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. 
Gyrfalcon
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.
Gyrfalcon
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! 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

August Birding at Fushimi Lake Provincial Park - Hearst

There is nothing I love more than to explore new potential birding spots in Cochrane District; and the great thing about living here is that I will never run out of areas to explore because it is immense. With a land area of 141,268.51 square km, it is the second largest district in Ontario after Kenora, and it is almost the same size as the 40 Southern Ontario counties combined.  Camping at Fushimi Lake Provincial Park has been on my wish list for many years, and since we were in Moonbeam on August 17, we decided to continue west and spend 4 days there.

Morning fog on Fushimi Lake
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (21 August 2019)
We made a brief stop at the Hearst Sewage Lagoons before going to the park.  It is by far the largest lagoon I've ever visited, with 7 ponds: 4 large ones and 3 smaller ones.  We only covered 5 of the 7 cells in 1h30 hours (because of intense heat & limited time) This place would require at least 3 hours to bird properly. It was a very hot late afternoon and no songbirds were around but we did see a good number and variety of waterfowl and 5 Red-necked Phalaropes.

2 of 5 Red-necked Phalaropes
Hearst Sewage Lagoons (17 August 2019)

5 Red-necked Phalaropes
Hearst (17 August 2019)

Fushimi Lake Provincial Park is one of the northernmost operating road-accessible provincial parks in the Northeastern Ontario region.  To get there, you have to drive 25 km west of Hearst on Highway 11 then approximately 14 km northbound on a gravel road.  It is a quiet, beautiful, small park that is worth the drive. We had a great, private campsite. Side note: If you don't have an RV or don't want to sleep in a tent (nights get cold up north in August) there is now a cabin for rent right in the park on the shore of Fushimi Lake.

Achilles Lake Trail - Fushimi Lake Provincial Park
(19 August 2019)
The one thing that was clear when we got there was the abundant number of White-winged Crossbills around.  There were practically none around this past winter, but we've been seeing a lot from Timmins to Hearst since June. If you look at the next photo, you'll see why; the cone crops are great. White-winged Crossbills were calling and singing everywhere in the park from the moment we arrived. It was a real treat, and I probably saw more in during those 4 days than in the last 3 years combined.  A important number of Pine Siskins were also around as well as a few Purple Finches.

WWCR feeding on the abundant White Spruce cones
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (19 August 2019)
There were lots of females as well but they were deeper in the trees, making it harder to get  photos. The males, on the other hand, were constantly perching on the highest trees to belt out their songs and  calls.  I find that one of their calls sounds like they are sending telegraphs.
White-winged Crossbill singing over our campsite
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (August 2019)


WWCR male singing and calling on top of a Balsam Fir
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (21 August 2019)
The last 2 weeks of August are always ideal for warblers moving in groups in the boreal forest, and Fushimi certainly didn't disappoint.  Because warblers are sometimes silent (or use minimal calls) in the fall, one of my favourite strategies is to get up early and follow the Black-capped Chickadees. Unlike warblers, they will constantly vocalize while feeding and if you follow their sound, you might find mixed-species flocks (warblers, vireos and kinglets) feeding near them.  Out of the 16 species of warblers we saw during our stay, 14 of them were found feeding in proximity to chickadees.
Following the Black-capped Chickadee to find warblers
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (18 August 2019)
Northern Waterthrush on our campsite!
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (18 August 2019)
Canada Warbler
Fushimi Provincial Park (18 August 2019)
Bay-breasted Warbler
Fushimi Provincial Park (19 August 2019)
Blackburnian Warbler
Fushimi Provincial Park (19 August 2019)
Black-and White Warbler
Fushimi Provincial Park (19 August 2019)
Magnolia Warbler
Fushimi Provincial Park (19 August 2019)
This juvenile Magnolia Warbler was being fed by both parents
Fushimi Provincial Park (20 August 2019)
The Fire Tower trail is a gorgeous 3.5 km (7km return) trail that leads to an original fire monitoring tower built in the 1930s. The start of the trail offers mixed forest and is good for songbirds in early morning. The rest of the trail is mostly evergreens and a few spots on the trail brings you to the shore of Fushimi Lake.

