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Big Year 2022


Welcome to my Big Year Blog. Please see below for my various blogs in 2022 which shares stories and photos about my quest to see and photograph 300 Ontario Birds during 2022. Enjoy!

Final Big Year Blog

December 31, 2022

Wow! I can’t believe that the Big Year is over! This is my final blog of 2022 and I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my blog and share my journey with me. I started a list of all the people who have supported me this year and I quickly filled a page with names so I hesitate to list them all here and run the risk of missing someone who helped me find an important bird. There were those of you who would call or text to let me know of a rare bird or one they knew I still needed, there were others who would encourage me when I was a bit down after missing out on a bird and there were those friends and family members who would understand when I would bail on a dinner date or someone’s birthday to go chasing birds. A big thanks to all of you!!

There are two people that do deserve a special thank you: Diane Weiler and my husband, Jim Nagy.

Diane and I set off on this journey together. On January 12, after an extremely successful birding day that included three Ontario rarities, we declared ourselves The Beak Seekers, ordered business cards, started our blogs and set a goal to see and photograph 300 birds in Ontario in 2022. We both far exceeded our expectations and ended up as the top two female eBirders on the Top 100 list for Ontario. I was in fifth position with 335 birds and Diane was in sixth with 333 birds. We enjoyed many hours birding, sharing new experiences, and celebrating our successes with lots of wine! Thank you Diane for a great year!

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Jim was my biggest fan and I absolutely could not have done this without him.

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From our first birding hike on January 1 to our last mini road trip around London on December 31, Jim encouraged me to keep going out looking for that next bird. As an honorary Beak Seeker, he would drive Diane and I all over the province and help us find the birds. He has become an excellent spotter and unknowingly, he has also become a birder along the way :-)

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Highlights of My Big Birding Year:

  • Reaching the first milestone of 100 birds on January 23rd (Little Gull)
  • Finding my first OBRC ABA rarity: Barnacle Goose on April 10 (scope photo)
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  • Finding a Great Gray Owl along the side of the road (April 11)
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  • Travelling to Rainy River with Diane, Jim, Jeff Skevington and Vince Fryson.
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  • We learned a lot from Jeff and Vince about birding by car and how to find the absolutely worst roads in Ontario to go birding on!
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  • In Rainy River, we met a lot of great people and found a lot of great birds too!
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  • Hitting 300 on June 15 (Kirtland’s Warbler). I was disappointed because I only saw the bird for a few seconds and missed getting a photo but fortunately, my sister and I went back a week later and I was able to get my photograph.
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  • Finding so many other cool things along the way: bears, moose, foxes, otters, flowers, great parks, hiking trails, and so much more!
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Final Stats:

  • Total # of Birds Recorded: 335 (334 seen and/or heard and 1 heard only)
  • Total # of Birds Photographed: 332 (although some of them are not the greatest of photographs :-)
  • Total # of eBird Checklists completed: 753
  • Final Standing on eBird Top 100 List: #5 (top female)

This truly has been a wonderful, memorable year for me. It was very hectic at times, lots of ups and downs but overall a great year. I learned so much, met so many wonderful people, travelled to many new places in Ontario and ended up with lots of great photographs and memories.

Thank you to everyone who has shared this journey with me, liked and made comments on my Facebook page and who have followed my blog.

Happy New Year!

Susan

Catching Up

December 18, 2022

When we got home from Africa, I had fallen way behind my goal to finish in the top 5 eBirders in Ontario for 2022 and I knew that I had a lot of work to do to catch up.

The next five weeks proved to be very busy as we travelled across Ontario chasing rarities. We went as far west as the Manitoba border, as far east as the Quebec border, north to Dryden (near Thunder Bay) and south to Windsor. In between birds, Jim and I were busy trying to get the house cleaned up and decorated for Christmas since we are hosting Christmas this year for our families.

Happily the birds cooperated and we were fortunate enough to find quite a few rarities on our travels. Here are a few of them:

Spotted Towhee

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Bullock’s Oriole

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Tropical Kingbird

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Purple Gallinule

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I was still hoping to pick up a few late migrants that I missed while we were away but the chances were getting slimmer as we moved further into December. Last weekend, we planned to go to Amherst Island and Wolfe Island with the slim hope of picking up a Northern Goshawk or Gyrfalcon flying by but, as often happens in the birding world, our plans were changed on the fly.

The winds were good for Van Wagner’s Beach in Hamilton Harbour so we stopped there on our way hoping against hope to find a late Jaeger or a Northern Gannet. Thankfully there was another birder there when we arrived. It is always nice to have an extra pair of eyes. It was freezing cold and the strong winds blowing in our faces made lake watching very unpleasant but birding in a big year is not always just about having fun. We were barely there an hour when Markus started yelling Pomarine Jaeger!! I was scoping out far into the lake and meanwhile, the jaeger was flying close into shore. Thank you Markus!

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Right after we saw the Jaegar, we received a message that a Dovekie had been seen and photographed in Ashbridges Bay Park in Toronto - right across the lake from where we were standing. Another decision: stay and look for more rarities or drive to Toronto and hope that the Dovekie would stay put. We decided to stick around a while but then we received another message that the Dovekie was being seen again so off we went. A little over an hour later, we arrived at Ashbridges only to hear that the bird had flown off towards Hamilton. Darn! This was a huge bird for Ontario listers and there were birders coming from far and wide so that they could see this cute little bird and also add it to their Ontario list. As we waited and scanned the shore, we had a nice time chatting to fellow birders and also photographing a beautiful Harlequin Duck.

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Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before someone shouted that they had found the Dovekie. Yay!! The tiny little penguin-type bird gave us great looks as it saw and dove very close to the shoreline. #335. So exciting! it was a really fun day as everyone was happy for the opportunity to see the Dovekie.

