By: Markus Legzdins

Saturday, 18 March 2023

HSA Big Year - Weekly Summary (March 13 - 18)

As the year slowly progresses into spring, I wanted to do a little recap of the year and recognize what's been seen in the HSA, so far this year. Looking at year lists for individual counties on eBird, a total of 138 species have been observed, and of those 138, I've seen/heard 111, that's 80%. Not bad! 

Some of these birds that I'm still missing should be easy birds to get in spring but not during the winter. Birds like finches have been very sparse this year. To see certain species like owls, hawks and ducks are just things you need to get lucky for. 

Some of the best/rare things that I've seen in the HSA have been Short-eared Owl, Pacific Loon, Snow Goose, American Woodcock, Red-shouldered Hawk, King Eider, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Cormorant, Evening Grosbeak, and Black-legged Kittiwake!

Below I've attached the species I have yet to see in the HSA, but have already been observed by others in the HSA this year.

Year Needs (no specific order)

- Barrow's Goldeneye 
- Fish Crow
- Sandhill Crane
- Ruffed Grouse
- American Pipit
- Northern Flicker
- Common Redpoll
- Ross's Goose 
- Black Vulture
- Bohemian Waxwing
- Long-eared Owl
- Purple Finch
- Swamp Sparrow
- Fox Sparrow
- Hermit Thursh
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Pine Siskin
- Golden Eagle
- Eastern Towhee
- Rusty Blackbird
- Gray Catbird
- Lapland Longspur
- Chipping Sparrow
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Wilson's Snipe
- Tree Swallow

Also, a total of $1,130 has been raised for the Hamilton Naturalist Club! When I first had the idea of doing this, I thought maybe if I was lucky we could raise $200, so thank you to everyone who has sponsored me and supported me during my HSA Big Year and I will continue to do my best. Chasing these rare birds and just getting out to farther places would not have been possible without the support and dedication of my family, thanks! I'd also like to thank all of the birders throughout the HSA reporting the birds they see because without people birding and getting out daily, there would be no rare birds to chase. 

On Monday I added my first species of plover to the year list, a Killdeer! This was at Valens CA in Flamborough while searching for Ruffed Grouse. We started Monday driving around the Wellington area looking for Bohemian Waxwings that had been reported two days earlier. We could not find them at the location so we drove around the surrounding area to see if they had found another spot to feed. Bohemian Waxwings are known for being very tough to chase unless there is a substantial amount of berries or something for them to eat at that location. 

We then found ourselves at Valens CA where not far away a larger flock of Bohemian Waxwings were reported some weeks ago, and could have stayed in the area. This conservation area has also been good for Ruffed Grouse in the past so we decided to give it a shot and walk some of the trails to see what we could see. 5km of walking did not turn up a Ruffed Grouse, but we very likely found somewhat fresh tracks of one but seemingly they ended going each way :/

The next day I took it fairly easy just birding at some of the parks along the lake. Saw two nice Iceland Gulls that day and a pair of Black Scoters in Bronte.

One of the Iceland Gulls in flight

Common Goldeneye

From Wednesday to Friday my mom and I drove up to Algonquin Provincial Park to visit my sister doing Canada Jay research. I got to see a few of the jays and a nest of one! This year has been an exceptional year for Boreal Chickadees in the park as at least 12 are around the Highway 60 corridor, compared to the previous years where 1 or 2 are seen, just need one to wonder down this way. I met some great people on this trip and saw some great birds!

This Sunday I am at Beamer CA helping count migrating raptors! Hoping for a Black Vulture or a Northern Goshawk­čĄ×

HSA Year List: 111

Recent Rare Bird Sightings:

Greater White-fronted Goose - 2 individuals observed in a pond in Wellington (Tim K; March 16) 
A group of approximately 30 in Haldimand on Dry Lake Rd (Dean Hughes; March 18)

Snow Goose - One high over Beamer CA (Phil Waggett, Karen Ross, Paul Nelson; March 18)

Monday, 13 March 2023

HSA Big Year - Weekly Summary (March 6 - 12)

 On Tuesday I saw my first of the year Brown-headed Cowbird briefly visit the feeders at my house. The following days after that we had some light flurries of snow which brought even more birds to feeders, expecially blackbirds! At times it seemed like there were at least 100 individual blackbirds in the trees and at the feeder, it was quite neat to see. These blackbirds consisted of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a small group of Brown-headed Cowbirds; was hoping for a Rusty Blackbird with them. 

