Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The 2008 Stony Lake Bird List

Here's an approximation of the birds seen close to home over the past year. I wasn't a good recorder over the second half of the year.

Black-capped Chickadee (01.01)
Evening Grosbeak (01.01)
Pine Grosbeak (01.01)
Hairy Woodpecker (01.01)
White-breasted Nuthatch (01.01)
Blue Jay (02.01)
Common Raven (05.02)
Bohemian Waxwing (16.02)
Common Crow (12.03)
Downy Woodpecker (23.03)
Red-winged Blackbird (18.03)
European Starling (18.03)
American Robin (18.03)
Ring-billed Gull (20.03)
Great Blue Heron (20.03)
Common Grackle (26.03)
Mourning Dove (26.03)
House Finch (30.03)
Canada Goose (01.04)
Northern Cardinal (02.04)
Brown-headed Cowbird (02.04)
Eastern Phoebe (02.04)
Black Duck (02.04)
Canvasback (02.04)
Ring-necked Duck (02.04)
Common Goldeneye (02.04)
Turkey (04.04)
American Goldfinch (04.04)
Snow Bunting (04.04)
Osprey (05.04)
Song Sparrow (06.04)
Wood Duck (10.04)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (11.04)
Rock Pigeon (11.04)
Fox Sparrow (11.04)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (11.04)
Common Loon (15.04)
Merlin (16.04)
Northern Flicker (16.04)
American Woodcock (16.04)
Barred Owl (17.04)
Bufflehead (18.04)
Common Merganser (18.04)
Mallard (18.04)
Pine Warbler (20.04)
Herring Gull (20.04)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (20.04)
Purple Finch (20.04)
Swamp Sparrow (20.04)
Belted Kingfisher (22.04)
Broad-winged Hawk (22.04)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (24.04)
Caspian Tern (25.04)
White-crowned Sparrow (26.04)
Pine Siskin (26.04)
Black-throated Green Warbler (26.04)
Blackburnian Warbler (26.04)
Hermit Thrush (26.04)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (27.04)
Nashville Warbler (29.04)
Blue-headed Vireo (29.04)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (04.05)
Hooded Merganser (04.05)
Great Crested Flycatcher (05.05)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (06.05)
Black-and-white Warbler (06.05)
Yellow Warbler (08.05)
Turkey Vulture (08.05)
Brown Creeper (08.05)
Least Flycatcher (08.05)
Palm Warbler (08.05)
Ovenbird (08.05)
Brown Thrasher (08.05)
Baltimore Oriole (09.05)
Common Yellowthroat (09.05)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (09.05)
Yellow-throated Vireo (09.05)
American Redstart (09.05)
Ruffed Grouse (09.05)
Northern Waterthrush (09.05)
Field Sparrow (12.05)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (12.05)
Warbling Vireo (13.05)
Red-eyed Vireo (13.05)
Scarlet Tanager (13.05)
Blue-winged Warbler (14.05)
Tennessee Warbler (15.05)
Magnolia Warbler (15.05)
Tree Swallow (15.05)
Veery (15.05)
Golden-winged Warbler (15.05)
Eastern Towhee (15.05)
Cerulean Warbler (16.05)
Eastern Wood Pewee (16.05)
Eastern Kingbird (16.05)
Red-headed Woodpecker (16.05)
Spotted Sandpiper (22.05)
Killdeer (22.05)
Red-tailed Hawk (22.05)
House Wren (22.05)
American Bittern (22.05)
Virginia Rail (22.05)
Gray Catbird (22.05)
Clay-colored Sparrow (24.05)
Wood Thrush (26.05)
Alder Flycatcher (26.05)
Bay-breasted Warbler (26.05)
Lincoln's Sparrow (26.05)
Cedar Waxwing (26.05)
Common Nighthawk (27.05)
Blue-winged Teal (27.05)
Bobolink (27.05)
Barn Swallow (29.05)
Blackpoll Warbler (30.05)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (01.06)
Purple Martin (07.06)
Double-crested Cormorant (07.06)
Eastern Bluebird (12.06)
White-winged Crossbill (04.12)
Bald Eagle (12.12)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (17.12)
Northern Hawk Owl (24.12)

A flourish of winter finches

Our sighting of our first Pine Grosbeaks of the season yesterday presaged an influx of other "new" birds at our backyard feeder. Before noon, the feeder had been visited by a pair of Pine Grosbeaks, 15 Evening Grosbeaks, several Common Goldfinches and singles of Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Northern Hawk Owl

Local birders were recently abuzz over the discovery of a Northern Hawk Owl that's been haunting an intersection of county roads just west of Buckhorn, only ten minutes from our back door. News of the bird's rare local appearance reached us when we were some 1200 km away, in northern Ontario, within the actual breeding range of the Hawk Owl.

