Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Photo shoot - American Golden-plover

September 29 was a great day of photography in Moosonee. Alan Wormington, Jeremy Bensette and I had traveled all the way up to this part of Ontario in the hopes of finding a rare bird or two. We did have some decent finds for northern Ontario (Lesser Black-backed Gull, Dickcissels) but those were on our last days of the trip, back in the "near south". Most of our time at Moosonee was spent walking the dusty streets, hoping to see something interesting but generally just seeing dogs and starlings.

Fortunately when you are into photography as well as birding, even a day without any really notable finds can still be rewarding, as was the case on this day. We had amazingly close photo opportunities with 3 species - Mourning Dove, White-winged Crossbill (more on that later) and American Golden-Plover.

We first noticed an American Golden-plover when we were doing a riverwatch near the Polar Bear Lodge in "downtown" Moosonee, overlooking the Moose River. It was an adult bird - a strange late date for one this far north. It eventually flew, but we caught up with it (and a handful of juvenile goldens) on a lawn near the train station later in the morning.

Using a bit of stealth and a lot of luck, we were able to slowly inch closer to them and obtain some full-frame photos.

The plovers were somewhat wary of us at first, giving us their full attention.

But eventually they returned to feeding. It was obvious why they had picked this lawn - it was full of earthworms! The plovers would keep a sharp eye out for the appetizing Annelids, then quickly pull one up out of the ground. Once a plover grabbed a worm, it was a matter of milliseconds until it was down the hatch! Unfortunately I wasn't fast enough to get any good action shots.

It often seems that there is a dichotomy between "birders" and "photographers" - you are either one or the other. Some birders get annoyed with photographers, and vise versa. I consider myself a hybrid between the two, and this experience with the plovers was a perfect example. Because I was trying to take photos of them, I ended up crawling on my belly until I was a few feet from them and enjoyed half an hour of watching their behavior from up close. Being a photographer put me in a position to see some really awesome behavior that I wouldn't have seen otherwise!

Occasionally, the plovers would hunker down in the grass, presumably due to some perceived threat (like a raptor in the sky). It was surprisingly difficult to spot them like this - obviously a great evolutionary adaptation to avoid predators.

My favorite photo from the whole sequence...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Rare birds that could show up at Netitishi

Just for fun, I've decided to go through and come up with some ideas of rare birds that could show up at Netitishi. The usual caveats apply (i.e. we probably won't see any of these species), but what the heck!
I guess you could say this is a wish list. This is a pre-written post. Hopefully by the time this is published we have been on the coast for a few days and seen some kick-ass birds!


Actually possible birds:

Ivory Gull - Doug McRae found one on one of the first Netitshi trips (November 13, 1981). I actually think that Ivory Gulls are fairly regular along the Hudson's and James Bay coasts in late autumn and winter, but no one is up there looking. We may be on the early side to run into an Ivory Gull, but than again you never know.

Dovekie - Brandon and Alan saw two separate Dovekies on their 2010 Netitishi trip, and last November Andrew Keaveney reported one when he went up there. All three of these records were in November, and these constitute the only records for northern Ontario. Clearly Netitishi is a very special place that already has a history of getting Dovekies (albeit in a very small sample size). Again, we may be on the early side, but you never know. Especially if we hit the jackpot with cold, north winds.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - long overdue for the southern James Bay region! The area around Netitishi Point seems like a magnet for rare flycatchers. The habitat is perfect with  forest edge and lots of elevated perches (dead trees etc). With us standing out at the coast 9+ hours a day, almost any flycatcher that flops on by would be seen by us, especially something obvious like a Scissor-tailed! The Western Kingbird last year was on November 1st, so clearly our trip this year won't be too late in the year for insect eating birds like flycatchers.

Thick-billed Murre - Ah, the infamous "large Alcid sp.". They probably had one in 1981. Last autumn I may have had one. It sure looked OK but the views were extremely brief before the bird disappeared behind the massive swells caused by 80+ km/h north winds. Thick-billed Murres breed directly north of Netitishi in the Arctic, but the trouble would be to separate it from the similar Common Murre and Razorbill.


Would be crazy, but not unheard of:

Yellow-billed Loon - Ontario has several records of this species, and considering the breeding range of Yellow-billed Loon (pretty much the entire Canadian Arctic) it's really surprising that it has never been recorded before on the Hudson's or James Bay coast. Then again, this is probably because birders have spent a total of maybe 4 months combined on the James Bay coast in October and November. Netitishi sees a lot of loons migrate past though most are quite distant. The trick would be to find the loon holding a banana in it's mouth.

