Friday, December 24, 2010

Varied Thrush (near Kitchener)

[click on images to enlarge]

A handful of Varied Thrushes have been reported from Ontario in recent weeks - several from southern and eastern Ontario and one from the north shore, near Rossport. We looked for but didn't see the Rossport bird a few weeks ago.

Other VATHs have been seen recently in the American midwest - Michigan (Mason Co., Dec 14; Barry Co., Jan 1) and Wisconsin (Waushara Co., Dec 20; Door Co., Feb 11); Illinois (Dekalb Co, Jan 14).

A more extraordinary occurrence was that of a male observed November 10-15 at Netitishi Point in southern James Bay by Alan Wormington and Brandon Holden.

Further east a female has been wintering in New York City's Central Park since late November.

This morning, we photographed a female which has been coming to a feeder near Kitchener since December 14th. There's a nice write-up on this bird in the local paper and some terrific photos on a K-W bird sightings message board.

[Update: The bird's ongoing visit was profiled in the January 23rd Kitchener Record.]

More excellent photos were taken Feb 10, 2011 by Jean Iron.

I expect more Varied Thrushes will show at feeders across the province in the coming weeks.

We gave some thought to the visitations of Varied Thrushes on our old central Ontario blog.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Barred Owl near Wawa

We came upon this handsome owl along the highway northeast of Wawa this afternoon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Unofficial results of the 2010 Marathon Christmas Bird Count

The Marathon Christmas Bird Count was conducted on December 19, 2010. Mild temperatures (-8 C to -4 C) and light winds made for a great day to be outdoors. Eleven bird counters contributed to a total of 14 hours tallying birds in the field. Additional watchers monitored seven backyard feeders in Marathon and Heron Bay.
A total of 834 individuals of 32 species were observed.  An additional two species [Long-tailed Duck (33) and Brown-headed Cowbird (1)] were seen during the count week which ends at midnight on Wednesday Dec. 23. [Please let us know if you observe any additional species before then.] The final, official results will be submitted to Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society shortly after.

The complete tally is appended below.

No new species were recorded; however, record high counts (HC's) were tallied for the following:

  • Wilson's Snipe 3 (previous HC of 2 in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007)
  • Pileated Woodpecker 4 (previous HC of 3 in 1994)
  • Blue Jay 27 (previous HC of 9 in 2009)
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet 5 (previous HC of 2 in 1995, 1999, 2001)
  • Fox Sparrow 2 (previous HC of 1 in 2007, 2009)
  • Northern Cardinal 6 (previous HC of 5 in 2007)
Singles of other unusual species (seen in five or fewer of the previous 33 CBCs) included Red-breasted Merganser, Rusty Blackbird and Red-winged Blackbird.

Notably absent were American Robin and waxwings of either species - this is likely attributable to the poor crop of Mountain-ash fruit in our region.

Many thanks to all who participated and especially to those who fought off cold and flu symptoms through the day. We are also grateful to The Friends of Pukaskwa who donated a bird guide drawn as a door prize at the compilation dinner. Nolan (again) won the door prize but generously gave it to Nancy [nicely done Nolan]. Thanks also to Brian Hyshka of the Town of Marathon for enabling access to the landfill site.

We wish you and your families good health, safe travels and happiness in the coming year.

Michael and Martha
(count compilers)

The Complete Tally

Common Goldeneye 8
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Ruffed Grouse 1
Bald Eagle 1
Wilson's Snipe 3
Herring Gull 273
Glaucous Gull 3
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 16
Downy Woodpecker 14
Hairy Woodpecker 10
Black-backed Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 4
Gray Jay 15
Blue Jay 27
American Crow 7
Common Raven 171
Black-capped Chickadee 106
Boreal Chickadee 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 8
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
European Starling 56
Fox Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Northern Cardinal 6
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Rusty Blackbird 1
Pine Grosbeak 80
Purple Finch 1
Common Redpoll 8
Evening Grosbeak 1

Count week extras SO FAR: Long-tailed Duck, Brown-headed Cowbird

Friday, December 17, 2010

Northern Shrike drops by

A Northern Shrike visited our backyard feeder this week. It sat on one of our feeding stumps for about five minutes and watched the agitated mob of Black-capped Chickadees and Pine Grosbeaks in the branches overhead.

