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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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  • 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.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    A few new arrivals...

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    Greg Stroud and John Schelling turned up a Snowy Owl at the Chippewa Landfill in Thunder Bay today.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Some recent mammals

    A Least Chipmunk readying for winter (Oct 27).

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    A surprisingly rare sighting (for us) of a White-tailed Deer, though we frequently see their sign. I only had fleeting looks at this impressive buck along the CPR tracks in town today. They are much more common between Nipigon and Thunder Bay.

    We turned on our backyard lights to view the fresh snow this evening and saw this Northern Flying Squirrel on our feeder.

    A backyard Lynx from Thunder Bay, courtesy of Allan Gilbert.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    Cackling Geese at the Marathon High School

    Last fall we enjoyed the stopover of a trio of Cackling Geese at our local Canadian Tire.

    Yesterday, a pair of Cackling Geese dropped in on the playing field of the local high school. One of the birds is of the typical pale-breasted "Richardson's" type we expect to see as a migrant in NW Ontario. The other is slightly smaller with a darker breast and much larger white cheek patch - interesting couple.

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