Monday, May 18, 2020

A Cold but Splendid Start to May!

The first half of the month of May was very cold but if you lived anywhere in Ontario I'm sure you experienced the same situation; below-average temperatures and an almost complete standstill of migrating birds. It was still very rewarding for birders in the Timmins area due to the persisting ice  and high number of gulls on Porcupine Lake. Birding at home was also interesting due to the many continuing White-winged Crossbills feeding in our yard and the appearance of juveniles this week.

One of the adults White-winged Crossbills in our tree
South Porcupine (11 May 2020)

The first week of May brought us a decent number of arrivals: 21 newly arrived migrants were recorded on our Timmins area arrival list in the first 7 days of May (as opposed to only 11 species in the following 7 days, many of which probably arrived before but no one was out there to record them!) The second week of May was brutally cold even by Northern Ontario standards.

Horned Grebes in Porcupine
Shallow Lake - Porcupine River (2 May 2020)

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs
Porcupine Lake (5 May 2020)

A Cold 5-Mile Radius Big Day! 
Our Global Big Day on May 9th forced us to wear the same down parkas, hats and mitts as we did for the Christmas Bird Count! We decided to stick to our 5-Mile Radius circle. The day's effort yielded a meagre list (53 for us, 71 for the district) but we added a new species (Iceland Gull) to Porcupine Lake so it was a total success! There wasn't a human being in sight, we saw many Black Bears, and we followed a fox while birding at an old reclaimed mine pond. It was surreal; it basically felt like being in Jeff VanderMeer's excellent Borne novel. 

9 May 2020 Global Big Day
in our 5-Mile Radius - South Porcupine - Timmins
We saw more mammals than people!

Northern Pintails
Hollinger Tailings Ponds - Timmins (9 May 2020)

Iceland Gull on the ice with Herring Gulls - 5MR
Species #187 for Porcupine Lake (9 May 2020)
A lone Tundra Swan on a pond near our place
5MR South Porcupine (9 May 2020)

One positive thing that came out of this sustained cold weather, north winds and persisting ice is the presence of a variety of gulls on Porcupine Lake for a stretch of over 10 days, offering us a rare chance to sharpen our gull identification skills. We usually have one or two rarities that stop by for a day or two right before the melt but a gull gathering of this magnitude for over a week doesn't happen too often. Here are a few of the Porcupine Lake visitors during the first 2 weeks of May.

One of the Great Black-backed Gulls
Porcupine Lake (9 May 2020)
Great Black-backed Gull (right) with Herring Gulls
Porcupine Lake (6 May 2020)

Lesser Black-backed Gull with Herring Gulls - Porcupine Lake
 (11 May 2020)

Iceland Gull
Porcupine Lake (13 May 2020)

Glaucous Gull with Ring-billed Gulls behind and Herring Gull in the water
Porcupine Lake (11 May 2020)

Our spruce trees, like all the ones in the northeastern region, produced an incredible amount of cones and our yard is covered with them. We are leaving them on the ground and we've had many adult White-winged Crossbills feeding on them. Last Friday, they started bringing some juveniles with them every day.

Juvenile White-winged Crossbill in our yard
The mandibles are just starting to cross.
South Porcupine (14 May 2020)

Young White-winged Crossbill - now able to extract seeds
from fallen spruce cones in our yard (17 May 2020)

I've been spending so much time watching the young crosbills' progression...from hoping and begging the adults to clumsily handling the cones...and yesterday, some of them managed to hold a cone and extract some seeds! I can't share videos here but I took some interesting footage that you can view on my twitter account @roxane_filion and on Instagram.

This week, the warmer weather is slowly arriving and the ice is getting ready to go. This means the gulls will leave and the warblers should get here soon (and some shorebirds if we get favourable winds!) I suspect we're going to get all the warblers at the same time like last year. I'm ready for it.

Newly arrived Dunlins on the receding ice
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

Bonaparte's Gulls arrived this weekend
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

A sign of spring
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April Migration in South Porcupine

I have always loved living in Northern Ontario but I appreciate it even more now; in strange times like this spring, living in an low populated area surrounded with wild spaces is priceless. We have been birding a lot less, and exclusively near our home while following distancing guidelines, but at least we have a backyard and we have access to uncrowded space where we can enjoy fresh air and watch migrating birds.

My backyard is very small but it belongs to the birds. It is untamed, un-raked, unfertilized and it contains many types of trees. This little visitor I found sleeping in the backyard on a February morning was our 80th yard species.

