Monday, November 13, 2017

Fall Update

This was going to be a quick fall update but I realized I haven't posted since the end of spring. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I have been ignoring the birds so here's a quick update of the last 5 months.

July 2017 - Gary and I went on what we called our own little "Canada 150 Scenery, Birds and Beer Alberta-BC Tour" We spent 3 weeks touring Alberta and British Columbia, exploring the sights, enjoying some craft beer and of course, looking for wildlife and western birds species.  We rented a car in Calgary and drove a 3000 km loop that took us to Olds, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Golden, Salmon Arm, Vaseux Lake, Osoyoos, Rossland, Nelson, Fernie, Pincher Creek, Drumheller and back to Calgary. We saw lots of geography including the Mountains, the shrub-grassland-desert of the south Okanagan valley, Alberta's never ending fields and the Alberta Badlands.  We collected a decent list of life birds. We saw our first Grizzly as we drove on the Icefields Parkway and our first Bighorn sheeps in Golden.  After this trip, I can now honestly say without a doubt: we have the most beautiful country in the world.  It was an unforgettable trip. I won't post my western observations here because this is a Northern Ontario blog but you can view some of them on my flickr account in my Alberta Album and in my British Columbia Album. 

August 2017
In August, we went on our only camping trip of the summer at Esker Lakes Provincial Park.  I had won 2 nights of free camping in a photo contest last summer!  I really like the trails at Esker Lakes. We didn't see as many birds as last year but we got to watch this Solitary Sandpiper catch food in a shallow pond near the beach.
Solitary Sandpiper / Chevalier solitaire
Esker Lakes Provincial Park (28 August 2017)

FALL 2017
We had a great fall in Northern Ontario.  We had warm weather until the 3rd week of October.  We didn't see many migrating shorebirds other than Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and some American Golden Plovers in Moonbeam. A very small number of shorebirds went through Porcupine Lake this fall, including this Black-bellied Plover.
Black-bellied Plover / Pluvier argenté
Porcupine Lake (6 September 2017)
At the end of September, we participated in the Mattagami Region Conservation Authority's Fall Hiking Day at Hersey Lake Conservation Area. MRCA is the agency responsible for creating and maintaining the many wonderful trails in the Timmins area. We saw this Black-backed Woodpecker during the walk; Hersey lake offers the ideal habitat for these elusive woodpecker.

Black-backed Woodpecker / Pic à dos noir
Hersey Lake Conservation Area - Timmins (30 September 2017)
New species for Porcupine Lake
We added a few new species to Porcupine Lake this fall including a Yellow-headed Blackbird (found by Pierre Noel), a Black Scoter and a Canvasback.  When I say new species, I certainly don't mean that they were never there before, just that they had never been previously documented at the lake. 
Yellow-headed Blackbird / Carouge à tête jaune
Porcupine Lake (6 September 2017)

Black Scoter / Macreuse à bec jaune
Porcupine Lake (1 November 2017)

Canvasback / Fuligule à dos blanc
Porcupine Lake (4 November 2017)

During the last 3 years, I have been making an effort to observe and photograph butterflies. I find them fascinating and I'm trying to learn more about them.  I was delighted to observe my first Monarch in the Timmins area in October.  It seemed late for a Monarch to be so far North but we had such a warm September. We have been planting Milkweed in a few spots in the last few years and I hope to see more Monarchs in the future. 
Monarch near South Porcupine (9 October 2017)

Monarch near South Porcupine (9 October 2017)
My last butterfly sighting of fall was this Painted Lady on October 22nd at Porcupine Lake.  It was the last of the warm fall days.  I'm still looking for a good butterfly guide that would work for our Northern Ontario area - I would appreciate any suggestions.
Painted Lady
Porcupine Lake (22 October 2017)
Winter has arrived this week. The ground has been snow covered for at least a week and the lakes have all frozen over in the last 3 days.  But I'm not going to complain because the arrival of winter means the arrival of these beautiful birds:

Pine Grosbeak / Durbec des sapins
South Porcupine (10 November 2017)

Bohemian Waxwings / Jaseur boréal
South Porcupine (12 November 2017)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Dickcissel, Brant and more at Porcupine Lake

Migration was still going strong during the third week of May in the Timmins/South Porcupine Area.  We observed a few good birds and added a few more birds to Porcupine Lake's species list.

