Nemesis No More

 

The term "nemesis bird" is a commonly used one in birding circles, however to non-birders (muggles if you will) it may sound quite strange. In Greek mythology the goddess Nemesis was the goddess of divine retribution and revenge. Neither good nor evil, she was a remorseless goddess who melted out punishment for evil deeds, undeserved good fortune, and hubris. The meaning of the word nemesis has shifted over time though, and now when you think of it the first thing to come to mind is likely not the Greek goddess, but the something along the lines of the Wikipedia definitions "something that a person cannot conquer or achieve" or "an opponent or enemy that is very difficult to defeat". A nemesis bird can mean something different to each birder you ask. For some it will be a species that they really want to see, but have never had the chance to (It may not even be a species found in their home province/state). For others it is a bird that they have tried to find repeatedly, but have missed it every time. 

I was introduced to nemesis during my first year of birding, back in the days when I could get life birds without much effort. I was out with my local birding club, when I happened to mention that I hadn't been able to find an Orange-crowned Warbler, despite constant searching. One of the birders remarked "Oh, I guess that's your nemesis bird then!". I saw my first ever Orange-crowned Warbler a few weeks after that, flitting around the branches of a large tree in my backyard of all places, but nemesis was far from done with me. The goddess can never really be defeated after all, as every time you see your nemesis bird there always seems to be another that takes its place. 

For me, it is always a bird I had tried multiple times for, the more time I have to spend looking for it, the more of a nemesis it is for me. Most birds fell after 2 or 3 chases... a Ruddy Turnstone at Port Dover, a Red-throated Loon at Point Clark.... However in 2019 it became clear that one bird trumped the rest. That bird was the Slaty-backed Gull, a dark mantled gull in the genus larus that inhabits the coastal regions from Russia to Japan and South Korea. 

In North America the gull is an expected species only in Alaska, however in recent years they have been detected annually around the Great Lakes. If this is because of an increase in active, gull obsessed birders (people who know how to identify them) or actually an increase in Slaty-backed Gull numbers is hard to say though. Either way, in the last 5 years there has been at least one (sometimes even 4 or more) each winter in Southern Ontario. As I mentioned in a previous post, I used to spend time in Brant County during the winter months, which put me in an ideal spot for chasing birds. When a Slaty-backed Gull showed up at the Brantford Dump in the winter of 2018, a mere twenty minutes from where I was staying, of course I had to go for it. I missed it on my first attempt, and then my second as well. In the end I tried five times that winter, on the one occasion missing it by seconds... I rolled up to Mohawk Lake and was informed by the birders present that it had been spooked by an eagle and had literally just taken off. I was bitter, and swore I would never return to the Brantford Dump for that dumb gull. Of course I did return though, when the following winter the Slaty-backed Gull was found again at the same spot. This time I missed it twice. I received a positive report, then raced over to discover I had missed it by ten minutes. I waited for two hours, then returned to my family's place in Paris only to see that the bird had just been reported again! If that wasn't bad enough I then missed it in Niagara during the winter of 2020... If that isn't a nemesis I don't know what is!


Now back to 2022, and the big year. Even since the start of January, a Slaty-backed Gull was being seen on the New York side of Niagara Falls, so close and yet so far. Local birders had looked for it on the Ontario side of the river (as did I when I had been at the falls), however the gull remained stubbornly in the USA. I was hoping it would cross over and be found in Ontario, thus becoming a countable species for my year list, however I reminded myself that this was a Slaty-backed Gull... so I kept my hopes in check. Then yesterday morning while out birding his local patch, Ryan Griffiths found a Slaty-backed Gull in the Welland Canal by Niagara. Maybe the same bird as the US one... maybe not... hard to say! Unfortunately I was tied up at home on the peninsula for the day, but I packed my things and set my alarm for 5:30am the following morning.

