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Dominican Holiday Part 1: Arrival in Punta Cana

Skipper sp.

After the worst two weeks of winter including frigid temperatures, enough snow to break the record for January (97 cm total as of January 29th) and enough OC Transpo delays and missing buses to induce a severe case of transit rage, my fiancé and I were lucky to have planned to spend the first week of February at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Our plane was supposed to leave on Saturday at 2:35 pm direct to Punta Cana, but heavy snow that morning meant a delay of almost five hours. We didn’t arrive in Punta Cana until 12:30 Sunday morning, and it was almost another hour before our heads hit the pillow despite an easy time at Customs and no traffic to slow us down. There were, however, lots of speed bumps en route, making me wonder about the drivers in the city.
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A lifer butterfly

Broad-winged Skipper

In addition to a lifer bird at Presqu’ile, I also got a lifer butterfly! Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a fabulous place for insects during the summer, and because it is a peninsula, it is well-known for the large numbers of Monarch butterflies that concentrate here in the fall looking for a good north wind to carry them across the lake. Also, because it is 250 km southwest of Ottawa, there are insect species which regularly occur there that only occur in small number or as vagrants in Ottawa.

As soon as we got out of our cars at the beach parking lot I spotted one of my target species, an Orange Sulphur, flying by. I wasn’t able to chase it – it flew off quickly on the strong winds coming from the lake – and I figured I would have a chance to find and photograph one later in the day. As it turns out, that was the only one I saw during our trip that had a definite orange colour in flight.

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Shorebirding at Presqu’ile Provincial Park

Baird’s Sandpiper

On August 26th I joined Eastern Ontario Birding’s trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park. The owner of EOB, Jon, is a friend of mine and got more than he bargained for when he agreed to pick me up at 5:30 am – as soon as he pulled up in front of my house a police car pulled up beside him to ask if he knew anything about a complaint that had been called in. Jon told the officer he was there to pick up a friend to go birding, and the police officer told him that he believed him (the eBird sticker on his car probably hadn’t gone unnoticed, and lent credibility to his statement). The police car drove off just as I was heading out the door, but we saw it stop with two other cruisers on Grassy Plains. Emerald Meadows is a quiet neighbourhood, and I certainly didn’t hear anything at 4:30 in the morning, but it made for a strange start to the day.
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The Henderson Preserve – Lifer #500!

Black Phoebe

Once I’d had my fill of the gorgeous red Cinnamon Teals, Doran and I continued our walk around the ponds. The Cinnamon Teal was bird no. 497 on my life list, and I was getting excited about the possibility of finding three more before we left. We continued making our way around the ponds, and it wasn’t long before I heard some activity in the thin screen of vegetation between the trail and the water. Quite a few songbirds were foraging in the shrubs, including a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Verdin, and White-crowned Sparrows. Then I heard a familiar buzzy call – it sounded like a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, familiar from my spring visits to Point Pelee, although I knew from checking eBird that this species was only a summer resident. However, the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher spends the winter in Las Vegas, and I spent some time tracking down a couple of these tiny, frantic little birds. I got good enough looks to identify them as gnatcatchers, though I was disappointed they looked just like our Blue-gray Gnatcatchers: males have a distinctive black cap, but only in spring. Still, I was happy to add it to my life list as bird no. 498!

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The Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Part 1

Cinnamon Teal (male)

On December 12, 2017 we visited the City of Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. It encompasses nearly 100 acres of basins, lagoons and ponds and attracts a great number of water birds in the winter. This was definitely the best place for bird photography, as many ducks were swimming close to the water’s edge and plenty of songbirds were flitting in the vegetation along the trails.

Unfortunately my iPhone’s directions stopped short of getting us there, and we continued on the road east for a good number of kilometers before we realized we were lost. Fortunately we discovered this little spot at the Wells Trailhead of the Wetlands Park Nature Preserve while looking for a place to turn around. It had a great view of the Las Vegas Wash, a natural channel that carries storm water, urban runoff, and reclaimed water from the Las Vegas Valley into Lake Mead. The channel was filled with ducks, though we also saw a Great Blue Heron and some unidentified gulls flying west.

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Las Vegas: A Trip to Red Rock Canyon

Western Bluebird

On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.

We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.

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Las Vegas in December: Sunset Park

American Coot

American Coot

Doran and I spent a week in Las Vegas from December 9-15, 2017 to see some shows and do some birding. We’d been planning this trip for a while, and I was excited because (a) I’ve never been to the American southwest before; and (b) I was only 19 species away from hitting 500 species on my life list. I felt I had a reasonably good chance; the target list I generated from eBird for Clark County during the month of December showed that there were 15 species with a frequency of more than 10%, and 37 species with a frequency greater than 1%. The top 15 included three birds on my “most wanted” list, namely, Cinnamon Teal, the only new duck species I could expect; Phainopepla, a desert bird I’d never heard of until one showed up in Brampton, ON in the winter of 2009; and Great Roadrunner, because I grew up watching the Bugs Bunny show and really wanted to see what one looked like in real life.
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