On Wednesday, May 17, we got a call from a friend (who lives right on Porcupine Lake) about a "different looking bird" at his feeder. He said the bird had a yellow breast and a black triangular patch on the lower neck.  His sense of observation is always great so without hesitation we jumped in the truck and were over there in under 2 minutes.  It turned out to be a Dickcissel.  My first ever Dickcissel sighting (and a first for Porcupine Lake and the Timmins area)
Dickcissel / Dickcissel d'Amérique
Porcupine Lake (17 May 2017)
The Dickcissel was with a group of White-crowned Sparrows at the feeder. It only stayed for 2 days.  The owner of the property generously let me bring other people to his yard to see this bird.  Unfortunately, only 1 other person got to see it; 3 other disappointed birders didn't.  This is what a rare bird stake-out crowd is like in our area: 4 people!  I love it! The Dickcissel is a grassland bird that spends the summer in central United-State. It was a little far from its normal range.
Dickcissel / Dickcissel d'Amérique
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2017)
Two days after adding the Dickcissel to Porcupine Lake's species list, we spotted 2 Bobolinks (a male and a female) near the White Waterfront beach. Bobolink was also a new species for the lake.
Bobolink / Goglu des prés
Porcupine Lake (19 May 2017)
On the next day, we added one more new species for Porcupine Lake: a Black-bellied Plover.  And we observed a Brant.

The Brant was first found by a fellow birder who saw it just before it flew away because of a float plane (planes often land on Porcupine Lake on Saturdays) We re-found it at Bristol bay later on in the afternoon.
Brant / Bernache cravant
Porcupine Lake (20 May 2017)
Brants had been previously reported on Porcupine Lake October 2012 and May 2013 but they weren't reported in the Hotspot eBird list and therefore didn't show on the Porcupine Lake printable checklist (I love that eBird feature)  Now with this sighting, Brants will be included in the checklist when the sighting gets accepted.

The Black-bellied Plover, another addition to the Porcupine Lake list, was first found by my neighbour in the morning and later re-found by a friend in the evening. It was with a group of Dunlins. 
Black-bellied Plover / Pluvier argenté
Porcupine Lake (20 May 2017)

Porcupine Lake is a fairly small lake (10 km circumference) and doesn't have lots of good shorebird habitat and resting spots. There is only 1 small beach and it's always busy with people and dogs.  That's why I was pleasantly surprised this Spring by the number of shorebirds that the lake was attracting.  A group of over 100 Dunlins stayed for at least 1 week. This was the largest group of Dunlins ever seen on the lake since I've been birding it. 

This next Dunlin was part of a group that landed near us as we were patiently watching for the Dickcissel during the only sunny day we had in the last few weeks.
Dunlin / Bécasseau variable
Porcupine Lake (20 May 2017)
It's always nice to see groups of Dunlins stop by.  I especially love to watch them fly in groups. The bad weather probably contributed to their stop in this unlikely spot. The largest group I saw this past week was a flock of 143.
Dunlins resting on dock
Porcupine Lake (22 May 2017)
In addition to the Dunlins, during the last couple of weeks we saw Short-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. All at Porcupine Lake.
Least Sandpiper / Bécasseau minuscule
Porcupine Lake (20 May 2017)
Semipalmated Plover / Pluvier semipalmé
Porcupine Lake (22 May 2017)
White-winged Scoters also stopped by the lake with a flock of Long-tailed Ducks.
White-winged Scoter / Macreuse brune
Porcupine Lake (21 May 2017)
On May 22, it was nice to see the Eastern Kingbirds had returned to the Lake.
Eastern Kingbird / Tyran tritri
Porcupine Lake (22 May 2017)

