Saturday, June 27, 2009

Riding Mountain cont.

Worth mentioning a few mor birds we saw well during our stay in Riding Mountain. One morning we were treated to a male Spruce Grouse displaying to a female near the road...

Ruffed Grouse were almost everywhere and often in display mode

A little owling produced good looks at several species of owls including this Long-eared Owl at dusk

Northern Saw-whet Owls were quite common this year and I heard well over a dozen in and around the park. A few of them even offered good views like these two...

Great Horned Owls already had chicks, although they were nto nearly as advanced as those near Winnipeg that had already fledged young

A little grassland birding outside the park produced good looks at species such as Chestnut-collared Longspur

and Mountain Bluebird

Towards the end of May some of the later spring returning breeders started to show up, including this dashing Connecticut Warbler

And of course out target species, the Golden-winged Warbler. This image is a composite to show the bird in their habitat...

Special thanx to Annika, Katherine, Lanaye and Samantha who worked so hard and did so well in training!

Riding Mountain mammals

Riding Mountain is also great for mammal watching and this year we had many great sightings. Black bear were seen in good numbers, in fact we had 3 sightings of a mother with triplets! One of our first bears was high up feeding on buds – I got this poor photo…

The cubs were of course a great treat to watch. This inquisitive youngster seemed bolder than their two siblings and remained right by the highway to sniff us out.

Their sibling joined them briefly in this bold curiosity

While a third remained back at the trees and closer to mum. The antics were quite comical, especially the failed attempt at tree climbing

This mother seemed remarkably calm as she assessed whether or not to lead her cubs across the busy road… her eventual decision was no.

We had several moose sightings including this remarkable cooperative cow munching on a roadside green salad with a watery dressing

We saw elk several times too though not nearly as close

this bouncing bunny (snowshoe hare) was one of many along the 19 in the old burn area

We also enjoyed several sightings of skunk. This little one walked right up to us...

and then proceeded to dig up a tasty snack, before sauntering off into the bush

Other good sightings included short-tailed weasel, pine martin and raccoon but alas no photos of those...

Riding Mountain in spring

We were very privileged to be able to conduct spring training for our Golden-winged Warbler survey crew in Riding Mountain National Park (thanx Wybo!) again this year. A truly fantastic place to learn about nature. Better late than never, I’m organizing a few photos to make an account of our two weeks in the park.

Things got off to a fantastic start with a Burrowing Owl en route. Distant views in the rain and no photography prizes but always a huge delight to see this rare species in the province!

As we drove toward the park we noticed the vehicles coming the other way were covered in snow.. sure enough over a foot of snow had fallen (typical mid May weather) and our training would get off to a cold start as it did last year!

The snow makes it tough on some of the birds but for the viewer it can mean they are close to the ground and easy to see. Many species were hopping around at our feet like American Robins

and this Swainson's Thrush (seemingly drained of colour by the snow)

At the water’s edge several sparrow species probed for food under ice overhangs or at the edge of melt water. This is a Swamp Sparrow, looking a little timid of the cold water…

And here a Song Sparrow braves the open water

This Lincoln's Sparrow sticks to puddles on "drier" land

Warblers also employed a similar feeding strategy close to the ground, especially the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers

And how often do you get views of Blackpoll Warbler like this? This male hopped right up to us along the snow-covered trail by South Beach.

Cape May Warblers put on a real show, feeding on the snow-laden conifer needles. On one morning with a fierce northeasterly wind, we stood on the northern shore of Waasagaming (Clear Lake or in Anishinaabemowin “At the place where the lake is clear”) and watched a huge fall out of birds who had fought against the wind as they crossed the large water body and were dropping down on the north shore in waves, small flock after large flock after mixed flock. I estimated 300 Cape May Warblers crossed the lake that morning (a good year to see Cape Mays actually, perhaps because of spruce bud worm)

Like the Cape Mays, some warbler species were less likely to be seen on the ground like this Tennessee Warbler, who had found a sun-dried corner

Even after the snow cleared, there were many cold mornings with strong northerly winds. Under these conditions migrants were flying low to the ground, presumably to minimize the effect of the head wind. Some migrants stopped to refuel right on the ground in roadside ditches that provided shelter from the wind. I don’t often get views of Blackburnian Warbler like this – a stunning male feeding in the grass by the highway on just such a morning…

Least Flycatchers arrive quite early, at least earlier than many other flycatchers like Alder, and under these conditions they too were feeding very low to the ground offering superb views…

