Saturday, November 10, 2012

A moment to appreciate the Pine Grosbeak

There's a decent movement of Pine Grosbeaks along the north shore this week. We have a dozen or so visting our feeders. Along the Lake Superior coast, they can be seen and heard flying northwest on most days.

Last year we had a bumper crop of Mountain-Ash fruit and we enjoyed an abundance of Pine Grosbeaks through the winter. This year during our drought, very little fruit was set and all of that has been eaten. I'll be surprised if any Pine Grosbeaks remain here for the winter.

The first photo was taken today - I've never noticed pink in the wing bars before. The others are older. What a beautiful creature...

Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll

We've had a mixed assemblage of 150+ redpolls in our yard for a few weeks. Most have been "Southern" Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea flammea) with a smattering of "Greater" Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea rostrata).

A couple of "Southern" Hoary Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni exilipes) were joined today by a "Hornemann's" Hoary Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni hornemanni). These photos give a sense of the larger size of Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll relative to the Common Redpoll in the foreground.

Over the previous two winters I've spent some time observing Ontario's four recognizable redpoll forms - you'll find notes, tons of photos and related links here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Summary of the 2012 North Shore Round-up

Once again Nick Escott and the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists coordinated the autumn bird round-up. Six parties spent at least part of Saturday (Nov 3) or Sunday (Nov 4) counting birds between Thunder Bay and Manitouwadge. Martha and I covered the Lake Superior coast between Rossport and Marathon.

A total of 77 species were tallied. Waterfowl viewing conditions were particularly good. While no real rarities were turned up, an ongoing Eastern Towhee was a good sighting in Nipigon. Many thanks to all who participated.

Here's the tally, posted per Nick's request.

Snow Goose 5 Downy Woodpecker 18
Canada Goose 347 Hairy Woodpecker 13
Wood Duck 3 Am.3-toed Woodpecker 1
Gadwall 2 Blk-backed Woodpecker 1
American Wigeon 7 Pileated Woodpecker 2
American Black Duck 35 Northern Shrike 4
Mallard 480 Gray Jay 14
Blue-winged Teal 1 Blue Jay 45
Green-winged Teal 1 American Crow 206
Redhead 6 Common Raven 250
Ring-necked Duck 20 Horned Lark 3
Greater Scaup 23 Black-capped Chickadee 425
Lesser Scaup 95 Boreal Chickadee 11
White-winged Scoter 2 Red-breasted Nuthatch 30
Black Scoter 1 White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Long-tailed Duck 17 American Robin 25
Bufflehead 114 European Starling 128
Common Goldeneye 159 Eastern Towhee 1
Hooded Merganser 162 American Tree Sparrow 13
Common Merganser 44 Vesper Sparrow 1
Red-breasted Merganser 18 Savannah Sparrow 1
Ruffed Grouse 32 Swamp Sparrow 1
Common Loon 4 White-throated Sparrow 1
Red-necked Grebe 2 White-crowned Sparrow 1
Horned Grebe 1 Dark-eyed Junco 19
Pied-billed Grebe 1 Bohemian Waxwing 10
Bald Eagle 54 Lapland Longspur 2
Northern Goshawk 1 Snow Bunting 279
Rough-legged Hawk 2 Red-winged Blackbird 1
Merlin 2 Rusty Blackbird 2
American Coot 13 Pine Grosbeak 103
Wilson's Snipe 4 House Finch 12
Bonaparte's Gull 35 White-winged Crossbill 10
Ring-billed Gull 240 Common Redpoll 364
Herring Gull 562 Pine Siskin 2
Thayer's Gull 1 American Goldfinch 6
Iceland Gull 1 Evening Grosbeak 30
Rock Pigeon 413 House Sparrow 30
Mourning Dove 8

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finches on the move!

I went for an excellent hike this morning along the Lake Superior coast south from Pebble Beach in Marathon to the mill effluent treatment ponds and then back along the CPR tracks and saw a tonne of birds. As Alan Wormington discovered back in the day, NE winds along the north shore can trigger large migratory movements of passerines in the late fall. Among the rarities Alan turned up on this stretch have been Cassin's and Field Sparrows, Townsend's Solitaire and White-eyed Vireo.

 I didn't cross paths with any megas but I was awed by the tide of Common Redpoll - one super flock had more than 300 birds. I estimated more than 1,300 COREs in 2.5 hours. Last year in late October I saw similar movements of redpolls moving NW along the coast. Then, as in most years, the migrating flock passed high over head, stopping periodically to feed in the tops of white birches. This year our drought-stressed birch failed to set seed so now most of the migrating redpolls are sweeping through at eye level, pausing to feed on abundant Green Alder cones.

