Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review - The Crossley ID Guide to Raptors - Part 2 !!!!



If you've read any of my past book reviews for the Crossley series, you'll know that I have a hard time figuring them out... I like the photos - but how well do they really "work" as a field guide???

A co-worker of mine recently took a shine to hawkwatching - as one of our projects required some field work and there were some openings for any capable observers. As someone who was just beginning to learn the craft - I offered up my copy of the Crossley ID Guide! Seems nice of me, doesn't it? 

Well it came at a price! A book review would be required upon return... Which recently transpired (kind of makes you wonder why she still talks to me) - but that should be of no concern to you! Because now, you get an in-depth review from an extremely talented writer, ecologist and (now) expert hawkwatcher presented here on the blog. 

The Crossley ID Guide - Raptors, as reviewed by Melissa Cameron:




Hawk watching for me is about as familiar an activity as walking on my hands. My natural history inclination has been, until now, toward the sedentary taxa – trees and turtles – so the idea of studying an animal which moves faster than I can follow, well out of my view, and which looks different from every angle and in changing light conditions is disconcerting to say the least. Add to this an impression (admittedly a false one) that birders take themselves very seriously and a personal dislike of doing things poorly, and hawk watching with an accomplished birder becomes a terrifying prospect.



Yet, somehow, as my favourite season (fall) approached and the opportunity arose to spend more time at a study site along the stunning Georgian Bay coast if I was only willing to participate in the raptor migration surveys, I became … gasp! … a novice hawk watcher. As any good armchair ecologist knows, the first order of business in learning to identify a new taxonomic group is to sign out from the library the largest reference book available and to read this, cover to cover, all the while pretending to understand (and care about) the differences in size, colour and pattern of the different sexes and age classes. Memorizing details of anatomical features you never knew existed is important! Days of study passed, and the most significant result was that my fear of misidentifying hawks had become crippling now that I realized not only how many species there were, but how much variation existed within each species!



Amused, perhaps, by my academic approach to learning raptor ID, a good friend suggested I take a look at the new-ish Crossley Guide for Raptors. Previous reviews of this book by experienced birders have called its teaching style “revolutionary”, “multi-dimensional” and “mind-blowing”. I think I’d be more inclined to label it “amusing”, “unpretentious” and “forgiving”, because what I really like about it is the simple acknowledgement that raptors don’t sit still and that, therefore, trying to identify them in flight, at a distance, and under changing light conditions means that sometimes you’ll just get it wrong. The authors of this book aren't embarrassed to admit that a gull can be mistaken for a osprey or that it takes more just than memorizing the field guide to tell the difference between a female Sharp-shinned Hawk and a male Cooper’s Hawk. Don’t believe me? Check the answers to the mystery photo quizzes. For nearly every quiz there are answers conceding defeat in identification, whether the unknown element is age, sex, or colour morph. Oh the humiliation! Serious birders, this is where you point and laugh.



The photo collages in this book are also really entertaining. They remind you that raptors aren’t the most widely-recognized group of birds among non-birders because of their poise when perched at the roadside. They’re awesome because they are hunters – they soar, they dive, and some can apparently explode smaller birds on impact! And each of the species can be differentiated, to a large extent, by their movement and behaviour even if you’re not able to see their markings. Once you narrow down the observed characteristics to size, movement, wing shape or angle, habitat and time of year, identifying raptors in our area is so straightforward it’s almost like cheating. It helps, of course, to have said accomplished birder at your side to confirm your observation (if correct) or help steer you in the right direction when you’re missing something important.



