Friday, 30 October 2015

Pink-footed Goose - new to Ontario

Earlier this evening, Brandon Holden sent an email to myself and several others with a link to a blog post by Jacques Bouvier, a local birder in Eastern Ontario. In the blog post was a picture of a Pink-footed Goose that he had photographed near the LaFleche landfill near Moose Creek, Ontario. This is partway between Ottawa and Cornwall.

The blog post in question can be viewed here: http://jacquesbouvier.blogspot.ca/2015/10/nouveau-record-ce-vendredi-pour-ma.html

This is a first record for Ontario, though a long overdue one. Pink-footed Goose is a European species that has become more common in eastern North America in recent years. Extremely rare in North America until the late 1990s, there are now multiple sightings each year in eastern North America. Some have been seen quite close to the Ontario border, but this is the first from Ontario soil.

Needless to say there will be a lot of birders scouring the geese flocks in Eastern Ontario tomorrow, hoping that the bird is still around!



Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Interesting kingbird in Hamilton

On October 25, Gordo and Tammy Laidlaw were walking at Princess Point in Hamilton when they discovered and photographed an unusual flycatcher. Initially they thought it was an Eastern Kingbird and that evening photos were posted to the Facebook group "Ontario Birds". This created quite a bit of discussion as in some photos the bird looked like a Fork-tailed Flycatcher. It was extremely worn, missing its tertials and having some broken feathers, complicating the identification.

The bird was not seen on October 26, but this morning (October 27) Daniel and Garth Riley relocated the bird near the area where it was first observed. Several birders were able to see and photograph it, myself included. I've posted some photos here for the benefit of those who may not be subscribed to the Facebook group "Ontario Birds".

I am not about to write an extensive piece on its identification right now, but after today's encounter I am leaning towards a very worn, young Eastern Kingbird. Additional commentary may appear at a later date! Eastern Kingbirds generally vacate the province by early September, with occasional individuals trickling by until the end of September and occasionally into October. It is quite unusual for an Eastern Kingbird to still be present in Ontario on October 27, though there have been some later records. The ID is very much up for debate, and some well-respected and credible birders in Ontario and North America have weighed in thinking it is a Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

For those wondering, the bird was seen to roost near the pedestrian bridge crossing Chedoke Creek at Princess Point in Hamilton this evening, after being seen throughout the day. The bird was very weak and may be on death's door. I am sure that the upcoming weather in the next few days will be very hard on it, and I would be quite surprised if it makes it through. At times it was even attempting to eat berries.


Without further ado, here are some photos that I took today of the bird.







This photo, taken by Richard Poort, is the only decent photo that I've seen which shows the underwing pattern of the bird. I took one as well, but it is not much more than a blur.

photo taken by Richard Poort

Barb Charlton took this photo yesterday afternoon, which shows well the white tips to each of the rectrices (tail feathers). In my mind, this is a feature that should not be present on Fork-tailed Flycatcher, but I have no field experience with young Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and there are very few photos online. Could this just be an artifact of the extensive feather wear on the bird?

photo taken by Barb Charlton

A very interesting bird, and commentary is always welcome!

October 4 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove

October 1-2, 2015 - Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marathon
October 3, 2015 - Marathon to Rossport
October 4, 2015 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove
October 5, 2015 - Sibley Peninsula to Thunder Bay
October 6, 2015 - Thunder Bay to Rossport
October 7, 2015 - Rossport to Wawa
October 8, 2015 - Wawa to Manitoulin Island
October 9, 2015 - Nelson's Sparrow in Oliphant
October 9-10, 2015 - Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is a trip report from my 10-day drive along the north shore of Lake Superior from October 1 to 10, 2015. I began in Sault Ste Marie and worked my way north and west to Thunder Bay, before retracing my steps back south towards Sault Ste. Marie. From I there I headed then south through Manitoulin Island, across to Tobermory, and south through southern Ontario to get back home to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The links above will bring you to that particular day of the trip. Any links in the text below brings you to the eBird checklist corresponding with that location.

