Friday, April 15, 2016

Lunch(es) at Cabot Head

After dipping on a Townsend's Solitaire observed at the BPBO this a.m., I headed over to the nearby Cabot Head light to eat my lunch (salmon salad on a bagel). What a relaxing scene. No people, scores of Turkey Vultures kettled overhead and the gorgeous blues and greens of Georgian Bay spread out beyond.

As noted in my last post, lingering winter weather on the Bruce Peninsula has made life tough for migrants. Today, the lighthouse attracted swarms of sluggish cluster flies which in turn attracted insectivorous birds including a Brown Creeper, four Eastern Phoebes and five (!) first-of-season-for-me Pine Warblers.

Bring on the warblers!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Farewell ye Snowies

There's been an uptick of Snowy Owl numbers on the Bruce in the last few weeks. On most days, with little effort, one can easily spot several on the Ferndale Flats between Wiarton and Tobermory - easier since fields turned brown.

There has been a steady turnover of birds since the solstice, presumably a result of migrating northbound birds.

 March 17, Pike Bay Road.

March 17, Little Pike Bay Road.

April 1, Little Pike Bay Road.

More on spring movements of Snowy Owls, as revealed through satellite telemetry, from Project Snowstorm.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Autofocus fail...a quiz of sorts.

There are many upsides to keeping a zoomy point-and-shoot within reach. Most notably, so-called bridge cameras like our ca. 2014 Canon PowerShot 50 SX HS are cheap and compact. Ours fits easily in a daypack or a small dry bag and travels everywhere with us.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of p-and-s (vs. SLR) photography. One little known fact about bridge cameras is that the autofocus technology was engineered by a cadre of savvy botanists such that the focus algorithm selects plant matter at the margin of the field rather than the mega-rare creature in the centre. Really.

Inadvertently I document flora when I'm gunning for fauna. Feel free to ID the blurry incidental fauna, all captured in Canadian National Parks.

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
White Spruce (Picea glauca)
Prickly Wild Rose (Rosa acicularis)
Silver Sagebrush (Artemisia cana)
Willow (Salix sp.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Many in southern Ontario will remember early autumn 2015 for the unusual weather pattern that saw consecutive days of strong and sustained NE winds. Birders were rewarded with seldom seen numbers of Sabine’s Gull, White-rumped Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit and Eurasian Dotterel.

At the north end of the Bruce Peninsula we experienced a very different and highly localized phenomenon. But first a little background…of course we're accustomed to Sharp-shinned Hawks migrating over our yard along the Lake Huron shoreline. Similarly, our feathers aren’t ruffled by the irregular depredations by Merlin and various accipiters at our feeders. This was different. Our patch became occupied by an increasing number of Sharp-shinned Hawks. I say “occupied” in the sense that the sharpies just seemed to be hanging out here. They’d loaf on our dock, preen outside the bedroom window and congregate next to the septic bed. They weren’t at all skittish. Weird.

The interplay between the forces of nature - atmospheric and biological - sometimes has awesome and terrifying consequences.  Here  I provide photographic documentation of a very rare Category 5 Sharpnado. All photos were taken through our windows.

Hanging out on the dock.
October 5, 2015

September 25, 2015
A two-fer over the septic bed.
October 9, 2015
Preening outside the bedroom window.

October 2, 2015
Enough said!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Eurasian Dotterel in Bruce County, ON.

I came upon this interesting little plover in Bruce County this morning. It was somewhat smaller and more pot-bellied than nearby Black-bellied Plovers. Notable were: pale supercilia converging at the back of the neck, yellow-green legs, pale ring on breast and buffy underparts. All seem to fit for Eurasian Dotterel, a rarity in North America. My ID is very tentative. I welcome other opinions.

[Edit: Okay, everything seems to check out. Thanks Alan Wormington and Mike Burrell for confirming the ID - I'm a stranger to Eurasian shorebirds.]

I've been having some difficulty uploading images to Flickr and eBird so I thought I'd share some photos here.

The bird was feeding on a mudflat on Lake Huron in the community of Oliphant, at the T-intersection of Spry Lake Road and Shoreline Road Ave., waypoint 44.74937, -81.27946.

Oliphant is about 13 km west of Wiarton. Nearby were Greater Yellowlegs, an Hudsonian Godwit, Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers.

What do you think?

Here are a few more pics from the morning.

Eurasian Dotterel and Dunlin.
Hudsonian Godwit
Peeps! White-rumped (2) and a Western?
Western Sandpiper?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Anna's Hummingbird, new to northern Ontario - updated Nov 10

What a great autumn, bird-wise, for the Thunder Bay District! A few weeks ago a Slaty-backed Gull was added to the district (and Northern Ontario) list(s). Now comes the discovery of an Anna's Hummingbird, a first for northern Ontario, and a second for the province, visiting a feeder in Thunder Bay. More details, from OntBirds here.
Dec. 3, 2013. Courtesy of Glenn Stronks.
Dec. 5, 2013. Courtesy of Glenn Coady.

The first provincial record of Anna's Hummingbird was documented for October 25-30, 2010, in Essex County.