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As it wasn’t too late yet, we decided to continue with our original plan to go to Amherst Island. We just got past Belleville when we heard about a probable Slaty-backed Gull in Niagara Falls. Another tough decision! As this was a more likely bird to get and Amherst Island was just a fishing expedition, we turned around and went to Niagara. Traffic through Toronto slowed us down and it was too dark to look when we arrived, so we went back early in the morning and spent many hours trying to track it down. We were lucky to meet up with a fellow birder who is way more experienced that we are and she helped us scan up and down the Niagara River but with no luck this time. It was still a good day though as I learned a ton about gulls (thanks Jean!) so all was not lost!

It is now a week later - no new birds but we are once again going to try Amherst Island and Wolfe Island to see what we can find. Wish me luck!

Break from the Big Year

November 12, 2022

Since October 1 when I saw the Pacific Loon in Barrie, I have only added 3 more birds to my Ontario bird list but overall, I have added many more than that to my World list. Jim and I spent a month in Africa visiting Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. While there, I recorded 163 species, many of the them lifers for me.

It was really like three unique separate vacations. We spent 10 days travelling through Namibia with highlights including visiting the sand dunes at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, the diamond mines and ghost town in Kolmanskop and the quiver trees at Keetmanshoop. Of course, in between I was always trying to identify the birds that we saw. We had an excellent guide and wonderful accommodations along the way. The following photos are just a glimpse into this part of our trip.

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Part two of our vacation was a photographic safari in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Temperatures ranged from a wind chill of approximately 5 degrees first thing in the morning to a high of 45 later in the afternoon! It certainly made deciding what to wear a challenge. Most days, we were up at 4:30 to make sure we were out for sunrise on our morning safari. We would be out for a good 5 hours or so before coming back for brunch, a shower and some time to download and backup photos and recharge our batteries. Most day we would head back out at 3:30 until after sundown so we always were taking advantage of the coolest parts of the day and the best lighting for photographs. We made new friends, connected with old friends, learned a lot from our leader, award-winning wildlife photographer, Hannes Lochner and overall, had an amazing experience.

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Finally, we ended up in Cape Town and just played tourist for a week, visiting Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, a winery of course, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Hermanus for whale watching and a couple of other awesome birding spots. It was more relaxing and a nice way to wind up the month.

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My plan is to update the travel page on my website over the next year with my favourite photos. It will be difficult trying to select them out of the 28,000 photos I took on this trip!

We arrived home on Tuesday evening after approximately 30 hours of travelling but then it was back to business - I needed to start catching up on my Big Year. I definitely missed a few rarities while I was away which was unfortunate but there were still a couple waiting for me. Wednesday morning, my sister Linda picked me up and we drove to Windsor to see a Tropical Kingbird (and also a Cattle Egret on the way home) and then on Thursday morning when jet lag was really starting to set in, she picked me up and we drove 3 hours to Oshawa to see the Purple Gallinule.

Big Year Total to date: 325

Big Year Update

October 7, 2022

It is amazing how fast this year is going! I posted my last blog the first week of August after returning from our second trip to Rainy River. At that time, I had 303 birds on my big year list. Since then I have picked up another 18 birds but it has not been easy.

It started on August 1. We had heard about a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. Jim and I drove to Blenheim only to hear that the bird had flown off a short time ago and had not been seen since. 3 hours later after most of the others had given up and left, we were making one final pass between the lagoon cells and there sitting on the grass right in front of us was the bird – phew!!

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The next day we went to Mitchell and added the Baird’s Sandpiper to the list (at the sewage lagoons of course) and then Jim suggested that we make a run to Kingston to look for the Neotropic Cormorant. I had already tried for this bird in Amherstburg at least three times without luck so I was a little hesitant about making such a long drive. Thankfully, we found the bird since it was an overnight trip and quite expensive for one bird!

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To give you an idea of how much we have travelled just to get 18 birds, we have gone to Van Wagner’s Beach in Hamilton 4 times, Blenheim – 4 times, Hamilton/Burlington area – 3 times, Chatham-Kent – 3 times, Sarnia – 3 times, Point Pelee – 2 times, and the following places at least once: Kingston, Algonquin Park, Barrie, Mitchell, Pelee Island, Manitoulin Island, St. Catharines, Presqui’ile Provincial park, St. Catharines, Toronto, Long Point, Pickering, Bowmanville, Kettle Point, Tilbury and Amherst Island.

The first week of September, we had visitors from Switzerland. We were having a nice lunch on the first day near the Pinery when I received a message that there was an American Avocet at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. Barbara was up for it so she and I made the 90 minute drive (each way!) to Blenheim so that I could show her a Canadian sewage lagoon and get a new bird for my list.

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The next day, we made a little detour on the way to Algonquin Park to see the Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Toronto. Fortunately Barbara and Bernard were flexible and didn’t mind a little extra time in the car to help me reach my goal.

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The last couple of weeks have involved a fair bit of travelling and enduring crappy weather but it has been worth it. I picked up several new life birds and am now sitting at 321 for my 2022 Big Year list.

There are just a few regular migrants left that I hope to pick up by the end of the year so any other additions to the Big Year list will be attributed to rarities that may happen to visit Ontario for a day or two and my ability to get there before the bird flies.

Stay tuned ….

Rainy River Experience (Part 2)

August 4, 2022

Until I began this Big Year, I never considered going to Rainy River in northern Ontario and now I have been there twice in the past two months! Jim and I made plans to visit his sister who lives in Flin Flon, Manitoba in July, so since we were flying there with a stopover in Winnipeg, we thought we may as well take a few more days, rent a car and drive back over to northern Ontario to see if we could pick up another bird or two that we didn’t get in May.

