YUKON May 2012 Part 1

Paul Pratt and I headed out west to Edmonton in late May. From here our plan was to drive northwest through BC towards the Yukon. This was the only territory or province that I have not visited, and had long been on my list of must visit places. In the Peace River area of BC we stopped to add some birds to our provincial list. Many eastern songbirds reach their western limits here and its a great place to add many species that are not easily seen elsewhere in BC. We were also hoping to find some good migrant shorebirds and were not disappointed. One productive little pond found our first night produced 12 species of shorebirds including two stunning HUDSONIAN GODWITS, a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, two STILT SANDPIPERS and a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. All in all I think I added nearly 30 species to my provincial list. The group that really dominated were warblers, where I think I added eleven new ticks! The BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER below was one of our key targets.

After a night in Ft. Nelson, we headed on towards Watson Lake in the southeastern Yukon. The scenery and mammal watching along this route were superb, especially in the latter half. Indeed, we saw no fewer than 18 bears along the roadside today! Unlike the zoo like atmosphere of the mountain parks in Alberta, here we basically had the bears to ourselves. They grazed and foraged along the wide margins of the highway corridor and seemed unaffected by our presence. The highlight was finding a mother and two yearling GRIZZLY BEARS right beside the road. We spent almost an hour photographing them at distances down to ten feet! During the entire time, only two cars stopped briefly to watch with us. It was an outstanding experience. Below is a pic of one of the yearling GRIZZLIES which was distinctly blonde rather than dark brown.

 Okay so I have to admit that when he sits on his haunches like that he is incredibly cute. Both of the young bears stayed close to mom most of the time. Here is a closer shot of mom and the young blondie. The difference in pelage colour in the blonde yearling is due to fill flash (it was getting quite dark).

For most of the time the bears foraged about 40 meters from us, and they never seemed concerned with our presence. At one point though the blonde yearling became really curious and walked right up the embankment and up to the driver side door (mine!!!). He started to rear up and I frantically reached for the window power button so he couldn't come in! He did not seem upset - just curious. Nonetheless it was a bit of an adrenaline rush for both of us! Below is a photo I took when he was right at the gravel road edge by the door.

We finally arrived at Watson Lake late in the evening. Seeing as my Yukon list was at well... ZERO, I managed to add about thirty species between 9 pm and getting to bed. Among these were a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH and a stunning PACIFIC LOON sitting peacefully on a small lake right beside the highway.We stayed at a basic but comfortable and clean motel called the AIR FORCE LODGE. It has shared bathrooms and showers which I normally dont go for, but I would definitely use this place again (and indeed we did twice more on this trip).


Well I am about to head out west after a few days of birding Pelee in May.

As a parting shot I wanted to make a few comments about how far birding has come as a hobby. Back in the eighties Pelee was a crazy place, with much bigger crowds and more than half of the birders here actively involved in going off designated trails (data from a survey in 1986). There were more than 30 km of informal trails and skittish birds were rarely seen for more than a few minutes before they disappeared. This contrast today is dramatic. Crowds are well behaved and aware of their impacts and it is exceptionally rare to see anyone off trail in the park.

Two birds that no doubt benefited this year from these trends are an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (red morph) that was present on the same perch in Tilden's Woods Trail for almost the whole month. It could have been there for months but it was only discovered in early May. Virtually every visitor that came to the park in May got to see this wonderful little bird, and with only a minimum of disturbance. Photographers and birders both kept to the trails (with some overflow resulting from crowds) and the bird and the crowds were both winners.

Eastern Screech-Owl red morph, Pelee May 2012

Not to be outdone, another EASTERN SCREECH-OWL showed itself regularly at the southernmost bridge on the Woodland Nature Trail. This one was the more typical gray morph. By the way, both of these owl pics were digiscoped through my KOWA TSN833. I was really pleased with the results!

Eastern Screech-Owl gray morph Pelee, May 2012

Lastly, for the umpteenth year in a row, a pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS nested in the north end of the park near the entrance. The park did a nice job last year of putting up a display board and snow fencing to control access to the owl nest site. This year they only raised one chick successfully but the adults seemed to be seen with a lot more regularity around the nest here. Below is a digiscoped image of the female shot early one morning.


