Some pics from a day in Texas

This blog was begun as a way to keep people in the Strathroy Area informed about the birds in this area.  However, since I now spend my winters in Texas, I thought I would share some words and pictures of a trip I took yesterday.  I went to Estero Llano Grande State Park.  This park is about a 30 minute drive from my place in the Rio Grande Valley.  It is a wonderful park that caters to birds and birders.

For the past two weeks, a Rose-throated Becard has been hanging out in the park.  Most often it is seen in and around this feeding area.


I took this picture of the Becard.  Not a very good picture.  But the bird is constantly on the move.  It was the best picture I could manage of this very beautiful bird.  It has sort of a blackish tuft of feathers on the head.  A light reddish line around the throat.  A white belly.  And a tan coloured back.


Along the trail leading to the visitor centre, I took this picture of a Long-billed Thrasher.  I also saw an Olive Sparrow along this trail, but I could not get a picture.


On my walk towards the back of the park, where the feeding station is located, I spotted an American Robin perched high on a snag.  I took this picture.  American Robins are a bit on the rare side in the Rio Grande Valley.  However, most winters, there are a few that stay in the park.  There was also a flock of Clay-coloured Thrush in the park.  They were feeding on figs in the fig tree.   They are related closely to American Robins.


Back beside the feeder area there is a large cactus.  This Northern Mockingbird kept his eye on me as I stood beside the cactus.


This hummingbird feeder, one of many in the park, is situated right beside the visitor centre.  This Ruby-throated Hummingbird made frequent visits to the feeder.


The visitor centre is situated adjacent to a small lake.  This body of water, one of several in the park, is full of wading birds, ducks and grebes.  he Least Grebe is a local bird in the valley.


These pictures are of a Blue-winged Teal and a Green-winged Teal.

On the way back home, I stopped to get a picture of the Mountain Bluebird that has picked this area to spend the winter.  Unusual.  First time in the 4 winters that I have spend here, anyway.


Right across the road from the Mountain Bluebird, there is a ditch.  These Roseate Spoonbills flew up out of the ditch while I was watching the bluebird.


A little closer to home here in the valley, I stopped to take this picture of a Ringed Kingfisher.  There are three species of Kingfisher resident here in the Rio Grande Valley.  Ringed, Belted, and Green.  I should also mention that, for three out of the last four years, an Amazon Kingfisher has made its winter home in the valley.


I hope you enjoyed this little travelogue of a day out birding here in the Rio Grande Valley.  I took these pictures with a little point and click camera.  The lighting was not the best.  Still, some of the pictures turned out okay.





Winter Finch Forecast – 2016/17

GENERAL FORECAST: Cone crops average poor in Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, but crops are generally good to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada and Alaska. The dividing line is roughly James Bay south along the Ontario-Quebec border. White-winged Crossbills and often Pine Siskins prefer to move east or west rather than go south in search of cone crops. Many crossbills and some siskins may have already relocated to northern Ontario and across the boreal forest to Yukon where spruce cone crops are abundant. Purple Finches in the East are currently moving south in numbers. See individual forecasts for other finches and further details.

NOTE: Many birds will have a difficult time finding natural food sources this winter in Southern Ontario and the Northeast.

INDIVIDUAL FORECASTS: Forecasts apply mainly to Ontario and adjacent provinces and states. Three irruptive non‐finch passerines whose movements are often linked to finches are also discussed. Follow finch wanderings this fall and winter on eBird.

PINE GROSBEAK: Most should stay in the north because native Mountain-ash berry crops are good to bumper (some poor areas) across the boreal forest. A few may wander to southern Ontario where they like European Mountain-ash berries and small ornamental crabapples. At feeders they prefer black oil sunflower seeds.

PURPLE FINCH: Eastern Purple Finches were moving in early September at the Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac in Quebec The poor seed crops on most coniferous and deciduous trees indicate that Purple Finches will leave northern breeding areas. Purples prefer black oil sunflower seeds at feeders.

RED CROSSBILL: A scattering of Red Crossbills will likely wander widely in the Northeast this winter. Listen and watch for them on large-coned ornamental pines and spruces. Red Crossbills comprise at least 10 “call types” in North America. Most types are impossible to identify without analyzing recordings of their flight calls. Matt Young (may6 at at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will identify types if you email him recordings.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: This crossbill irrupts south only in years of widespread cone crop failures. Many eastern crossbills have probably moved to northern Ontario and to abundant spruce cone crops in western Canada. However, expect some White-winged Crossbills to be scattered across southern Canada and the northeastern USA. Both crossbill species increasingly use feeders with black oil sunflower seeds when conifer seeds are scarce.

COMMON REDPOLL: Last fall and winter’s large irruptive southward flight was unexpectedly halted north of latitude 45 degrees by a bumper seed crop on Balsam Fir. If redpolls move south this year, they will likely continue to southern Canada and the northern states because birch seed crops are generally low across the Northeast. In redpoll flocks, check for larger and darker “Greater” Common Redpolls (subspecies rostrata) from Baffin Island (Nunavut) and Greenland. Redpolls prefer nyger seeds in silo feeders with or without perches.

