Monday, December 16, 2019

Iroquois Falls CBC

On Saturday December 14 we took part in the Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count. It was overcast but not too cold -10°C (-16°C with wind chill factor). I love the Iroquois Falls CBC circle; it offers such a great variation of habitats with some open fields, old farm fields taken over by natural growth and both deciduous and coniferous stands of forested areas.  Additionally, the Abitibi river goes through the circle, offering 2 spots where we can see small sections of open water. Here are some of our sightings during our CBC count.  

As soon as we started our route, our very first bird of the day was a Snowy Owl in a field close to town. Gary spotted it while driving as I was checking the map! 

Heavy cropped photo of our fist bird of the day: Snowy Owl
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
As we stopped to look at it, we met a man that told us the owl had been there for a few days, all alone, hunting in peace.  Such is the life of an owl in Cochrane District! We took a quick photo, wrote it on our list, and did not approach. The bird was where the red arrow is, the previous photo was taken from that distance with the Nikon Coolpix P900. Using this camera is like digiscoping!

Iroquois Falls CBC first bird for us: Snowy Owl
14 December 2019
Our second bird was a Northern Shrike not far passed the Snowy Owl...that's when I knew we were in for a great count! And it sure was a great day. We saw the biggest number of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins of all the CBC bird counts I've been in.
One of hundreds of White-winged Crossbills
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
Every time we stopped the car, we heard birds thanks to our amazingly abundant cone crops. What a great year; every crop is great in our Timmins-Iroquois Falls area: Spruce and Tamarack cones as well as birch seeds and mountain ash berries. We even have some overwintering American Goldfinches, Purple Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, which doesn't happen every year.
One of hundreds of White-winged Crossbills
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
We had a good number of species overall. Here is one of 2 Pileated Woodpeckers we saw during the day. This one was in Monteith, a small community that falls inside the Iroquois Falls CBC circle.
Pileated Woodpecker
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Although we surprisingly didn't see any Bohemian Waxwings, we found a group of 7 Cedar Waxwings (they do not generally overwinter in our district). I guess the abundant mountain ash berries (and other berries) are helping some of them survive up north. Strangely, they were all in a tamarack tree, passing tamarack cones back and forth like they do with berries and petals. I had never witnessed this behaviour with a cone! Cedar Waxwings feed on insects and berries.
Cedar Waxwings sharing a Tamarack cone!
Uncommon bird for winter in our area
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Just when the sun was about to set, we found a Northern Hawk Owl. It was the last bird to make it on our list. They are beautiful owls and it's always a treat to see one. The Iroquois Falls area has great habitat for them.
Gary looking at the Northern Hawk Owl
Iroquois Falls Christmas Bird Count (14 Dec 2019)
Heavy cropped photo of Northern Hawk Owl
Iroquois Falls CBC (14 December 2019)
Northern Hawk Owls overwinter in our area every year but some years they are more difficult to find. It seems like more of them are one the move this year. In fact, some of them moved south and are being sought after by hundreds of birders and photographers. On one hand, it's a great opportunity for people to see these beauties but on the other hand, it can be stressful for the bird. Thankfully, in our area, owls can hunt and roost in peace because of the low population in general (and low number of birders/photographers). Also, the vast undeveloped land where the owl can hunt to survive is substantial enough that the owl will rarely be in the same location for many days, especially if stressed.

Overall, it was a great day. Our Timmins Christmas Bird Count is coming up on Saturday December 21, 2019. 

Important note for some readers who might find owls this winter:
Most of you are aware of this, but in case new readers are not, I find I must mention that owls are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. Approaching an owl for photos and disclosing its location is never a good idea. The presence of humans around an owl might disrupt its hunting and could lead to malnourishment, habituation to humans and possibly vehicular collision. Remember, the owl might not seem stressed when you are there, but that doesn't mean it isn't, and the accumulation of disturbance will stress it. Please always put the well-being of the bird first. Thank You :)