[click on images to enlarge]
Somewhat related is David Sibely's excellent, systematic analysis of the identification of a shrike that recently appeared in Long Island, New York. If you think differentiating Loggerhead Shrike from Northern Shrike is simple and straight forward, you might want to think again. You'll find the article here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Join in the December 19th Marathon Christmas Bird Count

On December 19, 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, which includes the communities of Heron Bay and Pic River. 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 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 Steedman Dr. 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:

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    A winter visit to the Black Bay fen, near Nipigon

    In late May we visited the Black Bay Peninsula near Nipigon. Our access point was via the Everard Road, which runs south from Hwy 17-11 (Trans-Canada) just west of Nipigon.

    We returned today, following reports of abundant snow in the Nipigon area. There was lots snow but the semi-frozen state of the underlying peatlands discouraged us from putting on our skis. Instead, we tramped through knee-deep snow in our winter boots which regularly punched through the crust into muddy water. Despite the tough slogging, we had a great time.

    A highlight was one (or were there three?) Northern Hawk Owl we saw a widely separated points along our hike. Overhead, a light morph Rough-legged Hawk hovered in search of rodent prey. We heard two Sharp-trailed Grouse calling although we were unable to locate them in the dense spruce-cedar-birch stands.

    We look forward to returning with snowshoes to explore a larger portion of the wetland.

    [click images to enlarge]

    Related information:

    Profile of the Everard Fen from the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Sandhill Crane remains at Marathon dump (December edition)

    For at least six weeks, a Sandhill Crane has been present at the Town of Marathon dump on Penn Lake Road. It can often be seen foraging through household trash in very close quarters with Common Ravens, American Crows, Herring and Glaucous Gulls and Bald Eagles.

    According to Tacha et al.'s (1992) synthesis, the diet includes berries and small mammals, nestling birds, snails, insects, and cultivated grains (wheat, corn, barley sorghum) when available. The authors don't reference the scavenging behaviour we've observed here.

    Today, I observed the bird take off, circle and then land and after I approached to within 50 m. It appeared healthy and strong and we continue to wonder why this bird didn't migrate with the southbound flocks that passed through in September.

    [click on images to enlarge]

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Some bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

    The Sandhill Crane frequenting the Penn Lake Road dump was seen daily until yesterday (Nov 30).

    I flushed a single Wilson's Snipe from the well known "snipe seep" today.

    Two Glaucous Gulls (a first year and an adult) joined the throng of Herring Gulls at the Penn Lake Rd. dump.

    I've seen fewer Bohemian Waxwings in town this week - most recently two yesterday (Nov 30) feeding, as usual, in an ornamental crabapple tree.

    An American Three-toed Woodpecker was seen high up in a well-flaked White Spruce tree beside the Green Trail at the Marathon Cross-country Ski Club (Nov 27).

    A late-ish Rusty Blackbird was feeding in a wetland beside Peninsula Harbour (Nov 29).

    Attending a feeder in Heron Bay this afternoon (Dec 1) were: Blue Jay (7); Gray Jay (1), Red-breasted Nuthatch (1); European Starling (4); Pine Grosbeak (8); Evening Grosbeak (1); White-throated Sparrow (2); Fox Sparrow (1) and Red-winged Blackbird (2 juvenile males).

    Flocks of 12 - 50 Common Redpoll continue to been seen in Marathon adjacent areas. All were fly-bys or were feeding on the seeds of White Birch and Green Alder. Today (Dec 1) I found a bright male exilipes Hoary Redpoll in a flock of a dozen Common Redpolls feeding in Green Alder beside Peninsula Harbour.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Bohemian Waxwings visit fruit tray

    We had some success attracting waxwings to a feeding tray in our backyard. The fruit is a wide variety of mostly wild-collected varieties [Arctostaphylos, Cornus (3 species), Viburnum, Vaccinium (4 species), Rhus, Rubus, Rosa, Ribes, Vitis, etc.]

    We hung some pruned, fruit-bearing crab-apple twigs above the feeder to serve as an attractant.

    [click on images to enlarge]

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Sights along the Trans-Canada Highway

    I just returned from an unplanned trip to southern Ontario. Here are a few of the sights from the return drive along the north shore, between Batchewana and White River.

    [click on images to enlarge]

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Yard birds

    A few recent weather events brought changes to the birds visiting our yard. The Oct 26-27th storm brought about the departure of most American Robins, American Tree Sparrows, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The only sparrows visiting our yard are two Dark-eyed Juncos.

