Sunday, October 14, 2018

Northern Wheatear in Timmins

On Saturday, October 13, Gary and I were out on a rural road west of Timmins when we spotted a bird that looked different. The bird was really far away, but its overall colouring and its methodical behaviour raised a flag inside my head and I said "park the car".  We got out and even with binoculars, the bird was still too far for any decent views so I thought of taking the scope out of the car but didn't want to risk getting my eyes off the bird. It was landing on a fence post for a couple of seconds, then flying back down, disappearing from view in the long grass for a while only to reappear on a different fence post.  

Here is a photo of the field where we found the bird. It kept appearing on random posts for only 1 to 3 seconds at a time and every time we relocated it and put the bins on it, it had flown in the grass again. It was a challenge to keep our eyes on it.

Habitat where we spotted the Northern Wheatear
Timmins (13 October 2018)

I was really happy when I noticed that it was slowly working its way towards us, one post at a time.  We kept our bins on it, stood still and watched until we got a clear view.  The bird finally moved closer and thankfully perched for about 6 long seconds allowing me to have a very good look.  That's when I knew it was special, I couldn't believe I was probably looking at my first Northern Wheatear.

It eventually made its way to the line of fence posts right next to the road and we had excellent views of it for a while.   I wish I would have been able to see if it was successful at catching insects and what it caught but it was moving too fast and we couldn't see it at all when it was down in the long grass.

Northern Wheatear
Timmins (13 October 2018)
Northern Wheatear
Timmins (13 October 2018)

Northern Wheatear's unique distribution and migration:

The Northern Wheatear is a fascinating insect eating bird.  Its wide breeding distribution includes Asia, Northern Europe, Greenland, and Iceland but also the northeast of the Canadian Arctic and the coast of Labrador, as well as in the northwest of North America (Alaska and Yukon).  They spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.  The birds that breed in North America have 2 migration routes: in the west, they migrate through the Bering Strait and fly across Asia and Europe to reach Africa. In the east, they reach Africa by Greenland and Europe, flying over the Atlantic. This is just a quick, incomplete summary; the Northern Wheatear is just fascinating.

Historical Records of Northern Wheatear in Ontario:  
I scanned the OBRC annual reports to learn more about the previous records in Ontario.  There are, to the best of my knowledge, 37 accepted previous records that I could see (and of course, I suspect that there are a lot of undetected birds due to the vast unexplored remote areas in the north of the province where they could be found)

It's interesting to note that 81% of all the recorded Northern Wheatear sightings in Ontario happened in the fall (mostly September and October).

Here are the previous records listed as: Date (plumage details when specified) Location (County/District) Finder/Observer (Source: OBRC annual reports where the record was found)

1949, 24 September (?) Ridgeway (Niagara) Albert J. Wright, also found by Bernard Nathan. (OBRC Annual Report 2001, p.71)

*1951 **Not an OBRC record:  I received an email from a knowledgeable source about a Northern Wheatear that was seen in Kirkland Lake in September 1951.

1972, October 6, (imm) Fraserdale (Cochrane) A. Wormington, M. Jennings  (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1972, 10-11 October (?) Tobermory (Bruce) Joseph W. Johnson (OBRC Annual Report 1985, p. 12)

1976, 1 October, (imm) Moosonee (Cochrane) A. Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1978, 14-15 October (adult) Deep River (Renfrew) A. Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1980, 26 September (imm) Moosonee (Cochrane) A. Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1980, 11-12 October (imm) Jack-fish (Thunder Bay) A. Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1980, 8-14 September (?) Arnprior (Renfrew) Michael W.P. Runtz (OBRC Annual Report 1984, p.11)

1981, 2 June (adult female) Winisk (Kenora) A. Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1981 (Late September) - immature - (Northumberland) (specimen in collection) (OBRC Annual Report 1982, p. 12)

1982, 4 June (adult female) North Point (Cochrane) C. Rimmer (OBRC Annual Report 1983, pp. 59-60)

1985, 2 July (male) Cape Henrietta Maria (Kenora) David J.T. Hussell (OBRC Annual Report 1986, p.53)

