TOWHEE, adult BALD EAGLES passed over head while GOLDEN CROWNED KINGLET was new back nearer the ground. EASTERN KINGBIRD was found near the beach as was our only FIELD SPARROW of the trip. In the old park, which was a pleasure to bird we added more warblers, PROTHONOTARY, AMERICAN REDSTART, PALM WARBLER, BLACK THROATED GREEN WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA and a stunning BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, here we also saw ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK and WARBLING VIREO. WHITE CROWNED SPARROWS were very common, there were a couple of NASHVILLE and a TENNESSEE WARBLER here as well.Back at the car park at Old Cut Stephen found OVENBIRD and WOOD THRUSH, it was all a lot to take in and expectations were heightened at every turn. We had our quick bite to eat here, bread and cheese, danish pastry and an a apple, possibly a few crisps for good measure, this diet served us well for the whole trip :-)

Tree Swallow

Field Sparrow

Prothonotary Warbler

A quick visit to the marsh nearby added TRUMPETER SWAN, FORSTER'S TERN, PIED BILLED GREBE and HORNED GREBE. The reeds seemed weird without being filled with Warblers singing scratchy songs, in their place were mainly Red Winged Blackbirds! More scanning added several Great Blue Herons a few SANDHILL CRANES including young, behind us over the main lake CASPIAN TERNS patrolled the shore. A 78 species day with some great birds and close views, 15 species of warbler stole the day......

Trumpeter Swam

As the  first day was so good at Long Point we decided to stay in the area as long as we could for the next day before heading off in the direction of Point Pelee, we enjoyed the Old Park so much we headed back there, CEDAR WAXWINGS were arriving and the amount of White-throated Sparrows everywhere was impressive, Blue Grey Gnatcatchers and a couple Brown Thrashers added to the mix, before we headed to the New Park.

In the New park we found our first MAGNOLIA WARBLER, a little elusive to start with but we did get some reasonable views, a few other warblers were evident but moving on we found a small feeding flock that held our attention, NORTHERN PARULA, a very obliging BLACK and WHITE WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART and best of all BLUE WINGED WARBLER, another new bird for the trip and lifer. Finally pulling ourselves away heading towards the beach a RED HEADED WOODPECKER appeared over the dunes towards us then it switched back and did a good job of disappearing in leafless trees!! Leaving it as long as possible we decided to head to our next destination and potential highlight of the trip Point Pelee. Hopefully the next instalment will be out before the end of the year when i've forgotten everything!!!!! :-)
Typical Black and White Warbler pose!!

Yellow Warblers were very common but absolute joy!!!

Friday 18 May 2018

Canada May 2018.....Algonquin National Park

The Blue Spruce Resort at the west side of Algonquin was the base for the next two nights, looking out over a mostly frozen lake, we still heard the haunting calls of divers as we woke on our first morning.

Typical of the lakes when we arrived

We were soon on the road and heading for the Spruce Bog trail towards the east of the park, checking off other potential trails on our way, the first sighting of note was MOOSE!!! by the side of the road in the early morning glow, it moved off quickly before we had a chance to stop, great start to the day. As we approached the car park we saw a sign for the visitor centre, which had been host to some good birds over the winter, we decided to head there first but as we passed the entrance to Spruce Bog Trail, I spotted (couldn't miss) a large BLACK BEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!! standing in the entrance to the car park, we quickly reversed and Stephen managed to see the bear as well before it turned tail and headed into the woods, in the car park we couldn't hear or see anything so headed back to the visitor centre. Black Bears are easy to see in the west of Canada but apparently here not quite so easy we talked to a chap who has camped in the far reaches of the park every year for the last 20 years and he had never seen one! We didn't really add much back at the centre apart from a chattering CHIPMUNK. Back at Spruce Bog we took to the trail, no sign of bear, and hoping for Spruce Grouse, there was quite a lot of bird song, SWAMP SPARROWS sang, BLACK DUCK flew over the bog, a buzzy call took us back to October 1989, Holkham Pines in Norfolk as RED BREASTED NUTHATCHES were being pretty vocal, woodpeckers drummed and called and lots of Pine Siskins were heard overhead. A simple but pretty song turned out to be WHITE THROATED SPARROW, while a WHITE CROWNED SPARROW chipped in as we walked the icy paths. American RED SQUIRRELS and CHIPMUNKS were obviously used to people on the paths especially the former as it pretty much ran between our legs!

