March 22, 2014

March M̶a̶d̶n̶e̶s̶s̶ Nonsense

This is starting to feel more like an owl blog than anything, but it is the time of year for it.
I recently got a tip about the location of an Eastern Screech-Owl in Burlington, Ontario, a bird neither I nor (surprisingly) my birder buddy Mark have ever seen. Two years ago in Point Pelee we got a tip from someone and staked out a tree for an hour or so only to come up empty handed and uncertain we were even looking at the right tree. This time I was at least confident I knew the right tree to look in, it was just a matter of whether or not the owl would be out. But we hit the jackpot -- it was a freezing cold day, but bright and sunny and right as we pulled up, there he was (or she was) catching some rays.

And there was a bonus -- we talked to a woman who was also there to check on our Screech and she informed us that there was also a grey-morph Screech-Owl in another tree about a hundred metres away. A lifer owl and both colour morphs at once?
We found a small crowd of regulars there with their tripods and huge lenses. I gathered from their conversation that they were waiting for this owl's mate to also appear (a third screech) which they expected to happen a few hours later. Mark and I didn't have that kind of patience. That's some serious nonsense.

But I started this story in the middle.
We actually began our day in Toronto down at Col. Sam Smith Park, one of my usual bird spots, where we got a distant look at a male Harlequin Duck out in the bay -- and in the process almost stepped on one of those intense camo guys with a camo lens hiding in the rocks. He seemed somewhat annoyed with us (I heard him muttering about us "messing up his shot").
Can't say I felt all that bad.

I did say "a distant look"

We got a much better look at my other lifer from the day, this beautiful drake Ring-necked Duck. If you read about birds like I do, you always hear the old complaint that it should really be called the Ring-billed Duck and until last Sunday, I tended to agree. The ring on the neck is subtle and usually not visible, while the white on the bill is obvious even from a distance (I was lucky to have just the right light to capture the ringed neck, below), but I think after this encounter I disagree with this sentiment. Since I got such a close look, I now see that it's not a ring encircling the bill, but a white border surrounding the grey patch on the upper part of his bill. If this duck should be named for its bill, I would vote to call it the Pied-billed Duck (like the similarly named grebe).

From there we headed west to Bronte Harbour where there had been reports of three King Eiders seen that week. They were also reported the day we were there I would later find out, but somehow we missed them. In fairness to us, it was stupidly cold there -- painfully cold -- so our patience for scanning the hundreds of Greater Scaup, Redheads, Mallards, Long-tailed Ducks, and Mergansers for the Eiders was not what it could have been. There were also quite a few dead ducks on the ice, which was sad -- I considered documenting, but couldn't do it in the end.
In the sheltered part of the harbour, we got some great close-up looks at some young White-winged Scoters feeding on, I guess, some kind of mussels or something(?) More research is required.

After the insane frigidity of Bronte, we warmed ourselves with some coffee and then headed further west to check out our Screech-Owl... and bonus Screech-Owl...and bonus close encounter with a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I love that bit of orange above the bill.
That's why they call him a Red-bellied Woodpecker

We made our westernmost stop of the day at Princess Point on the south shore of Coote's Paradise in Hamilton where we got good looks at a female Canvasback, some Goldeneye, Hooded Mergansers, more Greater Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers, and this adult drake White-winged Scoter.

Look into my creepy ghost eye.

All in all, 40 species on the day! A great count for a cold day in March.

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