Sunday, October 11, 2020

Spring Bullock's Oriole, Fall Northern Wheatear & other Timmins Birds News

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote here in May 2020 when spring migration was still on. Here are a few of the highlights that made 2020 a bit brighter.

One of the last warblers to migrate through Timmins in spring
Blackpoll Warbler - Porcupine Lake (25 May 2020)

Spring 2020- First Timmins/South Porcupine OFO field trip (cancelled) coincided with Timmins first Bullock's Oriole 

Our first Timmins/South Porcupine OFO birding outing was set to take place May 23rd but was understandably cancelled due to Covid-19 provincial guidelines. On that day, as I was birding Porcupine Lake, we got a message from Melanie about an oriole species found at a feeder nearby. The species was difficult to judge from the submitted photo at first but since any oriole species is rare here, I went straight to the location, quickly followed by Pierre; we were astonished to be looking at Timmins' first Bullock Oriole. It was found in a local birders' yard at Nighthawk lake, just a few minutes from South Porcupine, and Melanie saw the post and alerted us immediately. It only stayed one day or 2 and many local birders had a chance to see it (while respecting the distancing guidelines); the homeowners were wonderful and welcoming and the bird would've never been detected if it weren't for their keen eyes. 

Bullock's Oriole in Timmins
Nighthawk Lake (23 May 2020)

Bullock's Oriole 
Nighthawk Lake, Timmins (23 May 2020)

Reviewing and Updating the Timmins Checklist of Birds

We are currently updating the Timmins Checklist of Birds! The original Timmins Checklist of Birds was established around 1987; Mark Joron collected and shared bird sightings for years on his site, inspiring many people like myself to explore and document birds in the Timmins area. With the increasing number of birders, almost 20 new species have been added to the checklist since the last official update. We are also in the process of packing more knowledge in the checklist by adding 'abundance' and 'season' codes to each species. I am grateful for the many local birders collaborating with me and Mark on this project.  

Clay-coloured Sparrow
Timmins (June 2020)

Upcoming Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Atlas-3)

The 3rd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas will be taking place from 2021 to 2025. I am delighted to be one of the Regional Coordinator with Bruce Murphy for Region 41 (Timiskaming) which includes the Timmins, Kirkland Lake and New Liskeard area. The website and registration is now available here: Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Website. Birders of all levels can participate and contribute. If you would like to know more, don't hesitate to contact me. 

Here is a Black-backed Woodpecker nest I discovered in South Porcupine this June.... we'll see if we can discover more for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas during the upcoming 5 years.


Black-backed Woodpecker at nest site
South Porcupine (17 June 2020)

Black-backed Woodpecker young in nest
I love the heart-shaped yellow forehead patch!
South Porcupine (17 June 2020)

Remaining a respectable distance from any nest is crucial
The photos above were taken from this distance with 80X zoom

Northern Wheatear at Porcupine Lake - Sept 18 to 31

On September 18 before sunset, I checked the weather network and saw that there had been a long overdue north wind that day, so we decided to do a quick check for fall migrants at Porcupine Lake. As soon as I stepped out of the car, before I even got my bins, I saw 2 Black-bellied Plovers as well as another bird perched on a bench further passed the beach. The bird then went down and was walking, a bit 'thrushlike', moving forward in short bursts then standing tall and proud for a while. It went back to catching insects quickly. Then, it would fly up on a nearby perch and it would keep its position for a few second, then lift its tail slightly, then stand there. That's when the alarm bell rang...the period of just "standing still" didn't fit with any other bird that would be a regular occurrence here. An American Pipit would've been more hyperactive, a thrush wouldn't stand on a bench just casually looking sideways. I lifted my bins and saw a small portion of its head sticking from the grass and then I heard the sound of motors coming...

Northern Wheatear on the White Waterfront C. A. plaque
On the evening I found it (18 September 2020)

At that point, before getting the definite i.d., a dirt bike and a 4-wheeler arrived to my right and were going to trespass illegally in the conservation area right where the bird was! (These motorized vehicles have been doing damage to the trails and the newly planted vegetation at Porcupine Lake and there was no way they were going to flush this bird) I jumped and gestured for them to stop. At first they ignored me but I was very persistent. After I asked (firmly but politely) that they turn around, they did (while complaining). I put my bins on the bird and immediately handed my phone to Gary saying, "open Sibley's, pull up Northern Wheatear, open my messages and open Discord" to which he replied "and what are you going to do while I do all this?" Silly question..."I'm going to watch the bird!" 