Ash-throated Flycatcher - this is a species that typically shows up in the northeast in November. Ontario has  accepted records of Ash-throated Flycatcher including 5 records from October 27 until November 24. Again, Netitshi looks great for flycatchers! Say's Phoebe is another candidate. It is a hardy flycatcher (breeds all the way up in northern Alaska!) and prone to vagrancy.

Great Shearwater - this would be a MEGA mega. Only one previous Ontario record (a bird found in a weakened state in Toronto in August) , would make it seem like an incredibly unlikely bird to get at Netitishi in October/November. The only thing is that Great Shearwaters range all the way up to Greenland and the southeast coast of Baffin Island. There are several records from the west shore of Hudson's Bay. One could easily end up lost and be pushed down into James Bay.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - the group who went to Netitishi in 2010 may have seen one of these, but the bird flew down the coast never to be seen again. This is a Eurasian species that is prone to vagrancy and that has shown up in Ontario on three previous occasions.


Absolutely insane birds (this is really wishful thinking!):

White Wagtail - they like hanging out with pipits. Netitishi Point often has a lot of pipits. They are prone to vagrancy. There are several records directly adjacent to Ontario, including 3(!) for Michigan and a recent one in Quebec.

Long-billed Murrelet - Ontario has one record of Long-billed Murrelet, a record of a bird found by Bruce DiLabio in Cornwall. This species is prone to wandering, and Netitishi Point is a great spot to see lost alcids! Quite a few of the 20 or so records for inland North America are from October and November.

Tufted Puffin - sure, why not?

Steller's Eider - they breed in Alaska/Siberia, yet some winter in Scandinavia, and there are records for the Canadian Arctic...


Now don't get me wrong, even if we do not see any rarities it will still be a kick-ass trip. There is nothing quite like living out of a rustic cabin with no internet, no phone, and no other people for two weeks straight. That alone will make the trip worth it for me and it will be a much needed break from my office and living in the Greater Toronto Area! The James Bay coastline is a beautiful and rugged place in late autumn. Watching the weather unfold in front of you here can be an amazing experience, and it is easy to see the direct relationship between weather and bird migration. On certain days an astounding amount of visible migration takes place. And this is what got me into the crazy hobby of birding in the first place - the game of birding/rarity-finding and experiencing nature go hand in hand and I'm not sure which is more important to me. Plus of course, even if we are stuck with south winds and a lack of birds all trip, we will probably still see things like Black Guillemot, Gyrfalcon, Purple Sandpiper, and other sweet northern birds.

But really, the chance at seeing a rarity is the driving force that brings me up to Netitishi! And our two weeks at Netitishi will give Alan and I as good a chance as any to see a mega.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Netitishi day one - Moosonee edition

So day one at Netitshi has come...the trouble is, the weather is great for finding rarities at the coast, but poor for flying helicopters. As a result, we are stuck in Moosonee for another day waiting for the weather to sort its shit out.

This is an exact repeat of last year. The only difference: last year we were delayed because of a fog bank. This year we are delayed because of freezing rain, strong winds, a low cloud ceiling, and of course, the fog bank over the bay. The chances of us getting out tomorrow aren't looking great either.

Birds are few and far between here in Moosonee this time of year. The only migrant songbirds in town that we found included American Tree Sparrows and the odd American Robin. Dark-eyed Juncos, a familiar winter species to many people in southern Ontario, are nowhere to be found up here having already completed their autumn migration through the area.

Oh and the other migrant species around is Barn Swallow.

Barn Swallow - Moosonee (Oct 22, 2013)

Around lunchtime as we were waiting around in the lounge at the Polar Bear Lodge a small bird zipped on by. It was a Barn Swallow! We ran outside and watched it scouring the edges of the buildings along the waterfront, hoping to find something to eat.

This was a strange record to say the least! Later on in the afternoon I was standing at the waterfront scanning the ducks and shorebirds when I noticed the swallow coming on by again. It was looking cold and grumpy, trying to gain warmth from the side of a building.

Barn Swallow - Moosonee (Oct 22, 2013)

Barn Swallow - Moosonee (Oct 22, 2013)

This was a very bizarre record. Barn Swallows have already finished their migration out of Ontario with the bulk of the birds having left by mid to late September. The latest record for the southern James Bay region is October 2, where both a Barn Swallow and a Cliff Swallow were seen. For this far north those are pretty notable records. So to get one on October 22 is just insane! It is surprising that this swallow has survived this long, as they have high metabolisms and require a lot of insects to eat. Last night was around 0 degrees Celsius with strong (cold!) winds and freezing rain.