1986, 12 May (male) Nepean, (Ottawa-Carleton) Roy D. John, Bruce M. Di Labio (OBRC Annual Report 1986, p.53)

1989, 23 September (imm.) Abitibi Canyon (Cochrane) Alan Wormington (OBRC Annual Report 1989, p.22)

1990, 1 September (imm.) Moose Factory (Cochrane) Alan Wormington, R. Douglas McRae, G. Tom Hince, (OBRC Annual Report 1990, p.34)

1990, 12 September (adult male) Ekwan Point (Kenora) Y. Robert Tymstra, Alan Wormington, Peter W. Jones ((OBRC Annual Report 1990, p.34)

1990, 20 September (imm.) St. Thomas (Elgin) Marshall H. Field (OBRC Annual Report 1990, p.34)

1990, 29 September (imm.) North Bay (Nipissing) Richard D. Tafel (OBRC Annual Report 1990, p.34)

1993, 20-27 September (imm.) Barrie Island Causeway (Manitoulin) John Lemon, Terry Osborne found by Monty Brigham) (OBRC Annual Report 1993, p. 52)

1994, 4 September (?) Oshawa (Durham) Mike McEvoy (OBRC Annual Report 1994, p.59)

1994, 7 September (?) Algonquin Provincial Park -West Rose Lake (Nipissing) Julie West, Gary Neuman (OBRC Annual Report 1994, p. 59)

1995, 21-22 September (first basic) Sydenham (Frontenac) Kit Chubb *Skin specimen at ROM (OBRC Annual Report 1999, p.66)
Interesting note on this record: "This record came to light in a letter written to Ontario Insects (Chubb 1996) about a bird feeding on insects on a residential lawn in Sydenham. One of the insects the bird ate, an earwig (Dermaptera), buried its claspers at the back of the bird's tongue, one on each side of the glottis, suffocating the bird instantly." (OBRC Annual Report 1999, p.66)

1995, 11-12 October, (first basic) Britannia Bay (Ottawa-Carleton) Michael Tate, Tony F.M. Beck, found by F. Reid) (OBRC Annual Report 1996, p.59)

1995, 15 October (first basic) Oshawa (Durham) James P. Coey, Glenn Coady, found by E. Dunhill (OBRC Annual Report 1997, p.68)

1997, 31 August to 1 September (first basic) Ottawa (Ottawa-Carleton) Eve D. Ticknor, Richard Ticknor, William J. Crins (OBRC Annual Report 1997, p.68)

2001, 7 June (basic, female) Long Point -Hastings Drive (Norfolk) Ian S. Cook, Alex M. Mills also found by Robert Copeland, Donald Scanlan (OBRC Annual Report 2001, p.71)

2002, 17 August (?) Sault Ste. Marie (Algoma) Les Piccolo (OBRC Annual Report 2006, p.62)

2003, 23 June (male) Point Petre (Prince Edward) Robert E. Maurer Jr. (OBRC Annual Report 2003, p.69)

2003, 10 October (first basic) Moose Factory (Cochrane) Alan Wormington, Mark W. Jennings (OBRC Annual Report 2003, p.69)

2006, 6-9 September (juv. or first basic) Thunder Bay (Thunder Bay) Nicholas G. Escott, found by Keith D. Wade (OBRC Annual Report 2007, p.97)

2006, 19 October (juv. or first basic) Nepean (Ottawa) Christina Lewis, Robert A. Bracken, Tony F.M. Beck (OBRC Annual Report 2007, p.97)

2007, 13-15 September (Juv. or first basic) Wolfe Island (Frontenac) Jerry Smith, Paul O'Toole (OBRC Annual Report 2007, p.97)

2007, 14-15 October (Juv. or first basic) Shrewsbury (Chatham-Kent) Robert Epstein, David J. Milsom, Mark K. Peck, Paul D. Pratt, found by James T. Burk (OBRC Annual Report 2007, p.97)

