Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another black liquor spill in Peninsula Harbour

Today we received the troubling news that once again, a toxic spill occurred on the Tembec property in Peninsula Harbour.

As communicated by Environment Canada:

On Tuesday March 30th MOE Officers discovered another spill incident at the closed Marathon Pulp mill. This represents the 4th incident in recent months. Foam, odours and discoloured water were observed at the shoreline adjacent to the clarifier on the mill site. The clarifier is believed to contain approximately 100,000 gallons of black liquor (diluted) and is expected to be the source of this incident .

Both MOE and Environment Canada were on site March 30th reviewing Tembec’s activities to address the 3 previous incidents when this was discovered.

MOE collected samples and EC planned to collect further samples for toxicity on March 31st. MOE and EC discussed with Tembec actions to undertake immediately. A vacuum truck is now being used to haul the black liquor from the clarifier to the spill basin a few kilometres away. This basin has been the receiving point for material removed from the pipeline and the contaminated groundwater which is being extracted from the beach near chamber #3. Tembec was requested to locate other vacuum trucks for this purpose.
Here's more from the (April 1st) Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal.

North Shore dragons

Thanks again to Ellen for sharing these great shots from the Coppermine Point area.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

I took a stroll down to harbour this afternoon and turned up a few newcomers - a pair of American Tree Sparrows and a a flock of nine Canada Geese (at least two of which were banded) - click on photo to enlarge.

Of the 450 plus Herring Gulls in town, all but a dozen are mature birds. First, second and third year birds may be wintering further south. Many of the adults are paired up. These two were at the Penn Lake landfill site. Note that the bird in the foreground is banded.

(click to enlarge)

Here's the tally of birds seen in town:

Canada Goose 9
Mallard 2
Common Goldeneye 1
Wilson's Snipe 2
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 450
Downy Woodpecker 2
European Starling 19
American Crow 4
Common Raven 42
Black-capped Chickadee 5
American Robin 28
American Tree Sparrow 2

Despite the cool, wet, blustery weather, several American Robins were singing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Killdeer on Dead Horse Road
A trip up the bottom 30 km of the Deadhorse Road turned up only few birds. A Killdeer was my first of the year. Dead Horse Creek was open in stretches as was the Prairie River, in which I saw a male Common Goldeneye.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fewer signs of spring

Cool, more seasonable weather has settled over the north shore. Birds are on the move but the waves of waterfowl and blackbirds may yet be weeks away. Even so, some changes are evident. Our backyard bird feeders, which have been oh-so-quiet through the last three weeks, were visited today by a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos, a pair of White-throated Sparrows and a pair of Pine Siskins (the first of 2010). At the weedy, over-grown driving range on Penn Lake Rd., we've seen changing numbers - 2, 45, 23, 15 - of Snow Buntings. More will soon follow, accompanied by northward bound Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs. The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch has not been seen since March 13.Snow Buntings beside Penn Lake Road.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A few more bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

New arrivals in Marathon today include:

Mallard 2 (at the Peninsula Harbour)
Ring-billed Gull 2 (at landfill)
Snow Bunting 17 (at driving range)

At Pukaskwa National Park I heard a Purple Finch singing and saw an immature Bald Eagle.

Near Heron Bay, there was a strutting male Ruffed Grouse and 30 or so Evening Grosbeaks at a feeder.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neys Provincial Park hike

The mild weather continues. We headed down to Neys Provincial Park to do some biking but found that the un-plowed, seasonal road was still partially snow-covered. Instead, we parked at the seasonal gate south of tracks and walked the 5.2 km up the service road leading to the radio tower atop the centre of the Coldwell Peninsula.

As we noted in our most recent postings, there was very little bird activity. Ruffed Grouse and Downy Woodpecker were drumming but, other than American Crows, there were no recent arrivals and no trace of over-wintering finches.

By mid-afternoon we had seen quite a few insects on the wing. Tiny (~3 mm) sap-feeding beetles (Nitidulidae, Epuraea sp.) and small flies (Calliphoridae).

