Monday, May 14, 2018

Some May Migrants and a Painted Bunting in Porcupine

Since the ice on Porcupine Lake completely melted yesterday evening (May 13, 2018), I thought it would be a great time for an update with some highlights from the first half of May.

Let's start with a very unique and surprising rare visitor: a male Painted Bunting.  It was found by Andrew Warren (who also happened to host an overwintering Easter Towhee from December 2017 to March 2018). Andrew found the Painted Bunting on May 9th, 2018 at his feeder in Porcupine (10 km East of Timmins).  The bird could not have chosen a better yard with a more cooperative homeowner! Andrew quickly spread the word and gave us permission to go observe the bird. After 2 failed attempts that same evening, I finally saw it on the morning of May 10th.   

Here is my very blurry photo taken in the rain. It was a cold morning: 4°C (-1°C with the wind chill) and after standing still for almost an hour, the bird showed up briefly at the feeder and I had time to observe it and take a few quick photos.

My first Painted the rain
Porcupine (10 May 2018)
If you look online at the usual range map of the Painted Bunting, you will understand how rare it was to see it in Northern Ontario's Cochrane District.

Although I am proud of my blurry photo, it doesn't do the bird justice.  Andrew got some stunning photos and gave me permission to post them here.  In Andrew's photos, you can see the whole array of colours: blue, red, yellow, green and orange!  I would like to thank Andrew for lending me these great photos and giving me the opportunity to observe this life bird.

Painted Bunting / Passerin nonpareil
Porcupine, ON (10 May 2018) Photo: Andrew Warren

Painted Bunting / Passerin nonpareil
Porcupine, ON (10 May 2018) Photo: Andrew Warren

From May 9 to 11, the unusually cold weather (in addition to below-zero nights) probably prompted the Painted Bunting to visit the feeder on and off.  But starting on May 12, the temperatures rose over 15°C so the bird probably didn't need to supplement its diet with seeds and was unfortunately not seen again.

Other spring arrivals:

On May 5th Gary and I went out for most of the morning and afternoon for the Global Big Day. It was very early in May for Northern Ontario but we managed to see a few interesting species.
Peregrine Falcon / Faucon pèlerin
Timmins (5 May 2018)

Northern Shrike / Pie-grièche grise
Connaught (5 May 2018)

Rough-legged Hawk / Buse pattue
Connaught (5 May 2018)

Lapland Longspur / Plectrophane lapon
Timmins (5 May 2018)
Gary looking for Greater Yellowlegs
Global Big Day 2018 - Timmins Area
Most of our waterfowl species have arrived; we've been seeing decent numbers of them on Porcupine Lake and Frederick House Lake. Yesterday evening, we observed some Gadwalls and Northern Pintails with a group of mixed waterfowl (Greater and Lesser Scaups, Redheads, Common Goldeneyes, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads) in the Bristol area of Porcupine Lake where they usually gather in the evening during the month of May.

Northern Pintail / Canard pilet
Porcupine Lake (13 May 2018)
Gadwall / Canard chipeau
Porcupine Lake (13 May 2018)

Three Black Scoters were a surprise visit to Gillies Lake (which is a very small lake in the city of Timmins) They were found by a local birder and we were able to relocate them. They were only there for 1 day.
Black Scoters / Macreuse à bec jaune
Gillies Lake - Timmins (9 May 2018)
When Porcupine Lake is still covered in many sections of ice, it's a great time to look for rare gulls. We didn't get the number of rare gulls we got last year but we did find a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a Great Black-backed Gull.
Lesser Black-backed Gull / Goéland brun
Porcupine Lake (8 May 2018)
Another fun thing to watch for when the Lake is partially covered in ice every year is the gulls' attempts at stealing the fish from the mergansers.  Here is a Ring-billed Gull doing just that.

Ring-billed Gull watching the Common Merganser
Porcupine Lake (7 May 2018)
 In the shorebird category, the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are here and a small group of Least Sandpipers arrived on May 12.  We also found a Wilson's Phalarope on May 12 in the same location as the one we found last year around the same date.
Wilson's Phalarope / Phalarope de Wilson
Porcupine (12 May 2018)
Not a lot of warblers have arrived yet but I'm expecting a good number will arrive during the upcoming week.  The most abundant right now are Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white with a few Nashville and Palm.
Black-and-white Warbler / Paruline noir et blanc
Gillies Lake (11 May 2018)

Yellow-rumped Warbler / Paruline à croupion jaune
Porcupine Lake (13 May 2018)
This week, we have lots of White-crowned Sparrows (mostly all males so far). They have been everywhere and they are very vocal so the Merlin's visits have been inevitable.