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My first stop on October 4 was the picturesque town of Rossport. The temperatures through the night had dipped down to the freezing mark, but the sun quickly burned away the light frost, making the morning quite comfortable.

shoreline near Marathon

My best bird in Rossport was a Sedge Wren that I discovered in the marsh near the causeway to Nicol Island. I certainly wasn't expecting this species, given the location and date! Sedge Wren breeds in northwestern Ontario but is uncommon along the north shore. The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas shows no breeding evidence east of Thunder Bay in northern Ontario, with the exception of two squares on James Bay and one square near Matheson.This individual was probably a migrant that had been pushed off course, and the lack of cold temperatures had allowed it to persist into early October before migrating. I had never found a Sedge Wren during fall migration before so it was exciting for me.

A Common Yellowthroat and a Wilson's Snipe were also in the marsh, and a nice variety of other birds were seen (Lapland Longspurs, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrush, Rusty Blackbirds, Red-necked Grebes in the harbour, etc). I paused to photograph this confiding Ruby-crowned Kinglet as well.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Marathon

I continued west, making a few brief stops at Pays Plat and a lookout over Nipigon Bay. Not much was happening in Nipigon and I continued down to Red Rock.

In Red Rock, the theme of few birds continued and it was very difficult to find songbirds in the open areas around town. I did add a few new trip birds here, including Hooded Merganser and American Coot, as well as my first American Black Ducks, Greater Scaups and Northern Harrier for Thunder Bay District.

I briefly checked the Hurkett Docks, then continued around to Hurkett Cove Conservation Area. At this point I was really ready for a good walk, so I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening here, exploring the waterfront and some trails. It was a nice break from sitting in my car, even if the potential for finding rare birds was less with this strategy then with driving around and checking all the open areas.

On the road in, I came across an Eastern Gartersnake in a sunny spot.

Eastern Gartersnake - Hurkett Cove CA

Eastern Gartersnake - Hurkett Cove CA

A good variety of ducks were offshore including a flock of Redhead with singles of Ring-necked Duck and both scaup species mixed in. A small group of Bonaparte's Gulls alternated between resting on the water with the ducks and winging around, while a Bald Eagle made a close pass. I found several flocks of chickadees/nuthatches/kinglets/creepers (with a few Boreal Chickadees mixed in), as well as some warblers and sparrows, including my first Fox Sparrows of the trip. These were sparrow species # 11 of the trip, with more species to come later (stay tuned...)

I found a secluded spot to set up camp for the night, this time sleeping in my car once again as rain was forecast overnight. The next day I was going to check out part of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Silver Islet, continuing on to Thunder Bay in the afternoon.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Recent rare bird news

After a relatively slow autumn, things have been picking up in southern Ontario with rare birds. Here are a brief summary of some of the more notable species to be reported in the last few days:

Ash-throated Flycatcher: Glenn Coady found this southwestern species in Ajax on Wednesday evening, though unfortunately it was a one-day wonder as it was not reported the next day by any credible observers, despite dozens of people out looking for it. Flycatchers can be finicky this way, and Ash-throated Flycatchers, while nearly annual in recent years, are usually a one-day wonder. There are still only 12 accepted records for Ontario. I still need this one for Ontario, as do many other birders!

Townsend's Solitaire: David Pryor found one at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto on October 19, which was quite cooperative for all the birders who came to look for it that day. Unfortunately, it too continued on and was not seen the next day. Just now, Brett Fried texted me a photo of a Townsend's Solitaire from the tip of Long Point, where he has been staying for the last few days. Speaking of Long Point...

Northern Gannet and White-winged Dove: Two more unusual birds, one from the east, and one from the southwest, have been seen at the tip of Long Point recently. If only I was down there right now....

Cattle Egret: Several reports of Cattle Egrets came in from the Long Point area recently. One flew by the tip on October 16, another passed Old Cut on October 17, and other one was seen near Port Rowan October 17-18. I'm not sure how many individuals were involved. Cattle Egrets, while rare in Ontario, usually show up at some point in late October in very small numbers.