Most surprising as a Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum) that we found basking on the trunk of a white birch (which is also an important host plant for this species' caterpillars). This is one of the most common butterflies in our area, and one of the earliest to fly in the spring, but this must surely be one of the earliest dates in the province. This, and future butterfly sightings will be added to a spreadsheet we submit each year to the keepers of the Provincial Butterfly Database. The data help in mapping out the distributions and behaviours of our butterfly fauna.

Back to the hike... for much of the ascent, we trudged through slushy snow and before long our cycling shoes were soaked. We hoped that at the summit we would find a span of rock where we could dry and warm our bare feet in the sun.

What awaited us was a sunbathed half-gazebo that opened up to what must surely be the most breath-taking vista in the park. Looking south, down the peninsula we looked down on nearby peaks and then across the Thompson Channel to the iconic Pic Island. Twenty km. to the northwest, the Slate Islands, large and small, were clearly visible.

It was an excellent day. As yet, we haven't found out when the gazebo was built (certainly in the last five years) and how the park plans to include it the visitor's experience.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday bird notes

A tide of the usual March migrants - American Woodcock, Killdeer, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and Song Sparrow - has washed over southern-most Ontario but few have made it yet to the north shore. Today's balmy weather, with temperatures in the mid-teens, seemed at odds with the dearth of spring birds. Martha and I walked along the harbour and observed a dozen Common Goldeneye and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers but no other waterfowl. We flushed a pair of Wilson's Snipe from the marshy seep where they likely overwintered. Around town, Herring Gull numbers have doubled through the last week so we are keeping an eye out for some of the less common gulls.

At the LaFarge plant, near Heron Bay, there were five Ring-billed Gulls, most certainly new arrivals from the south.
Four of five newly arrived Ring-billed Gulls near Heron Bay
It was a good day for those who'd hoped to see the Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch. A contingent from Thunder Bay - Nick Escott, Myles Falconer and Brian Moore - arrived in the late morning and found the GCRF in a matter of minutes. Later in the afternoon, local birder Nolan Pelland had great views. I saw the bird again at 5:30 pm.
Photo by Nick Escott

Friday, March 12, 2010

A creative voice from the north shore

I was pleased to hear from poet and artist Ellen Van Laar who lives up the highway on Superior in the Mamainse/Coppermine Point area, about 85 km N of Sault Ste. Marie. Ellen's love of nature is reflected in her whimsical poetry and vibrant paintings.
Old Woman Bay
Over the past few seasons Ellen has seen some great birds near her home - Blue Goose, White Pelican, Northern Mockingbird and Marbled Godwit.

Here are a few photos (Common Merganser and Brant) she sent.

Check out her work!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch update

The prospects for out-of-town Rosy-Finch seekers are improving. After almost a month of invisibility, the bird was re-sighted this past Monday (March 8) in the vacant lot, known locally as the driving range, across from the landfill site on Penn Lake Rd E.

I found the bird again this afternoon in the same place, this time in the company of two, rather than three, Snow Buntings. I was able to get some photos and a short video clip. Several other local birders saw the bird an hour or so later.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The green arrow marks the spot:

View Larger Map

Thayer's Gull near Rossport

Yesterday we enjoyed what might have been our last ice fishing day of the season on Lake Superior. The fishing was outstanding - jumbo yellow perch, lake whitefish, lake herring, rainbow smelt (!) and coaster brook trout were all biting - the out-of-season coaster was sent right back down the hole. All of this action drew a coterie of (mostly) Herring Gulls.

Among them was a first year Thayer's Gull, my first of the winter. I had the luxury of observing this bird at very close range over the course of hours - a change from scoping out gulls among piles of fresh household garbage at the Marathon tip.

I'd like to thank Kirk Zufelt for confirming the identity of the bird.

