Sunday 31 October 2021

Atlantic Birds in Ontario: October 2021

Not your usual post on natural history or an outing, but rather my attempt at a compilation of the sightings of birds normally found on the Atlantic Coast that found their way into Ontario's waters over the past month. I've gleaned these sightings off eBird and the Ontario Birds Discord, and have very likely missed some.

Over the past few weeks a number of birds that aren't really supposed to be here...are here. While there doesn't seem to be a definite answer as to why they are where they are, some theories have suggested a famine, as well as weather patterns. It is important to note that this "invasion" wasn't really noted until about the 10th of October, with the arrival of Razorbills in Ottawa. It was another couple of weeks before alcids and larger numbers of kittiwakes began to appear on Lake Ontario—although I think it is reasonable to speculate that they were on Lake Ontario that entire time, but perhaps just weren't moving/visible to onshore birders.  

Of interest, a large wreck of alcids in the UK back in September:

In no particular order...

Black-legged Kittiwake

October 5* - one, juvenile (Van Wagner's Beach [VWB], Hamilton)

October 6* - one or two, juvenile(s) (VWB, Hamilton)

October 25 - one, juvenile (VWB, Hamilton)

October 26 - one, juvenile (Point Edward, Lambton); one, second cycle (Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, Nipissing)

October 27 - one, juvenile (VWB, Hamilton)

October 28 - nine, juveniles (VWB, Hamilton); one, age unspecified (Point Edward, Lambton); one, juvenile (Bronte Harbour, Halton); one, juvenile (Morpeth, Chatham-Kent)

October 29 - four, juveniles (VWB, Hamilton); two, juveniles (Burlington, Halton)

October 30 - one, juvenile (Burlington, Halton), two, age unspecified (VWB, Hamilton); one, juvenile  (Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, Nipissing)

* likely not related to this Atlantic event


*harder to differentiate numbers between locations, so will give high count at county level* 

October 10  - two (Ottawa)

October 11 - at least four (Ottawa)

October 12  - at least 9 (Ottawa)

    Because I was there this day, I will offer some commentary. I believe that there were no less than a dozen Razorbills on the river that day: at least two at Constance Bay first thing in the morning, nine flying past Andrew Haydon Park downriver soon after, and then one off Britannia Pier at mid-day. 

October 13  - one (Ottawa)

October 14  - three (Ottawa); one (Prescott and Russel)

October 15 - October 29 - 2 (Ottawa)

October 29 -  three (Durham), one (Toronto), one (Peel), one (Hamilton)

October 30  - two (Hamilton), two (Durham), two (Niagara)


Alcid sp.

October 29 - two (Frontenac), two (Hamilton), two (Durham), three (Peel)

October 30 - four (Hamilton)

As previously stated, the above numbers for both Razorbill and Alcid sp. are county high counts for each day, because it is hard to judge just how many birds are around because they are moving around constantly. The big take away here is that there are a lot of birds! 

Northern Gannet

October 17 - one, juvenile (Ottawa)

And this doesn't even include the kittiwakes and alcids they're seeing in Michigan, New York, and Quebec! 

Atlantic Puffin in Montreal:

Apparent adult Black-legged Kittiwake in New York (no photos):

Five kittiwakes on October 27 in New York:

Black-legged Kittiwake in Michigan (across from Point Edward):

I'll update the list if I learn of anything I missed from this time period.

Fun stuff. What's next? 

Thursday 28 October 2021

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty...

Man, I love birding in Algonquin Park.

This past week, I kept religiously checking the weather on my days off, and it was looking like the conditions would be adequately horrible. As such, I made plans with Jeff Skevington to do some birding in Algonquin Park on Lake Opeongo and Lake Travers. It turned out that the weather wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, but the birding sure fell into the "unexpected" category! 

I met Jeff early Tuesday morning to start birding at the Old Airfield. Nothing spectacular was seen, although we did have two Common Goldeneye fly over, a new park bird for me, and weirdly the only ones we saw on our travels. A fair number of Snow Buntings as well, new arrivals. There was also a selection of some lingering birds, such as Rusty Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

After making a quick loop of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk (nothing of note), we went to the Opeongo docks, where we loaded up Jeff's motorboat, and set out on the water. The lake was a bit rough, but nothing we couldn't handle.

It wasn't too long until we saw our first good bird of the trip, a Red-throated Loon flying by. This is quite the rarity in Algonquin Park, with only a handful of records. 

We continued to make our way up the lake, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. There really wasn't all that much going on, although we remained vigilant. A large (for Algonquin) concentration of gulls on the rocks near the weather station gave us hope for something unusual, but alas, nadda.

Herring Gull

As we reached the North Arm of the lake, we did spy something interesting though. On the water some some Ring-billed Gulls there was a slightly smaller, darker mantled (backed) gull. After some choice words, we reached the conclusion that we were looking at the first Algonquin Park record of Black-legged Kittiwake! (!!!!!!!!!) The title of the post makes sense now, right?

The bird was not in the typical juvenile plumage that is often seen in Ontario, but looked rather adult like in its second cycle (I think, don't really have many gull resources at my disposal in Algonquin lol) plumage. As such, not only is this Atlantic Coast gull mind boggling for Algonquin, but this sighting is fairly significant for the province because of its appearance. 