Merlin feasting on a White-crowned Sparrow
South Porcupine (11 May 2018)

I can't wait to see what the second part of May will bring.

Friday, May 4, 2018

First visit to Point Pelee

Point Pelee has been on top of my "places I want to go" wish list for the last decade and I finally had a chance to go spend 3 days in this wonderful National Park with Gary last week. My birding experience south of Cochrane District is practically non-existent. Other than a quick camping trip to Presqu'ile in July 2015 and another quick camping trip to Awenda in September 2016, I had never really observed birds south of the Timmins/South Porcupine area. Point Pelee was actually my first trip exclusively dedicated to birds.

The Tip at Point Pelee National Park
 30 April 2018
My goal was to take my time and observe and listen to many species that rarely or never make it all the way up north and learn as much as I could.  Hey, it's good to be able to recognize them by sight or sound if they ever decide to show up here one day, right?  

Before getting to the park, we read about Willets at Wheatley harbour and it turned out it was only a 14 minute drive so we went and we found them on the beach.  This was the first Ontbird alert that I was ever able to follow; they are usually over 8 to 12 hours away! I had seen Willets in Nova Scotia in 2008 but these were my first Ontario Willets. Someone we met told us we were now in Chatham-Kent county and I couldn't believe how small the counties were down south. Cochrane district is 500 km wide!

Willets / Chevaliers semipalmés
Wheatley Harbour (28 April 2018)
At Point Pelee, we went to explore the Tip, then we went to walk a few trails. Here are a few random observations:

I watched Field Sparrows for a very long time.  (For way too long, according to my husband! But we don't have them up north) At first I thought it was trying to gather nest material but it turns out it was feeding. It was jumping on tall grass, bringing it down, then eating the seeds off them. It was entertaining!

Field Sparrow eating
Cactus Field (29 April 2018)
Field Sparrow / Bruant des champs
Cactus Field Trail - Point Pelee (29 April 2018)

There was a Vesper Sparrow hanging out at the Visitor Centre:

Vesper Sparrow / Bruant vespéral
Visitor Centre - Point Pelee (29 April 2018)
We listened to the many songs of the Carolina Wren, another bird that doesn't come up north. 

Carolina Wren / Troglodyte de Caroline
Woodland Nature Trail - Point Pelee - (29 April 2018)
I also got to observe and listen to many Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Gary called them Nutchatchers. 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher / Gobemoucheron gris-bleu
Point Pelee (30 April 2018)
In the evening of April 30th, we went for a stroll on the DeLaurier Homestead trail where we watched a Brown Thrasher sing non-stop from his perch. We also observed a Chimney Swift flying over us and a group of Wild Turkeys. 

Brown Thrasher / Moqueur roux
Point Pelee (30 April 2018)
All the trails were amazing at Point Pelee but The DeLaurier Homestead Trail was particularly picturesque in the evening sun. 
DeLaurier Homestead Trail - Point Pelee
30 April 2018
On April 30th, we had the opportunity to observe a Louisiana Waterthrush that was first found by a nearby birder that helped us locate it.  When the group that was looking at the bird with us left (to chase a nearby Prairie Warbler) I decided to stay and observe this lifer for another 10 minutes. You can see the bright legs, the thicker white rear supercilium. In the second photo, we can see  the white throat. The bird kept slowly bobbing up and down, giving us great views, and I was enjoying the moment.

Louisiana Waterthrush / Paruline hochequeue
Tilden Woods -Point Pelee - (30 April 2018) 

Louisiana Waterthrush / Paruline hochequeue
Tilden Woods - Point Pelee (30 April 2018)
When we left the Louisiana Waterthrush, we thought the Prairie Warbler would be gone but it was still being observed!!  And we were able to get decent views and listen to it sing.
Prairie Warbler / Paruline des prés
Cactus Field - Point Pelee (30 April 2018)
A Pine Warbler and a Palm Warbler were in the same location. 

Pine Warbler / Paruline des pins
Cactus Field- Point Pelee (30 April 2018)

The tip is a great place to watch waterfowl in flight.  Surf Scoters are a rare occurrence in the Timmins area and I had a lot of fun watching them fly back and forth.

Surf Scoters / Macreuses à front blanc
The Tip - Point Pelee (30 April 2018)

A group of White-winged Scoters also flew by. Even if we do see them here in the South Porcupine area once in a while, it was a great opportunity to watch them in flight.