So, thanks to Messrs. Crossley, Liguori and Sullivan, I’m not ashamed to say in front of a serious birder that I am a novice hawk watcher. True, the sum total of hawks I’ve successfully identified this fall has probably amounted to fewer than 30 individuals, and certainly no more than 5 species. I still can’t tell the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (though I’ve read how!) and I’ve nearly steered my bicycle into on-coming traffic while trying to figure out why the hawk overhead that so clearly exhibited the characteristics of a red-tailed hawk didn’t have a red tail (maybe it was a juvenile?). But I’m okay with this now. Experience is really the only way to learn a new skill, and it will take more than just acing the quizzes at the back of the Crossley guide to pick up raptor ID. I have learned, however, that hawk watching is at once exciting and relaxing, that it’s okay to squeal with excitement when a bald eagle flies right over your head, and that watching hawks is among the best ways to enjoy cold weather in beautiful surroundings with a good friend. And if I’m very lucky, by the time spring migration takes place I’ll have sorted out the accipiter dilemma.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weather makes it happen! Good bird forecasting...


A few thoughts...

1.) - Monday is looking pretty good
2.) - Rare birds occur with unique weather (a recent case study)
3.) - Late April looks bad :(



NAM 4km model run for 8am Monday... South winds, STRONG low... Although it's looking occluded, so maybe short lived (and not a "rarity alert" type storm)...  


Winds Sunday evening. Blistering NE winds brought a LOT of Bonaparte's to my place on Lake Ontario and two big year Little Gulls... The low is pretty nice lookin!

For tomorrow, I'm hoping for a full day of good birds... Morning flight of waterbirds/songbirds and hopefully a flight of Broad-wings during the day. We'll see how it all shakes down though - little bands of rain can really mess things up (and are impossible to know exactly when/where they'll be)...


(Sunday PM)


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RARE Birds = Awesome weather!!!

The forecast for tomorrow is exciting to me, but it isn't a perfect situation... The good thing about birding is that a single Smith's Longspur or Glossy Ibis can make the day :)

We've had an excellent start to the spring vagrant season in southern Ontario... Some notables include the spectacular Tricoloured Heron, Avocets, Yellow-throated Warblers, Henslow's Sparrow, Lark Sparrow and more! 

Now, I'm going to tell you something that will blow your mind.
All of these rarities came from a SINGLE day & weather event... It happened back on April 9th .... There was a severe weather outbreak in the United States, bringing vagrants on strong 850mb winds below the subtropical jet. It brought us all of these birds!!! The main reason we (as birders) don't really recognize this, is because we don't find the vagrants as soon as they arrive. They get scattered all around the great lakes, take time to be found, and then *gasp* they may fly somewhere else and get found days later.

Case in point - the Tricoloured Heron. Darn thing showed up at Pelee, then days later appeared at Holiday Beach. Had the bird not been seen at Point Pelee immediately after the spectacular weather on Apr 9 - it would have been much harder to see the correlation to it's occurrence in Ontario with the weather. 



Surfacce archive from late on Apr 9th... The subtropical jet is pushing over Ontario and violent winds/tornadoes are smashing the USA... This is a SUPERB rarity setup for the spring (it's different in the fall)... 


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SO - is this going to happen again soon?

No...


CPC 6-10 day climate outlook... WOW that looks bad eh? This map is telling us that there is a 70-90% chance that temperatures will be BELOW seasonal from April 25th-29th... This is my favourite time of year for birding (sometimes) if things get warm and we have severe weather in the old'e USA... Some MEGA rare birds have occurred at this time (Black-capped Vireo)... But it's hard to get too excited about this forecast....

The 8-14 day outlook is similar. 50-60% chances of below seasonal through MAY 3rd! Yikes... Things change, and it only takes 6 hours of 20C weather to bring migrants and vagrants, but i'm predicting the start of insane migration (neotropical) won't be until May 3-6th ish... Check back here for updates ;)
It still only takes one bird! 



Coming soon to a woodlot near you!



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nostalgia



Well, not really... I found a bunch of old "banners" from the blog - and I thought "hey! that could make for useless blog filler when there is nothing to write about!"









