Monday, December 28, 2009

Marathon CBC summary

On Sunday, December 20 about twenty five birders fanned out over the Marathon - Pic River - Heron Bay area during a very productive and enjoyable Christmas Bird Count. This was the 33rd year Marathon has participated in this international Citizen Science project since 1958.

The limited snow cover enabled bird-counting parties to access the bush without snowshoes or skis. On a trek to Sturdee Cove, Nick Escott and Brian Moore crossed paths with a Barred Owl (a count first) and a Townsend's Solitaire, a Rocky Mountain species which rarely strays into Ontario in the winter. On Hawk’s Ridge, Kyle and Christine Drake were rewarded with a Black-backed Woodpecker.

Thanks to the efforts of backyard feeder watchers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, Fox Sparrow and Eastern Towhee were tallied.

Some of the numbers
  • 38 species seen on count day (average 25.1, highest was 40 species in 2001)
  • total individuals: 1139 (average 1035)
  • high counts: Mourning Dove (33) (prev high 27 in 2007); Blue Jay (9) (prev high 5 in 2005)
  • Two new species for Count Day: Ring-necked Duck (1) and Barred Owl (1)
  • Townsend's Solitaire - 2nd ever for count (first in 1988)
  • Eastern Towhee (a single bird for the 6th year)
  • Fox Sparrow - 2nd ever for count (first in 2007)
  • Chipping Sparrow - new species for count week
Special thanks to The Friends of Pukaskwa for donating a bird field guide
and the Pukaskwa NP anniversary pins and to Laura Lea Comeau for donating a beautiful Gray Jay print and calendar.

Count totals:
Ring-necked Duck 1 (new to count)
Long-tailed Duck 7
Common Goldeneye 6
Ruffed Grouse 3
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Herring Gull 300
Glaucous Gull 2
Rock Pigeon (6CW)
Mourning Dove 33 (HC)
Barred Owl 1 (new to count)
Downy Woodpecker 23
Hairy Woodpecker 5
American Three-toed Woodpecker 2
Black-backed Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Northern Shrike (1CW)
Gray Jay 20
Blue Jay 9 (HC)
American Crow 14
Common Raven 245
Black-capped Chickadee 187
Boreal Chickadee 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 29
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Creeper 1
Townsend's Solitaire 1
American Robin 20
European Starling 96
Bohemian Waxwing (50CW)
waxwing sp 14
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow (1CW)
Fox Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow (1CW)
Dark-eyed Junco 11
Snow Bunting 5
Northern Cardinal 3
blackbird sp 1
Pine Grosbeak 40
Red Crossbill 2
White-winged Crossbill 6
Common Redpoll 2
American Goldfinch 2
Evening Grosbeak 36
(CW)=seen in count week; (HC)=high count

Friday, December 18, 2009

Count week sightings - II

This adult was one of two Glaucous Gulls hanging out at the Marathon Waste Disposal Site (dump) today. Also present was a (probable) first year Iceland Gull. Click images to view full screen version.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Count week bird sightings - I

Among the sightings tabulated for each CBC are those of species seen three days before or after the day of the count, but not on the actual count date. Today we did a few hours of scouting around Marathon and turned up 19 species. Much of the harbour, including the sheltered cove recently favoured by an errant American Coot, had frozen overnight. At the distant ice edge swam a male Ring-necked Duck and much further out bobbed a trio of Common Goldeneyes - no sign of the coot. At a feeder on Sund Crescent we found a White-breasted Nuthatch (seldom seen in Marathon) and near Pukaskwa, along Hwy 627 we found a typically boisterous flock of 50 or so Bohemian Waxwings feeding on Mountain Ash fruit.
Bohemian Waxwing near Pukaskwa
More surprising was a small flock of Rock Pigeons we found having a drink at the Lafarge cement plant NW of the mouth of the Pic River. The species has been recorded on only a single Marathon CBC in the last 23 years.

Rock Pigeon pauses while having a drink from Lake Superior

Join the Dec 20 Marathon Christmas Bird Count

On December 20, volunteer naturalists will conduct Marathon's annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Birders of all skill levels are welcome to help count birds within a 12 km radius of town. Some parties will range out into the bush on skis and snowshoes while others will stay close to their vehicles, counting birds along the roadsides. Residents who maintain bird feeders will contribute by keeping a tally sheet of the species visiting their yards. All participants are encouraged to attend a fun and informal chili dinner at 5:30 pm during which bird numbers will be totaled and stories and photos will be shared.

The event is sponsored by The Friends of Pukaskwa National Park who will provide a prize to each participant as well as a very special door prize to be drawn at the compilation dinner.

The CBC is the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world. Data collected by tens of thousands of participants throughout the Americas are used by scientists to help monitor our bird populations. In Canada, the counts are administered by Bird Studies Canada. CBC participants (other than children under 18 and those conducting back yard feeder watches) contribute to Bird Studies Canada a $5.00 fee to help offset the cost of administering the program (details here).
Marathon Count Circle
Marathon residents have participated in most years since 1973. Over all years a total of 85 species have been recorded but for each year the average is 25 and no two years are the same. While a handful of common species - Herring Gull, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee and European Starling - are seen every year, waterfowl, raptors and winter finches are less predictable. Each year turns up a few surprises.

