Monday, April 30, 2012

Purple Sandpiper and other sights in the Rossport Archipelago

We took advantage early ice-out and unusually calm waters to camp out among the very beautiful islands of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area this past weekend. Our ~35 km paddling route took us through the Rossport Archipelago. I'll post more photos and trip details later but for now I want share photos of the Purple Sandpiper our friend Christine spotted yesterday (April 29th) on a remote, exposed 70 m. long rocky islet (48.75584, -87.44037).

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Subsequently the four of us observed the shorebird resting and foraging in close proximity to about 20 pairs of nesting Herring Gulls.

 [click on images to enlarge]

This sighting was my first for the Thunder Bay District and my first spring encounter. We later learned that this was only the second occurrence from the District. The first was found on the even more remote Caribou Island on May 25, 1984.

The scarcity of the species in the Lake Superior basin is underscored by the paucity of records - only seven - from Minnesota, a jurisdiction with many more active birders. The most recent sighting, the state's first for any spring season, was found at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, NE of Duluth, on March 17 of this year (photo here).  The March and April dates of this year's Purple Sandpipers suggest that these two birds may have overwintered on Lake Superior, as they regularly do on the lower Great Lakes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Migration on hold...

North winds have put the brakes on bird migration for more than a week and it looks like this may change on Monday when winds the expected to shift to the south - pushing our American Tree Sparrows, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings northwards while sweeping in a new wave of sparrows and perhaps the first neotropical migrants. I can't wait!

I encountered this fearless Spruce Grouse at the mouth of the Pic River this morning.

[click on images to enlarge]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Snowy Owl in Terrace Bay

Snowy owls are much easier to spot at this time of year. This one was seen today at the defunct Terrace Bay airport/dragstrip today.
It's worth noting that this location is a must-stop for birders passing through the north shore. Situated right beside the TCH, just a little bit east of Terrace Bay, it ceased to operate as an airport some years ago and it now sees very limited use as a dragstrip each august. Birdwise, it offers the best piece of pseudo-tundra in the region and so is attractive to Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs that have just passed over vast stretches of boreal forest or rocky coastline.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Urban Longspurs

A change of weather has resulted in a significant stopover of Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspur along the North Shore. Friends of ours in Terrace Bay and Marathon, who seldom notice birds, have commented on the abundance and fearlessness of Lapland Longspurs on our sidewalks, back lanes and lawns. I found these birds along the CP tracks in town today.

[click on images to enlarge]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Backyard blizzard

A blast of winter brought a wave of migrants to our yard yesterday.

Here's the tally.

Merlin 1 American Tree Sparrow 7
Mourning Dove 5 Fox Sparrow 10
Downy Woodpecker 1 Song Sparrow 4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 White-throated Sparrow 2
American Crow 2 Dark-eyed Junco 35
Common Raven 1 Red-winged Blackbird 1
Black-capped Chickadee 2 Rusty Blackbird 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 Common Grackle 4
American Robin 2 Purple Finch 15
European Starling 45 Common Redpoll 12
Snow Bunting 8 Pine Siskin 95

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Owls of April - 2012 edition

Last night we filled our Thermoses with hot chocolate and headed out to Ontario Nocturnal Owl Survey Route # 67, along a logging access road west of Marathon.  This particular route has been monitored for about 12 years. We've surveyed it for two of the last three years.

We were about half way to our first listening station when we spotted a Great Gray Owl perched beside the highway. The bird was very actively hunting - perching and plunging along the cut line below the hydro line - perhaps not the safest hunting territory, so close to the Trans-Canada.
We spent only a few minutes watching the owl before we headed on, eager to see in the remaining daylight how our survey route along the disused logging road had fared since we'd driven it last September.
A half an hour later we arrived at the start of the route. 'Though dry and dusty with a few holes and stretches of washboard, the road was serviceable. With 40 minutes to spare, we broke out the hacky sack and refreshments while a nearby Winter Wren sang his heart out in the gathering darkness...

Two and a half hours and twenty stops later we'd tallied six Northern Saw-whet Owls and four Great Horned Owls. We were surprised not to hear Boreal Owl, a species that's usually detected on this route. Black Bear, Beaver, Red Fox, American Woodcock, Wood Frog, Spring Peeper and the northern lights were also active. It was an excellent way to spend a Friday evening in April.

Here's an excerpt from most recent Ontario Nocturnal Owl Survey newsletter (pdf) summarizing the 2011 results:
"The most productive route in Northern Ontario this year was Melissa Mosley’s Highway 600 route near Rainy River. This route had a total of 22 owls including 16 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 6 Barred Owls. Hart Brasche’s Clear Lake Road route was the most productive in Central Ontario with 23 owls detected, including 16 Barred Owls, 5 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 2 Great Horned Owls.

Several owl species showed substantial increases across Northern Ontario in 2011. Whereas every species, except the Great Horned Owl, were detected in fewer numbers across Central Ontario in 2011. The Barred Owl was once again the most common owl detected with 448 recorded, down slightly from the 473 reported last year. Northern Saw-whet Owls showed another big increase in numbers this year with 202 reported, up from 139 in 2010. The Great Gray Owl was up again in 2011 with 37 detected, up from 28 individuals in 2010. Finally the Boreal Owl showed a slight increase of 103 individuals detected, up from 94 last year."
Because the GGOW had been sighted repeatedly at this locale over the last month, we supposed that it might have a mate and a nest nearby. A close look at this photo; however, reveals the pointed tips to the tail feathers indicating that this bird hatched in 2011 and won't breed until it matures, likely not before 2014.

Nocturnal Owl Survey Program coordinated by Bird Studies Canada.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sandhill Crane dance near the Soo.

Every few months we drive to southern Ontario to see friends and family. Because we only have a handful of days in which to do our visiting and driving - about 2800 km - we typically set out an hour or two before dawn and stick to the TCH and 400-series highways. We do have a few favourite stops and minor diversions which relieve the tedium and provide some contrast to the cool, rocky, boreal landscape of home.

A favourite patch lies south of Sault Ste. Marie, between Desbarats and Echo Bay. The sod farms, sprawling corn fields and woodlots offer great habitat for wintering raptors, migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and breeding open-area species. Our brief detour from the highway on Tuesday turned up a very pale Rough-legged Hawk, thousands of Canada Geese, Eastern Meadowlark and the inevitable Sandhill Cranes, our first of the season.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Early April bird notes ♩ ♬ ♪

After an early thaw we're seeing a good mix of returning birds.

  • Today I saw a Pine Siskin collecting nesting materiel from a neighbour's yard. There are still numerous flocks of Common Redpolls in the area although only a few are visiting our feeders.
  • A dozen species of waterfowl including a male Redhead, a species we don't see every year in these parts.
  • Today I heard my FOY Savannah Sparrows.
  • A male Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco continues in our yard - it's been here about a week.
  • Not sure what to make of this Junco - any thoughts?

  • A Meadowlark has been present beside Peninsula Harbour since March 27. When I first located the bird, it was mute and very skittish. Today, in a less-than-full-throated song that my point-and-shoot camera barely picked up through the chorus of nearer, more common birds, it declared its identity - Western Meadowlark! It's no MEGA-rarity but it's somewhat extralimital here in the boreal forest and it's the first Thunder Bay District record for eBird.