Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Results of the Dec 18, 2011 Marathon Christmas Bird Count

IN BRIEF: Decent weather, better-than-average participation, minimal snow cover and abundant forest food crops resulted in record high counts for the total number of individuals, number of species, and for 17 particular species. No new species were added.

IN DETAIL: Weather: winds light to moderate, temperatures ranged from -10C to -5C, sky overcast, isolated snow flurries off the lake.

Participants: Nine field parties and five feeder watchers.

The Highs: (previous HCs derived from the 36 CBCs held since 1958)

Species: 43 (40 in 2001)
Individuals: 4338 (2763 in 1994)
Bald Eagle: 9 (4 in 2003 and 2008)
Merlin: 2 (1 in 2005)
Wilson's Snipe: 3 (3 in 2010)
American Three-toed Woodpecker: 2 (2 in 2009)
American Crow: 118 (45 in 1990)
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 115 (89 in 2003)
Brown Creeper: 4 (3 in 1994)
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 9 (5 in 2010)
European Starling: 150 (112 in 1973)
Northern Cardinal: 7 (6 in 2010)
White-crowned Sparrow: 1 (1 in 2001, 2006)
Harris's Sparrow: 2 (1 in 1992, 1996, 1999)
Snow Bunting: 16 (8 in 2008)
Purple Finch: 174 (107 in 2003)
White-winged Crossbill: 668 (343 in 2003)
Common Redpoll: 956 (794 in 2008)
Pine Siskin: 350 (32 in 1973)
Additional count week species: American Robin: 1; House Sparrow: 1

Many thanks to all who participated and to the Friends of Pukaskwa National Park for donating a door prize for the compilation dinner.

Addendum (by request) - the complete count:

Long-tailed Duck - 1
Common Goldeneye - 9
Bald Eagle - 9
Merlin - 2
Ruffed Grouse - 1
Wilson's Snipe - 3
Herring Gull - 262
Glaucous Gull - 3
Rock Pigeon - 2
Mourning Dove - 15
Downy Woodpecker - 24
Hairy Woodpecker - 4
American Three-toed Woodpecker - 2
Pileated Woodpecker - 3
Gray Jay - 8
Blue Jay - 4
American Crow - 118
Common Raven - 331
Black-capped Chickadee - 181
Boreal Chickadee - 13
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 115
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Brown Creeper - 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 9
Bohemian Waxwing - 125
Cedar Waxwing - 424
Northern Shrike - 1
European Starling - 150
Northern Cardinal - 7
White-throated Sparrow -1
White-crowned Sparrow - 1
Harris' Sparrow - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 35
Snow Bunting - 16
Common Grackle - 1
Pine Grosbeak - 266
Purple Finch - 174
White-winged Crossbill - 668
Common Redpoll - 956
Hoary Redpoll - 2
Pine Siskin - 350
American Goldfinch - 2
Evening Grosbeak - 34

Count Week: 
American Robin - 1
House Sparrow - 1

Monday, December 12, 2011

Seen daily on Highway 627

Eastern Towhee in Sioux Lookout

A rarity at any time of year in northern Ontario, this male Eastern Towhee has been visiting a feeder in Sioux Lookout in the Kenora District since November 20th. Many thanks to Marlie Squires for sharing the sighting.

In Longlac, Thunder Bay District, an even more unusual Spotted Towhee continues to visit the feeder where it was first seen on November 12th.

[click on images to enlarge]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Join in the December 18th Marathon Christmas Bird Count

On December 18, 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, which includes the communities of Heron Bay and Pic River. 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 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.

    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 Steedman Dr. 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:

      Friday, December 9, 2011

      Harlequin Duck at Pukaskwa National Park

      Parks Canada staff photographed a stunning male Harlequin Duck off the Manito Miikana peninsula in Pukaskwa National Park today. The bird was found swimming along a very exposed, steep rocky shore - typical wintering habitat for the species.

      The Harlequin Duck is considered rare in northern Ontario and 2011 has been a better than average year for sightings in the Thunder Bay District. This fall others have been seen on the Nipigon River (one on Oct 22), at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory on the Sibley Peninsula (two on Oct 22) and in the Kam River in Thunder Bay (one on Nov 11).

      Harlequin Ducks have been sighted in the park a few times before.

      Park visitors should note that entrance gate is closed for the season. All access is on foot.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      December 10 update: We hiked in to the park and enjoyed watching the Harlequin Duck bobbing around in the surf.