I left my place just after 6am today, driving straight to the Welland Canal.. with a quick stop en route to pick up Ezra in Hamilton. I was cautiously optimistic, however I was going in almost expecting to not find it to be honest. Ezra had been the previous day, but despite hours of searching was unable to refind it. We arrived on scene just befor 10 o'clock and discovered we were the only birders there. It was a chilly -15 C outside, but the light snow that had followed me the entire drive down was starting to clear up and the sun was coming out... definitely could have been worse. We immediately saw that there were several hundred gulls sitting in the canal, and after quickly setting up our scopes we started scanning through them. Not 10 seconds later Ezra said he had a suspicious gull in his scope, in fact it was one of the first birds that he had seen. Sure enough there was a dark mantled gull sitting on the ice with it head tucked into its wings. Views weren't great as it was rather far away, but it sure looked like a Slaty-backed. I jogged down the road to try and find a better vantage point, and when I set up my scope for a closer view it stood up and looked at me... Definitely a Slaty-backed Gull!! We watched it for over an hour, during which time it mainly just sat there... but once it did circle around with the gull flock when they were flushed and gave us a good view. Nemesis bird no more!!

- Slaty-backed Gull


Note the slaty grey mantle, streaky nape and mascara look around the eye, bubblegum pink legs and "string of pearls" on the primaries that set it apart from other gull species. A great addition for my big year, the gull was #128, and also my 10th "OBRC bird"... for those who know what that means.



While there I couldn't help testing out my new camera on some other birds...

- Northern Mockingbird

- American Robin

- Iceland Gull

The rest of the day was spent around the Niagara area, where I picked up yearbirds Surf Scoter and Lapland Longspur. Besides that it was fairly quiet though... but no complaints here : )
   



https://wwwz.friendsofmacgregor.org/

Recent Birding

Another quick update on some recent birds n' stuff......


- Jan 18 
Spent the morning searching for the Gyrfalcon around the peninsula with Ezra. It was a quieter day for birds overall, despite being a rather nice day... not too cold with the occasional bout of sunshine. On the same route that I had driven we saw 11 species, versus 20 the previous day. For some reason there were just less raptors period, birds are weird like that! In the end we failed to turn up any falcons beside an American Kestrel, not quite the hoped for species :) The plan was to drive down to Toronto to search for the elusive Burrowing Owl at sunset, even though there had been no reports in a week we figured it was still worth a try. The Gyrfalcon hunt was called short around noon, and after that we spent a bit of time searching for Golden Eagles in South Bruce... Not a bird we have to worry about missing, but since we were pratically driving by the area anyways it seemed like it was worth a shot. Raptors were not to be our friends that day though, as the goldens remained hidden. Some Rough-legged Hawks and Snow Buntings were among the only signs of life in the barren snow covered landscape. 
- Ruffed Grouse 

- a Red Fox that was out in a farm field 


 We misjudged our timing a bit, and arrived in Toronto just twenty minutes before sunset. The city was in the midst of cleaning up from one of the largest snowfalls in recent history (over 50 centimeters fell the previous night!) and many of the roads were partly or completely hidden under a layer of white. The ensuing walk out to Tommy Thompson Park was quite exhausting to say the least! The park trails aren't maintained in the winter, so the only trails were rough paths beaten down by foot. Many park goers were sensibly wearing snowshoes or skis, either of which I would have gladly taken. A few times I sped up to a jog, as the light was fading and I wanted to get out to the location before it was even darker. I will not lie it felt like a doomed quest… I would have happily run through the snow if there was a rare bird waiting for me at the end, but this was only a small chance of seeing a bird that might still be there. We were joined by local birder Owen Strickland, who had already put in over 80  hours looking for this owl, during which time he had seen it once. That doesn't exactly fill you with hope! We scanned the area until the darkness made it too hard to see well... I say well and not at all because this is Toronto after all, a place that never experiences true darkness unless there is a power outage. This was one of the first days of the year that I didn't add any new species, but that is bound to happen!
- Sunset at Tommy Thompson Park