Barn Swallow - Moosonee (Oct 22, 2013)

We have seen the swallow at least 4 times this afternoon making the rounds. It seems to know what it's doing with its foraging methods but that will only work for so long until the temperatures get too cold.

Other interesting birds in town include quite a few Pectoral Sandpipers. Last year we did not see any on the Netitishi trip, yet this year I've seen them at nearly every single stop on the way up. We came across at least five Pectoral Sandpipers including this individual on someone's lawn. Anyways, hopefully the weather clears up soon and we can get out of here.

Pectoral Sandpiper - Moosonee (Oct 22, 2013)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Off to Netitishi in the morning!

We've made it Moosonee! It's cold, it's windy, but most importantly - the wind is out of the north. Tomorrow afternoon we are scheduled to take a helicopter out to the coast to begin our 13 day seawatching adventure at Ontario's premier seawatching locale - Netitishi Point! After being delayed several times last year due to inclement weather, I am not too optimistic that we will actually get out to the coast tomorrow, but you never know!

For some filler, here is a very tame Lapland Longspur looking somewhat forlorn in the snow squall. I took this shot this morning at the Fraserdale "train station" north of Smooth Rock Falls. Fraserdale is an interesting town. It includes about 5 boarded up buildings, the 50 square foot train station, and that's it.

A quick list of some of the birds I wouldn't mind seeing on this Netitishi trip:

Yellow-billed Loon
Thick-billed Murre
Ross's Gull
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Glaucous-winged Gull
Barnacle Goose

Yep, I'm dreaming big...anyways, hopefully by the time that Alan and I return we will have a decent list of sightings to report!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

On the road again - York to Timiskaming

I'm currently sitting at a Tim Horton's in New Liskeard while the rain pours outside.

This morning, I finished my packing for the Netitishi trip and I was on the road by mid morning. I debated whether I should stop at Innisfil and try to get better looks at the Pacific Loon, but I was already running behind schedule and so I continued on.

My first birding stop was the Bracebridge sewage lagoons. This is a set of 4 lagoons that is usually fairly productive and today was no different. While numbers of ducks were less than I expected, there were a few good ones including a Ruddy Duck and a Long-tailed Duck. The Long-tailed in particular was a surprise as they aren't common in this part of Ontario. Funny enough, the Ebird filters didn't think so. The Savannah Sparrows and Ruddy Ducks required confirmation, but not so with the Long-tailed. Here's a crappy digiscoped photo. I really need to start carrying my camera with me...

Long-tailed Duck - Bracebridge lagoons

Next up on the agenda were two lagoons that I had never visited before - Burk's Falls and Sundridge. Burk's Falls was scrapped when I realized that what I thought was the entrance to the lagoons was actually someone's driveway...I wasn't sure if these lagoons were accessible without trespassing so I gave up.

This Common Raven was guarding the entrance.

Common Raven - Burk's Falls

Sundridge was a neat place kind of in the middle of nowhere. Just the usual sewage lagoon ducks were there, though I did spend a few minutes watching a Pileated Woodpecker foraging from only a few feet away! Pretty awesome birds. Here is a photo of one taken last winter in Dundas.

Pileated Woodpecker - Dundas (February 7, 2013)

I pulled up to the Powassan lagoons, a favorite of mine. As I was scoping one of the ponds, a car drove in - it was local North Bay birder, Dick Tafel, and his wife. I've emailed with Dick occasionally but had never run into him before. We came up with a Lapland Longspur along the path, the usual lagoon ducks, and a few shorebirds! Turns out that the north cell had its water levels lowered, creating all kinds of perfect shorebird habitat. It is kind of late in the season though, unfortunately, and the only shorebirds present were 21 Pectoral Sandpipers. I checked them over very thoroughly in the off chance that a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was with them, but no luck (guess I'll have to wait til Netitishi to see one!). A second car drove in, and this time it was a birder from my neck of the woods - John Schmelefske. It's kind of funny how birders will run into each other in random spots in the middle of nowhere! Dick gave me a few locations in the North Bay area to try for waterbirds, then gave me a lift back to my car at the entrance to the lagoons.

The Callander lagoons were next on the agenda. Quite a few geese were on the adjacent golf course, and after a few minutes I noticed a pair of Snows. An adult and a baby.

