Just an update to let folks know that I will be in Texas April 11-19, 2010. My trip starts and ends in San Antonio. It includes two nights in Hill Country (where Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo are targets), a full day on King Ranch (targets here include Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Parula, Audubon's Oriole and Northern Beardless Tyrannulet), and four days in the Rio Grande Valley. A full day will also be spent on the coast searching for migrant songbirds and waterbirds. I would expect we would find around 250-280 species. If you would like join me, please email me at peleetom@netcore.ca

Here are a few photo highlights from previous trips:

The colorful Green Jay is one of several dozen bird species that are most easily seen in the lower valley of south Texas.

Unlike the Green Jay, the White-collared Seedeater is rare and local even in the lower valley. But with good local information, chances of seeing one are good.

Black-capped Vireo is probably the most attractive of all the vireos. It isnt always easy to find but we have never failed in our quest. This male was photographed in Hill Country.

Mexican free-tailed bats emerging at dusk from a cave near Concan in Hill Country. This spectacle is always a highlight of any trip to Texas.

Chuck-wills-widow is one of many migrants regularly seen at sites along the coast.

The King Ranch has the largest and most accessible population of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls in North America. This species is virtually guaranteed on a visit there.

Golden-cheeked Warbler is an endemic breeder to the state of Texas and one of the most stunning of our wood warblers. Its just one of the many reasons a visit to Texas in April is a trip you will always remember!

PANAMA - Wrap Up Nov 3-7, 2009

On our final full day at Canopy Tower, we spent an afternoon birding in Gamboa. Our guide Carlos Bethancourt had permission from a homeowner to stock their feeders with fruit and nectar. As soon as he put out this bounty, swarms of birds arrived. One of the stunning birds present in good numbers was Red-legged Honeycreeper. This male was in particularly good fresh plumage.

The diversity of birds at the feeders was impressive. At least five species of tanagers were present including this Palm Tanager - not the most colorful but still this individual posed beautifully for a pic.

While we were at their, the house owner Carmen, came out to say hello. She was annoyed with the many Orange-chinned Parakeets, which she referred to as the 'mafia' because of their aggressive and noisy habits! Still for us, it was great to see them up close.

Our final morning at Canopy Tower was relaxed and we enjoyed some great views of the regulars including this Keel-billed Toucan, which had been enjoying the cecropia fruits.

From Canopy Tower, we moved next to Canopy Lodge in El Valle for three nights. This beautiful facility has excellent rooms, food and great birding right on the grounds. The feeders were always busy, and there we were surprised to find that a pair of Rufous Motmots were regulars here.

Our guide Tino Sanchez proved his worth on the first day when he took us right to a pair of Mottled Owls on a day roost - a real coup! Tino had two remarkable abilities. First, he could get birds in the scope faster than any of us had ever seen. Second, he could whistle almost any bird that chimed off from the forest. As someone who loves to mimic bird sounds, even I was impressed with his abilities.

Our best bird at Canopy Lodge was probably Tody Motmot (great scope views), but we had lots of other good finds. We ended our trip here with an impressive group total of 320 species!


Panama Trip Update

Paul Pratt and myself arrived in Panama a day before meeting our group at La Estancia bed and breakfast. We birded the Rainforest Discovery center and tower along Pipeline Road before the and did some scouting there. Among the highlights were an incredibly co-operative White-whiskered Puffbird which sat at eye level for nearly twenty minutes!

To start off the trip we returned to the beginning of Pipeline Road. Here we had great looks at several species of antbirds, Bright-rumped Attila, fruit crows, and several great encounters with trogons, including a female Slaty-tailed Trogon.

Another good find was this male Black-throated Trogon, one of several yellow bellied trogons present here.

On day four of the trip we moved to Canopy Tower where we will spend three nights. Our guide Carlos Bethancourt proved to be superb. In addition to a great sense of humour, his knowledge of birds and nature and his enthusiasm made him an outstanding guide. We also benefitted from the official hawk watcher at the tower Dan Berard, who was extremely helpful in pointing out birds and other critters such as Canopy Lizard. On our first full day at the tower we enjoyed no fewer than three male Blue Cotingas including the one below which perched for over ten minutes in clear view with the scope!