(this may have been the first)









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In other news, I think I may have finally figured out why some of my images (posted here on the blog) look like DOG SPIT... I thought it was my new laptop/editing, but I believe Picasa - which I use to upload blog-only photos - was applying some sort of "auto enhance" to the images... TURRIBLE I say! TURRIBLE!

So I think I've turned it off... Hopefully it looks better now (and hopefully I get back to editing/working on my website again in the future... It's soo neglected) :( 


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In my last bit of news, I thought (a few months ago) that I was going to dive into social media... Since that time, I've confirmed that I'm not much of a "social media" person! BUT - I think I'll be posting a lot of (short) weather notes on my olde Facebook page... Specifically related to Great Lakes birding and migration! 




I THINK (I think...) I've made the weather posts "public" - so even if you aren't on Facebook - you can see them... Let me know otherwise... Stupid Facebook...




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

50+ Greater White-fronted Geese - finders account



So there I was, drivin along hwy 6, just north of Hagersville, ON... Just north of town there is a few farms with a lot of pasture, where a few years ago I spotted a Raven in the summer - a neat little spot. I had the old'e cruise control set at 99kph, and while driving past I noticed some waterfowl in the field (geese)...

Hey... I think one of those geese looks a lil funny...

Maybe I'll stop...

*stops car*

*raises binoculars*

Dang, that there's some odd lookin geese in those fields...

*raises binoculars again*

wtf is goin on out der?!

*sets up scope*

Dang!





Dat der is a whole lotta GWF Gooses der!

Then I poste to Ontbirds:

Just found a group of 50+ Greater White-fronted Geese north of Hagersville, ON (Haldimand County).... East (or southeast) side of the road, directly across from house #4353 on Hwy 6. Many birds are sleeping and some are below a hill, but a rough count hit 52 birds at one point... 

This ebird checklist shows the location of the birds (Under green location - click map for a google map point) - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22742102 Birds are a bit distant but identifiable with binoculars (scope is better!) 

Good Birding 

Brandon (shameless plug - www.PeregrinePrints.com)


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There you have it! An account for the ages... (I just wanted to share the photos)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Weather Birding Outlook & Notes (+ possible rarity alert)




Things are looking interesting in the weather world over the next few days, so I thought I'd do a proper post...

First up, images from tonight - Apr 6-  (yesterday when this posts)... Surface winds (NE, cold) -


NE winds in southern ON (and southern Great Lakes) 


Surface winds + temperature from the same time:


Just above freezing, but mainly due to lake water... 


Now we'll look at 850mb winds (roughly 1500m up off the surface)


850mb winds on Apr 6 at 9:30ish pm... Note the strong southerly flow hitting the southern great lakes! I'm not sure how high passerines fly, but I do know they don't fly along the surface...


850mb winds with 850mb temperature overlay... Note that the air is fairly warm right up to the southern Great Lakes, all the way back to the gulf of mexico


Finally, a surface map from the same time (roughly):



Almost-sorta looks like zonal flow?! But the Jet is a bit messy... Anyways, the point of this weather bit is to show that warm southerly air often rides above the surface conditions, so even though we have 3-4 days of NE winds and cool temperatures, conditions are ripe for migration just south of us... In terms of nocturnal migrants, I would expect them to continue flying (with new arrivals possible at places like Pelee or Long Point) - even though the conventional wisdom would be to expect them when the temperatures start to increase...

Neat huh?!


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Other weather news - I don't really feel right issuing a "rarity alert" for later this week, but it's possible that we could see some good birds from some upcoming weather. Most notably is the potential for a severe weather outbreak mid-late week... The exact requirements for a "rarity event" under these circumstances elude me (on a local level) - but overall birders around the Great Lakes should be keeping their eyes peeled as we go forwards...


Severe outlook... Major historical outbreaks of Tornadoes have directly corresponded to mega rare birds in southern Ontario in the late april - may period... But I'm still trying to figure out what exactly we should be looking for in order to get these birds into our borders!


