Feathers (all blog posts)

During the long winters in southern Ontario, I find the American Tree Sparrow brightens up my day; not just on days with sunny and clear blue skies, but also on days with dull grey skies and moderate snowfall. The rufous-capped sparrow seen in the photos below was hanging around some thickets near the roadside in Whitby, Ontario; fortunately I was able to capture some clean photos of it when it occasionally landed on a thick but unobstructed branch.

I find sparrow identification can be tricky at the best of times, but fall/winter identification of sparrows adds an additional degree of difficulty; throw in first winter birds and the ID challenge further increases. During the winter, I am thankful whenever I get an opportunity to photograph winter sparrows at close range, as I enjoy studying image details on my computer screen and noting the sometimes subtle, yet important differences among many sparrow species.   

Last week I travelled to the Niagara River, Ontario area to look for Tundra Swans, as well as other bird species. Arriving fairly early in the morning, my friend, Andrew, and I checked out the river shoreline as we drove along the parkway. We spotted several Tundra Swans, which slept afloat on the river near the shoreline and we pulled over to see if we could get some close views. I’ve always found Tundra Swans to be pretty skittish and they typically will vacate the premises once they spot you approaching.

A couple of winters back I observed a few Common Redpolls at my backyard birdfeeders on many days. They are an irregular winter visitor to southern Canada and so far this winter a limited number of sightings in and around the Toronto area have been reported. While birding in a nearby park recently, I observed a dozen Common Redpolls feeding on small cones. It appeared to me that all of the common redpolls were “Southern” Common Redpoll (A.f. flammea).

While birding recently in the Aylmer, Quebec area with my friend, Mark, in an unsuccessful attempt to locate an American Three-toed Woodpecker, we noticed early on in our search a number of American Crows making quite the racket. As we moved in the direction of the noisy crows, we kept an eye on the wooded area, looking for a clue as to what all the fuss was about. The solution to the puzzle was solved moments later as I came face to face with a Barred Owl, a species I had only seen for the first time just two weeks prior.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, snowy owls are once again on the move this winter, but this year’s movement is less than half of the epic rate seen in 2013, judging by the percentage of checklists reporting.

I never expected to come across a Gyrfalcon, the largest falcon, but upon reading reports of one hanging around a landfill site in eastern Ontario recently, I decided to make a slight detour while driving to visit my dad in the Montreal, Quebec area. Hoping to catch a glimpse of a Gyrfalcon I stopped at a landfill site in Moose Creek, Ontario. The temperature was very cold, around -15C (5F), and with the wind chill, it felt like  minus 30C (-22F) or worse.

One of my objectives in birding the Long Point area the other day was to search for and locate Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs, which my friend, Andrew, and I knew were in the vicinity.  In addition to seeing these birds, we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon Horned Larks as well in one of the fields where we found Snow Buntings.

While birding the Long Point, Ontario area yesterday, I came across a few rough-legged hawks in the area. I have had limited success on the few occasions I have attempted to photograph this species; either the hawk was too far away, even for a super telephoto lens, or the moment I tried to exit my SUV, the hawk would be well beyond camera range before I could set up my camera and tripod. Knowing that I was likely to meet with similar failure, I decided to try a different tactic.

I thought it would be a good idea to test out my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II (cropped sensor) near the mouth of the Humber River where it meets Lake Ontario and where an immature male King Eider had been hanging out. I figured the 60% increase in effective focal length due to the cropped sensor camera in combination with my prime lens would come in handy as I expected the King Eider could be quite a distance from shore, assuming he was still around.

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