Red Breasted Nuthatch

American Red Squirrel
A short drive east was Opeongo Road, our main target here was Grey Jay, the drive along it was fairly birdy a particularly good car park just before the snow gate was full of finches which in the main turned out to about 100 Pine Siskins, overhead the odd CROSSBILL called, before we moved on. At the end of the road was a store and a kayak centre, but with the lake mainly frozen it was very quiet, as we pulled into the car park a large woodpecker caught my eye, PILEATED WOODPECKER, a real monster, suddenly there was more action as about 6 EVENING GROSBEAKS dropped into the tree above the woodpecker, a bird I was hoping we weren't too late in the season to see. The car park remained the focus as we added YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER, YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER, BLACK THROATED GREEN WARBLER, CHIPPING SPARROW, BROAD WINGED HAWK and RUFFED GROUSE. All the time Siskins and a few Crossbills could be heard and seen flying overhead with the odd Diver and Turkey Vultures joined them from time to time for good measure.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Ruffed Grouse

Evening Grosbeak

No sign of Grey Jay, so we took a slow drive back along Opeongo to highway 60 (the main route through the park) heading east again the information we had for a tricky species to see was to head to the 53km post and wait? on the way 3 more SANDHILL CRANES drifted over. We stopped by some open water which of course had a BEAVER swimming across it very close to the 53km marker..... within seconds we heard the call of BLACK BACKED WOODPECKER it came from a telegraph pole on the other side of the road, the bird showed well for a short time then disappeared, we spoke to several  people after this who had failed to find this bird so luck was on our side again.


Black Backed Woodpecker

In our quest for Grey Jay we ended up visiting the above sites a couple of times each during the day, everywhere was a little quieter although we added OTTER at the woodpecker spot, as well as AMERICAN KESTREL, BELTED KINGFISHER and EASTERN PHOEBE elsewhere.

Day two in Algonquin was focused on two birds we couldn't find yesterday Spruce Grouse and the Grey Jay. An early walk at Spruce Bog proved fruitless for the Grouse but we did add PINE WARBLER, here was the only place we saw this bird. Another drive along Opeongo and a look in the car park near the snow gates again loads of Pine Siskins were joined by 2 WHITE WINGED CROSSBILLS and nearby a PURPLE FINCH, another nice stop, we walked the road from here for while and we were treated to a surprise close encounter with a BLACK CAPPED CHICKADEE who thought we had food!! We again headed to the main car park at the end of the road, the EVENING GROSBEAKS re-appeared giving some better views. Conscious we had to head south later in the day again tried the Spruce Bog Trail and jackpot!!!! a male SPRUCE GROUSE, strutted its stuff for us not far from the main path, a really well marked bird, we were well pleased to add this the life and trip lists :-) We thought our luck had changed for Grey Jay as well when we met a guy tracking breeding Grey Jays!!! Unfortunately he couldn't take us with him but gave us hope of a more friendly recently fledged family back on Opeongo, so off we went again. The tracking guy said if we whistled in the given area there was a chance the Jays would hour or so later with my whistling starting to get on my own nerves let alone any poor unsuspecting Jay!!, we admitted defeat with only a couple of inquisitive Blue Jays to show for it!
Black Capped Chickadee

Friendly Black Capped Chickadee!
Spruce Grouse!!

On the road again and Niagara Falls was the target for an hour so before it got dark, we were treated to one last offering from Algonquin as 2 MOOSE posed by the road before we left the park for good...we made it managing to avoid the USA border, the falls were nice and gave us close quarters with RING BILLED GULLS, as well as a few Terns, Divers and Cormorants, the weather soon
broke and we battled the driving rain to get to an impromptu Super 8 motel for the night. Ready for some good weather and a morning journey to Long Point.....