Brown-headed Cowbird

On Thursday, my mom and I drove over to Oakville Harbour to check out the gulls for rare things as places like Ohio, New York & Michigan have had quite the luck with them (GWGU, SBAG, COGU, CAGU). There was a few hundred Ring-billed Gulls with a few Herring Gulls peppered in. 

We then scanned the lake where I was surprised to count eight Red-necked Grebes! These were recently arrived migrants and a good number of them too. Soon (April) we'll start to see them in the hundreds, looking for a Western Grebe mixed in. 

After that stop, my mom had the idea to check Bronte Provincial Park for American Woodcocks. It would be a little early for them to show up now, but there have already been a few heard throughout the province. Also, forecasted for the next day was a bunch of snow so if we were to try, this would be the day. Just as we stepped out of the car at Bronte PP, the very first bird we heard was a woodcock! We heard the fluttering sound of its wings as it quickly flew over the parking lot into a grassy field. It was dark so we could just make out the shape and long bill in flight. As this bird was in the sky, we heard the PEENT! of another one! 

Friday was pretty terrible weather, snowing almost all day but that didn't stop the birds from being out. There was again a large number of blackbirds visiting the feeder. 

On Saturday, I took part in the West End Lake Ontario (WELO) IBA Survey with my mom and Sarah Riche. This was basically going out and counting waterfoul on the lake between 8am-12pm in an assigned area. Didn't see anything out of the ordinary there, just the usuals. 

Herring Gull

After finishing up the count, we drove over to Windermere Basin to see if there was anything cool there. We spent an hour and a half there, tallying up 42 species (quite decent for March). Some of the highlights included 2 Peregrine Falcons, a Northern Harrier, 209 Northern Shovelers, an Iceland Gull, and 14 Double-crested Cormorants. 

Northern Harrier

On the way back home, we stopped in Bronte to track down an American Woodcock that had just been found by Mark Jennings. It was an opportunity to photograph a woodcock as they are very rarely ever seen during the day. If a few arrive early and a snowstorm occurs, they will try to find open water to stay warm and to use it as a source of food. When we got there, he was just sitting in a little puddle of water surrounded by deep snow. My mom ended up finding a second one just a few feet away from the original one and I accidentally flushed one while looking for small puddles of open water in the forest. There were a total of at least 3 there that day, pretty neat!

American Woodcock

My Sunday was very exciting as I added 5 new species to the HSA Big Year list that day. From 8am-4pm, I was hawkwatching with the president of the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch, Keith Dieroff at Beamer CA in Grimsby! My mom also watched with us for a few hours. From 8am-12pm raptor migrants were few and far between, had something like 3 raptors. Luckily there were other birds who kept us company including a Pileated Woodpecker flying by and several cheerful Northern Cardinals singing! At 1pm things started to pick up and soon we had a few small groups of Turkey Vultures migrating over as well as a very nice adult Red-shouldered Hawk. It's still a bit early to see hundreds of raptors migrating in a single day, but it's nice to get out and experience the randomness of raptors flying over you. By 4pm we had seen 15 Turkey Vultures, 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, 6 Red-tailed Hawks, and a Bald Eagle migrating north. 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Keith & I then drove around Stoney Creek looking for puddle ducks and sparrows. Keith spotted a nice White-crowned Sparrow along the side of the road with many American Tree Sparrows and Horned Larks. Down the road from there we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk zip quickly over the car, which we could not relocate.