It was nice to go back a second time since we already knew where all the hotspots were. We visited three sewage lagoons in the short time we were there and spent many hours driving around the back roads between Rainy River, Emo and Fort Frances, Ontario.

Our first surprise was that the Walla Walla Inn and the Harris Hill Resort in Rainy River were all booked up and we were only able to get one night’s accommodation at the Inn in Emo. I could understand this in May during prime birding season but in July?? I asked someone what was going on and found out that there is a lot of construction going on in this end of northern Ontario and the rooms were being taken up by all the construction workers. Fortunately, we were able to get a couple of nights at the Copper River Inn in Fort Frances.

We flew into Winnipeg from Flin Flon on Thursday afternoon and made the five hour drive to Emo, birding along the way. Friday we got up at 4 a.m. and visited one of our favourite places in Rainy River (Wilson Creek). We were hoping to get a photo of a Yellow Rail but instead we got some beautiful photos of other birds in the golden morning sunlight.

Sedge Wren:

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LeConte’s Sparrow:

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From there, we drove some of the back roads stopping here and there listening for birds. We stopped along one road and listened to several Soras calling back and forth. While we were there, I looked up and couldn’t believe it - a flock of 15-20 Franklin’s Gulls were flying overhead. My target bird - yay!!

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We drove down Hwy 621 to find a beach along Lake of the Woods only to find out that there was very little beach left due to the high waters. We met a wonderful lady there who told us of a great spot to see American White Pelicans that was only 10 minutes up the road. We pulled into Grassy Narrows and saw a few pelicans swimming in the river. I ran a little ahead of them to try and get a photo of them from the front and when I went around a barn, we found a ton of them!! There were at least 60-70 all swimming together. It was fun watching them take off, fly around for a bit and then come in for a landing.

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From there we went to the Harris Hills Resort in the hopes of getting some better photos of the Franklin’s Gulls. We had been hoping to secure a boat ride out to Sable Island but were told that water levels were five feet higher than normal and there was barely an island left. We did see some Franklin’s Gulls there but they were so far out, I couldn’t get any photos. Luckily when we left Harris Hills Resort, we turned down a side road to get out of the way of a big truck and found a number of Franklin’s Gulls playing in the wind. We watched them for quite some time and managed to get some decent photos including several in full breeding plumage.

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Although we didn’t get any new birds for the list for the remainder of the trip, we did see lots of very cool things. I thought that I had found a new bird only to discover that it was a moulting Bobolink :-)

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It was also fun to visit and see the offspring of many of the birds we had seen just a couple of months before.

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We turned down one road and saw a Merlin sitting on a wire. We waiting a few minutes and found four other Merlins flying about! We believe it was an adult with four juveniles. They were quite noisy and we watched them for quite some time and got some neat shots.

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My favourite shot from this trip had to be the one I posted a couple of days ago with the Eastern Kingbird, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Star-nosed Mole. I didn’t even realize what I had captured until I downloaded the photos onto my computer. I knew the hawk had some prey and I saw the smaller bird attacking him and at one time, he looked as though he was right on the hawk’s back but I was very surprised to see the golden feathers on the Kingbird’s crown as I had only seen some red feathers once before (also in Rainy River!)

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I am not sure if I will ever return to Rainy River (unless I do another big year of course :-)) but I have really enjoyed both of my visits, seen lots of cool birds and taken many, many, many photographs! Certainly experiences to remember!

The Slow Times

July 23, 2022

Wow - it has been over a month since my last update! I had to sit down and really think about what I have been doing since we got back from our marathon birding trip to Rainy River.

When we returned home, I was sitting at 299 Ontario Birds for 2022 and over a month later, I am still only at 302 birds! My highlight of the month was finding Big Year Bird #300 on June 15: a Kirtland’s Warbler. Jim and I volunteered to be Rare Bird Ambassadors in Essa Township to assist visitors and fellow birders with seeing this endangered species. After four hours, I was lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse but unfortunately no photograph. A week later, my sister Linda and I went back to see if I could get a photograph and this time it only took 5 minutes to get a great view!

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It’s been tough going for sure! I have missed a few rare birds which was a little hard to take - mostly due to bad timing but not for lack of trying. I went to Pelee Island to look for a Yellow-breasted Chat when a Yellow-crowned Night Heron suddenly showed up in Hamilton. A big miss! Plus, I also dipped on the Chat! A few days later, an American Avocet showed up in London but Jim and I were in Toronto for the day so we missed that one too :-(. Several days after that, my sister and I were in Windsor for a few days when a Neotropic Cormorant was being seen nearby in Amherstburg, We looked for that silly bird for 3 days again with no luck. It was getting quite depressing!

Since I wasn’t having any luck with adding to my list, I started to focus on improving my photos from previous sightings or, in some cases, getting photos of birds that I missed in previous sightings of the birds in 2022.

On May 10, I added a Blue Grosbeak to my list when we saw one fly overhead at Point Pelee but I wasn’t able to get a photo. Since my goal for 2022, is to see and photograph 300 birds, I still have some work to do. Fortunately, my luck finally changed a little when on July 14, I drove to Tilbury and photographed a Blue Grosbeak that had been reported a couple of days earlier.

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Since I have had no new birds to chase, I have found myself relaxing more and just watching birds. July is a great month to sit in one place and just watch the activity. There are juveniles crying in the trees waiting to be fed, newly fledged birds learning to swim or fly, or herons learning to fish. There is always something interesting to see if you have a little patience.

Northern Flicker

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Red-winged Blackbirds

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Red-necked Grebes

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So even though it has been a slow period for reaching my big goal, I have still spent a lot of time enjoying birds and fulfilling my challenge of posting a photo a day in Facebook.