When we arrived, I also heard a tree full of Pine Siskins, another first of the season. While they are absent this winter from the Marathon area, we are told they are abundant in the Thunder Bay area.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pukaskwa: hike to Playter Harbour

We parked at the locked gate at the end of the Hwy 627 and walked to Playter Harbour, a round trip of about 13 km. What a great day - sunny and warm and the only other tracks in the snow on the coastal trail were those of grouse, lynx, pine marten, moose and varying hare.

In the frozen swampy backwater of Hattie Cove we heard the unfamiliar, strident calls of an unseen bird. When we next heard short thrasher-like song phrases we suspected Northern Shrike and sure enough, the bird flew into view and perched for a minute before disappearing.

Before we reached the ever-lovely campsite at Playter harbour, we watched a courtship flight of a pair of Bald Eagles over the treetops inland from Pulpwood Bay. This may have been the pair that has been nesting each summer high up in an aspen about 1 km away beside Hattie Cove.

Here's the bird count for the day:

Spruce Grouse
Bald Eagle (2)
Herring Gull (2)
Downy Woodpecker (9)
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Shrike (1)
Gray Jay (3)
Common Raven (2)
Black-capped Chickadee (3)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (4)
Pine Grosbeak (2)
Common Redpoll (1)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Winter birding round-up

The passing of February marks the end of the winter birding period. A total of 53 species were observed in the Marathon area. This compares to 191 species recorded for the province over the same span of time.

A few rarities turned up. Two Townsend's Solitaires were tallied in December. An Eastern Towhee overwintered at a feeder in Heron Bay while a second was reported once from a feeder in Marathon in late February. Bird feeders in Marathon supported a Fox Sparrow, a White-throated Sparrow and several Northern Cardinals through the reporting period. Late dates were recorded for Ring-necked Duck (Dec 20), American Coot (Dec 15), Gray Catbird (Dec 6) and Chipping Sparrow (Dec 21). A Gray-crowned Rosy Finch was photographed as it consorted with three Snow Buntings at the Penn Lake Road landfill site on Feb 12. The bird couldn't be relocated over subsequent weeks.

Speaking of bird feeders, many people noted that overall activity was low. An abundant crop of Mountain Ash fruit, here and throughout the boreal forest, may account for the abundance of overwintering American Robins in the area and the infrequency of Pine Grosbeaks at feeders. Among the birds I observed foraging on Mountain Ash were Ruffed Grouse, European Starling, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Raven, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee and Pine Grosbeak.
Pine Grosbeak feeding on Mountain Ash, Feb 12.
We are among many who have not once refilled our niger seed feeders this winter. Only a few American Goldfinches were observed and Pine Siskins were absent. Several flocks of Common Redpolls were seen foraging on Tamarack and Alder seeds, far from feeders.

Many thanks to those people, listed below, who shared their observations. Any errors are mine.

