Thursday 15 November 2012

Netitishi day 12

Days 1 and 2 - October 21 - 22, 2012
Day 3 - October 23, 2012
Days 4 and 5 - October 24 - 25, 2012
Days 6 and 7 - October 26 - 27, 2012
Days 8 and 9 - October 28 - 29, 2012
Days 10 and 11 - October 30 - 31, 2012
Day 12 - November 1, 2012

November 1, 2012
Weather: 1 to 5 Celsius, heavy overcast with mist and light rain, winds NW 30 to 50 km/h
Ebird checklist:
30 species

The chopper was supposed to come today! First thing in the morning the prognosis did not look good. There was not much fog, but it was raining very lightly and the wind was still strong out of the north - not great weather for a chopper to fly in. As the morning went on, the ceiling started to rise and the light rain turned into intermittent mist, so we packed up all of our gear and brought it out to the coast. From there, we planned to sea-watch until the chopper showed up.

Unfortunately, it never did - kind of frustrating since I was really eager to get back to southern Ontario! We knew all about Hurricane Sandy and I was hoping that we could get back soon enough to see any remaining hurricane birds. However, the chopper's delay in arriving was a blessing in disguise.

Right around noon, Alan mentioned that he had a big cormorant straight out in front of us. I thought he was kidding since we hadn't seen a single Double-crested Cormorant all trip. When I looked, this bird certainly looked different than any Double-crested I had ever seen! It was massive, with a thick neck and chest along with broad wings. The bill was also very broad, and even as the bird flew farther away it was still noticeably larger than a Double-crested. We both realized that this was a Great Cormorant!

The bird had a more goose-like flight due to its massive size (they are twice the weight of Double-crested Cormorants), and it also seemed lost. It was gaining altitude and following the coast along to the west as if it was looking for a way out. It is too bad I had my camera packed away since I could have taken some photos of it!

Great Cormorant was not even on my radar for the trip! It was a code-5 bird with less than a dozen previous records for Ontario. Additionally, all 11 previous records were from Lake Ontario so this was a new bird for Northern Ontario! It was also Ontario year bird #341!

We were thinking that the remnants of Sandy were spinning over southern Quebec, causing strong winds to blow all the way from the Atlantic Ocean over Labrador and into Hudson's Bay. Almost certainly that is how the cormorant showed up!

The fun for the day wasn't done yet. Very few ducks were around, though we did have a Surf Scoter and 2 Lesser Scaup sitting in the water for most of the day. But by 4:30 PM, darkness was approaching and not much was moving on the water. We were both sitting in the shelter, watching the tide rise, when suddenly a bird flew low along the tide line, continuing eastward. Immediately it did not look like any of the typical birds we had been seeing, and I called out, "What was that?"

Alan's response was, "Yeah, what WAS that???"

It was flying somewhat like a robin, but it was a little small and some other things didn't seem right. We got on the bird just as it pulled up for a landing about 20 or 30 meters from us. As it turned, I could see it was a yellow-breasted kingbird! "Western Kingbird!!!" I called out. Alan had his camera with him, so he attempted to get a photo while I ran to get mine. Unfortunately the bird continued on, and disappeared before Alan could get a good look or a photo. He wasn't sure what species it was given the poor views, though I was fairly sure it was either a Western or a Cassin's Kingbird since I had a decent look initially. Either way, we had to relocate this bird!!!

After 20 minutes of unsuccessful searching, we met up again and discussed the possibilities. Even if we did not relocate it, "yellow-breasted kingbird" was still a tick on my year list, but considering how significant a find this was we needed to nail down the ID! Since we first saw the bird on the tidal wrack, I figured that most likely it was along the wrack farther down the coast. I then decided that I would spent the remaining hour of daylight walking east along the beach until I found the bird, or until it was too dark to continue searching.

Not 10 minutes later, I saw a flash to my left.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

There it was - the flycatcher! Immediately the combination of small bill, amount of gray on the head and yellow on the breast, and black tail with white outer rectrices nailed the ID as a Western Kingbird. I yelled and screamed at Alan who was way down the beach and once he heard me several minutes later, he came running over to check it out.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

It appeared to be a young bird and it looked extremely worn. I guess it would have to be considering the distance it flew to get to James Bay!

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

The kingbird kept busy by looking for insects and worms along the tidal wrack, rather efficiently we thought. It was surprising how many things it managed to dig out! Normally kingbirds catch flies and wasps in mid-air but this one was forced to search for different prey. It allowed us a fairly close approach as it "hunted".

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

We wondered how long this bird had been on James Bay. Perhaps the warm southwesterly winds from a few days ago were enough to blow this bird all the way to northern James Bay, and with the strong north winds for 3 or 4 days since it had followed the coast south, all the way to Netitishi Point.

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

However it got here, it was one exceptional record! It is the latest record of a Western Kingbird for Northern Ontario and one of very few records for Cochrane District. Seeing a flycatcher was one of the last things we were expecting since the only other migrant Passerines still around were Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and the odd American Tree Sparrow!

Western Kingbird - Netitishi Point

Western Kingbird is "only" a code-3 bird since they occasionally breed in Rainy River District and a few usually show up from August to October in southern Ontario every autumn. I had assumed that I had missed it for the year when I left for Netitishi, though!

The chopper delay had given us 2 more bonus birds. What would the next day bring?

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