I can say that a severe outbreak is tied to a strong kink in the jet with powerful winds aloft (and often a strong temperature gradient) - so needless to say, that can get birds moving! This system may be a bit too far south to get southern Ontario in on the action, but time will tell... If it comes close enough, we could be in for another serious "surge" in migration. 



How far north the subtropical jet will travel is important! Although great birds often correlate to nice weather on weekends - simply because people are out looking... I'll take any excuse I can get!


This Thurs-Fri storm will "wrap around" with an occluded front for Saturday/Sunday ish - meaning we should see some nice/normal weekend weather... Another system is possible on Monday for another "migration surge" (if we're lucky)... Watch this space! And go birding!





Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 BIG YEAR - March Update


March 2015

This is the third monthly summary of my 2015 CONDO BIG YEAR!!!


Red dot is my condo building


Red mark is the blue area defined in the first map


Click for - BIG YEAR RULES


The birds! (new species in bold)-

Cackling Goose - 2
Canada Goose - 975
Mute Swan - 4
Trumpeter Swan - 1
Tundra Swan - 81
Wood Duck - 2
Gadwall - 7
American Wigeon - 5
American Black Duck - 37
Mallard - 709
Northern Shoveler - 2
Northern Pintail - 64
Green-winged Teal - 2
Canvasback - 6
Redhead - 311
Greater Scaup - 555
Lesser Scaup - 2
King Eider - 1
Surf Scoter - 1315
White-winged Scoter - 1590
Black Scoter - 53
Long-tailed Duck - 2280
Bufflehead - 4
Common Goldeneye - 395
Barrow's X Common Goldeneye hybrid - 1
Common Merganser - 30
Red-breasted Merganser - 570
Red-throated Loon - 15
Common Loon - 1
Horned Grebe - 1
Red-necked Grebe - 4
Neotropic Cormorant - 1
Double-crested Cormorant - 54
Great Blue Heron - 2
Turkey Vulture - 89
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Cooper's Hawk - 6
Bald Eagle - 12
Red-shouldered Hawk - 7
Red-tailed Hawk - 22
Rough-legged Hawk - 2
Killdeer - 25
American Woodcock - 1
Bonaparte's Gull - 2
Ring-billed Gull - 1674
Hering Gull - 2103
Thayer's Gull - 1
Iceland Gull - 8
Glaucous Gull - 35
Great Black-backed Gull - 146
"Great Lakes" (Herring X Great Black-backed) Gull - 2
Rock Pigeon - 29
Mourning Dove - 356
Snowy Owl - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 7
American Kestrel - 2
Merlin - 3
Peregrine Falcon - 2
American Crow - 454
Common Raven - 3
Horned Lark - 125
Black-capped Chickadee - 15
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1
American Robin - 1631
European Starling - 3419
Snow Bunting - 8
Song Sparrow - 5
Northern Cardinal - 27
Red-winged Blackbird - 4401
Rusty Blackbird - 1
Common Grackle - 2524
Brown-headed Cowbird - 202
House Finch - 88
American Goldfinch - 13
House Sparrow - 440

Total species - 73

Total ebird checklists - 34

Best birds of the month: Neotropic Cormorant, King Eider, Common Ravens, Snowy Owl, Cackling Geese, Thayer's Gull

Useless seasonal rarities: Barrow's Goldeneye hybrid isn't seasonal, but still useless! Useless I say!

Highlight "big year" birds: well the Corm is clearly a standout, but good "big year" condo birds include Canvasback, American Wigeon, Red-shouldered Hawk, Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, American Woodcock etc... Finally getting a few Peregrine Falcons also made me happy :)

Checklists of the month:

#1 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22343285 (probably the first good morning of migration)
#2 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22611087 (for obvious reasons)
#3 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22327952 (I like hybrids - and was a fun day)


Total species added to the big year this month: 26

Big year total to date: 77



Target species going forwards: It's a migration sensation! Hard to have targets when the birds are pouring through... I'd still love to get a Golden Eagle (or Black Vulture?!) from the hawk watches, plus I should just grab as many April migrants as possible... I think I'll be putting out some seed (somewhere far below) to try and score some sparrows etc.

eBird needs alerts - ebird seems to have deleted this feature (???) but you can be darn sure I should have had Blue Jay by now...