On Ebird there are 5 other records of Snow Geese for Nipissing District - all of them involving lost birds in Algonquin.

sexy wing flap...

My last stop before running out of light was Sunset Point in North Bay, a place that Dick recommended. In the driving rain I was happy to pick out some Long-tailed Ducks, two Horned Grebes, and a single Surf Scoter. A Horned Lark gave me a bit of a heart attack, acting like a wheatear perching on top of a rock. Nope, just a HOLA....

My next move will be trying to find a place near here where I can park for the night without getting caught. Then tomorrow - birding Lake Timiskaming!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pacific Loon - Innisfil, Simcoe Co.

Quick post tonight since I'm supposed to be packing for Netitishi, going to sleep, and waking up in about 7 hours.

[ONTBIRDS] Pacific Loon - Innisfil, Simcoe Co.

Juv Pacific Loon with a large group of Common Loons on Lake Simcoe off Innisfil. I am viewing the birds from a park at the east end of Innisfil Beach Road. The birds are mostly off the south side of the point. There are close to 1000 Common Loons here, and the odd Red-throated Loon and Red-necked Grebe. There are several close Little Gulls here as well, and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Josh Vandermeulen


Yep, that just about says it all... I got off work at noon today and headed straight up to Lake Simcoe which I consider part of my local patch (it's only half an hour from my house!). The winds were strong out of the west and so I stuck to the west side of the lake, thinking that whatever birds were on the lake would probably be huddled close to shore, out of the wind.

Turns out I was right! Several of the little inlets and bays from Cook's Bay right up to Barrie were chock full of birds. Bonaparte's Gulls, Common Loons, and Double-crested Cormorants made up most of the bulk of birds. 

Just south of Innisfil, I noticed a large congregation of gulls, loons, and cormorants feeding out over the lake, and so I eventually headed out to the park at the east terminus of Innisfil Beach Road. Looking to the south, I was surprised to see hundreds of Common Loons! 

After about half an hour of scanning, a different loon stood out to me - juvenile Pacific Loon! The rounded head/nape, lack of white crescents around the eye, dark back, and clean line separating the white throat with the dark back of the neck screamed Pacific Loon. Unfortunately the bird was diving frequently and I only had brief 5 to 10 second looks at a time before it would be back under.

It was a hard bird to keep track of and I eventually lost it before David Szmyr arrived...while we couldn't turn it back up, we did have a lot of fun seeing Little Gulls catching Ghost Midges from 50 meters away. It was one of those moments where I wished I could have gone back in time to that morning, grabbed my camera, and put it in my car. Hard to photograph Little Gulls in perfect light without a camera...Even without a camera, it was pretty awesome to have 9+ Little Gulls in view at a time here.

Other highlights included an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, some of the first "winter ducks" of the season (Bufflehead, scaup, Redhead, White-winged Scoter etc), and at least 8 Red-throated Loons. I spent some time counting the Common Loons and came up with 1480 just from where we were standing. In all likelihood there were well over 2000 in the area at the time! I would not be surprised if there are more than just the one Pacific Loon mixed in with the group. 

Needless to say, I think my "local patch" can be pretty good birding! Take that, Brandon and your stupid condo! (What's that? You already have Pacific Loon for your condo list? Nevermind then...)

Thursday, 17 October 2013


This Saturday, I leave for a trip that I have been eagerly anticipating for quite some time. The motels are reserved, the helicopter is booked, and we've got the OK from the landowners. I''ll be going back to Netitishi Point on southern James Bay!

I'll be traveling there again with Alan Wormington who accompanied me on the trip last year. Lucky for me, Alan did all of the organizing/logistics for this trip so all I have to do is show up!

Netitishi Point is located 21 miles due east of Moosonee right on the James Bay coast.

Why am I going back up to James Bay? Rarities! As you can see, it is situated right at the bottom of the bay. It is in a perfect position to see lost ocean birds which end up following the coastline of James Bay. North winds in theory push these lost birds all the way to the bottom of the bay and past Netitishi Point!

We will be on the coast for approximately 13 days if all goes to plan, spanning the dates of October 22 to November 3.

Birders have traveled to Netitishi in each of the last 3 autumns. Check out these lists of delicious rarities seen by the groups!