Bird Sightings, Dec 1, 2009 - Feb 28, 2010

  • American Black Duck: 6, Steel R., Dec.2 (MB).
  • Ring-necked Duck: 1 male, Marathon Harbour, Dec. 8, 10, 17 (MB), 20 (CBC).
  • Common Goldeneye: up to 20 observed on more than 10 dates in Marathon Harbour, Dec 6 - Feb 27 (CBC, MB), pair at LaFarge cement plant Dec 20 (CBC) and Feb 27 (MB); single at Umbata Hydro GS, Jan 30 (MA, MB).
  • Long-tailed Duck: 7 at Marathon Harbour Dec 20 (CBC); 21 at Marathon Harbour, Jan 21 (MB).
  • Ruffed Grouse: up to 2 observed on more than 10 dates throughout the region, Dec 20 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Spruce Grouse: 1 at Neys P.P., Jan 22 (MA and MB); 1 at mouth of Pic R., Feb 21 (MB); 1 at Angler Cr., Feb 20 (NE, BM).
Spruce Grouse at mouth of Pic R., Feb 21 (MB)
  • Bald Eagle: singles and Penn Rd landfill site Dec 1, 17, 20 (MB, BC, CBC); Heron Bay Landfill Dec 17 (MB, BC). None observed following the Dec 20 CBC.
  • Northern Goshawk: 1 (ad.) on Dead Horse Creek Rd., Jan 8 (MB); 1 (imm.) at Pukaskwa N.P., Feb 28 (MA and MB).
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk: 1 seen in Marathon, Jan 30 (JL).
Sharp-shinned Hawk in Marathon, Jan 30 - Photo by Jim Lowndes
  • Red-tailed Hawk: 1 in Marathon Dec 20 (CBC).
  • American Coot: 1 in Marathon Harbour Dec 5, 6, 8, 10, 15 (MA, MB, BC).
  • Herring Gull: up to 300 individuals seen on more than 10 dates, most abundantly at the Penn Lake Rd. landfill site, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Glaucous Gull: 1 or 2 seen with Herring Gulls at Penn Lake Rd. landfill site or in Marathon Harbour on more than 10 dates, Dec 18 - Feb 27 (MB, CBC).
  • Rock Pigeon: up to 6 seen at LaFarge docking facility, NW of the Pic R., Dec 17, Jan 13, Feb 21 (BC, MB).
  • Mourning Dove: up to 25 seen near feeders on Steedham Dr. and Sund Cr. in Marathon on more than 10 dates, Dec 17 - Feb 25; 7 at feeder in Heron Bay on Dec 20 (CBC).
  • Northern Hawk Owl: 1 seen on Bamoos Cr., Feb 7 (C&KD).
  • Barred Owl: 1 at Marathon Cemetery, Dec 6 (WM); 1 at Angler Cr. Dec 20 (CBC).
  • Downy Woodpecker: up to 23 observed on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 1- Feb 28 (MB, MA, BC, NP, CBC).
  • Hairy Woodpecker: 1 observed at Pukaskwa N.P. Dec 18 (WM); 1 in Marathon Jan 4 (MB); 5 in Marthon, Dec 20 (CBC).
  • American Three-toed Woodpecker: singles seen at Pukaskwa N.P. Dec 11 (MB), Dec 20 (CBC), Feb 15 (MB); 2 at Pukaskwa N.P. Feb 21; 1 seen in Marathon Dec 20 (CBC).
  • Black-backed Woodpecker: 1 on Hawks Ridge Trail in Marathon Dec 20 (CBC); 1 at Heron Bay Feb 20 (MB, NE, BM).
  • Pileated Woodpecker: 1 seen/heard in Marathon Dec 1 (MB), 20 (CBC), Feb 15, 16, 18 (MB); 1 at Heron Bay on Feb 20 (MB); 1 on Deadhorse Creek Rd. on Jan 6 (MB);2 on Deadhorse Creek Rd., Jan 8 (MB).
  • Northern Shrike: 1 at Pukaskwa N.P. Dec 15, 18 (WM); 1 on Dead Horse Creek Rd., Jan 6 (MB).
  • Gray Jay: up to 20 seen on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 2 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Blue Jay: up to 9 seen on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 10 - Feb 27 (MB, CBC, NE, BM).
  • American Crow: up to 14 seen on more than 10 dates, primarily in Marathon and Heron Bay, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Common Raven: up to 245 observed on more than 10 dates throughout the region, most abundantly at Penn Lake Rd. and Heron Bay landfill sites, Dec 1- Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Black-capped Chickadee: up to 187 seen on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Boreal Chickadee: up to 6 observed on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 11 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, NP, CBC).
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: up to 29 observed on more than 10 dates throughout region, Dec 6 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • White-breasted Nuthatch: 1 at feeder on Sund Cr., Dec 17 (MB and BC), Dec 20 (CBC).
  • Brown Creeper: 1 in Marathon, Dec 20 (CBC).

