Thursday 30 October 2014

Netitishi Day 3

Day 1: September 26, 2014
Day 2: September 27, 2014
Day 3: September 28, 2014
Day 4: September 29, 2014
Day 5: September 30, 2014
Day 6: October 1, 2014
Day 7: October 2, 2014
Day 8: October 3, 2014
Day 9: October 4, 2014
Day 10: October 5, 2014
Day 11: October 6, 2014
Day 12: October 7, 2014
Days 13 and 14: October 8 and 9, 2014

September 28, 2014
Weather: 16 to 8 degrees C, wind N 30-40 km/h, overcast skies, brief light rain
48 species
Ebird checklist:

This morning we awoke to strong winds just as we had hoped. The cabins are located within a  circular clearing surrounded by tall spruces on most sides, making it difficult to judge the wind direction. This morning, however, it appeared to have a north component. I was the first one out to the coast and was greeted with strong winds out of the due north. Perfect!

Immediately after sitting down I began scanning the horizon as the tide came in. Immediately I got on asmall gull with a strong black and white wing pattern that I suspected was a kittiwake. Eventually as it followed the bird along the tide line it became close enough to confirm the ID. Kory was arriving just in time, and he got on the bird as well when it was straight out from us - not a bad start to the day! While Black-legged Kittiwake is on the review list for the Hudson Bay lowlands it appears to be a somewhat regular autumn migrant on north winds.

Another "write-up bird" arrived soon after Alan showed up - he spotted it coming in from the west very close along the tideline. . A dark jaeger, which eventually came close enough to identify as a Pomarine. Another semi-regular fall migrant, but exciting none-the-less!

The north winds were causing other birds to migrate - namely, Hudsonian Godwits. This large,striking species often forms large groups of hundreds of birds which are often seen migrating well offshore and at quite a height (for shorebirds). This flock was close (and low) enough for distant photos.

Hudsonian Godwits - Netitishi Point, Ontario

The best bird of the day flew by at 10:30 AM; about half an hour after the Pomarine Jaeger. As I was scanning to the left a large white and black bird suddenly appeared in my scope view. It only took a second to realize I was staring at an adult gannet, our second in two days. It, too lumbered on to the east and out of sight after a few minutes. While yesterday's bird might have been a near adult (it showed some uneven plumage near its wing tips) this one appeared to be an adult, with a sharp contrast between the black distal 1/3 and white proximal 2/3 of the wing. It also had some brownish coloration around the head.

The winds continued out of the north and our first Brants, Common Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers and scoters (all three species) for the trip were seen. Overall, however, duck numbers were relatively low for the seemingly great conditions as Northern Pintail was our most abundant species (we saw a few flocks totaling 80).

Two Parasitic Jaegers flew by - a young bird at 11:40 AM and an adult shortly after 1:00 PM. Luckily I happened to be ready for my camera and after firing away a few dozen photos of the jaeger, a few turned out. Kind of.

Parasitic Jaeger - Netitishi Point, Ontario

You can tell it is a jaeger, right?

Parasitic Jaeger - Netitishi Point, Ontario

Throughout the afternoon the waterbird flight slowed down and the tide receded. Some Rough-legged Hawks occasionally passed by after crossing the bay from somewhere in Quebec. A surprise was a late Osprey which passed directly overhead for Jeremy, Kory and I. It circled several times allowing us a chance at photos.

Osprey - Netitishi Point, Ontario

A few small groups of Snow Geese cruised by as well.

Snow Geese - Netitishi Point, Ontario

Because of the north winds we did not spend much time on the hunt for songbirds today and as a result our species total was only 48. However we had observed several quality birds and the north winds had not failed us. Unfortunately it would be our only period of sustained north winds all trip! We still had 11 full days ahead of us however and were bound to see a few more good birds!

Monday 27 October 2014

Pelee weekend!

This past weekend I headed back down the 401 to spend 48 hours in the Pelee area. The weekend ended up being warm and sunny both days with west (ish) winds, which allowed a moderate hawk flight and some decent birding at the tip.

I made a few stops on Friday on my drive down...