- Jan 19
A Slaty-backed Gull had been spotted on the New York side of Niagara Falls a few days earlier, and since there wasn't much else in Ontario to chase, Ezra and I decided to spend the day seeing if we could find it on the Ontario side. We were joined by Nathan Hood, who always has a hard time turning down a day of gulling (check out his blog here). I wasn't really in the photography mood, so you'll have to excuse the lack of photos. Recently my camera has been having issues, which makes taking photos less appealing, especially when there are other birders present with cameras... who would document anything rare should we encounter it. I am getting a new camera this week though, so expect more photos in future posts! First we visited the canal area around Thorold, often a good spot to look for concentrations of gulls in the winter. The first few spots we checked were empty, but on Dock Road we found a large group of gulls sitting on the ice. The light was absolutely perfect and the birds were quite close, so we enjoyed 45 minutes of scanning through them. Among a few thousand Herring Gulls we spotted a nice assortment of other species including: Iceland, Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls. Two of the icelands were of the "Thayer's" subspecies, which I rarely get to see in Bruce. One of them was a nice juvenile bird, which although appears very similar to young Herring Gulls, has a delicate, less menacing look to its face, brown primaries with light edges to them and a more uniform and defined look to the plumage overall. Really a "birders bird", part of the enjoyment taken from them is working through a large gull flock and picking out something slightly different. The rest of the day was spent along the upper falls area, where we walked along the edge of the river, pausing frequently to scan through the swirling mass of thousands of gulls that circled over the water and sat on the rocks. Despite our best efforts the slaty-backed would remain hidden, but we did see all the regular gulls. 
- Gulling the falls 


The waning hours of daylight were spent on Niagara-On-The-Lake, where we watched the daily gull flyby. There were not nearly as many Bonaparte's Gulls as there were on my last few visits here (800 vs 10,000), but it was still an enjoyable way to end the day. A few Little Gulls were mixed in with the flock, but no kittiwakes this time.

- Jan 20
I left Ezra's house in the wee hours of the morning for the long drive towards eastern Ontario. The targets for the trip were Great Grey, Northern Hawk and Barred Owl, as well as a few other common birds that we were missing. It was a lovely day for a drive, clear and starry as I drove east on the 401, while Campenelli sawed logs in the passenger seat.  The Great Grey was our first target and also one of the most common Ontario breeding species that I've never seen. It was a very cold morning, with the temperature on the car reading -25, though it felt considerably colder. It was completely still and sunny, the saving grace that made it slighly more bearable to be outside. I'm not going to say specifics for where we were looking for any of these owls, as they are very popular species and attract large crowds when word gets out, which often isn't a great thing for the the owls themselves. After an hour of searching and no birds to show for it besides a few ravens, it was becoming clear that the grey ghost of the northern forests would not be showing itself. We continued on in search of our next owl target, a Northern Hawk Owl. This bird would prove to be a lot easier to find than the great grey, after 5 minutes I spotted it perched on the top of a coniferous tree, surveying the surrounding area with a confident, icy gaze. Breaking the norm for this post. I actually DO have photos of this bird... by far my best photos of the species too. 
- Northern Hawk Owl




The remainder of the day was spent looking for Bohemian Waxwings, which would be a new bird for Ezra (I saw some back in Bruce). It wasn't meant to be though, although we did find an abundance of berry trees, American Robins and European Starling, with the latter doing their best to look like waxwings. We did find a small flock of Cedar Waxwings though, a yearbird for me. In the evening we searched for great greys and were again out of luck... Well partly, as we did find a pair of Barred Owls right beside the road on the drive, a new species for the list and one of my favourite birds.


- Jan 21
A fairly quiet day spent driving back towards Hamilton, looking for waxwings and whatever other birds we could find on the way. The waxwings again gave us the slip, as did practically every bird because we didn't see a whole heck of a lot! It ended up being another day with 0 additions, however the scenery and sunny skies made it a nice day regardless.
- A gorgeous day & a filthy windshield



- Jan 22
A bit of casual birding around the Hamilton lakeshore in the morning netted me several new birds, all common species that are scarce in the winter away from a few spots. The new birds were:  Green-winged Teal. Northern Shoveler. I returned to Bruce after that, for a weekend of R&R.