Magee Marsh, OH parking lot May, 2012

Well curiosity finally got the better of me. This was the year that I finally had to head to Magee Marsh to see what was going on there. Kathi and I headed down for a quick visit in the first half of May. We bumped into a number of old birding pals while there, several of which were regulars at this site. The two days we spent there were best described as 'slow' at least for birds. On the other hand it was busy, busy, busy when it came to numbers of birders. It brought back memories of the enormous crowds at Pelee back in the mid 80s and THEN SOME!  Pelee today even at its busiest is much less crowded than the choked boardwalk at Crane Creek. Like Pelee I was amazed that there are no firm rules or restrictions on tripods or flash photography. As a photographer and birder these just seem like no brainers to me. At times it was impossible to move at all on the boardwalk, and many people seemed oblivious to the needs of others. It was a combination of birding at its best and worst - all at once! Below are a couple of pics of people on the famous Magee boardwalk.

Despite the huge crowds, Kathi and I had a lot of fun. We enjoyed seeing Magee, and renewing some old friendships and meeting some new birders.

And though it was slow, we got some great birds. No doubt the favourite of these was PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, which was present and easy to see at several sites along the boardwalk. Here are a couple of pics I managed to capture when I wasnt being jostled about!

Prothontary Warblers, Magee marsh, May 2012


I birded Pelee today and there was a good selection of songbirds around already (not surprising given the early spring) but they weren't the highlights of the show today. First and foremost was the incredible BUTTERFLY SHOW. The number of RED ADMIRALS in the park today was simply mind numbing. How does one begin to estimate. At almost every place I stopped I was surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of flying RED ADMIRALS. A conservative estimate would be 5 to 10 thousand seen during the day! The trails were littered with wings of dead admirals eaten by a variety of predators. The admiral photo below was actually taken in Texas a few weeks earlier, but this species is an immigrant to Pelee so maybe it ended up there!

Red Admiral - Concan, Texas April 4, 2012

Another butterfly that was remarkably common today was AMERICAN LADY. Almost all were newly emerged and I managed to get great pics of one while we had our picnic lunch at the Dunes.

American Lady, Point Pelee National Park - Apr 29, 2012

Another species that wss pretty widespread was QUESTION MARK. I am not great on ID for this group of butterflies but am pretty sure this the correct ID. If you know better please let me know!

Question Mark, Point Pelee - April 29, 2012

The bird highlight for the day came right near the end. As I was leaving the park one of the participants noticed a I backed up for a blob beside this road, and was stunned to see this sub adult BALD EAGLE sitting only fifty feet off the road. I slowly opened my door and grabbed about twenty frames of the eagle before it moved a few hundred meters to a new perch. I was thrilled to get such close shots of a normally wary bird!

Bald Eagle subadult - Point Pelee Apr 29, 2012

TEXAS APRIL 2012 Part 4

My visit to Hill Country was punctuated by two memorable experiences with owls. The first was with a BARRED OWL. This owl is at the western edge of its range here in Texas. It likes the mature deciduous groves along the river valleys in Hill Country. I have three or four sites that I check for this bird. During the day I stopped at one and hooted the who cooks for you call. Not long after the owl came flying right in!

Barred Owl in flight

Once the owl had found a perch I stopped hooting. After about twenty seconds it began to hoot loudly at close range. I didn't respond (the right thing to do!). The owl continued to call away in mid day. Surely this is one of the greatest vocalizations in the world of birds.

Barred Owl looking for me!

On an early morning visit to Lost Maples State Natural Area I was surprised to hear an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL. A little bit of walking back and forth and I was able to triangulate its location. After a bit of scanning there it was sitting right in the open!

Not surprisingly I wasn't the only one who heard the owl. Soon there was a flurry of activity as at least ten small passerines started scolding and mobbing the owl. One of the angry mobbers was a male GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER. This allowed me to get some fantastic images of this beautiful songbird.