Blenheim Lagoons
-shorebirds! 7 species including a Pectoral, 3 Leasts, and a Stilt
-6 Tundra Swans
-lots of Ruddy Ducks, but not a lot of additional duck variety
-a Steve Charbonneau sighting

pond visible from Highway 3 near Cedar Springs:
-1 Cackling Goose with a large contingent of Canadas

Wheatley Harbour
-thousands of Ring-billed Gulls, good numbers of Herrings, but not much else
-at least 24 Common Loons and 33 Horned Grebes offshore
-White-winged Scoters, scaup, etc flying by

Hillman Marsh
-I walked around a portion of the marsh in the early evening sunshine for a few hours. With the west wind there weren't a ton of songbirds active, but it was just awesome being out.
-1 Orange-crowned Warbler
-1 Eastern Meadowlark (flying over a few times, then landing on a dead stalk out in the middle of the shorebird cell)

On Saturday I birded the park with Jeremy Bensette until around 3:00 PM. There were moderate numbers of waterbirds flying in the strong southwest wind including quite a few Common Loons and Horned Grebes. We watched one Blue Jay that had flown out too far from the point, which several Herring Gulls noticed and attacked. It evaded their attempts for a few minutes but eventually as it tired a gull caught the jay, and the frenzy began.

There were a few songbirds near the tip including a group of sparrows which contained a Lincoln's at Sparrow Field. Pine Siskins have certainly arrived - they were the most common finch of the day!

The leafless branches visible in this photo aren't from the actual tree - in fact they belong to the massive Poison Ivy vine snaking its way up the trunk. Several Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the area - undoubtedly they make use of this abundant food source in the Poison Ivy berries.

In early afternoon Jeremy and I checked out DeLaurier to look for roosting Saw-whet Owls. We were unsuccessful in that regard but did come across a nice little group of songbirds that included at least seven Nashville Warblers. To have more than one or two is unusual by mid to late October.

The highlight was certainly the juvenile Golden Eagle that Jeremy spotted flying right at us, not far above the treeline. The Blue Jays were giving it a hard time as it passed by within 50 meters of us. Awesome looks at a really cool bird! This was a species I was hoping to see this weekend as I hadn't seen one in about a year, and late October is peak migration season.

Autumn Meadowhawks were one of the more numerous species of dragonflies on the day.

male Autumn Meadowhawk - Point Pelee National Park

male Autumn Meadowhawk - Point Pelee National Park

Later in the afternoon I received a call from Steve Pike who had found a bird which he thought might be a Pacific Loon  along Lake Erie near Hillman Marsh. By the time we arrived the bird was nowhere to be seen, but we did observe both an adult and a juvenile Red-throated Loon.

On Sunday the winds were out of the due west. Jeremy and I were a bit late entering the park in the morning and another decent waterbird flight was underway. The best bird was certainly the juvenile Pacific Loon that Alan had eventually spotted with a feeding frenzy of mergansers not far offshore. Guess everybody else was sleeping at the wheel (or sleeping in...). Despite the bird being only 100 m south of the tip it was tough to observe for long periods of time as it constantly dove. Occasionally someone would relocate it, and there would be about a 10 second window to get your scope on it, before it dove under again. It ended up hanging around for about an hour, allowing excellent views with time. It certainly has been a good two weeks for Pacific Loons in Ontario!

Other interesting sightings at the tip included some American Wigeon, a single Hooded Merganser, and a few flocks of scoters and Ruddy Ducks.

By late morning a hawk flight was developing and Jeremy and I kept an eye on the sky from the tip parking lot with Donna Crossland, a biologist from Nova Scotia who was doing some work in the park.

A growing kettle of raptors slowly appeared, containing a few Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk, several Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a dozen Turkey Vultures.

Red-tailed Hawk - Point Pelee National Park

Red-shouldered Hawk - Point Pelee National Park

It didn't take long for a great bird to appear as a juvenile Golden Eagle joined the kettle of raptors. It ended up circling several times - luckily we all had our cameras on us!

Golden Eagle - Point Pelee National Park

We ended up checking out the SeaCliff hawkwatch, but by then the hawk flight had pushed further north. I left shortly after to make the long drive back, but took the Highway 3 route to Blenheim along the lakeshore to hopefully see some additional raptors

This ended up being a good strategy as I came across a few birds including another juvenile Golden Eagle near Cedar Springs that I followed with my car for a bit. A fine end to a great weekend in southwestern Ontario.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Netitishi Day 2

Day 1: September 26, 2014
Day 2: September 27, 2014
Day 3: September 28, 2014
Day 4: September 29, 2014
Day 5: September 30, 2014
Day 6: October 1, 2014
Day 7: October 2, 2014
Day 8: October 3, 2014
Day 9: October 4, 2014
Day 10: October 5, 2014
Day 11: October 6, 2014
Day 12: October 7, 2014
Days 13 and 14: October 8 and 9, 2014

September 27, 2014
Weather: 10 to 25 to 18 degrees C, wind SW 20-40 km/h, clear skies
57 species
Ebird checklist:

Saturday, September 27 - our first full day on the James Bay coast. The morning was relatively warm and by noon the temperatures were well over 20 degrees. That meant that if the birding was slow, there would always be dragonflies and butterflies to look for.

