Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Job Opportunity with Vortex Canada

I have it on good authority that Vortex is looking for a full-time Binocular Repair Technician - based out of Guelph, Ontario! Check out the job posting here:


If you, or someone you know would be interested - give them a shout! I have the personal experience to say you'll be working with a really great group of people.

While I'm at it, I'm just going to plug the Vortex VIP Warranty....... Here is the direct text from their website:


Our warranty is about you, not us.

It's about taking care of you after the sale. The VIP stands for Very Important Promise to you (our customers) that we will do the following:

Repair or replace your Vortex product for any reason at NO CHARGE to you. It doesn't matter how it happened, whose fault it was, or where you purchased it.

Unlimited lifetime warranty
Fully transferable
No warranty card to fill out
No receipt needed to hang on to
If you ever have a problem, no matter the cause, we promise to take care of you.

So, in summary - if you're looking for new optics, the Vortex warranty (alone) makes them a leading choice for the vast majority of us! Check them out!!!


If you (or someone you know) is looking for a unique job opportunity, be sure to check out the posting above. If all goes well, we will get to know each other as I bring my heavily used gear into the shop (from time to time) to get them tidied up! 

I'll (hopefully) have an update on the James Bay adventure in the next few days... Be sure to check back! 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Crazy crazy idea - looking for associates !

I'm just throwing this out there, with absolutely no idea what type of response I might get... Here it is:

Aerial Survey (via helicopter) of coastal James Bay in Winter!

Sounds like fun, right? Here's the skinny:

Off the SW tip of Akimiski island in winter is a feature called a polynya -  one that occurs year after year - an area of open water surrounded by sea ice. Beyond that, most of James Bay doesn't actually freeze solid - meaning there will be cracks or leads within the ice. It's hard to find a graphic that illustrates this, but I've done my best:

Red = where we would expect to find the reliable polynya

Yellow = where (weather permitting) we would find leads/cracks in the ice

What would we expect to see? Well I'm glad you asked... In general - not a whole lot, but I think the experience alone may be worth it... At a minimum I'd like to think we'd see Common Eider and Black Guillemot - two species that ALWAYS overwinter on James Bay and presumably rely on the polynya... Where those two species are hanging out, I'd also expect to see King Eider and Long-tailed Duck. Anything beyond that may well be gravy, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Glaucous Gull, Snowy Owl and/or Gyrfalcon.

A major natural history bonus would be the possibility of seeing Beluga, Polar Bear or Bearded/Ringed Seals.

IF we were to see something "rare" - I'd place my money on Ivory Gull... Unexpected but no-less appreciated birds would be scoters (White-winged?), other gulls (Iceland, Herring or perhaps Kittiwake)... IF we saw a Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre or a Fulmar, I'd be darn happy - but I'm not getting my hopes up...

But WAIT! There's more!

(What is this, an infomercial?)

There's an additional major selling point to this little adventure... We will DRIVE to Attawapiskat. That's right... In recent years a WINTER ROAD has been maintained from Cochrane to Moosonee to Attawapiskat... So we'll drive the whole way, presumably scoring ALL of the northern goodies from Spruce Grouse to Sharp-tailed Grouse to Pine Grosbeak to Hoary Redpoll flocks to Great Gray Owl to Northern Hawk Owl and perhaps more.

And by more I mean WILLOW PTARMIGAN IN WINTER. Hopefully. I can only hope that somewhere on that lonely road from Moosonee to Attawapiskat we'll come across one of these white beauties... I have it on good authority that the winter road should be open in the next 7-10 days!!!

SO - here comes the hard part...

Helicopters are EXPENSIVE... And there are several variables depending on who wants to go and how much each individual is willing to pay.... For example:

IF we wait for the Helicopter company to ALREADY be in Moosonee or Attawapiskat, we could save a lot of money... However we would lose all ability to plan the dates of the trip, tailor it to weather, or there could even be the possibility that the dates don't work out and the trip doesn't happen at all...

IF we pay for what we want, it's more expensive, but then we can ensure we're up there for optimal weather (or optimal dates for your personal life) and more freedom in general...

SO -

My bare minimum estimate is $2500 ... and the more we're willing to get into the $4000-$4500 range, the more freedom we will have.

IF you're interested - please e-mail me!!! - I'll send you my cell number and we can go over additional details together... I can't really sort out a more accurate estimate until I know who wants to go and how many of us there are.....



I meant to put this in, I should have put this in, and I didn't put it in originally! Thanks to Josh & Adam for pointing this out.

I tend to follow the "Ontario" border from google, which shows that most of the way from Moosonee to Fort Albany would be in Ontario, From Fort Albany to Attawapiskat we would probably be on the border somewhere (likely in Ontario earlier in the winter, possibly Nunavut later in the winter as the fast ice builds)... And then the polynya would most likely fall in Nunavut (however it's possible to be very close to the border or even in Ontario depending on ice conditions - but probably Nunavut)...

