Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Going on a Rarity-hunting trip

(Rarity with a capital R!)

Seventeen hours from now, I will be in a vehicle heading towards northern Ontario on my second last (or third last) major trip of the year. I'll be joining Mark Jennings and Alan Wormington on a rarity-hunt in a fantastic place to look for rarities this time of year - Moosonee!

You see, the last few weeks in Ontario have been a little depressing from my "big year" standpoint. Since the Thick-billed Kingbird in late August, there hasn't been a single chaseable year-bird that I could have seen. I did however, find the Yellow-crowned Night-heron on September 12, so I shouldn't complain too much, but I was expecting a few more decent birds to show up this month. Maybe a Western Kingbird, a Ruff, perhaps even a Eurasian Collared-dove. A few really good birds, including Ontario's first ever Kelp Gull, did show up but none were chase-able! 

In addition, I haven't added  any more of my 8 remaining Code 2 and Code 3 birds since September 1st. I was really hoping that a Glossy Ibis would show up this month! However, there is a lot of the year left and I am still confident I will get 5 or 6 out of the 8 birds remaining. 

Since no other birders seem to want to find any rarities for me, I will have to do it myself. Alan and I started talking about this trip sometime in August and after a bit of planning and booking of hotels, everything is a go. Mark Jennings agreed to come with and we will be taking his car up.


 So why Moosonee?

Lark Sparrow (1978)
Lark Sparrow (1986)
Northern Wheatear (1976)
Northern Wheatear (1980)
Northern Wheatear (1990)
Northern Wheatear (2003)
Loggerhead Shrike (1990)
Prothonotary Warbler (1989)
Dickcissel (2010)
Cattle Egret (1996)

Those are just a few of the rarities that Alan, Mark and Co. have found in Moosonee on autumn visits. Every trip they seem to find something good! And four wheatears is a nice number..

I could use one of these on the trip (Lazuli Bunting)

Of course we will be checking a lot of other spots along the way. The Abitibi Canyon dam will be checked twice. Oh yeah, almost forgot:

Northern Wheatear (1972)
Northern Wheatear (1989)

Are you starting to see a trend??? We will be checking a bunch of other dam systems up there as well as over 10 sewage ponds that rarely, if ever get checked. Something good is bound to show up!!! All of Ontario's autumn Northern Wheatears have occurred between the dates August 17 and October 19, with the majority coming in September and early October. If I get a Northern Wheatear this year, this trip will be it. 


This part of Ontario this time of year is a great rarity magnet because it concentrates rare birds.
To me it seems that there are rare birds everywhere, its just a matter of finding them. In much of southern Ontario away from the lakes this is a daunting task since there is no way to really concentrate the rare birds.Quite a few rare birds show up at Pelee, Rondeau, Long Point, and Presqu'ile because the lake and the respective peninsulas concentrate the birds. In the southern James Bay area of Moosonee, rarities are highly concentrated. Say for instance, you are a western bird that is used to life on the open prairies. If you get lost and end up flying over boreal Ontario, looking down you don't see any inviting habitat. But as you start to tire, and you see a big open area (such as a town, or a dam system), you will probably land since its the closest you will get to an open prairie. Additionally, any large body of water is a huge obstacle for landbirds. Often they will hit the shoreline and end up following the coast. Moosonee is located right at the base of James Bay and is an inviting, open area for any vagrant that travels down the shoreline of James Bay. 

There are a greater number of birds on the move during the spring and autumn migrations, and thus there are a greater number of rarities moving as well. In autumn there are simply more birds which could explain why a huge percentage of rarities are found this time of year! Not to mention that young birds have a greater tendency to get lost and migrate the wrong way. Who knows what could show up on our trip? 

I would be very happy with one of these (Black-throated Sparrow)

A brief itinerary: 
We leave tonight at 2 AM from Hamilton, spending the day checking out good looking spots between North Bay and Smooth Rock Falls. 
Thursday: check Abitibi Canyon, catch the train to Moosonee
-four nights in Moosonee
-Monday: take the train back to Fraserdale, overnight in Smooth Rock Falls
-Tuesday: tour of the 6 big dam systems up there
-Wednesday: check of a bunch of sewage lagoons, drive home

I'll bring my computer and we will have internet where we are staying, so I'll update frequently if we see something good!

1 comment:

  1. Hopefully I will see the Nelson's Sparrow(s) you reported on Ontbirds as you were nearing North Bay.

    Cheers, Brent