On our second full day at the tower we returned to Pipeline road. This was truly a fantastic day with highlights including a perched Collared Forest Falcon in clear view, a Great Tinamou standing on the road to Semaphore Hill, and SCOPE views of Rosy-Thrush Tanager male gathering nesting material for ten minutes in clear view (!). This time we did the area beyond the gate. One of our main targets was the Streak-chested Antpitta - a secretive and local specialty of this area. Incredibly the ENTIRE group of twelve got to see the bird very well. I was even lucky enough to secure this photograph of the bird.

A little farther down the road Carlos picked up on the call of a Great Jacamar. After some tense moments the bird swooped low through the canopy and perched up so we could enjoy scope views for ten minutes.

After all this it seemed almost greedy of us to want to see an army ant march, but we joked with Carlos that were hoping to see one. Not half an hour later and there they were right beside the road. The swarm was attended by many Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, two Black-faced Antthrushes, Barred, Black-striped and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Gray-headed Tanagers, and at least six Occellated Antbirds. Here is an image of one of the Occelateds. All in all, a truly spectacular day of birding!



Well what would a big day be without the heartache and what ifs of the day after? We arose late but within the first few hours in the field this Sharp-tailed Grouse teased us by walking proudly along the roadside for fifteen minutes! Of course this was a bird that was a no show the day before...

Not long after this incredibly late male Rough-legged Hawk was sitting right at the edge of the road. It seemed to be in pretty poor shape. Not surprising given the date. Those feathered legs dont help much in the early summer heat!

We continued across into the Sask side of the Cypress Hills where we spent the next two days. Here are a few pics from that wrap up time. This Great Horned Owl allowed us to stand within twenty feet as it was completely used to people.

And to wrap up the crossbill saga started back in May here are female (yellow) and juvenile (striped) Red Crossbills from the Cypress Hills.


Preface: If you have no sense of humour and think birding is not supposed to be fun... and you like to evaluate and judge all of us by our carbon credits... dont bother reading any further!

Well a lot has happened since my last post... but for now lets stick to one really cool event. Paul and I decided to do an Alberta big day in early June while on a two week adventure in Sask and Alberta. It turned out to be a huge success. Here is the story.

We scouted the southern half of the province briefly and then slapped together a route based mostly in Cold Lake. We had set the provincial record with Tom Plath in 2001 (I think?) with 178 species, but the weather was horrible that year and we really felt that we only scratched the potential.

Paul and I spent three full days in late May scouting around Cold Lake and we even got a chance to help out a bit with the Cold Lake spring bird count. I think during those three days we recorded around 175 species which gives you an idea of how diverse this area is in late May. The scouting highlight was undoubtedly three small groups of Sabine's Gulls totaling 12 birds on the waterfront of Cold Lake proper.

We decided to make our attempt on June 2nd, and the day began around 11 pm the night before with what else but Tim Hortons coffee (reheated as the Tims was closed!) and a high protein fix of sausages and eggs.

On our last attempt in 2001 the night birding... well, it sucked! On this night however, we came up trumps at almost every site. We recorded Long-eared, Barred and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Yellow, Virginia and Sora Rails, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, Connecticut Warbler, Pied-billed Grebe, Sandhill Crane, American Bittern and a dizzying array of nocturnal ticks by 4 am. Most surprising was a widespread passage of Lapland Longspurs at almost every stop for the first five hours of the day. I didnt even realize this bird was a nocturnal migrant! By the time this photo of Paul was taken around 4 am at Cold Lake waterfront, we had just recorded our 52nd species which was Common Nighthawk.