From a "list" standpoint, or birding in general, I think we will be venturing into a realm totally unknown when in the helicopter... It is very hard to say if there will be massive flocks of eiders (as our anon. poster highlights from an amazing adventure in the first comment) as the eastern shore (or the Belcher Islands) may be quite different than the western shore... As far as I know, the results of what we see may be the first of their kind to be presented to the wide world (web, print etc).

For me, I don't really expect to see anything I couldn't see otherwise in Ontario (even the possible mega rares like Fulmar, Dovekie, Murres, Ivory Gull etc). It's all about the "experience" of flying over a frozen James Bay birding in a place where we would have no idea what to expect. The possiblity of beluga, seals or polar bears are (nearly) as exciting as the birds... Plus  - I expect to see great birds regardless on the drive in the form of Grouse, Finches, Owls etc!

Thanks again gents for pointing this out! If anyone has any questions, comment, email etc. and I'll do my best to answer...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Two funky checkered Herring Gulls

Sorry not sorry for the "cell phone through binoculars" photos... 

Variation in first year Herring Gulls is reasonably well known, and the two birds here aren't particularly unusual... 

They are both "northern" types (meaning they're holding juvenile plumage later than most)... And they're both at the pale-end (extreme?) of our NA Herring Gulls... 

The strangest part (to me) was that they look very SIMILAR in their paleness, and they were TOGETHER on a beach with only a limited number of Herring Gulls present... 

Makes me (really) wonder where these suckers were born!! (I'm guessing northern or eastern Baffin Island)... Who has a motus tag?!?!

bird 1

bird 2

bird 2 (back), bird 1 (front)

(bird two, back, wings up) (bird one, front) 

(you get it)

IF you don't like young Herring Gulls - here's a few ebird checklists with record photos of Franklin's Gulls instead: 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A panoramic view of north/central Florida...

Was fortunate to spend the holidays in the sunny south! While there I decided to put the pano-mode on my iphone to the test & document some of the habitats we were able to visit...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

World record attempt

This Thursday, Ken Burrell and I are going to attempt a world record

15 species of gull in a single region/day!

 It will take 14 to tie Which has happened before along the Niagara River and also in St. Johns, Newfoundland Old-school blog readers will know that I have broken this down before, but never fully succeeded in getting the record.

While a Black-headed Gull and a Black-legged Kittiwake seem to be hanging around, we will other semi-regulars have yet to be seen this fall… So rather than wait for them to be found and do a twitch fest, we decided to pick a great weather-day and do it ourselves.

Here’s the plan:

Dawn at Fort Erie: small gulls will be the rule here, with Ross’s on our minds… Hopefully the mild fall (up until recently) means there will be a lingering Sabine’s as well… Back in 2012, post Hurricane-Sandy our group scored Ross’s, Sabine’s, Kittiwake and Black-headed here in a single morning… This may be our primary hope for Franklin’s and the only prayer for an outside-chance Laughing.

Fort Erie north: after our dawn-watch, we’ll probably struggle to scan the small gulls that love Buffalo more than Canada… If we have already scored some big-name small-gull rarities, perhaps we can scan faster… Fingers will also be crossed that decent numbers of ducks and large gulls will be foraging closer to the Canadian side in order to avoid the frigid NW wind. We’ll be lucky to score a Franklin’s or California.

Drive: we’ll zip past the mid-river “dead zone” and arrive at Dufferin Islands ASAP. And no, we won’t be checking for Titmice or the Mandarin Duck. This is a record attempt!!

The falls: extra walking will mean extra species… We will walk from the control gates, down below the falls and back – ensuring we get multiple angles on each feeding frenzy and roosting congregation. If the winds are more N than W, hopefully water levels will be lower allowing for more roosting & foraging opportunities.

Above the falls: this is thee place for large-gull rarities at this time of year. Slaty-backed seems to be quite fond of the area, but it has turned up nearly everything in the past (Mew, California etc.). I’m sure many of us have this as thee hypothetical Glaucous-winged location for the river…  

Below the falls: not skipping out on this gem. Short on large-gull rarities in the past, there is a certain “magic” below the falls. Sometimes there is hardly a bird, but today we’ll be checking every nook and cranny for something special (our best chance for Ivory Gull??).

Whirlpool: another small-gull spot. We expect to check it for the lingering Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake or another small gull… If by some fluke we already have all the small gulls, we can easily skip it!

Roosting Rocks: medium-gull magic? Has an odd nack for turning up rarities that we just don’t see elsewhere… Probably our best chance for Mew Gull, but also worth checking for any small gulls, Franklins or even California… The first river-record of Black-tailed would do us wonders.

