Monday, December 5, 2016

A Few Fall Sightings and a Sudden Irruption of White-breasted Nuthatch

We had our first real snow fall around November 20th this year and overall, the months of October and November have been mild.  I haven't posted since summer so here are a few Fall highlights.

On October 10, we went for our usual drive to some of my favorite farm fields around Timmins.  We don't see many Snow Geese around here but sometimes we manage to see a few during migration.  We found a small group mixed with Canada Geese.
Snow Geese - Oie des neiges
Timmins (10 October 2016)
One of my favorite fall moment was when we were watching a big flock of Horned Larks and a Peregrine Falcon suddenly swooped by at an incredible speed!   My point and shoot camera is not fast enough for a clear photo of a Peregrine Falcon in flight... I mean, these birds fly unbelievably fast.  But I tried.

Peregrine Falcon / Faucon pèlerin
Timmins (10 October 2016)
It wasn't the only bird of prey around that day, there was a Red-tailed Hawk hunting the fields as well.
Red-tailed Hawk / Buse à queue rousse
Timmins (10 October 2016)
In October, an unusual amount of White-breasted Nuthatch have been observed in Northern Ontario.  I'm not sure how to explain this phenomenon; their normal range don't include our area, they are usually more south. We almost never see them around here and suddenly, there are about 5 different ones that are being observed, all in the same week, at different spots around Timmins, South Porcupine and Cochrane. A quick search on eBird shows us that this also took place on the Quebec side around La Sarre, Rouyn and Val d'Or.  The first Species Map shows the White-breasted Nuthatch sightings from 1900 to 2015 and the second map includes 2016. (Maps are from and the red markers are the recent sightings)
White-breasted Nuthach sightings 1900 to 2015
White-breasted Nuthatch sightings 1900 to 2016
Some of the White-breasted Nuthatch sightings were reported on eBird but a lot of them were just shared on the Timmins Birding Facebook Group page so the eBird species map will not reflect how many we actually had in our area.  Most of them stayed until mid to late November and some of them are still present in December. Here is the one that visited my yard for a few weeks:
White-breasted Nuthatch / Sittelle à poitrine blanche
South Porcupine (26 October 2016)
On November 12, we spotted this pure white gull in a field.  It was the same size as the surrounding Herring Gulls and I believe it is a Leucistic Herring Gull (but when it comes to gulls, I know I still have a lot of learning to do so I might be wrong!)
Leucistic Herring Gull / Goéland argenté
Timmins (12 November 2016)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer in Northern Ontario

Spring is by far the best season to go out exploring when you love to observe birds, but summer has its advantages too.  

Here are 5 reasons why summer is a great time to go outside and explore in Northern Ontario:

1. Nesting birds.

I've never really spent much time looking for nests or approaching nesting locations... nests are made to be hidden for a reason.  But this summer, we came across some that were very impressive and I snapped a few photos from far away.

Great Blue Herons in nest
Remi Lake (10 July 2016)
Great Blue Heron - Part of a nesting colony
Remi Lake (10 July 2016)
This is how far I was when I took the photos.  I didn't want to disturb them.  From here, it looks like any other shoreline, the nests are well hidden.  There were at least 6 occupied nests with either adults or young in them, all in the same location.  With the sun in our eyes, the visibility was not great but it was really an interesting find.  There was also an Osprey nest very close to the Heron's nests.  The Osprey was in the nest, then flew and perched on a dead brach near there.  
Great Blue Heron nesting colony from our boat
Remi Lake (10 July 2016)
This Bald Eagle nest, on the undeveloped shores of René Brunelle Provincial Park, has been used for years.  One juvenile was still in the nest while an adult was perched nearby.  Most years they have 2 juveniles but this year I only saw one.
Bald Eagle nest with 1 juvenile
René Brunelle Provincial Park (10 July 2016)

2.  Frogs.  Another reason to love summer.  They are fascinating.  I'm still trying to learn how to i.d. them correctly.

Mink Frog?
Porcupine Lake (30 July 2016)

Green Frog
Porcupine Lake (30 July 2016)

3. Interesting plants.  If you take the time to look down, there are very interesting plants growing in Northern Ontario.

The Pitcher Plant is a carnivorous plant that attracts insects in their leaves (shaped like drinking cups) and digest them to get the nutrients they need.  

