Birds are on the move these days and you just never know at this time of the year what might show up in our area as well as what misdirected species will show up in other parts of Ontario as well. As we try and get some family visits in before the snow arrives and make the roads hazardous we also check to see what interesting bird might be along our route. In Ottawa a Black-throated Gray warbler had been found (and I believe is even still being seen) so we put that on our list of birds to try and see. We go to Ottawa via Algonquin Provincial Park as it is a bit more of a scenic way to go and allows us to visit other family on the way to Ottawa. This time the park was very quiet in respect to birds and we failed to see our normal Grey jays, Boreal chickadees, Black-backed woodpeckers so photos were a bit limited in that area. Last year at this same time we had seen a nice collection of the birds normally seen in the park.
It was cold and windy when we arrived in Ottawa but off we went in search of the Black-throated Gray warbler. After several minutes exploring the area where the bird had last been seen we noticed a few people with cameras close to the edge of some bushes. We ventured over and sure enough the warbler was foraging along the bushes fairly close to ground level. It was a perfect time to get some nice photos and enjoy the view
of this western warbler. It usually doesn’t venture farther east than Colorado but this one somehow found its way to eastern Ontario much to the pleasure of many birders that had never seen this species of warbler. While in the same area we scanned the Ottawa river for a possible Barrows goldeneye (another fairly rare migrant to this area) but only the Common goldeneye were visible to us in this location. While catching up on family activities I would also work in a bit of birding at the areas close to where we were staying. On a subsequent visit to see the Black-throated Gray warbler again there was also a Nashville warbler looking for bugs in the same tree. These birds have usually migrated south by now so again this bird had a collection of birders keeping a close eye on the pine tree these birds were in.
While in Ottawa there were other interesting birds being seen back in Bruce County so we noted that for investigation on our return trip in a few days. A Northern gannet was seen flying along the Ottawa River while we were there but unfortunately we didn’t get a view of this ocean bird that had somehow ventured into new territory. On a walk through Britannia Park a Winter wren was making its presence known but wouldn’t come out for a photo. This park is an excellent spot for seeing owls, Pileated woodpeckers, and other birds but has changed a lot recently as a wind storm had torn down many of the taller trees and thus lets in much more light to the forest floor. With more brush and large trees strewn across the forest floor there will be a varied habitat now for birds as they arrive in the spring of the year.
On our way home we decided to stop by the Wiarton sewage lagoons to see if a Red phalarope that had been observed there a few days previous was still there. On scanning the lagoon cells we couldn’t see the phalarope but we did note a collection of feathers along the bank of one cell. Later we found out that a Peregrine falcon was probably the cause of the demise of the Red phalarope and these feathers were indeed the last sign of the phalarope’s presence at the lagoon. Nature does have its own way of sometimes altering the plans of birders in search of that interesting migrant!
This time of year in November is when the Snowy owls start to show up in our area and indeed when we were in Ottawa we saw the first notices of these beautiful white owls making their presence known. We decided to go home from Wiarton along a few roads where we had in past years seen Snowy owls and indeed we did end up seeing our first Snowy of the season.
Unfortunately it was fairly far away but appeared to be a female or juvenile with more black barring than the male Snowy owls have. As winter progresses we’ll probably see more of these birds as this winter is predicted to be another with a large Snowy owl southern movement.
There had been a juvenile as well as an adult Brant goose seen in Lions Head harbour in October and later a juvenile Brant also showed up at a local pond. We decided to head back to that pond and see if it was still in the company of the many Canada geese that stop by the pond during the fall migration. We did indeed see this small goose and you
can see from this photo that it is much smaller than the Canada geese it was foraging with. It is in fact close in size to a Mallard duck so can easily disappear in a large flock of Canada geese. These geese are fairly rare in this part of Ontario and are usually seen in larger numbers closer to the Ottawa River valley as they migrate south. This was a treat for us to see this bird close to home. The juvenile have no white collar markings which are easily seen on the adult Brant.
Northern shrikes are also moving into the area as the summer Loggerhead shrike move to the south. The Northern shrike will be with us for the winter and can often be seen in the distance perched at the top of a twig or small tree keeping an eye out for small birds or animals. You can see the hook at the end of the beak in this photo.