November 9 - 21, 2010 
Brandon Holden, Alan Wormington
-Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater (either species would be new for Ontario)
-Dovekie (2 sightings! very few total sightings for Ontario)
-Pacific Loon
-Varied Thrush
-Red Phalarope
-Black Guillemots (4 different days)
-Black-legged Kittiwakes (OBRC rarities in the north)
-multiple King Eiders, Purple Sandpipers, Gyrfalcons, etc

October 28 - November 11, 2011
Ken Burrell, Mike Burrell, Barb Charlton, and Brandon Holden
-probable Pacific Loon (3 separate birds)
-Western Sandpiper (OBRC rarity in the north)
-Pomarine Jaeger (OBRC rarity in the north)
-Black Guillemots (6 birds)
-multiple King Eiders, Purple Sandpipers, Gyrfalcons

October 21 - November 3, 2012
Josh Vandermeulen, Alan Wormington
-Northern Fulmar (beauty)
-Great Cormorant (brought in by the Greenland Express)
-shearwater sp. (gahh!!!)
-Common Eider
-Northern Gannet (2nd northern Ontario record)
-Western Kingbird (crazy, crazy bird)
-Harlequin Duck, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 2 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 2 Pomarine Jaegers (all OBRC rarities in the north)
-several Black Guillemots, King Eiders, Gyrfalcons, etc

If you can't tell, I'm pretty excited to go back. What will we see this year?

Monday, 14 October 2013

Timiskaming District - October 2

This is the last of the posts about the Moosonee trip, I promise!

October 2nd was spent birding in Timiskaming District, located south of Cochrane District and north of Nipissing District along the Quebec border. This part of Ontario looks like it has a lot of potential, especially for waterbirds. I would imagine rarities like Northern Fulmar, jaegers, or even alcids would be possible after a big storm in late autumn. 

By the time I had gotten up in the morning on October 2nd, Alan had already added a species to the Timiskaming checklist! He had 6 Ross's Geese flying with the Canadas first thing in the morning, presumably heading to the fields to feed for the day. 

For most of the morning we birded along the lakeshore. This was pretty productive and in one flock of geese we came across 1 Snow Goose and 13 Cackling Geese. 

Cackling Geese in there!

The highlight of the day though came when we were birding near North Cobalt. While trying to access a particular part of the lake, we decided to park and walk down a hedgerow, hoping it led all the way to the water. We turned around partway, since it looked to be a fairly long trek to the water's edge. While we were walking back, I was back with Jeremy checking out some sparrows while Alan was closer to the car. I heard a very distinctive sound - a loud, deep, explosive buzz - a Dickcissel! I got Jeremy on the bird as it landed in a grove of trees. A second bird followed it and landed in the bushes and luckily Jeremy managed a few photos. Alan got on the birds briefly too, but the event was over as quickly as it started. We heard them call a couple of more times over the next half hour but were unable to sight them again.

Dickcissel (photo by Jeremy Bensette)

Dickcissels are rare but regular in southern Ontario, breeding in some years. They are a rarity in northern Ontario with only 2 prior records for Timiskaming District. 

And with that, our northern trip was over. Despite the hot, windy weather (not very conducive to finding rare birds), we had a good trip and manage to scrape together a few decent sightings. I'll be heading back up there in a week with Alan Wormington, though this will be a longer trip along the coast. More on that in a bit!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Booby part two

I hadn't seen enough of the Brown Booby, so yesterday I drove back to Fort Erie. This time I was with David Szmyr (who hadn't been able to drive down to see it yet). The weather was identical as it had been for the past 5 days: hot, calm, and sunny. The buzzing cicadas sure made it feel like a typical warm August day.

The Brown Booby had a pretty established pattern at this point. Roost on one of the structures in the water between Fort Erie and Buffalo every night, leave sometime shortly after sunrise to go out to the lake and presumably feed, and return to roost sometime in the afternoon or evening.

We were a little late in arriving and as a result missed seeing the Booby as it left to go out to the lake. However we stuck it out and were rewarded. Around 2:30 in the afternoon the Brown Booby was spotted flying in, and we all got on the bird as it settled on the pier. A lifer for many present, including Kory Renaud and Jeremy Hatt who had driven up from the Point Pelee area.

Just as we were about to leave, the Brown Booby got up and flew to the west. At one point a gull harassed it - pretty cool to see! We lost it as it approached another large breakwall at a distance of 3 km or so from us.