Some of the bigger fruit-eaters like the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks probably had it a little easier than the warblers

And others like this Wilson’s Snipe seemed quite at home in the snow, calling and displaying as usual

This delightful pair of Common Mergansers posed for a portrait for us

As did this handsome Bonaparte’s Gull by the Lake Audy dam

A Peregrine Falcon was a daily sight around the lake and a most welcome sight at that!

and there's more but this will have to be all for now... to be continued...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

a smooth green experience

At the end of a long but very successful morning surveying for Golden-winged Warblers in the Whitemud Watershed Wildlife Management Area in western Manitoba, I decided to change out of my wet socks before hiking back out to the car. In order to put down my gear, I went to pick up a piece of dead wood to make a cradle so my stuff wouldn't get wet. Being tired, and a bit of a clutz, I accidently broke off the top of the dead wood but, to my joy and amazement, this revealed a smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis). Having never seen this species before, I could not resist a few quick snap shots before placing the dead wood gently back on top of the disturbed reptile. This shot shows the tongue (the second is cropped in). Sorry snake, but you sure are beautiful!

just beautiful!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

shorebirding at Nak Dong Gang, South Korea

On 26th August 2005, I had the great pleasure of a day of shorebirding with the great Nial Moores, cofounder of Birds Korea, at the Nak Dong estuary (Nak Dong Gang in Korean) in Busan (or Pusan if you prefer) South Korea. Although already heavily impacted by people (you may notice some garbage on the sand in the photos below), this estuary is an important but threatened site for many water birds. Like Saemanggeum and other sites in Korea and around the Yellow Sea, it warrants protection and there is an increasing number of people working to that end.

My trip to South Korea was to visit my wife’s family and not primarily for birding but before I met up with Nial I had the chance to visit a few sites around Busan including the headland of Tae Jong Dae, where I was treated to a lifer in the form of a flock of Streaked Shearwaters.

But on the 26th the excitement as we headed out into the estuary in the boat Nial had organized. We quickly found several of the globally vulnerable Chinese Egret, a species I had not seen since I was in Singapore 7 years previously.

The shorebirds were dispersed fairly widely on the various islands and sandbars. The diversity of plovers was impressive including the very familiar Black-bellied Plover or Grey Plover (I wish we could change the name of this beautiful species to Silver Plover)

The impressive Greater Sand Plover with their long legs and plump shape and stout features were a real treat.

The Lesser Sand Plover, formerly known as Mongolian Plover (and who knows maybe one day the coastal and interior forms will be split back to Lesser Sand versus Mongolian Plovers) was also present and, unlike the Greater Sands, some showed a touch of lingering breeding colour.

And alongside the sand plovers were the smaller Kentish or Snowy Plovers.

Here is a comparison shot of the two sand plover species – note the bulkier proportions of the Greater Sand, longer legs and heavier bill.

And here a Greater Sand Plover dwarfs three Kentish Plovers.

Eurasian Oystercatchers were also present and looking fine in their striking black, white and red attire.

Among the many sandpiper species were some I was very familiar with like Sanderling

And Whimbrel (here a juvenile takes flight)

And others that I had only seen once or twice before like this beautiful Far Eastern Curlew with their huge bill. Interestingly to me their seemed to be roughly equal numbers of Eurasian and Far Eastern Curlew, whereas in my previous birding in South East Asia, Far Eastern Curlew was a rarity (presumably because their flight path takes them away form the Asian continent at a fairly northern latitude and out over the Pacific towards Australia)

Red-necked Stint is a bit like the North American equivalent of Semipalmated Sandpiper (difficult to tell apart in this plumage too) as was present in the estuary in the thousands.

Long-toed Stint is a bit like our Least Sandpiper (similarly coloured although somewhat differently proportioned), although unlike Least Sandpiper I have always found Long-toes very difficult to encounter. I was delighted to photograph this bird.

There is no mistaking the unique Terek Sandpiper!

And the classy Broad-billed Sandpiper, which has always been one of my favourites.

But the absolute highlight of the day (and the lifer had been hoping for) was the amazing and unique Spoon-billed Sandpiper (seen here alongside a Dunlin)… what a snoz! The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is critically endangered and their numbers appear to be plummeting. This is one species in desperate need of immediate conservation action and protecting the stop-over sites they rely on in South Korea is an important part of that action.

Thanx to Nial - a fantastic day!
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