White-crowned Sparrow

HSA Year List: 110

Recent Rare Bird Sightings:

Great Cormorant - Continuing; seen on the wave tower in the evening

Bohemian Waxwing - A group of 4 found just south of Guelph. Birders were unable to relocate them the next day (Fred Urie; March 11)

Snow Goose - One seen flying along Lake Ontario (Grace Pitman, Gwyneth Govers; March 11)

Sunday, 5 March 2023

HSA Big Year - 2 Week Summary (Feburary 22 - March 5)

I'll be covering the past 2 weeks in this blog post because I missed last week's post.

Last Week of February

A goal I set near the start of the year was to record at least 100 species by the end of February, on the 23rd I accomplished just that! The 100th bird species for the HSA Big Year was a Common Grackle; two of them actually! My mom and I saw these with a whole bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds along Sixteen Mile Creek while driving down to Oakville Harbour. 

Common Grackle

The next day George, Luke and I took a trip outside the HSA to Peterborough & Hastings county. We chased a Boreal Chickadee coming to a feeder and a Barrow's Goldeneye on the Trent River; we saw both of our targets. As a bonus, I spotted a Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser (hybrid) swimming in the river with a few Common Mergansers. 

That same day, while on the way back to Guelph, my mom met up with us in Milton and together we went to Kelso CA in Halton. Awaiting geese to come back from the fields to roost at the reservoir, we spotted a Belted Kingfisher flying right by us! It eventually landed and perched on a small log sticking out of the water. 

Belted Kingfisher in flight

Sunday morning, my mom and I got out to Sedgewick Forest in search of overwintering species like Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-rumped Warbler which had been reported previously in the last month. We were able to locate the Yellow-rumped Warbler foraging by the open stream near some green vegetation. Places like Sedgewick with some sort of water treatment plant and a small woodlot nearby are great places to check regularly during the winter months as they provided warmth and food like bugs which can be tough to find when its cold.

Yellow-rumped Warber

The rest of the week I spent birding the stormwater pond near my highschool during part of my lunch break. 


It's March, 2 out of the 12 months have already passed! Blackbirds of all kinds have flooded Southern Ontario, plants are beginning to emerge from under the snow, and some early migrants like Killdeer & American Woodcock are back, it almost feels like spring! I feel good entering March with 102 species, leaving 178 more to go until the record. So far to my knowledge, $556.5 (will update if I'm wrong) has already been raised toward the Hamilton Naturalists Club during my HSA Big Year! If you're interested in making a pledge, here's the link to the Google Form (2023 HSA Big Year Pledge Form)

On Saturday I found a very distant Red-throated Loon at LaSalle Park and then in the afternoon I went to YES Alliance. We cleaned out a few nest boxes on the RBG property so that they could be ready for this summer! On a piece of paper we would write down where the box was located using GPS and list the species that nested in the box previously. We found that the majority of the birds that nested in the boxes were Tree Swallows and House Wrens. The hope/purpose of these boxes was to get Eastern Bluebirds to nest in these. What surprised me was that most of the House Wren nests were built over top of the Tree Swallows'. The second last box we checked had something inside that we did not expect; a nest built 100% out of moss with 4 tiny marble sized white eggs with tiny red speckles. As a group we later determined this to be from a Black-capped Chickadee, not unheard of to nest in boxes but still cool!

Today I was out with George, driving around Halton, Hamilton, and Brant. We began the morning following up on a report of two Meadowlark sp. up Walkers Line in Burlington from a good friend of mine, Ben Oldfield! Last year in May, Ben and I found a Hepatic Tanager together in Oakville! 

We got to the spot Ben has described, and saw a nice bright yellow bird foraging right along the road. It was a meadowlark, an Eastern Meadowlark! We might have heard the other individual singing over a hill but couldn't eliminate the possibility that it was a starling. The Eastern Meadowlark that was on the road later flew up on a post right by some horses, and got this photo with the horse in the background! 

Eastern Meadowlark

After that we drove around Hamilton and Brant County in search of Lapland Longspurs where they had been reported a few days ago. Almost along every road we would see a couple of Horned Larks, they were quite neat to watch. Next week brings March Break! That week, I'll spend a day or two at Beamer CA counting migrating raptors. It's a little early for seeing raptors in the hundreds but some early migrants like Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk and some accipiters are on the move. 