Niagara Falls

Thursday 17 May 2018

Canada May 2018........A day on Carden Plains

  After birding with Stephen Message from our early teenage years we both hit the dizzy heights of 50 years on this earth recently, circumstance allowed for us to plan a birding trip to mark the occasion!

To be honest Stephen did the planning and very good it was to. So on May 3rd we headed to Heathrow with the usual excited anticipation these trips evoke.

Time was relatively short after landing late afternoon, so it was straight off to find somewhere to stay for the night close to our first site, we ticked off COMMON GRACKLES, RED WINGED BLACKBIRDS and an OSPREY perched, fish in talons by the road before reaching Orillia and  adding AMERICAN ROBIN and DOUBLE CRESTED CORMORANT when we arrived.

The first full day was rather dull weather wise and tricky for photography but a couple of flooded fields on our way to Carden Alvar produced several GREATER YELLOWLEGS, totalling around 20 by the end of the day, the drive also gave us WILD TURKEY, BLUE JAYS, NORTHERN HARRIER and a flock of 8 COMMON LOONS (Great Northern Divers) flying over.
Greater Yellowlegs

Birding today at Carden was a case of driving slowly along a series of well known roads namely Wylie Road and Shrike Road mainly, near Kirkfield. These proved very productive, early on lots of, EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, a LESSER YELLOWLEGS, TREE SWALLOWS and a BROWN THRASHER sang from high also several Sparrows were seen. A strange whirring noise revealed WILSON'S SNIPE overhead. After some mis-direction by me we were on Shrike Road, several SAVANNAH SPARROWS were added NORTHERN FLICKER appeared briefly, eventually 3 UPLAND SANDPIPERS gave themselves up singing in flight and hopping up onto a rock, this was one of the target species here. Moving on along the road more Wilson's Snipe and Lesser Yellowlegs were seen then a bright yellow warbler flicked across the road, after a short while we worked out it was a NASHVILLE WARBLER, accompanied by BLACK CAPPED CHICKADEES and RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS, nearby a WOOD DUCK took flight and at least 8 AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES and a few PINE SISKINS buzzed around. Making our way back from the dead end on Shrike Road to head to Wylie Road, Stephen stopped the car with good reason....a SNOWY OWL was tucked up against a large rock, bonus!! It's very late in the year for these birds this far south but a couple were holding on we learned later, although this bird hadn't been documented.
                                                                       Mourning Dove

Upland Sandpiper
Eventually we reached Wylie Road, this road was a little more tricky in places and after a short debate we turned back as we couldn't be sure the holes and amount of water in them would let us through as they got longer and deeper. Before this point however we had some great birding more Northen Flickers, HAIRY WOODPECKER, SWAMP SPARROW, 3 SANDHILL CRANES another NORTHERN HARRIER, plus another tricky species a singing GRASSHOPPER SPARROW!! Along this stretch were more Red winged Blackbirds, BLUE JAYS and a surprise SNOW BUNTING! We also couldn't resist one more look at the Snowy Owl. A look around the local lakes added BUFFLEHEAD, GREATER SCAUP, CASPIAN TERN and 3 OSPREYS.
Red Winged Blackbird

Blue Jay

Snow Bunting

Sandhill Cranes
A bit more light on the Snowy Owl
Well it was quite a start to the trip, the weather turned very windy late afternoon as we made our way towards Algonquin, passing a house that had just been hit by a falling tree! Algonquin was to be our base for the next couple of days.