As it began to get lighter, we worked a series of stops around Cold Lake Provincial Park, Ethel Lake road and English Bay. Everything fell in to place though our schedule was being stretched a little by the cold morning and reluctance of birds to chime off with their usual vigour. Next we headed south to Jessie Lake happily ticking a fly by Northern Goshawk en route. There was a decent selection of shorebirds and we left knowing the chances of setting a new record were very good. Next stop at Kehewin lake filled in some necessitities like Great Crested Flycatcher, Philly vireo and Veery and by 9:55 am we were on our way south towards Wainright with a massive morning haul of 159 species.

Now rather than let the full story out of the bag, I'm going to skip all the rest of the route details. That keeps everyone guessing a bit which is probably a good thing! Suffice it to say that we had a great afternoon and ended up in the south of the province around Pakowki Lake. This Burrowing Owl along the roadside there was a complete fluke, as we had not seen this bird anywhere during scouting and had no sites for it. It was our 205th species for the day. Yes you read that right!

The day ended at Pakowki lake where White-faced Ibis and Black-crowned Night Heron pushed our total to an incredible 207 species for the day! We were stunned by our success and we cant wait to go back to see if this total can go even higher... watch out Manitoba!!!


Cypress Hills to Eastend and back

Up early this morning to do dawn chorus around Cypress lodge. Wonderful weather and birds. Then a great breakfast with Red Crossbills at the lodge restaurant. This male was part of a family group including a juvenile, a one year female, and an adult female. This 'type' of Red Crossbill has a distinct song type that differs considerably from the birds we are used to in Ontario (less trilling and more jumbly if that makes sense). It was a gorgeous bird.

The highlight of the day was watching a male Prairie Falcon feed a one or two day old hatching at close range. We had superb views with the scope looking right into the nest. Then the bigger female appeared and they did a mate exchange before she began brooding. This picture is pretty crappy but it gives an idea of the view!

The raptors in southwestern Sask are great. There are Swainsons, Red-tails and Ferruginous everywhere and we found multiple nests of each plus two Great Horned Owl nests. Out here there is nowhere to hide with very few nest tree options! This light phase Swainson's perched nicely for an early evening shot.

Tomorrow we are off to Bigstick, Luck Lake and then spending the night in the Battlefords. Should be another great day!


Calgary to Cypress Hills Saskatchewan

After a great evening with Cathy and Roger Watson (thanks guys!), Paul and I began our two week adventure in Alberta and Saskatchewan by heading east from Calgary towards the Cypress Hills. We pulled into the Tims at around 2:40 am (seriously) and were soon heading out of the city rolling towards the hills. Shortly after 3 am the first light started to appear in the sky, though the sun wouldnt rise for over two more hours.

We spent most of the day in the Cypress Hills in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, ending up south of Maple Creek where will spend two nights. There were tons of highlights today but the biggest flurry was early on in the day when we had an adult Goshawk stoop low across the road in pursuit of a songbird (sorry, it didnt garner much attention), soon followed by a provincially rare Red-headed Woodpecker looking very lost on a fence line in the middle of the prairies! I took a record photo of the latter just for documentation. The actual location of the bird was at the corner of Hwy 41 and the Cypress park turnoff a few km south of Elkwater.

Soon after this, a pair of uppies (Upland Sandpipers) landed at the roadside and provided stunning views. This provided my best photo opp of the day.

In early afternoon we had lunch at Cypress Lake resort in Sask. The feeders there are great fun with Red Crossbills regular attendees (pics to follow in the next post). A showy pair of Western Tanagers provided some nice colour while we enjoyed a well deserved lunch break. Here is the male.



Finally caught up enough to get out and do some video and still shooting at Pelee and Ojibway over the weekend. While several birders described the birding as 'slow', I found that there was a good diversity of birds at both sites. In short, the birding was good, especially considering it was May 2nd. How quickly folks forget what the typical pattern is at this time of year! Every day cannot be a twenty plus warbler species day, though even that was possible today if you worked hard all day.

One of the most rewarding finds was a bird that had been staked out for several days in front of the visitor center - a Grasshopper Sparrow. I got great video of it foraging at distances as close as ten feet. I also snagged a bunch of stills. Here is one of the best.