HOARY REDPOLL: Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls. The “Southern” Hoary Redpoll (nominate subspecies exilipes) breeds south to northern Ontario and is the subspecies usually seen in southern Canada and northern USA. However, “Hornemann’s” Hoary Redpoll (nominate hornemanni) which was formerly considered a great rarity south of the tundra is now reported more often likely because its ID features are better known. See link #2 below for photos and identification marks of Common and Hoary Redpoll subspecies.

PINE SISKIN: Some will irrupt south because cone crops in the Northeast are generally poor. Siskins were moving south in mid-September at the Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac in Quebec. However, some eastern siskins have likely relocated to abundant spruce crops in western Canada. Siskins prefer nyger seeds in silo feeders. See link #4 which discusses siskin irruptions related to climate variability.

EVENING GROSBEAK: The Evening Grosbeak is the world’s most spectacular winter finch. Its breeding populations continue to increase in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick due to increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm. Watch for them in Algonquin Park, Adirondacks and northern New England. A few are likely at feeders in southern Ontario where they prefer black oil sunflower seeds.

THREE IRRUPTIVE PASSERINES: Movements of these three passerines are often linked to the boreal finches.

BLUE JAY: Expect a much larger than usual flight of jays from mid-September to mid-October along the north shorelines of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The acorn, beechnut, hazelnut crops were generally poor but variable in central and southern Ontario. Drought has damaged many seed crops.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH:  An early southward movement began in early summer and continues as this forecast is posted. This widespread movement is evidence of poor cone crops in the Northeast. It indicates that Purple Finches, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins are on the move too.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING: Very few Bohemians breed east of James Bay in Canada. Most Bohemians will likely stay in northern Ontario and western Canada because native Mountain-ash berry crops are good to bumper (some poor areas) across the boreal forest. In recent winters, however, Bohemians have been coming south regularly every winter possibly due to reliable annual crops of abundant Buckthorn (Rhamnus) berries. Watch for Pine Grosbeaks eating their favorite European Mountain‐ash berries and small ornamental crabapples.

WHERE TO SEE FINCHES: Algonquin Park is an exciting winter experience about a 3.5 hour drive north of Toronto. Most cone crops are poor (good on White Cedar) in the park so crossbills and siskins will be very scarce or absent. However, feeders at the Visitor Centre (km 43) should attract Common Redpolls (watch for Hoaries), Evening and Pine Grosbeaks. The Visitor Centre and restaurant are open weekends in winter. On winter weekdays, the facility is open, but with limited services (no restaurant, but snacks and drinks are available for purchase). Birders can call ahead to make arrangements to view feeders on weekdays by phoning 613-637-2828. The bookstore has one of the best selections of natural history books anywhere. Be sure to get Birds of Algonquin Park (2012) by retired park naturalist Ron Tozer. It is one of the finest regional bird books ever published. The nearby Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5 and Opeongo Road at km 44.5 are the best spots for finches and other species such as Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker.

#1. Finch Facts, Seed Crops and Irruptions
#2. Subspecies of Common and Hoary Redpolls – ID Tips and Photos
#3. Interview with Ron Pittaway in OFO News 34(1):1-3, 2016
#4. Climatic dipoles drive two principal modes of North American boreal bird irruption
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and the many birders/naturalists whose tree seed reports allow me to make annual forecasts: Alexandre Anctil (Chibougamau, Quebec), Christian Artuso (Manitoba), Dennis Barry (Durham Region and Kawartha Lakes), Angus Baptiste (Grand lac Victoria, Quebec), Eleanor Beagan (Prince Edward Island), Peter Burke, (Georgian Bay, Ontario), Joan Collins (Adirondacks and northern New York State), Pascal Cote (Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac, Quebec), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario), Charity Dobbs (Ontario Tree Seed Plant), Carolle Eady (Dryden, Ontario), Cameron Eckert (Southern Yukon), Dave Elder (Atikokan, Ontario), Bruce Falls (Brodie Club, Toronto), Walter Fisher (Rosetta McClain Gardens Raptor Watch, Toronto), Marcel Gahbauer (Eastern Ontario), Terry Gauthier (PEI), Michel Gosselin (Canadian Museum of Nature), David Govatski (New Hampshire and Vermont), Leo Heyens (Kenora, Ontario), Tyler Hoar (Southern Ontario), Kris Ito (French River, Ontario), Jean Iron (James Bay and Northeastern Ontario), Hilde Johansen (Chibougamau, Quebec), Gordon Kayahara (Timmins, ON), Dan McAskill (PEI), Bruce Mactavish (St. John’s, Newfoundland), David McCorquodale (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia), Stacy McNulty (Adirondacks NY), Brian Naylor (Nipissing District, Ontario), Stephen O’Donnell (Parry Sound District), Justin Peter (Algonquin Park, Ontario, Gatineau Park, Quebec), Fred Pinto (Nipissing District, Ontario), Brian Ratcliff (Thunder Bay District ON), Rosamund and Jim Pojar (Central British Columbia), Harvey and Brenda Schmidt (Creighton, Saskatchewan), Michael Runtz, (Algonquin Park), Don Sutherland (Southern James Bay and Nova Scotia), Doug Tate (Northwest Territories), Ron Tozer (Algonquin Park ), Declan Troy (Alaska), Mike Turner (Haliburton Highlands, Ontario), Richard Welsman (Rosetta McClain Gardens, Toronto), the late Alan Wormington (Point Pelee, Ontario), Matt Young (New York State). Jean Iron made many helpful comments and hosts the forecast on her website.
Ron Pittaway
Ontario Field Ornithologists
Toronto, Ontario
22 September 2016