We went twice to Hillman Marsh and observed a Forster's Tern for the first time. The day we left, we went back for a quick visit before we had to fly home and we saw some Black-bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers and Dunlins. 

Black-bellied Plover / Pluvier argenté
Hillman Marsh (1 May 2018) 
Observing birds that I rarely have a chance to see was great, but that wasn't the only thing that impressed me.  At Point Pelee, there are birders! You actually meet people with binoculars on trails, doing exactly what you are doing. I had never really experienced this before (although we do see more and more people getting into birding here in the Timmins area, for many years we would meet on average 1 to 2 per year) Everyone at Point Pelee was friendly and helpful, from the birders who pointed out the Louisiana Waterthrush and Prairie Warbler to Jeremy and Amanda who took time to walk and talk with us at the Marsh Boardwalk. 

Overall, for a first quick first visit, it was great. On the day we left, a lot of new migrants arrived and the Festival of Birds started; I really wanted to stay. I would definitely love to go back one day; maybe in mid May and for at least 5 to 6 days. 

My first but hopefully not my last visit to Point Pelee
28 April 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

After a pause, migration is on again

It was a very cold and strange start of spring here in the Timmins area. After a few arrivals in the last week of March and the first few days of April, migration came to an almost complete stop during the first 2 weeks of April.  The temperatures remained significantly below average every day until April 21st.  A few days of south wind and warm weather from April 21 to April 26 brought us an important number of new arrivals and a larger number of previously arrived migrants.
Common Grackle during a snow fall
16 April 2018
As of today, our lakes are still 99% ice covered (with a few inches open in some areas near shore).  Thankfully, we have a few rivers that offered a bit of open water to the migrating waterfowl. Here are a few of our arrivals:
First Yellow-rumped Warbler of spring
South Porcupine (23 April 2018)

First Rusty Blackbird of spring
South Porcupine - (26 April 2018)

With a very limited number of open water areas, we get to see a good congregation of waterfowl at Porcupine Lake where the Porcupine River starts (near Bannerman Park).  Yesterday, I saw my first Pied-billed Grebe of spring (as well as our first American Coot) along with many species of ducks.

Pied-billed Grebe / Grebe à bec bigarré
Porcupine Lake @ Porcupine River (25 April 2018)
At the same location, we observed a Trumpeter Swan.  It had been found earlier that day by someone in my neighbourhood and I was glad it was still there at 5pm. They are uncommon in our area so it was a big surprise. It was a new species for Porcupine Lake (species #165) and a new species for me in our district. I had only seen them in Southern Ontario and in BC.
Trumpeter Swan / Cygne trompette
Porcupine Lake (25 April 2018)
Further on the south side of Porcupine Lake, a small open area contained 2 Tundra Swans.
Tundra Swans / Cygne siffleur
Porcupine Lake (25 April 2018)

I will try to continue to update my Spring Arrival Page with every new arrival.

Mink watching us as we were looking at birds
Porcupine Lake (25 April 2018)

Monday, April 2, 2018

End of Winter / Looking Forward to Spring

Quick Winter Summary

Winter 2017-2018:   Our area's winter bird list from December 1st, 2017 to February 28, 2018 was 40 species.  We've had very low numbers of Pine Grosbeaks compared to what we usually see, and the Evening Grosbeaks which were abundant last winter (2016-2017) have been almost completely absent in the area.  Another species that has been almost absent is the White-winged Crossbills. And many regional birders have also pointed out the very low number of Red-breasted Nuthatch sightings this winter.

Pine Grosbeak - 16 February 2018
Bart Thompson Trail - South Porcupine

As for Common Redpolls we have observed small groups, mostly feeding in the forest in December and January, but growing numbers were seen at many feeders in February and March.  On the other hand, Bohemian Waxwings were abundant as the berries were plentiful. 

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We were very lucky to have a few American Three-toed Woodpeckers around the Timmins / South Porcupine area to keep things interesting.
American Three-toed Woodpecker / Pic à dos rayé
South Porcupine (14 January 2018)
One male in particular was seen regularly in the Bart Thompson Trail in South Porcupine from mid January to mid March.  Having reliable sightings of this woodpecker for a full 2 months doesn't happen very often. I was happy to have the opportunity to observe it many times and I am glad that a few people from the southern part of the province got to view this bird as well.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
South Porcupine (10 March 2018)

Looking Forward to Spring: A new page added

I've decided to add a "Spring Arrival Dates" page to this site; it can be accessed from the tabs at the top. On this page, you will find the arrival dates for most of the birds that can be observed in our area. I've published the list of arrival dates for spring 2017 and will do the same for this spring.  

