Saturday, 21 September 2019

St. Joseph Island with the Ontario Field Ornithologists

Today I lead my first field trip for the Ontario Field Ornithologists!

We started the morning off by traveling down to the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the best birding location of St. Joseph Island. However, this morning was not our morning. Heavy fog covered the entire area, making it impossible to see anything out over the water. Inland, there were a few birds here and there, but not as many as I expected to be there. While we waited out the fog, we saw some Northern Flickers, Black-capped Chickadees White-throated Sparrow, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. When the fog finally lifted, at first all that was out on the water were a few Double-crested Cormorants, but after scanning and scanning, we found two Ring-billed Gulls. After a few minutes though, we realized there a smaller gull with them, a Bonaparte's Gull! This is a nice bird to see around here.

Our next stop was the Mountainview Centennial Grounds. Bird actively was actually pretty good here, although only for a few species. There were at least 16 Eastern Bluebirds here, many of them posing well for photos. Northern Flickers, Eastern Phoebes, and Chipping Sparrows were all over too.

We ended the day with visits to the Huron Line Fields and Maguire Drive Boat Launch. By now, it had warmed right up and raptors were on the move. Most were Turkey Vultures, but there were also Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, American Kestrels, and a Merlin.

In total, 40 species were recorded during the field trip.

Thanks to everyone who participated! Hopefully there will a future Ontario Field Ornithologist field trips in the area again soon!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sault Ste. Marie's Summertime Greater White-fronted Goose

On July 26, 2019, I received a message from a local photographer. Her husband saw a different looking goose while kayaking on the St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. After reading her description, my first response was Greater White-fronted Goose, but I was thinking it was going to end up being a domestic Greylag Goose or something like that. She went off to take photos herself, and sure enough, it was a Greater White-fronted Goose.

Within Ontario, there was a grand total of zero previous records of Greater White-fronted Goose on eBird during the month of July, so this was a significant find, on top of the fact it's a rare bird for here to begin with. There are usually a few sightings of this species during spring migration in the Algoma District, usually requiring a scope to scan fields full of geese in agricultural fields. This bird was much easier to find, as all you had to do was drive up to the Civic Centre and you'd likely see it on the lawn or in the water at the adjacent marina.

Since I already had this species for the year, I wasn't going to rush into town just to see it. However, a few days later on the 29th, I had to go into town, so after running my errands, I swung by to see it. I couldn't believe how tame it was, it acted just like the usual city-living Canada Geese that have no issues with people being up close and personal. I was definitely able to get my best photos of this species to date! This was the 198th species I've seen within the city limits of Sault Ste. Marie.

The goose hung around the Civic Centre for a while. Multiple birders and photographers got to go see it and it was a lifer for many of them. A few people even saw it narrowly miss death as it attempted to cross the busy road.

On August 1st, the bird was seen making it's way east down the river towards Bellevue Park. Two days later, it was actually recorded within the park, making it the 209th species recorded there! I was in town again the day following this, so I made a quick stop, just to see it again.

As of today, August 6th, the goose continues at Bellevue Park. It would be interesting to know this bird's story. Did it leave the arctic breeding grounds early or did it never make it there? How long will it stick around for? Who knows, but I'm sure many will continue to enjoy its presence while it lasts.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Early Fall Migration Birding with the Sault Naturalists

For most people, fall is still several weeks away and there is still lots of summer to enjoy. For birders, fall has arrived and the birds have already started to begin their migration south.

Eleven participants met early yesterday morning, August 4th, at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site parking lot to start our search for birds on South St. Marys Island and Whitefish Island. As I usually do, I asked everyone what species they wanted to see during the walk. We had no problem finding Black-capped Chickadee, Belted Kingfisher, American Redstart, and Great Blue Heron, but Boreal Chickadee and Harlequin Duck did not cooperate with the requests, as expected.

The group was treated to a variety of interesting species. An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron perched in a nearby tree for us, but later on the walk, it flew right overhead and nearly landed right above us, before it changed course last second. There were not a ton of warblers around, but we did get to see Northern Parula, Tennessee Warbler, and Cape May Warblers in addition to the usual American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Nashville Warblers. Chimney Swifts, a Warbling Vireo, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak round out the highlights.

In total, 40 species were recorded in our walk, which lasted just under three hours. This is a good total for early August, especially considering it is harder to find birds in a big group. Everyone had lots of fun and we are looking forward to the next few months as fall migration continues!

The full list of species can be found here:

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Algoma's Crazy Spring Migration

Now that summer is here and the birding has slowed down a little bit (and my dog just got fixed yesterday so I'm sitting at home taking care of him), I figured I'd do a little write-up on the crazy spring migration we had here in the Algoma District this year.