The bird left at one point, and we thought that in typical Algonquin fashion, it had bailed, but to our surprise, it came back! It hung around for some time, often flying within a few feet overhead, and in the end, it was us that left it! 

As I mentioned above, this is a species of the Atlantic Coast. It is pretty much annual in Ontario, but of course, not in this plumage. It is worth noting that this bird was observed during a period of northeast wind. Perhaps it is associated with the large "invasion" of Razorbills, another bird of the Atlantic, along the Ottawa River that has occurred just a couple of weeks prior. My view of the Razorbill I saw in Ottawa earlier in the month was rather poor, but this made up for it! 

A pretty spectacular bird. It was a lifer for me actually—funny that I got it in the least likely of places!

We motored around the lake for a bit longer. Of course we couldn't top that sighting, but we did come across a Peregrine Falcon, a second Red-throated Loon, as well as a very late Bonaparte's Gull. 

Red-throated Loon

We got off the lake mid-afternoon, did some more birding, and then made the drive to the east side of the park, to Lake Travers. We ended up arriving to the access point around 9 PM, and paddled into our site in the dark. 

The next morning, we didn't have to go far. Right from the campsite, we saw such things as Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, and Lapland Longspur. Plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers as well. Snow Buntings were constantly flying about.

We hit the lake, and before long has found such goodies as Northern Pintail (rare in the park), both scaup, a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks, and a personal highlight of the day, Bohemian Waxwings feeding on Ilex, the first in the park this fall. 

We set up on a sand spit at the north end of the lake, and watched the skies, hoping for raptors. I should mention that before we even got out of the canoe, a Rough-legged Hawk flew over! It was not too long before we got our first of two Golden Eagles. Other things were moving too, and we tallied 13 Red-tailed Hawks and an additional Rough-legged, as well as a migrant Bald Eagle. All in all, a pretty good movement in Algonquin standards! eBird checklist

Not too much more to add, other than seeing a Northern Shrike on the drive out along Barron Canyon Road were a tornado had caused some severe damage. It is a slam dunk every time on the east side!

It was nothing short of an epic 48 hours. I tallied 10 new park birds, and had a great time in great company. Not once did I ever even feel sad about not getting to see that Groove-billed Ani...I think we put that bird to shame anyways. If you put the work in, it pays off. 

Saturday 16 October 2021

Shorebirds of Algonquin

Been awhile, eh? 

Alright, I'll say it. Algonquin Park is notoriously bad for birding. Sure, there's some good things to be seen here and there, but you (usually) have to work very, very hard for it. I can't tell you the number of times I have walked around the Old Airfield over the past several weeks and the best bird be an American Pipit. 

However, despite how bad it is, many birders, myself included, absolutely adore birding in the park. Why? Well, when the work you put in pays off, it really pays off. 

Back in the summer I was joking about doing a little naturalist table on the "Shorebirds of Algonquin", which was quickly kyboshed when I realised that we only had like four (4) shorebird specimens. As you can imagine, Algonquin is not exactly the most "productive" place for shorebirds. Rocks? We got em. But we lack many of the sandy beaches and exposed marshes that are required for these migrants to touch down on.

There is however I very special place in the park that sometimes harbours shorebirds, you just have to maybe get rained on (after all, rain drives down the birds). That place is the magical East Side, specifically Radiant Lake and Lake Travers.

I only first set foot on the shores of Lake Travers this past summer, but have since made an effort to get back there as much as possible (which unfortunately, due to certain logistics, hasn't been super often). This is a very special lake in that is has a decent (for Algonquin) sized marsh with decent (for Algonquin) mudflats when the water is low. Many rarities have been found here over the years, and each time I go, I hope to add to that legacy (spoiler: no mind-bogglers yet).

Radiant Lake is another special lake in that it is very sandy, and very shallow. It is possible to wade pretty much right across the lake when the water is low enough. The sandy bottomed lake also translates into expansive sand bars that are sometimes exposed. 

30 species of shorebirds have been recorded in Algonquin Park, and I have seen 13 of them. Anyways, here's a few pictures of the ones I have encountered. 

On September 10, I went on a work trip to Lake Travers and Radiant Lake. Our best bird was a White-rumped Sandpiper (something like the 14th record for Algonquin). We also had Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and a couple Greater Yellowlegs. 

White-rumped Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plovers

Least Sandpiper

A couple weeks later, I was on a camping trip to Lake Travers with Peter Simons, and we had a great time in the rain with a mini (emphasis on mini) shorebird fallout. We each got a few park shorebirds, such as a Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Dunlin. 

Our eBird checklist is a sight to behold. At least, I think so :-) 

Annnndddd...that's it. Yup. A couple exciting instances for shorebirds is all you get! No fallouts of Hudsonian Godwits were observed (sadly). Water levels rose very quickly after that late September trip, and when I returned in early October, there were no exposed flats anywhere! A flyover Greater Yellowlegs is all I got...

I suspect my shorebird season is over in the park, but I'll still holding out for a Northern Lapwing in the airfield...