Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Timmins - Day 2

The following morning we slept in a little bit after having seen most of our target birds on the previous day. By 9:00 AM we were back at the burn. The temperature was below -20 at dawn but had increased to a balmy -15 or so when we arrived. The wind was non-existent and the sun was shining.

Once again, the woodpeckers did not disappoint. Dave and I headed east down Cache Road, while Tyler walked along the highway. We each came up with good numbers of Black-backed Woodpeckers tapping and even drumming loudly. Tyler also heard a Three-toed Woopecker to the west, perhaps one of the birds we had the night before. Dave and I watched a trio of Black-backed Woodpeckers working the trees near the road. 

In the extremely calm conditions it was easy to hear other birds flying around, and we quickly added two new species of finch to the trip list - Evening Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill, bringing our total to nine species. The only regular Ontario finch that we missed was House Finch; a species only found in the south.

We spent about two hours snowshoeing in the burn itself. At one point I veered off the trail deep into the woods, and followed some tapping right to a Black-backed Woodpecker. I could not get close enough for good photos, but I grabbed a few landscape shots with my phone.

By noon I met back up with Dave and Tyler who had seen a few more Black-backed Woodpeckers as well as two Pileated Woodpeckers (Tyler only). Eager on checking new areas, we headed south along the highway, stopping periodically to listen. On Kenogamissi  McKeown Road we hit a gold mine.

Immediately it became apparent that woodpeckers were using this area as trees were missing pieces of bark all along the roadside. A Common Raven flew overhead as well.

The above male Black-backed Woodpecker was feeding at eye level right along the road. Even in ideal conditions such as thee it was tough to take a clear photo of the bird without any twigs in the way. It is a testament to their feeding ecology more than anything!

These somewhat nomadic species are attracted to areas which have recently experienced forest fires, as recently killed trees attract high densities of bark beetles (Scolytinae) and wood-boring beetles (Cerambycidae and Buprestidae), a favored food source of Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers.

As Dave and I were watching the Black-backed Woodpecker, Tyler motioned for us to come quick as he was frantically pointing towards a stand of spruce just off of the path. He excitedly mentioned that there was a Three-toed Woodpecker at eye level! We arrived and the three of us quickly realized that there was a second male in the same tree!

As I was photographing one of the males, Tyler happened to notice a third American Three-toed Woodpcker; this time a female! She was working a spruce tree on the other side of the road and did not pay much attention to us. It was a pretty incredible moment to have this trio of woodpeckers all in one spot while Black-backed and Hairy Woodpeckers tapped nearby. My main goal of the trip was to photograph an American Three-toed Woodpecker, and this was the perfect opportunity. It was almost too easy to have clear, unobstructed views at close range!

We left the burn completely satisfied with the experience. Our totals for the two days were 29 Black-backed Woodpeckers and 7 American Three-toed Woodpeckers; an excellent count! The Timmins 9 Fire was absolutely massive and based on our rough estimates in the small part of the burn that we could cover (30+ woodpeckers in maybe 300-500 hectares), it wouldn't suprise me if there were several thousand woodpeckers in total. It certainly would be a lot of fun to return in the spring when the unplowed roads are drivable and a lack of snow makes it easier to access a greater portion of the burn. 

We made a couple of stops on the way home, namely the Cartier Dump and Kelly Lake in Sudbury to look (unsuccessfully) for two Gyrfalcons which had been seen earlier in the year. The remainder of the drive was uneventful and I was back home by 10 PM that evening. Other than the woodpecker show we had seen almost all of our target birds. These included nine species of finch, Gray Jay, Spruce and Ruffed Grouses, and Northern Hawk Owl. It was a great weekend with good friends!


  1. For more information, this article is well worth a read:

    Escott, N.G., 2001. A concentration of Black-backed Woodpeckers in Thunder Bay District. Ontario Birds 19 (3): 119-129.

  2. FYI Kenogamissi road is only named that on Google. The road sign and the locals all it McKeown rd.

  3. Sweet pictures. I was looking into checking out local burn sites for birding this weekend, but the prospects locally are meager, especially considered the 1 bird per ten hectare rate. I found four possible sites that look reasonably accessible but they totally 4 hectares combined. Last year in Ontario, the hectares burned were low, about 1/3 the average.