Friday, 1 June 2012

Eastern Ontario swing

Since returning home from Pelee on May 28, it didn't take very long before I was growing a bit restless and ready for some more travelling. My brother, Isaac and sister, Lindsay both go to school in Kingston, so I arranged to visit them and stay at my brothers place, and I was on the road!

I planned to meet up with Mike Burrell at Presqu'ille first thing in the morning and spend the day blitzing eastern Ontario for shorebirds. Last year around this time a series of storms produced a major fallout of shorebirds in eastern Ontario, highlighted by Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knots, Purple Sandpiper, many Red-necked Phalaropes, and other waterbirds including a Franklin's Gull and many ducks! 

At Presqu'ille, things started off well when we noticed a Brant hanging out on Gull Island. We had a few other interesting birds including White-winged Scoters, a Red-breasted Merganser, a male Long-tailed Duck, and about 8 species of shorebirds including a Wilson's Phalarope. Unfortunately there were no Red Knots, a species which would have been a year bird.

From here we drove to Ottawa to check out Britannia. Traditionally, this is a location where Arctic Terns can sometimes be found. Arctic Terns can be commonly found on the east coast of Canada as well as the arctic and subarctic areas. They migrate along the Ottawa River en route to James Bay and beyond, and we were hoping that thunderstorms would essentially ground these birds and force them to stay low over the Ottawa River. Unfortunately, after about 2 hours of scanning and waiting, it was still hot and sunny and no Arctic Terns were to be found (though one was seen later in the day while we were no longer present!)

We then spent the rest of the afternoon checking out all the various sewage lagoons in eastern Ontario - favoured haunts of shorebirds and waterfowl when the conditions are right. 

Wilson's Snipe - near Alfred, ON

Despite afternoon thunderstorms, our dreams of rare shorebirds slowly diminished as we checked each subsequent lagoon. We did see the occasional interesting bird, such as a pair of Wilson's Phalaropes at Casselman and 3 Snow Geese: one at Winchester and two at St. Isidore. While I struck out on my main target it was still a good day in the field.

The following day I spent with my siblings - it was great to have cold beers on the patio with them now that Isaac is 19! Later that evening I left for the east side of Algonquin, a location I had always wanted to visit. Kirtland's Warblers nest in a somewhat secret location somewhere near there and that was my main target for the next day! I fell asleep along some lonely logging road with Whip-poor-wills serenading me to sleep.

The following morning I checked out "the spot" and it took about an hour of searching until I finally located the male Kirtland's Warbler! I couldn't find the female but it was nice to hear and briefly see the male.I`m not at liberty to disclose the location. 

Anyways, the rest of the day was bonus and I spent it largely in Renfrew and Nipissing counties. The birding was absolutely fantastic and I had about 90 species for the day! 

Red-breasted Nuthatch - Algonquin Provincial Park

The diversity of breeding warblers was a great highlight for a southern Ontario guy like me, and I ended up with 21 species (while missing a few regular ones), just by driving around and stopping every now and then. Highlights were certainly Golden-winged, Cape May, Bay-breasted, and Mourning Warblers, all in full song. Other northern bird species were a highlight as well. I had a total of 7 Olive-sided Flycatchers and many other traditionally northern ones such as Alder Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes, Red Crossbill, Broad-winged Hawk, and White-throated Sparrow.

Red-tailed Hawk - Algonquin Provincial Park

 A surreal moment was as I crested a hill and saw a Lynx pause in the middle of the road. It looked at me, then in two bounds disappeared into the forest. Not long after, I was walking along the edge of a bog when I noticed a Fisher sneak across the road! I watched it for some time as it poked around in the dense understory. And if that wasn't enough, I had brief looks at a wolf walking across the road not long after, completing a trifecta of awesome, boreal mammal species. 

Golden-winged Warbler - Algonquin Provincial Park

To be honest, this day in Algonquin was one of the highlights of my big year so far. For one, it was great to enjoy the quiet solitude; alone with nothing but the sights and sounds of nature. While spending a month at Pelee was fun with lots of great friends, I rarely had a few hours to myself. Walking around in Algonquin was a great way to recharge!

Additionally, this day was a nice change of pace. After seeing the Kirtland's Warbler, there were no potential new species I could pick up on the day, unless I found a vagrant (extremely unlikely in this part Algonquin). I wasn't worried about the numbers and I could just go my own pace, enjoying the resident species of the boreal forest.

Common Snapping Turtle - Algonquin Provincial Park

Turtles are on the move this time of year, searching for potential nesting sites. Unfortunately some motorists aren't very observant, or purposely hit turtles, resulting in smashed turtles along some of the roadsides. If you see a turtle on the road, please take the time to move the turtle across in the direction it is heading. This may be a little daunting if it is a large snapping turtle but pushing it across with a shovel or large branch will even do the job! I moved 1 Painted Turtle and 4 Snapping Turtles across the road this trip, and I also had the pleasure of watching the above Snapping Turtle laying eggs on the side of a logging road in Algonquin Provincial Park. Even if she successfully lays her clutch without being nailed by a motorist, most of the nests are predated within the first few hours by Common Ravens, skunks, raccoons, and other species. The perils of being a turtle.

Common Snapping Turtle - Algonquin Provincial Park

I am now back home after the successful northern trip. I missed Arctic Tern but have some plans in the works to see this species this summer. I saw my Kirtland's Warbler, the 37th species of warbler I've seen this year! 

I am taking the next two or so days off before I leave for my next trip. I am thinking that I am going to go to the southern shield near Georgian Bay to do some herping, with the main target species being Eastern Massassauga. I haven't spent as much time with this species as I would have liked the last two years so I am really looking forward to it!

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