April was pretty typical for rare birds. We got some of the expected rarities, like Greater White-fronted Goose, Ross's Goose, Western Meadowlark, Canvasback, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Early May saw twelve American White Pelicans as well, a good bird for here.

The run of real good birds started May 10th. My dad called me to saw he saw 4 Short-billed Dowitchers on St. Joseph Island. We don't get many of them here each year, but I wasn't going to make the half hour drive from home just to add them to my year list. He then sent me the photos and two were indeed Short-billed Dowitchers, but two were actually Stilt Sandpipers! This would have been a lifer for me so that was enough for me to hop in the car and head there. Luckily, they were still there when I arrived. This was the 7th record of Stilt Sandpiper for the Algoma District. See my eBird list here:

Stilt Sandpiper

The next day, May 11th, it was early afternoon and I was sitting on my front porch, enjoying a couple beers and the feeder bird activity in my yard. Having just moved into a house in Echo Bay at the end of January, I was busy working on my yard list. I was excited because I was able to add Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Evening Grosbeak to my list, but it got way better soon after. I noticed two large raptors tangling up in the air. My first though was Bald Eagle, but then they broke off, one going into typical Turkey Vulture flight, one not, which got me thinking this might be something really good. I got my binoculars up and sure enough, there were those white wing tips. Black Vulture! I'm sure glad I had my camera beside me, as I was able to snap a few pictures before it disappeared into the sunny sky. My phone was actually dead at the time, so I raced around the house, trying to find my charger so that I could get the word out, although I knew it almost certainly would not be relocated. This was the 2nd record for the Algoma District. The first one was also in Echo Bay, but back in 2002 in January. Here's my eBird list:

Black Vulture

Next up was the Painted Bunting. This bird was observed by a homeowner coming to her feeder (really it was seeds placed on the railing of the deck) in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie on May 14th. She notified local birder Don Hall, who went and observed it on the morning of the 15th. Since it was still there, he put the word out about it, but viewing was limited as the homeowner did not want her address posted publicly. I was able to get it that afternoon after work: This was the 3rd record for the Algoma District and first time within the city limits of Sault Ste. Marie.

Painted Bunting

On May 18th, a Parasitic Jaeger was recorded off of Gros Cap by Stan Phippen, west of Sault Ste. Marie. See the details here: This was only the 3rd record of the species within the Algoma District, although they are regular in Lake Superior during spring and fall migration, so they almost certainly occur in our waters each year, it's not not many people are out looking for them. On the same day, a Common Gallinule was heard at the Echo Bay viewing platform. Usually, this would be very exciting, but one spent all last summer there as well. We would later find out that there were two Common Gallinules there, this time at leats one of the birds has actually been seen. Prior to the 2018 bird, there were only two records of Common Gallinule for the Algoma District.

Shorebird migration is generally isn't too exciting in the Algoma District, as we lack good habitat for them. This year though, we received a ton of rain at the right time, flooding fields and knocking some birds down out of the sky. On May 20th, I received a call from Stan saying that a Dunlin was seen on St. Joseph Island. I had actually already got one that morning elsewhere, but I was heading to my parents' place later that morning and would be heading right by the spot, so I said I'd stop and check it out. When I arrived, Stan actually pulled up at the same time on his way back through. There were two Short-billed Dowitchers now present, which weren't there when he first went through. we got the scopes out and while we were making sure they weren't Long-billed Dowitchers, all of the sudden Stan yelled "Phalarope!". It had just popped up into his scope view behind the dowitchers. It was a Wilson's Phalarope, the 5th record for the Algoma District. It stuck around all day, allowing many birders to come see it. Here;s my eBird list:

Wilson's Phalarope

Later that night, I received a Facebook message from a local photographer of a shorebird, asking for an ID. It was a Whimbrel, but I assumed she got it down in the Point Pelee area, as I knew she had just been down there. I asked when and where she say it, and as soon as she said "Desbarats", I was in my car and on my way. I arrived at the spot she saw them and there was nothing there other than a bunch of Semipalmated Plovers (which normally I'd be happy about, but there were hundreds coming through this spring when he typically only see a handful). There was still a bit of daylight left, so I decided to check out some surrounding fields. As I went around the bend, I could see a Black-bellied Plover, so I stopped to check it out. As I started scanning the rest of the field, I saw a group of large shorebirds off in the distance. They were so far and there was some heat haze going on, but I was pretty sure they were godwits and not the Whimbrels I was looking for. The photos I managed were terrible, so all I had were scope views. All of the sudden, a few lifted up their wings and I noticed a brownish colour underneath. Having no prior experience with any godwits, I opened up the app on my phone and sure enough, they were Marbled Godwits, 13 of them. I sure was excited, as this was yet another lifer, but I really wanted identifiable photos. I drive down the road a bit, to see if I could get a better angle. That's when I saw someone I knew in their front yard, which happened to be the house that belong to the field that the birds were in. I got permission to walk back into the field to get a closer look. I was able to get much better photos and it turns out, there was a lone Whimbrel back there too. I never would have saw it if I wasn't able to walk back there. See my list here: This was the 5th record of Marbled Godwit and the first time more than a single bird had been seen in the Algoma District. For the Whimbrel, it was the 7th record, but there would be more to come. 169 were seen on the 23rd migrating over downtown Sault Ste. Marie, 8 were observed migrating through the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the 25th, another 20 were in the Portlock Flats in Desbarats on the 25th as well (I went as saw 6 of those birds), and one in Thessalon on June 5th.