Here are some photos of common birds from the past week too...
White-breasted Nuthatch

- White-throated Sparrow

- Downy Woodpecker

- American Robin

- Black-capped Chickadee

- Black-capped Chickadee

- Ezra  & Lion's Head

A Nice Surprise Around Home



Quick update…


Yesterday I wasn’t planning on doing much birding, as there wasn’t too much around Bruce that would have been new for the yearlist. I actually slept in for once, and was planning on having a chill morning around home… maybe take a drive up the peninsula looking for Golden Eagles. Then just after 10am I got a text from a local birder Pat Sein informing me that she had just found a Gyrfalcon! A mere 15 minute drive from my house. 


Needless to say I was out the door and driving up Hwy 6 in record time! When I arrived on the scene I was informed by Pat that the Falcon had flown a few minutes before I got there. I desperately started scouring the area, but after an hour of searching I had only turned up a few Snowy Owls and a Northern Shike. Both good birds, but not my target. Another hour passed, then two more. At this point I had driven well over 100 kilometres and had checked every road within a 20km radius of the initial sighting… and honestly I was starting to get worried. Then, I turned down a road that I had already been down several times (which I thought was one of the more promising spots), when I spied a white bird on top of a telephone post. Even before I put my binoculars up I knew what it was… my favourite bird species, and a great one to get for my big year, the Gyrfalcon! I watched it fly over the adjacent field for several minutes before it landed on a post right beside my car. Just wow, honestly one of my favourite ever encounters with a bird ~ period. All of my previous Gyrfalcons have been grey morphs, but this one was a stunning white one. I enjoyed looking at it in perfect light, with snowy field and a clear blue sky in the background, before it eventually took off and disappeared over a hill and out of sight. Epic find Pat ~ thanks for the great bird!!


- Gyrfalcon









 After that I slowly made my way home, stopping to look at a flock of Bohemian Waxwings found by Arni Stinnissen a few minutes earlier. I had already got BOWA for the year up in Elk Lake, but these were my first photos of some this year.

- Bohemian Waxwing


Spent the majority of today trying to refind the Gyrfalcon with Ezra… but had no luck.

- the GYRFLCN in its natural habitat



Some Southwest Ontario Birding

 Falling behind here with keeping my content up to date! My last post summarized the northern Ontario trip from Jan 7-10, but I didn't mention anything after that. Just so I don't get ever more behind, I am going to briefly go over the highlights of this past week.


- Jan 11

Originally Ezra and I were thinking of searching for the Burrowing Owl in Toronto again for the day, however the weather forecast wasn't exactly enticing us to spend a long day beside the lake. As an alternative, we decided to drive down towards Essex and Chatham-kent, two counties in extreme southwestern Ontario which are among the best birding regions in the province. There weren't any particularly rare birds being seen, and from a big year perspective it may not have been the best way to spend the day (vs freezing in the cold looking for the previously mentioned rare owl)...but when we pulled up to the Jack Miner's Bird Sanctuary in Essex just after sunrise, and were greeted by a calm, sunny day and the excited calls of the flocks of Canada Geese that passed overhead, it felt like the right decision. Our target bird here, a Greater White-fronted Goose, had been seen consistently at this location for over a week. Finding it was made slightly more difficult by flocks of Canada Geese that were arriving from all directions and landing in the field in front of us, which meant there were constantly new birds to look through. Around ten minutes later I found it near the back of the flock with my spotting scope, a slightly smaller goose, with a brownish-grey body, an orange bill and a large white area of feathering on its face, the characteristic that gives this species its name. My phone died just as I was about to take a photo through my scope, so I'll include one of my older photos of one.