Fire Tower Trail - Fushimi Lake Provincial Park
20 August 2019
Ovenbird on the Fire Tower Trail
Fushimi Provincial Park (20 August 2019)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Fire Tower Trail - Fushimi (20 August 2019)
Blue-headed Vireo
Fire Tower Trail - Fushimi (20 August 2019)
Other species of note that we observed but didn't photograph: a Black-backed Woodpecker flying around the campground and in the Fire Tower Trail during the last 2 days of our stay.  We also observed 2 Boreal Chickadees right near the Fire Tower.
Fire lookout tower built in the 1930s
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (20 August 2019)

Common Raven on a foggy morning
Fushimi Provincial Park (21 August 2019)
Overall, we loved Fushimi Lake Provincial Park and I hope I get the chance to return.  I am very grateful for our Ontario Parks system; they offer wonderful protected natural spaces where we can explore the best of Ontario.  
Roughed Grouse near our campsite
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (21 August 2019)
Bald Eagle flying over the beach
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park (20 August 2019)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Summer Highlights

Since fall migration is starting, I thought I'd post a quick summary of summer 2019.

One of many Wilson Warblers
Porcupine Lake (4 June 2019)
Songbird migration was still ongoing in our area during the first week of June. We usually witness the best of warbler migration during the last 2 weeks of May but this year the biggest bulk of them arrived at the same time during the first week of June.

Blackpoll Warbler
Porcupine Lake (4 June 2019)
Porcupine Lake is always a great place to observe warblers.  On June 4th, after a good stretch of south wind that had been lacking for most of May, we saw a good number of warblers and flycatchers. It was a great day to be out.  In fact, I had never seen so many Wilson Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers and Canada Warblers in one day.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Porcupine Lake (4 June 2019)


June 4th was also the day that a Lewis's Woodpecker was found between Schumacher and South Porcupine (I only found the post on iNaturalist a few days later) On the same day, a Yellow-breasted Chat was also found near Cochrane. Both are very rare birds for our region and we tried to relocate them but unfortunately, we had no luck.

Summertime birding is sometimes slow but there's always other wildlife around to admire. We see a lot less Moose now compared to 20-30 years ago so it's always a treat to observe them.

Porcupine (11 June 2019)
My dad and I found a male Eurasian Wigeon at the Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons on June 13th. We had also found one here on May 2nd 2015 (that one remained until late summer 2015)

Eurasian Wigeon
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (13 June 2019)
On July 4th, we were notified that an American White Pelican had been observed by a fisherman on Abitibi River in Iroquois Falls so we drove there immediately and relocated it near an abandoned paper mill. Even though American White Pelicans are now observed on average once a year in our area lately, they are rarely documented so we were happy to document that one.

American White Pelican (Max 83X zoom and cropped with Coolpix)
The CoolPixP900 is great!
Iroquois Falls (4 July 2019)
Digiscoped photo of AWPE
iPhone & Vortex Razor HD 60X scope

The land belonged to a half-dismantled paper mill so we couldn't get close but we found a spot where we could observe the bird with a scope. Here is the photo taken from where we were standing. The Pelican was where the red arrow is, on a rock.  The Nikon Coolpix P900 is great in these situation; it is sometimes even better than my digiscoped photos (iPhone through the Vortex Razor HD scope).

The only spot where we could view the pelican without
trespassing on mill property. 

In July, we went on a camping trip on Manitoulin Island, Bruce Penninsula, Wheatley and Rondeau Provincial Park. I like going south for camping; it's an opportunity to see birds we don't normally see here and to enjoy the outdoors without the millions of black flies and mosquitoes we have here.

Southern Ontario is a great place to see birds we don't see often here
Indigo Bunting - Wheatley Provincial Park (13 July 2019)

The week we spent at Wheatley and Rondeau was unfortunately too hot to hike. There were heat warnings every day.  But we did go see the famous White-winged Dove that has been observed in the same location for a few years now in Rondeau Provincial Park.

Rondeau Provincial Park's famous White-winged Dove
20 July 2019
Since I've been back home, I've been patiently waiting for fall migration to start while admiring the many butterflies everywhere.  I only just started paying closer attention to butterflies a few years back and they are fascinating; a great way to make the slow birding days more interesting!

Striped Hairstreak
South Porcupine (26 July 2019) 
Bronze Copper
Porquis Junction (4 August 2019)

Common Branded Skipper
Porcupine Lake (11 August 2019)

Atlantis Fritillary
Porquis Junction (4 August 2019)


I hope everyone had a great summer!
Happy Fall Birding!

Northern Cardinal
Rondeau Provincial Park (14 July 2019)