We watched the bay for a few hours throughout the morning and added new trip birds in Red-throated Loon, Pectoral Sandpiper, and our first migrating Rough-legged Hawks. The seawatching was pretty slow however, and after several hours Jeremy, Kory and I decided to walk along the edge of the spruces to the west to look for songbirds. In a flock of American Tree Sparrows I noticed a Magnolia Warbler - relatively late for this species up here. It quickly continued on to the east, foraging in the alders.

Later, after watching several Nelson's Sparrows, Jeremy locked on to a Clay-colored Sparrow which we tried to hunt down for photos (I failed). Suddenly we heard yelling from back at the shelter. It was tough to make out what Alan was yelling, but we thought we heard him say "Gannet". Needless to say we sprinted to the coast! After scanning the bay and seeing the large black and white seabird lumbering east, I ran to the shelter to watch the bird in my scope. For the next 30 seconds or so we observed the bird as it steadily made its way east. It was not far off shore, but the tide was rather low unfortunately. While it afforded a good look zoomed to 60x in the scope, it was too far for decent photos. I tried anyways but my lens was fogged up as the camera was sitting on the ground...lesson learned!

This was the third record of Northern Gannet for Northern Ontario, with both previous records also coming from Netitishi Point. I was lucky enough to see one of them - the first adult for the north - as it cruised along to the east well offshore on October 23, 2012. :These gannets are probably lost birds, very far away from home, looking for a way out of the bay. That might explain why all the gannets seen at Netitishi have been on days with poor winds and few birds migrating. They are lost, so they might as well keep following the shoreline while other birds wait for better conditions (north winds, cold front, etc). Small sample size caveat may apply...

Most Northern Gannets seen in Ontario are juveniles that probably make their way up the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario.  As of the end of 2013 there were 46 accepted records for Ontario - only 4 of these pertain to adults.

As we sat by the coast later in the morning a few Pine Grosbeaks called and eventually landed in the spruces behind us. They fed on the cones for several minutes, allowing us great looks and decent photos, though at a bit of a steep angle. This was a lifer for Jeremy and the first Ontario ones for Kory.

Pine Grosbeak - Netitishi Point

These weren't the only new finch for the trip - small flocks of White-winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls made sporadic flybys.

When the seabird action is slow, there are always raptors to look at as they cruise by the flats, searching for Horned Larks, sparrows, or even shorebirds. Peregrine Falcons disappear as quickly as they arrive in some high-speed pursuit of a wayward Dunlin or Lapland Longspur - but Northern Harriers tended to hang around as they slowly and methodically searched each patch of beach grass. We lucked out on several occasions throughout the trip and watched one successfully nab a sparrow. More often than not they were unsuccessful, but with enough attempts I'm sure they catch their share.

Northern Harrier - Netitishi Point

Speaking of longpsurs - most southern Ontario birders think of Lapland Longspurs as birds that occasionally travel with Snow Bunting flocks in the winter, or as small flocks seen briefly during April or the autumn. At Netitishi they are a common staple. If I had to place a wager on which songbird I heard vocalize the most on this trip, Lapland Longspur would certainly be in the consideration, along with Boreal Chickadee, Horned Lark, White-winged Crossbill, and Common Redpoll.. Usually at least one large flock of 50 or 100 Laplands would be in the beach grass and drfitwood, between the spruces and the bay. This one was foraging along the edge of the tidal wrack near the very point itself.

Lapland Longspur - Netitishi Point

Later that afternoon Kory, Jeremy and I ventured east to see what was around in the meadows around the point. Other than the above longspur, I grabbed some shots of the first Great Black-backed Gull for the trip as it cruised over the flats, heading west.

Great Black-backed Gull - Netitishi Point

While most shorebirds stay on the flats, this Greater Yellowlegs was in a pool close to the shoreline. The lighting was nice and we were able to approach the bird closely for some photos.

Greater Yellowlegs - Netitishi Point

At one point a distant soaring Peregrine Falcon caught its attention and it lowered itself into the shallow water  with its head down until the danger passed.

Greater Yellowlegs - Netitishi Point

By dusk it was still hot out with a southwest wind. That evening we could only imagine the possibilities of rare songbirds that were en route, and dream of maybe crossing paths with some of them in the upcoming days. At the very least, the potential of knowing what could arrive would provide us with motivation to search through the sparrow flocks on those slow seawatching days.