Cattle Egret - Tilbury lagoons (November 7)

Black-headed Gull: Tyler Hoar found one at the Durham side of Lake Simcoe on Wednesday. This bird has become quite scarce in the province in recent years with usually less than 5 reported annually.

Late songbirds: This October has been quite mild, playing a role in the large number of songbirds that are still being reported in the province. Close to 20 warbler species have been seen in the last week! Other species that are normally far south of here, such as both cuckoos, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Veery, and Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows have been seen in recent days.

Shorebirds: The large number of White-rumped Sandpipers that arrived in early October are still hanging around in many areas. Mike Burrell wrote a great piece about this phenomenon, which you should check out! Some "late" shorebirds still being seen include a Short-billed Dowitcher at Richmond in eastern Ontario, and Willie the Willet at Blenheim lagoons (which may be the same bird that I found back on September 4.).

Willet - Blenheim lagoons (September 4, 2015)

This is just a small sample of some of the interesting birds that have been seen recently. With some unsettled weather arriving next week, as well as possibly the remnants from Hurricane Patricia, there could be a lot of unusual species around. Get out there and keep checking your local patches! I know I will be, here in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

October 3, 2015 - Marathon to Rossport

October 1-2, 2015 - Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marathon
October 3, 2015 - Marathon to Rossport
October 4, 2015 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove
October 5, 2015 - Sibley Peninsula to Thunder Bay
October 6, 2015 - Thunder Bay to Rossport
October 7, 2015 - Rossport to Wawa
October 8, 2015 - Wawa to Manitoulin Island
October 9, 2015 - Nelson's Sparrow in Oliphant
October 9-10, 2015 - Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is a trip report from my 10-day drive along the north shore of Lake Superior from October 1 to 10, 2015. I began in Sault Ste Marie and worked my way north and west to Thunder Bay, before retracing my steps back south towards Sault Ste. Marie. From I there I headed then south through Manitoulin Island, across to Tobermory, and south through southern Ontario to get back home to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The links above will bring you to that particular day of the trip. Any links in the text below brings you to the eBird checklist corresponding with that location.

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I birded the town of Marathon on the morning of October 3, beginning my day by walking down the railroad tracks south of town. During the right conditions the tracks can be excellent with migrating finches, sparrows, and even raptors. They have a good history of rare birds as well (Cassin's Sparrow,  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Townsend's Solitaire, all found by Alan Wormington) despite almost non-existent coverage. Unfortunately the birds just weren't around today, making for a relatively quiet walk! I did have an encounter with a Black-backed Woodpecker for a while. It flew into the top of a spruce while I was sitting on the tracks, and I watched it work the bark for insects. It was too high up in the tree for good photos unfortunately. Black-backed Woodpeckers are always nice to come across, even if they are the commoner of the two species of boreal woodpeckers!

Black-backed Woodpecker - Marathon

I also observed my first Boreal Chickadee and Winter Wren of the trip, and came across an Orange-crowned Warbler with a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. Along with Palm and Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned is one of the later migrating autumn warblers that we see in Ontario, with peak migration occurring during early October. Most of the other warbler species migrate through in mainly August and September.

I briefly checked some other hotspots around town before hitting the road again. Since I had neglected to check the Pic River mouth on the previous day, I backtracked down the highway to explore the area.

Pic River mouth

The mouth of the Pic River is quite picturesque, in part due to the rolling sand dunes around the river mouth with the rocky Lake Superior shoreline providing a nice backdrop. These dunes were formed after the last Ice Age due to sediment washing down the river, eventually building up along the shore.

Pic River mouth

I was pleasantly surprised to see a little orange sparrow pop up out of the dunes here - an adult Le Conte's. We don't see these secretive sparrows too often in southern Ontario, though they are a little more regular as a migrant along the north shore of Superior. They breed in a few areas as well, but are certainly not common. The dune grasses were relatively sparse in this area, providing excellent looks. I actually came back half an hour later with my camera, but unfortunately couldn't turn up the little dude. That's how it goes sometimes.