HSA Year List: 103

Recent Rare Bird Sightings:

Harlequin Duck - Continuing female in the Fifty Point marina 

Snow Goose - Stayed in the Desjardins Canal in Dundas for a day (Franny Bois; Feb 27)                                                                                          

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

HSA Big Year - Weekly Summary (February 13 - 21)

 This week we had a long weekend so I only went to school for four days this week which was nice. Over those 4 school days, I checked out a couple stormwater ponds around my school that I had never been to and made note of some of them which I thought might have good potential for rare birds in spring! 

I take the bus home from school occasionally, and its route goes right by this one good birding hotspot along Sixteen Mile Creek which captured the attention of a Prarie Warbler for 7 days in late fall last year. On Tuesday I visited that area, unsure what I was expecting but just went to check anyways. I was surprised to find a Common Goldeneye, a group of Buffleheads & a single Red-breasted Merganser swimming in a wide part of the creek. These are birds I would expect to see on the lake and not on a creek so I found that pretty cool.

Not long after that sighting I walked just a little upstream where I spotted a skulky sparrow. I never saw the entire bird in the open as it would be constantly moving and flying between grasses and reeds but I couldn't place an ID on it. The only thing I could think of it being is was Song/Lincoln's Sparrow. Song Sparrow would be much more common than Lincoln's Sparrow, especially now in the winter months but it wouldn't be impossible. After climbing down a small wall hoping to get closer to the bird, I lost it. I searched around for it for the next 25 minutes (I really thought it was Lincoln's Sparrow), but it seemed to have eluded me, I could not find it. The next 2 days were quite windy so I didn't go back to look for it. 

Friday was a PA Day for me so I went out by bike and cycled around the neighborhood. I eventually decided to bike down to the creek where I had seen that sparrow earlier in the week hoping I could get another look at it and maybe get a photo. One of the first birds I saw when I arrived was a Song Sparrow. Flushed from nearly the same place, but as soon as it took flight I knew it was a Song Sparrow; it was very brown. The bird I had seen earlier in the week was surely primarily gray and seemed larger in flight. I looked around for the next half hour and could not turn up any more sparrows. 

The next day, Saturday, my Dad and I drove out to Niagara hoping to see a Barrow's Goldeneye! This bird had been found a few days before but it was spotted just outside of the HSA boundary. I had some hope that the winds over the next few days would slowly push the bird inside the HSA and to my knowledge that's what happened on Friday evening to one lucky birder.

We arrived just after sunrise at the location where it was viewed from on Friday evening. The parking lot that we were parking in was basically the border of the HSA. One half of the parking lot was inside the HSA, the other out. Scanning for about an hour resulted in several species of waterfowl but not the duck we wanted to see. That morning, the wind was just brutal, very strong gusts up to 30 km/h that definetely would have blown the scope over if I wasn't holding onto it. 

We kept following the street running right along to the lake heading back toward Hamilton stopping every once in a while to see if the Barrow's Goldeneye had flown to a different location, made me feel like I was along the shores for Lake Erie some reason. One of the many places we stopped was Fifty Point CA where I saw the female King Eider again and got photos this time. I think I will make it a goal to photograph as many species I can this year within the HSA and try to get that number as close as I can to my final HSA Big Year count (ex. HSA Big Year = 275, Species photographed this year in HSA = 275). We checked the majority of the spots from Vineland all the way to the Burlington waterfront and still could not locate the goldeneye, oh well. 

King Eider

Sunday was a nice fairly warm sunny day so I checked some local spots around Oakville and Peel where I spotted an early migrant Red-necked Grebe and quite a lot of Gadwalls (57). We then drove over to the RBG Arboretum to try and find a pair of Tufted Titmice that had been reported at the George North Lookout for a few weeks now. I consider Tufted Titmouse a code 2 species in the HSA because they're not a bird that is commonly found throughout the HSA, but there are some reliable spots to hear them on breeding grounds in summer. I will not be here during the majority of summer so it was good to get this one out of the way, just in case.... The walk to the lookout was quite nice, cardinals singing, Horned Larks flying over, and just in general lots of birds were out and about. As soon as we got to the lookout, chickadees were hopping around in the shrubs and with them were two cute Tufted Titmice! They put on a nice show, calling and hopping on the ground for a while!

Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch 

Later that evening my Dad and I went out to Bronte Provincial Park to listen for American Woodcocks. It would still be very early for these guys to be calling but with the recent winds, it would be possible for one to get a little boost into Ontario. We stayed until dark and did not end up hearing any, but in Essex and Norfolk, Ontario, the next day at least two were heard peenting. Only a matter of time before were hearing them in the HSA!

Sunset while listening for Woodcocks

Monday was a more relaxing, spending the morning driving around the Brant/Flamborough area looking for basically anything that would be new for the year for me (COGR, RSHA, BOWA, LEOW, BADO, stuff like that). As we were driving around, in the fields I spotted a large group of swans! We quickly pulled over and started to look through them. I was expecting for them to be all Tundra Swans but majority of them actaully turned out to be Trumpeter Swans (22:18).  We also managed to check out some places I had never visited before like Mohawk Lake and Scarfe Ave. in Brantford, some of the best gull congregation sites in the HSA. In only the last couple of years those places have had quite the luck with rare gulls including, Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed, Common, California, Laughing Gull, and some other cool hybrids. 
Tundra Swans

Trumpeter Swan

At around 10:30am, while driving to Glen Morris, I got a notification on my phone of a Black Vulture in Hamilton! The comments of the observation on eBird stated that it was in flight with 2 Turkey Vultures and the description seemed pretty good for a Black Vulture. Wasting no time, we turned around and headed straight for Dundas approximately where it had been seen. These past warm days have certainly brought up some Turkey Vultures from the south and seems like some Black Vultures with them as a few are in Ontario at the moment (Essex, Hamilton, Simcoe/Muskoka (maybe the same bird?). Anyways, 25 minutes later we arrived in Hamilton at the Sydenham Lookout on the escartment providing an execllent vantage point of almost all of Dundas. There were a few Turkey Vultures in flight and some sitting on the usual apartment buildings but we could not find the Black Vulture. A few others were also on the lookout for this bird but could not find it. 

Turkey Vultures soaring over Dundas

HSA Year List: 99 

Recent Rare Bird Sightings:

Black Vulture - One observer wonder in Dundas (Carolyn Southward; Feb 20)

Snow Goose - Flyover a private yard just north of Brantford with Tundra Swans (James Lees; Feb 20)

King Eider - Female continues off Fifty Point CA

Barrow's Goldeneye - (Craig Corconan; Feb 15 - outside of HSA). Later seen in the HSA by (William Heikoop; Feb 17)

Monday, 13 February 2023

HSA Big Year - Weekly Summary (February 7 - 12)

This week has felt almost like spring with temperatures averaging around 3 degrees, feeling like 5 degrees with sunshine on the majority of the days. Surprisingly, these warm temperatures will continue into next week as well, making for quite a warm February. 

Next week we'll start to experience winds from the S/SW, hopefully blowing up some goodies from the states like a Ross's Goose. In the coming days/weeks, short distance migrants like Killdeer, American Woodcock and dabbling ducks (hopefully a Eurasian Wigeon) will start appearing and before we know it, hawkwatching season will be in full swing! Really looking forward to it!

During this past school week (Feb 7-10) I've mainly just been walking the local trails and checking the ponds for different geese and ducks. Almost all the times I go out, I will see the same things I see everyday, but when checking constantly, you're bound to see something that will surprise you (a rare or interesting bird). 

If I could describe my weekend with two words, I would use productive & eventful; it was honestly a blast! 

My Saturday started with participating in the West End Lake Ontario waterfowl count (WELO), counting all the ducks I could see in an assigned area. Conditions on the lake were absolutely perfect for today as I could see incredibly far out with next to no heat shimmer. This allowed me to spot several Horned Grebes and a single Red-necked Grebe swimming within their own groups. 