Thank you for reading my blog and for all your likes and comments on Facebook!

Rainy River Experience

June 16, 2022

On May 24, Jim, Diane and I set off on another birding marathon. This time we were heading way north and almost as far west as you can go in Ontario. What an experience!

A few statistics from our 18 days away from home:

  • We saw 182 different birds species, 3 moose, 2 bears, 2 skunks and 2 chipmunks, many deer and one newborn fawn
  • 9 of the 182 species were lifers for me and 19 were year birds
  • We drove almost 6,000 km (not the best time to do this considering gas prices!)

We started our trip by going to Carden Alvar Provincial Park in search of a Yellow Rail and a Loggerhead Shrike. No luck there but we did see some new birds and get some awesome photos.

Highlights included: American Bittern, Upland Sandpiper and a Wilson’s Snipe.

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We then headed to Sudbury where we met up with Jeff Skevington and Vincent Fyson and birded along the north shore of Lake Superior all the way west to Rainy River. Diane and I learned a ton from these two about birding and Jim experienced a whole new way of car birding the back roads (we are sending the car in next week for a complete detailing!). We were up very early most mornings and put on lots of mileage both on the car and on our bodies (One day I had almost 25,000 steps!!). We visited many sewage lagoons and walked many kilometres with our binoculars, scopes and camera equipment in hand.

We had a target list of birds for along the way and managed to get most of them with a couple of surprises added on top. A very enjoyable and productive trip!

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An example of the types of roads we travelled on and bridges we crossed:

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On June 3 and 4 we joined the OFO Rainy River trip led by Dave Milsom and Colleen Reilly. Dave and Colleen took us to more sewage lagoons and more gravel roads as we searched for the Rainy River specialties. We had a great group of birders with amazing ears and eyes helping find the birds and look for rarities.

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Some of the highlights of our Rainy River experience. (See the Big Year 2022 Photo Gallery for more photos)

Yellow-headed Blackbird:

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Three-toed Woodpecker:

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Connecticut Warbler:

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Sharp-tailed Grouse - we had fun watching these birds perform their mating danced in a specific area of a field called a lek. Very cool!

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Great Gray Owl:

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Everyone has been very encouraging and supportive to the Beak Seekers during our big year.

I had been hoping to reach Big Year Bird #300 while in Rainy River but only made it to #298. I was presented (by Dave Archbell) with a t-shirt on our last day in Rainy River but he had to make a last minute adjustment when he realized that I wouldn’t hit the #300.

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We had a more leisurely drive home from Rainy River and stopped a few times to enjoy the scenery.

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Our last overnight stop was in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island to see Chris and Lisa in their new home. On our way to the ferry, we found Big Year Bird #299 (a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants).

Chris, Lisa and Gramma Sue

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Once we reached Tobermory, we started the home stretch with a quick stop at Isaac Lake to look for a Least Bittern (no luck) and say hello to Kiah Jasper and wish him luck as he was starting his trip to Rainy River the next day.

We are happy to be home now and relaxing a little although when I started to write this yesterday, it was 6 am and we were already on our way to Simcoe County to hopefully see Big Year Bird #300.

Best Birding Day Ever!

May 20, 2022

Tuesday, May 10 was one of the best birding days of my life! We woke up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the very tip of Point Pelee to watch what is known as reverse migration. I have never seen anything like it! Hundreds of birds flew by us including: Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Lots of Warblers and other songbirds including an Eastern Meadowlark and a Blue Grosbeak!! In less than 3 hours, we saw 51 different species of birds. I have to admit - it is very difficult to identify many of these birds as they fly back quickly and sometimes very high but I certainly learned a lot. It is something I definitely plan to do more of! It was fun to try and capture photos. I took a ton of photos (most of them blurry) but was pleasantly surprised when I was able to identify the birds from the photos.

The following few photos give you an example of what I was seeing through the binoculars. Enough of a glance to identify the bird but very difficult to capture on the camera. These photos are heavily cropped. Here is a Scarlet Tanager, an Eastern Meadowlark and a Red-headed Woodpecker.

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While we were standing at the tip watching all of these birds fly by, a couple of little warblers appeared on the rocks at our feet. They were so close to me, I had to back up to take a photo. Such beautiful little models! Blackburnian Warbler and a Chesnut-sided Warbler.

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Later that day, we headed over to a nearby conservation area (Kopegaren) to search for another rare bird called a Plumbeous Vireo. We were not very successful and a little disappointed until we received a text from one of the three top birders in Ontario right now (they are all doing big years too!) telling us that just around the corner there was a lot of warbler activity happening. We followed their directions and came to a field that was just outside the conservation area and it was literally “dripping warblers!!”. We had all kinds of these gorgeous little birds basking in the golden sunshine and posing for our cameras. A photographer’s dream! Here is a Cerulean Warbler, a Least Flycatcher and a Magnolia Warbler.

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So much fun!!

Birding Marathon

May 17, 2022

On Thursday (May 5), Diane, Jim and I began a birding marathon in Erieau where we found our first new bird - a White-faced Ibis. This was Big Year Bird #223 for me (see my last post). From there we headed to Leamington to take the ferry across to Pelee Island for 3 days. During our stay on the island, I picked up 12 new FOYs (First of Year birds) before we took the ferry back to Point Pelee where we spent the next 3 days.