Le Conte's Sparrow location - Pic River mouth

As I was leaving the Pic River area, I checked my email as I was back in cell service range. I saw an email from Alan Wormington, which he had forwarded to me from Michael Butler. I thought it was a joke at first but quickly realized it wasn't. Michael had found a juvenile Eurasian Dotterel that morning at Oliphant, on the Bruce Peninsula. A dotterel! A bird that was inconceivable for eastern North America, let alone Ontario. Eurasian Dotterel is a Eurasian species of shorebird, breeding in Arctic tundra from Norway to Siberia. It is quite rare in North America, with most records involving birds at the far-flung islands in the Bering Sea in western Alaska. It has occurred a handful of times in California, four times in Washington state, and once in British Columbia, according to the ABA blog post about the sighting.. This was the first time that the species had occurred in eastern North America! Michael took some photos of the bird, which can be viewed on his blog.

Needless to say I considered chasing this insane bird for Ontario, and I actually turned south onto the Trans-Canada before stopping to think about what I should do. Since I had driven about 15 hours to get to this part of Ontario, and I had a full week planned along the north shore, I decided to wait on chasing the bird. If it was re-found later that day, then I would have a very tough decision to make! Unfortunately for the many birders who chased the dotterel, it was a one-day wonder (or even a one-hour wonder). What a crazy bird! While there was undoubtedly a lot of luck involved for Michael to be in the right place at the right time to spot the dotterel, he deserves a lot of credit for noticing that this bird was different, photographing it well, and alerting the birding community once he had conclusively identified it. Congratulations Michael, this mega find couldn't have happened to a more genuine human being.

I eventually continued north along my planned route, checking out the abandoned community of Jackfish and the towns of Schreiber and Terrace Bay. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful birding wise, though once again my species list for the day climbed to around 60. I finished up near Rossport where I watched a flock of American Robins (along with some Eastern Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings) gorging themselves on Mountain Ash berries. Even the Ring-billed Gulls were getting in on the action!

Later that evening I found a nice quiet place to spend the night, right along the shores of Lake Superior. After two nights in the front seat of my car, sleeping vertically in my tent sure was a nice change. Here are a few sunset photos from my camp site that evening. Not a bad view, and completely free...

sunset near Rossport

sunset near Rossport

Monday, 19 October 2015

Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marathon - October 1 and 2, 2015

October 1-2, 2015 - Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marathon
October 3, 2015 - Marathon to Rossport
October 4, 2015 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove
October 5, 2015 - Sibley Peninsula to Thunder Bay
October 6, 2015 - Thunder Bay to Rossport
October 7, 2015 - Rossport to Wawa
October 8, 2015 - Wawa to Manitoulin Island
October 9, 2015 - Nelson's Sparrow in Oliphant
October 9-10, 2015 - Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is a trip report from my 10-day drive along the north shore of Lake Superior from October 1 to 10, 2015. I began in Sault Ste Marie and worked my way north and west to Thunder Bay, before retracing my steps back south towards Sault Ste. Marie. From I there I headed then south through Manitoulin Island, across to Tobermory, and south through southern Ontario to get back home to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The links above will bring you to that particular day of the trip. Any links in the text below brings you to the eBird checklist corresponding with that location.

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I began my trip to the north shore of Lake Superior on Thursday, October 1. After finishing up my first week at the new office in St. Catharines, I headed westbound along the QEW. After a brief stop at Van Wagner's Beach to scan for jaegers with Tim Lucas in the strong winds (we saw one jaeger in an hour of watching, which was most likely a Pomarine), I made a few stops for supplies and was on my way north around sunset. I made good progress that evening and finally decided to pull off the highway and find a car-camping spot around 1:30 in the morning, somewhere past the turnoff for Elliot Lake.

My goal for Friday was to make it all the way to Marathon, birding some of the hotspots along the way. I was mainly hoping to cover a lot of ground, though. The Bruce Mines sewage lagoons shortly after dawn provided a good variety of ducks, dozens of sparrows (mostly White-crowned) and a few warblers including the first Orange-crowned of the trip. A juvenile Northern Harrier perched beside the lagoons in the morning sun was a worthwhile study for a few minutes, while a few Pine Siskins and a Purple Finch called as they flew over; these two finches would be seen at nearly every stop I made throughout the trip.

