OMG, I’ve Never Seen It Like This Before!

Let’s get this straight; the inbound migration in Spring is very different from the outbound Fall migration.

In May we spent a lot of time at Point Pelee watching the little Warblers coming in. We had a few really great days, but we actually had to wander around looking for all the different birds, most of the time.

This is Fall, and we are spending a lot of our time at Holiday Beach, not only during the couple of weekends for the Hawk Festival, but during the rest of September and October, and will carry on through November.

Sure, some Warblers are being seen, but not in the numbers from May.

What’s really keeping us going out, are the various types of Raptors, the Turkey Vultures, and Blue Jays.

These guys are just passing through, but it’s a lot easier to find them than the little guys, considering they are travelling through in massive groups, or Kettles. We have observed a few thousand Broad-Winged Hawks going through on one day. Then, just a few days ago, I looked out our back door, and noticed lines and lines of Turkey Vultures going by. I grabbed my camera, ran outside and looked off to the south and saw more and more coming through.

I made a quick decision and hopped into the car and found myself at the Hawk Tower, and helped to observe and count the various birds that flew by. Vultures, Blue Jays, Kestrels, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Harriers, a Peregrine Falcon, a Merlin, and lots of Starlings. One of our resident Eagles and Ospreys even buzzed the tower

And on October 8, we heard that there were over 55,000 Blue Jays counted going past Holiday Beach. We couldn’t be there to see it, but we did observe a lot of Jays going upriver from our back yard.

So now, the majority of Turkey Vultures appear to have migrated out, but some still hang around, and believe it or not, the Jays are still passing through.

One day, my lady and I were at the tower, and one of the Hawk Banding members came by with a Merlin. When asked if anyone wanted to adopt it, my lady quickly said that she would. The gentleman said that it would scream at her when they took it out of the protective covering, but the bird sat nice and quiet the whole time my lady held it, as we all took photos. As soon as she released it, it flew into a nearby tree and promptly told us all off.

This is one of the special times that we looked forward to when we decided to move to our little piece of heaven. Last year when we came down, we missed the outbound Monarch Butterflies as they pushed through Pelee, and again this year we haven’t been there at the right time (about 1000 were roosting on a tree near the tip a couple evenings ago, but we couldn’t make it). We did manage to see a small number resting on top of a tree one day, took a few photos, watched one that had a tag on it, and when we looked back to the group, they were all gone. Just like that.

A handful of migrating Monarch Butterflies

None the less, we have so much going on around here, it’s difficult to decide where to go and when. We might be in one place, and whatever might pass through somewhere else. Luck of the draw, but so much fun anyway.

Remember, we have an election coming up, and the polls are open pretty late. Be sure to get out and vote.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to click follow if you haven’t already.

Take care till next time.

Forgive us, for we have SINNED

It’s been a really busy year for us and we both felt we needed a bit of a rest, so about a week ago we figured, hey, let’s go away somewhere.

We discussed various options, including some all-in vacations, but neither of us are beach people, and we don’t normally stay in one place when we go away, so it took a couple of days before we figured out where to go.

Perhaps you have already picked up on our destination, based on the title of this little entry.

Yup, we ended up going to Sin City – Las Vegas Nevada. Oh yeah, home of all kinds of debauchery, of which we didn’t get involved with. I know, boring people.

So why there?

We always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon (well, I did anyway and my lady thought this would be a good idea), but for some reason we found hotels in Arizona to be a bit more expensive, and the flights just didn’t work in our favour time-wise. So, we found some deals by staying at a hotel just off the main strip, and ended up flying out of Detroit. Saved ourselves a good chunk of money that way.

Next thing was to book trips to the Grand Canyon, and another one for Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon. Of course all of these are in Arizona, so we had to take a bus tour to get to them. Believe it or not, it still worked out cheaper than staying in Arizona. Plus I didn’t want to do the driving.

First day, we arrived mid-morning, and went to the hotel to drop off our bags. Fortunately, a room was available for us, so we got in early. Hopped on the local bus and wandered to the main strip. Visited the Eiffel Tower, watched the water show at the Bellagio, wandered a few stores, got something to eat and went back to the hotel. We were tired and had to get up nice and early to catch the ride to the Grand Canyon.

We’re suckers for a helicopter ride, and figured we’re only there once, so when they asked if anyone wanted to upgrade, we were in.

After driving through the Mohave Desert for quite a while, we finally arrived at our destination. We caught the helicopter for our 25 minute ride, and had a very emotional experience as we flew along the plateau, and have the land fall off beneath us, with the South End of the Grand Canyon spread out all around us. Absolutely breathtaking.