We found a little lake in Moonbeam that had no access.  We put our rubber boots and bug spray and hiked to it. I was amazed when I got there and found not one, but at least 50 of these amazing plants.  They were growing everywhere, with sometimes not even 1 foot separating them.  It was a challenge not to step on them. When we got there, it was already getting dark and we weren't sure we marked our trail well enough to find our way back so I had only 5 minutes to explore this spot.      
Pitcher Plant
Moonbeam (21 July 2016) 
The Sundew is another carnivorous, insect eating plant that we found growing near the Pitcher Plants.
Sundews (the red ones)
Moonbeam (21 July 2016)

4. Camping in Provincial Parks and watching breeding warblers.  

The best part about camping in a Provincial Park is that you can explore the natural world right where you are from the moment you wake up to the moment the sun sets.  If you are not a camper, I suggest going to spend a day in one of our local Provincial Parks.  It's worth it.

Spring migration is great for observing warblers but here in Northern Ontario, we get to watch them all summer long!  They breed in our Boreal forest and one of the best places to watch them are in Northern Ontario's Provincial Parks.
Blackburnian Warbler / Paruline à gorge orangée
René Brunelle Provincial Park (19 July 2016)
Bay-breasted Warbler carrying food
René Brunelle Provincial Park (19 July 2016)
Northern Waterthrush / Paruline des ruisseaux
René Brunelle Provincial Park (23 July 2016)

5. Sunsets.  What better way to end a summer day?  I photographed this sunset from a campsite at René Brunelle Provincial Park, where we camped for 2 weeks.

Sunset on Remi Lake
René Brunelle Provincial Park (July 2016)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eurasian Wigeon at Porcupine Lake

On Sunday night (June 12) we were at a friend's place at Porcupine Lake when we spotted a male Eurasian Wigeon on the shore just 50 meters from us.  It was on the grass with other ducks.  As soon as I spotted it, it flew away to the lake a bit further.  I snapped a quick blurry photo before it took off.

Eurasian Wigeon (Right) Mallar (Left)
Porcupine Lake (12 June 2016)
It landed not too far so we were still able to observe it for a few minutes before it disappeared in the thick reeds.  This is the 3rd year in a row that an Eurasian Wigeon is observed at Porcupine Lake.   I missed the first 2 Porcupine Lake sightings, which were in June 2014 and May 2015.  Here is a photo of the bird before it hid in the reeds.
Eurasian Wigeon / Canard Siffleur
Porcupine Lake (12 June 2016)
On Monday morning, I went for a bicycle ride to the lake and found the Eurasian Wigeon again.  This time it was at Bannerman Park, laying in the sun on the shore with other ducks.  It was on a private property, so I took this quick photo from 90 meters away.  It's not the clearest, but still not bad for a small point and shoot camera 90 meters away.  I could've tried to get closer but I really don't like to disturb resting ducks.
Eurasian Wigeon with other ducks and a Crow
Porcupine Lake (13 June 2016)
On my way back home, I decided to cycle the Prospector Trail along Porcupine Lake and I wasn't disappointed.  
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Porcupine Lake (13 June 2016)
I got to watch this Olive-sided Flycatcher catch some very large insects. If you know what kind of insect this is, let me know.

Olive-sided Flycatcher with insect
Porcupine Lake (13 June 2016)
A few minutes after I got home, I received a call from our friend that lives on Porcupine Lake saying I should go back to his place because there was an unusual pale bird that he had never seen before.  When I got there, we spotted the bird flying close to shore and I was able to confirm that it was a Northern Mockingbird.  They are not common here; I had seen one in South Porcupine around 8 years ago.  I also saw one last year, on June 4, 2015 at the Moosonee Sewage Lagoons.  Monday's sighting was a first for Porcupine Lake.
Northern Mockingbird
Porcupine Lake (13 June 2016)
I will try to continue to monitor the Eurasian Wigeon's presence at the lake. And I'm sure we'll all keep our eyes open next year around this time.

On another note, the wildflowers are starting to grow on the edge of the Porcupine Lake trail... but sadly, the city workers cut the grass all along the trail edge. This means we won't see as many wildflowers as usual.  This is a Striped Coralroot that survived the weed-eater! This lovely plant is part of the orchid family I believe.
Striped Coralroot
Porcupine Lake (June 2016)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A day in Moonbeam

The weather forecast called for rain all weekend, except for a day of nice weather in Moonbeam on Friday, so that's where we went.  We went to René Brunelle Provincial Park and Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons, Moonbeam's two best spots to see birds in May.