While I spent most of Friday driving, the beautiful scenery prevented the drive from being monotonous. Due to the relatively warm autumn up to this point, the leaves were far from peak colour intensity. Even still, the aspens and tamaracks were turning yellow, contrasting with the dark green of the spruces with a bit of orange from the maples sprinkled in. One species that had reached peak colour was Staghorn Sumac. The scarlet foliage lined the roadsides in many areas.

Several raptors were migrating south with the light north winds, mostly Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures but also a few Bald Eagles, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and an American Kestrel. American Pipits and Horned Larks were occasionally seen on the shoulder of the Trans-Canada as well. I birded the Michipicoten River area, turning up an Eastern Bluebird, some Red-necked Grebes and the first Lincoln's Sparrow of the trip. Lincoln's ended up being quite common throughout the trip and many weedy patches had one or two.

Lincoln's Sparrow

The Wawa lagoons were pretty slow, though most of the expected ducks were accounted for. After another two hours of driving I finally arrived in Marathon by mid-afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I took my time birding some of the hotspots around town. The birding was very slow, though I found a late Gray Catbird mewing from some alders near the harbour. I also added my first American Tree Sparrow and Chipping Sparrows of the trip, bringing me up to 9 sparrow species so far.

Peninsula Harbour, Marathon

That evening I set up camp along a gravel road heading to the middle of nowhere, just north of Marathon.

campsite near Marathon

As I was taking this photo I was being serenaded by a Northern Saw-whet Owl, singing away nearly continuously for 10 minutes. Some late evening owling turned up a calling Long-eared Owl as well, but I could not dig up any boreal owls.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Nelson's Sparrow at Oliphant, Bruce Peninsula

October 1-2, 2015 - Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marathon
October 3, 2015 - Marathon to Rossport
October 4, 2015 - Rossport to Hurkett Cove
October 5, 2015 - Sibley Peninsula to Thunder Bay
October 6, 2015 - Thunder Bay to Rossport
October 7, 2015 - Rossport to Wawa
October 8, 2015 - Wawa to Manitoulin Island
October 9, 2015 - Nelson's Sparrow in Oliphant
October 9-10, 2015 - Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is a trip report from my 10-day drive along the north shore of Lake Superior from October 1 to 10, 2015. I began in Sault Ste Marie and worked my way north and west to Thunder Bay, before retracing my steps back south towards Sault Ste. Marie. From I there I headed then south through Manitoulin Island, across to Tobermory, and south through southern Ontario to get back home to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The links above will bring you to that particular day of the trip. Any links in the text below brings you to the eBird checklist corresponding with that location.

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On the evening of Friday, October 9 I took the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island to Tobermory, Bruce Peninsula before driving to my friends Michael and Martha's place to stay the night (thanks guys!). This put me in a good position to bird the Bruce Peninsula on Saturday, slowly working my way south back to Niagara on my last day of the trip.

One of my first stops on Saturday was at the flats on the west side of the Bruce Peninsula near the picturesque cottage community of Oliphant. This is the location where Michael discovered a juvenile Eurasian Dotterel on October 3, a remarkable record for the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, and Eastern North America. While the bird did not linger long and was likely now many miles from Oliphant, the slim possibility remained that it could be hiding somewhere nearby. At the very least I was hoping to find some shorebirds as these flats can be notoriously good at times.

Oliphant flats, Bruce County

While the shorebird numbers were down during my visit, consisting of just a few yellowlegs and two fly-by White-rumped Sandpipers, the beautiful calm autumn morning made the walk quite enjoyable.

Oliphant flats, Bruce County

At one point I was walking through some relatively short, sparse grass growing in about a centimetre of standing water when I flushed a small sparrow. Eventually I had a good luck at it with my binoculars, fully expecting a Savannah Sparrow or perhaps a Swamp Sparrow. I was quite surprised to see a Nelson's Sparrow staring back at me!