I alerted everyone I thought of, but the sun was going down. To everyone's delight, it was still there on Saturday morning and it gave many local birders amazing views. As it got colder and windier on Sunday, it spent more time away from the lake and in private backyard where it would forage for insects on lawns and around private gardens. By Monday, it had discovered the fenced in yards and the private decks. It became a tricky situation when it was clear that looking at the bird meant we'd be pointing our binoculars and cameras towards private yards. After a conversation with the homeowners, all of them were very welcoming; in fact, many of them invited visiting birders in their yard to get a better look and even kept their dogs on a leash or inside the house.


The bird stayed for an astonishing 13 days in the same general location, during which 15 local and 28 out of town birders came to see it.  My friend Swapnil was instrumental in helping me keep an eye on the bird and relocating it when visitors were due to arrive. 44 birders in 13 days is a lot for the Timmins Area, but a rare bird like this would've attracted more than that number in one day if it had landed in southern Ontario. Porcupine Lake was the best location, as the bird only had 2 to 4 visiting birders at a time and everyone respected physical distancing. I met many great, kind, amazing people during this time; it was fun to chat about birds.

It has been an exciting fall for observing Northern Wheatears. A few more were discovered not long after the Porcupine Lake bird. For a species that is recorded only once every few years, it was surprising. 


Watching the Northern Wheatear - 2 meters apart
Me, Swapnil D. and Darlene R. 
 Porcupine Lake (27 Sept 2020)

The Northern Wheatear is an astonishing species. It is rare anywhere in Ontario and has an intriguing and unique distribution and migration route. The Northern Wheatears follow a unique long-distance flight from their Arctic breeding ground to their wintering ground in sub-Saharan Africa. The route they take depends on where they breed; in North American, the Alaskan population will fly over Siberia and Asia to reach the African continent. In the case of the eastern Canadian Arctic birds, they fly over the Atlantic Ocean, northern Europe, then down to central Africa. Read more about this bird: Migrating Northern Wheatears go the Distance (Cornell Lab). 

This was the second Northern Wheatear I observed in Timmins; we spotted our first one on October 13, 2018 about 15 km west of here. 


What better way to end a long post than with a Gyrfalcon from yesterday. I am very grateful to be living up north.

Timmins (10 October 2020)

Timmins (10 October 2020)

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, May 18, 2020

A Cold but Splendid Start to May!

The first half of the month of May was very cold but if you lived anywhere in Ontario I'm sure you experienced the same situation; below-average temperatures and an almost complete standstill of migrating birds. It was still very rewarding for birders in the Timmins area due to the persisting ice  and high number of gulls on Porcupine Lake. Birding at home was also interesting due to the many continuing White-winged Crossbills feeding in our yard and the appearance of juveniles this week.

One of the adults White-winged Crossbills in our tree
South Porcupine (11 May 2020)

The first week of May brought us a decent number of arrivals: 21 newly arrived migrants were recorded on our Timmins area arrival list in the first 7 days of May (as opposed to only 11 species in the following 7 days, many of which probably arrived before but no one was out there to record them!) The second week of May was brutally cold even by Northern Ontario standards.

Horned Grebes in Porcupine
Shallow Lake - Porcupine River (2 May 2020)

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs
Porcupine Lake (5 May 2020)

A Cold 5-Mile Radius Big Day! 
Our Global Big Day on May 9th forced us to wear the same down parkas, hats and mitts as we did for the Christmas Bird Count! We decided to stick to our 5-Mile Radius circle. The day's effort yielded a meagre list (53 for us, 71 for the district) but we added a new species (Iceland Gull) to Porcupine Lake so it was a total success! There wasn't a human being in sight, we saw many Black Bears, and we followed a fox while birding at an old reclaimed mine pond. It was surreal; it basically felt like being in Jeff VanderMeer's excellent Borne novel. 

9 May 2020 Global Big Day
in our 5-Mile Radius - South Porcupine - Timmins
We saw more mammals than people!

Northern Pintails
Hollinger Tailings Ponds - Timmins (9 May 2020)

Iceland Gull on the ice with Herring Gulls - 5MR
Species #187 for Porcupine Lake (9 May 2020)
A lone Tundra Swan on a pond near our place
5MR South Porcupine (9 May 2020)

One positive thing that came out of this sustained cold weather, north winds and persisting ice is the presence of a variety of gulls on Porcupine Lake for a stretch of over 10 days, offering us a rare chance to sharpen our gull identification skills. We usually have one or two rarities that stop by for a day or two right before the melt but a gull gathering of this magnitude for over a week doesn't happen too often. Here are a few of the Porcupine Lake visitors during the first 2 weeks of May.