These 3 Tundra Swans flew over our neighbourhood on May 22.  
Tundra Swans / Cygnes siffleurs
South Porcupine (22 May 2017)
The 2 last weeks of May is an excellent time to observe warblers in our area; the buds are just coming out and all the warbler species have arrived.  Here is a Canada Warbler that stopped by my yard 2 days ago. The Canada Warbler is one of the last warbler species to arrive in the Timmins area along with the Mourning Warbler.
Canada Warbler in the rain / Paruline du Canada
South Porcupine (23 May 2017)

I hope everyone is having a great Spring so far!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

May 1 to 15: Greater White-fronted Goose, Wilson's Phalarope...

Even if it's been a cold, dark and wet month of May, the birding has been good.  The sun almost didn't show up but at least the birds did.  The sad part is that almost all our migrating birds are here now and the month of May is almost gone.

Here are a few highlights from the first half of the month of May 2017.  The second half of May will be featured in the next post.

First week of May:
The month started off right with a Horned Grebe on Porcupine Lake.  Although they are not common here, some were observed at Porcupine Lake last year in May as well.
Horned Grebe / Grèbe esclavon
Porcupine Lake (5 May 2017)
Second week of May:
I didn't go out as much as I wanted to during the second week of May but we did go for 1 day in Moonbeam. We went to the Moonbeam Sewage Lagoons twice (the first time was cut short by the rain) and saw many species.  I was happy to be accompanied by one of my friend who had never been to this spot. After the lagoon, we explored my favorite Moonbeam rural roads and found a Greater White-fronted Goose in a field with Canada Geese. It was my first one.
Greater White-fronted Goose / Oie rieuse
Moonbeam (13 May 2017)
The 14th of May marked the arrival of a few shorebirds. We saw 4 Short-billed Dowitchers, 4 Least Sandpipers and 2 Solitary Sandpipers at Gillies Lake Conservation Area in Timmins.
Short-billed Dowitcher / Bécassin roux
Gillies Lake, Timmins (14 May 2017)
Solitary Sandpiper / Chevalier solitaire
Gillies Lake, Timmins (14 May 2017)
The second week of May also marked the arrival of a lot of our warbler species including this Cape May:
Cape May Warbler / Paruline tigrée
Gillies Lake, Timmins (14 May 2017)

On May 15th we spotted a Wilson's Phalarope.  This was only my 3rd sighting in our area so far.  It was at a decommissioned lagoon along with Wood Ducks, American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The gate was locked so I had to take the photo from very far away.
Wilson's Phalarope / Phalarope de Wilson
South Porcupine (15 May 2017)
Wood Duck / Canard branchu
South Porcupine (15 May 2017)
The first 2 weeks of May were ok but the rest of May was even better (see next post)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Harlequin Ducks in the Timmins Area!

One of our favourite spots to look for migrating birds in Spring and Fall is the Frederick House Lake waterfront in Connaught.  It's 40 km north-east of Timmins (so 30 km from our home in South Porcupine).   If you're coming from the other direction, it's also a 'must stop' location because it is only 14 km south-west from Highway 11 (turn off near Porquis Junction).  Frederick House Lake is a large lake and the bridge where Frederick House River goes into the lake is a great spot for migrating waterfowl.  That's where we saw the Harlequin Ducks.  I was scanning and counting a group of Scaups when the Harlequin Ducks appeared in my binoculars.  As you can imagine, I was so surprised that I quickly lost my count, snapped a photo, and had to start counting again.  