Monday 20 October 2014

More from Lake Simcoe!

The birding along the Barrie waterfront and Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe has continued to be excellent lately, and I visited on several occasions over the last few days.

On Thursday, Dave Lord reported a possible Black-legged Kittiwake from the Barrie waterfront. Brennan Obermayer followed up on the report and ended up photographing the bird - definitely a kittiwake. It was still being seen on Saturday, so I headed up there for a few hours in the afternoon before watching the Leafs game at David Szmyr's place (which I might add, saw the Leafs lose 1-0 with 10 seconds left in OT...).

I parked and walked north to the marina, and quickly found the kittiwake resting with some Bonaparte's Gulls off the breakwall. A little too distant for good photos, however.

I turned my attention to the masses of Bonaparte's and occasional Little Gulls as they flew around the harbour and along the break-wall, plunge diving for fish. Clouds obscured the sun but it was at my back, providing semi-decent photography conditions. I sat down in the rocks at the base of the break-wall and cracked off a few hundred frames. Due to the low light I had to compensate with ISO to obtain a fast enough shutter speed - this makes the photos appear "noisier". I also was forced to shoot my lens wide open to account for the low light, which decreased the depth of field in the images. It was tough to get a sharp photo with the whole bird in focus, while also maintaining a relatively noise-free image!

Little Gull - Barrie, ON

Little Gull - Barrie, ON

Little Gull - Barrie, ON

In this image are an adult Bonaparte's Gull (top left), adult Little Gull (top right) and juvenile Bonaparte's Gull (bottom right). While most birders know that Little Gulls have striking black underwings, some other easy ID features include the light gray dorsal side of wings without the white and black primary pattern of a Bonaparte's, and the dark, streaked cap.

Little and Bonaparte's Gulls

Little Gull - Barrie, ON

By positioning myself at the end of the break-wall, I could watch incoming Bonaparte's and Little Gulls as the flew towards me, parallel to the break-wall. I often had about a 10 second window in which the bird was at a good angle and with decent light. If I was lucky, I would catch the bird with the wings extended or in a nice "natural" looking position, but most of the photos turned out with the bird facing the wrong way, or with a wing blocking its head, etc. Overall though I was pretty happy with my first real Little Gull photoshoot. A beautiful bird species, even when lacking the black hood they sport in spring plumage.

Little Gull - Barrie, ON
Eventually I noticed that the kittiwake had joined the masses of gulls in the harbour - a great opportunity to have a rare, close look at this species in Ontario. It dwarfed the Bonaparte's Gulls that it was with, but generally acted the same as them.

The bold black "M" pattern on the wings is a distinctive look on a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake, as is the dark neck collar as shown on the image above.. Adults, an age class rarely seen in Ontario, have normal looking gray wings with small black wingtips.

juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake - Barrie, ON

I managed to get a photo of it flying in front of the "City of Barrie Marina" sign.

juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake - Barrie, ON

 I don't know of any prior reports of this species in Simcoe County before. While Black-legged Kittiwakes are regular but rare fall migrants across the lower Great Lakes and James Bay coast, they rarely are seen elsewhere in the province. I would bet that this individual flew south off of James Bay, as do presumably many of the waterfowl seen at this time of year on Lake Simcoe.

juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake - Barrie, ON

Most of the Little Gulls I counted were adults, with 3 second-winter birds and 2 boldly marked juveniles. In total there were at least 18 Little Gulls - a pretty good chunk of the North American population of this species. The wing pattern on a juvenile Little Gull is much stronger than on a juvenile Bonaparte's Gull with more black in the wings in somewhat of an M pattern, and with a differently shaped black tail tip..

juvenile Little Gull - Barrie, ON

juvenile Little Gull - Barrie, ON

On Sunday morning, Dave and I birded the Lake Simcoe shoreline once again, starting in the Barrie marina and continuing east along the south end of Kempenfelt Day. We headed south and finished up around Innisfil. The weather made things frustratingly difficult, with choppy water and high amounts of haze making identification past about 500 m impossible. Nonetheless we had a few good sightings! The kittiwake was still around, sitting just off the harbour break-wall. Good numbers of Little Gulls, Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes were seen, and we even found an early Iceland Gull at the beach along the Barrie waterfront! I guess winter is almost here.

Lesser Black-backed (left), Iceland (center) and Herring Gulls - Barrie, ON

We also stumbled across this Great Black-backed Gull along the beach that had been banded.

