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Birding in Ontario

March 16, 2015
Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl. Photo by Mary Brenner.

by Mary Brenner

One snowy, cold, dark night, as I was sitting by my fire waiting for spring, I read an email about a birding trip. The Pennsylvania Society of Ornithologists (PSO) were going to Ontario, Canada to look for winter finches, owls, and a gyrfalcon. I did not hesitate to sign up to go.

I have been missing the adventures of travel and birding these past months, with the passing of my dear husband, my travel and birding partner. I have had to figure out what is next for me in my life. Well, I was going to return to Canada where we had gone two years prior and found two Great Gray Owls!

Led by Wayne Laubsher from PSO, four snow covered cars made their way north. Our first destination was Amherst Island after a ferry ride through ice. We were pointed to the location of a Snowy Owl on the ice as we moved steadily across the water. Along the shore there was a coyote stalking the same bird!

Once on shore, we followed the road that circled the island. Ten Snowy Owls, ten Rough-legged Hawks, a Bald Eagle were among the birds we saw. This island is famous for an area called Owl Woods. On this day the snow was too deep to walk into the woods but views from the road were excellent.

Amherst Island

Amherst Island. Photo by Mary Brenner.

The next morning, after we cleaned the snow from our cars, we made our way to the Lafleche Landfill to look for the gyrfalcon. We saw slippery roads, snowy skies and white and gray hawk. Finally, the Ravens and gulls began to move over the landfill, and a large gray bird trailed them looking for lunch. The gyrfalcon is a life bird for me. It was the first time I have ever seen this species, and I was looking through my husband’s binoculars.

Did I mention the average temperature in Ontario during our stay was -22 degrees? We made quite a few stops in Ottawa, checking the river (Ottawa River) for Ducks and Goldeneyes and stopping at Ebird locations for Black-backed or Three-toed woodpeckers. No luck. So we continued towards Algonquin Provincial Park stopping for dinner at the Mad Musher for a late dinner.

Algonquin Provincial Park  visitor center

Algonquin Provincial Park visitor center. Photo by Mary Brenner.

Huntsville, Ontario is on the western entrance to Algonquin. We woke to -47 degrees. We started our cars. One had a flat tire, and that car went off to Walmart to meet us later. We were instructed to not use our power windows as they might not go back up in this weather. We checked our windshield wiper fluid, a necessity, and filled them with a special mixture that is useful with this cold weather.

The main visitor center in the park has feeders and a balcony for birdwatchers. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a citizen science project in North America, was held during our time here and the bird list was available for us to read which birds had been seen that day. Hoary and Common Redpolls, Ruffed Grouse, Chickadees were among the birds at the feeders.

Spruce Bog. Photo by Mary Brenner

Spruce Bog. Photo by Mary Brenner

A short ride to The Spruce Bog area and a quiet walk through the evergreens led us to the suet feeders. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees flitted among the trees and landed in outstretched hands filled with birdseed. We came prepared. What a delight! We also were enchanted by the Red and White breasted Nuthatches. Meanwhile behind us on the path quietly Canadian families came walking and skiing by us.

Another area was a haven for sweet, sweet Gray Jays. We heard they liked Tim Horton bagels but they seemed to enjoy some cheese crackers as well as the birdseed. Magic filled the air as all sixteen birders took turns offering seed to these Jays that must be the quiet black sheep of the Jay family.

Boreal feeding

Boreal feeding. Photo by Mary Brenner.

Gray Jay

Gray Jay. Photo by Mary Brenner.

All cars stopped quickly at the sight of a huge bull moose. Luckily for him all we were shooting with was cameras.

Bull moose. Photo by Mary Brenner.

Bull moose. Photo by Mary Brenner.

We continued back to Ottawa and returned to Ebird locations. We were rewarded with hundreds of Bohemian Waxings, a single Robin, and a Three-toed Woodpecker. These birds were seen in a wooded neighborhood with the help of local man who had seen the Woodpecker earlier in the day. One last Snowy Owl flew across the road as we started south homeward bound.

