Friday, April 30, 2010

Swamped by sparrows

Savannah Sparrow - first of the year!
I've been tethered to my desk for much of the last two weeks and have appreciated the bird activity in our back yard. For much of the last two weeks,until yesterday, the entourage of seed eaters included 20 or so each of Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow, a dozen or so each of Purple Finch and Brown-headed Cowbird and a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds, White-throated and Song Sparrows.

All of this changed dramatically today. Buoyed by south winds, most of the juncos and American Tree Sparrows departed and in their place came a wave other species. As I look out my window now, I see the following:
Mourning Dove 2European Starling 5White-throated Sparrow 28
Downy Woodpecker 1American Tree Sparrow 2White-crowned Sparrow 1
American Crow 2Chipping Sparrow 4Dark-eyed Junco 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2Savannah Sparrow 1Brown-headed Cowbird 6
Black-capped Chickadee 2Song Sparrow 2Purple Finch 17
American Robin 1Savannah Sparrow 1Pine Siskin 9

That's a lot of sparrows!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lake Superior near Marathon

This is a view of Beatty Cove as seen from Neuve Chapelle Point on the Voyageur Trail, just north of the town of Marathon.

Superior light

Thanks again to Ellen for sharing another great shot from the Coppermine Point area.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eurasian Siskin continues

First noted here, this Old World songbird remains a bit of a mystery and a frequent visitor to our yard.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

Spring migration if picking up some momentum. More raptors - Merlin, American Kestrel and Northern Harrier - are being seen around town.
Northern Harrier at Peninsula Harbour, 17.04.

Our backyard is are hopping with scores of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches. We have smaller numbers of Fox, White-throated and Song Sparrows. The Eurasian Siskin returned on April 19 after not being seen for a few days.

Nolan and I spent the better part of a fair Sunday birding in the Town of Marathon & the Hwy 627 corridor through Heron Bay and Hattie Cove in Pukaskwa National Park. We came up with 43 species:

Canada Goose 11Rock Pigeon 2American Robin 14
American Black Duck 3Mourning Dove 5Yellow-rumped Warbler 1*
Mallard 5Belted Kingfisher 1Song Sparrow 22
Green-winged Teal 4Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1Fox Sparrow 2
Bufflehead 2Downy Woodpecker 7White-throated Sparrow 1
Common Goldeneye 23Northern Flicker 18American Tree Sparrow 18
Common Merganser 4American Crow 22Dark-eyed Junco 65
Ruffed Grouse 8Common Raven 50Red-winged Blackbird 3
Great Blue Heron* 1Black-capped Chickadee 15Common Grackle 8
Turkey Vulture 2Red-breasted Nuthatch 12Brown-headed Cowbird 3
Bald Eagle 2Winter Wren 6Purple Finch 12
American Kestrel* 1Golden-crowned Kinglet 30Pine Siskin 16
Merlin 2Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6Evening Grosbeak 10
Ring-billed Gull 41European Starling 6*first of year
Herring Gull 230Hermit Thrush 3

Our friend Wayne Michano reported some good birds from Marathon:

April 14 - Yellow-rumped Warbler (3); In our Crab-apple tree.

April 17- Bohemian Waxwings (5-6); Green-belt behind our home; positive identification via the reddish features near the rump portion of the tail feathers.

April 17- Sandhill Cranes flying over our home area; way high up; I could not see them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The owls of April

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Lappe, April 7, 2010. Photo courtesy Aarre Ertolahti (see story below).

Last Friday we filled our Thermoses with hot chocolate and headed out to Nocturnal Owl Survey Route # 67, along a logging access road west of Marathon. The route consists of 20 stops evenly spaced along 35 km of rough road. At each stop, we would spend five minutes listening for owls before and after we broadcast calls of Boreal and Great Gray Owls. We would then record the number, approximate distance, direction and duration of all owl species heard. This is a standardized protocol that enables researchers to monitor trends in owl populations across the country. This particular route has been monitored for about 10 years.

Martha, Nolan, Wayne and I met up in a clearing just north of the first stop. Conditions seemed ideal - only a slight breeze, a clear sky the temperature just above freezing. Wayne reported that he'd heard a Great Horned Owl minutes before and soon we heard the distinctive calls of both Boreal and Northern Saw-whet Owls. It was 9:10 pm; time to start the survey.

During our first eight stops we heard only a few nocturnal creatures. A male American Woodcock was displaying and calling overhead at Stop 3 and at several other stops we heard choruses of Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs, but no owls. It wasn't until 10:20 pm, at Stop 9, that we heard our first official owl of the night, a Northern Saw-whet, calling continually from the Jack Pine stand a few hundred metres to the NE. We would hear more owls - Great Horned, Northern Saw-whet and Boreal - at seven of the next ten stops. The tally for the night, including four owls heard outside of the listening intervals, was:
Northern Saw-whet Owl: 5
Boreal Owl: 3
Great Horned Owl: 4
Unidentified (perhaps Long-eared): 1
Of the nine owls we tallied during the actual monitoring & playback intervals, eight were detected during the first two "listening" minutes, before we broadcasted any recorded calls. In terms of relative abundance, our results closely match the totals from the 2009 monitoring season as reported in the annual newsletter (PDF):

2009 Survey totals for Northern Ontario

Northern Saw-whet7233
Boreal71 28
Great Horned2718
Great Gray2111
Northern Hawk11

We had an excellent time and we all look forward to another late night of hot chocolate and owls in April of 2011.