The mail person brought me a present last week.  The latest edition of LIVING BIRD arrived.  It is the publication of the Cornel Lab of Ornithology.  It is published quarterly.  I find the article fun to read and very informative.  I even enjoy reading the ads. They are almost all ads for areas promoting their town or vicinity as a birding destination.  The majority are locations in the United States, but some are beckoning from places throughout the world, such as Costa Rica, Trinidad, Africa, etc.

Hey…..a fella can dream, can’t he?

Snowy Owl in SW Ontario – IN JUNE

Last week I heard about a Snowy Owl sighting in the Strathroy area, my stomping ground.  This is a very unusual sighting due to the time of the year.  Snowy Owls should be nesting in the arctic right about now.  I went for a drive to see if I could spot the owl.  No luck.

Then today, there was a report of the Snowy Owl being seen again.  I decided to go out and have another look.  This time, in addition to my binoculars, I also grabbed my camera.  I drove around to the area in question (near Highway 402 and the Kerwood Road intersection).  This time I saw it.  It was on the ground back off from the highway, in the middle of a field.  The owl saw me as I walked along the fence line, getting closer, but noy so close as to disturb it.  I did not cross over the fence and go into the field, but stayed on the highway side of the fence.  The field in question contains about 7 or 8 wind turbines.  I guess the turbines are not bothering it because it has remained in the same area for at least a week.

This is a picture I took this afternoon.



Our winter home in Texas

For the past three winters we have stayed in Texas.  Texas is a great area for birding.  Our place is a five minute drive from the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Centre.  Here is a short video clip about the centre.  This will just wet your whistle, so to speak, about birding in that area.

some back roads birding

On Monday morning, I met up with Mary Lou Kightly at the Strathroy Dog Park.  We planned on meeting there, as she was going to be walking her dog, Holly.  She grabbed her binoculars and, along with Holly, they boarded my van and off we went.

There has been talk, over the past week, of sightings of Dickcissels in southwestern Ontario.  Some of these sightings have been in south-west Middlesex County.  It seems to me that Dickcissels move into southwestern Ontario almost every year.  But some years, their numbers seem a little greater.  Not sure if this will be one of those years, but they are here now.

We we drove out Calvert from Strathroy, heading southwest.  We crossed Melbourne Road and then Thames Road.  The next road we came to was County Road #6, Kerwood Road and turned right onto Kerwood Road.  There is a fairly large shrubby field on your left as you drive north west along there.  I have seen Dickcissel in this field before, and also Upland Sandpiper.  But on Monday, all Mary Lou and could find in this field, besides grackles, European Starlings and blackbirds, were Bobolinks.  We saw a few fluttering in the tall grass quite a way back from the road.  The occasional Bobolink perched on a fence post, giving us pretty good views.

As we drove along Kerwood Road, we turned left onto the first road we came to, Winter Drive.  We continued on Winter Drive, crossing Napier Road.  About 1/2 kilometer past Napier Road, we saw a pile of black dirt on our right.  We rolled down the windows and listened carefully as we slowly crept along.  Not far past that pile of dirt, we heard the singing of at least two Dickcissels.  We stopped and one of the songsters flew in close-by and landed on some weeds and provided us with quite the concert.  This is a beautiful bird.

After a while, we turned around and headed back to Napier Road, where we turned right.  We headed down Napier Road, past a couple of interesting looking farm houses.  Eventually, we came to a wooded (mostly spruce) field on our left.  I have often found Clay-coloured Sparrow here.  Their buzzy two-note song carries and they can be located by listening for it.  Unfortunately, we did not hear it on Monday.  We did, however, hear and see Grasshopper, Song, Savannah and Field Sparrow here.  Also, Eastern Kingbird and Indigo Bunting.

A little further on, before Napier Road meets up with Calvert, a stream crosses Napier.  Stopping at this bridge can be rewarding as there are often birds to be seen at this point.

We turned left onto Calvert and then right onto McArthur.  McArthur is another interesting road.  Fields on either side can be productive.  Continuing on McArthur, past Walker’s Drive, there is a field that is excellent for finding more Bobolinks, meadowlarks (Western Meadowlarks have been found along here) and Upland Sandpiper nests in this area.  Once, I heard and saw a Northern Bobwhite here.  But I am sure it was probably an escapee from a game farm.

So if you want to see some birds, why not take a drive in the country.  Mary Lou and I did, and we were not disappointed.


Dickcissels are being reported

I have been hearing about sightings of Dickcissel in southwestern Ontario.  Some of the reports are fairly close to Strathroy.