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Our backyard, South Porcupine (17 February 2020)

5-Mile Radius Birding

I have joined the Ontario 5MR challenge organized by Carter Dorscht and I am enjoying it. It's the perfect year to focus on birds we can find within 5 miles (8km) of our home! When we aim for birds within our circle, we spend a lot more time outside as opposed to being in the car on our way somewhere. And it has encouraged us to find new spots for suitable habitats near our home. 

Fox Sparrow
Backyard, South Porcupine (10 April 2020)

Trumpeter Swans sightings seem to be increasing in the Timmins-South Porcupine Area

When I started birding it was a very rare occurrence to see a Trumpeter Swan, but we are starting to see them more regularly here in the Timmins-South Porcupine Area and it's great news. In fact, they have now been observed on the Porcupine River for the 3rd spring in a row. For those who don't know the background history behind the Trumpeter Swans, they have gone through drastic declines in North America in the last centuries and had completely disappeared from Ontario around 1886. Conservation efforts, hunting restrictions and dedicated volunteer-led restoration projects have helped this species come back. Seeing them in our area is good news since it's a sign that they are re-establishing themselves in their historical range. Trumpeter Swans used to be widespread in our area, breeding in our wetlands and ponds all the way up to the James Bay Lowlands. 

Trumpeter Swans (one of 5 observed on Porcupine River this spring)
Porcupine River (6 April 2020) 

April Gull Galore on Ice!

During the last 2 weeks of April, like every year, we get a small window of opportunity to view hundreds of migrating gulls while they gather on the ice a few days before the melt! It's one of my favourite spring event. This spring, they chose Little Pearl Lake as their gathering spot and I could not have been happier since it's close to our home and it falls inside my 5MR. On top of the usual Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, we had at least 2 Glaucous Gulls, 6 Great Black-backed Gulls and one Iceland Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull surrounded by Herring Gulls
Little Pearl Lake - Timmins (17 April 2020)

Great Black-backed Gull's amazing 5 feet 5' wing span!
Schumacher (19 April 2020)

Glaucous Gull resting on ice with Herring Gulls
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

Iceland Gull in flight
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

Iceland Gull in flight
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

More arrivals:

The last weekend of April was a great weekend for birding around South Porcupine, with favourable winds bringing two migrating owl species, and large number of Wilson Snipes, Rusty Blackbirds and Rough-legged Hawks. Overall, we've been having more south winds this April than last year.

Long-eared Owl
Timmins General Area (24 April 2020) 
Short-eared Owl
Timmins General Area (26 April 2020)
I was enjoying watching the Rusty Blackbirds and Wilson's Snipe in my binoculars and didn't get good photos but thankfully my husband was there with his camera. Sometimes I feel like it's a chore to drop my bins for a photo.

Wilson's Snipe (Photo: Gary Dowe)
South Porcupine (26 April 2020)

Rusty Blackbird (Photo: Gary Dowe)
South Porcupine (26 April 2020)
Rough-legged Hawks pass through our area real quickly so you have to know where to look if you want to admire them. After we spotted our first last week, we set up the scope and saw 8 all in one area.
Rough-legged Hawk
Timmins (26 April 2020)
I am still collecting arrival dates for each of our migrating species (see Spring Arrival Dates page) This year is the 4th year and more and more people are contributing, which is great! Eventually, I wish to collect enough data to determine an average arrival date for each species. Thank you to everyone who contributed their sightings and continue to do so!

Have a safe and healthy rest of spring!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

1 Gyrfalcon and 2 more CBCs

A Gyrfalcon to start the year 2020

On January 1st we went to look for birds. After walking the Hersey Lake trails, we decided to go for a drive in one of my favourite spot and immediately saw a large, pale bird of prey perched on a tree at the end of a field. As soon as I put my bins on it I knew I couldn't ask for a better birthday present: a Gyrfalcon! This is only the second one I ever saw and I was very happy.

Gyrfalcons are the largest of our falcon species and they breed in the arctic tundra. Once in a while they will come south during the winter. 
Timmins (1 January 2020)
We were too far for good photos, but I didn't approach it since I didn't want it to fly away in case some other birders might want to see it. I notified the local birders and took a few photos from our location. The Nikon Coolpix P900 is great for these types of situation. I took this next photo from where I was standing when I photographed the bird. The Gyrfalcon is circled in red. 
Distance from the Gyrfalcon
The P900 is like a scope!
Here is another cropped photo of the Gyrfalcon. At one point it was snowing and the bird was grooming and looking at its claws.
Timmins (1 January 2020)

