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. 


Len Manning said...

Definitely an excellent find. God job!

Tyler said...

2 PACIFIC LOONS found in Southern Ontario on the same day, this one and olde faithful.

Len Manning said...

I`ve heard the one in the dirty `shwaa``is a Hybrid so uncountable unfortunately