While in Point Pelee, I racked up another 20 FOYs including 1 lifer (Acadian Flycatcher) and 1 new bird for my Ontario list (Snowy Egret). I also experienced one of the best birding days of my life (stay tuned for that post!). During our 3 days in Point Pelee, Diane and I did our first Birdathon raising money for Birds Canada and OFO’s Young Birders Program. In total, during our 3 days, we saw 126 species. It was exhausting! Up at 4:30 to make sure we caught the first tram out to the tip and then walking and birding all day. One day I clocked over 23,000 steps! Photo below is a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

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After Point Pelee, we went to Rondeau for 3 days. Birding was a little quieter there but we stayed in a lovely renovated church in Morpeth and enjoyed some nice photo ops with a Canada warbler as well as a few other species. My sister Linda and her husband Derek joined us for one of the days which was very enjoyable as Linda is a new eBirder and was excited to add 9 new birds to her list. It was a little more depressing for Diane and I as we didn’t find any new birds to add to our total.

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On Saturday, May 14 Diane and I went back to Point Pelee to meet the OFO “Celebrity Birders” who were doing their Birdathon at the tip of Point Pelee. We decided to stay two more nights before heading home. Good decision! On Saturday, I added 11 FOYs to my list! Big year birding is filled with its ups and downs however and Sunday was a bust!! We made all of the wrong decisions and missed two rare birds. It was an exhausting and depressing day. When we woke up at 4:30 on Monday morning it was raining and after the terrible day before, we just re-set the alarm to 6:00 and took our time packing up the car. We arrived in Point Pelee while it was still raining so we donned out rain gear and headed out to the tip. Total opposite of Sunday. We made all of the right decisions, saw three new rare birds for the list and one additional FOY. Photo below is a Summer Tanager.

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On the way home last night we debated on whether or not we wanted to drive to Port Perry today in search of a rare White-winged Dove that has been seen for the past few days. Jim offered to drive so that clinched it - we were off on another adventure! Traffic was brutal and it took us 3.5 hours to get there only to find that the bird hadn’t been seen for the past 1.5 hours. On top of that, we had all forgotten our coats (I still can’t believe we did that) and it was quite windy and cool. There were two fellow birders already there waiting for the bird and we did enjoy sitting there with them trading birding stories and discussing our upcoming trip to Rainy River as they are also going at the same time as us. Two long hours later, the bird finally appeared thankfully. We watched it and photographed it for 15-20 minutes before we decided to leave and get some lunch. Another successful birding adventure!

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Crazy Week

May 5, 2022

As I write this blog entry, we are in the car on the way to start a 10 day birding marathon to Pelee Island, Point Pelee and Rondeau Provincial Park. We just heard of yet another rare bird close to Erieau so we are stopping there to pick up another lifer: White-faced Ibis (if there is a photo below this sentence, you will know that we got it :-))

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This past week has been an amazing crazy week full of long days, many driving miles and lots of rarities.

On April 28, Diane Weiler and I were birding in Long Point when I got a text from Kiah Jasper (one of the young men going for the Ontario record this year) asking if I wanted to go and chase a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. Diane had other commitments so Kiah and I met in London and drove to Presqu’ile with a goal of getting there before dark and seeing the bird. Luck was with us and we saw the bird and got some great photos. Made it back home before 11 p.m.

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The next day Diane and I went back to Long Point in search of a Kentucky Warbler. While looking, we got notice of another rarity at Point Pelee (another 3 hour drive!) so we jumped in the car and began the chase. When we got to the tip at Point Pelee we found a few birders looking through scopes at hundreds of ducks. There was no way we were going to find this duck on our own! We realized that we should have brought the scope from the car so we took the tram back to the car, got the scope and 45 minutes later we were looking at just as many ducks but further out in the bay now! Luck was with us again when suddenly one of the other birders pointed out a small group of ducks that had separated from the others and moved much closer to us. One of them was the Tufted Duck!! A positive ID. Photos were terrible but enough to solidify the ID.

On April 30, we decided to relax a bit and I invited my husband out for a nice quiet dinner before the busy month of May began. Instead we ended up eating cheese and crackers for dinner! Late in the afternoon while we were just finishing a birding hike and getting ready to go home and change for dinner, I received a call from Jeff Skevington, President of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) telling me that a rare sandpiper (Marsh Sandpiper), never before seen in Canada, had been reported at the Thedford Sewage lagoons. Very exciting! OFO has just officially launched its Rare Bird Ambassador Program and this was our first event! As an OFO board member and the one that lives closest to Thedford, I was asked to take on the role of Ambassador and help to get things rolling. What a bird to begin the program with!! Over the next few days, over 600 people came to view the bird from all over Ontario and even from the U.S. I met a man who had gotten up at 2 am and drove straight through from Connecticut. I was very happy to be able to show him the bird!! The bird is still there this morning thankfully as there are still people coming from far and wide to see this mega rarity!

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From May 8-11 the Beak Seekers will be participating in the Great Canadian Birdathon to raise funds for bird conservation and awareness. If you would like to support this great cause, please visit follow this link to donate:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon22/team/the-beak-seekers/captain/susan-nagy/

Thank you for reading my blog and thank you for your support!

Susan

Getting there - 200 birds!

April 30, 2022

Four months into the Big Year and I have passed the 200 species mark! Very exciting! #200 was the Orange-crowned Warbler. Everyone was chasing a White-eyed Vireo which would be a lifer for me. I focussed my camera on this little guy that was quickly bopping around in the same tree, thinking that I was getting the vireo only to realize that I had found an Orange-crowned Warbler. Although not a lifer for me, it was still a FOY (First of year) so all was good.

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I also found that I had captured a photo of the White-eyed Vireo and have since seen this bird a couple more times so I did get my lifer as well!