Back on land we caught up with the rest of our group and visited a few of the lookout points, and we left very satisfied. Even got to see some of the resident Elk herd near the gate entrance.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Next morning was just as early. Up and on our way by 5:30 for our 5 hour drive to Page Arizona, home to both Horseshoe Bend, and Lower (as well as Upper) Antelope Canyon.

Horseshoe Bend

This time there was no need to do the helicopter, as you get great views of the bend from the lookout point, and Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that you need to walk through to get the best experience. Horseshoe Bend is part of the Grand Canyon, and is on Federal park land, but the canyon is on Navajo land, and they run the show there. They provide excellent guides who will help you find the best settings for your camera, and are wonderful at helping out if you are just taking cell phone photos.

On the long drive back home we were allowed to sit in the front seat of the bus, so I was able to get some photos through the front windows as well as the side.

Next day was our day to stay in town. We ended up sitting through a timeshare presentation, so we received some vouchers for food, gambling, and a show. The food was blasé, the gambling was horrible (just did the slots) and Terry Fator put on a good show.

When we got out of the show we were just in time to see the Volcano at the Mirage do its eruption, then once again back to the hotel for an early morning alarm.

Volcano show at the Mirage

Now it’s back to our day to day goings on. Sadly, we missed some really good birding days while we were gone, and we are hoping there might still be some around.

So, now you know how we Sinned, and hope you will forgive us.

 At least this time we didn’t buy a new house.

Thanks for reading.

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Talk again soon. Bye for now.

Has it really been a month already?

I guess every month might be the new norm for getting posts out.

It’s going to be hard to try to catch up nowadays.

The Tall Ships made their way through a few weeks ago. We had a small number of them in Kingsville for the weekend. Had a chance to go out and see them. I’m definitely not a sailor, but there’s something about the smell of the canvas sails, the strength of the wooden masts, and the thought of being out on the ocean travelling to new lands, that makes visiting the ships an enjoyable experience.

We had a friend down with us recently and showed her around our little slice of paradise. First night she arrived, we boogied on over to the Tecumseh Corn Festival. Nice little country fair. Enjoyed some corn on the cob, watched some people try to hang by their arms for 2 minutes to win a prize. Sadly nobody could. Checked out the vendors, wandered the midway and made our way back home. Next morning, it was off to some of our local birding sites. She was very lucky to have been able to see some of our feathered friends; Eagle, Ospreys, Green Heron, Snowy Egrets, and a rare Black Bellied Whistling Duck.

Soon we were on our way to Point Pelee. Took the tram to the tip and walked the path to the most southern end of mainland Canada. As we started back to the tram stop, we found ourselves in the middle of hundreds of dragonflies, of all sizes and colours. A couple allowed me to take their photos, but most of the time they just buzzed around all over the place.

Too soon, our friend had to return home, but not before visiting Fort Malden for the Arts by the River in Amherstburg. We spent a couple hours wandering through the vendors. It’s quite a large event, especially for a small town, and even though we hadn’t planned on spending any money, I ended up making a couple of purchases.

The following week, my lady and I went to the Harrow Fair. This seemed bigger than the Corn Fest, and offered much more to see. Of course there’s the midway, vendors and food, but we spent a fair time wandering through the buildings looking at all the contests, including; quilting, baking, photography, livestock and vegetables. And let’s not forget the Tractor Pull.

Harrow Fair Tractor Pull

As it turns out, the beginning of September is also the start of the Raptor Watch at Holiday Beach. Even though the Hawk Festival happens on the 14-15 and 21-22 weekends, the counting has already started. We have been to the tower a number of days already and have learned quite a bit about how to identify various raptors (not the Toronto Raptors, or the dinosaur). We all watch the sky for any movement, and even though it is a Raptor Watch, anything that seems to be migrating gets counted. Butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, various warblers, starlings, ducks, geese, swans, and so on, along with the kestrel, falcon, merlin, red-tail hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, vulture, harrier, osprey (quite a few locals who aren’t moving out yet) and eagles (also not moving out yet), plus many more.

Our backyard birds are changing as well. The House Wren is gone, but we have seen and heard the Carolina Wren once in a while. The Hummingbirds have left and the Orioles were only back for a very short time. The Starlings are starting to gather in the trees, and we have seen flocks moving through the fields. The Egret roost just a couple of minutes’ walk away is filling up each evening, the Blue Jays are slowly moving in and will be here for a couple of weeks, before they too go quiet.