The last week of March is when migrants slowly start to arrive in our area.  During this past Easter weekend (March 30 to April 2) we only had 2 locations where we could see open water.  It's been so cold that those open areas were shrinking today instead of expanding.

Our first waterfowl species to arrive this week were a couple of Common Goldeneyes and this lone Hooded Merganser.

Hooded Merganser / Harle couronné
Frederick House Lake bridge-Connaught (2 April 2018)

I'm really looking forward to the end of the snow and cold so I can get my bicycle out and find some spring birds!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winter 2017- Eastern Towhee and CBCs

Although I sometimes complain about frozen toes and fingers, I actually don't mind winters in Northern Ontario. This year, our first snow started early (late October) and the ground has been snow covered since the first week of November. The weather in November wasn't bad but the last 2 weeks of December were very cold, like most other places in Canada.

This year, our lakes and rivers have been frozen since the second week of November.  The last waterfowl seen in the Timmins area were these Long-tailed Ducks on November 17 - they were taking advantage of the very last tiny patch of open water. (last year, the last LTDU were seen on December 4th, 2016)

Long-tailed Duck / Harelde Kakawi
Little Pearl Lake, Timmins (17 November 2017)

Bald Eagles have been overwintering in our area for a few years and their numbers seem to be increasing. On December 2nd, we saw 43 Bald Eagles (a record high count for me) at the Timmins Landfill and on December 9th, there were 31 left.  On the day of the Timmins Christmas Bird Count (Dec 23), someone counted around 20.

Bald Eagles / Pygargues à tête blanche
Timmins (2 December 2017)

Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count
This year, Gary and I participated in the Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count as well as the Timmins CBC.  It was only the second year of the Iroquois Falls CBC revival (Iroquois Falls had a CBC before but it was stopped until Rhonda Donley re-started it in December 2016) We saw mostly regular winter birds.  However, we did observe this White-crowned Sparrow, a very unusual bird for winter in Northern Ontario. I believe it was the first White-crowned Sparrow recorded in the Iroquois Falls CBC.

White-crowned Sparrow / Bruant à couronne blanche
Iroquois Falls (16 December 2017)

Timmins Christmas Bird Count
The Timmins Christmas Bird Count was held on December 23, 2017. Unlike the rest of December, the count day was warm for Timmins: -10°C (-14°C with the wind chill) The data is not final and still being compiled but we were around 21 participants and we counted 24 species which is a regular average for the Timmins Area winter count.  Although the data hasn't been finalized, I believe we added 3 new species for the Timmins CBC: an American Robin, a Brown Creeper and an Eastern Towhee.

American Robin / Merle d'Amérique
Photo by: Andrew Warren
Porcupine (December 2017)

Eastern Towhee / Tohi à flancs roux
Photo by: Andrew Warren
Porcupine (December 2017)

The Eastern Towhee is a rare visitor for the Timmins area in any season. The bird arrived in Porcupine on December 8, 2017 (found by Andrew Warren) and is still around today, surviving more than 10 consecutive days of temperatures around -30°C and many nights where the wind chill was -40°C.  I observed the Eastern Towhee on December 10th but was unable to take photos. These photos were generously provided by Andrew Warren who is doing a great job at hosting the bird since its arrival; he keeps his feeders full for the Eastern Towhee and for the overwintering American Robin. Andrew has been very helpful in documenting this sighting, participating in the Timmins CBC and letting birders view the Eastern Towhee in his yard.  

Eastern Towhee / Tohi à flancs roux
Photo by: Andrew Warren
Porcupine (December 2017)

Known records of Eastern Towhee in Cochrane District - Notice that most are in winter.
  1. July 1984 in Cochrane
  2. November to December 1991 in Hunta - (near Cochrane)
  3. November 2006 in Timmins 
  4. January 2016 near Hearst (I just found out about this sighting)
  5. December 2016 to March 2017 in Dugwal - 29 km NE of Timmins  (This female survived the winter but died in March after a cold spell)
  6. December 8 - Continuing - in Porcupine (near Timmins)

I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year; I hope 2018 will bring you health, peace and many great bird sightings!

Boreal Chickadee / Mésange à tête brune
South Porcupine (28 December 2017)

Gray Jay / Mésangeai du Canada
South Porcupine (29 December 2017)