Timmins Christmas Bird Count

On the Saturday before Christmas, we participated in the Timmins Christmas Bird Count (the 26th CBC for Timmins).  The data isn't finalized yet, but the compiler shared some preliminary info: we were approximately 18 participants and found 25 species, which (believe it or not!) is slightly over the average of 18.3 species. Not a lot of birds overwinter in our area. We usually have a winter list between 30 and 40 species for the whole winter for an area greater than the CBC circle. 25 species might seem very low compared to southern regions but for us, it's a pretty good year.
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Timmins CBC (21 December 2019)
RBNU were back to regular numbers after 2 winters where they were scarce.
It was an unusually mild day and some of our species decided they didn't want to be counted, like the American Three-toed Woodpecker and Black-backed Woodpecker.  Gary and I covered the Hersey Lake Conservation Area and during the afternoon, Rhonda and I covered part of the Bart Thompson Trail.  It was overcast and dark so I didn't take many photos. Just like the Iroquois Falls CBC, we had lots of Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills.
Pileated Woodpecker - South Porcupine
Timmins Christmas Bird Count (21 December 2019)

Smooth Rock Falls Christmas Bird Count: our 3rd and last CBC

Since the roads were ok on January 4th, we decided to drive to Smooth Rock Falls for their 2nd annual Christmas Bird Count organized by Ken and Angie Williams. Smooth Rock Falls is a small community on Highway 11, 110 km northwest from where I live.
White-winged Crossbill
Smooth Rock Falls Christmas Bird Count (4JAN2020)
Hoary Redpoll
Smooth Rock Falls CBC (4 January 2020)
We only counted from 9 to 1pm but it was great to see our first Common Redpolls (and 1 Hoary) of the winter. And on the drive back, we saw our 2nd Northern Hawk Owl of the winter.
Northern Hawk Owl - Highway 11
Cochrane District (4 January 2020)
I hope everyone had a great Christmas Bird Count season.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Iroquois Falls CBC

On Saturday December 14 we took part in the Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count. It was overcast but not too cold -10°C (-16°C with wind chill factor). I love the Iroquois Falls CBC circle; it offers such a great variation of habitats with some open fields, old farm fields taken over by natural growth and both deciduous and coniferous stands of forested areas.  Additionally, the Abitibi river goes through the circle, offering 2 spots where we can see small sections of open water. Here are some of our sightings during our CBC count.  

As soon as we started our route, our very first bird of the day was a Snowy Owl in a field close to town. Gary spotted it while driving as I was checking the map! 

Heavy cropped photo of our fist bird of the day: Snowy Owl
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
As we stopped to look at it, we met a man that told us the owl had been there for a few days, all alone, hunting in peace.  Such is the life of an owl in Cochrane District! We took a quick photo, wrote it on our list, and did not approach. The bird was where the red arrow is, the previous photo was taken from that distance with the Nikon Coolpix P900. Using this camera is like digiscoping!

Iroquois Falls CBC first bird for us: Snowy Owl
14 December 2019
Our second bird was a Northern Shrike not far passed the Snowy Owl...that's when I knew we were in for a great count! And it sure was a great day. We saw the biggest number of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins of all the CBC bird counts I've been in.
One of hundreds of White-winged Crossbills
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
Every time we stopped the car, we heard birds thanks to our amazingly abundant cone crops. What a great year; every crop is great in our Timmins-Iroquois Falls area: Spruce and Tamarack cones as well as birch seeds and mountain ash berries. We even have some overwintering American Goldfinches, Purple Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, which doesn't happen every year.
One of hundreds of White-winged Crossbills
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
We had a good number of species overall. Here is one of 2 Pileated Woodpeckers we saw during the day. This one was in Monteith, a small community that falls inside the Iroquois Falls CBC circle.
Pileated Woodpecker
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Although we surprisingly didn't see any Bohemian Waxwings, we found a group of 7 Cedar Waxwings (they do not generally overwinter in our district). I guess the abundant mountain ash berries (and other berries) are helping some of them survive up north. Strangely, they were all in a tamarack tree, passing tamarack cones back and forth like they do with berries and petals. I had never witnessed this behaviour with a cone! Cedar Waxwings feed on insects and berries.
Cedar Waxwings sharing a Tamarack cone!
Uncommon bird for winter in our area
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Just when the sun was about to set, we found a Northern Hawk Owl. It was the last bird to make it on our list. They are beautiful owls and it's always a treat to see one. The Iroquois Falls area has great habitat for them.
Gary looking at the Northern Hawk Owl
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
Heavy cropped photo of Northern Hawk Owl
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Northern Hawk Owls overwinter in our area every year but some years they are more difficult to find. It seems like more of them are one the move this year. In fact, some of them moved south and are being sought after by hundreds of birders and photographers. On one hand, it's a great opportunity for people to see these beauties but on the other hand, it can be stressful for the bird. Thankfully, in our area, owls can hunt and roost in peace because of the low population in general (and low number of birders/photographers). Also, the vast undeveloped land where the owl can hunt to survive is substantial enough that the owl will rarely be in the same location for many days, especially if stressed.