René Brunelle Provincial Park was quiet, not a lot of campers were there yet because it's still early in the season.  This made it a perfect day to look for birds. We spent over 4 1/2 hours there.  The warblers were very active and singing non-stop everywhere. 
Magnolia Warbler / Paruline à tête cendrée
René Brunelle Provincial Park (27 May 2016)
Bay-breasted Warbler / Paruline à poitrine baie
René Brunelle Provincial Park (27 May 2016)
Snowshoe Hare / Lièvre d'Amérique
René Brunelle Provincial Park (27 May 2016)
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons was our second stop.  The first pond of the lagoons had been emptied that week, so the bottom was mostly all mud.  This usually attracts a number of migrating shorebirds.
Semipalmated Plover / Pluvier semipalmé
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (27 May 2016)
There were 6 Semipalmated Plovers, 3 Dunlins, 1 Least Sandpiper and 6 Semipalmated Sandpipers.  I wish I was there this coming week to see what else might show up! For the last 2 years, we've had Wilson's Phalaropes at the Lagoons in May 2014 and 2015.  I was hoping to see some, but no luck.

Dunlins / Bécasseau variable
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (27 May 2016)
We saw a total of 6 American Coots.  That was the biggest number I had ever witnessed at this spot.  We usually see 1 or 2.
American Coot / Foulque d'Amérique
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (27 May 2016)
In the trees surrounding the lagoons, we observed this Blackpoll Warbler.  Unlike the other warblers that we see here, this one doesn't breed in our region, it is migrating north for the summer.
Blackpoll Warbler / Paruline rayée
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (27 May 2016)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Birding Porcupine Lake

I have always wondered how long it would take me to go around the entire Porcupine Lake on a bicycle while noting all the species of birds I observe.  There was only one way to find out.  I did it yesterday; It took me 5 hours.

I had biked and walked around the whole lake before but I had never actually birded the entire circumference of the lake in one shot. I usually bird only half or a third of the lake at once when I'm biking or walking because I'm extremely slow; when I look for birds I like to take my time, double-checking each i.d. and watching every bird for a while; in other words, I like to enjoy every minute of it!

I chose a weekday because the trails are less busy than during the weekend, and there's nothing like being completely alone surrounded by birds and nature. I started at White Waterfront area, cycled the 8.5 km that surrounds Porcupine Lake, counter clockwise, all the way back to my starting point.  It was around 13°C when I started at 10:40am and it became really warm (23°C) by the end.  I finished at 3:40 pm.

As you can see in the photo, the lake was calm.  The trees have no leaves yet, which makes May the ideal month to observe songbirds. 
Porcupine Lake - Dead Man's Point Trail
19 May 2016
The first half included the trail that starts at Station rd and goes all the way to Dead Man's Point and Bob's Creek Marsh. This trail had the most activity, mostly because it was earlier during the day and it was just starting to warm up.  The warblers and kinglets were concentrated in patches of spruce and in the deciduous trees that are just starting to show some buds.  I didn't take many photos.
Blue-headed Vireo
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2016)
Blue-winged Teals
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2016)
Black-and-white Warbler
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2016)
The second half of the loop was much quieter.  I saw that the swallows (Cliff, Barn and Tree) are returning to their normal activity near Bannerman's Park.  The cold snap of last week had forced hundreds of them to seek insects on the water at Bob's Lake and Three Nation's Lake.  At Bannerman's, I observed 9 Least Sandpipers.  We usually see more migrating shorebirds in May at Porcupine Lake but it's been a strange migrating season; these were my first for this year.
Least Sandpipers
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2016)
The Redheads were still hanging around in Bristol Park bay.
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2016)
I plan to do a full circle of the lake every year in May.  I saw 57 species, including 13 species of warblers, but I think there should have been more birds in general. I didn't see any Grebes, Herons, Ospreys, Merlins, Dunlins, Dowitchers, etc. We usually see a larger variety of birds at Porcupine Lake in May.  But May is not over yet, so there is still time. So far, 139 species of birds have been observed in the last 3 years at Porcupine Lake (eBird data) and the list will likely keep growing.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Moonbeam Spring Sightings

I spent the last week in Moonbeam and witnessed the arrival of warmer weather as well as a few birds.  I also had the opportunity to speak to a group of people at the Fauquier Community Centre about all the wonderful bird species we have in our region.  It was organized by the Fauquier Library and it was a lot of fun to share my passion with people who love birds.