One of the Great Black-backed Gulls
Porcupine Lake (9 May 2020)
Great Black-backed Gull (right) with Herring Gulls
Porcupine Lake (6 May 2020)

Lesser Black-backed Gull with Herring Gulls - Porcupine Lake
 (11 May 2020)

Iceland Gull
Porcupine Lake (13 May 2020)

Glaucous Gull with Ring-billed Gulls behind and Herring Gull in the water
Porcupine Lake (11 May 2020)

Our spruce trees, like all the ones in the northeastern region, produced an incredible amount of cones and our yard is covered with them. We are leaving them on the ground and we've had many adult White-winged Crossbills feeding on them. Last Friday, they started bringing some juveniles with them every day.

Juvenile White-winged Crossbill in our yard
The mandibles are just starting to cross.
South Porcupine (14 May 2020)

Young White-winged Crossbill - now able to extract seeds
from fallen spruce cones in our yard (17 May 2020)

I've been spending so much time watching the young crosbills' progression...from hoping and begging the adults to clumsily handling the cones...and yesterday, some of them managed to hold a cone and extract some seeds! I can't share videos here but I took some interesting footage that you can view on my twitter account @roxane_filion and on Instagram.

This week, the warmer weather is slowly arriving and the ice is getting ready to go. This means the gulls will leave and the warblers should get here soon (and some shorebirds if we get favourable winds!) I suspect we're going to get all the warblers at the same time like last year. I'm ready for it.

Newly arrived Dunlins on the receding ice
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

Bonaparte's Gulls arrived this weekend
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

A sign of spring
Porcupine Lake (16 May 2020)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April Migration in South Porcupine

I have always loved living in Northern Ontario but I appreciate it even more now; in strange times like this spring, living in an low populated area surrounded with wild spaces is priceless. We have been birding a lot less, and exclusively near our home while following distancing guidelines, but at least we have a backyard and we have access to uncrowded space where we can enjoy fresh air and watch migrating birds.

My backyard is very small but it belongs to the birds. It is untamed, un-raked, unfertilized and it contains many types of trees. This little visitor I found sleeping in the backyard on a February morning was our 80th yard species.

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Our backyard, South Porcupine (17 February 2020)

5-Mile Radius Birding

I have joined the Ontario 5MR challenge organized by Carter Dorscht and I am enjoying it. It's the perfect year to focus on birds we can find within 5 miles (8km) of our home! When we aim for birds within our circle, we spend a lot more time outside as opposed to being in the car on our way somewhere. And it has encouraged us to find new spots for suitable habitats near our home. 

Fox Sparrow
Backyard, South Porcupine (10 April 2020)

Trumpeter Swans sightings seem to be increasing in the Timmins-South Porcupine Area

When I started birding it was a very rare occurrence to see a Trumpeter Swan, but we are starting to see them more regularly here in the Timmins-South Porcupine Area and it's great news. In fact, they have now been observed on the Porcupine River for the 3rd spring in a row. For those who don't know the background history behind the Trumpeter Swans, they have gone through drastic declines in North America in the last centuries and had completely disappeared from Ontario around 1886. Conservation efforts, hunting restrictions and dedicated volunteer-led restoration projects have helped this species come back. Seeing them in our area is good news since it's a sign that they are re-establishing themselves in their historical range. Trumpeter Swans used to be widespread in our area, breeding in our wetlands and ponds all the way up to the James Bay Lowlands. 

Trumpeter Swans (one of 5 observed on Porcupine River this spring)
Porcupine River (6 April 2020) 

April Gull Galore on Ice!

During the last 2 weeks of April, like every year, we get a small window of opportunity to view hundreds of migrating gulls while they gather on the ice a few days before the melt! It's one of my favourite spring event. This spring, they chose Little Pearl Lake as their gathering spot and I could not have been happier since it's close to our home and it falls inside my 5MR. On top of the usual Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, we had at least 2 Glaucous Gulls, 6 Great Black-backed Gulls and one Iceland Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull surrounded by Herring Gulls
Little Pearl Lake - Timmins (17 April 2020)

Great Black-backed Gull's amazing 5 feet 5' wing span!
Schumacher (19 April 2020)

Glaucous Gull resting on ice with Herring Gulls
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

Iceland Gull in flight
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

Iceland Gull in flight
Little Pearl Lake (19 April 2020)

More arrivals:

The last weekend of April was a great weekend for birding around South Porcupine, with favourable winds bringing two migrating owl species, and large number of Wilson Snipes, Rusty Blackbirds and Rough-legged Hawks. Overall, we've been having more south winds this April than last year.

