Friday, April 30, 2010

Birds everywhere!

It was a great day for migration today. Southerly winds brought lots of birds to the point and right from sun up there was a continual stream of songbirds passing overhead, soon joined by a continual stream of hawks. No less than thirteen Harriers passed the shack in the first hour alone! It's fascinating to watch these "Hen Harriers" as we call them, crossing the lake without hesitating like so many birds do. They just head out there without even gaining any height, and they look as though they're hunting out over the waves, which i don't think they are! You can see them a long way out there and they can catch you unawares at times! But as the waterbird passage shifted up a gear that was abandoned, and while the loons were modest in number (70), the Red Necked Grebes had their busiest day for well over a week (63). Red Throated Loons went through from time to time (10+), and interestingly the passage continued into the afternoon instead of tailing off - well we are getting towards the peak dates i guess.
Two different people asked me today how to separate them from Commons. It's a fair question, and one which i've been asked a lot in regard to various species while working in the visitor centre of a nature reserve. The most honest answer is, "jizz" - which is a combination of subtle things which comes through familiarity with the subject. You know how you can pick out someone you know really well in a crowd, even a long way off? Or how you can identify a Robin from a brief view at the end of the garden on a dark winter day, when it's snowing early morning? That's jizz. It comes through spending time observing a subject. So the best way to learn how to separate Common and Red Throateds is to spend time observing them whenever you can, there really is no shortcut!
6 White Winged Scoter were the highest day count so far, one Horned Grebe flew in and landed and it was great to see a Woodcock fly in off the lake, and straight past the shack. My first ever.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another good loon day, starting off slowly which made me start to think that they need more headwind to give them some lift. But gradually a respectable passage built up, and there were more Red Throated than ever - 43 of them positively ID'd, which with 105 Commons and 59 un ID'd makes a grand total of 207 i believe. The general passage was occurring to the left (northwest) of the point with a large proportion quite distant, perhaps the light winds meaning that they didn't need to hug the shoreline quite so closely? A Common was on the water again for part of the day, and for the last half of yesterday a Red Throated was too - a rare sight in this part of the world i understand. I guess i'm spoilt, as i used to live in a village called Llanfairfechan and they could be seen offshore all the time between fall and spring. A Caspian Tern was picked out on call as it flew past by Chris, who also chased a mystery bird which turned into a Palm Warbler. Bonapartes Gulls are beginning to go through, with 7 yesterday looking rather tern-like when initially seen through bins before the ID was nailed in the scope. They gradually came closer and gave reasonable views. It was nice to see and hear lots of songbirds on the move today, with lots of chirps and tsips overhead going frustratingly un ID'd. But i'm learning a couple of new calls every day which is encouraging, and it's nice to see these southerly winds bringing lots of birds in, with lots of hawks too including a Peregrine high and fast following the shoreline NE without slowing down!
After my last blog i went for a stroll from the HQ and had another Ruffed Grouse not far from the road which didn't seem bothered by my proximity.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our second busiest day for loons with a total of 239, almost all between 7 - 9 a.m. And almost all taking the short cut over the harbour and across the peninsula to the main part of Lake Superior, most slightly lower in altitude than on less windy days, as today there was a 20 km/h north wind, and with temps between 2 - 6 degrees C it was another chilly day as a couple of visitors found out! Consequently many of the birds disappeared quickly out of sight behind the taller trees as they cut across. One nice aspect of them using this route is that the sun is behind me and i can see birds going across a couple of miles away at least, and there's very little shimmer first thing. No definite Red Throats today, but a bloke from Ontario went away happy on Sunday having watched one fly low right over our heads! Closely followed by our first Surf Scoter of the count, a nice male which flew by giving great views. It's a species which always gets this Brit excited - funnily enough a couple of mates found no less than three this winter near where i live in North Wales, where even one is a mega rarity! Same day an immature Glaucous Gull flew by towards the end of the count in the shimmer, not great views but a bird that gets me even more aroused than a Surfie as i'm a bit of a larophile! Talking of larids, 2 adult G B B Gulls were count firsts yesterday as was a smart male American Wigeon, much more colourful than its Eurasian countepart. This one was clearly lonely and swam around after the local R B Mergs for most of the day like a little puppy! Ahhh.... Scaup went through in higher numbers than recently too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring Fling