On May 5th, I saw my first American Bittern of the year.  It was hiding really well, as Bitterns always do, in the dried cattails in a small pond.  We heard it as soon as we arrived and surprisingly, 20 minutes later, my dad spotted it.  I was able to get a few photo as well a a short video.  
American Bittern / Butor d'Amérique
Moonbeam, ON (5 May 2016)
I've never posted a video on Blogger before so I'm not sure if this will work.  Here is the American Bittern vocalizing:

Tundra Swans are currently migrating to the arctic tundra to breed.  Even though our region is not far off their migration path, we don't see them too often.  I was happy to observe this one on May 9th.  It seemed to be walking on water; it was standing on a thin layer of ice on the pond.
Tundra Swan / Cygne siffleur
Kapuskasing, ON (9 May 2016)
The White-crowned Sparrows arrived last week.  They are also on their way to their breeding ground up north.
White-crowned Sparrow / Bruant à couronne blanche
Moonbeam, ON (7 May 2016)
The ducks are slowly starting to arrive at the Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons.  The ice only melted around May 1st.  We're not seeing the large number of ducks we usually see at the lagoons, but we're seeing the usual; Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneyes, Scaups, Green-winged and Blue-winged Teals, Mallards…also American Coots and Red-necked Grebes.  And of course, the Northern Shovelers...
Northern Shoveler / Canard souchet
Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons (9 May 2016)
There is a creek on Ste-Marie road where we always see a good number of ducks.  So far, it's been almost empty.  I'm not sure why.
Where are all the ducks?
Moonbeam (10 May 2016)
There has been a few Sandhill Cranes around, but no big flocks like we used to see a few years ago.
Sandhill Crane / Grue du Canada
Moonbeam (10 May 2016)
We were lucky enough to witness 2 Sandhill Cranes doing their courtship display on the 8th of May.  I managed to get this short video.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Chilly Spring in South Porcupine

It looks like spring and it sounds like spring but as soon as you step outside, you easily forget it's spring. As I'm writing this, it's currently -1°C.  The temperature doesn't seem to want to rise above 5°C this month.  I hope May will bring some warmth.  The birds are slowly arriving even though it's consistently cold and none of the lakes have thawed out yet.  Here are a few of this year's spring arrivals…

As always, the Frederick House Lake waterfront in Connaught is one of the first area to offer some open water to the migrating waterfowl:

Northern Pintail (Canard pilet)
Frederick House Lake, Connaught (24 April 2016)
As for yard birds, we have had some Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Purple Finch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Siskins, White-throated and Fox Sparrows… But the bears are already wandering around and they have already destroyed one of my feeders... it's time to put the feeders away until next winter.

Fox Sparrow (Bruant fauve)
South Porcupine (April 2016)
Fox Sparrows are probably my favorite sparrows because of their melodic songs… I have been blessed with 3 Fox Sparrows this last week.  And they sing all day long!  I always have a few that stops by in spring but these 3 are staying for the whole week, which is unusual (they usually stay for a couple of days only).  I am obsessed with recording their beautiful melodies on my phone. I have a few of their melodies I wanted to share...I tried to insert a sound link here but I guess blogger doesn't offer that option.

Also visiting my yard this week was this Dark-eyed Junco with a patch of lost pigmentation.
Dark-eyed Junco- Leucistic (Junco ardoisé)
South Porcupine (25 April 2016)
We went out only once to Porcupine Lake.  We walked the trail following the shore, dressed in full winter clothing.  It's been too cold and I wasn't expecting lots.  We saw the usual for April: Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Killdeers, Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker and Great Blue Heron.

Mallards (Canard colvert)
Porcupine Lake (27 April 2016)

Killdeer (Pluvier kildir)
Porcupine Lake (27 April 2016)
Great Blue Heron (Grand Héron)
Porcupine Lake (27 April 2016)
And last but not least, a sure sign that spring is really coming… my first warbler of the year.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Paruline à croupion jaune)
Near Shallow Lake, Porcupine (24 April 2016)
Next week, I will be heading to Moonbeam for some meetings so I will hopefully have a chance to go birding at some of my favorite spots: the Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons and the rural roads in the Moonbeam area.