Smaller flocks of White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin and Pine Grosbeak were also conspicuous this morning. The flock of nine Bohemian Waxwings and two Northern Shrikes added some contrast. I was surprised not to see a single Rough-legged Hawk passing by Hawks Ridge.

An Indigo Bunting continues to visit our backyard feeders.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Indigo Bunting in Marathon & rarities around Lake Superior

We had a very drab looking Indigo Bunting show up in our Marathon yard today - late-ish but not the latest autumn record in the Thunder Bay District for this neotropical migrant.

Also in our yard were all of the regular winter finches: Pine and Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, Common and Hoary Redpoll, White-winged Crossbill and Purple Finch.

Indigo Bunting in Marathon, Oct. 27, 2012.
Of late some true rarities have been reported from the Lake Superior basin. At Grand Marais (MN), only 128 km from Thunder Bay, a Cassin's Kingbird was photographed today.

Photo here:

In Alger Co., Michigan, only a few hundred open water kms south of Terrace Bay, a Vermilion Flycatcher was seen today.

Report here:

photo here:

On October 25, a Cave Swallow was photographed at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in MI.

Photo here:

East of Minneapolis, in Eau Claire, Minnesota, a Bewick's Wren showed up at a feeder today.

Photos here:'s that time of year when just about anything can show up in the western Great Lakes. Keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cold autumn colour palette

I don't share enough photos of the local landscape.

Martha took these shots yesterday as snow squalls and high winds swept across across Lake Superior.

 [click on images to enlarge]

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Autumn geese and some other miscellany

In late September and early October high-flying southbound V's of Canada Geese can be seen and heard on most days. Anyone who takes a little extra time to scrutinize a superficially familiar gaggle of grazing Canada Geese has a good chance of being rewarded with something less usual.

It all got rolling on September 10th with the report by Jennifer Chikoski and Jeff Robinson of a Greater White-fronted Goose at Lake Tamblyn, in Thunder Bay.

Lake Tamblyn. Sept. 10, 2012. Photo by Jeff Robinson.
Closer to my home, a Snow Goose stopped over briefly at the mouth of the Pic River (a premier spot for viewing waterbirds in the Marathon area).
Pic River. Sept 25, 2012.
Greg Stroud turned up a Ross's Goose on the lawn near the George O'Neil School in Nipigon.
Ross's Goose at Nipigon. Sept 28, 2012. Photo courtesy of Greg Stroud.
Cackling Geese have been especially common this fall.
Cacklers in Marathon. Oct 5, 2012
High up on my wish list is Brant - I've yet to see one in NW Ontario and it's considered accidental in the T-Bay District. A pair was found on the Pic River in October 2008.
Brant, CACG and CANGs at the Pic River. Oct 7, 2008.  Martha Allen.

One more goose note. Exactly two years ago a cooperative Canada Goose allowed me to approach closely enough to read the number on its leg band. I soon learned that the bird had been banded as a flightless gosling that summer near Winisk, on the Hudson Bay coast.

Two days ago another lone, banded Canada Goose obligingly pirouetted at ten metres distance, revealing the nine digit band sequence. This individual was banded as a flightless gosling in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2011 so it was almost certainly a southbound molt migrant whose only interest in Canada was to gorge on the lush grasses and sedges of the Hudson Bay lowlands while undergoing its summer molt.

A few other nice birds - both casual visitors to the District - have shown up recently. An Upland Sandpiper stopped over on the grassy embankment beside the mill treatment pond below Hawks Ridge in Marathon on Sept. 15-16. On September 30, while en route to a wild dove chase (oy...) near Rossport, I was delayed by a few minutes when a Yellow-billed Cuckoo swooped low in front of my car and perched beside the road in a colourful aspen. Sweet!
Yellow-billed Cuckoo near Rossport. Sept 30, 2012.

The gull watching is getting interesting. In the Soo, the persistent Kirk Zufelt turned up two(!!!) Mew Gulls on consecutive days (Sept 27-28). Check out Kirk's great photos and account of the Mew Gull Miracle.

Yesterday, I checked out our local gull assemblage and turned up four species - no rarities but a good tally for here.
Thayer's Gull in Marathon. Oct. 5, 2012.
A pair of Bonies in Marathon. Oct. 5, 2012.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Three northern darners

The mosaic darners, genus Aeshna, are of course the large, conspicuous dragonflies that fly, sometimes in impressive swarms, throughout the Ontario summer. Of the one dozen species found in Ontario, eight are known from the Thunder Bay District. Of these, three - the Sedge, Zigzag and Subarctic - have distinctly northern affinities and are among the less commonly seen species in our region.