Sunday 20 November 2016

In Search of the Lynx

A couple of weeks ago I did a first and embarked on a Naturetrek holiday, so an organised group holiday with guides etc.. Expectations were high but that's always as it should be with any wildlife watching, always be optimistic.
The first day we all met successfully at Seville airport and we met our guides Byron and Laura for the first time and introduced ourselves to one another (12 in the group). An hour and half or so later we were in El Rocio on the edge of the Coto Donana reserve. El Rocio was a real surprise, comprising of dust filled streets instead of tarmac with an amazing wild west feel, horses were the norm and cars out of place. We spent the first hour or so before sunset scanning the dried out lagoon, it looked fairly deserted but soon ZITTING CISTICOLAS appeared, STONECHATS and a distant herd of RED DEER. Further scanning added RED KITE and the first SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE of the trip albeit distant, a few late HOUSE MARTINS drifted over the town joined by a few RED RUMPED SWALLOWS. A nice start to the trip. CRIMSON SPECKLED and VESTAL moths added a bit of variety with a SMALL COPPER and BLUE TAILED DAMSELFLY finishing off the first days sightings.
Sun sets on our first day


After a great meal the night before and sufficient breakfast we were off into the reserve, CATTLE EGRETS welcomed us and I picked out KINGFISHER on one of the only standing bits of water in the half light. Eyes were peeled as we made our way around the territory of one of the worlds rarest cats. WILD BOAR followed a few sightings of RED DEER and Tom did well to pick out a BUZZARD perched in the early morning mist and occasional flocks of AZURE WINGED MAGPIES (Iberian Magpie by it's new name) ghosted through the low trees, with no signs of Lynx after our first stint we parked up and scanned a large open area, SARDINIAN WARBLERS rattled in the nearby bushes and a flock of GOLDFINCHES were just visible. 8 CORN BUNTINGS flew overhead and when Anna drew our attention to a STONECHAT, Tom again scored with the first GRIFFON VULTURE of the trip sat out in the open on the edge of the mist. Gradually the mist cleared and everyone had good views of the Vulture, WOODLARKS sang as Peter called out and got us onto a fine male HEN HARRIER, unfortunately it headed away and wasn't seen again. Returning to our minibus we headed further into the open area where THEKLA LARKS showed close to the bus and LITTLE OWL and HOOPOE were added perched on a ring of old Eucalyptus stumps. Another trawl round the area was fruitless and we went for lunch.
After lunch, a quick look near the hotel produced an unexpected pair of PENDULINE TITS. We then did the same routes looking for Lynx with no luck then headed towards a more open area, the posts were dotted with WHEATEARS, STONECHATS and good numbers of KESTRELS. A small piece of standing water near a visitor centre held BLACK WINGED STILTS, RUFF, GREENSHANKS and GREEN SANDPIPERS, just a bit further on we found a flock of late LESSER KESTRELS and a STONE CURLEW came up from one of the large fields.
One of many Griffon Vultures enjoyed on the trip

Actually quite cute..........

Red Deer

Fine male Penduline Tit

Finally got a close Hoopoe


Today was our last morning in Coto Donana before a 4 hour journey to Sierra Morena.
We once again headed into the park, the KINGFISHER was again sitting on the pipe on the edge of the small piece of water, David managed to see it this morning. Unfortunately the mornings search proved fruitless again, we did see WILD BOAR again lots of RED DEER. A new route and another stop somewhere slightly more open proved eventful SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES appeared in what seemed like every bush and Anna and Andrew saw a large bird of prey fly into a distant tree, closer inspection revealed a fine juvenile SHORT TOED EAGLE which kindly flew almost overhead after it's brief stop. A RED FOX scuttled across the open with an unfortunate rodent firmly gripped between it's teeth.
The next move was to head towards our final destination in the Sierra Morena area.
on the way we stopped again at some standing water, a BLACK STORK was seen near several WHITE STORKS along a drainage ditch. On a larger bit of water there were maybe 5000 GREATER FLAMINGOS!! Here too were loads of NORTHERN SHOVELER, BLACK WINGED STILTS and a few other waders but highlight for me here was my first ever MARBLED DUCK found by Byron.
By the time we got to our hotel it was almost dusk, Andrew and I headed out for a quick walk and found NUTHATCH, LONG TAILED TIT and CRESTED TIT.
Young Short Toed Eagle

Fox and prey

El Rocio our first base - felt like the wild west

El Rocio

Impressive part of 5000 Flamingos!