After that, I walked around Bronte Creek Provincial Park (the campground side) looking for winter finches, owls, and sparrows. While walking through the tall grasses in the fields north of the park, I stumbled upon a freshly dead White-tailed Deer carcass. This freaked me out so I tried to leave that area as fast as I could.

Bronte Provincial Park field habitat

Sunday was warm & sunny with a very subtle breeze. Because of this nice weather, my dad and I decided to head out to Burloak Woods to find an Eastern Screech-Owl that prefers to sit outside of its tree hole on these nice and sunny days. We arrived and there it was, just chilling there gaining some Vitamin D!

Eastern Screech Owl - Bronte 

Then we drove over to LaSalle Park to look at ducks and maybe find the Pacific Loon or Great Cormorant again. There wasn't much activity going on but that's probably because I stayed put in one spot for an hour. Looking back at it now, I definitely should have tried for the Pileated Woodpecker that has been somewhere in those woods for at least a week now. Pileated Woodpecker certainly isn't a rare bird in the HSA (Code 2), but it is always good to get it out of the way and it would help me reach my goal of seeing 100 species by the end of February.

Having time to kill around noon, we drove though Dundas looking for Turkey Vultures and then up the escarpment to check the Dyment's Farm area for Lapland Longspur. The very first bird we saw on the escarpment was a pair of Turkey Vultures soaring in circles! These are likely residents from Dundas rather than early migrants. Last year I visited Dyment's Farm in the winter when there was snow on the ground and saw a Lapland Longspur with many Snow Buntings and Horned Lark. This time was much different, all the snow on the fields had melted and we could only locate a few Horned Larks. We even had some sort of wasp/buzzing bee whiz by us, strange. 

Turkey Vulture - Dyment's Farm

Horned Lark - Dyment's Farm

In the evening, after putting it off for two weeks, my mom and I finally made the journey to Haldimand to search for Short-eared Owls. Finding time wasn't the only reason we were putting it off, it was also being there with the right weather. This evening was calm with little to no clouds, perfect conditions for owls being out and about. Short-eared Owls like hunting on these nice sunny and calm days where they can freely glide and fly around without being pushed around by the wind. Also along this stretch of road, a few Rough-legged Hawks had been reported. 

Arriving just before sunset along the road where the owls were reported earlier, we found a couple of Red-tailed Hawks perched in trees but that seemed to be it. We thought to try our luck on the road running parallel to this one, just a few hundred yards south. Not long after, I spot a raptor loafing just above the ground, lift my binoculars to my eyes and see a nice "Gray Ghost" male Northern Harrier! We find a safe place to put off on the side of the road and wait for it to pop back up from the field it had just flown down into. Just behind me is a little stream with some shrubs that contained some sparrows, cardinals, and chickadees. That group kept me occupied for a while. 

Looking for some raptors!

Not long after, a female Northern Harrier flies right over our car, then a Rough-legged Hawk from the treeline, then a Short-eared Owl materializes from the grassy field! Before we know it, five Short-eared Owls, four Northern Harriers, two Red-tailed Hawks, and the Rough-legged Hawk are all flying in the same field. What a spectacle that was, it was like a raptor snowglobe. That evening was just magical watching all the raptors flying around the vast fields during golden hour and running into some great local HSA birders. That was actually my first time 'fully' seeing a Short-eared Owl. Two years ago, I observed just the wing of one fly into the headlights. Thankfully the Short-eared Owls showed themselves quite early in the evening as sometimes they only come out at dusk because we arrived home in Oakville with just two minutes to spare until the Superbowl started! That brings things to a wrap, adding 4 new species to the HSA big year.

Rough-legged Hawk

Short-eared Owl in flight

Short-eared Owl perched

Short-eared Owls perched (left) while watching a Northern Harrier in flight (right)

HSA Year List: 98

Recent Rare Bird Sightings: (Bold text represents species that I have yet to add to the HSA Big Year)

Snow Goose - One near Christie Lake CA (Jackson Hudecki; Feb 11)

Bohiemian Waxwing - A group of 16 in a private yard in Flamborough (Rowan Keunen; Feb 8)

King Eider - Female continuing off Fifty Point

Great Cormorant - Recently seen again on the wave tower