All three seem to be flying right now in the Marathon area. During the last half of July I crossed paths with Sedge and Zigzag Darners at sites where I'd found them previously. The Subarctic Darner, a lifer for me a few weeks ago, has been observed only a handful of times in NW Ontario and it wasn't one I expected to find so close to home.

Here's a quick overview of the trio with some habitat and locality notes.

Sedge Darner (Aeshna juncea)
Date: July 15, 2012.
Habitat: Breeds in rock/splash pools along the rocky Lake Superior shore. It's also commonly found in shore fens and sedge-fringed beach swales along the coast where, I suspect, it breeds as well.
Sedge Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: Rock pools at Ypres Point, Peninsula Harbour, Lake Superior (48.73619, -86.43059). I netted and released males and females at this site and observed mature nymphs foraging in the deeper pools.
Male Sedge Darner, July 15, 2012
Female Sedge Darner, July 15, 2012

Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis)
Date: July 27, 2012.
Habitat: Nutrient poor, often open fens and bogs.

Zigzag Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: Open fen at low-lying centre of peatland west of the Prairie River at Hyw 17 (48.80185, -86.78627). Last September at the end of the flight season, I blogged about my first encounter with the species at this site. I returned this month and found many patrolling males, copulating pairs and a few ovipositing females.
Male Zigzag Darner, July 27, 2012.
Mating Zigzags, July 27, 2012.
Female Zigzag Darner, July 27, 2012.
Male Zigzag Darner, September 17, 2011.

Subarctic Darner (Aeshna subarctica)
Date: July 23, 2012.
Habitat: Nutrient poor, often open fens and bogs.
Subarctic Darner locality and habitat.
Locality: In the Town of Marathon, along the dirt road leading to Shack Lake (48.74482, -86.35753). The female in these photos is my first and only Subarctic Darner to date. I assume that she emerged from the nearby bog-fringed shore of Shack Lake. On July 29th, Sue Bryan netted a male from a bog mat on Harvais Lake, near Dorion.
Female Subarctic Darner, July 23, 2012.
Male Subarctic Darner. July 29, 2012. Courtesy of Michael Bryan.

A really great source of information about these and other boreal odes is Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent regions. This slim, attractive volume is available from Saskatchewan Nature.

Full citation: Hutchings, G. and D. Halstead. 2011. Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent Regions. Special Publication #29. Nature Saskatchewan, Regina.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marvelous moths from the north (mostly)

Moths are fantastic and with the recent publication of some excellent print and on-line guides, the identification of adults and caterpillars is within reach of amateur naturalists. We've crossed paths with some very nice larvae in recent weeks and 'though we guessed the families of each, we needed help to pin down the specific IDs.

The most impressive was this bruiser found by Martha's great uncle beside the Bay of Quinte, near Napanee. It was about huge - close to 110 mm in length - likely a final instar.

Eacles imperialis - Imperial Moth (Saturniidae)
Aug 9, 2012. Adolphustown, Lennox and Addington Co..

The next was one of the "hummingbird moths" whose day-flying adults are conspicuous visitors to wild and cultivated flowers in the north. Note the 'horn', a characteristic of sphingid larvae.

Hemaris diffinis - Snowberry Clearwing (Sphingidae)
July 17, 2012. Steel River, Thunder Bay District.

A few days ago this fuzzy character revealed itself atop a birch leaf in our back yard. I can't tell the bow from the stern.

Lophocampa maculata - Spotted Tussock Moth (Arctiidae)
Aug 16, 2012. Town of Marathon, Thunder Bay District.

And finally, here's a large (length ~60 mm) adult moth that was new to us (both the species and the family) when we found it washed up on the rocks after a windy night while we were camped on Nipigon Bay, near Red Rock.

Sthenopis purpurascens - Purplish Ghost Moth (Hepialidae)
July 24, 2011. Red Rock, Thunder Bay District.

This is of one of many boreal species whose accounts can be found in the very nice, entry-level Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods.

Previously blogged moths:

  • Ontario Moths - some brilliant photos from David Beadle.
  • Requiem for a Moth - a 28 minute documentary from BBC radio profiling the knowledgeable, passionate and poetic souls who seek to appreciate and demystify the moth fauna of the UK.
  • Moths and Butterflies of Britain and Ireland - a new app that hopefully presages the development of a similar ID tool covering New World species.