- View from Jack Miners 

- GWFG, Owen Sound, 2019


The remainder of the morning was spent touring the onion fields area around Point Pelee National Park, where despite our best efforts we couldn't turn up a Ring-necked Pheasant. Pheasant would probably make the top of my list for annoying birds that you have to see on a big year. Native to Europe, they were introduced to North America primarily for the reason of giving hunters something to shoot. In Ontario they were historically (mid 1900s) quite common across the province, however in the last few decades they have almost disappeared. I've seen pheasants in Bruce, however the issue with this species is its "countability", especially for big years. There is quite a large grey area here though, as what's wild is rather subjective in this case. however for a big year you should really see a pheasant from one of the remaining "wild" populations, of which there is one located by Point Pelee and another on Manitoulin Island. These populations are seemingly sustainable, meaning that they will continue breeding successfully without new birds being released each season. Anyways we drove all of the Mersea Rd concessions around the onion fields, but ultimately failed in finding our target. We did see a few FOY (First OYear) birds however, including Brown-headed Cowbird and Horned Lark (real exciting eh?). There were also Northern Harriers and a Snowy Owl hanging around in the fields.


Next we drove to Kieth McLean Conservation Area, a small field with a wetland area located directly outside of Rondeau Provincal Park. There had been a Nelson's Sparrow seen here fairly consistently since back in December, quite an impressive winter bird as they are normally gone by late October. Nelson's isn't a bird I'll miss this year, however it's an uncommon species in southern Ontario and since we were already in the area it made sense to try for it. The following hour we spent walking alongside the frozen ponds, watching sparrows flush out of the dead grasses and reads beside the ice. I was pretty impressed with the number of Savanah Sparrows that were there, well over 20 birds. This is another sparrow that is rare in the province during the winter months, but for some reason they like this spot enough to stick around. While we didn't end up finding the Nelson's, however I did pick up a FOY birds (the previously mentioned Savannah Sparrow, plus Swamp Sparrow and Rough-legged Hawk). It was FRESH out there though, even though the car only registered it being -8°C, the windchill made it feel much colder.

- Rough-legged Hawk 

- Savannah Sparrow 


We were already right beside the park, so a quick drive into Rondeau seemed like a thing to do. The park was fairly quiet, but my FOY Tufted Titmouse was nice to see, a bird I rarely see back home in the Bruce. Another new bird, Ruddy Duck, drove in the waves offshore of the park.

- Tufted Titmouse 



It was getting late at this point so we returned to home base (Ezra's place in Hamilton).


- Jan 12

On the 12th we spent almost the whole day searching for the Toronto Burrowing Owl. It was a nicer day than the previous few, and the tempature actually climbed above freezing for a bit. The area was fairly quiet for birds though, and after 6 hours of searching we hadn't even seen any yearbirds, let alone the owl. I was heading back to Bruce after we left, so around 3pm we called it quits... which came back to bite us as the owl was seen right after dusk...

There were a few new birds on the way out, Lesser Scaup and Northern Pintail.



- Jan 13

Back home! My first full day in the Bruce this year, nice to be home. I took a drive up to Tobermory and spent a few hours searching for the Townsend's Solitaire that had been around the area for a few weeks in December. Unfortunately many of berry trees in the area the bird had originally been seen around were depleted, and unlike during my December visit, the ground was carpeted with a thick layer of snow. I expanded my search radius and spent the next 2 hours walking around the Tobermory townsite. Tobermory is one of those small lakeside towns that sees it's activity peak in the summer months, when the area is chalk full of tourists and travelers waiting for the Chi Cheemaun (the ferry that travels from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island during the warm months). In the winter almost all of the small businesses and restaurants shut for a few months, save for a few essentials used by the local residents. A lot of the houses around town are only lived in seasonally, as many summer  residents migrate to warmer areas of Ontario for the winter. During this time, from December to March, Tobermory can seem like a ghost town, and it certainly felt that way as I walked in silence through the streets, disturbed only occasionally by a passing car or the high pitched call of a Pine Grosbeak. The solitaire never did show itself, but I expected that honestly, I just figured I may as well check since I was nearby. A Northern Shrike that was perched in a tall coniferous tree downtown was new for the yearlist though, a welcome addition as I always enjoy seeing shrikes. 