With impressive pieces of doorstep toast devoured for breakfast and hooting TAWNY OWL added to the list we headed out to the hills, 30 minutes later we were viewing across grassy slopes dotted with trees and bushes, A GRIFFON VULTURE looked down on us from a rocky outcrop as we scanned for any sign of movement, a chorus of bellowing RED DEER were hard to ignore and some impressive stags wandered in out of view. Laura found a MOUFFLON somewhere near a small farm but it disappeared quickly. A DARTFORD WARBLER appeared behind us giving good views. I then saw a pair of white and brown legs standing beside a distant tree trunk eventually the animal moved and it was another MOUFFLON a fine male this time everyone got on in and it stayed in view for several minutes. Our next stop was on a dam just another 5 or so minutes further on, it was very impressive and a beautiful setting. Two HAWFINCH flew over as I got out of the van and 10-15 CRAG MARTINS whizzed around the dam, BLACK REDSTART was seen below the dam and Tom found our first SPANISH IBEX, the first of several in the area. A couple of distant raptors caught my eye and we added CINEROUS VULTURE to our growing bird list, Laura found an exceptionally cryptic male IBEX with just horns and head showing!! as well equally impressive finds of BLUE ROCK THRUSH and ROCK BUNTING, both distant. I noticed another two birds of prey breaking the horizon sitting on a rocky slope, Byron checked them out and they were GOLDEN EAGLES, we watched them for a time including a memorable encounter with one them locking talons with a Vulture. All this before lunch!
During lunch we saw SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, CRESTED TIT, HOOPOE, COMMON REDSTART and many GRIFFON VULTURES, we had split up a bit so not everyone saw all these, me included.
After lunch we went to the other side of the dam after a short stop at the hotel. Here we were greeted with a nice feeding flock of birds, more HAWFINCHES zipped around a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER stayed just long enough for ID only. KINGFISHERS and GREY WAGTAILS were along the river and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER but still no Lynx. We also spent time here looking for Otter but without success.
Dartford Warbler

Female Spanish Ibex

Crag Martins

A nice view for lunch


Today we did the reverse of yesterdays itinerary starting along the river, it was tough going a few things gave themselves up gradually, the undoubted highlight was a superb SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE that sat in the open giving giving excellent scope views, eventually it, and another flew directly overhead, real shame the light wasn't better but brilliant views nonetheless. Still around the river area the first GOSHAWK of the trip made it's way powerfully through the trees on the opposite hillside. A picnic lunch was abandoned as the rain came in but on our way back to the hotel it cleared and we found a nice viewpoint to have lunch. IBERIAN MAGPIES were feeding just below us and above GRIFFON and CINEROUS VULTURES circled above. The preparation of the picnic was interrupted when Andrew caught a glimpse of something crossing the road in the distance, everyone scanned furiously but couldn't relocate what Andrew could only put down as being a LYNX, real shame for all but exciting all the same. Consolation was in the generous and extremely tasty pasta for lunch!
The afternoon saw us back at La Lancha scanning the hills, a WILD BOAR lots of RED, and a few FALLOW DEER were all we could muster. A smart GRASS SNAKE, halted our progress on the way as it idled its way across the track in front of us. More VULTURES took centre stage in beautiful late afternoon sunlight.
Poor light - Iberian Magpie

Ditto - Spanish Imperial Eagle

Cirl Bunting

Red Legged Partridge

Grass Snake

Another Griffon

and again...

Cinerous (formerly Black) Vulture


So here we were on our last morning, it was back to the river and after a walk along the track we were rewarded with an OTTER as it showed itself briefly right under the bridge we walked to, almost everyone saw it before it retreated into the rocky bank. KINGFISHERS again whizzed up and down the river below us. We only had a short time, but we also added ROCK SPARROW to the trip list, a HAWFINCH sat close by on a pine and a male BLACK REDSTART caught everyones attention with it's bright white wing flashes. A SERIN called but never came into view. BYRON and LAURA walked back to the vans and soon returned and we were off...
So no LYNX but a really enjoyable holiday and fantastic company throughout with two really good, friendly and knowledgeable guides.
Thanks to all, looks like we'll have to do it all again one day.......