      View Larger Map

      Tuesday, December 6, 2011

      American Three-toed Woodpecker

      I heard this bird foraging deep in a stand of spruce from a distance of 50 m or so. It and a Hairy Woodpecker were today's additions to my 2011-12 north shore winter bird list.

      [click on image to enlarge]

      Saturday, December 3, 2011

      White-winged gulls at the Town of Marathon landfill

      Gull viewing conditions at the town landfill were better than usual today - the gates were open and several hundred gulls were present and cooperative. These birds have become habituated to the dump trucks, graders and bulldozers associated with the operation of the landfill. They slowly walked out of the path of my truck as I slowly drove, about 10 metres at a time, through the loafing flock. If I had been on foot, I wouldn't have been able to get closer than 100 metres or so without flushing them.

      Almost all were mature Herring Gulls.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      Usually two or three Glaucous Gulls overwinter in town. Iceland Gulls are less common. This sharp looking first cycle bird was the first we've seen this autumn.

      Thursday, December 1, 2011

      Winter birding begins!

      A few of today's sightings:

      [click on images to enlarge]

      Here's today's tally - 20 species. I'm guessing we'll see about 40 species along the north shore between Dec. 1 and Feb. 29. The cumulative total can be seen in the sidebar.
      • Bald Eagle
      • Herring Gull
      • Mourning Dove
      • Downy Woodpecker
      • Black-backed Woodpecker
      • Gray Jay
      • American Crow
      • Common Raven
      • Black-capped Chickadee
      • Red-breasted Nuthatch
      • European Starling
      • Harris's Sparrow
      • Dark-eyed Junco
      • Northern Cardinal
      • Pine Grosbeak
      • White-winged Crossbill
      • Purple Finch
      • Common Redpoll
      • Pine Siskin
      • Evening Grosbeak

      Wednesday, November 23, 2011

      Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch hotspot in Thunder Bay - Nov 24 update

      These striking images came courtesy of Brian Ratcliff. This Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch appeared yesterday (Nov 22, 2011) at the feeder of Barbara Horth and Gene Kideres, in Lappe, about 20 km NW of Thunder Bay. Brian noted that Barbara and Gene hosted another Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch 17 years before, from December 28, 1994 to January 11, 1995. At that time, it was only the third documented occurrence for Ontario. Since then about a dozen additional records, mostly from the Thunder Bay District, have been added.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      Within the range of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch several distinct subspecies have been recognized. Most of the birds that stray to the Great Lakes region are of the widespread, nominate tephrocotis or interior subspecies. This most recent individual, with its mostly gray head, appears to be of the littoralis or Hepburn's subspecies that breeds on the Pacific slope from Alaska to northern California. A rarity within a rarity (for Ontario)!

      Here is a photo another GCRF that visited the Thunder Bay District. Note the more restricted gray area on the head indicating that it is of the nominate tephrocotis or interior subspecies more frequently seen in eastern North America.

      [click on image to enlarge]

      This excellent photo taken in Washington State by Joseph V. Higbee shows the the interior and coastal subspecies side-by-side (on roof of feeder).

      [click on image to enlarge]

      An interesting and well illustrated discussion of the interior and coastal subspecies of Leucosticte tephrocotis can be found here on Aaron Lang's Birding Alaska website.

      Nov 24 update: Brb and Gene reported that the Gray-crowned Rose-Finch was present through the 23rd and 24th and ate ravenously. James Barber visited and was able to get some additional photos.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Barb Horth and Gene Kideres for sharing the news and welcoming birders to see the Rosy-Finch, this month and in 1994! Also, thanks to Joseph Higbee (more great photos here), Brian Ratcliff and James Barber for sharing their photos.
      Range map: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Hepburn's) — Leucosticte tephrocotis littoralis. Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Retrieved on November 24, 2011, from

      Tuesday, November 22, 2011

      Nashville Warbler in the snow

      I was surprised to find this very late Nashville Warbler very actively foraging in our snowy yard this afternoon. I observed it for several hours as it hopped around the bases of our compost bins and bird feeders. While the temperature hovered around freezing through the day, it dipped to - 17°C a few nights ago.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      Update: Last seen in our yard of November 25th.