KM driven: 0
KM flown: 0
KM by boat: 0
KM by train: 0
KM by helicopter: 0

(1 Kilometer = 0.621371192237334 Miles)


Previous summaries: January | February |


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Thoughts:

I pretty much saw everything to date in March... Hairy Woodpecker, Common Redpoll, American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco are the ONLY big-year species on my list that I didn't see in March... I knew I should have gone to Mexico!

I guess that isn't a bad thing, as I had a sweet mix of rarities and good condo birds to bolster the effort. A bird like Canvasback has been remarkably tough 'round these parts in recent years... So scoring a small group in mid march probably had me a bit more giddy than the cormorant... I was also getting seriously worried about King Eider, but thankfully a female arrived and gave me a break from scanning ducks...

Oh! And Red-breasted Nuthatch was new for my ALL TIME condo list (the only species of the month, and the 2nd "condo first" this year)...

Again the species tallies tell me that I'm doing everything right. I counted ~10,000 migrating passerines this month and can only hope that number increases in April! 26 species of waterfowl is also pretty exciting... With April here, all bets are off - as late month begins the utterly insane "prime time" season for rarities!



Crazy sunrise on 31 March



Toronto on a remarkably clear night


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Almost as Epic Condo Birding. Somewhat less epic migration.



Condo bird list from yesterday (April 3rd)... Things felt a bit slower, with considerably less waterfowl on the move - but I still scored 70 species and a few year birds... Wanted to turn this into a proper post... I've looked at the proper list, and have had 81 species (and over 15,000 individuals) at my condo in less than 48 hours. That was a pretty awesome event! Here's a look at the wind map from Apr 2nd


Exactly what I like to see - long distance southerly winds!

The tally:


Canada Goose 63
Trumpeter Swan 1 (K93)
Tundra Swan 21
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 4
American Wigeon 3
Mallard 35
Northern Shoveler 7
Northern Pintail 5
Green-winged Teal 4
Canvasback 10
Redhead 35
Ring-necked Duck 4
Greater Scaup 225
Lesser Scaup 300
King Eider 1 
Surf Scoter 175
White-winged Scoter 200
Black Scoter 10
Long-tailed Duck 500
Bufflehead 2
Common Goldeneye 8
Common Merganser 10
Red-breasted Merganser 90
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 18
Horned Grebe 45
Red-necked Grebe 2
Neotropic Cormorant 1
Double-crested Cormorant 475
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 250
Osprey 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8
Cooper's Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 6
Red-tailed Hawk 45
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Killdeer 15
Ring-billed Gull 200
Herring Gull 60
Glaucous Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1    - truly domestic type bird (really odd looking)
Mourning Dove 30
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 4
American Kestrel 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 25
Horned Lark 10
Tree Swallow 30
Black-capped Chickadee 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 18
American Robin 1400
European Starling 1000
Song Sparrow 3
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 1300
Common Grackle 1000
Brown-headed Cowbird 450
House Finch 15
American Goldfinch 20
House Sparrow 25


Some condo notables were my foy Ring-necked Ducks, the Trumpeter Swan, Canvasbacks... The ongoing King Eider (female), a surge in Lesser Scaup, lots of grebes, another Great Egret, a Peregrine (10 raptors), lots of Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves were "migrating" for the first time today, lots of bluebirds, (lots of passerines in general)... Oh - and that small cormorant again... 


Things are looking downright winter-ish for the rest of the week, but that doesn't mean we can't see some good birds!