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The past few months have been a whirlwind. There have been numerous trips to Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Burlington, Windsor, Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee. I have taken many thousands of photos and am desperately trying to stay on top of culling them so it is not such an enormous task later. I am still posting a photo a day but I know that I better get a few in the bank because May is going to be a very busy, exhausting (but hopefully productive) month of birding! As the days grow longer so does prime birding time so we are going to be busy. At least the cold and snowy weather is behind us now (I hope!).

One of the best things about spring migration is that it brings the warblers. Although we have already seen a few migrants the best are yet to come. So many beautiful birds with bright colours and musical songs. My favourite kind of birding! They are tough to photograph because they move so fast and are often very high up in the trees. I will do my best to capture the different ones that I see and post them to Facebook and my website.

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Thank you all for continuing to read my blog, liking my photos on Facebook and supporting me in my Big Year goal of seeing and photographing 300 birds in Ontario!

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My First ABA Rarity!

April 14, 2022

On April 9, Jim and I went on an OFO (Ontario Field Ornithologists) field trip in Orleans (near Ottawa). The trip consisted of travelling the back roads and checking out flooded field after flooded field to look mostly for waterfowl, raptors and other songbirds but always hoping for a rarity. We had a great time, learned the location of some great birding hotspots but alas, no Pinked-footed Goose.

The next day Jim and I continued to drive around looking for birds and in the afternoon we revisited one of the flooded fields we had been shown the day before (thank you Bob and Bernie!!). There had to be approximately 3,000 Canada Geese flying and swimming around but we patiently used our scope and scanned through them all looking for anything unusual.

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Finally, on our last scan, I spotted an unusual goose - slightly smaller than the Canada Geese with a white head and black neck. I was very excited because I knew this was something different and I wanted to be sure to get the correct identification. Jim took a look too so that we could commit the bird to memory but then we tried to take some photos. While messing around with the cameras, we lost the bird!! Lesson learned for next time - never take your eyes off the bird!! I checked my Merlin app and confirmed that we had been looking at a Barnacle Goose - the first ABA rarity I found on my own. I texted a birder friend of mine (Jeff Skevington) in Ottawa and told him that I was pretty sure we had a Barnacle Goose. He in turn texted another friend (Vince) who lived closer and asked him to come down and check it out. In the meantime another couple of birders stopped by and started scanning the geese with us in the hopes of re-finding this bird. Thankfully, about 30 minutes later, Richard re-found it - whew!!! I was getting worried. It is great to be the one to find a rare bird but you really want some other people to confirm it with you. It’s kind of like getting a hole-in-one when you are golfing by yourself. People aren’t quite sure whether or not to believe you!!

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Is this a “Countable” Bird or Not?

April 4, 2022

When I started compiling my Backyard list, my criteria for counting a bird was simply that I was standing in my backyard or looking out the kitchen window when I saw the bird. A friend of mine only counts birds that land in her backyard. Individual lists are simply whatever you want them to be.

So when Diane and I started our “Big Year” goal of seeing and photographing 300 birds, we really didn’t give it much thought until we were standing along the Niagara River looking at Black Vultures sitting on a rooftop and flying around in New York State. We had to ask ourselves whether or not we could count it in our year total - after all we were standing in Ontario when we saw it.

We started talking to a lot of birders who keep yearly lists and asking them if they would count it or not and of course we received different answers. The only definite one was that if you were going for the Ontario record, you absolutely had to see the bird in Ontario.

It was frustrating because it took us several visits to the Niagara area to even find the Black Vultures and then when we did, they were only on the US side of the river. It is one of the few spots in Ontario that you can view these birds. While we did report them at the time on eBird we were struggling with ourselves as to whether or not we should really include it in our Big Year count.

Fortunately, this past Friday, April 1 we were lucky enough to see the Black Vultures perched and flying on the Canadian side of the river (no this was not an April Fool’s joke!) so we no longer have to worry about this ethical dilemma. Who knew we would face these types of tough decisions when we took on this challenge!?

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This photo shows the Turkey Vulture in front with the red face (very common) and the not-so-common Black Vulture in behind with the white “fingertips”.

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Do Cackling Geese Really Exist?

March 27, 2022

Jim and I asked ourselves this question many times last year as we chased report after report of cackling geese looking for these elusive creatures. I finally found one last fall in South London and took a good photo which showed the difference in size between a Canada Goose (back) and a Cackling Goose.

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Cackling Geese look just like the many thousands of Canada Geese out there but they are smaller in size, and have shorter necks and stubby bills. When looking at a pond filled with Canada Geese it is really intimidating and almost impossible to pick out the single Cackling Goose.

Yesterday, we were at the sewage lagoons in Stayner, Ontario when a flock of geese flew over and they sounded different to us so I took some photos and discovered they were all Cackling Geese!! We took the scope out and as we looked among all the geese, we noticed several more with the short necks and stubby beaks. We seem to see them everywhere now :-).

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As we scanned the pond, we noticed a pair of orange legs in among all the pairs of black legs. A lot of the geese had their heads tucked into their bodies to shield themselves from the bitterly cold wind so we had to wait for a while to actually identify the bird.

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Jim has been practicing taking photos through our new scope and was able to capture this great photo of a Greater White-fronted Goose. A nice find for Stayner!

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Now that we have mastered Cackling Geese (well I am not sure I would actually say mastered), we are on the hunt for another rare goose: a Ross’s Goose which apparently is a smaller version of a Snow Goose. I will believe it exists when I see it!!

Halfway there!

March 24, 2022

Bird #150 Red-necked Grebe

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Well we are less than 25% through the calendar year and have reached 50% of our goal. A good start! I say that cautiously though because reaching our target of 300 birds is going to really depend on spring migration. Last year was tougher to identify birds during May because due to the warmer weather, the leaves on the trees had really come out before the birds got here and it made finding them that much tougher.