Golden-cheeked Warbler male

Golden-cheeked Warbler male

TEXAS APRIL 2012 Part 3

Neals Lodge near Concan makes a superb base for exploring the Hill Country of south Texas. Often birders do the 'valley' and skip this area. I cannot emphasize enough... DONT MISS THIS AREA! A visit to Hill Country will likely be the highlight of your trip!

This was a great year at Neals with several male TROPICAL PARULAS hanging around the large cypress trees that line the Rio Frio right by the lodge. The male below was particularly easy to see.

Tropical Parula male - Neals Lodge, Concan

Whenever I tell birders about the bat cave near Neals, the typical response is "what birds are there"? Well there are a few but the real highlight are the bats - and I have NEVER seen any birder who is disappointed with a visit. I have been there about ten times and always consider this a highlight of any trip. Simply put, it is one of the greatest spectacles you will ever witness! Below are a couple of images from this year's visit.

Brazilian Free-tailed bats at dusk - Concan

Brazilian Free-tailed bats in sunset - Concan

Hill country has a superb selection of BREEDING species which are not present in the lower valley of south Texas. And many of the species that are migrants or scarce breeders there, are much more easily seen and heard in Hill Country. A great example is the BELL'S VIREO. This bird is widespread and easy to find around Concan. The loud jumbly song of Bell's Vireo is a part of musical landscape of this region.

Bell's Vireo near Concan

Texas April 2012 Part 2

One of the fun things about south Texas in spring is that you never know what might be around the next corner. Thanks to the power of the net Kathi and I were able to find out about a SURFBIRD (normally a Pacific coast species!) that had been seen at the jetty on Mustang Island. We went out early the next morning and within thirty seconds of leaving the car, there was the SURFBIRD! It was remarkably tame and we had probably the best views I have ever had of this species. It was also great to see one in full alternate (breeding) plumage, as all my other previous encounters had been in the fall.

Surfbird - Mustang Island jetty

 The coast has some fantastic migrant traps but this spring was typified by southerly winds and good warm weather. As a result there were very few migrant songbirds grounded on the coast. Nonetheless there was lots of eye candy to keep us busy with an dizzying array of waterbirds. A common species, but one I always enjoy is the GREAT BLUE HERON. This adult was feeding close to shore in wonderful evening light.

Great Blue Heron

 When we got bored at the migrant traps, we would poke around for 'critters'. This BROWN ANOLE was displaying next to the boardwalk at Paradise Pond. Two features you can see well in this photo are his stubby tail (the rest lost in some sort of encounter) and the bright red/orange dewlap. The dewlap is expanded in males as part of a territorial display.

Brown Anole

There were few warblers or other songbirds about, but this YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER provided a nice dash of colour and excitement at Paradise Pond. We watched him at close range for over a minute as he bashed this moth to bits before consuming it.

TEXAS April 2012 Part 1

A few weeks in south Texas in April were just what Kathi and and I needed to knock off the winter doldrums. We spent our time roughly in thirds - in Hill country, in the lower valley, and near Corpus on the coast. I try to avoid High Island which to me is the most over-rated migrant trap in North America.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Mustang Island

To me, the SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER is the perfect icon for an April visit to south Texas. Its showy, spectacular and amazingly... they are EVERYWHERE you look. In a single day its not unusual to see hundreds of them strung out along the roadsides. This year was no different as we had superb close views of dozens of scissor-tails.

Whooping Crane adult and year old immature

One of the birds Kathi really wanted to see was Whooping Crane, so we took the morning boat trip out of Rockport with captain Tommy Moore. We were not disappointed. These trips are good value. He offers a first class trip and we had superb views of whoopers. This adult and year old were only a few hundred feet away. We had a great long study of these birds as they fed close by. During the three hour trip we tallied 19 whoopers. When I returned just a week later most of these birds had moved north but we still found about five remaining.

Black-capped Vireo - Hill country
One of my goals for this trip was to get decent photos of both Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler. The vireo is easy to hear but often tough to see well. It never seems to stop moving! This time we found a male that was singing steadily very close to the road about 60 miles north of Concan. I tried to predict where it might pop out of a small bush and focused on the branch. Within seconds the vireo appeared right on cue on the branch and I fired off three shots. One of them (above) turned out quite well. Sometimes its better to be lucky than to be good!