- Northern Shrike

- House Sparrow, Tobermory is one of very
few reliable spots for them on the peninsula 


On my way back down the peninsula I stopped at the Lion's Head Harbour, one of my favourite birding hotspots in the area and always worth checking. The actual harbour area was empty besides some Herring Gulls, but a quick scan of Georgian Bay netted me two additions to the yearlist, Horned and Red-necked Grebes.


On my home through the Ferndale area on my way home I couldn't help but stop for a few Snowy Owl photo ops. I also spotted a Merlin perched atop a tree in the distance, a good winter bird on the peninsula.

- Snowy Owl


- Merlin 


That was basically it for my birding that day, although a bit of owling around my place in the evening produced my 7th owl species of the year, an Eastern Screech-owl.


- Jan 14

I didn't end up doing much birding, as I actually tried to catch up on some life things. I did take a drive around South Bruce with my dad though, and while we didn't see the hoped for Golden Eagles, 5 Tundra Swans and an overwintering Eastern Meadowlark were nice consolations (both FOY). It was a gorgeous sunny day to be out, however as soon as I stepped out of the vehicle I realized it was -20! The barren expanses of frozen fields were seemingly devoid of life, and besides the meadowlark, some ravens and Wild Turkeys ~ there really wasn’t much around. Regardless it was nice to be birding around my home county

- Eastern Meadowlark


Today (the 15th) was a quite day around home, the -20°C weather didn't really lure me to go birding.... also no new birds today!! The horror... it was bound to happen sometime though.


That's all I got for now

North, East & Back South

 

After we got the Glaucous-winged Gull in Brantford on Friday, we drove to William's house in Guelph and packed for our northern trip. Our plan was to drive to Terrace Bay first and get a Spotted Towhee that had been coming to a feeder there for a few weeks. After that we would bird the Thunder Bay area for a bit, before turning east and driving to Elk Lake for a Varied Thrush there (again a continuing feeder bird). It was originally going to be a 5 day trip, with the days following the rarity chases focused on birding the Cochrane/Timmins area and driving Detour Gold Mine Rd. Our main targets were the two rarities previously mentioned, as well as some northern specialties including;

- Great Gray Owl

- Northern Hawk Owl 

- Black-backed Woodpecker

- American Three-toed Woodpecker 

- Sharp-tailed Grouse 

- Spruce Grouse

- Boreal Chickadee

- Evening Grosbeak

- Pine Grosbeak

- Hoary Redpoll

- Bohemian Waxwing 



We left Friday afternoon and spent the remainder of the day driving. It was a pretty uneventful drive from a birding standpoint, we didn't see a whole heck of a lot besides some Red-tailed Hawks! It was all smooth sailing until around 8:30, when our vehicle (Williams Subaru) decided to throw a fit. We had just passed the small community of Espanola when the dash lit up like a Christmas tree with engine lights. Not what you like to see at the beginning of a roadtrip : ) To be safe we returned to Espanola and pulled into a small motel, where we wondered if it would be necessary to spend the night. A few Google searches later and a helpful phone call with a friend who owns the same car yielded some promising news, the lights we were seeing were almost definitely from an electrical glitch (apparently common in that year of Subarus) and not something mechanical. We did a few things to reset that and then the lights went out and all was well! Shortly afterwards we were on the road again to Terrace Bay, with an arrival time around 6am. I dozed off for a few hours and awoke at 4am to discover that we were in the middle of a heavy snow squall. At this point we knew we had made the right call bringing an all wheel drive vehicle, our small commuter cars would not have cut it! luckily all was well, and we rolled in to Terrace Bay a few hours later without incident. 

