Wednesday 12 July 2017

Gitche Gumee: Exploring the North

Last Thursday, I, along with my family, departed on a five day excursion to Thunder Bay and back. The ultimate target was to catch up with the Violet-green Swallow. If you follow ONTBIRDS, you will know the outcome. If you don't follow ONTBIRDS, then...

I didn't find her.

It took two days and 1600 km to get to Thunder Bay just to find Tree Swallows. It is disappointing, but at least I can take comfort that I saw many other things (except the Black-billed Magpie in Algoma. I decided to forgo looking for the bird so I could explore the death trap, a.k.a Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park.)

We stopped for lunch at the French River the first day.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chalk-fronted Corporal

My choice of footwear wasn't the best for climbing the rocks to get photos.

The next day was spent travelling from The Soo to Thunder Bay. The scenery was spectacular.

We stopped at Magpie Falls near Wawa for Lunch. It was nothing short of incredible.

I managed to pish in a few different birds.

Magnolia Warbler

American Redstart

These Sandhill Cranes didn't respond to the pishing :-)

Magpie Falls was the first location we noticed Giant Hogweed, which is very toxic and damaging. Although I've only seen it once or twice in southern Ontario, it is everywhere up there!

My first lifer butterfly of the trip came in the form of a Northern Blue.

I guess I didn't learn from the previous's a miracle that I'm still alive!

My only Ruffed Grouse of the trip was seen at the side of the highway. She had a couple little chicks which I was unable to properly photograph (I got two blurry photos).

Later, another highway wildlife sighting was a Red Fox (also a Moose, but no pictures.)

We awoke Saturday in Thunder Bay. We went straight to Marina Park in search of the swallow, but, as you already know, didn't find her. There were some nice sparrows however.

Savannah Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

White Admirals were quite abundant.

Another butterfly lifer came along as well, and was one that I wanted to see. This is the western counterpart of the Eastern Tailed-blue...that's right, its a Western Tailed-blue!

Of course, Tree Swallows were there. None of them had a white rump though (field mark of the Violet-green Swallow).

We checked out Mission Marsh, but all that could be found were a couple mammals.

White-tailed Deer


Kakabeka Falls was an interesting stop. The falls were quite something.

The Mountain Portage Trail was an exciting part of the trip because while walking it, the couple who was hiking in front of us came back to tell us about a bear that had just crossed the trail. We didn't end up seeing the bear again (I'm not complaining, it was a young one so mama had to be somewhere), but I did hear it grunting just off the pathway.

That night, we tried to go find the Northern Lights (they were Kp 6, which is technically strong enough to be viewed from Toronto), but it was nowhere to be found.

We tried one last time for the Violet-green before leaving Thunder Bay. No swallow but I was able to photograph a Common Goldeneye.

My first lifer of the trip came in the form of an American White Pelican. It was a bird that I really wanted to see on this trip.

We checked out Fisherman's Park. Here we found a Common Raven nest and a Common Loon.

Raven nest

Common Loon

Hurkett Cove is said to be the "Pelee of the North". We decided to test that. While I must say that I didn't tally as many species here as I did at Pelee, I can definitely see the potential.

Warblers were common, and singing everywhere.

Blackburnian Warbler

As is most birding at this time of year, getting photos can be a challenge. As a result, not too many photos from this location, but here is the eBird checklist. Northern Goshawk is a lifer.

Birding from the car can be rewarding. Here are two roadside Common Loons.

I wanted to see what the Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park were all about, so we stopped on our way through.

Basically, it's a trail that descends 30m down a cliff onto slippery rocks. Here is the sign at the trailhead. It pretty much sums up the whole experience.

The small chance of death aside, the pictographs themselves were pretty cool. I mean check out this "oh-my-these-pictographs-are-really-neat" face that I'm making.

The sunset was really something.

We arrived at the hotel in Sudbury around 3:40 am. We slept soundly!

One last stop before heading home was Fielding Memorial Park in Sudbury.

Quite a few insects flying around.

Dot-tailed Whiteface

River Jewelwing

Northern Pearly-Eye

Common Whitetail

Many birds too, including Hermit Thrushes, warblers, and a Black-billed Cuckoo.

Cedar Waxwing

Red-eyed Vireo

Ring-billed Gull

And of course you can't visit Sudbury without seeing this landmark!

Overall, it was an amazing trip, travelling over 3000 km. I'll be heading to Algonquin with OFO tomorrow, so I'll be back soon with even more northern tales!


  1. Great posting Quinten. Congrats on the butterfly lifers. I was in the same area last week and visited the pictographs as well. I missed the Grouse along the highway... that is a great consolation prize! -DM

    1. Thanks Dwyane. I find that grouse are hit and miss. This is only the second Ruffed Grouse I've actually seen (I've also heard one in the Bruce "drumming".)Hopeully one day you can catch up with the Sharp-tails!

  2. That's too bad that the swallow didn't stick around for you! It looks like you had a great trip regardless and congrats on the lifers. By the way - check the ID of the last butterfly in your post.

    1. Oops, guess I jumped the gun on that ID.

      At least you and Jeremy got to see the swallow and get some awesome pics. If only I was a few years older, then I'd be there the day after it was reported :-)

  3. Still sounds like a great trip, even if you dipped on the Violet-green!

  4. Looks like a wonderful trip was had! You have seen a couple of butterflies I have not looked for, but when I was up that way on past trips, I was not into butterflies. I checked out those pictographs once too!

    1. I am thinking that your "Western Blue" is a Silvery Blue!

    2. I looked into you suggestion, but I think I'll stick with Western Tailed-blue. The spots on the wings don't seem as bold and there is a hint of orange on the lower part of the HW. Thanks for making me think!