2007, 18-26 October (first basic) Long Point - tip (Norfolk) Stuart A. Mackenzie, Zachary Kaiser (OBRC Annual Report 2009, p.72)

2009, 4 June (alternate, male) Redbridge (Nipising) Craig T. Hurst, Elaine M. Hurst (OBRC Annual Report 2009, p.72)

2010, 16 October (?) Petrie Island (Ottawa) Gary Fairhead (OBRC Annual Report 2010, p.126)

2014, 20-22 September (first basic male) Navan (Ottawa) Mike V. A. Burrell, Clifford F. Rostek, Chris T. Heffernan, Tom Devecseri, Gary Milks, Ken D. Ball, Bruce M. Di Labio, found by Richard Killeen, Ken Kittley (OBRC Annual Report 2014, p.69)

There are probably other records that I missed or that I am unaware of.

Even if the next photo is blurry, I love it because you can see the black band at the tip of the white tail. The white on the tail was very visible every time the bird flew.

Monday, September 24, 2018

September Sightings

We've had a warm August and beginning of September but the normal fall weather is now upon us, with nights of -2°C and lots of windy days this week. Here are a few sightings from the last month.

Timmins/South Porcupine is not a great location for large flocks of migrating shorebirds, but if we go out often enough, we might see one or two good shorebirds during spring or fall.  It was the case on August 30th when we arrived at the lake and found one lone Baird's Sandpiper. It was the first Baird's reported for Porcupine Lake.
Baird's Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird
Porcupine Lake (30 August 2018)

Baird's Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird
Porcupine Lake (30 August 2018)
Another lone shorebird landed at the lake on World's Shorebird Day, on September 6th; a Stilt Sandpiper (Found by Melanie P.)  The only other Stilt Sandpiper I had seen at the lake was on World Shorebird Day 2014. Same day, same beach, 4 years apart.

Stilt Sandpiper / Bécasseau à échasse
Porcupine Lake (6 September 2018)
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon is a great spot for migrating shorebirds, especially when one of the ponds get emptied. This fall, with the low water level in the north pond, many species of shorebirds stopped there (Least, Semipalmated, Pectoral, Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers as well as lots of Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plovers) I just wish I could go more often (it's 2 hours away from South Porcupine)

On September 15, I found my first Red-necked Phalarope at the Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons.  It was raining and very far away so the photo is not great.
Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (15 September 2018)
September is a great month to see Palm Warblers, Rusty Blackbirds and American Pipits and this year is no exception.

Palm Warbler / Paruline à couronne rousse
Porcupine Lake (6 September 2018)

Rusty Blackbird / Quiscale rouilleux
Porcupine Lake (23 September 2018)

American Pipit / Pipit d'Amérique
Porcupine Lake (22 September 2018)

On September 11, a friend of mine invited me to go birding in Cochrane with a group of birders from Southern Ontario.  A few of them found a Le Conte's Sparrow and we were able to relocate it.

Le Conte's Sparrow / Bruant de Le Conte
Cochrane (11 September 2018)

Le Conte's Sparrow / Bruant de Le Conte
Cochrane (11 September 2018)
Another highlight of this birding day was a group of Sharp-tailed Grouse.  They are not common in the Timmins area but if you go around Cochrane, you might be lucky a see a few, even though Cochrane is only 1 hour north of here.  It was difficult to get a photo as they were hiding in thick brush.
Well camouflaged Sharp Tail Grouse / Tétras à queue fine
Cochrane (11 September 2018)

On September 1st,  I found a group of River Otters having a feast of crayfish at Porcupine Lake.  It was nice to see them in a feeding frenzy and I managed a few shots. Our native crayfish are not usually that big so I'm suspecting that it might be an invasive species of crayfish.

River Otter eating crayfish
Porcupine Lake (September 2018) 

On the morning of September 22, a friend found a Cackling Goose at Porcupine Lake and we were able to relocate it in the afternoon.  None had ever been reported at the lake, so it became Porcupine Lake's species #179.  I can't wait to see which bird will be #180!

Cackling Goose (L) with Canada Goose
Bernach de Hutchins
Porcupine Lake (22 September 2018)

Cackling Goose between 2 Canada Goose
Bernache de Hutchins (milieu)
Porcupine Lake (22 September 2018)
On the same day, we came across a group of migrating Eastern Bluebirds... and a Red Fox.

Eastern Bluebirds / Merlebleu de l'Est
Timmins (22 September 2018)

Eastern Bluebird / Merlebleu de l'Est
Timmins (22 September 2018)

Red Fox / Renard roux
Timmins (22 September 2018)

Red Fox / Renard roux
Timmins (22 September 2018)

Carolina Wren update: The Carolina Wren is still here (since August 27). It lost it's tail last week, but it looks like it's already in the process of regrowing.
Continuing Caroline Wren
South Porcupine (21 September 2018)

We still have a full month of fall migration before the ice sets in so I can't wait to see what the next few weeks will bring.

In other news, we exchanged our old truck for a smaller vehicle with better gas mileage and on Sunday, this American Pipit approved of our choice by landing on it.

American Pipit approving our new vehicle
Porcupine Lake (23 September 2018)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Carolina Wren in South Porcupine

On the morning of August 27, I heard the loud, distinctive Carolina Wren song a few times from my kitchen window.  Having heard this species on our 2 trips to Point Pelee this spring and summer, I knew it sounded like a Carolina Wren. I eventually located the bird in my backyard, hiding in the vine-covered hedge and singing a variety of songs and making loud rattle calls.  I managed to get good views and a photo when it perched briefly on a pole.

Carolina Wren / Troglodyte de Caroline
South Porcupine (27 August 2018)

Carolina Wrens are rare in Cochrane District and in Northern Ontario in general.  The only other documented sighting of Carolina Wren in our district was even more surprising, as it was found in Moosonee on September 30, 2012 by Josh Vandermeulen, Alan Wormington and Mark Jennings.   I believe the 2012 Moosonee Carolina Wren was the first OBRC record for Cochrane District and the 6th for the Northern Ontario region.  It was also the most northerly record for Ontario.

As for non-documented sightings, I'm sure there are more, since not many people report their sightings in our vast region. I received a message about a Carolina Wren that apparently overwintered once in Timmins many years ago but after reading 36 full OBRC annual reports, I couldn't find any documentation about this event.  I don't doubt that it occurred; I wish we had dates and more details. Documentation and OBRC reports are important.

Here are the OBRC records I could find for Carolina Wrens in Northern Ontario. It's interesting to note that all of them occur in fall (except 1 in winter) and some attempts are made at overwintering.  

Cochrane District Records:

South Porcupine (Cochrane District) 27 August 2018 - Continuing
Moosonee (Cochrane District) 30 Sept 2012

Timiskaming District Records:

Englehart (Timiskaming District) 13 Oct 2017
New Liskeard (Timiskaming District) 8 October to 8 December 2016
New Liskeard (Timiskaming District) 15 December 1988 to  15 February 1989

Northwestern Ontario Records:

Marathon (Thunder Bay District) 14 & 20 August 2012

Atikokan (Rainy River District) 15 November to 23 December 1990

Algoma Records:
Michipicoten River (Algoma) 10 November 2012 to 6 January 2013

The Carolina Wren visiting our neighbourhood is still here today.  It sings on and off every day from sunrise to sunset, and it visits the bird bath occasionally.  Our backyard seems to be a suitable habitat for it; it is surrounded by a big tangled mess of overgrown hedge (Cedar and Siberian pea-shrub) that are covered in vines. It's quiet and there are lots of hiding spots. 
Carolina Wren / Troglodyte de Caroline
South Porcupine (10 September 2018)

I'm really enjoying the wren's various songs (it's actually singing as I am writing this!) I am curious to see if it will attempt to overwinter here.  Our winters are harsh, cold and long; it's not uncommon to have extended periods below -40°C.  I have purchased many bags of mealworms in case it decides to stay.  And as soon as the black bears go into hibernation, I will be able to put out seeds and suet.