Tuesday 21 May 2013

Update from the near north

After a few days and nights working pretty much non-stop, I find myself in a motel in downtown Timmins with a few hours to spare. Over the last few days, my coworker and I have traveled north to Mattawa, North Bay, and Sudbury to do environmental assessments at a number of different sites. I have done pretty much nothing but bird surveys, and have had quite a few highlights to show for it.

Yesterday morning I went to survey a site just north of North Bay. It turns out that the overnight rain had caused quite a few migrants to drop in, and warblers and other songbirds were everywhere! I ended up with 17 species of warblers, including just about all the regular species. Finally had my first good looks at Bay-breasted for the year! Also of interest were the massive numbers of open country birds. At one point I came across a flock of close to 50 Horned Larks, and 10 minutes later a massive flock of mostly American Pipits! There were close to 300 in the group - certainly the largest number I have ever seen at one time in Ontario. I find that pipits are harder to come by in the spring; I don't recall seeing more than a couple at a time before. Mixed in with the group was a single Lapland Longspur.

Today was arguably one of the best outings I have had all year. The morning started early just west of Sudbury with some Whip-poor-will surveys at 3:30 AM (we were rained out yesterday evening). We were successful in hearing a few whips, as well as a Common Nighthawk, multiple American Woodcocks, and a Virginia Rail. As the sun began to creep closer to the horizon, the bird song fired up and it was clear that quite a few species were present! Northern Parula. Tennessee. Mourning. Blackpoll. Blackburnian. Many of the birds were flocking together and were probably migrants. Just about everywhere I looked, birds flitted about and I soon added Philadelphia Vireo, a few Warbling Vireos (rare for the area), and 4 Baltimore Orioles (also fairly rare for the area). It just kept getting better, and soon I had seen or heard Northern Waterthrush, Cape May Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and an extremely cooperative Orange-crowned Warbler! The "best" warbler was a male Golden-winged Warbler who had probably overshot his breeding grounds. Warbler #20 of the day!

To put it into perspective:

1. I was in Greater Sudbury District, an area that generally looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland and not really the sort of place you would expect to see 20 warbler species.

2. 20 warbler species in 2 hours.

3. My best warbler day at Pelee this spring was 20 species in 13 hours.

So there you go! Who knew birding could be so good in Sudbury?

The above photo is a picture from one of the job sites we have been doing our surveys on (taken with the work phone - I really need to start lugging my camera with me on site!). I have to say, its pretty easy to get up for work at 3:00 AM when this is my office! During my point count here, Ring-necked Ducks were in the wetland, a Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead, about 10 warbler species were singing from various locations, and a bright male Scarlet Tanager was blinding me with his redness from 20 feet away. Spring Peepers were calling as well. It was one of those days that wasn't cold nor hot, with just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away. These are the little moments that make me really love my job!!!

Some other highlights from the past few days:
-a Barred Owl landing on a branch 20 feet from us at dusk
-fantastic views of a young Black Bear
-Moose and Eastern Wolf sightings
-Boreal Chorus Frogs singing (along with half a dozen other frog species)

Working in the beautiful boreal forest led me to an interesting conclusion. Birding in southern Ontario during the spring sure is a lot of fun, and it is a thrill finding migrants and seeking out rarities. But I find that wandering around in the wilderness in the north, with no other people around and interesting species around every bend, is far more satisfying and comforting to the soul. There is just something surreal about wandering around in the woods, far from the distractions of civilization. It becomes easier to understand just a little bit more of the infinite amount of complexities of nature, and it really puts into perspective how we as humans are no different than any other species, filling a niche and being just one small thread of the complex, interconnected webs we call ecosystems. I find its really hard to want to return to civilization after a few weeks in the north!


Brent Turcotte said...

Perhaps in Sudbury, the younger vegetation makes the warblers easier to see.

Even in the well regenerated areas in the Sudbury area you can tell it was scarred by pollution. Tree and rocks are devoid of all lichens except for a few fast growing species.

On Sunday I was in Laurier Woods in North Bay and had my best warbler trip for the year - 12 species. Modest, of course, but satisfying. The outing starting out with a fair bit of rain, but I was rewarded later.

Maybe this weekend I might see an elusive male Bay-breasted Warbler, which I have yet to see. I don't have Orange-crowned Warbler on my lifelist yet as its one of the hardest to ID. I have most likely seen one before without being able to recognize it.

I am up to 19 species of warblers for the year, although oddly I have missed Palm Warbler. This from about ten hours of birding around North Bay.

Ken Burrell said...

gwwa breed in the subury area.

Alan Wormington said...

I should visit the north sometime, it sounds interesting!

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh, notice you're in Cochrane District. Welcome back! It's been a long wait, but most of the warblers are finally here. Totally agree about the wilderness - nothing like feeling you truly are in the middle of nowhere. Can't say that in Southern Ontario.

Anonymous said...

I hear the James Bay area might be alright as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the welcome - it's good to be back.

Anonymous said...

Cool man, didn't realize they made it all the way up here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brent,

Sounds like you're having a great year, good look with your quest for Orange-crowned and Bay-breasted!