      Saturday, November 19, 2011

      Varied Thrushes and some other Saturday sightings

      Gregg Kendall turned up a Varied Thrush this morning at Mission Marsh in Thunder Bay and was kind enough to share his great photos.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      This morning Brian Ratcliff drove to Pearl, east of Thunder Bay, to observe a male Baltimore Oriole that's been visiting a feeder. Brian arrived to learn that the oriole was last seen on thursday, Nov. 17., and that another "orange-breasted" bird was in the area. Sure enough, a crisp male Varied Thrush appeared. Including Gregg's Mission Marsh bird, this makes three individuals reported through NWObirds this autumn.

      We've seen activity pick up at our backyard feeders since the recent snowfalls. Today I scouted some of my neighbourhood feeders and I was pleased to find very late White-crowned and Harris's Sparrows. We'll make an effort to re-find them on the Marathon Christmas Bird Count on December 18th.

      I also observed two Hoary Redpolls, in a flock of 50 or so Common Redpolls, feeding in a White Birch on a residential street in Marathon. Throughout the afternoon noon I heard flyover White-winged Crossbills, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks.

      Acknowledgement: Thanks to Gregg Kendall and Brian Ratcliff for sharing their Varied Thrush photos.

      Saturday, November 12, 2011

      A rash of vagrant birds in the western Great Lakes - Nov 21 update

      Over the last few weeks birders in the western Great Lakes states have been enjoying an amazing parade of rare vagrant birds.

      Minnesota birders turned up Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical/Couch's FlycatcherScott's Oriole and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. 

      Almost all of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch sightings in the Great Lakes region have occurred at feeders. The recent Minnesota bird; however, was spotted on the shore of Bear Island Lake, about 150 km. west of Thunder Bay, ON, on October 27. Like the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch that showed up here last year, it was a free-ranging individual associating with Snow Buntings.

      The Scott's Oriole was sighted a few days later (Oct 30) in a crabapple tree in Grand Marais - tantalizingly close to the Canada-US border!

      Just to the south in Illinois a Sage Thrasher, was a highlight.

      Recent discoveries in Wisconsin include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, and Inca Dove, a state first.

      [click on images to enlarge]

      More photos and details can be found on the eBird Wisconsin page where the authors plausibly speculate that these birds got caught up in a westerly weather flow and then stopped when they encountered the big waters of Lakes Superior and Michigan.

      So what about the Thunder Bay District here in Ontario? Hands down, the most exciting report so far is that of a Clark's Nutcracker that made a one-time visit to a backyard feeder in Thunder Bay on October 25. Efforts to relocate the bird in the Vickers Heights neighbourhood were unsuccessful. If accepted, this will be only the third Ontario record for this montane corvid.

      The volunteers at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory have an impressive record of encountering rare vagrants in the fall - notables include Violet-green Swallow (Oct. 28, 1992) and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Sept. 30, 2010). As yet I haven't heard of anything unusual at The Cape this season.

      On November 5th the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists held its annual Fall Round-up. From dawn-to-dusk birders along the north shore tallied species at favourite spots from the Minnesota border to Thunder Bay, eastwards through Nipigon/Dorion, Terrace Bay and Marathon. I'm sure I wasn't the only participant excited at the possibility of someone turning up a rarity. Sixty-two species were seen but alas, nothing exceptional.

      So what's next? Well, it looks like we're in for a very good winter finch season and I'll continue to enjoy the conspicuous flocks of Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills. They'll likely stick around, given the abundant crops of their favourite foods. And as for rarities in this corner of Ontario, well you never know...

      Update: A few new stellar western strays have turned up Illinois and Wisconsin in the recent days:
      • November 10 - a Mountain Bluebird was found during the autumn hawk watch at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.
      [click on images to enlarge]
      • November 12 - a Brewer's Sparrow was found at Northerly Island in Chicago.
      • November 11 - a White-tailed Kite was observed foraging over Crex Meadows in Burnett County Wisconsin.
      • Nov 12 - a Broad-billed Hummingbird showed up at a feeder in Mequoun, WI, photos here.
      • Nov 12 - a Lucy's Warbler was photographed at Whitefish Point, MI, photos here.
      • Nov 21 - a Selasphorus Hummingbird (possibly a Broad-tailed, a would-be state first) was photographed at a feeder in Oak Park, IL, photos here.

        Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Rita Wiskowski,  Matthew Cvetas,  Josh Engel,  Mary Backus, Dave Freriks and Deb Falkowski for sharing their photos.