Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Northern Trip summary and photos (part 2 of 2)

Barb sent me a few of her photos so I thought I would post them. While we were snowshoeing in Pukaskwa we were surprised to see several Pine Grosbeaks hopping on the ground. Closer inspection revealed that they were foraging on a herbaceous plant which Mike IDed as Bush Honeysuckle - Diervilla lonicera. The snow was high enough that the birds could reach the seed pods. We wondered why they would waste their time on this food source when feeders with ample seed were just down the road. Perhaps they were obtaining different nutrients from this plant? Barb managed to get some shots of the birds' tracks in the snow while they foraged.

Pine Grosbeak tracks - Pukaskwa National Park

A photo of yours truly photographing grosbeaks in White River

The following morning was very windy, nixing any chances we had at the Three-toed Woodpeckers. After contemplating our options we left Marathon and headed north once again. We had received word from several people that a second Gray-crowned Rosy-finch was in the area. This one had shown up at a feeder in Rossport, and since it was on the way to the rosy-finch in Macdiarmid, we were hoping to get two rosy finches in one day. Had it ever been done before in Ontario? Our bad luck, which had started when we struck out on Three-toed Woodpeckers the day before, followed us throughout the day. Long story short, we missed both rosy-finches! Rossport was a really nice town to visit and it has that rarity-attracting vibe to it. I'll definitely visit again in the fall when I spend a few weeks along the north shore of Lake Superior. Despite reassurance from the Michon's in MacDiarmid that the rosy-finch was due to show up at the feeders any minute, the bird didn't cooperate. I did photograph this interesting redpoll that looked bigger and paler than the rest. I'm not very good with redpolls so if anyone has any thoughts as to the species/subspecies I would appreciate it. I was originally thinking it was one of the Hoaries but the red on the breast seems extensive and there is a bit of streaking on the undertail coverts. The bird was huge and the streaking on the sides is very fine...

Harold Michon convinced us to come back the next morning - "Coffee will be on at 8:30!" - so we made the long drive to Geraldton to look for a hotel for the night. We contemplated whether we would cut our losses and continue on, or if we would backtrack and try once again for the finch. The decision was made easy when I discovered that I had forgotten my phone back at the Michon's house!

We backtracked the following morning and showed up right on time in MacDiarmid. Almost immediately I saw the rosy-finch as it came to the feeder! Our luck had turned! After a bit of waiting it hopped up onto a branch next to the feeder and I was able to get a number of shots with my 300 mm. The below shot has not been cropped - goes to show how close the bird was!

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch - Macdiarmid, ON

On top of that, somebody stopping by to visit the Michons found my phone, undamaged, on the driveway! What a great start to the day.

We arrived in Longlac later that morning and were worried that we wouldn't see the Spotted Towhee since it had been more easily seen early in the morning. As we arrived, Fred Jennings informed us that he had seen it 15 minutes prior to our arrival. His wife, Penny, put on a pot of coffee and Barb and I stationed ourselves at various locations inside with clear views of the towhee's favorite haunts. Eventually Fred came bursting through the doors and said that Barb was watching the towhee at the feeder! I arrived, saw the bird, and even managed to get a few shots through the window. This was probably the high point of the trip.

Spotted Towhee - Longlac, ON

The Jennings made us a great lunch and another pot of coffee, then we were on our way. We didn't see much the rest of the day although we found our first Ruffed Grouse of the year. We spent some time searching for owls near Kapuskasing and Cochrane but came up empty again. Nevertheless it was a fantastic day as we were now 3 for 3 on rarities.

Day 5 was cold but calm as we spent the morning birding some of the side roads outside of Cochrane. I predicted we would get 4 or 5 species, but amazingly we came up with 8 (I could probably see more species in my small suburban yard in Guelph - goes to show how slow the boreal forest is in winter). Pine Grosbeaks were conspicuous once again.

Pine Grosbeak

We did come across a family of 4 Gray Jays which are always nice to see. Before that, our only sightings this trip was a heard-only bird in Pukaskwa and a single bird flying over the highway.

Gray Jay - near Cochrane, ON

The weather had started to turn so we drove south towards Ottawa. Somewhere along the way I got the "bright" idea that if we traveled through Algonquin, we would have 2 hours of light to try for Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadee. We arrived around 3:30 PM at the Spruce Bog boardwalk where snowy but relatively calm weather conditions awaited us. After a brief run-in with several members of the University of Guelph wildlife club we began our search. 2 hours later, the closest we had gotten to our grouse was some fresh tracks. I did see and hear a Boreal Chickadee and we watched a Pine Marten stealing suet from the feeder. I bet the woodpeckers were pissed.

Pine Marten - Spruce Bog Boardwalk (photo by Barb Charlton)

From here we made the long drive to Ottawa where we were staying with the Toews. They were very hospitable and it was great to have a place for the night.

The following morning Brendan and Kim Toews waited at the feeders with us for several hours but the Varied Thrush didn't show. Quite a few Blue Jays kept us entertained with their antics however. It is too bad that Blue Jays are so common as we tend to overlook this beautiful species.

Blue Jay - Limoges, ON

The Toews's took us on a tour of the concessions around Casselman and I added Lapland Longspur to the year list. We decided to not chase a hawk-owl which was farther east and instead try for the one near Perth that was along our route home. Bad move - we didn't see it. The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful bird wise and I rolled into Guelph around 11:30 PM. What a whirlwind trip!

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