Harlequin Duck / Arlequin plongeur
Frederick House River/Lake (29 April 2017)
I managed to take one more photo before the nearby flock of scaups flew away. Then the Harlequin Ducks followed and landed near the railway bridge. I had seen Harlequin Ducks before at Clover Point on the shore of Victoria BC but I never imagined I would see some so close to home. In Canada, there are populations of Harlequin Ducks on the Pacific coast and on the Atlantic coast but they can also be observed around the Great Lakes in Southern Ontario.  Even though the male (on the right) is resting, you can see its unique colours and patterns. On the left is the female. 
Harlequin Duck / Arlequin plongeur
Frederick House River/Lake (28 April 2017)
A little further east from the bridge, there are nice spots where you can park and scan the shore.  When the water is low, there are shallow sandy areas where you can sometimes spot migrating shorebirds if the conditions are right.  A lone Greater Yellowlegs was there. No sign of any other shorebirds yet but it is still early for other shorebirds in our area.  I will definitely be back in May.

Greater Yellowlegs / Grand Chevalier
Frederick House Lake (28 April 2017)
Exactly 24 hours before the find, on Thursday April 27th, we had a severe thunderstorm go through the whole Northern Ontario area, with wind gusts so strong they blew some roofs off and trees down. The storm was followed by south-east winds.  I'm not sure if that's what brought the Harlequins here but it's always a good idea to check your favourite spots after irregular wind storms.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Franklin's, Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls at Porcupine Lake

This past week, big flocks of gulls gathered on the ice at Porcupine Lake. I decided to go scan them...really scan them.  I am ashamed to admit that I've never really felt excited about looking at a group of gulls before.  I still did it, but without much enthusiasm.  After this week, I can now say that I finally get why some people are excited about gulls.  

This week has brought me 3 life gulls (is that even a proper term?) and has made me spend hours with my Sibley Guide which has great detailed gull pictures and descriptions.  In 5 days, on top of the regular Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull, we saw GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, GLAUCOUS GULL and a FRANKLIN'S GULL; all in the same area at Porcupine Lake.
In addition to the abundant Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls we saw the following:

We observed 3 GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS: they are not that common in the Timmins area but we do see one or two every year (I used to see them at the Timmins Landfill but I rarely go there anymore after they threw me out a few years ago) They are bigger than the Herring Gulls, they have a darker mantle and pink legs. They also have the yellow bill with the red spot.
Great Black-backed Gull / Goéland Marin
Porcupine Lake (24 April 2017)
We also spotted a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, which was a total surprise because they are  rare here.  It was a first for me. They are slightly smaller than the Herring Gulls (and much smaller than the Great Black-backed Gull) The Lesser Black-backed Gull has yellow legs which is how I was able to i.d. it. 
Lesser Black-backed Gull / Goéland brun
Porcupine Lake (21 April 2017)

And on the same day, another uncommon gull for our area: The GLAUCOUS GULL.  This one is very large: larger than the Herring Gulls (as you can see on the photo: it is sleeping next to Herring Gulls) In its adult plumage, this gull is white with pale grey wings and completely white wing tips. I wish I had better photos but it was amazingly far away and it only got up for 1 second to groom (see 2nd photo).  I learned that trying to telepathically encourage a gull to stand up so you can see it's bill and legs doesn't work.
Glaucous Gull (surrounded by Herring Gulls)
Porcupine Lake (21 April, 2017)
Glaucous Gull / Goéland bourgmestre
Porcupine Lake (21 April 2017)
And, last but not least, the biggest surprise of the week: the FRANKLIN'S GULL! This is a Gull that lives in the Prairies during the summer and migrates to the west coast of South America in the winter.   So it was far from its normal range. This was a first for me and for the Timmins area.  This small attractive gull has a grey back with white underparts that had a "pink" look to it when compared with the other gulls.  The bill is dark red and the legs are almost black. The broken bright white eye ring really stood out.
Franklin's Gull / Mouette de Franklin
Porcupine Lake (25 April 2017)

I still have so much to learn about gull identification and the different plumage variations they show according to their age and time of year... but one thing I know for sure: I'm writing a note to myself to check Porcupine Lake every year at the end of April from now on!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Barred Owl and Northern Hawk Owl

I have never had luck finding owls before but it seems like I've had a bit of luck during the last month.  After I saw the Great Gray Owl on February 11, I was lucky enough to see 2 more species of owls.