Egret Roost

Soon, the season will change again, and if I am really lucky, or just diligent, I can start moving the pace of this blog up a bit, depending on what’s happening. But based on what I see on the Events Calendar, we are going to be pretty busy right through Christmas.

By the way, if you are in Amherstburg during September 14-15 or 21-22, try to stop by the Festival of Hawks at Holiday Beach. And on the weekend of September 27-29 we have The Uncommon Festival, Museum Ghost Tours, and the Essex County War of 1812. Not far down the road is the 40th Anniversary of the Ruthven Apple Festival on the 28-29, and what’s even better is that admission is FREE.

Thanks for reading and I’m glad you made it this far.

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Well, so much for weekly blogs.

But hey, it’s only been a few weeks since the last one, right?

Gotta admit, Summer is busy.

We went to Ohio for a few days, ended up being in the middle of a heat wave, and yes, it was too hot. I hate using the car AC, but we really needed it then.

Went out to the car in the morning, and saw this little baby parked nearby. Reminded us of when our son was younger and took similar photos. Can’t help humming the jingle every time I see this.

Oh I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener …

We spent a day at the Columbus Zoo. Funny thing is we didn’t really want to go back to a zoo after seeing animals in their own environment during our travels. But here we are at the Columbus Zoo, during a heat wave, and looking at all the animals. Let’s just say that the midday sun, in the middle of a heat wave, when the animals just want to rest somewhere cool, is not conducive to any good action photos. None-the-less, we were able to grab a few of the following.

Just for information, two Bonobos Monkeys were en-route to the Columbus Zoo during 9/11. Although we didn’t get a chance to see them as they were in the back and not on display at the time, we did see one of Unga’s children. Gander, named after the city that provided a home for his mother during the airspace shutdown of 9/11.

On our way home, we found some short term relief from the heat, by way of the Ohio Caverns. They offered a combo pack of 2 tours for a reduced price, and we figured why not. The initial tour is a history based tour into the caverns, explaining how it was found, cleared out of mud, damaged by graffiti, or by souvenir collectors, and preservation techniques. The second tour shows more of the real beauty, and if you only go for 1 tour, this is the one to do.  It remains a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the cavern and each tour is about 50 minutes long. Caution if you plan on taking pictures, flash is allowed, but no additional equipment such as monopod or tripod is permitted, and you can’t rest against the wall, so everything is handheld.

After returning home, life just seemed to catch up and pull us along at blinding speeds.

I did a slideshow presentation of one of our trips, to a wonderful group of people where my lady volunteers. This was my second time there and thankfully they are asking for more. Even though the presentation is only 1 hour, it takes such a long time to put it all together and come up with the condensed story.

Amherstburg has been having an annual car show for some time now, and we spent a few hours walking around there. Over 700 classic and antique cars were being shown by people from all across the county, and as far away as Florida.

While we were wandering the streets during the show, we met up briefly with former East York Mayor, MPP Beaches-East York, and Toronto City Councilor, Michael Prue. He moved from Toronto a few years ago, and is now a councilor for our area down here. Small world.

A couple of our friends visited us over the past weekend, and after the initial shock of being out so far in the country, they quickly came to understand why we live here. The people are so nice, the area is fantastic for birding, the weather is generally comfortable due to the proximity of both the Detroit River and Lake Erie, and the town is big enough to have most of the amenities that we need.

It was really nice that when we were showing our friends around, we found a few deer wandering in a field, and even a Green Heron that came to check us out. First one we have seen.

And now for an update on our local birds. The House Wren seems to have resigned himself to the fact that the ladies are not interested. He is still here, but his call is not as happy as before, and he’s not hanging around the nest that much. Our little hummingbirds have successfully brought us at least 2 young ones. We have seen a small male and female coming to the feeder, at times with the adults flittering nearby. The Orioles had left for a little while, but appear to be on their way back through. One male Oriole came to the Hummy feeder last weekend, and we had to quickly put out some food for them.

We had a really special sighting last week. We were up around dawn and went for a little drive, and just a few hundred yards away from our house, we saw about 10 Night Herons sitting it the trees. I had forgotten my camera, and by the time I turned around and came back, most had already left. We’ve gone back out a few times since, but haven’t seen them there again. They may be on their way back out early.

Thanks for reading and hope you made it this far.

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And yes, I’ll try to get them out a bit more regularly.

Slowly Catching Up

The Fish flies have finally left us, and now we have another special treat when we go out at night.
Fire Flies, or Lightning Bugs, are all over the place. For some reason these little beetles make me happy. It could be because you don’t see them in the big city due to the lighting, and even when you are out in the countryside, they may not show up in your area. We were taking an evening drive a few days ago, and first noticed flickering lights out in the fields. A couple days later and it was almost like going warp speed in space and having all the stars whiz by. Unfortunately a few hit the windshield and their light slowly went out.