This is what the bird uses to tear their prey into bite-sized bits. They prefer open shrub filled areas to hunt in and can also be seen often perched on hydro wires along roadways.
Dark-eyed juncos are now making their presence known as they have now come down in larger numbers from their more northen breeding grounds. A few do breed on the Bruce Peninsula but more breed in the northern sections of Ontario and across Canada.
These birds have quite a wide variety of colour variations as per the subspecies that you see in the yard. Most we see are grey on the upper body and white on the lower body but browner ones, darker heads and lighter grey birds make it hard to decide which subspecies you are sometimes looking at. They often spend more time chasing each other than eating and you wonder how they ever store up enough energy to ward off the cold weather that they endure during our winter months.
It was now time to visit with more family to the south-western part of Ontario and surprisingly enough there was another western warbler seen close to the route we take to their home. We arrived in the area the bird had been (and is still being) seen and again, initially the trees were quiet. A few more birders arrived and eventually we heard a cry of success as one of them spotted the Townsend’s warbler foraging in the upper trees with Black-capped chickadees and Red-breasted nuthatches. As the snow flakes came down we tried to get views of this wayward warbler as well as trying for a photo or two. Eventually I did get one photo but the snow and the distance from the bird made it a bit fuzzy.
Many birders have now seen this warbler that also usually spends its time from Colorado area to the west. It does seem to be finding food so hopefully it can live through the winter but normally this warbler spends its winter in much warmer western California and Mexico. After a few days visiting with our family off we headed back to Bruce County.
Living on the shore of Lake Huron can give us quite a close view of blustery winter weather and snow squalls but it also gives us the opportunity to see several water birds as they fly past on their way to find fish to satisfy their hunger. One day we got a phone call from James Turland who said he had seen a Parasitic jaeger flying past him in Southampton and then harassing a gull before continuing its flight south along the lake. We watched along the shore and an hour after we got his call the bird came into view out fairly far over the lake still heading south. I had a good view with the scope to confirm its identity but couldn’t get a great photo as the bird was so far offshore.
We don’t often see jaegers in this area so it was great to see this bird if only for a few minutes as it wasn’t stopping in its steady flight south. Along the Lake Ontario shoreline these birds are often seen at this time of year along with the Pomarine and Long-tailed species. The smaller Bonaparte gulls mentioned in the previous blog have been around in numbers as well and the next two photos give you a good comparison between the juvenile and adult birds.
The juvenile has the black on the upper wing that has a break in the black half way across the wing. If there is no break in the black on the wings you may well be looking at a completely different species, which will be covered, in the next blog. The juvenile Bonaparte gull also has a black band across the tail feathers. The adult bird has black
wing tips and grey on its upper body and a pure white tail.
As the Snowy owls settle in now we get more chances to see them perched and flying as they scan the fields for prey. This one was just landing on a fence post and this photo shows the extensive black on its feathers indicating either a juvenile or female bird.
To finish off this we’ll show you one of the hazards of having bird feeders to help the yard birds survive the winter weather. We had a visitor one night that decided it needed a few of the nuts and seed that the feeders were providing for the birds. This Black bear
has been seen in several of the local neighbourhoods but hasn’t visited our yard yet this year. It had torn down one feeder and was taking a distinct interest in another before we scared it off enough to get the feeders into the house before they got too damaged. The bear came back again for a few minutes but without food to attract it the bear soon continued on its way getting caught for a black and white photo by the trail cam we have set up.
These bears can have up to 60 square miles with males ranging from 10 to 60 and females ranging from 2.5 to 10 square miles. With a large range like that we will probably not see the bear again this winter but they live up to 30 years and have good memories so I’m sure we’ll see it again some day along the way. During bear season it’s a good idea not to have feeders of any type in the yard as they will certainly attract one of the bears. During the winter these bears along with most others don’t hibernate but go into a state of torpor from which they may awake a few times through the winter. So don’t be surprised if you have the odd sighting of a Black bear during the winter months as they see if there’s anything easy to snack on before heading back to sleep.
Our next blog will cover more action around home as well as our birding trip to Niagara for the OFO gull weekend. I hope to get to the next edition before all the Christmas activities use up all our time. Until then, Happy Birding from Bruce County!