Marbled Godwits

On May 21st, Stan and his son found a Ruddy Duck in the St. Marys River in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. This was about the 11th record of the species for the Algoma District, the list can be seen here: The next morning, May 22nd, Ken McIlwrick found two more Ruddy Ducks in the Bruce Mines sewage lagoons, one of which was still there when I went later that afternoon.

Ruddy Duck

I'm going to back up a little bit to my morning of May 22nd though. While I was walking the dog, Lindsey posted a photo on an Indigo Bunting at our house. I was disappointed when I got back and couldn't find it, as I still needed it for my yard list and Algoma year list. Just as I was about to leave for work, I noticed a very pale bird eating at an orange I had out. I assumed it was a dull female, so I snapped a couple photos. I zoomed in and noticed that the beak was not the beak of an oriole, but a beak of a tanager. Then I realized the white wing bars it had suggested Western Tanager. Having not seen one before, I send the photo around to a few people to get their opinions. By the time I had made the drive to work, I had received confirmation that it was indeed a Western Tanager, only the 3rd record for the Algoma District! I was stuck at work for the day, but I invited all the local birders to drop by to see it, and everyone was successful. It ended up sticking around for five days. Here's my eBird list from the morning I found it:

Western Tanager

It turns out that on that same day, May 22nd, a Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco was on St. Joseph Island. A co-worker of my dad had taken a cell phone photo of it and send it to my him, asking it it was a junco. Sure enough it was, and not just any junco. This was the 1st record of the subspecies for the Algoma District and I think only the 4th for all of Ontario. Unfortunately, the bird did not stick around, but the photos can be seen here:

The Algoma District Birding Facebook group helped find the next rarity, this time a really really awesome one. On May 24th, Bullock's Oriole was coming to oranges at a feeder station up in Wawa. This was the 1st record Algoma District and a provincial rarity. You can see the photos here: A bunch of us made the 2.5 hour trip the next day, but it was only a one day wonder. Instead, we were treated to families of Canada Jays and 20 species of warblers.

The last big rarity was on June 1st. Stan found a Yellow-throated Warbler out at Gros Cap, which was the 3rd record for the Algoma District. He had acutally asked me if I wanted to join him that morning, but I was unable to because I had to work. Darn it! See his eBird list here:

Those were the big rarities, but there were more among all those as well. There was Great Egret in Echo Bay, many Red-headed Woodpecker sightings, two Least Bitterns at the Echo Bay viewing platform, a Golden-winged Warbler at the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (my first for the Algoma District), multiple Ruddy Turnstones, a Yellow-throated Vireo, a couple Northern Mockingbirds, Black Scoters (rare spring migrants here), more American White Pelicans, another Yellow-headed Blackbird, a couple Willow Flycatchers, and a Carolina Wren.

Golden-winged Warbler

Hopefully fall migration will be half as good as this spring was!

Note: all record numbers are based off of eBird, therefore may not be entirely accurate.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Summer Tanager in Sault Ste. Marie!

On Thursday, I received an email late in the afternoon that a Summer Tanager was visiting a backyard in Sault Ste. Marie. Unfortunately, I had gone to my parents' house after work and there was no way I would make it there in time before it got dark. Then next day, I headed there straight after work, but the bird didn't show. A few other birders had tried for it during the day, but none of them had any luck either. Only the homeowners saw it on Friday.

The next morning, I headed back once again before my Sault Naturalists bird walk I was leading. Two fellow birders were already there, but had not seen it yet. To my luck though, it flew in probably only a minute after arrived! This was my 254th species within the Algoma District.

This bird is the second ever record of one within the Algoma District on eBird, but I know of at least one not on eBird.

The homeowners are welcoming to birders if anyone wants to go see it. It's being seen at 24 Ford Street. If they're home, feel free to knock and introduce yourself. They will then likely allow you access their backyard, but I feel as though it's best to just stand at the white fence and watch the backyard from the driveway so that you don't accidentally spook the bird and ruin it for someone else. It's also a good idea to park safely on the street and approach the house on foot, especially if they aren't home at the time so that you're not blocking their way in if they return. The bird isn't always present so some patience will likely be required. 