- Welcome to the north! Yikes!

- Not what you want to see...

- The lovely driving conditions 


Just after sunrise we arrived at the people's house who had the Spotted Towhee coming to their feeder. It was very cold (-18) and snowy, plus the strong wind coming in off the lake added to the unpleasantness. The feeders, located on the porch of the house, were being swarmed by a massive flock of Pine Grosbeaks. These large, elegant northern finches were a nice way to start the day off, and the fact that they were a yearbird didn't hurt either : ) Soon the activity at the feeder picked up, and the grosbeaks were joined by Common Redpolls, Blue Jays and a Hairy Woodpecker. From what the homeowners said it sounded like the towhee only stayed at the feeder for very short periods of time, followed by long absences of an hour or even much longer. Knowing this we were prepared for a bit of a wait, but in the end it was only around twenty minutes before the bird appeared. It whipped up to the platform feeder, fighting the wind to stay there, and hungrily gorged  down some sunflower seeds before disappearing into the adjacent conifers. This was a bird I had never seen in Ontario before, and was a great addition for the yearlist (my 9th "OBRC bird", will explain that and the whole numbers game in a future post). I got pretty trashy photos, as the light was bad at the time & I was having issues with the camera itself. Anyways here they are! 

- Spotted Towhee 



After saying farewell to the homeowners, who had so graciously allowed us to visit their yard (if you're reading this thanks again!), we turned the car north and headed towards Thunder Bay. Along the way we stopped at a few small towns to look for birdfeeders along the way, which, we hoped would have some interesting birds at them. It quickly became evident that Pine Grosbeaks would be one of the staples of the trip, as we encountered them frequently in the townsites/alongside the highway. Most of the spots we visited were fairly quiet, however we did come across one birdfeeder in particular that was just hopping with activity. Besides a few dozen Pine Grosbeaks, a good number of Common Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks were present too. We didn't know it at the time, but those would be our only evenings of the trip. It was lightly snowing while we were there, making the photography verryyy nice indeed.

- Pine Grosbeak 

- Pine & Evening Grosbeaks 

- A staple of the northern trip, Ezra in 
 his Birkenstocks... he got a few strange looks
 from locals. 


We continued onwards towards Thunder Bay, where we hoped to search for owls and other interesting birds. This was my first time in Thunder Bay, so honestly just seeing everything for the first time was a nice experience. Lake Superior loomed dark and icey in the background, and even at a distance it gives a completely different vibe than the more southern Great Lakes ~ just a more northern and mysterious feeling. Being birders, naturally the first location we visited was the Thunder Bay Landfill.


 Located just on the edge of town, this location has hosted many good birds over the years and is always a worthwhile spot to check when in the area. This was one of the highlights of the trip, though it was because of a relatively common bird verus a rare one this time. The bird was Bald Eagle, and the excitement stemmed from seeing the sheer number of birds in one location. A conservative count of 400 eagles were packed into the dump area... on the trash mounds, perched on the ground, flying and covering the trees that ringed the edge of the landfill. I have seen large concentrations of eagles before, but nowhere close to these numbers. Among them was a leucistic eagle that was entirely blondish/white, pretty cool! Unfortunately it was fairly distant, so I wasn't able to obtain great photos. Besides the eagles it was fairly quiet there, with the exception of an immature Glaucous Gull. 

- Bald Eagles 

- Leusistic Bald Eagle

- Glaucous Gull




We spent the remainder of the daylight searching the backroads around Thunder Bay for Great Gray Owls. The drive was very quiet overall for birds, a few Common Ravens and a small flock of Common Redpolls were the main sightings. There really haven't been many great grays seen in the area this winter, so we didn't feel too badly missing it. Although its a good bird, there will be more chances to see one this year. We finished the day by driving to a motel in Nipigon, where we caught up on some much needed sleep and planned out the following days.

