Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wilson's Phalaropes in Moonbeam

On Saturday, May 17, we drove to Moonbeam for a quick unplanned visit to the Sewage Lagoon (and of course, we also visited my parents!).  Moonbeam's Sewage Lagoon is one of my favourite spot to observe birds, especially during migration. I wish I could go more often.  We spotted regular visitors: lots of American Wigeons and Scaups, a few Ring-necked Ducks and Buffleheads and a couple of Northern Shovelers and Wood Ducks.    
Northern Shovelers surrounded by American Wigeons
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon (May 17, 2014)
There was also a large flock of Bonaparte's Gull; they alway gather on this Lagoon in Spring.  It was a very cold day and it was even snowing at one point.  There was no sparrows or warblers yet in the low bushes surrounding the Lagoon but they will arrive soon I imagine.

After we had explored both ponds, Gary and I were about to leave when we spotted a resting bird at the back end of the North pond; it was curled up, floating around, and we couldn't tell what it was.  It was very far, but we knew it was not a usual duck.  So we decided to wait patiently; we wanted to see what it was before leaving. We waited almost an hour, taking turn keeping a constant eye on it.  It didn't raise its head.  It was freezing, but we waited and waited.

Well… things always happen for a reason and I'm very happy that the bird slept for that long because while we were silently standing still, waiting for the bird to raise its head, look what swam in front of us.  Our patience was rewarded.
Wilson's Phalarope
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon (May 17, 2014)
Our very first Wilson's Phalaropes! We got to watch them for a while.  They were swimming and feeding near the shore in the cattails.  They are very unique birds and it was a treat to watch them bob up and down and spin around.  They have such slender necks and thin bill.  They are elegant!  And I was amazed to learn that contrary to most birds, the female Phalarope wears the bright colours and the male is responsible for the egg incubation and then he takes care for the young.

After watching the Phalaropes for a long time, we looked up to see if our mystery bird had raised its head.  It did.  And it was a beautiful Red-necked Grebe.
Red-necked Grebe
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon (May 17, 2014)
We were in the right place at the right time.  And as we were walking back towards the entrance, we noticed that the Bonaparte's Gulls were suddenly all in the air flying around in a tight group.  Then, we saw why.  A Peregrine Falcon was following them closely.  He had no luck and he had to fly away without lunch.  But we got a really close look at him.

Funny how things work out sometimes.  We saw some amazing birds … mostly because the Red-necked Grebe was asleep for a long time.

Here's some other birds we saw at the Lagoon while we were there:
Solitary Sandpiper
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon (May 17, 2014)
Short-billed Dowitchers and a Dunlin
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoon (May 17, 2014)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fox Sparrows and other Spring birds

Every Spring for the last 5 years, our yard is visited by 2 Fox Sparrows.  They always stop by in May and spend a few days.  I always look forward to their arrival; they are beautiful birds and they have the nicest song of all sparrows.  I was never able to get a good photo of them in the past; they mostly stay on the ground, doing their continuous little "kicking backward" motion to get food so most of my photos were blurry.  This Spring, however, the day before they left, one was kind enough to perch on a branch and pose for me.
Fox Sparrow / Bruant fauve
South Porcupine (May 2014)

Fox Sparrow / Bruant fauve
South Porcupine (May 2014)
A lot of fields and roadsides are flooded and there's still some snow in the forest.  One of our favorite birding rural road got washed away so we had to find new ones for now.   We discovered a new marsh, where I was able to watch my first Pied-billed Grebe sink like a submarine.  It's quite impressive!  I wish I had a video but all I got is this photo.
Pied-billed Grebe / Grèbe à bec bigarré
(May 2014)
I was very happy to see my first yard Warblers last week; a Nashville Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler.  Warblers love our Tamarack trees.  At Frederick House Lake, we saw our first Cliff Swallows of the year; they were already hard at work under the bridge.  We also saw our first Bonaparte's Gulls of the spring.
Bonaparte's Gull / Mouette de Bonaparte
Frederick House Lake (May 2014)
We also spotted a group of at least 28 Double-crested Cormorants under the railway bridge at Frederick House Lake. For some reason, this number was flagged on eBird as being a too large quantity for the date and for our location but the truth is, we see more and more Cormorants every year in this area so I wasn't surprised by this group.  This is becoming a common sight in Northern Ontario.
Double-crested Cormorant / Cormoran à aigrettes
Frederick House Lake/river (May 2014)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Great first weekend of May

