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!