Here are some results from the past week for other survey routes in NW Ontario:
  • April 4: Gorham-Ware Twp (w. of Thunder Bay) - Northern Saw-whet: 5; Great Horned: 1; Barred: 2; Unidentified: 2.
  • April 11: Hwy 627-Heron Bay - Barred: 1; Northern Saw-whet: 1.
  • April 12: Hwy 11 near MacDiarmid - Northern Saw-whet: 1; Boreal: 6; Great Horned: 1.
* * * * * * * * * * *

Lappe resident Aarre Ertolahti generously shared the above photo of a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Aarre wrote:
When I was doing surveys for the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario a few years ago, I decided to check all the tree cavities around my place by tapping on the tree trunks and then checking for any activity. I found several species of nesting birds as well as a Flying Squirrel. The best find was a Saw-whet Owl occupying an old Flicker nest cavity. I saw a juvenile NSWO at the opening a couple of weeks later. Ever since then, every spring I have tapped on a few trees with large cavities made by Flickers or Pileated Woodpeckers, to see if I could find another nesting Saw-whet. Last week I found one, very close to our house, occupying a cavity that was used by Pileated Woodpeckers last summer.

Ontario Nocturnal Owl Survey (Bird Studies Canada).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More on release of toxic mill effluent from Tembec property

Location of latest spill into Peninsula Harbour

[This is a follow-up to a March 31 blog posting.]

April 9 update on March 30th release of black liquor to lake from clarifier :[Source]

The contents of the clarifier have mostly been removed although frozen material remains in the bottom. Tembec dug 5 test pits around the clarifier to find the direction of migration. Contaminated ground water was discovered in several pits. A recovery sump was installed in most contaminated pits which showed signs of ground water movement. Approximately 11,000 gallons/day of contaminated ground water are being extracted from this sump with the material being transported to the spill basin. The discolouration of water at the shoreline has decreased substantially but is at times still present. Tembec will continue to extract the contaminated ground water. The source of the leak from the clarifier is still under investigation.

Environment Canada and MOE collected samples of the black liquor in the clarifier and in the affected lake water. The samples from the clarifier indicated toxicity to fish while the samples of the impacted lake water did not.

Recent developments:

The internal sewer system within the mill had collected black liquor and at times been used as temporary storage for the material. During the Easter weekend, on April 3, a leak was detected in the effluent line in the area of the mill effluent sump. These sewers have now been pumped out and the liquor transferred to the spill basin.

On April 4th 2010 an area of soil contamination was discovered south east of the clarifier about 10-15 metres from the lake [see photo from April 13, below, editor]. A sump was installed for extraction of the black liquor and contaminated ground water. A catch basin at this location had black liquor in it as well and this has been pumped out and the material was taken to the spill basin. There is no evidence of this material entering the lake.

(click to enlarge)
Leaking effluent clarifier adjacent to Lake Superior, April 13, 1010.

Tembec is developing a plan to deal with the material now in the SSB.

Environment Canada conducted a follow up inspection April 7/8th

Kate Taillon
Senior Program Coordinator, Great Lakes Areas of Concern
Coordinatrice du programme, secteurs préoccupant des Grands Lacs
Environment Canada, Ontario - Environnement Canada, région de l'Ontario
4905 Dufferin Street Toronto ON M3H 5T4

  • Chemical Plume apparent on Lake Superior (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, January 22, 2010, PDF).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Something different

This interesting fellow showed up today .

(click on photos to enlarge)
Eurasian Siskin (left) and Pine Siskin (right)

It took a few minutes and a few field guides to sort him out. Very few Eurasian Siskins have been reported from around the western Great Lakes in the last decade. A quick on-line search turned up these:
  • May 5, 2004 - Whitefish Point, Michigan
  • Apr 14, 2005 - Bay Co., Michigan
  • May 10, 2005 - Red Lake, Ontario
  • Jan 10, 2006 - Iron, Wisconsin.
I didn't come upon any EUSI reports for Minnesota.

Julie Craves has documented a "rash" (HT to Darrin) of Old World "cage birds" - European Goldfinch, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch & Great Tit - sightings in our region. These observations increased markedly after 2002 when, it's been alleged,  an importer of cage birds released his stock from a facility north of Chicago. That's only 730 km south of here and thus a very plausible origin for this and other European finches sighted along the north shore of Lake Superior. It may surprise some to learn that feral populations of European Goldfinch and Great Tit are now nesting in Illinois and Wisconsin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some other Old World finch sightings from the north shore

Last month (March 24, 2010) Ron Lacey photographed this European Goldfinch (south Asian form) at his feeder in Murillo (west of Thunder Bay).
Courtesy of Ron Lacey.