We figured the owl would be long gone by the time we returned to Stony Lake and this led us to make an extra effort to find this bird in the north, where we were organizing a Christmas Bird Count. As we drove over frozen logging roads and the Trans-Canada Highway, we searched the spruce-tops and hydro wires for the distinctive silhouette of the Hawk Owl. Nothing (but thousands of Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and Common Ravens).

On Christmas eve, we neared home in torrential rain and paused at Flynn's Corners where the bird had last been reported on December 20. We scanned the adjacent fields to no avail. Disappointed but hardly surprised, we set off for home. We rounded the corner on to CR 36 and there was the bird, sitting motionless on a hydro cable. The light was failing and the bird was soaked but there was no mistaking its identity. It turned to face us and we could clearly see its yellow bill and eyes and the dark margins of the facial discs. Beautiful.

We returned again on December 30 and saw the bird in better light. These pictures were taken at a roadside, out our car window.

The photo session was cut short by a pair of Common Ravens that harassed the owl until it flew into a woodlot at the back of the field where it had been hunting.

Pine Grosbeaks - first of this season

Three of the six Pine Grosbeaks we saw today.
After watching the Northern Hawk Owl this morning, we returned home to find six Pine Grosbeaks at the bottom of our drive. These were the first we've seen in central Ontario this season and, like the Evening Grosbeaks, weren't expected given the this year's bumper crop of Mountain Ash fruit north of Lake Superior.
Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast, 2008 provides a thorough discussion of the distribution of irruptive winter finches in Ontario.
Male Pine Grosbeak in a Mountain Ash tree, we observed on the Marathon (Thunder Bay District), Ontario, Christmas Bird Count on December 21.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I wasn't quite quick enough with the camera to catch this handsome Red-tailed Hawk perched at the roadside.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Red-bellied Woodpecker

We live just beyond the northern limit of the breeding range of this species. This is the first we've had visit our feeders.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bald Eagles

We see them every month of the year. Numbers seem to increase during the winter when they can be often be seen at our local landfill sites. This pair of birds flew up from the roadside - perhaps there was a roadkill off the shoulder, beyond my sight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Return of the Evening Grosbeaks

Throughout this week, we've had between one and six Evening Grosbeaks at the feeder. These birds put on a great show last season but we weren't counting on seeing them this winter. The nearest observations we'd heard of were of a handful of birds at Algonquin Park, a few hours to the north.

The spruce trees around ou house have produced a heavy crop of cones and these have attracted flocks of White-winged Crossbills. None have been tempted to sample the offerings from the feeders below.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Varied Thrush hits window

Dorothy MacDonald, a neighbour in nearby Burleigh Falls, heard that dreaded "thump" at her kitchen window yesterday. When she ventured out into the fresh snow she found the warm, lifeless body of a bird that was unfamiliar. Dorothy checked her field guide and correctly identified the plump, robin-like bird as a Varied Thrush. She alerted local naturalists who facilitated the deposition of the specimen at the Royal Ontario Museum.

During some winters, this species ventures east of its normal range in the Rocky Mountains.

Wells and Rosenberg (1997) analyzed data for Varied Thrush from Project Feeder Watch and noted biennial peaks in abundance of birds seen at feeders within the regular wintering range in the west. Interestingly, these peaks did not correlate with irruptions into eastern North America.

So far this fall, there have been several sightings in Ontario. Another bird was reported to have hit a window near Baptiste Lake, about 60 km north of here. Fortunately, this specimen also made it to the R.O.M.

UPDATE - May, 22, 2009 Tony Bigg offered this photo of another Varied Thrush from the Burleigh Falls area, taken on December 11, 2008.

There are a few historical records. Sadler (1983) noted a single county record of a bird photographed by Michael Dumas near Buckhorn in December of 1980. The last report of Varied Thrush in the Stony Lake area was of a pair of birds, likely a male and a female, coming to the feeder of Dawn McArthur on Hull's Road, at the east end of the lake, January 17-26, 2001. Among several local naturalists who saw at least one of the birds was Larry Boyce, who enthused:

Once again visited Nephton and this time was rewarded with great views of the male varied thrush. I was only there from 4:10 to 4:55 and the bird only showed for 10 min., from 4:20 to 4:30. The deep rich colours of the bird were especially gorgeous against the backdrop of fresh white snow. He spent only a min. or two on the ground, the rest of the time in one of the front yard trees. He did seem wary & skittish and it was my movement trying to get a bit better look that scared him away. While there a pileated flew over, the same as the other evening when I was there. Two or possibly 3 brown creepers worked the large pine that is beside the garage.

Yesterday I was up in the afternoon for a walk in the Petroglyphs with my wife. We checked the street and the yards for the thrush, both at 11:15 and at 1:00. No thrush then but we did have a great walk in the park.