Nelson's Sparrow, formerly known as Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow belongs to Ammodramus, a genus that includes nine species of sparrows found in the Americas. Like most species in this genus Nelson's Sparrows are very secretive, often preferring to run between clumps of grass and other hiding spots when discovered. There are three distinct populations in North America - one that breeds in salt marshes along the Atlantic coast, another found in the Hudson Bay lowlands, and a third that prefers freshwater marshes and wet meadows in the prairies.  Nelson's Sparrow is a rare spring migrant and uncommon but regular autumn migrant through southern Ontario. Undoubtedly many Nelson's Sparrows go undetected in southern Ontario due to their secretive habits and penchant for areas with standing water.

I knew that Nelson's Sparrow was an unusual bird for Bruce County so I made a point to try to take photos of the beast. Because I was carrying my scope and walking a good distance over the flats I had neglected to bring my camera with me. This increased the difficulty of documenting the bird as I was limited to my iPhone and spotting scope. After a few minutes the bird was in an area where the grasses were not as dense. It paused, watching me, which allowed me time to set up my scope on the bird and eventually fire off a few poor record shots. Phone-scoping an Ammodramus sparrow is never easy!

Nelson's Sparrow - Oliphant flats, Bruce County

Nelson's Sparrow - Oliphant flats, Bruce County

I continued on with my day, checking out several other places along the west side of the Bruce Peninsula and further south along the Lake Huron coast, which I'll detail in another post. The Nelson's Sparrow remained in the area later that day and Alfred Raab managed some excellent photos of it, two of which he has allowed me to post. Thanks Alfred! I first met Alfred at his winter home in Altos del Maria, Panama. Alfred hosted David Bell, Steve Pike and I for a few nights and guided us in the mist-shrouded hills that he knows so well. I've detailed our time here in this blog post...

Nelson's Sparrow - Oliphant flats, Bruce County (photo by Alfred Raab)
This Nelson's Sparrow appears to be of the subspecies alterus, breeding in the Hudson`s Bay lowlands. This bird could have been born in northern Ontario, even! The prairie-breeding subspecies nelsoni is brighter still with more vivid colors, while the Atlantic coast-breeding subspecies subvirgatus is more muted in its colors, showing more gray tones.

Nelson's Sparrow - Oliphant flats, Bruce County (photo by Alfred Raab)

I received an email from Lynne Richardson, a member of the Grey-Bruce Bird Records Committee shortly after posting the sighting to Ontbirds. Lynne mentioned that the Nelson's Sparrow was a first record for the Grey-Bruce checklist area, bringing the cumulative total to 343 species. This follows several other first records in Bruce County this year including the Mississippi Kite that Alfred found in May and of course the Eurasian Dotterel found by Michael Butler. Unlike those two species which are rare vagrants to Ontario the Nelson's Sparrow was a long-awaited addition. Certainly Nelson's Sparrows pass through Bruce County every autumn, it is just that there is so much habitat to check and relatively few birders in the area.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Update from the north

As I type this, I'm sitting in my car along a logging road somewhere north of Wawa, where the air is perfectly still and the only sounds are the occasional chuck of a Rusty Blackbird or siiiit of a White-throated Sparrow. I am connected to the internet via the personal hotspot on my phone, which surprisingly has service out here! Technology...

I have been in northern Ontario since October 1, birding my way from Sault Ste. Marie up to Thunder Bay and back again. It has been a great trip, complete with stunning scenery and some interesting bird and mammal sightings. The weather has been very pleasant - temperatures in the high teens during the day and around zero at night, with no precipitation and usually light winds - excellent weather for enjoying the north shore of Superior during the autumn.

Unfortunately the birding has been relatively slow with low numbers of birds everywhere, but even still there have been a few interesting things! Sometimes at this time of year the small towns and any open areas are crawling with Horned Larks, American Pipits and Lapland Longpurs as well as many sparrows. That hasn't been the case so far, but in the past week I've managed a few highlights.