Great Black-backed Gull - Barrie, ON

Great Black-backed Gull - Barrie, ON

Great Black-backed Gull - Barrie, ON

I have since sent off the information and will hopefully receive a follow up with details about this bird. Note the juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull in the back right of the image...

Great Black-backed Gull - Barrie, ON

Around noon on Saturday, Amanda Guercio and Nigel Shaw were also birding Kempenfelt Bay. They not only relocated the juvenile Pacific Loon but found an adult Pacific Loon with it! Unfortunately these loons remained elusive for other birders throughout the day, as is often the case with loons here. The flock is so massive that if they are far enough offshore or if the weather conditions are poor, finding any rarities mixed in may be next to impossible.

However, this morning Ken Burrell managed to see the juvenile Loon from Minet's Point (the place where David Szmyr and I originally found it). Later, Barb Charlton and Brett Fried relocated both loons, then were shocked to discover a 3rd Pacific Loon with them! This one was also an adult. The fun didn't end there as a 4th(!) Pacific Loon, also an adult, swam into view. I don't think any more than two Pacific Loons have been seen before at one point in southern Ontario.

Needless to say I headed back up to the Lake after work to see if I could turn them up. The rain was intermittent making visibility difficult, and most of the loons were distant to the east. I checked a few locations east along the shoreline, and eventually ended up at Tyndale Park after 90 minutes of fruitless scanning. I was talking on the phone with friend and fellow birder Jeremy Bensette when I spotted the distinctive silvery nape of an adult Pacific Loon! With it was a second adult bird, as well as the juvenile. I couldn't find the fourth bird unfortunately, but I was happy with 3!

Needless to say Lake Simcoe continues to amaze this October - I'm sure a few more good birds are out there.

Thursday 16 October 2014

juvenile Ross's x Snow Goose - North Bay

A few days ago a Ross's Goose was posted to Ontbirds, having been seen for several days on some sports fields near the waterfront of North Bay. As I was planning on doing some work near North Bay today, I stopped in on my way home to look for the goose.

As I approached the fields along a nearby road I could see a small white goose in with the Canada's - that was easy! Unfortunately the heavy rain meant that I was going to get wet trying to photograph the bird, and I still had a 4 hour drive ahead of me, so I wanted it to be quick!

The birds were easily approached - probably due to the high pedestrian traffic this area must receive. With a little bit of patience I was able to approach within 20 feet of the white goose, as it busily fed on grass. Most of the time, my views of the bird were like this - head buried deep in the grass.

presumed Ross's X Snow Goose - North Bay, ON

As I was photographing the bird it became apparent that it might be a hybrid, as its bill shape in particular was not quite right for Ross's Goose.

presumed Ross's X Snow Goose - North Bay, ON

Ross's Geese have a very short, triangular bill, while the closely related Snow Goose has a much larger bill with a distinctive black oval on its lower half - referred to as a grin patch. Here is a photo of a Snow Goose, showing the grin patch. Note that bill colour is quite variable in both these species and is also dependent on the time of year, age of the bird, etc.

Snow Goose - Guelph, ON

I don't have any decent photos of Ross's Geese yet, but here is one I found on the internet. (

David Sibley put together a cool little sketch showing the differences in head and bill shape of Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, and presumed hybrids - check it out (along with the full article on how to tell them apart) at his blog.

Pure-blooded Ross's Geese should show a straight (or very slightly curved) border to the posterior edge of the bill (where it meets the face). Pure Snow Geese on the other hand always show a curved border. The North Bay bird shows traits someone intermediary. It is noticeably curved, but not as much as a Snow Goose.

presumed Ross's X Snow Goose - North Bay, ON 

With these two species, there isn't necessarily a clear line between what is a Snow Goose and what is a Ross's Goose. These species have a relatively recent common ancestor and as such, not much evolutionary time has elapsed. At this point in time they can still have viable hybrid offspring, and those in turn can reproduce with a "pure" individual of one species to produce a backcross. There likely is a fluid spectrum of birds that can have any percentage of hybrid ancestry, especially in the areas where the two species' ranges overlap.

presumed Ross's X Snow Goose - North Bay, ON

Despite the heavy rain it was an interesting study of a neat little goose, and a great birding side trip after a long day of work!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Pacific Loon in Barrie

The plan for today was for me to take some water samples at a quarry north of Orillia. I finished a bit earlier than usual, so after dropping off my samples at the Purolator Depot I decided to check out the Barrie waterfront. David Szmyr let me know that he had seen 1740 Common Loons from there earlier in the day - a record high count for Ontario. This eclipsed the previous mark of 1480, which Dave and I observed from the Innisfil waterfront on Lake Simcoe on October 18, 2013. I'm sure there are many more at other vantage points around the bay as well as just enough offshore to escape notice. Common Loons (along with other loons and grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Bonaparte's Gulls etc)stop over at Lake Simcoe to feed on the abundant Emerald Shiners this time of year.