We had a great opportunity to observe this species wintering in northern California in 2006. These photos showing both sexes were taken near Woodside in San Mateo County (click to greatly enlarge).
click to enlarge


Range map linked from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Salder, D. 1983. Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawartha Lakes. Orchid Press. Peterborough, Ontario.

Wells J. V. and Rosenberg K.V. 1997. The Rise and Fall of the Varied Thrush. Birdscope, Spring 1996, Volume 10, Number 2: 1-2.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Late migrants

There are a few late migrants still passing through. Among the new birds this week were numerous Blackpoll Warblers singing high up in the treetops. I spotted this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher along a roadside near Nephton.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Field birds and forest mammal

I did some early morning birding in some old fields near Buckhorn. As I walked among the hawthorn trees and juniper thickets, I flushed three Field Sparrows and one Song Sparrow off of nests. There were at least eight Clay-colored Sparrows singing. I also flushed a pair of Common Nighthawks who seemed very distressed - I quickly moved on.
Clay-colored Sparrow
Late in the morning, I briefly strayed into the forest edge, at the edge of a large pond.
Mother bear watches me closely
I soon saw half a dozen large piles of bear scat, deposited recently in a patch of violets. It looked very fresh. A rustling sound about 30 metres away revealed the very close proximity of a mother and two cubs. The cubs quickly climbed a tree while their mother stood at the base with her gaze fixed on me. I took a quick photo and headed off in the opposite direction. In retrospect, I think it was fortunate that I paused to consider the droppings. Had I not, I might have had a much closer and more consequential encounter with the mother bear.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Golden-winged Warbler

So far, these have been difficult to find - there appears to be much more suitable habitat than Golden-wings. The tally so far is three Blue-winged Warblers and only a single Golden-winged, plus several birds I didn't see that were singing the typical Golden-winged song.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler
The Cerulean Warbler is another rare species known to breed in the area. There are estimated to be fewer than 1000 pairs nesting in Canada and numbers in the US are in decline. This spring I will be checking suitable habitat (mature hardwoods) for their presence.

Today I visited a woodlot we had skied through last winter - we'd made a mental note to return to observe the breeding birds. While much of the woodlot seemed perfect for Ceruleans, I found none until I was deep in the lush core. I stopped to listen to a Red-headed Woodpecker calling when I heard the first of many Cerulean songs. I estimated that there were not fewer than four males singing. Given the season, I can't rule out the possibility that these were migrants. I'll return in a few weeks to get a better sense of what's going on.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers

Blue-winged Warbler
Some of the county roads running south from Stony Lake hold good habitat for Golden-winged Warbler, a species designated as threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). There is evidence that Golden-winged Warbler populations are negatively impacted through introgressive hybridization with the very closely related Blue-winged Warbler. We hope to monitor suitable sites in the coming weeks, when the males are singing on territory. A casual drive today turned up a single male Blue-winged Warbler (see photo) and a single male Golden-winged Warbler.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Summer warblers

We awoke to the song of a Warbling Vireo in the yard. These birds are common breeders in the open parkland around the locks at Burleigh Falls and Youngs Point but in our yard, they seem to be transient. In the hardwoods, I heard a first Scarlet Tanager of the season. Warbler numbers are low although many of the resident species are on territory. Here are some of the more common ones.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush

Monday, May 12, 2008

Grosbeak vs. Grosbeak

More Blackburnian Warblers are singing in the patches of eastern hemlock along an adjacent cottage road. Each year, a few remain to breed.

A handful of Evening Grosbeaks continue to visit our feeders. Here is a brief video showing the usual outcome of an encounter between Evening and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the feeder.

Friday, May 9, 2008

...more arrivals

Common Merganser swims by the dock
We heard a few timely arrivals around the house this morning, including a Baltimore Oriole and Common Yellowthroat. Off the dock swam a pair of female Common Mergansers.

A bike ride through the hardwoods turned up some new arrivals including four Black-throated Blue Warblers, an American Redstart, a Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow-headed Vireo. I heard Ruffed Grouse drumming in two areas.

The number of singing Ovenbirds seems to have doubled from yesterday.
Other birds seen and heard included Broad-winged Hawk, Great Crested Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue-headed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Migration continues

Migration proceeds. In the morning we heard our first Yellow Warbler of the season. Blue Jays are particularly abundant at the feeders with up to 30 attending at a given time. Numbers of White-crowned Sparrows are omnipresent this week - today we saw up to eight at once and heard their song wonderful song continually. Shortly before dusk, we heard a Brown Thrasher.

A walk up through the hardwoods revealed some new arrivals - Ovenbirds sang in only a few territories. No doubt more will arrive in the coming days. We also heard Black-throated Green, Palm, Nashville, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos and Least Flycatcher.

