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.


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

1 comment:

Alan Wormington said...

You can add White-eyed Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler, and Field Sparrows (2) that I have seen along the railway tracks south of Marathon. This is a real "hot" spot for birding.