Bald Eagles are now commonly sighted in Marathon throughout the year but they only began appearing on the CBC in 1994 as the continental population rebounded following the implementation of restrictions on the use of organochlorine pesticides. Northern Cardinal, a very common species in the south, started appearing on our CBC in the late 1980s reflecting an ongoing northward expansion of its range.
Northern Cardinal and Chipping Sparrow

How to Get Involved
  • Those wishing to participate in this year's CBC should contact Martha Allen at 229-1319 immediately. Martha will assign each person to a team covering a particular section of the count circle. Those conducting feeder watches will be given a tally sheet for birds visiting their back yards.
  • In the morning, each bird counting team will assemble before heading out to count birds in their assigned areas.
  • (Optional) Bird counting teams will meet up with each other at noon at Rumours Coffee House & Deli in the Superior Place Mall (2 Ontario Street) to warm up and trade stories before heading back out for the afternoon.
  • Tally sheets should be dropped off at 8 Manitoba Street around 5:30 pm. All are welcome to stay for a bowl of chili, a slide show and a draw for a prize donated by the Friends of Pukaskwa.

Related links:

Background of 2009-10 CBC
Sample (1996) data from ten Thunder Bay District counts
Other Ontario CBCs

Friday, December 11, 2009

Eastern Towhee in Heron Bay

This Eastern Towhee was seen this morning visiting a feeder in Heron Bay, just east of Marathon. It was in the company of Evening Grosbeaks, European Starlings, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Last year, an Eastern Towhee visited a feeder in Marathon for much of the winter. Last month, Tammie Hache documented another one visiting a feeder in nearby Manitouwadge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grosbeaks from Manitouwadge

Photo by Tammie Hache
Photo by Tammie Hache
In nearby Manitouwadge, Tammie Hache had a great assemblage of Grosbeaks - Pine and Evening - at her feeders today. You can read Tammie's birding update here. Thanks for sharing your great photos Tammie.

Townsend's Solitaire near Pic River

Two silhouetted views - click to enlarge.
Near Pic River this morning, I drew in a small flock Pine Grosbeaks, Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Among them was a Townsend's Solitaire, which perched on the tips of spruces trees in the scrubby forest alongside the road. I saw it well through the binoculars - the white eye-ring, brown wing patches and white outer tail feathers were all visible. It faded away with the grosbeaks after a few minutes. The pictures are poor as the bird was between me and the sun.

Directions: The bird was at a point (48.61147, -86.29108) along Pic River Road, about 50 metres NE of its intersection with Hwy 627, a stone's throw from the Pic River bridge.

Ring-necked Duck

At the boat launch this morning I found the now familiar American Coot in the company of a male Ring-necked Duck - likely the same individual I saw in the distance a few days ago. Today, both the duck and the the coot were foraging on algae, a few metres apart.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some December irregulars

This Fox Sparrow materialized in the midst of the December 9 snow storm.

A White-throated Sparrow continues to frequent our feeders.

More surprising was this American Coot swimming near shore in Marathon Harbour since December 5.

This Gray Catbird is visiting a feeder on Sund Crescent.

Will these birds be around for the December 20 CBC?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

American Coot

An American Coot forages for clumps of Chara (a branching alga) in the shallows of Jellicoe Cove, Marathon Harbour.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Brown Thrasher in Sault Ste. Marie

Ken McIlwrick shared this great shot of a Brown Thrasher that's been eating suet and seed at a feeder on Essex Lane in Sault Ste. Marie for about three weeks. Thanks Ken!
Photo by Ken McIlwrick

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Backyard birds

We were surprised when this first year Chipping Sparrow showed up a few weeks ago. The species is a common breeder in the region, ranging north through the Hudson Bay lowlands. Large numbers crisply depart Ontario in September to spend the winter in Florida, Texas and adjacent Mexico. If this bird lingers in our yard for another 19 days, it will be the first of its kind to be recorded on a Marathon Christmas bird count.

An immature Chipping Sparrow is the quintessential LBJ - little brown job - a nondescript little songbird characterized by a suite of relatively inconspicuous characters. It is most likely to mistaken for the American Tree Sparrow - a more probable December visitor. The Cornell Feeder Watch site offers a nice, side-by-side comparison of the winter ranges and field marks these two Spizella sparrows.

There's no mistaking the Northern Cardinal. At the turn of the century, the species was known only from the Carolinian forest of southernmost Ontario. Since then, it has exploited human-altered landscapes south of the Canadian Shield and in a few outlying northern settlements, including Marathon where a handful of individuals now haunt our residential neighbourhoods year round. This male shown below has been a regular visitor to our yard since he discovered our feeders a week ago. In October, a female showed up only a few times before moving on.

These two birds highlight an otherwise dull week for backyard birding.