In the evening, I paddled back into the cattail marsh to check on the status of the Wood Duck box. There was a lone male twenty metres from the box but there was no sign of the box being used. Also present in the bay was a female Common Merganser, a pair of Mallards, a pair of Common Loons, several Swamp Sparrows and a Belted Kingfisher.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The pace of migration is picking up. We wake up to warbler song filtering through the strident calls of Evening Grosbeaks and Red-winged-blackbirds. The above photo depicts one of a pair of male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks that visited the feeder yesterday evening. The Yellow-rumped Warbler is abundant right now. The bird shown below allowed us to capture a few snippets of his distinctive song.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pine Siskins and new warblers

We experienced an influx of White-throated Sparrows overnight. These were accompanied by the first White-crowned Sparrow of the season. A lone, lingering Evening Grosbeak was joined by three male Purple Fiches and four Pine Siskins.

In the nearby woods, we saw our first Hermit Thrush, Blackburnian, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green Warblers of the season.
Here is a close-up of a male Common Grackle tacken outside our kitchen window.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Caspian Terns

Early this evening we heard the rasping calls of a pair of Caspian Terns flying past the mouth of our bay. This is the earliest arrival date we've had on the lake. Ring-billed and Herring Gulls as well as Common Terns nest on the rocky islets in the lake. We suspect that the Caspian Terns might also breed here but we've yet to find a nest. Last summer, we observed adults feeding fledges young of the year outside of Gilchrist Bay.

Another new arrival was Yellow-rumped Warbler, heard singing in our yard. This is a pretty late date.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prospecting Wood Ducks

Local Wood Duck populations are limited by the availability of cavity nest sites. Such sites are rarer than in the past as a result of swamps being drained and forests being cleared. Traditional forest management practices have undervalued the importance of dead snags to wildlife, including Wood Ducks. We have seen pairs prospecting for nest sites in an upland hardwood forests, more than a kilometre from the nearest wetland. This spring, we erected a Wood Duck nest box in a nearby cattail marsh - no signs yet of tenants.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Broad-winged Hawk

We heard several Broad-winged Hawk calls this afternoon but didn't see the bird, leaving the identity of the caller open to question - the local Blue Jays are excellent mimics of both of our resident buteos. In the evening, a Broadwing flew over our picnic table as we ate our burgers. We also saw our first Belted Kingfisher of the season.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Norhern Flicker

Another common woodpecker has returned. This one is a male.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Loons return

Common Loons returned to the area in the last week. This pair appeared at the edge of the receding ice today - you can see some residual slush in the water. A pair typically nests in the nearby back bay. Also present were pairs of Common Mergansers, a few of which will remain in the area to breed. Martha took these shots from the canoe.Common Loons

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Buffleheads moving through

The Bufflehead is among the first species of waterfowl to appear when the lake ice "goes out". Like the other diving ducks, they don't readily take to walking up from shore; however, they seem content to court and dive for food in the shallow water near our shore. This species doesn't nest here. These birds will move on as lakes to the the north open up.

This shot was taken with maximum zoom, through our sun room window.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

House Finch

Like the Northern Cardinal, the House Finch thrives in the villages and cities to the south, but we seldom see it here. In fact we've seen it here only twice before. It superficially resembles the Purple Finch.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Arriving sparrows

A lone White-throated Sparrow appeared today - the first we've seen of this species since late last fall. We look forward to their distinctive song although none remain to breed within earshot of our house. This is not the case for Chipping Sparrows, which also arrived today,

The big kahuna

Our old hopper feeder is fine. It was improved substantially by the addition of a tray to accommodate more seed and more birds - sounds fine, but all of this accommodating allowed the emptying of the feeder in a few days. Normally, this is fine but in the depths of winter, the feeder gets cleaned out if we're away for a couple of nights. My solution was to build a much larger feeder, one that might nourish a flock of Evening Grosbeaks for a week or more. As you can see, this one holds lots of seed but it positively dwarfs the visitors. At this point, I'm questioning whether bigger is better. Perhaps I should donate this industrial-sized unit to a nature centre.

American Woodcock

Yes, this is an impressionistic rendering of the animated male we watched displaying in a small clearing beside the top of our driveway. Alas, our point-and-shoot camera was unable to focus in the light of our headlamps.

Friday, April 11, 2008

More sparrows

Song Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow
Over the course of this rainy day, the numbers of seed-eating birds grew steadily. By late afternoon, we could see hundreds of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. They were joined by a few Song Sparrows and Fox Sparrows. This year, we only saw the later species for a couple of days. Fox Sparrow

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I spotted this male (note the red throat) on the Sugar Maple outside our bedroom window.

This species is a summer resident. We expect to hear them drumming on our steel TV antenna in the coming weeks. A few summers ago, we watched a juvenile sapsucker eating the fruits from a Black Cherry tree in the yard. They have never been tempted by the suet we offer.