After the exceptionally long freezing winter we just had, it is really hard to stay inside.  Rain or shine, Gary and I needed to get outside again this weekend to look for birds.  We were happy to see our first Common Loon of the year.
The Loon is back!  May 3rd 2014
We were surprised to see our first Tree Swallow on Sunday flying over the shore of Porcupine Lake near the Airport Hotel.  It was flying erratically, probably struggling to find some flies (we don't have many flies yet but I know we'll get them soon).  The trails around Porcupine Lake are partly flooded, so is the kids' playground (there were Mallards swimming under the swings !)  I'm afraid it'll get much worst once the lake starts melting. Let's hope for a lot of sunshine.
Porcupine Lake - May 4, 2014
Sunday, we spent 2 hours around Porcupine Lake, walking the trails that were not flooded.  At one point, we surprised a Juvenile Bald Eagle that was perched on the shores of the Lake near the wooded trail.  In that trail, we also watched this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker for a while. 
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Porcupine Lake (4 May 2014)
Just before leaving, this beautiful Osprey came out calling and flying over our head; it was our first of the year.
Osprey - Porcupine Lake
(4 May 2014)
After our walk, we went for a drive to Frederick House Lake with Gary's parents following us but we didn't see any birds there.  There is lots of exposed mud and sand so I'm hoping for shore birds soon at this location.  On our way home, we spotted a bird perched on a tree near the road and as we got closer, the size of it's head made us slow down and stop.  It was my very first Northern Hawk Owl !  And what a wonderful view we had.  It was just on the other side of the road.  
Northern Hawk Owl / Chouette épervière
(4 May 2014)
What a great way to end a wonderful birding weekend… These owls are active in daytime and they often perch on the very top of trees.  Like this:
Northern Hawk Owl / Chouette épervière
(4 May 2014)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spring Arrivals and Rough-Legged Hawks

It's Spring! New species are arriving every day in our cold but beautiful Northern Ontario region. This last weekend was a great weekend to go look for them... it was sunny and we could hear the snow melting.  The rivers are revealing more open water and there are creeks, ponds and flooded fields that are slowly attracting birds. Here's a sample of what we saw during the past week.
Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser
April 2014
American Woodcock
near South Porcupine (April 2014)
Great Blue Heron - Frederick House Lake
Connaught (28 April 2014)
Ring-necked Ducks
South Porcupine (30 April 2014)
The meaning of Spring has changed a lot since I started birding. Now, I'm enjoying spring a lot more than before; it's so exciting to go look for birds after a long winter. The only problem is that the house is cluttered with dirt and the garden will soon be cluttered with weeds. But let's face it; we just have to go explore because the chores will remain but the birds will fly away! (I'm seriously thinking of getting this quote printed on a t-shirt) 
Rough-legged Hawk
South Porcupine (28 April 2014)
The highlight of the last week has been the Rough-legged hawks.  I had seen them before but I had never seen so many in a 5 day period.  They are wonderful birds; we spent a lot of time watching them; they can hover over a prey almost completely still even in the wind. We only get to see these fascinating birds during spring and fall migration; they are now passing through on their way to their nesting ground far North.
Rough-legged Hawk
Timmins (27 April 2014)
Rough-legged Hawk - Dark Morph
Timmins (April 26 2014)
Rough-legged Hawk - Dark Morph
Timmins (26 April 2014)
There were also some Northern Harriers in one of the fields.  I could only manage this blurry photo of a male.  Watch for them flying really low over wet, muddy fields; they are one of my favorite birds.
Northern Harrier
Timmins (25 April 2014)
We also saw lots of American Kestrels.  You can see one of them on my new header photo above.