Lots of folks at the shack today, all of whom were treated to great views of up to 8 Red Necked Grebes, four Horned Grebes and 15 R B Merganser. A Common Loon also landed off the Point towards the end of the count and called a few times before heading off north. The total loon count was 104, and included 13 Red Throated. These seemed to become more frequent later on, the exact opposite of the Commons. Starting to wonder if a pattern might be developing there. Some nice diversity at the shack first thing with 2 Bufflehead, several L T Duck and Scaup sp and the first scoters of the count - 2 White Winged. A Pine Warbler flew around overhead calling for a few seconds and a Horned Lark showed well on the pebbles. 2 or 3 Tree Swallows headed east - good luck to them, hope the weather doesn't change! Nice to meet a couple of former counters too. On the way back after the count an Evening Grosbeak was showing superbly in a tree above the feeders, what a stonker!
Yesterday a good count of about 180 loons, many quite high due to the very light winds and good visibility. And great to see a Belted Kingfisher heading out over the lake.
A couple of evenings ago i had lovely views of 3 Hermit Thrush feeding by the roadside, what utterly gorgeous birds. Sadly Mike Fitz spotted one dead on the shoulder on the way home from last nights dinner at the Falls. A very enjoyable evening nonetheless in great company.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Loon fest

With the temp hovering around 4 deg C and a strong N wind, the windchill was off the scale and the only thing that kept me alive was the great movement of loons - over 300 of them! And as local birder Ken predicted yesterday, passage peaked in the second hour after sun up. At that stage winds were light but they quickly picked up and the loon flight stopped almost completely. Interestingly the vast majority today were quite low over the lake, mostly out beyond the Point, presumably due to the less sunny, cooler, windier weather with fewer taking the "short cut" across over the harbour. Otherwise hardly any other birds moving yet other than the regular trickle of R N Grebe. A few Sandhills came out over the Point and made a half hearted attempt to cross before wisely turning back in the strong wind. Cranes seem to be almost as hesitant as chickadees! Amazing to think up to 23 April last year there had been only 40 Common Loons but over 3000 cranes! Just goes to show the unpredictability of the natural world; who knows how many factors are involved in determining bird numbers - not just weather but weather the previous breeding season, predation of chicks, lemming populations, food abundance in the wintering grounds... a tangled web indeed.

Common Loon 272
R T Loon 47
R N Grebe 44
Sandhills 24

Yesterday evening after dinner i went for another walk down the top secret trail where i had the Spruce Grouse, and got lucky with my target bird - a Ruffed Grouse gave great views and eventually dropped back down to the ground to continue feeding. Got photos if you don't believe me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Windows of Opportunity

One thing that i'm starting to learn is that birds know when to seize an opportunity. The last two days have had periods of thick fog; today for just an hour or so, yesterday for half the day. Both days, as soon as the fog cleared, there was a major pulse of birds leaving the bay and heading out round the Point into the main part of the lake. Today a wave of 54 Common Loons all in a couple of loose "flocks", yesterday the fantastic sight of 180 Red Breasted Merganser all departing at the same time. This requires continual scanning as being in the middle distance they could be surprisingly easily missed! I guess they were keen to get going after all the strong NW winds then fog holding them back.

Today also yielded the first 3 Red Throated Loons of the year, the first two were helpfully with a Common for comparison! Another 31 Common Loons spread throughout the day made a day total of 85, though it was very quiet for the last 3 hours or so. Also the first Greater Yellowlegs flew through calling, sounding very similar to its Old World counterpart the Greenshank. Fantastic views of an adult Golden Eagle spotted by a visitor brightened the last couple of hours, it looked somewhat different to the Scottish birds i'm familiar with, having broad pale bars on the upperwing and an even paler head - in fact looking rather like an Imperial Eagle! Always gives me a big thrill to see one.
Groups of chickadees came to the edge of the pines by the Shack before panicking and turning back; yesterday while waiting here for the fog to clear a Pine Siskin called and gave good views.
On the way home a good long check of the feeders produced the first three White Throated Sparrows, while yesterday a Common Redpoll showed well, a scarce bird this year. Good views were eventually obtained of its undertail coverts, where 2 broad dark streaks could be seen, thereby eliminating its congener Hoary from the equation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Great Northern Diver!...