Adam Beck: can’t overlook it. Long gone are the days of the resident California Gull. This is a very popular stop on any birders river-day, but I suspect we will carefully measure our time here… The “constant action” atmosphere of this lookout may not be suited to a world record attempt… This may be where we start to question our definition of species if a “Vega” or “Kamchatka” Gull are circling around…

Queenston Docks: a difficult vantage point, but one that has turned up goodies like Mew, “Common” Mew and Black-headed in the past… Depending on conditions up-river, massive numbers of birds can be present here. By this point in our day, we will very much need to make decisions based on our current list… That leads us to:

THE DECISION: Two hypothetical scenarios. Only one more stop remains!

1)    – We went on a small-gull tear, and have already picked up Ross’s, Sabine’s, Black-headed & Kittiwake…

2)    – We went on a large-gull tear, and picked up California, Slaty-backed and Laughing…

1) Return to “Above the falls”: If large gulls are lacking on our total, we head back to the control gates & the “above the falls” area… At dusk, large numbers of large gulls return from nearby landfills to roost… As the light fails, a stunning Slaty-backed will cruise down to solidify our day…

2) Niagara-on-the-lake: If we somehow missed Ross’s or Black-headed, we’ll zip down the NOTL. A quick check of the rivermouth could also help us pick up that missing Kittiwake (if need be), but most likely we will begin the vigil of the “dusk flypast”. Working over the rapid-fire flocks of Bonaparte’s heading to roost. A stiff W or NW wind will keep the birds close to our shore, making the Franklin’s or Black-headed that much sweeter as it passes.

Boom! I’ll be live-tweeting the record attempt, so feel free to follow along… I’ve touched on a few *variables* that will aid our day, but wanted to jot them down here:

-       A warm fall may help a few species “linger” – such as Sabine’s, Franklin’s or even Laughing…

-       Recent & ongoing west or NW winds will push gulls off of Lake Erie and into the river (Ross’s!)

-       W or NW winds may help keep birds closer to the Canadian shore in specific areas (Black-headed during the evening flypast!)

-       Recent snowfall will concentrate some species at the river… I’m thinking California or especially Mew, that are more likely to shift to aquatic habitats (from fields etc) in “times of need”

-       COLD weather will increase food demands on the birds. More flying/foraging means easier detection, but hopefully some larger gulls who aren’t getting their fair share at the landfills will return to the river early… (California, Black-tailed, dare I say Yellow-legged?)

-       Recent cold fronts will hopefully have brought the “Arctic” gulls down in greater numbers… Slaty-backed seems like a bit of a “freeze out” species, Ivory s a mid-late December bird, and it would also jive for Glaucous-winged…

Of course, some of these factors could really give us grief… Cold air can = shimmer and poor visibility. As can lake-effect snowsqualls. Fingers are crossed the NW wind helps prevent squalls from the best spots…

Finally, there is always a magical, unknown date that occurs in late fall – every single year. It’s the date when birding during stormy weather is no longer productive or fun… You suddenly realize that birds just shelter during COLD winds, and actually fly around more on the nice days… When that happens, migration is essentially over, and you wonder why you froze your @$$ off for nothing… Hopefully it hasn’t happened yet.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Migrants on the road - Pelee

Waaay waaay waaay back on October 30th, I was lucky to enjoy a decent drop of migrants at Point Pelee. Overnight & morning rains dropped the standard fare in decent numbers, and one could tell it was going to be a great day by the number of songbirds sitting on the road as I drove in (pre-dawn)... While not amazing, I did my best to take a cell-phone recording as I drove towards the tip. If you're keen to watch them, I'd highly recommend viewing them on youtube proper, and in full screen mode!

A little bit of fun - as we wait for the passerine migrants to return again!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Re-naming our birds: Upland Game Birds, Loons, Greebes, Tubenoses & Pelicans

The POS list returns!! (see previous post & explanation here)...

Gray Partridge = Hungarian Partridge (back to the old / no hiding your ancestry!)

Ring-necked pheasant = Asian Pheasant (ditto)

Wild Turkey = Feral Turkey

Common Loon = Great Northern Loon (stealing from Europe here)

Pied-billed Grebe = Ring-billed Grebe

Horned Grebe = Flared Grebe

Eared Grebe = Tufted Grebe

Audubon's Shearwater = Complex Shearwater

Wilson's Storm-Petrel = Patter Storm-Petrel

Leach's Storm-Petrel = Northern Storm-Petrel

American White Pelican = Snowy Pelican

I thought about re-naming the Red-necked Grebe the Trump Grebe, but I didn't go there... I didn't !!! I didn't do it.

More to come...