    Flocks of up to 40 Common Redpoll pass through the yard daily, feeding on white birch seeds. They've yet to discover our feeders. A trio of Pine Grosbeaks has and they are fairly constant. Other regulars include a Red-breasted Nuthatch, two Hairy Woodpeckers, five American Crows, one Common Raven, one Gray Jay, two Blue Jays and up to 10 Black-capped Chickadees.

    A small, quarrelsome flock of Northern Cardinal has grown to four - as many as any of us can recall seeing together in this small town, at the very northern limit of its geographical range.

    Also unexpected was the arrival, with a suet-loving flock of 20 or so European Starlings, of a Brown-headed Cowbird and a Common Grackle. Will they overwinter?

    Unfortunately, the female Red-bellied Woodpecker that struck our window last Tuesday (Oct 16) didn't survive. The specimen is being sent to the Royal Ontario Museum.

    Our friend Tammie Hache, a.k.a. the Bird Lady, in nearby Manitouwadge keeps a close eye on her yard visitors. Many look forward to her weekly updates in the Manitouwadge Echo. In cooperation with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Project Feederwatch, Tammie and Ben will be hosting a live feeder-cam in her yard this winter. Read more here.

    Related links:

    Project Feederwatch

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Heron Bay to Thunder Bay by water

    Today I helped crew the Melissa June on a run across the north shore. We set out at first light and covered 233 km in six hours and 11 minutes. The 30 foot aluminum catamaran provided a smooth ride over one meter swells at an average speed of 34 km/h. We saw a handful of Herring Gulls and eight Black Scoters but otherwise, very little wildlife.

    Here's our GPS track - zoom in to get a sense of how rugged and interesting the coastline is. I look forward to doing this trip (in August!) by kayak.

    View T-Bay Trip in a larger map
    Our course took us past several light houses - Slate Islands, Porphyry Point and Trowbridge Island Light.

    The most memorable aspect of the trip was viewing the always impressive Sibley Peninsula and Sleeping Giant from the water.

    Many thanks to Keith and Melissa McCuaig for having me along.

    Related links:

    Cattle Egret in Wawa

    Fritz Fischer found a Cattle Egret feeding in tall grass at the corner of Churchill and Algoma Streets in Wawa on November 12.

    Thanks for sharing your photos Fritz.

    From NWObirds, Sue Bryan passed on reports of Cattle Egrets from the Thunder Bay Conservatory: a single on Oct 31 and a pair on November 3.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Red-bellied Woodpecker at Marathon

    [click on images to enlarge]
    A female Red-bellied Woodpecker showed up in our yard today. The Thunder Bay District lies well north of its known breeding range. Unfortunately, it stunned itself against a window moments after I took the first photo. Hopefully it will recover.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sunday birds

    We saw our first snow last night which underscored the lateness of the Orange-crowned Warbler I saw at Cummings Beach today. We expect the Wilson's Snipe to overwinter. The odds of (lately) the very reliable Sandhill Crane at the Marathon dump sticking around through December aren't as good.

    I encountered four different Northern Cardinal (three at feeders) around town. This is as many as I've seen in a day here in Marathon, where the population likely consists of fewer than a dozen birds.

    Here's today's tally as processed by eBird.
    Location: Marathon, Ontario
    Observation date: 11/14/10
    Notes: Crane continues at the town dump, 1(m),1(f),2(m,f) NOCA's seen at widely separate locations around town, photos taken of Orange-crowned Warbler.
    Number of species: 26

    Black Scoter 1
    Long-tailed Duck 13
    Common Goldeneye 10
    Common Loon 1
    Bald Eagle 2
    Wilson's Snipe 2
    Sandhill Crane 1
    Herring Gull 175
    Downy Woodpecker 1
    Hairy Woodpecker 1
    Gray Jay 1
    Blue Jay 5
    American Crow 7
    Common Raven 35
    Black-capped Chickadee 8
    Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
    European Starling 25
    Bohemian Waxwing 13
    Orange-crowned Warbler 1
    Dark-eyed Junco 2
    Snow Bunting 35
    Northern Cardinal 4
    Pine Grosbeak 3
    White-winged Crossbill 1
    American Goldfinch 1
    Evening Grosbeak 6

    This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Some odds and ends, bird-wise

    A few late autumn migrants are lingering, perhaps enjoying the mild weather. A dark morph Snow Goose, found at the mouth of the Pic River by Wayne Michano a few days ago, was present this morning.
    This morning, I found a late Killdeer at Cummings Beach, here in Marathon.
    Meanwhile, the Sandhill Crane remains at the town dump on Penn Lake Road.