23 May 2010

A thing like a day

I have long harboured an ambition to go see the bit of lake shore path by the Rouge Hill GO Station.  ("GO" = "Government of Ontario"; it's a regional transit system, in this case commuter trains.)  Today I finally did so, in company with a friend, and could wish I'd done so earlier.

The initial start was not entirely auspicious, though I know now I can change an bicycle inner tube expeditiously (thank you, Park Tools how-to site) and that I really need a new floor pump; that's the second time I've had a valve stem come off the tube when trying to detach the pump connection.  (Various persons may wish to point out that I needn't get all panicked at the hissing and pull so darn hard.  While they have a point, the idea is to pull in a graduated way only hard enough to get the pump connection to come off the value, after properly flipping the lever and doing the right sort of wiggling, and as far as I can tell—it was challenging to get the severed tube stem out of the pump connection—something inside the connector seems to be sticking, and I suspect it's just one of those worn-ABS problems.)

I did make it Rouge Hill, and the weather was exactly as predicted, which meant it was warm and sunny but the still-cold lake was misting vigorously and blowing a cool breeze on shore.  Fog is not good for either bicycling or looking at birds, but, well.  The first thing I saw from the (outdoor) train platform was a flock of seven swans, flying east in the mist.  One does not get that every day.

The total (to the train station at this end, home from a different one after, a very pleasant shore-and-mostly-park loop returning to the Rouge Hill Station) cycled distance was perhaps 30 km.

Especially nice birds were a faded second winter Great Black Backed Gull (I am very pleased with myself about getting the age right, at least per subsequent consultation of references, and I'd like to thank the adult male Herring Gull standing right next to it and providing a size comparison); belted kingfisher—spotting a flying kingfisher starting from the shadow on the water is especially nice—and repeated tribes of Baltimore orioles, apparently still passing through.  I could wish I'd got a better look at the presumed small gnatcatcher and the bird that looked like an immature tree swallow with a black cap, hawking from a bush, but there's a limit to what one can do from a bicycle.  (And a limit to how much random stopping even patient friends are likely to tolerate.)

All in all, a most entire success; a nice bike ride, I need to go back there with a scope (and a chair!) to spend more time looking at the gulls, and possibly bother the TOC outings committee about the possibility of a formal walk through the lower Highland Creek Park, which has an interesting combination of mature trees, water, and well-positioned path.

18 May 2010

Sullen with Springtime

I suspect it's mostly that they're trying desperately to really warm up, but the turtles all seemed a bit hung-over and grumpy at the Pelee marsh.

17 May 2010

Pelee Weekend

There are more pictures, but not more time to process them.

Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I got down to Point Pelee this weekend.  From a birding perspective, it was a definite success; two lifers (black tern, Wilson's Warbler), an immature-or-female Summer Tanager, a possible snowy plover (didn't get close enough to be definitive about this, but much smaller than a killdeer (since some were conveniently present for scale), extremely pale, dark bill, and non-yellow legs), and managing to find a Great Horned Owl.

The owl above is a not-quite-out-of-the-nest Great Horned Owl; the park staff had very kindly marked off the road next to the nest tree (which is well back from the road) with caution tape, and there was a convenient spot to set a scope up.  (The picture is courtesy of the X90's ridiculous zoom, not the scope.  Digiscoping may come, but not yet.)  So there was an excellent view of the not-quite-fledgling; all soft, downy fluff, orange feathers around the mad staring eyes, and large rending beak, the perfect picture of "when I learn how to fly, I'm going to eat your face".

A little further down the road, a small group of birders had managed to pick one of the adult owls out of a wretched thicket of tall maples on the border of the beach, and getting the scope on it was (as seems to be customary with Great Horned Owls) necessary to be sure it really was an owl, and not a tree.

While various people were borrowing the scope to look at that owl, I heard a Great Horned Owl begging call -- stuffing all those bird songs into my music player might be helping after all -- and looked at where the noise was coming from, and there, looking like a badly maintained squirrel nest, was the second and just fledged (reported as having flown the previous day) nestling.  It was even a better scope target; I was very pleased with myself, because so far, my experience of spotting owls is that the people who are good at it seem to be using mystic arts.

That was the Syncra scope's first outing; I am not completely satisfied with the visual back (why is it so completely threaded on the inside?  Is the erecting prism really going in there as co-axial as it ought?) but the performance was splendid.  I could get individual feather detail in the red breast streaks of a yellow warbler at 75x off the top of the marsh observation tower, and have an entirely serviceable (though not usable on top of a timber tower people are running up and down) 107x.  So I'm very pleased about it.

05 May 2010

TOC bird walk: Spring Migration

Rather than giving the (fairly lengthy) list of birds for the May 1st TOC bird walk in High Park, I'm going to note highlights.

Which for birds observed was definitely the cerulean warbler; all 40+ people on the walk managed to see it, too, despite its best efforts involving not holding still and occupying the upper parts of the canopy of large oak trees.  (The cerulean warbler is small, scarce, very pretty, and even when it is there and you can hear it calling, it's 20m up in a tree, so actually seeing one is something of a treat.  It was a life bird for a number of people.)

Other interesting birds (for me, anyway); blue-headed vireo, black-throated blue warbler, barn swallows, and chimney swifts; it's always a relief to me when I feel I can identify swifts and swallows in flight, and male black-throated blue are very pretty.

Otherwise, well --

The cormorant, for reasons I do not profess to comprehend, is the PDML's totem bird. So here's a double-crested in excellent breeding plumage.

Canada geese are successful because they're not fussy; they'll eat almost anything and they're not over-particular about where they nest. This is the first case of cavity-nesting geese I've ever seen, though.

The X90 has its limits, but it can get good feather detail from a red-winged black bird, which is doing fairly well.

On the other hand, a male wood duck appears to completely defeat the X90's colour balancing algorithm; this is why one wants a camera that takes raw images.

It was a good walk and the rain even held off until we were more or less done.

Next Saturday is supposed to be cold, wet, and windy, so if the forecast holds I will not be taking the camera on that one.  Since Lambton woods is supposed to be mostly warblers in any case, my odds of getting a useful picture would be poor.