When I examined some of my video and stills on a larger screen I noticed that the sparrow had an interesting tag along - a small tick embedded just under its right (from its perspective) eye. While most humans find ticks disgusting, they are a fact of everyday life for many birds and mammals which are the normal hosts for many tick species. Obviously this also makes birds vectors for the spread of ticks, and tick born illnesses. I wonder where this tick actually originated? Did it pick up the tick at Pelee or perhaps somewhere in the southern US where the sparrow wintered? Regardless it is a reminder of the rigors and realities of the natural world - tough, but still beautiful.

It was great to spend some time videotaping at Ojibway reserve and nature center in south Windsor. The feeder set up that Paul (Pratt) and staff have put together there is great. Birds were abundant and diverse and a huge flowering redbud provided a nice backdrop for the attendees. The park was full of song and one of the nice surprises while taping the 'regulars' was hearing a singing male Blue-winged Warbler. With a little effort I managed to get a decent image of the stunning bird.

I'm looking forward to another great spring at Pelee. This will be the 38th year I have spent a week or more birding here in spring and its always a fabulous learning experience. Always unique each time, and always a wonderful journey. I look forward to seeing my old friends on the trails and meeting some new ones as well.

Good Birding! Tom


Texas Wrap up

April 25th was the last day of shooting in Texas before making the tortuous drive back to Ontario. The trip was a great success with the last couple of days in northeast Texas being particularly productive. I had always wanted to get some good footage and stills of Prothonotary Warbler and this goal was fulfilled. Here are some of my best Prothonotary shots. I never get tired of this bird!

So now I have a few days off to catch up on correspondence, finish taxes, and prepare for our May birding packages. Pelee has already had some hot birds so it looks like it will be a great spring!



The last few days have been hectic to say the least. We left Port Aransas two days ago and have been on South Padre Island the past two days. Both days provided good shooting, with today bringing in a small fallout. We are still hoping that more birds will drop in tomorrow with continued North winds. Regardless, its almost certain that what is here will stay put. That should mean another day of good opportunities with many orioles and buntings and a good selection of warblers.

Below is a kind of funky image I took at the Convention center - a well known spot for observing migrants on South Padre. It gives a sense of both the bird and the photographer.

Now here are a couple of photos of the bird close up - a gorgeous male Black-throated Green Warbler that seemed oblivious to all the attention it was receiving!

The fallout that arrived this afternoon brought a small group of male Painted Buntings which were incredibly tame at times. I spent most of my time videotaping them at distances as close as six to eight feet. At one point I had to back away from the bird as it fed closer and closer! I did take a few still images and here is my favourite.

Lastly here is a pic of a Palm Warbler that was lingering for the last two days. Not the brighest warbler in the book, but still a neat little bird.



The day started off slowly with poor light and strong winds. We didnt get shooting until nearly ten but Paradise Pond was even better than yesterday with nice bright overcast conditions. The buntings were still in place with a new selection of companions like this first spring male Orchard Oriole.

The Painted Buntings were more wary than the numerous Indigos, but finally came close enough for some decent images.

After the dull light of yesterday the bright overcast today allowed for much higher success rate with images, and much sharper captures. This male Indigo was a significant improvement over yesterdays work.

In late afternoon we headed south towards Corpus Christi and then had dinner at Chilis in Kingsville before continuing to Harlingen for the night. Tomorrow we head for South Padre Island hoping that we have the same standard of success there... who knows?


Last night Ethan and I met up and had dinner with our good friend Bruce DiLabio. Then early this morning we headed for some coastal migrant traps to see if a cold front and some light rain had brought any birds in. This was day 1 of our shoot in Texas and it started off REALLY well. Two birds I really wanted to shoot here were Scarlet Tanager and Indigo Bunting... and boy were those co-operative today!

In the afternoon the weather became 'unshootable' if there is such a word. Prior to that another fun bird was a male Dickcissel.

So we are off to a GREAT start and looking forward to more in the days to come!