Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Big January Birding Totals- 2012

January 1, 2012 in Nayarit, Mexico

It is 4,090 km from our home to my parents' home in Nayarit, Mexico. I estimated that I travelled close to 10,000 km this month while counting birds. I birded in subtropical, desert, ocean, Great Lakes, and snowy climates. I regret not taking my binoculars to Mexico as I missed many bird IDs by using just my camera zoom to view them. But when your suitcase weighs 49.9 pounds, something has to stay home.

Birding in the snow on January 29, 2012

This winter is unusually warm and in our area of Ontario, Canada, 18 days in January were above freezing. I really noticed a difference in local bird populations this year. Our bird feeders are very quiet and I have not refilled them this month. I looked hard but did not find more common winter birds such as Red-breasted Nuthatches, Cedar Waxwings, Rough-legged Hawks, Brown Creepers, to name a few.

Birding on January 31, 2012 on a beautiful sunny afternoon (7 degrees C!)

My monthly total is 93 birds, 54 seen in Canada (compared with 52 in 2011), 43 seen in Mexico, with 4 birds seen in both countries. We travelled to the Pacific coast on December 31, 2011 and it is tempting to add the 15 birds I saw that day, but that list has been kept separate. (There is a tab at the top of this page with all the lists). I added 20 life birds between December 31st and January 31st and I still plan to share more photos and stories about Mexico and Canada.

In the end, it not the numbers that matter, but the enjoyment of getting out and observing nature. After a stressful day at work, there is nothing more relaxing than going to a nearby park to be serenaded by Black-capped Chickadees looking for handouts. These gregarious little birds are my favourite winter species just for the trust they show by landing on my outstretched hand. They always bring a smile to my face.

The January count is just a kick start to a year of bird observation. It is interesting to note seasonal changes as well as variations in annual patterns. Since I started doing January counts in 2009, I have recorded 80 species in Canada in the month even though each year I have seen only 52 to 61 species.

"There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds... 
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- 
the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter..."
Rachel Carson 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January Birding at Burlington Bay

Last weekend I made my annual January visit to Burlington Bay and Lake Ontario below the Niagara Escarpment (map) to find wintering ducks and birds. It was a beautiful sunny day and a light dusting of snow had fallen the night before. This area is always good for birding at any time of year and there are many experienced birders about who are willing to point out new species and share interesting information. The video above shows Burlington Bay at Lasalle Marina with the Burlington Skyway in the background. The lift bridge is behind the skyway.  The Trumpeter Swans were in a very trumpeting mood.

Lasalle Marina is one of the few places where there is a good likelihood of seeing Trumpeter, Tundra and Mute Swans together. There were 13 adult Tundra Swans here according to a volunteer who counted their large yellow tags this day. There were many young Trumpeters around and the species is once again doing well in this province. The bay is usually frozen in January and the ducks are generally closer to shore. But with open water this year, the birds were spread out and harder to see. Some birders with scopes were looking at a Brant Goose and a White-fronted Goose and I saw some good pictures which were taken by others. I did not count them even though I saw a blurry form in the distance as I would never have picked them out on my own. I did see a few Cackling Geese, a subspecies of the Canada Goose, and they were a first for me.

Peregrine Falcons on the Lift Bridge

Burlington Canal, between the skyway and the light house, was filled with approximately 3000 Long-tailed Ducks along with several other species in smaller numbers. (I do not know how you count that many ducks but someone was doing just that). A pair of Peregrine Falcons live on the lift bridge and last year was the first time I saw them. Now that I know where they perch, it is easier to find them. This is one place where a birding scope would be very useful. In the picture above, the arrows point to the Peregrine Falcons, the larger female on the wire and the smaller male on the green wall. There were hundreds of pigeons on the bridge for the falcons to choose from for their next meal.

I took the picture on the left of the lift bridge and canal from under the skyway. Because it was a bright day, I was able to take pictures of the falcons with full digital zoom (840 mm). The bird on the right looks like it has a pigeon stuck in her throat, but it was likely the stiff wind ruffling her feathers.

I also visited the nearby Burlington Botanical Gardens and Arboretum and failed to find some usual winter species. Red-breasted Nuthatches are usually common around feeders (including mine) but I have not seen one this year. Surprisingly, I saw a Brown Thrasher, a Hermit Thrush and a Carolina Wren. It is the first time I have had a good look at a Carolina Wren. I live 45 minutes to the north and have never seen one around home. It was my favourite bird of the day as it sat all puffed up in the sunshine.

Carolina Wren

Burlington area bird count- 41 species

And now for some personal whining...

I have used Picnik, a wonderful online photo editor, for several years now to make collages, frames and for doing general touch ups to my pictures. Recently Picnik was bought by Google and the site is being closed down in April. We have the full Adobe Photoshop on our desktop computer but I never found it user friendly for quick editing. I let Google know what I thought about them and cancelled my Google+ account (which I didn't use anyway). Now I have to try and find another editing tool with the same features and simplicity as Picnik.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rounding Up The Usual Suspects

This is NOT a typical mid-January scene in our area. Where is the snow?
I am off to a slow start counting January birds in Ontario this year. Having missed the first two weeks entirely, my husband and I went out both days this weekend to the customary local hot spots to see the usual winter birds. But this winter is unusual. Temperatures have fluctuated greatly with many days above freezing and others well below. Overall, we have had very little snow and what has fallen has melted quickly. Many fields and lawns remain green.

Dark-eyed Junco

I hung some suet and seed outdoors before I left for Mexico and in three weeks, it has barely been touched. I have yet to see a Junco or Downy Woodpecker in our yard this winter.