The lights of the fireflies

We have heard about flooding all over the place, and our area isn’t immune to it. The Detroit River is high enough to bury docks. Lake Erie has eaten away at the shoreline of Holiday Beach and the trails there are flooded out, so the only place to go walking now is along the roadways, and the Conservation Area has closed the beach. Hopefully the water will go down before the Festival of Hawks near the end of September. In Windsor the Lakeview Marina is closed for the year while they install a new floating dock system. This marina is where we go in the winter to watch all the Eagles over at Peche Island.

I have been going through more of my photos, and found one that I meant to share before. We had a Snowy Owl sitting in a corn field down near Point Pelee back at the end of April. It was pretty far out in the field, so getting a nice clean photo was not really an option. Hopefully we have better luck next year.

Snowy Owl in the corn field

 As mentioned before, we spent a fair bit of May down at Point Pelee and other birding sights in the county, and took thousands of photos. May 9 in particular was outstanding. A bit of backstory first. On May 8 we had a couple things to do in the morning, alright, we actually slept in a bit longer, and we didn’t arrive at Pelee until after 10. By that time all of the southern parking lots were filled, and we had to park about half way down and take a shuttle to the main visitor centre. We figured the next day we would get our butts out of bed and get down there at a good time.

Come the morning of May 9 and we are up nice and early, arriving at the tip by 6:30. Of course there are already hundreds of people there, so we stood near a couple of gentlemen that we knew from other outings, and listened as they pointed out all the different birds flying in and out from the tip. It got to the point where we truly didn’t know where to look, there were so many birds. It was amazing. Birds were flying in and out in what was being called a “reverse migration”. Others suggested they were orienting themselves with the coast after flying through the night. Didn’t matter to us what it was called, we were just giddy with what was happening.

We stayed at the tip for about 6 hours that day, and talked with some people who said that they had been coming every year and had never seen it like this in over 30, 40 or 50 years. We were floored to think that this was really our first true year of birding (stage 3 – see earlier blog post), and we were experiencing this spectacle.

Strange to think that we are almost in the middle of July and I am still working on photos from May.

Perhaps I need to stop being so trigger happy. Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Mind you, the birds have mostly moved on and the trees are nice and green, so even if they were here it’s getting harder to see them.

Hope you are enjoying seeing the photos and reading the stories as much as I enjoy putting this all together for you.

By the way, I noticed that there were some ads showing up on the site. I don’t know how they are getting there, but please ignore them.

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Thanks

Birds, Bees and Bugs

This year we were fortunate to be able to visit Point Pelee during the Festival of Birds, and we met up with our friends Damian and Doug who provided us with most of our identifications of the over 125 species that we spotted. Once again, I took far too many photos, and it is taking quite a while to go through them all and select the “best of the best”. Here are a few, but there will be a lot more to come in the near future.

Our Ruby Throated Hummingbird still visits our backyard feeder, and up until last week, the Baltimore Orioles were making sure we kept them fed as well. It looks like the Orioles have moved along now. And how’s this for something funny, during the inbound migration, I spent days trying to take a decent photo of a House Wren, but all they wanted to do was scurry around the leaf litter and undergrowth on the ground, and then fly away as soon as the camera would focus. I may have a good shot in there somewhere. Then a few weeks ago, I heard some sweet little “Whirreee – poop poop poop – peep peep” in the tree in the neighbour’s yard behind our fence. Then, as I watched, a House Wren popped down to the deck, found a little bit of fluff, grabbed it, and flew into a birdhouse that we put up on the fence. I was dancing with excitement. Not only was our birdhouse being occupied, IT WAS A HOUSE WREN! There have been a few ladies checking it out, but so far it doesn’t look like it met their standards. He is still in the tree, calling for the ladies, and occasionally tidying up the little love nest. Good luck to him.

One little fella that we really don’t want hanging around, is a Carpenter Bee. At first I thought it was a Honeybee, so I left it alone, until I found some wood shavings under our steps, and saw the bee make its way into a hole under the stair. Did some quick reading up, and sure enough there is a difference in the Honeybee, and the Carpenter bee. Looks like I have to make the bee a little uncomfortable about moving in, but I might not be able to evict it until the fall.