Things are going to get exciting in the upcoming weeks as the days get longer and the birds start to make their way up north. When I am not birding, I am listening to bird songs and watching videos in the hopes it will help me to identify the many little warblers that often look quite similar especially when they are moving quickly between the tree branches. Knowing their songs is a big help.

Highlights of the first three months include the 11 lifers for me, the various owls we have found and the new friendships we have made.

Looking forward to the rest of the journey!!

This is hard work!

March 17, 2022

Serious birding can be hard work! We realize that if we want to reach our goal of seeing 300 birds in Ontario this year, we are going to have to chase some of the rarer birds. While it is a lot of fun to find a rare bird and add it to our list, it is not always easy.

To track down the Barrow’s Goldeneye, we went to Sarnia twice and then after two separate visits to Ottawa (where this bird was on our target list), we finally found the duck after going out at least six different times and to several different places to track it down.

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Even in London, it took us 3 visits to one little pond to see the Virginia Rail that everyone was reporting seeing, yet it seemed to go into hiding when we would get there.

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Another tough bird to find was the Harlequin Duck. Three trips to Sarnia, two or three trips to Burlington and then on our second attempt to find the duck in Toronto, we finally found it. #140 on my year list!!

While sometimes tracking down these birds can be a little frustrating, we are still having a lot of fun and are looking forward to spring migration!

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February Update

February 28, 2022

Well another month has passed and we have inched a little closer to our goal. February was very cold and we drove through some miserable weather to add to our list but it was also a good time to get some things done around the house knowing that as the weather gets nicer, the birding will also improve and there won’t be as much time for other errands.  

Jim and I also took this opportunity to start our ten year goal of walking the Bruce Trail.  We began in Queenston, Ontario on the Niagara Peninsula and walked the first 4 km.  It was cold (-10) but beautiful and sunny.  


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My big year total is now at 131.  The highlight of the month was our trip to Algonquin Park and Ottawa where we added a number of birds to the list that we wouldn’t be able to get in Middlesex County.  Birds of note for February include: Evening Grosbeak, Canada Jay, Pine Grosbeak, Black-backed Woodpecker , Hoary Redpoll, Northern Hawk Owl, Gray Partridge, Long-eared Owl and of course, the Townsend’s Solitaire.  We drove all the way to Washago and back during a snow storm to see the Townsend’s.  In hindsight, not the smartest thing we have done but at least we got our bird!


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In March, we have another trip planned to Ottawa where we hope to find a few birds that we missed on our February trip.  It is also the month where we will begin to see some of the early migrating birds return to our area.  We have already started to see that with Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds starting to appear on a more frequent basis.  In my down time, I will start to refresh my knowledge on Warblers including identifying them by sight but also by sound.  Some of them can be quite tricky to identify and you often only get a quick glimpse.  

Stay tuned for further updates on the adventures of the Beak Seekers and their quest to see and photography 300 Ontario birds.  

Other Cool Stuff

February 17, 2022

The past couple of weeks have been rather slow - birding wise. It is a little depressing after having such a great start to our Big Year. Having said that, when spring migration starts, we will be wishing for a little down time so I am not complaining. Instead, I will reflect on the other cool stuff that we have come across when looking for birds.

One night when we were out in Ottawa looking for owls, we looked up in a tree and saw a porcupine - how cool is that?! In Algonquin we came across a pine marten and in Niagara we saw a fox. We have also seen muskrats, squirrels, coyotes, deer and raccoons. Lots of great wildlife in Ontario! We have also had a chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery that our province has to offer.

Please see the photo gallery “Other Cool Stuff” for photos from our big year that are not birds:

https://www.suenagy.ca/Photos/BigYear2022/CoolStuff/

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Trials and Tribulations of Birding and Photography in the Winter

February 7, 2022
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When we woke up on Saturday morning in Algonquin, it was -25 with a wind chill of -40 and warnings of frostbite in minutes. Dressing for this kind of weather is a challenge. Lots of layers are necessary so that if and when it warms up a little, you can shed some of your clothes.

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Start with long johns and a wool undershirt, long sleeve shirt, hoodie sweater with thumb holes (so the sleeves cover part of the hands), down vest, snow pants, big parka and big winter boots. Hand and toe warmers are a must. Double socks, double mitts, neck warmer, balaclava over a hat.

By the time I am dressed, I can barely move. After dressing, I need to put my harness over my head to get my camera on and then the binoculars go on top of that. If I don’t remember to put my parka hood up first I am in trouble. I always like to have my camera around my neck in the car so I can quickly get out and snap a photo if necessary but trying to quickly unbuckle my seatbelt, untangle all of my straps and free myself from the car is not easy!!

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As you can imagine, I don’t drink too much during these outings so bathroom stops are kept to a minimum!

Lastly, wearing glasses in this weather is painful. When I pull my neck warmer up over my face, my glasses fog up immediately. It was so cold I had a thin layer of ice on my glasses most of the morning. I was constantly wiping the binoculars off as well and when I tried to take a photo, I basically just pointed in the general direction and hoped that my autofocus was working well.

Can’t wait for spring! Of course, I am sure there will be more tales to tell about bug suits and ticks :-). Gotta love nature!

Algonquin Update

February 4, 2022

After a bad start to our Algonquin Trip, we ended up having a great time. We set out on Thursday morning at 8 a.m. hoping to miss Toronto traffic and end up in Algonquin early afternoon. On Hwy 11 we ran into a terrible accident and ended up stuck on the highway for over 4 hours which had us hitting Algonquin Park after dark. No new birds and no new photos.

Today started off much better. It was a beautiful sunny day and at 9 am. we met up with Quinten Wiegersma, a birder friend from London who is working up in Algonquin, and set off to find some of the Algonquin birding “specialties”. We started at the Visitor Centre where we found four new FOY (first of year) birds and then headed to the Spruce Bog, Logging Museum and Opeongo Road where we found two more FOY. All-in-all, a great day in Algonquin!

On top of the the great birding, we spent some quality time with a pine marten (a new one for Diane) and just enjoyed the beauty of Algonquin.

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One month behind us

February 2, 2022

Well this is the first official blog for my new website (the other two posts were just cut and pasted from Facebook).  Welcome to my Big Year Blog and welcome to my new website! A big thank you to my husband Jim for creating this fabulous site for me so that I can share my photos and stories of my “Big Year”.  

Just to catch you up, my friend Diane and I have decided to do a Big Year in Ontario which means that we are going to attempt to identify (and hopefully photograph) 300 different birds in Ontario in 2022.  

Our first month of serious birding is now behind us and we are happy with our progress. As of January 31, we have both seen 105 birds so I think we are off to a great start!  

Many of my friends, both birders and non-birders are interested in following our progress so I am starting my first-ever blog to try and keep you all updated on our progress and our adventures along the way. I won’t promise to write every day as we will be out birding!

The first month has been a lot of fun and it is very exciting to keep adding new birds to our list but we know that is going to slow down over the next couple of months.  Our goal right now is to try and get as many of the winter birds now that are only around for a couple of months.  If we miss any, there is always a chance to catch them at the end of the year but it is nice to knock them off now.  We are heading up to Algonquin Park and Ottawa later this week in the hopes of seeing a number of birds that can’t be found in Southwestern Ontario. 

When we are not out birding, we have been planning various trips to areas to find specific birds.  For example, we are planning a trip to Rainy River (way up north) to find several species we likely would not get otherwise.

We are very fortunate to have a good network of birding friends in various areas across the province who are helping us out by providing knowledge, sharing birding hotspots and cheering us on.  We are learning a lot and are looking forward to the next 11 months!  

Stay tuned for stories on the trials and tribulations of birding in freezing cold conditions with cameras and binoculars twisted around our necks and also the quest for the Golden Eagle.  

Beak Seekers Big Year Update

January 28, 2022

Yesterday, we reached our first milestone! We have both seen 100 species of birds in Ontario so far this year.

It has not been easy. We have been out birding every day in all kinds of weather including standing on the edge of Lake Ontario in -18 (without windchill!!) looking for gulls and other water birds. We have been up as early as 4:30 a.m. in order to travel to our destination for first light. That is only going to get worse as the sun rises earlier. We have gone trudging through snow that was over our boots, on icy slopes lugging our cameras and binoculars and dressed in so many layers it is hard to move. It may sound as though we are complaining but we are loving it!! It has been a wonderful way to spend January, usually a dull, boring month - but not this year!!

A big thank you to our faithful driver, navigator, motivator, good friend (and my husband!) Jim. He is also a great bird spotter and he carries the scope for us too!! Thanks Jim - this would be so much harder without you!

We have also been amazed at how many birders have offered us support in our Big Year quest. We have a great birding community here in Ontario! Thank you to you all.

Diane Weiler and Susan Nagy
“The Beak Seekers”
Big Year 2022

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Trying to stay warm while searching for specific gulls in Sarnia Bay.

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Diane’s 100th bird sighting was a Fox Sparrow. We didn’t manage to get a great photo this time so we are sharing one of my photos from last winter so you can see what it looks like.

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You can imagine trying to find one specific gull in this madness! Good luck!

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My 100th bird sighting: Little Gull (Full disclosure: We didn’t get a good photo so I used this one from a December visit to the same location)

BIG YEAR 2022

January 28, 2022

Last year, after we had a very successful year of finding different birds in Ontario, we (Diane Weiler, Susan Nagy) decided that we were going to try for a BIG YEAR in 2024.

We picked that year because we thought it would give us time to plan, and also we both have BIG birthdays that year!! BUT THEN - In the first two weeks of 2022, we were both out birding every day. And then, one day last week, we decided to do a road trip and chase 4 rare birds in 4 different cities. After finding 3 of them (see pictures below), we realized we were having so much fun birding right now - why wait until 2024! We both love to travel and since that is restricted now with Covid, it just makes sense to go for our BIG YEAR Now! This way, when we can travel, we will have our BIG YEAR behind us (plus we may need a break from each other by then!)

What’s a BIG YEAR you say? Well for some very serious birders, this means trying to break the Ontario record for the most species seen in one year (347), but our goal is to combine our love of birding and photography by finding and photographing 300+ birds in 2022.

In 2021, with a lot of effort, we found 255/267 birds. So, for us to reach 300, it will be a huge challenge and will involve many road trips (and last minute, dashes for rare birds)!

We will keep you updated on our progress when we don’t have binoculars and cameras in hand.

To our birding friends out there: We need all the help we can get so please share any good birds! We will be travelling across Ontario and would love to visit you and your favourite hotspots.

Diane Weiler and Susan Nagy
“The Beak Seekers”
Big Year 2022

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Golden-crowned Sparrow

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Mountain Bluebird

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Harris Sparrow

Best of 2021 Facebook Images

January 21, 2022

In 2021, I challenged myself to post a photo a day to Facebook of pictures that I took during the year. This started as a diversion to get myself and my friends through the Covid lockdown period, but it soon became a passion.

It was sometimes difficult to force myself to get out and find something new to photograph, but encouragement and positive feedback from my friends and family inspired me to continue (and now complete) this project.

This short video captures my favourite photos from the year. I hope that you enjoy the photos as much as I have enjoyed taking them.

Susan

January 21, 2022

Best of 2021 Video