I arrived at Minet's Point (located on the south side of Kempenfelt Bay) by quarter to five. The winds were calm, and combined with the overcast skies, the viewing conditions for excellent looking to the north or east. Bonaparte's Gulls were milling about and I spotted two adult Little Gulls in the mix. The large number of loons was evident as I began scanning west to east, but apparently most had moved on to the east as only(!!!) 500 or so were in view. Red-necked Grebes and Double-crested Cormorants were scattered on the water as well, and it didn't take long before I noticed an adult Red-throated Loon and male White-winged Scoter.

By 5:15, Dave arrived and we scanned the bay together. Only 5 minutes later, I noticed an interesting "small loon" straight out from us, and got Dave on it. It was pretty distant, but after studying it for a while it moved closer and confirmed our suspicions - that it was a juvenile Pacific Loon. 

The photo below was taken of the loon as it was still fairly distant (~1 km from shore) - its swimming to the right of the frame and looking over to the left (away from us). While it doesn't look like much, the dark back and charcoal colored head can be seen. 

Pacific Loon - Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe

The bird foraged frequently, usually diving 5 or 10 times then resting/preening for 10 minutes. It repeated this pattern once while we observed it. At its closest the bird was perhaps 500 m offshore, allowing for good views through the spotting scopes. The following photo (taken as it was flapping its wings) is perhaps the best image I have of it. Luckily I had my iphone to digiscope it, as my camera was safely stored at home!

Pacific Loon - Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe

Some ID features that can be seen in this photo: slender bill, rounded head/nape that is a charcoal colour, small white face, eyes not surrounded by white. When facing us head on, the bird had a white throat. There was a noticeable demarcation between the white throat and dark sides of the neck. 

The photo below shows the bird after swimming past a group of Common Loons. As you can see it is a much daintier loon; dwarfed by the big Common Loons.

Pacific (right) and three Common (left) Loons - Kempenfelt Bay, Lake Simcoe

By the time Dave and I left around 6:30, the bird was still hanging around in the same area. 

Pacific Loon breeds on the Hudson Bay coast of Ontario, though it is rarely seen in the south. There are usually 2-4 records annually in southern Ontario, usually on the north shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie. There is one accepted record of Pacific Loon for Simcoe County, a bird that summered at Tiny Marsh in 1992. I observed a juvenile Pacific Loon of October 18, 2013 at the Innisfil waterfront (also seen October 19), but that one was rejected by the OBRC. 

Lake Simcoe is an awesome birding location this time of year and I can't wait to get back out there! With huge flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls and Common Loons around there are bound to be a few more interesting things out there. A good storm in late October may drop some waterbird migrants heading south from James Bay; I would think that Brant would be annual there in the autumn as well. 

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Netitishi Day 1

Day 1: September 26, 2014
Day 2: September 27, 2014
Day 3: September 28, 2014
Day 4: September 29, 2014
Day 5: September 30, 2014
Day 6: October 1, 2014
Day 7: October 2, 2014
Day 8: October 3, 2014
Day 9: October 4, 2014
Day 10: October 5, 2014
Day 11: October 6, 2014
Day 12: October 7, 2014
Days 13 and 14: October 8 and 9, 2014

September 26, 2014
Weather: 25 degrees C, wind SW to WNW 10-25 km/h, clear skies
47 species
Ebird checklist:

Alan and I woke up in Moosonee this morning, Friday September 26. The plan was to bird around town until Kory and Jeremy arrived on the 2:00 PM train, but a quick decision made with the helicopter company meant that the helicopter would be flying out of Cochrane with Kory and Jeremy, stopping down to pick up Alan and I, continuing to Netitishi Point with all four of us.

Everything from that point forward went smoothly, and the helicopter touched down in Moosonee just as Alan and I arrived in a taxi, one of only a few in town due to the condition of the roads. Vehicles don't seem to last long in Moosonee.

We loaded all our gear in the chopper with Kory, Jeremy and I in the back, while Alan sat up front with the pilot. It looked like the helicopter would be too heavy to take us all in one trip, but eventually we rose slowly off the ground and were soon on our way to Netitishi.