Townsend's Solitaire at Pic River, Dec 10 (MB).
  • Townsend's Solitaire: 1 at Pic R., Dec 10 (MB); 1 at Angler Cr., Dec 20 (CBC).
  • American Robin: up to 20 seen on more than 10 dates throughout the region, Dec 7 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, CBC).
  • Gray Catbird: 1 at Feeder on Sund Cr., Marathon, Dec 6 (MB and BC).
Gray Catbird visiting feeder in Marathon, Dec 6 (MB)
  • European Starling: up to 96 in Marathon and up to 4 in Heron Bay on more than 10 dates, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MB, MA, BC, NP, CBC).
  • Bohemian Waxwing: 5 at Pic R., Dec 16 (MB), 50 at Pic R. Dec 17 (MB, BC), 20 on Dead Horse Creek Rd., Jan 6 (MB); 50 near Marathon Airport, Feb 8 (MB).
  • Eastern Towhee: 1 male at feeder in Heron Bay, Dec 11, 20, Feb 20 (NE, BM), 27 (MB); 1 male at feeder on Nicolet St., Feb 6 (MS).
This furtive Eastern Towhee, seen here on Feb 27, overwintered at a feeder in Heron Bay (MB)
  • American Tree Sparrow: 1 at feeder on Manitoba St., Feb 24 (MB).
  • Chipping Sparrow: 1 photographed and observed on more than 10 dates, daily at feeder on Manitoba St., Dec 2-21 (MA, MB).
  • Fox Sparrow: 1 photographed and observed on more than 10 dates, daily at feeder on Manitoba St., Dec 2 - Feb 28 (MB, MA).
  • White-throated Sparrow: 1 photographed and observed on more than 10 dates, daily at feeder on Manitoba St., Dec 2 - Feb 28 (MB, MA); 1 struck window at Pukaskwa N.P., Dec 8 (MA, WM) .
Northern Cardinal, Chipping, Fox and White-throated Sparrows, Dec 9 (MB)
  • Dark-eyed Junco: up to 11 observed on more than 10 dates and feeders in Marathon and Heron Bay, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MA, MB, CBC).
  • Snow Bunting: 1 on Stevens Ave, Marathon, Dec 1 (MB); 5 in Marathon Dec 20 (CBC); 3 at Penn Rd. landfill site, Marathon, Feb 12 (MB), 1 near Jellicoe Cove Feb 20 (BM, NE).
  • Northern Cardinal: up to 3 seen at feeders on Sund Cr. and Manitoba St., Marathon, on more than 10 dates, Dec 1 - Feb 28 (MA, MB, C&MB, CBC)
  • Common Grackle: 1 on trail off Hemlo Dr., Marathon, Feb 14, 28 (NP).
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch at Marathon landfill site, Feb 12 (MB)

  • Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch: 1 photographed at Penn Lake Rd. landfill site, Marathon on Feb 12 (MB).
  • Pine Grosbeak: up to 40 seen throughout region on more than 10 dates, Dec 10 - Feb 27 (MA, MB, NP, CBC).
  • Red Crossbill: 2 seen on along Angler Cr. Dec. 20 (CBC).
  • White-winged Crossbill: 6 along Angler Cr. on Dec 20 (CBC); 30 at Prairie R. mouth Feb 5 (MB).
  • Common Redpoll: 2 at Marathon Dec 20 (CBC); 20 at Heron Bay, Feb 6 (MB); 20 at Pukaskwa N.P. Feb 27 (MB).
Common Redpolls at Pukaskwa N.P., Feb 27 (MB)
  • American Goldfinch: 1 at feeder on Sund Cr., Dec 17 (MB, BC) 2 at Marathon Dec 20 (CBC); 1 at feeder on Manitoba St., Marathon on Feb 9 (MB).
  • Evening Grosbeak: up to 36 observed on more than 10 dates, mostly at feeders in Heron Bay and Marathon, Dec 7 - Feb 21 (MB, MA, WM, CBC).

Observers: Martha Allen (MA); Michael Butler (MB); Monique and Clarence Bérubé (M&CB); Bill Climie (BC); Christine and Kyle Drake (C&KD); Nick Escott (NE); Jim Lowndes (JL), Wayne Michano (WM); Brian Moore (BM); Nolan Pelland (NP); Mike Small (MS); Christmas Bird Count (CBC).