On the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count, we saw this Northern Hawk Owl that had been previously reported. Northern Hawk Owls are around 16 inches long.  Their range covers the Boreal Forest and they perch on treetops or poles to detect prey (small mammals like mice and voles) They are probably the most commonly observed owl in our region because they often hunt during the day.  Here is a cropped photo from very far away.

Northern Hawk Owl / Chouette épervière
Near Porquis Junction (19 February 2017)

Yesterday, March 11, we decided to go for a walk and found this Barred Owl resting in a tree.  I had never seen a Barred Owl before and I don't think they are very common in Cochrane District.  In fact, I believe it was only the second report of a Barred Owl in our district according to eBird.  Barred Owls are around 21 inches long and they are mostly nocturnal, making them more difficult to observe. Their habitat of choice is mature forest of mixed deciduous and evergreens.  

Barred Owl / Chouette rayée
South Porcupine Area (11 March 2017)
Having a point and shoot camera with a 60X zoom really helps getting photos without disturbing the resting owls.  I was able to get a couple of shots without going near.  It's important to remember that owls need all their energy to hunt prey to survive and it is unwise to stress them for photos.  I am happy when I can observe or photograph a bird without it being disturbed by my presence so I limit my time at the site.  We turned around instead of continuing on the trail so that it could go on resting or hunting.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Great Gray Owl and Gyrfalcon - 2017 has been great so far

Since I started birding seriously, I've been dreaming of seeing a Great Gray Owl.  This bird has been  #1 on my wish list for as long as I can remember and even though we've been exploring so much of Northern Ontario's wilderness in the last 10 years, I had never seen one.  Until this Saturday.

Great Gray Owl / Chouette Lapone
South Porcupine (11 February 2017)
I always had a clear detailed fantasy about how I wanted my first Great Gray Owl sighting to happen... in a trail (and not from far away in a field) And that's exactly how it happened...but even better than I had imagined.  It happened 2 days ago.  Walking in a quiet trail on a winter day with Gary.  The snow piled on the branches.  There were a bunch of chickadees being agitated and vocal near us so we slowed down.  Gary stayed a bit behind to investigate and I slowly turned a corner... and arrived face to face with a Great Gray Owl.  It was perched low in a tree and I had a great view of it.  I was unbelievably close.  It took a few seconds for my brain to realized what was happening.  You dream about it for so many years that it almost comes as a shock when it happens. The bird was not looking in my direction at first so I slowly took my camera out (I was so close there was no need for binoculars!) I turned and gestured to my husband to advance near me so he could get a look.  I took 3 photos and then we just looked at it.  I didn't try to get the perfect shot. I just wanted to enjoy the moment.  Gary and I watched it for a bit before it flew away.  It flew very low, about 4 feet off the ground right in front of us, into the thick forest.  I can't express how beautiful it was to see it fly so close to us. No sound. Just pure perfection. It is by far the most fascinating bird I have ever seen.
Great Gray Owl / Chouette Lapone
South Porcupine (11 February 2017)
This longing to see a Great Gray Owl has been with me for so long that it will be a little strange not to have it any longer.  I will have to find another bird to fill its spot at #1 on my wish list.  Right now it's a tie between the Barred Owl and the Boreal Owl.  (I've heard a Boreal Owl a few times before but I have never seen one)  

I have to admit that 2017 has been great so far, with 3 lifers in the last 40 days.  First was the American Three-toed Woodpecker.  Then, on January 28, I found my first Gyrfalcon near a field in Timmins.
Gyrfalcon / Faucon gerfaut
Timmins (28 January 2017)
I hope 2017 will continue to be as exciting, but I'm realistic enough to know moments like these don't come very often.  That's why you have to really appreciate these moments when they happen. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