Kory (left) and Jeremy (right) in a fully loaded helicopter

The skies were clear, allowing for great views of the Moose River mouth.

Moose River near mouth

The ride was over quickly and we were on the coast of James Bay before 1:00 PM giving us lots of time to find some birds on our first half day. Right away we added some of the first trip birds - Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Canada Goose, Boreal Chickadee. The four of us brought all of our gear to the cabins, a distance of 300-400 m one way. It certainly was a lot easier with four people as opposed to two, which was the case on my previous two Netitishi trips.

Immediately the damage from the severe weather event last fall (documented by Brandon Holden, who was birding/trying not to die during the worst of it) was evident, as many of the large spruces had fallen in large swaths throughout the forest. The cabin that I had stayed in last year (and Brandon was occupying during the storm) was newly repaired. However, a friendly group of wasps had taken over the doorway. Luckily one of the other cabins was suitable for Jeremy, Kory and I to stay in. We used the largest cabin closest to the wetland for all of our cooking, with Alan staying there as well.

By mid afternoon we began exploring the area and doing some birding. The wind was out of the southwest but as the day wore on it switched over to WNW at 25 km/h - enough to facilitate some waterfowl movement. We had 300 Northern Pintail and scattered other ducks, our first seven shorebird species including a single Ruddy Turnstone, and several Peregrine Falcons making passes at the Horned Larks and shorebirds. The day's highlight however was two Ross's Geese that Alan spotted flying west to east. At the time I was at the cabins but came running out in time to see them continuing on down the coastline. Kory and Jeremy just made it in time, too!

After we concluded eating dinner and going over our notes that evening, I went out to do some listening for nocturnal migrants and was soon joined by Jeremy and Kory. In total I counted 5 Swainson's Thrushes, 2 Hermit Thrushes and a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Jeremy also heard a Gray-cheeked later on. Both the Ross's Geese and the Gray-cheeked Thrush were new birds for my Moosonee area checklist, an area that includes the Ontario side of southern James Bay. The Ross's were #250 for Alan's Moosonee list so he was pretty happy to finally see some.

We finished the day with 45 species and high hopes for what lied ahead over the next 12 days. The forecast was calling for moderate north winds on Sunday, our third day on the coast.

Friday 10 October 2014

Back from Netitishi!

After two awesome weeks on the coast, Jeremy, Kory, Alan and I are back in civilization. We were picked up by the chopper at noon on Thursday, and within 20 minutes we were back in Moosonee. It was one of the rare instances where we had no helicopter delays all trip!

We were given all kinds of weather throughout the trip, though with the exception of one day, we experienced no winds with a north component. Two nights went below freezing and we had snowsqualls on the last day. We also had record high temperatures for a few days, making baths in the creek possible.

But, on to the birds! Overall we experienced moderate numbers of passerines around the camp and large numbers of sparrows in particular. We did not find a ton of rare passerines like I had dreamed of, but there were a few things here and there.  Seawatching was very slow due to the persistant poor conditions, but during the brief moments of good conditions we had a lot of birds on the move.

Some highlights:

-2 different adult Northern Gannets. Alan spotted the first on Sept 27 and I got the second on Sept 28; both gave great looks to all four of us as they cruised on by to the east! These are the 3rd and 4th Northern Gannets for northern Ontario, with the other records also from Netitishi Point.

 -2 or 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. These were our best passerines of the trip, as they normally range not much further north than Toronto. Kory spotted the first on Sept 30 as he, Jeremy and I were walking back from the creek. Then on October 2 I came across two different gnatcatchers in different areas, though one of them may have been the one from Sept 30.

-2 Ross's Geese on September 26

-other good seawatching-birds! Sunday, Sept 28 had moderately strong north winds and we spent most of the day at the coast. Highlights included one of the gannets plus a Black-legged Kittiwake and Pomarine Jaeger (both review species in the north), and of course lots of the usual ducks, 3 Bonaparte's Gulls, a late Osprey, and the first Brants. Unfortunately seawatching highlights were few and far between over the rest of the trip, though we did see a Short-eared Owl, big flocks of migrating Hudsonian Godwits, a ton of other shorebirds, and several Parasitic Jaegers.

-we watched two Bald Eagles and a Common Raven pecking at an injured bird way out on the flats on our second last morning. The injured bird ended up being a Northern Hawk Owl, a species usually found deep in spruce bogs, not way out on the flats. We ended up retrieving the specimen as the tide came in. While it is always unfortunate seeing a bird like an owl getting killed by other birds, it was a  really cool opportunity to study the owl up close!