Good luck to anyone who goes for it! Make sure to be respectful so that us birders can continue to visit rare birds in people's backyards!

Monday, 10 September 2018

2018 Fall Migration Birding Big Day

A big thanks goes out to everyone who participated in The Kensington Conservancy's Birding Big Day on September 8th! We had eight teams consisting of nineteen participants record a total of 101 different bird species over the course of nine hours in the Central Algoma area.

The idea behind this Birding Big Day was for each team to go out and see how many different species they could find. There was no prize attached to first place, it was just a friendly competition. Birding could begin at 7:00 am and go until 4:00pm.
The event was participation by donation, with all the proceeds going towards a future bird conservation project in the Central Algoma area. We raised a total of $550, which is awesome! If anyone would like to still make a contribution to this fund, click here and make sure to choose "Birding Big Day" from the drop down menu when selecting a campaign. There are no concrete plans as to what the bird conservation project will be yet, so if anyone has any ideas, pass them along to me!

For me personally, it was a very fun and busy day. I was teamed up with my dad, Ron, and we left my house bright and early in order to make it to the Echo Bay viewing platform before the competition officially started at 7:00am, with a target of getting 60 species for the day. We arrived about ten minutes early and it was hard to just sit and wait and not start counting all the birds we were seeing and hearing. As soon as 7:00am hit, we added American Bittern to our list, as one had been sitting nearby since we arrived. A couple minutes later, the Virginia Rail we heard at 6:59am called again, allowing us to count it. We managed to add Sora and Marsh Wren here as well, two species I wasn't counting on getting.

Next, we made our way through the Bar River Flats then on to Pumpkin Point. We were quickly adding species to our list as we went, which was great. It took about five seconds to hear the resident Red-bellied Woodpecker call at the end of Pumpkin Point and there were nine Pied-Billed Grebes all together in the open water visible from Centennial Park, something I don't think I've seen before. We hurried over to the Bruce Mines sewage lagoons, where we picked up Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead and Blue-winged Teal. We took the back roads back towards Desbarats, where we saw over 100 Turkey Vultures near Northern Quality Meats and a Brown Thrasher on Government Road, just east of Gordon Lake Road.

It was then time to hit up St. Joseph Island. We raced down to Fort St. Joseph and walked around there for a while, where we finally got our first and only Bald Eagle of the day. We worked our way back north along the west end of the island and back towards Desbarats, arriving at the TKC Conservation Centre just before 4:00pm. In total, my dad and I ended up with 79 species.
Once all the teams arrived back at the TKC Conservation Centre, we dined on some great potluck food and tallied up all the birds that we saw. It was great to hear about all the birds that the other teams got, as everyone had a fantastic day and saw a lot of species.

There were no real rare birds observed throughout the day, but there were a couple birds a little late heading south: Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird and Marsh Wren.
Here is a list, in taxonomic order, of all 101 species that were observed by all the participants:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruffed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Bald Eagle
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
House Sparrow

Monday, 11 June 2018

Echo Bay Viewing Platform - June 10, 2018

Wow, the wetland in Echo Bay sure does have some good birds in it right now.

On Saturday morning, two other local birders had Yellow Rail and Least Bittern calling from the Echo Bay viewing platform. I was busy all day Saturday doing some private guiding, so I wasn't able to get there until yesterday morning.

I arrived at the platform at 5:45am, over an hour later than I wanted to get there, but I was up past 2:00am so I slept right through that 4:00am alarm. Luckily, I still arrived in time to hear the Yellow Rail call once, only about six minutes after I arrived.  Soon afterwards, I heard the Last Bittern call and then I saw it fly. Then I saw it emerge from the reeds and I was able to get some decent photos of it.

The Yellow Rail was a lifer for me and it was my first record of a Least Bittern in the Algoma District.  There was also an abundance of American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, American Coot and Pied-billed Grebe calling from within the wetland.

From there, I went over to the loonie boardwalk to conduct my MMP survey for that route.  I got Sora and Virginia Rail, but it was nothing compared to the viewing platform.  I then went on a canoe adventure in the Hay Marsh on St. Joseph Island in search of Sedge Wrens, which were successful in finding.

While I was out there, I got an eBird alert of a Common Gallinule from the Echo Bay viewing platform.  Common Gallinules are very rare up here, with only two previous records of one in the Algoma District.  On my way home, just after 7:00pm, I stopped back in at the platform, hoping to hear the gallinule.  It didn't take long before I was successful!  It was actually really close to the platform, but I never got a visual. I did manage a few recording of it calling though.

Yellow Rail, Least Bittern and Common Gallinule. Not a bad day!