Thursday, October 28, 2010

Late(-ish) Killdeer

This was the only waterbird present at the Mouth of the Prairie River Provincial Nature Reserve this morning. It's getting late for this species in northern Ontario. The last one I recorded was on September 30th in Marathon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gale warning

This is the view from Pebble Beach on October 26. Gale warnings predict 50 knot south winds this evening. Currently (6:00 pm) the Slate Islands weather buoy is reporting 4 m. waves.

Oct 27 update

Winds and waves grew overnight. Offshore waves of over eight metres (26 feet) were recorded. Gusts of up to 105 km/h pummeled Pukaskwa.

Here's a view from Pebble Beach this morning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A great resource for northwest Ontario birders

Birders have been pioneers in sharing information using bulletin boards, listservs, and discussion groups. For more than a year, birders in northwest Ontario have shared trip reports, specific sightings and photos over the Yahoo Group NWObirds.

The tone is informal, friendly and people of all levels of experience are welcome to join in. Members may choose to receive postings as individual emails, daily digests or solely by accessing the group's web page. At present, there are one or two postings per week.

If you're interested in signing on, you can send an email to:

or click on the image below:

Friday, October 22, 2010

In lieu of Mountain-ash...

After two heavy mast years, the abundant Mountain-ash along the north shore bore little fruit in 2010 and now virtually none remains on the trees. Our fruit-eating birds and mammals have depleted the more consistent wild crops of Red Osier Dogwood, Squashberry and Pin Cherry. We can expect that far fewer fruit-eating birds - American Robins, waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks et al. - will spend the winter in our area. Presently, the local crop of ornamental crabapple fruit is being rapidly consumed by European Starling, Pine Grosbeak, Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings, American Robin, Purple Finch and a (late) Gray Catbird.

[click on images to enlarge]

Spruce Grouse at Shack Lake, Town of Marathon

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cackling Geese stop over Canadian Tire

For more than a week, three Cackling Geese and two Canada Geese have been spending their days on a small patch of grass in front of Canadian Tire, on the busiest street in Marathon.

Band recoveries cited by Ken Abraham of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources indicate that the population of Cackling Goose which passes through northwest Ontario breeds on southern Baffin Island.

[click on images to enlarge]

This mixed flock can sometimes be seen along near the town boat launch on Lake Superior.
More on the Cackling Goose

Distinguishing Cackling and Canada Goose from Sibley Guides.

Cackling Goose, not new to Ontario by Ken Abraham [published first in OFO News 23(1):2-6. February 2005.]

Mlodinow, S.G., Springer, P.F., Deuel, B., Semo, L.S., Leukering, T., Schonewald, D., Tweit, W., and J.H. Barry. 2008. Distribution and identification of Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) subspecies. North American Birds 62:344-360 (pdf).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Weekend bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

A morning walk around the harbour turned up a few new arrivals. Three Rough-legged Hawks, two light phased and one dark; soared high over the mill, drifting from east to west. Three Long-tailed Ducks swam off Skin Island. I found a lingering Harris's Sparrow in the company of Song, American Tree and White-crowned Sparrows. A lone Cackling Goose swam in a splash pool near the boat launch.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Young Peregrine

Many thanks to Bobby Lowndes for sharing these shots of a young Peregrine on the rocks at Cummings Beach, taken on October 7, 2010. The nearest Peregrine aerie is about 7 km to the west, at the Red Sucker Cove Provincial Nature Reserve.

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American Golden Plover at Cummings Beach

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Goose notes

My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin' fool or a heart at rest?*

For a few days last week a Canada Goose stopped over at Cummings Beach. Mostly it kept to itself, resting and foraging upon the grasses, sedges and pondweeds growing along on the shore of Lake Superior. When either our resident or high-flying migrating Canada Geese passed over, it cocked an eye in their direction but was otherwise unmoved. The goose bore an aluminum band on its leg and with a 20x spotting scope I was easily able to read the number.

Shortly after reporting the band on-line, I learned that the this goose had been banded as a flightless gosling on July 17, 2010 near Winisk, on the Hudson Bay coast, 750 km due north of Marathon. Thus, it was likely of the interior subspecies, smaller and duskier than the Giant Canada Goose (Branta canadensis maxima) most familiar to residents of southern Ontario.

The bander was Dr. Ken Abraham of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Each summer, Ken and his team band approximately 8000 Canada Geese (3000 adults, 5000 goslings) along the coast of northern Ontario (from the Quebec border to the Manitoba Border) and on the north shore of Akimiski Island, Nunavut.

Sarah Hagey, a member of Dr. Abraham's crew, graciously provided some photos of the habitat at the mouth of the Winisk River, an area that has been designated an Important Bird Area.

  • From Bird Studies Canada, a profile of the Winisk River Estuary, Peawanuck, Ontario, Important Bird Area.
  • From Jean Iron, some photos of some members of Dr. Abraham's crew (who appear to enjoy they work).

Cackling Goose

Yesterday I came upon a nice assemblage of waterfowl at the Prairie River Mouth Provincial Nature Reserve, a half hour drive west of Marathon. In addition to Green-winged Teal, Mallards and Canada Geese, there was lone Cackling Goose that very obligingly walked in front of a family of (local?) Giant Canada Geese, allowing an opportunity to contrast the sizes of two extreme members of the white-cheeked goose clade. Giant Canada Geese weigh close to five kg whereas Cackling Geese weigh less than two.

[click on images to enlarge]

More on the Cackling Goose

Distinguishing Cackling and Canada Goose from Sibley Guides.

Cackling Goose, not new to Ontario by Ken Abraham [Published first in OFO News 23(1):2-6. February 2005.]

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Thunder Cape!

[click image to enlarge]

This hatch-year bird was mist-netted, banded and released at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory on September 30, 2010.

Alan Wormington informed me that this is only the fourth Canadian record for this species, whose breeding and wintering ranges extend throughout much of the Neotropics, as far north as southernmost Arizona and New Mexico. The first occurrence, also in Ontario, was on September 28, 1986 at Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Since then, one fatally struck a window in Oakville (Nov. 6, 2009) and another turned up in Newfoundland.

Other interesting vagrants have turned up at Thunder Cape in past Septembers and Octobers, among them: Yellow-billed Loon, Violet-green Swallow (Ontario's first) and Bell's Vireo.

View Thunder Cape in a larger map

Friday, October 1, 2010

An odd bird in the yard

For some time I've wanted to write something about our encounters with Wilson's Snipe. We see them regularly in migration and, more interestingly, in the middle of winter. Indeed one or two individuals have been tallied on six of the last eight Christmas bird counts. Evidently these birds find sufficient food and shelter along a small, densely vegetated creek in Peninsula Harbour, not far from the mill. The phenomenon of snipe overwintering in northern Ontario is so unusual that the regional compiler of the CBC simply didn't believe the first report back in 2002.
Until today I had put off profiling our ice snipe as I had yet to get a decent photo of one. Just about all of our snipe sightings involve brief views of fast-flying birds we've flushed.

This morning, I looked out our kitchen window expecting to see the usual Rusty Blackbirds, Common Grackles and White-crowned Sparrows, and I the company of a Wilson's Snipe! The bird was fairly active, foraging over a patch of turf where I had been scattering mixed seed - not acceptable snipe fare, evidently.

Certainly an unusual bird to observe from one's kitchen window.