A year ago (April 15, 2009), K. Drake photographed a European Goldfinch at his feeder here in Marathon.
European Goldfinch in Marathon. Photo courtesy of K. Drake.

Courtesy of Bill Climie, here's a Chaffinch photographed on May 4, 2004 at Silver Islet, on the Sibley Peninsula, east of Thunder Bay.
Chaffinch at Silver Islet. Photo by Bill Climie.

A second Chaffinch was seen on May 4, 2009 (five years later, to the day) at the nearby Thunder Cape Bird Observatory.
Photo by James Barber.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Request for sightings of other Old World songbirds

If you know of other occurrences in northwest Ontario of European Goldfinch, Brambling, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Eurasian Siskin or other Old World songbirds, please contact us through the "comments" button below.

Related Resources:
  • Craves, J. A. 2008. Current status of European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) in the western Great Lakes region. North American Birds 62:2-5. (PDF)
  • McLaren, I. A., J. Morlan, P. W. Smith, M. Gosselin, and S. F. Bailey. 1989. Eurasian Siskins in North America - distinguishing females from green morph Pine Siskins. American Birds 43:1268-1274. (PDF)

  • Thanks to K. Drake and Ron Lacey for permission to use their EUGO photos. Visit Ron's photography site here. Thanks also to Bill Climie and James Barber for the use of their Chaffinch photos.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Along the Highwat 627 corridor

We spent a few minutes observing a magnificent Black Bear that was munching on grasses beside the highway. He seems to have emerged from his winter den site in excellent shape.

The mouth of the Pic River and - a few km to the east - Hattie Cove are two of the better places to view migrating waterfowl. At the mouth of the Pic this morning were Canada Goose, Common Goldeneye, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. Through the fog hanging over Hattie Cove we watched several passing "V's" of Canada Geese. After the fog had burned off, we saw many of the same ducks we'd seen on the Pic as well as Bufflehead and Common Merganser. It was also good to see a Bald Eagle sitting on a nest from which two healthy eaglets fledged last summer.
Boardwalk in Hattie Cove, Pukaskwa N.P.

Birds Seen:

Canada Goose 229
Eurasian Wigeon 1
American Black Duck 13
Mallard 33
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 8
Bufflehead 1
Common Goldeneye 6
Common Merganser 4
Ruffed Grouse 1
Bald Eagle 1
Ring-billed Gull 4
Herring Gull 14
Mourning Dove 2
Belted Kingfisher 2
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1

Gray Jay 3
American Crow 6
Common Raven 7
Black-capped Chickadee 9
Boreal Chickadee 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Winter Wren 8
Golden-crowned Kinglet 8
American Robin 7
European Starling 10
American Tree Sparrow 4
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 17
Rusty Blackbird 5
Common Grackle 15
Purple Finch 4
Pine Siskin 3
Evening Grosbeak 6

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A view to a kill

I swung by Penn Lake this morning to check for ducks or shorebirds. There were a few Common Goldeneye and a half a dozen Ring-billed Gulls on an exposed sand bar. When I panned my binoculars across the far shore, I paused at the sight of a gull's wing pointing skyward...strange. A few minutes later I was standing over the expertly dissected carcass of a Ring-billed Gull of recent demise. Here's what I surmised:
  • The eye of the gull was turgid and the colours of the soft parts - eye-ring, bill lining and legs - hadn't yet faded, indicating that the bird had died within the last 12 or so hours, maybe at dusk;
  • Within a metre of the carcass were hundreds of cleanly plucked contour feathers, the signature of a specialized bird of prey. These plumes would likely be dispersed by the first breeze of the day;
  • The predator had consumed a robust meal that include the pectoral muscles, long muscles of the legs and viscera (heart, lungs, kidneys, & g-i tract but not the testes).

Who was the predator? Perhaps it was a Northern Goshawk or a Peregrine. The gulls standing on the sand bar looked wary but they weren't talking.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Catching up with spring migration

We were away for a week. When we returned a couple of days ago, we were happy to see so many new arrivals. Martha saw her first area Turkey Vulture in Pukaskwa yesterday. This morning, I took a drive down Hwy 627 to the gates of Pukaskwa Ntational Park and saw the following:

Canada Goose 4
Mallard 2
Northern Pintail 1
Bald Eagle 1
Northern Harrier 1
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 35
Downy Woodpecker 2
American Crow 6
Common Raven 18
Black-capped Chickadee 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 1
European Starling 15
American Tree Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 18
Purple Finch 9
Evening Grosbeak 2

Additional new arrivals coming to our back yard feeder today include:

Brown Creeper 2
Common Grackle 3
Pine Siskin 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco 1 (among 20 regular "Slate-coloured" Juncos).

Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco