Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leaving birds in the field

I went birding with my family this weekend on the shores of Lake Ontario. I chose two spots on the lake partly because its been a cold spring in Peterborough and I figured we would have a better chance of seeing more birds if we went even a little bit further south. That and both of the chosen birding locations (Second Marsh and Presqu'ile) frequently have extensive bird lists posted on eBird. With the knowledge that many bird species were could be seen, my expectations were perhaps a bit lofty as we headed off. Would I add 5, 10 or even 15 new birds to my list? It was certainly possible. Would I see the elusive Northern Pintail, a mythical bird- I've only seen drawings- that reportedly frequents the marshes of Lake Ontario? Perhaps a new shorebird or one of a half-dozen potential gull species? The sky was really the limit!

Alas, my grand expectations were not met. My list did grow but only by a measly 2 birds: the Common Loon and the Great Black-backed Gull. I have seen many loons before- hell, they are on Canada's one dollar coin- they are that common up here and the new gull was nice. But what about all of the other birds? Perhaps I shouldn't have checked, but I loaded up the eBird reports for the day of my outings to see what we had missed. To my dismay, I had left a crapload of birds in the field that were reported in the areas though I didn't see. How did I miss them? Here's a quick play by play of how it happened.

On the morning of Saturday, April 13, I took the boys and we went to the Second Marsh. In about two hours of walking around, we identified a grand total of 17 bird species. On eBird, a list was posted from the same day and time by "Tyler" containing 27 bird species, so you might think that I missed out on 10 bird species. Actually our lists shared 14 birds species; mine had 3 unique species and Tyler saw 12 bird species that I didn't.

Here is the rundown of these lists.
Common to both lists: Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, American Robin, Song Sparrow, and Red-winged Blackbird. These are all pretty standard birds to see; fairly common and nothing out of place here.
Unique to my list: Eastern Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Brown-headed Cowbird. While I am a bit surprised that I found birds Tyler didn't, this is probably because I spent a bit of time staked out in the woods by the lake shore where I saw the phoebe and the nuthatch.

Perhaps more interesting are the birds Tyler saw that I didn't (with my thoughts about each sighting in parenthesis): Trumpeter Swan (ok, I probably just didn't look in the same part of the marsh), Wood Duck (same as last comment), American Black Duck (I probably just thought I saw Mallards), Northern Pintail (where the hell were these birds? he's kidding, right?), Ruddy Duck (again where were these? I thoroughly searched all areas of both marshes), American Coot (same as last comment), American Avocet (what? no way! I wouldn't even believe this except someone took a photo and posted it on eBird) [holy shit! -Damon], Greater Yellowlegs (I don't know, I just didn't see it), Herring Gull (who would know with the thousands of Ring-billed Gulls flying everywhere?), Tree Swallows (hmm, how could I miss these?), Barn Swallow (hmm, how could I miss these?) and American Tree Sparrow (haven't these left yet?). So I left 5 new bird species in the field at Second marsh. All I can say is dammit and maybe I need better binoculars?

And how did I do the next day at Presqu'ile Provincial Park? I saw 24 species with 3 not seen by the ebird lister "Doug", but he saw 43 species with 21 that I failed to note. And the 7 new bird sightings that I left in the field? Barn Swallow, Dunlin, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Northern Pintail, and Wilson's Snipe.

Together the missed birds of the weekend totaled 10 species missed. How depressing. But to my credit, if you look at the birds I missed you will see they include gulls that look very similar, shorebirds that were seen far off in the distance, and the Northern Pintail, which is becoming a strictly theoretical bird species to me. There are actually a number of reasons why I didn't see these birds: time of day, distance from viewing location, kids, I don't know where to look precisely, inattention, distraction, and I could go on. Ok, I list kids but I am actually still on the fence about this. They collectively have six extra eyes, they are good at flushing (birds that is, other types of flushing only sometimes), and they are still impressed that I can tell the difference between Red-winged Blackbirds and Starling without looking in the bird book. So yeah, who really knows?

Paul and Zachie scan the Lake Ontario shoreline for newly arriving migrants.
Not a single bird gets by these guys.

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