Dec. 10 update: The Anna's Hummingbird has not been seen in several days, following the onset sub-30 C temperatures. Apparently the bird was present for months (15 September - 7 December)

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Sophie and Gary Wiggins for sharing their sighting and also to the Glenns, Stronks and Coady, for sharing their photos.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The latest Western Kingbird

The intrepid Alan Wormington, who has an uncanny knack for turning up interesting birds during his annual forays across the north shore, found this Western Kingbird, a casual visitor to the district, on October 18, 2013 at the Schreiber-Terrace Bay landfill, a stone's throw from the Trans-Canada Highway. Thanks for sharing your photos Alan.
October 18, 2013. Courtesy of Alan Wormington.
October 18, 2013. Courtesy of Alan Wormington.
Other photo-documented sightings of WEKI along the north shore include:
  • Sept. 10. 2010, at Marathon
  • Aug. 21, 2012, a new addition to the Pukaskwa National Park checklist. James Telford's eBird checklist and photo here.
...and some older autumn records adjudicated by the OBRC, again courtesy of AW.
  • November 2, 1996: Thunder Bay (Nick Escott -- found by?) --- accepted by OBRC.
  • October 12, 1993: Thunder Cape (Nick Escott) --- accepted by OBRC.
  • October 13, 1992: Terrace Bay (Alan Wormington) --- accepted by OBRC. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

White-eyed Vireo strays to Manitouwadge

Tammie Hache of Manitouwadge, at the east end of the Thunder Bay District, found a very unusual passerine in her yard today (November 10th, 2013). Tammie wrote:
I discovered this beautiful little bird in my backyard today. I sadly thought it was a window strike casualty when I found it on the ground half tucked under the last piece of siding on the garage but when I picked it up, it blinked at me. :) It has incredibly beautiful eyes!
November 10, 2013. Courtesy of Tammie Hache
This is only the fourth occurrence of White-eyed Vireo in northern Ontario. All have been in the T-Bay District: Marathon, Thunder Cape and Rossport, all between Sept. 29 and Oct 21. Definitely a pattern of fall vagrancy here. This is likely the northernmost record for Ontario. Thanks for sharing the sighting Tammie!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New (and overdue) in northern Ontario, White-faced Ibis (updated May 3)

In the last week came the exciting report of a White-faced Ibis that's stopped over on a lawn along side the Trans-Canada Highway in Oxdrift, in the Kenora District.  Ursala Wall noticed the ibis on April 23 as it foraged on Alane Sken's lawn. Carolle Eady from nearby Eagle River was able to get some excellent photos confirming the first occurrence of the species in northern Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Carolle Eady
The record is exceptional and yet not so surprising. Let me explain.

It is exceptional in that only a dozen or so WFIB have been documented for the province and never before for northern Ontario. The bird's behaviour and site-fidelity have resulted in excellent documentation photos that leave no doubt as to the species. Note the complete white border to the face, the red eye and reddish legs - clinchers for WFIB (vs. the closely related Glossy Ibis).
Photo courtesy of Carolle Eady
Alas, not all dark Plegadis ibis are as mature, cooperative and distinctively marked. Following review, many Ontario sightings are officially recorded, ambiguously, as Plegadis sp. or Glossy/White-faced Ibis. Autumn juveniles can be especially difficult to identify.

As of November 2012 the Ontario Bird Record Committee had reviewed 129 Plegadis ibis reports of which only 70 supported specific ID, i.e.,
  • 11 White-faced
  • 59 Glossy
  • 59 Glossy/White-faced aka Plegadis sp.
The only other ibis reported from northern Ontario, one from Gowganda, Timiskaming District, in October of 2001, was reviewed and assigned to Plegadis sp.

The range of the White-faced Ibis has been steadily expanding northwards over the last century. Breeding has been documented in nearby Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota. A quick glance at an eBird plot of occurrences from the region - red points indicate recent sightings - suggests to me the addition of WFIB to the list of northern Ontario birds was due, if not overdue.

Update: May 3. 

On May 2, Evan Timusk turned up a Plegadis ibis at Pither's Point Park in Ft. Frances. The encounter lasted only a minute or so but Evan was able to observe a thin white border to the face and a dark, but not red eye. Thus, the bird might have been northern Ontario's first Glossy Ibis although Evan notes that a second year White-faced is a possibility. In either case, this is the first occurrence of a Plegadis ibis in the Fort Frances District. Well done Evan!

In recent days Andy Nyhus from Winona, MN has been enjoying a great showing of ibis in our neighbouring state. The most remarkable find was an apparent Glossy Ibis in Olmstead Co. (a county first) on April 30th.
Glossy Ibis. April 30, 2013. Olmstead Co., MN. Courtesy of Andy Nyhus.
On April 27th Andy also photographed White-faced and Glossy together in Houston Co. just south of La Crescent. Whereas White-faced Ibis is now a well established breeder in MN and elsewhere in the upper Mississippi watershed, Glossy Ibis is considered accidental in MN.
GLIB and WFIB. April 27, 2013. Houston Co., MN. Courtesy of Andy Nyhus

Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Carolle Eady, Evan Timusk and Andrew Nyhus (here's Andy's photography website) for sharing news and/or photographs of their recent ibis encounters.

Related: Shaffer, J.A., Knutsen, G.A., Martin, R.E. and J.S. Brice. 2007. Pattern and potential causes of White-faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi, establishment in the northern prairie and parkland region of North America. Canadian Field-Naturalist 121(1): 46-57. (pdf)