Saturday was very cold and we went to a nearby park where I usually see many species of small birds, woodpeckers as well as a good assortment of winter water birds. A few Tree Sparrows, Juncos and Cardinals landed where visitors had left seeds but birds like House Finches, Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches and winter finches were conspicuously absent.

American Tree Sparrow
The next day we drove north of the city where Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Snowy Owls, Merlins and American Kestrels are generally easy to find in January. The only winter hawk we saw was a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk which sat in a tree near a bridge over the river. The trip was worthwhile for that one bird, but I could not believe we did not see one Rough-legged Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Without snow cover, natural food supplies are plentiful for many birds for this time of year. My Ontario January bird count is only 27 birds so far this year. In the past 3 years, I have counted between 55-60 species in Ontario during this month. Hopefully the weather will allow me to make a trip to Lake Ontario on the weekend to improve my count significantly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nayarit Yard Birds

Grooved-billed Ani, Hooded Oriole(f), Vermillion Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak (m) (f), Painted Bunting

The five acres my brother, his family and my parents live on in Nayarit has a variety of bird habitats. There is a meadow where tree seedlings are planted, an orchard which had many ripe citrus fruits, a banana grove, a bamboo stand, a small pond and flowering vines. Sugar cane fields surround the property. I would take a chair, sit in a particular area with my camera and wait for the birds to come. I identified 30 yard birds yet I know there were several species I missed. Some birds, such as the Mexican Yellow-winged Cacique eluded my camera lens as they hid the the bamboo and banana leaves. There is a new tab at the top of the blog with my Big January list to date.

N.Mockingbird, Juv H. Oriole, W. Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, Hooded Oriole(m), Say's Phoebe

Lesser Goldfinch, Common Ground Dove, Pyrrhuloxia, Say's Phoebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lark Sparrow

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Mexican Start for Big January Bird Count

I have participated in a January bird count for the past few years. It is friendly "competition" which encourages me to get out during a long, cold month to look for birds in my area. My Ontario counts are very predictable, but this year I have spent the first eight days of the month in two very different parts of Mexico;- Nayarit and Coahuila. I have counted birds on the properties where my family live as well as one outing to the coast which included a boat ride through a mangrove swamp. Unfortunately I could not bring my binoculars and I really have to look for a good pair of travel bins. I have to look up a few birds when I get home so my count is unconfirmed at this time.
Many warblers winter here and I have been aware of them in the treetops but unable to get good views in the vegetation. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are abundant but I have also identified a few Audubon Warblers and a Nashville Warbler. Perhaps I will have enough information in some blurry photos to add to this category of birds.
I have learned to identify a variety of doves during this trip. The dusty town where my daughter lives seems overrun with grackles, house sparrows and doves. The smaller Inca Ground Doves have beautiful plumage which blends in well when they rest under shrubs in the sand.
In Nayarit the White-winged and Common Ground Doves were more prevalent.
As far as I can tell, all doves sound pretty much the same and they are all well adapted to areas of human habitation. The last dove arrived in North America fairly recently from Europe. A few Eurasian Collared Doves were introduced the Bahamas in the 1970's and the rapidly spread in North America.

Friday, January 06, 2012

El Dia De Reyes 2012

I got this picture from a calendar in my daughter's home and it represents today, The Day of the Kings, which marks the end of the Christmas season. American culture is creeping into Mexico and I saw several plastic Walmart Santas, snowmen, and reindeer outside homes and businesses. Traditionally, Christmas gift giving is on January 6th with the three wise men as the benefactors, but the holiday is not as religious as the Orthodox Christian Epiphany celebrations also happening around the world today.
I sat in Stephanie's late afternoon English classes in San Pedro the last two days. Yesterday I interacted with the students for 20 minutes or so, asking and answering questions in conversational English. They were a very bright group ranging in age from 12 to about 30 years old.
At the end of the class, we shared a traditional treat, the 'Rosca de Reyes' (King's Cake). Shaped like a king's crown, this sweet yeast bread has a small plastic figurine representing the baby Jesus inside. The students told me the person who gets the figure has to make tamales for the special dinner.
I didn't get the surprise which is a good thing as tamales are very time consuming to make. Stephanie is baking a fresh Rosca de Reyes today (recipe here) and it will taste much better than the one from the store. And we had a delicious tamale meal in Tepic last week that will count for the celebration today.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year's Fiesta

I am behind in posting due to slow/ absent internet service and travel days. In the past week and a half we have travelled from the north of Mexico, across the Devil's Spine to the coast and inland to Tepic, back to the coast for a day, and then north again through Guadalajara. We travelled overnight on buses so no days were lost (just under 30 hours in bus travel). Safety has not been a big concern and with appropriate diligence, Mexico is as safe as other vacation destinations.

A couple of days before the new year, we drove in from town to find a group of people running around the property. My 10 year old niece excitedly asked us if we wanted to help kill chickens for the New Year's Eve party. My brother has a number of free range chickens and an overabundance of roosters, so they were out to catch three of them. My initial urban North American response was "uggh!", especially since I have not eaten meat for a few years now. But these birds had lived a good life unlike the chickens we eat at home and I put aside my prejudices and judgments to watch the chase.

The job was done and my sister-in-law did the plucking and cooking and made an enormous pot of posole. Posole is a traditional soup in the Mexican state of Nayarit which is made with white homily. Lucy soaked the hard corn in lime to open the kernels and then cooked it with the chicken. It is served with fresh garnishes and lime.

Friends and family gathered for the evening and there were fireworks and a bonfire outdoors as midnight approached. I tried to stay awake but we had been at the beach during the day and my internal clock is still two hours ahead on Eastern time. I went to bed and left the celebrations to younger family members who can still sleep in.

Sunday, January 01, 2012