Overall, it was a great day. Our Timmins Christmas Bird Count is coming up on Saturday December 21, 2019. 

Important note for some readers who might find owls this winter:
Most of you are aware of this, but in case new readers are not, I find I must mention that owls are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. Approaching an owl for photos and disclosing its location is never a good idea. The presence of humans around an owl might disrupt its hunting and could lead to malnourishment, habituation to humans and possibly vehicular collision. Remember, the owl might not seem stressed when you are there, but that doesn't mean it isn't, and the accumulation of disturbance will stress it. Please always put the well-being of the bird first. Thank You :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Laughing Gull and other Fall Birds -Timmins

Fall migration is a great time to go out and look for birds in the Timmins area.  Although we haven't observed great numbers of migrating birds this fall, we did have a few surprising species in the last 2 months.

Laughing Gull at Porcupine Lake
Let's start with the latest and most interesting find: a Laughing Gull! It was found by Darlene Racicot at Porcupine Lake on October 18. When I found out about it on the morning of the 19th I left my half eaten breakfast and rushed to the lake as fast as I could. I was able to relocate it (I forgot how cooperative these gulls are!) and I obtained photos. Three other birders joined in to see it that day. It has been hanging around with a large group of Ring-billed Gulls at Porcupine Lake's White Waterfront area since being found.  It is still here today (Oct 22).

Laughing Gull - Rare for our area
Porcupine Lake (19 October 2019)
As you know, Laughing Gulls are uncommon but regular occurrences around the Great Lakes, but not in Northern Ontario.  This is the first record for Timmins/South Porcupine Area, and I believe it is the first record for the central area of the OBRC review list region as well.  As for Northern Ontario as a whole (including James Bay), the first OBRC record was in Moosonee on September 26, 1983. The second Ontario record was in July 10, 1984 also in Moosonee. After a long gap (31 years) of no records for Northern Ontario (probably due to being an extremely vast area with very few birders) one was observed in Longridge point (James Bay) on August 9, 2015.  The one found at Porcupine Lake this week was indeed a very exciting find.  
Laughing Gull surrounded by Ring-billed Gulls
Porcupine Lake (19 October 2019)
To summarize, Porcupine Lake's Laughing Gull is (to the best of my knowledge) a first for the central OBRC region and a 4th for Northern Ontario.  It is the 186th species for Porcupine Lake.

Hudsonian Godwit and Long-billed Dowitcher
Two other notable finds for the Timmins area were the Hudsonian Godwit and the Long-billed Dowitcher, both found by Melanie Palik at Hollinger Tailings Ponds in September.  They were both a first for me and for the Timmins area!

Hudsonian Godwit
Hollinger Tailings - Timmins (4 Sept 2019)

Long-billed Dowitcher
Hollinger Tailings - Timmins (15 Sept 2019)

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Ducks rarely (only once every few years) stop by our area during migration, and I never had a chance to see one in our district. I was happy to get a chance to see one that was found by Pierre Noel at Hollinger Tailings Pond on October 11th.  

Ruddy Duck at Hollinger Tailings Pond
Timmins (11 October 2019)

Fall Shorebirds
Other than the surprising Long-billed Dowitcher and Hudsonian Godwit, fall has brought a few other shorebirds but not in great numbers, which is sometimes the case depending on the weather and wind patterns. We did, however, have many Greater Yellowlegs, a few Lesser Yellowlegs, a few Black-bellied Plovers, a few Pectoral Sandpipers, one Sanderling, and a few Semipalmated Plovers and Least Sandpipers. 
Lesser (top) and Greater (bottom) Yellowlegs
Hollinger Tailings - Timmins (21 September 2019)
Black-bellied Plover
Hollinger Tailings Pond-Timmins (24 September 2019)
Sanderling - Porcupine Lake
South Porcupine (28 August 2019)
I will conclude with 2 photos from our last camping trip of the year at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park.  Although it is the closest Provincial Park to where we live, it was our first time camping there. We wanted one last camping weekend before winter and I'm glad we chose this park. There were many Arctic Fritillaries around and we got to watch a Black-backed Woodpecker in one of the hiking trails. 

Arctic Fritilary
Kettle Lakes Provincial Park (1 Sept 2019)

Black-backed Woodpecker
Kettle Lakes Provincial Park (2 Sept 2019)

The weather has been warmer than usual this fall and unlike last year, the snow hasn't hit us yet so we still have time to go out and find more birds!