...or Common Loon as it's known over here, was definitely the theme of todays Count. I was hoping that there might have been some waterbirds held up in the bay by the strong NW winds round the Point yesterday, and while duck spp were almost non-existent, i was very pleased to see no less than 93 Common Loons re-starting their migration after an enforced lay-off! Most of these were migrating quite high and taking a major short cut by flying over the harbour, cutting across the peninsula and completely missing Whitefish Point! They could have been easily missed but luckily they were spotted using this sneaky tactic by Chris; i kept a close watch on this route and would estimate that about 2/3 of the total number took this flight line.

Yesterday, Sat 17th produced snow showers early morning; the advice was not to try counting - i went to the Point for a look and yep, the advice was good, i couldn't see the lake! I waited round the gift shop for a while for the snow to stop and had 2 Purple Finch, RB & WB Nuthatch and the female Chaffinch again. No change in the weather so went to see if anything was sheltering in the harbour. On the way i decided to try for woodland grouse so picked a disused-looking forest track, and after a 15 minute walk had excellent close views of a male Spruce Grouse.
The weather cleared in the afternoon so i did the last 2 hours of the Count but waterfowl were very few, though a Snow Bunting perched on the roof of the shack and called away, obviously feeling a bit lonely!

Friday, April 16, 2010

15th & 16th April

Well i finally arrived after a long journey!
Nice to meet the rest of the WPBO team and some of the Board - thanks to Jerry for picking me up in Newberry at 6.15 a.m!
The weather started out warm and sunny and it was great to see a good hawk passage on Tuesday, especially so many Kestrels. An Eastern Phoebe was seen twice by the road, on Wednesday there was an excellent number of Flickers, some Lapland Longspurs, and a pair of Blue Winged Teal on a forest pool plus some Ring Necked Ducks and a Tree Swallow.
Yesterday was the first day of the Count, and with the wind switching from the West to the East, it was "in at the deep end"! A good passage of waterbirds at first light tailed off after a couple of hours but produced the following:

Canada Goose 3
Mallard 8
Pintail 4
Green Winged Teal 30
Greater Scaup 17
Scaup sp 3
LT Duck 31
Bufflehead 37
Goldeneye 12
Common Merg 7
R B Merg 7
Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 1
R N Grebe 27
Sandhill Crane 364
Killdeer 1
Boney's 1
Tundra Swan 1

Today the wind had switched to the west again and passage was much lighter. Three Bald Eagles showed well for me and Tom and it was really nice to see a male Merlin on the Point most of the day, and a steady stream of Harriers continued to head out over the waves just like yesterday - really impressive stuff, they just aren't fazed by the strong winds, big waves and not being able to see the other side!

Canada Goose 22
G W Teal 8
Scaup sp 1
L T Duck 9
Bufflehead 7
Goldeneye 1
Common Merg 2
Common Loon 3
Horned Grebe 4
R N Grebe 12
Sandhill Crane 250
R B Gull 1

Most of the birds were in the first couple of hours, except the Cranes and even they stopped flying as the wind really picked up towards the end. There were more waterbirds sheltering on the lake than yesterday including a lovely pair of Bufflehead (rather small and cute), 4 summer plumaged Horned Grebes, several summer plumaged R N Grebes and a sum plum Common Loon. Overhead a Snow Bunting called and showed its diagnostic wingbars. A female Chaffinch was behind the Gift Shop and on the way home a female Hooded Merganser showed well in the harbour.
Will be interesting to see what the NWerly gales and snow bring tomorrow...Snowy Owl perhaps?