Long-eared Owl
Timmins General Area (24 April 2020) 
Short-eared Owl
Timmins General Area (26 April 2020)
I was enjoying watching the Rusty Blackbirds and Wilson's Snipe in my binoculars and didn't get good photos but thankfully my husband was there with his camera. Sometimes I feel like it's a chore to drop my bins for a photo.

Wilson's Snipe (Photo: Gary Dowe)
South Porcupine (26 April 2020)

Rusty Blackbird (Photo: Gary Dowe)
South Porcupine (26 April 2020)
Rough-legged Hawks pass through our area real quickly so you have to know where to look if you want to admire them. After we spotted our first last week, we set up the scope and saw 8 all in one area.
Rough-legged Hawk
Timmins (26 April 2020)
I am still collecting arrival dates for each of our migrating species (see Spring Arrival Dates page) This year is the 4th year and more and more people are contributing, which is great! Eventually, I wish to collect enough data to determine an average arrival date for each species. Thank you to everyone who contributed their sightings and continue to do so!

Have a safe and healthy rest of spring!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

1 Gyrfalcon and 2 more CBCs

A Gyrfalcon to start the year 2020

On January 1st we went to look for birds. After walking the Hersey Lake trails, we decided to go for a drive in one of my favourite spot and immediately saw a large, pale bird of prey perched on a tree at the end of a field. As soon as I put my bins on it I knew I couldn't ask for a better birthday present: a Gyrfalcon! This is only the second one I ever saw and I was very happy.

Gyrfalcons are the largest of our falcon species and they breed in the arctic tundra. Once in a while they will come south during the winter. 
Timmins (1 January 2020)
We were too far for good photos, but I didn't approach it since I didn't want it to fly away in case some other birders might want to see it. I notified the local birders and took a few photos from our location. The Nikon Coolpix P900 is great for these types of situation. I took this next photo from where I was standing when I photographed the bird. The Gyrfalcon is circled in red. 
Distance from the Gyrfalcon
The P900 is like a scope!
Here is another cropped photo of the Gyrfalcon. At one point it was snowing and the bird was grooming and looking at its claws.
Timmins (1 January 2020)

Timmins Christmas Bird Count

On the Saturday before Christmas, we participated in the Timmins Christmas Bird Count (the 26th CBC for Timmins).  The data isn't finalized yet, but the compiler shared some preliminary info: we were approximately 18 participants and found 25 species, which (believe it or not!) is slightly over the average of 18.3 species. Not a lot of birds overwinter in our area. We usually have a winter list between 30 and 40 species for the whole winter for an area greater than the CBC circle. 25 species might seem very low compared to southern regions but for us, it's a pretty good year.
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Timmins CBC (21 December 2019)
RBNU were back to regular numbers after 2 winters where they were scarce.
It was an unusually mild day and some of our species decided they didn't want to be counted, like the American Three-toed Woodpecker and Black-backed Woodpecker.  Gary and I covered the Hersey Lake Conservation Area and during the afternoon, Rhonda and I covered part of the Bart Thompson Trail.  It was overcast and dark so I didn't take many photos. Just like the Iroquois Falls CBC, we had lots of Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills.
Pileated Woodpecker - South Porcupine
Timmins Christmas Bird Count (21 December 2019)

Smooth Rock Falls Christmas Bird Count: our 3rd and last CBC

Since the roads were ok on January 4th, we decided to drive to Smooth Rock Falls for their 2nd annual Christmas Bird Count organized by Ken and Angie Williams. Smooth Rock Falls is a small community on Highway 11, 110 km northwest from where I live.
White-winged Crossbill
Smooth Rock Falls Christmas Bird Count (4JAN2020)
Hoary Redpoll
Smooth Rock Falls CBC (4 January 2020)
We only counted from 9 to 1pm but it was great to see our first Common Redpolls (and 1 Hoary) of the winter. And on the drive back, we saw our 2nd Northern Hawk Owl of the winter.
Northern Hawk Owl - Highway 11
Cochrane District (4 January 2020)
I hope everyone had a great Christmas Bird Count season.  Happy New Year!