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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Local hikes: Headland & Spirit Trails at Pukaskwa National Park

Directions: From Hwy 17, drive ~13 km south on Hwy 627, through the communities of Heron Bay and Pic River and across the Pic River bridge to the entrance gate of Pukaskwa National Park. During the 0ff-season, the road into the park is closed. One must park at the locked gate (48.60460, -86.28860) and walk a few km to the trail head at the Visitor's Centre at Hattie Cove. From there, one can proceed directly along the Headland Trail.

Distance: Approximately 6.5 km.

Degree of difficulty: moderate (3/5). Some upland rocky sections can be slippery when wet - wear appropriate footwear. Several flights of wooden stairs and landings ease the passage through deep gullies.

Natural Features: The trail passes through cool, moist boreal forest dominated by spruce trees and an ericaceous shrub layer. The trees are festooned with filamentous lichens (Bryoria and Usnea spp.) while the forest floor is carpeted in a diverse assemblage of moss, lichens, liverworts, ferns and club mosses (Lycopodium spp.). The rich lichen community and rugged terrain provide food and shelter for the threatened Woodland Caribou.
Horseshoe Bay features sand dunes that support a closely monitored population of the endangered Pitcher's Thistle.
Several viewing platforms at the tip of the headland provide commanding views of the undisturbed coast line. To the north one can take in the Pic River Mouth Sand Dunes, the largest dune complex on the north shore of Lake Superior.

To the south, the vista includes a sweep of the steep rocky coast as it has appeared for thousands of years.

Among the birds we saw and heard during our hike were:

  • Bald Eagle: 1 (an adult sitting atop an islet at the mouth of the Pic)
  • Pileated Woodpecker: 1 (heard)
  • Hairy Woodpecker: 1
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch: 3
  • Common Raven: 4
  • Black-capped Chickadee: 7
  • Boreal Chickadee: 2
  • Common Redpoll: (an unseen flock heard flying overhead)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Smooth Rocks

Sun setting over Lake Superior. Photo by Martha.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Backyard bird update.

Our backyard feeders are busy. American Tree Sparrows now outnumber Dark-eyed Juncos.
A Song Sparrow has been replaced by a Fox Sparrow.

A dozen or so Purple Finches come and go through the day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marathon Harbour (Jelicoe Cove) birds

Seen during a brief walk around the boat launch this morning :

Red-necked Grebe: 1
Herring Gull: 2
Ring-billed Gull: 1
Black Scoter: 1
Long-tailed Duck: 1
Greater Scaup: 1
Common Goldeneye: 2
Downy Woodpecker: 1
American Crow: 3
Common Raven: 2
Rusty Blackbird: 1
American Tree Sparrow: 13
Lapland Longspur: 2

Monday, October 19, 2009

Marathon Harbour (Jelicoe Cove) birds

In Marathon Harbour-Jelicoe Cove this morning I observed a pair of Long-tailed Ducks, a Black Scoter, a Bonaparte's Gull, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Rusty Blackbird and ~10 American Tree Sparrows.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Local hikes: Seeley Mountain

Click to enlarge
Directions: Nine km NNW of the intersection with Peninsula Road (Marathon) turn right off Hwy 17 on to Wolf Camp Lake Road. Follow road for ~1 km and park at yellow gate (48.80193, -86.43497). Follow road on foot as it ascends to the summit of Seeley Mountain (el. 523 m).

Distance: ~4.5 km round trip from gate; ~6.4 km round trip from intersection with Hwy 17.

Degree of difficulty: moderate (3/5). Hiking boots aren't necessary as the route follows a (4wd) service road to the summit; however, it is steep, rising 245 m (~800 feet) from the parking area.

Natural Features: The summit of Seeley Mountain (site of several communications towers) overlooks a stretch of the Lake Superior Coast. It may offer a good vantage point to observe the autumn migration of raptors. This is likely a very good spot to observe hill-topping insects during the warmer months. On the hike up, we saw interesting mosses, lichens and ferns (Woodsia, Polypody, Cryptograma) on a shaded rock face beside the road. On October 15, 2008 Martha and some of her friends photographed a vagrant Rock Wren along the road to the summit. The report is under review by the Ontario Rare Birds Committee.
View to the South - Marathon Paper Mill is visible at top left
On October 18 we hiked to the summit where we were buffeted by a strong (30-40 km/h) south wind. We encountered few birds. It was interesting to look down upon a Red-tailed Hawk that was migrating westward. We heard what sounded like a good-sized flock of American Robins off in the bush - perhaps they were exploiting the bounty of Mountain Ash fruit.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Tree Sparrow

Our backyard flock of Dark-eyed Juncos has been joined by several American Tree Sparrows.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Palm Warbler and other birds

Palm warbler at Pukaskwa National Park
Several days of north winds have favoured south-bound migrants. American Pipit numbers are down and only a few late-migrating Warbler species - Yellow-rumped, Palm and Orange-crowned - are still common. American Tree Sparrows are just starting to show up, adding to a this week's sparrow tally that has included Vesper, Swamp, Song, Savannah, White-throated and White-crowned...and, technically, Dark-eyed Junco. Up to eight Purple Finches are attending our backyard feeder.

Tammie Hache, The Bird Lady of Manitouwadge, writes a column for The Echo. I've enjoyed reading her musings about the local birds in another north shore community - thanks and keep up the good work Tammie!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birding update

Marathon Harbour
There is usually something interesting to see in Marathon Harbour. While shorebird numbers have tailed off, arctic-nesting ducks have started to appear. Today, not far from the boat launch, a pair of male Long-tailed Ducks (still in their dark breeding plumage) preened in the brilliant sunlight. Not far from them swam one Surf and four Black Scoters. The Black is the least commonly seen of our three scoter species so I felt fortunate to have such a great view of them. Other new arrivals included a pair of Green-winged Teal. A few days ago, the only diving ducks in evidence were a half a dozen or so Common Goldeneye and a few Greater Scaup. The boat launch offers an excellent view of the harbour - the light is best earlier in the day. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one.
Distant Black Scoters
We put up out back yard bird feeders last week. Within hours, 20-30 Dark-eyed Juncos were squabbling over the millet and cracked corn around the base of the feeder. Within days, they were joined by ones and twos of Song, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. A trio of American Crows has been dropping by each morning. Other regulars include a Downy Woodpecker and a handful of Black-capped Chickadees. A definite irregular was a typically insectivorous Orange-crowned Warbler hopping around among the juncos below the feeder. A trio of Purple Finches joined the fray this morning.
White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mammals around Marathon

A few random mammal sightings around the town of Marathon.
This mature porcupine was strolling across the road at Pebble Beach last Sunday.
This Groundhog, sunning itself beside Highway 17, will soon be hibernating.

This glossy, well-fed Black Bear was running along a road in Pukaskwa National Park this morning. Yesterday afternoon I spotted this Red Fox ambling along the road near Penn Lake - it paid no attention to the traffic passing by only a few metres away.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Last dragonfly of the season?

During a walk at Penn Lake Park I came upon this lone Saffron-winged Meadowhawk sunning itself on a log. This cold-hardy skimmer flies later in the season than most of our other odonates.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Young Bald Eagle

One of several that hang out at the boat launch, scavenging lake trout carcasses.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Paddling at Coldwell

We enjoyed a great afternoon paddling and hiking around Coldwell - described elsewhere as an abandoned place. Coldwell is one of several former commercial fishing ports along this stretch of the lake.

You can see from the photo that Coldwell isn't exactly abandoned; however, the permanent population is now two hardy souls, down from a peak of 100 or so in the early 1900's. A handful of others maintain season camps or cottages.