Photo by L. Jackson

Photo by L. Jackson

Photo by W. Laubsher

Photo by W. Laubsher


Birding in Costa Rica

May 11, 2012

Scarlet Macaw in Costa Rica

by Mary Brenner

We left a much cooler Pennsylvania for San Jose, Costa Rica, where my husband, Randy and I met our guide, Rudy. If you know Rudy, you know that our adventure began the moment we met him with binoculars in hand. From the Caribbean Lowlands to the Pacific coast, we birded our way across the country.

The adventure across central Costa Rica began with drive through Braulio Carillo National Park, lush and mountainous. We stopped for birds and caught a glimpse of my first Green Violetear hummingbird! Later, we saw Tiger Heron and Grey Hawks. Soon we were at the Selva Verde Lodge in the Caribbean Lowlands. Two nights at each lodge gave us opportunity to become comfortable with our surroundings as birds, animals and terrain changed with each new stay.

An iguana at La Selva, the bridges, howler monkeys

Selva Verde area provided us with the chance to view howler monkeys and white hawks.

A stop at La Selva Biological Reserve was delightful as we discovered that the naturalists and birders of Costa Rica are a wonderful family of science-minded folks who shared their treasures with us. On my first day, I was welcomed by Crested Guan, Tinamou and huge iguanas hanging in the trees.

The ride to Arenal Observatory Lodge was entertaining. We stopped for lunch at a local outdoor restaurant. One word: delicious! Another word: coffee.

Crested Guan, the lodge at Arenal, and an Oropendola

At Arenal, my favorite destination, we birded the grounds and gardens. Our room had a view of the dormant Arenal volcano. The gardens provided a huge fig tree which had ripe figs during our stay and served as a magnet for all the birds, especially the Passerini Tanangers. Below in the flower beds, the rufous-tailed hummingbirds were sharing the verbena with a Black-crested Coquette. Oropendolas streaked through the sky from tree to tree and we were able to view their nests which were similar to an oriole’s. Coatis scampered playfully below the feeders looking hopefully for fallen fruit.

Blue grey tanager at Arenal, Motmot and a magical walk

Our drive to Monteverde was around Lake Arenal. We viewed the dairy farms and coffee plantations that shared the land with the untouched forests. Monteverde’s history is quite interesting and I was able to go to a lecture by one of the original Quakers who founded Monteverde and created the Cloud Forest Reserve. It was windy and much cooler. Huge, old trees and magical walks up groomed steps through ferns at least a story high were other worldly.  Colorful birds delighted us in the green heaven.

Then we headed off to the Pacific Central Coast. Our hotel was situated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Swallows danced through the clouds as we ate our lunch. Morning coffee on the patio brought views of the magnificent Scarlet Macaws. We took a morning hike at Carara Park, discovering Motmots among many other species of birds.

Violet Sabrewing, hummingbirds feeding and a photo shoot at the Arenal waterfall

We headed south along the coast via Manuel Antonio and Domincal and then inland up the mountain to the summit of Cerro de la Muerte at 11,000 feet. This is the highest point on the Pan-American Highway.  Our lunch time on a balcony overlooking the valley below was rich with the calls of birds. We were rewarded in a unique view of a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.

After a ride up, down and over a mountain we arrived at the Savegre Lodge. I must return here one day to fully enjoy all the lodge has to offer as well as sit back and enjoy the beauty of the gardens and birds from this region. The feeders and trees at Savegre surrounded the patio. A cup of coffee, binoculars and camera and the parade began.   The day’s newest humming bird was a Mountain-gem. But the colors of the Flame-Colored and Blue-grey Tanagers at the feeders still are sweet to me.

We will go back!

A view of the Pacific from the Villa Caletas and a walk in National Park.

Cards featuring Costa Rica