I have seen 13 species of sparrows, including a Le Conte's Sparrow at the Pic River mouth, a Clay-colored Sparrow at Silver Islet and a Harris's Sparrow on Mission Island, Thunder Bay. The Harris's I was especially happy with as I could not find one at any of the locations where they had been seen recently. On my final morning I checked out Mission Island, eventually finding a single juvenile Harris's with some White-crowned Sparrows. This species migrates mostly west of Ontario but can be somewhat common in late September west of Thunder Bay in Rainy River District. They are less regular east of Thunder Bay along the north shore. It was a new "self found" species for me in Ontario, my 333rd, and one of the last "easy" ones, though Barrow's Goldeneye, Gray Partridge, Glossy Ibis and Cattle Egret remain.

Some other highlights during the trip included a Sedge Wren at Rossport, two Tennessee Warblers in Thunder Bay, Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls near Marathon and a wide variety of other species. According to birdlog I am up to 102 species so far in the trip, with most of the expected ones accounted for.

The biggest highlight occurred this afternoon as I was traveling on Highway 17 between Marathon and White River. See the photo below....

Canada Lynx - between Marathon and White River, Ontario

Tomorrow I am birding Wawa before continuing south to Sault Ste Marie and Manitoulin Island. That will set me up to bird all day Friday on Manitoulin (a new county for me, my last in Ontario) before taking the Chi-Cheemaun ferry to Tobermory on Friday evening. Saturday I plan on birding the Bruce Peninsula before continuing on home to Niagara. I'll post some stories and photos from the trip in the upcoming days.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Birding trip to Thunder Bay

On Tuesday I moved to my place in Niagara-on-the-Lake (thanks for the help, mom!), and after two days in the new office, I am on the road for a birding trip.

Over the last three autumns I ventured north to the southern James Bay coast, where I enjoyed over two solid weeks on each trip doing nothing but looking for birds and enjoying the rugged beauty of the area. Unfortunately I won't be returning again this year, in part due to the expense, amount of time I would have to take off work, and a lack of people who wanted to come with. I still wanted to do a birding trip this fall so after some thought I decided that I would do a solo camping trip along the north shore of Lake Superior. It's been a while since I've done a solo trip - this should be a good way to relax and unwind a little, as well as get in some awesome birding. I'm really looking forward to camping in picturesque locations during the peak of autumn colors!

By the time this gets posted I will be on the road, with a tentative plan to return sometime on the Thanksgiving weekend. But why the north shore of Lake Superior, you may ask?

Simply put, the birding up there from late September to mid October is superior (see what I did there?) to most other places in the province. A relatively large amount of very rare species have been found along the north shore during this magic window in the autumn, despite the lack of coverage that the area receives.

Lake Superior is a massive body of water that concentrates migrants along its shores. Additionally, the vast expanse of thick boreal forest to the north is rather uninviting for species that tend to spend their time in open areas, such as prairie species from the west. The shoreline of Lake Superior is dotted with little towns which attracts migrants,often attract these western species. Fortunately there are few enough towns that most good areas can be checked pretty easily.

Hawk-watching can be incredible in some areas, particularly in Marathon, where it is possible to see hundreds of Rough-legged Hawks in a single day if the conditions line up perfectly.

Anyways, here is a taste of some of the species that have shown up along the north shore of Lake Superior in late September or October:

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Band-tailed Pigeon
Common Ground-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Burrowing Owl
Dusky Flycatcher
Say's Phoebe
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Tropical/Couch's Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Clark's Nutcracker
Violet-green Swallow
Sage Thrasher
Kentucky Warbler
Cassin's Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Green-tailed Towhee


My head is starting to spin after reading that list so I'll stop there...

I'll be posting updates as the trip goes along, if internet is available. Alan Wormington will also be along the north shore during the same time and perhaps we will meet up occasionally as well. He has birded in this under-appreciated part of Ontario dozens of times, and with the two of us out looking I'm sure something interesting will be found. Let's just hope that nothing too crazy is found during the Ontario Field Ornithologists annual convention at Point Pelee that might tempt me to cut my trip short!