American Three-toed Woodpecker and other Winter Birds

On January 6, 2017, we were walking the Bart Thompson Trail near our place in South Porcupine when we spotted 2 American Three-toed Woodpeckers.   During the prior week, we had seen piles of flaked bark on the fresh snow in many spots and we knew there was a Black-backed Woodpecker in the area so we were paying close attention.  When we heard tapping sound, we approached slowly and in my binoculars, I spotted a dark woodpecker.  When we got a bit closer, I realized that the woodpecker was indeed black, but to my surprise, it had white on its back (if it was a Black-backed, the back would be all black) so I got very excited and took my camera out of its case.  It was definitely an American Three-toed Woodpecker!  My first one! We could see a yellow crown patch on the bird's head as he was tapping the tree trunk.  The photo is not clear because the bird was in constant movement.

American Three-toed Woodpecker / Pic à dos rayé
South Porcupine (6 January 2017)
After watching the first woodpecker for a while, we decided to walk back towards the start of the trail.  After about 500m of walking, we heard another woodpecker: the tapping sound was not too loud and intermittently, we heard the sound of bark being stripped. To our surprise, there was another American Three-toed Woodpecker very low on a spruce trunk about 6 meters from us.  It continued working on the bark as we watched it for a while.  We quickly realized that this was not the same one we had previously seen because it had no yellow at all on its head; it was a female.

American Three-toed Woodpecker (Female) / Pic à dos rayé
South Porcupine (6 January 2017)
Even though the American Three-toed Woodpecker's range covers Canada's boreal forest, it is infrequently seen.   I have walked that trail weekly every winter for the last decade and this was my first American Three-toed Woodpecker sighting.   Like the Black-backed Woodpecker, it forages on tree trunks for beetle larvae and wood-boring insects by stripping the bark.  After a fresh snowfall, seeing a bunch of bark flakes below a tree and patches of stripped bark on the trunk of a spruce is a good indication of the presence of either the Black-backed or the American Three-toed Woodpecker. 

Sometimes, you can see the evidence of a Black-backed or Three-toed Woodpecker in the forest when you see a tree partly or completely stripped of its bark; the trunk will look "reddish". Here's what it looks like when a whole tree has been stripped.

Spruce tree with stripped bark
On January 12, I watched the female American Three-toed Woodpecker again.  It was foraging on a leaning spruce tree.  I went back to the same tree the next day and took this photo:
Patches of stripped bark the day after an American Three-toed Woodpecker
had foraged on it. South Porcupine (13 January 2017)

I have observed the female American Three-toed twice since our first sighting a week ago.  She was in the same trail this morning and I shot this short video.

Other interesting sightings this winter so far:

On December 4th 2016, we were driving to Timmins when we spotted a flock of ducks on the mine reclamation lake just west of Pearl Lake in Schumacher.  We don't usually have open water in December, but this isn't a natural lake and it's almost alway the last one to freeze over.  Luckily, I had my binoculars and camera.  There were 56 Long-tailed Ducks accompanied by 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Greater Scaup and 1 White-winged Scoter (all late sightings for our area)

Long-tailed Duck / Harelde kakawi
Timmins (4 December 2016)
White-winged Scoter / Macreuse brune
Timmins (4 December 2016)

In November and December, we observed lots of White-winged Crossbills around the area... they are very hard to photograph but I finally managed to get a few shot on December 11:

White-winged Crossbill / Bec-croisé bifascié
South Porcupine (11 December 2016)
White-winged Crossbill / Bec-croisé bifascié
South Porcupine (11 December 2016)

On December 17th, we participated in the Timmins Christmas Bird Count.  It was a good thing that a flock of Bohemian Waxwings showed up because this species had never been recorded in the Timmins CBC before!  Another notable Timmins CBC sighting was 2 White-breasted Nuthatches... we've been seeing an unusually high number of the WBNU in the region this winter.

Bohemian Waxwing / Jaseur Boréal
South Porcupine (17 December 2016)
And on new year's day: a really neat bird to start the year right!

Northern Shrike / Pie-grièche grise
(01 January 2017) 
Happy new year to all of you!