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)