-lots of boreal birds. Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, both crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Spruce and Ruffed Grouse, Gray Jays, etc. Boreal Chickadees were the dominant bird species in the woods most days.

-we had some late-ish birds as well. Gray-cheeked Thrush on Sept 26, Red-eyed Vireo on Oct 4, Caspian Tern on Oct 8, Clay-colored Sparrow on Oct 2, etc.

-lots of Gray Wolves (heard), a Beluga, some Ringed Seals, etc

It was a great trip, even though we didn't find a ton of rare passerines and seawatching was pretty poor for the most part. I'll be posting day- by-day recaps over the next few weeks!

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Borgles Island, Nova Scotia

A few weeks ago when I was in Nova Scotia visiting Laura, we planned a trip to Borgles Island. The island, located approximately 80 km east of Halifax along the Eastern Shore, has been left in its natural state. Throughout the interior of the island is old growth coastal forest, with sandy beaches and rocky cliffs surrounding its shores. The island was privately owned and was slated for development until it was bought by the Nova Scotia Land Trust to be preserved.

Laura's parents planned this getaway for us, organizing a boat to take us out there and arranging a stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. We planned to go September 8 as the weather conditions looked ideal. I was pretty excited to be able to check a new area, especially a coastal ecosystem that I had never really explored before.

The morning dawned calm with a cloudless sky. By 8:30 we were on the boat "Ryan", destined for the islands. We navigated between these islands, named the "Tickle Islands" due to what will happen to your boat if you go through in low tide...

As we moved into more open waters I began scanning the horizon for birds. We weren't quite on the open ocean, but some Northern Gannets were flying by in the distance. The odd one came close enough for a distant photo. I always enjoy any opportunity to see these big seabirds, as these September trips to Nova Scotia are about the only time I see them. I've only seen two in Ontario.

Black Guillemots were the only alcid in these shallow waters between the barrier islands. I would have to go further offshore, or towards specific colonies, to see the other alcid species. A pretty cool opportunity to study another species that is rarely seen in Ontario.

As we approached Borgle's Island, terns began flying by, some stopping to plunge dive. I was surprised to see an Arctic Tern with the group. Usually by this time Arctic Terns are well offshore, so it must have been a late straggler. The only terns close enough to photograph however were a few young Common Terns.

We were dropped off on a sandy beach connecting the ~180  hectare north end  to the ~30 hectare south end. It looked like we would be the only people to visit the island for the day.

We put down our backpacks and decided to first explore the interior of the south end. The forest was composed predominately of spruce. The trees were old and knarled, and years of deadfall littered the understorey. It really had a strong boreal feel to it, and before long the birdlife supported that view. I heard a few Boreal Chickadees and tried to pish them in in an attempt to see this somewhat shy species. A Red-breasted Nuthatch immediately responded and perched in a branch about a meter from our faces. Eventually Laura did get her first good looks at a Boreal Chickadee as some came closer a minute later. The nuthatch was still staring at us and was so close that I had to back up a step to get it in focus.

We headed to the shoreline and my bird list for the day -. Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush. Several raptors flew over including a Northern Harrier, American Kestrel and 2 Merlins. Here are a few photos of the shoreline.

We returned to the beach area to have lunch and relax for a bit. I couldn't help but try my hand at photographing the abundant Mustard Whites on the island.

Several shorebirds flew by, but not the large numbers that I was hoping for. My totals for the island were 7 Semipalmated Plovers, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 2 Sanderling, and 1 Spotted Sandpiper.

By early afternoon we set off to the north, exploring westward around the large part of the island. Here the beach gave way to rock faces with loose rocks at the base, making hiking a little more difficult. The view from on top was beautiful.

In the afternoon as the tide was out we played around in the intertidal zone, seeing what we can find. The diversity always astounds me, even in shallow waters in Nova Scotia. I wish I knew more about the species found here...

We played around with at least three different crab species among a bunch of other sealife.

 I spotted several flatfish which I think are flounders. This was the first time I had seen one in the wild - pretty bizarre fish! In their larval phase they have one eye on each side of their head, but as they mature one eye shifts to the other side of their head and they swim on their side, much like a ray. Some families of flatfish are called left-eye or right-eye flounders based on what side of their body their eyes are on. Pretty cool fish!

 Eventually our boat came to pick us up and we headed back to the mainland. It was an awesome day on the island, complete with some great hiking, about 40 bird species, seals, tide-pooling, and butterflies. A day well spent...