We drove back to Hamilton (where Dave had left his car), and decided that we would try and do an hour or two of lakewatching. Ross Wood and Barb Charlton were there when we arrived and they had seen several Black-legged Kittiwakes at this point. I was only able to devote about an hour of time before taking off to go to a family function, but in that time we saw several distance jaegers and kittiwakes. Brandon Holden began throwing bread around to attract gulls, and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull joined the fray. It's a weird looking Lesser Black-backed - completely dark tail, rather large appearance, overall just seemed too big and bulky for a LBBG...maybe a hybrid? Brandon has more details on his blog...http://www.blog.peregrineprints.com/2013/10/you-want-happy-ending.html

The Black-legged Kittiwake was another year bird, bringing me up to 304 for Ontario this year. I haven't been trying for a high year list - I've just been out birding a lot and seeing quite a few good birds. And I have another trip coming up in the future, that just might push me over 310. More on that later!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Hearst to Haileybury, October 1, 2013

We arrived off the train in Fraserdale and drove to a motel in Smooth Rock Falls for the night. The next morning, we slept in by a few hours due to a faulty alarm, but we were hastily on our way.

The day was relatively warm and sunny, with wind increasing throughout the day. We came across a decent amount of birds, and a few good gulls!

The Kapuskasing Dump had our first good bird as the day. I noticed a suspicious dark juvenile gull fly in and land, and about a minute later Alan called out that he had a Lesser Black-backed Gull!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

This is it in the back compared to juvenile Herring Gulls. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are a rarity in northern Ontario, with only 9 accepted records as of the 2011 OBRC report (though last year about 4 were seen). This was the first inland record for northern Ontario, with all previous records being of birds seen on James Bay or the Lake Superior shoreline.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Some key ID features include the slightly smaller appearance, overall "gray and white" look as opposed to brown, light streaks on the breast, an all dark bill, large scapulars and unmarked coverts, and daintier appearance. In flight, one feature to look for is the lack of a pale inner primary panel in the wing, instead appearing dark across the flight feathers.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

At one point a Peregrine Falcon flew over and buzzed all of the gulls.

Peregrine Falcon

Continuing on with our day, we made numerous stops at all the sewage lagoons and little towns along the way. We especially focused on large, open spaces - attractive for lost birds from the Arctic or prairies. While no wheatears were seen, we did come across several groups of American Golden-plovers on baseball diamonds.

This one group consisted of 8 American Golden-plovers and a single Black-bellied Plover.

American Golden-Plover

Black-bellied Plover

One of the golden-plovers was heavily speckled with gold. It brought thoughts of Pacific Golden-plover and made my heart jump at first. Unfortunately other key ID features point to American Golden-plover.

American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover

The group was quite tolerant in our approach (via car!) and we were able to get some great photos.

American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plovers

Black-bellied Plover

Several stops later, we hadn't seen any rarities though numbers of pipits, larks, etc was good. In Hearst we drove up to the dump and started scanning the 200 gulls that were present. After a few minutes a Thayer's Gull materialized! It was a beautifully-marked adult.

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON
Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

This was easily the best looks that I had ever had of a Thayer's Gull. Most of my previous sightings involved distant birds in Niagara or on breakwalls.

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

Thayer's is a relatively rare bird in most of Ontario, but individuals pass through the northwest of the province with a little more regularity. Thayer's Gulls also retain their alternate plumage longer than similar species of gulls, which would explain this bird's immaculate plumage.

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

It too was tolerant of our approach at one point, and we were able to drive right up beside it. The eye, which appears dark from a distance, is actually an dark amber color up close.

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

Here is the Thayer's standing next to a Herring Gull. Other than the darker eye, note the smaller, thinner bill, rounder head, slightly darker mantle, increased white in the primaries, and deep pink/purple legs.

Thayer's (foreground) and Herring (background) Gulls - Hearst, ON

In flight, the bird almost recalled an Iceland Gull at points. The wingtips had limited dark slaty coloration with large white windows. From below, the wingtips were nearly white.

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

Thayer's Gull - Hearst, ON

We eventually left the bird after all of us had exhausted our photographic opportunities about an hour later. We stopped at the Hearst lagoons, a large and impressive set of ponds that had attracted hundreds of ducks. Two American Coots were my first for Cochrane District. This place has a lot of potential and I could see it holding a rarity like a Ross's Gull or rare flycatcher after a storm.

Driving back towards Cochrane as the skies darkened, we turned onto a side street when we noticed a big group of Canada Geese. Hidden amongst the masses was a single Cackling Goose. This species can be found occasionally in this part of Ontario, yet it is incredibly rare in Moosonee for some reason!

Cackling Goose - Kapuskasing, ON

We continued on past Cochrane, settling in Haileybury (Timiskaming District) for the night. That evening, Jeremy and I heard several nocturnal migrants go over, including Gray-cheeked, Hermit, and Swainson's Thrushes.