When we came to Leamington a few years back during the Canada Day weekend we were introduced, rather rudely I might say, to the common Fish Fly. At night, they would fly in from the waters of Lake Erie, and buzz around anything that a) moved, b) didn’t move, c) was lit up, d) wasn’t lit up, e) breathed. We woke up in the morning and the hotel was covered in them. The cars were covered, the roads were covered, and the grass was alive with them. Millions upon Millions of them. And when you walk on them they crunch and emit the smell of rotting fish. Imagine the smell in town as people try to go about their business, driving over them, walking on them, cleaning them off the signs and buildings everywhere. Our neighbour told us when they lived in Belle River they had to use snow plows to get them off the street.

Well, this year isn’t too bad in Amherstburg. Sure, we have them, but nothing like Leamington a couple years ago.

On the other hand, we were in Kingsville (just west of Leamington) on Saturday and found some areas that were like a carpet of bugs.

These bugs are at the end-of-life stage, and the only thing they are interested in is mating. They swarm around looking to hook up, then go off to the nearest streetlamp, neon sign, light coloured car / house / building / person, to wait to die. They live for 24 – 72 hours, and don’t even eat. In fact, they don’t have a mouth, so other than being a nuisance, they won’t bite you.

After a couple of weeks, they will be gone, and we wait for it all to happen again next year.

Welcome to Summer and Happy Canada Day.

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Birding 101

A quick lesson in Birding for Beginners, by a Beginner.

Any time you look outside you see them. Flitting about from tree to tree, zipping in front of your car as you drive down the road, pooping on your window or splattering on the paint, waking you up in the morning with their cacophony, some with a sweet voice, some with a raucous call. Some you recognize, like the Robin, or the Red Wing Blackbird, or even the dreaded Pigeon.

But we have found out that there are many that fly by, and show off their pretty colours, and we have no knowledge of who they are. Sadly many of us don’t even care to find out.

I used to be one of those people who looked out the window and saw all the pretty birds, but then, they were just birds.

Until we got a backyard bird feeder. Suddenly it was “Wow that was pretty, I wonder what it was?”. They actually looked so nice I started to photograph them. Soon, there was another, then another, and more types came to see us, and fatten up on our food. Eventually, we had to ask at a store, what was the best food for these guys (showing the pictures), and of course, each one liked something different. Oh, and a different feeder.

Be careful, (heavy sigh) backyard bird feeding can get kind of expensive.

Once you have that little interest tugging at your mind, it’s time to go someplace where you might find more exotic birds. A zoo is a good start. Or the Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls Ontario. Bring your camera and try to get your best shots.

Of course, you can always go to a nearby park and see what comes out there. It’s cheaper too.

So who knew Birding was a thing? Surprisingly, it is something enjoyed by millions of people around the world, and every year thousands of people make their way to Point Pelee in Southwestern Ontario during the Festival of Birds in May, just to see the birds.

I feel there are 5 steps to becoming a true Birder.

1 – Go out to see the pretty birds, just for the hell of it.

2 – See the birds and take pictures home because they are pretty.

3 – Get serious enough to tag along a few extra kilograms of camera equipment, including but not limited to – multiple zoom lenses or multiple cameras with different lenses, tripods / monopods, flash heads with modifiers, video cameras and sound equipment, and so on.

For some reason, my wife thinks I fall into the 3rd type.

 4 – Study the birds, know their calls, know how they fly, where they will rest, if they are resident or just migrating through. Get up before the crack of dawn to be sure you are where the birds should be, wait in blinds so the birds will come close to you, for that perfect photo to submit to magazines, or online, or just to fill your computer with another bird photo.

5 – You don’t need to take photos anymore. You have all the best shots, and can identify any bird you see. Sometimes you would have a scope with a nice long viewing reach so you can see miles away. Other times you might just be out to record which bird you saw at what time and where. Here, a pad of paper and pen is enough.

These are the real pros. If you want to learn about what bird you are seeing, hang out near them. Especially the nice ones who don’t mind the newbie hanging around (thanks to all who have let us hang out).

Yes, I still consider myself a beginner. I hang around people that know their birds, and I try to sponge as much information from them as possible. Will I ever be good enough to get to step 5? Maybe over time, but I’m not in a hurry. Once I can’t carry the extra weight of cameras, tripods, binoculars, thermos of tea, pockets full of snacks, and an extra sweater or jacket, well, we will see.

Now it’s your turn. Go outside, forget about the Alfred Hitchcock movie, and check out the birds. It can be pretty Cheep, at least in step 1 and 2.

Till next time, and don’t forget to Follow me so you can get updates automatically.

Thanks for reading.

Screech Owl being harassed by birds during the Festival of Birds at Point Pelee