- The farthest northwest we made it


The following day was mainly spent driving, as we traveled the 7 hours from Nipigon to Elk Lake, where our target for the next morning, a Varied Thrush, was being seen. The day started off with a dead car battery, never  pleasant discovery in the early morning. A quick boost from a car that was passing by our motel quickly rectified this though, and soon we were on the road. The morning was nice and sunny, a pleasent change from the snowy drive on the way up.


On the way we stopped at the site of a forest fire that happened last year, hoping for some northern woodpeckers. Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers specifically, both of which are commonly found at these old burn sites, as they forage for insects on the dead trees. Black-backs are the more common of the two, but you never know what you will get in these forests. We parked and snowshoed in, which was quite the workout in -22°C with a few feet of snow on the ground. After half an hour we had seen nothing, not a single bird. Away from the major highway there was no noise besides a light wind rustling tree branches, this is the sound of north in the winter ~ a desolate silence. After half an hour of walking a tapping sound caught our attention, and we looked up to see a female Black-backed Woodpecker working it's way up a fir. Shortly afterwards we had another, this time a male bird with a nice yellow cap on it's head. My camera battery was dead, so here's one of Ezra's shots.

- Some of the habitat on the road

- Black-backed Woodpecker (photo credit Ezra)


The rest of the drive that day was rather uneventful as we drove east on Hwy 11, in fact even seeing any bird was exciting occurance (normally it would be raven). In total we saw 6 bird species all day!! The plan for the next day was seeing the Varied Thrush in Elk Lake, then birding the Timmins area. Tueday would be focused on Detour Lake Road north of Cochrane for winter specialties like Northern Hawk Owl and Hoary Redpoll. A wrench was thrown in this plan however when as we were driving to Elk Lake, we received a phone call informing us about a Burrowing Owl in Toronto. We briefly thought about turning the car around then, however we decided it made more sense to look for the thrush since we were already in the area.


Monday morning started off with another dead car battery, oh the joys of traveling in northern Ontario! Another boost, this time from the friendly motel owner in Elk Lake, and we were on route for the thrush. It was a long journey there, a gruelling three minute drive to the other side of town. The thrush was apparently being seen very sporadically at a birdfeeder, so we went in knowing a long wait may be in the cards. The birdfeeder, a large wooden platform on the front porch of the house, was quite busy with bird activity when we arrived. On top of the dozens of Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls, a Dark-eyed Junco and a Common Grackle were foraging for seeds. A few minutes later they were joined by another great bird for the winter in northern Ontario, a Rusty Blackbird! You would have thought that I would have charged my camera battery at the motel, but unfortunately I was tired and forgot... so no photos of the blackbirds. We had been there over half an hour, which felt considerably longer due to the -26°C tempature, when I saw the Varied Thrush fly out from under the porch and disappear behind the house. Ezra and William were a bit farther down the road looking at another feeder, so they missed it....  we warmed up in the car for a bit and then continued our vigils. An hour passed, no sign of the bird. Toronto was almost a 5 hour drive away, so we wanted to leave early to get there before dark to try for the owl. Luckily, just as we were giving it a final effort, the bird flew out from under the porch (I wonder how long it had been sitting there laughing at us), briefly perched on a tree in the front lawn, then flew off again. This time Ezra did see it, and managed to get a quick record shot as it flew away. William had the bad luck of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time yet again. We gave it 5 more minutes then left, but not before I had a Bohemian Waxwing fly over, one of our northern targets and my first of the trip.

- Varied Thrush (photo credit Ezra)


We raced down to Toronto, but unfortunately struck out on the owl despite our best efforts. It was a bit of a shame to cut the trip short, but that's a big year for ya... ever changing plans. We got our two main targets anyway (thrush and towhee), so it was still a worthwhile trip for sure! We will just have to do another later in the winter for the remaining northern birds.


My 2022 Big Year From a Stats perspective

  I'm going to write several wrap up posts about my big year, I just have so much that I want to talk about! First off I want to talk ab...