Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 29,2010 Whooping Cranes numbers up to 37 at Muskiki Lake

After birding Last Mountain Lake area we made a side trip back to Muskiki Lake in the afternoon. We counted 37 Whooping Cranes, 29 adults and 8 juveniles. They were avian feeding at the south end of the lake in the fields and flying down to spent some time in a couple of small ponds. Also present were 1000+ Sandhill Cranes, 100's of Snow Geese and a few flocks of Lapland Longspurs.

South end of Muskiki Lake where a flock of 37 Whooping Cranes are feeding

Distinct view of cranes in pond.

Adult Whooping Cranes in field.

September 29, 2010 Birding Last Mountain Lake area and Life and Death on the praires.

Spent a good part of the day birding Last Mountain Lake area. Overall lots of waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes and still a number of shorebirds, mainly Long-billed Dowitchers and a few American Avocet. The highlight of the outing was watching a long-tailed Weasel hunt down a Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrel. This took place outside of the Last Mountain Lake headquarters. After having lunch we noticed a Long-tailed Weasel in the open checking an area where we saw a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel eating. Check out the series of photos below.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 25, 2010 Birding Muskiki Lake area and Whooping Cranes.

Our first stop today was back at the south end of Muskiki lake where we watched the large flock of Whooping Cranes feeding in the fields and water areas. Lots of activity overhead with 5 species of geese and 100's of Sandhill Cranes. With the stronger winds today, land birds were more difficult to locate but we did managed to have a good view of a Harris's Sparrow and a few Western Meadowlarks. Around the lake we observed 120+ Bonaparte's Gull, 14 Franklin Gull, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Northern Harrier, 2 Red-tailed Hawk and a few small flocks of Horned Lark. Most sloughs had a good variety of ducks including Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, and Ruddy Duck and plenty of American Coots.

Whooping Cranes in flight. 5 adults and 1 juvenile.

4 Adults and 2 juvenile in flight.

A mixed flock of Snow and Ross's Geese.

A juvenile Horned Lark along the roadside.

Family group of Greater White-fronted Geese

Geese were everywhere.

Female Canvasback in flight.

One of the most common puddle ducks, the Northern Shoveler is easy to identify by its large bill.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24, 2010 Whooping Crane search a success!

I arrived in Saskatoon this morning and began my scouting for Whooping Cranes. There had been a group of cranes observed early during the week near Muskiki Lake. Driving around the area there was no sign of Whoopers but 1000's of Snow Geese and 100's of Sandhill Cranes. The rolling landscape made it more difficult to see any distance and any large white bird could hide easily. After an hour of scanning and driving back roads I stopped to view a small flock of Sandhills in flight and spotted a number of large white birds in a recently harvested field. I quickly assembled my scope which was still in my suitcase and watch 6 adult Whooping Cranes feeding. As I scanned the area more popped up and after a while I was up to 36 Whooping Cranes! Any amazing sight, 27 adult and 9 young.

A distant view of Whooping cranes near Muskiki Lake, SK

The cranes were very active feeding and interacting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23, 2010 Winter Finch Forecast 2010-11


This winter's theme is that some finch species will irrupt into southern
Canada and the northern United States, while other species will remain
in the north. As an example, Common and Hoary Redpolls will move south
whereas Pine Grosbeaks will stay in the north. See individual finch
forecasts below for details. Three irruptive non-finch passerines are
also discussed.

Key trees in the boreal forest affecting finch abundance and movements
are white and black spruces, white birch, and mountain-ashes. South of
the boreal in the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest region, white pine
and hemlock are additional key finch trees. Other trees play a lesser
role, but often boost or buffer main seed sources. These include
tamarack (American larch), balsam fir, white cedar, yellow birch and

SPRUCE: White spruce cone crops are very good to excellent across the
northern half of the boreal forest in Canada, except Newfoundland where
crops are poor. However, spruce crops are much lower in the southern
half of the boreal forest and poor in the mixed forest region of central
Ontario such as Algonquin Park. The spruce crop is good to very good in
central and northern Quebec, but generally poor in Atlantic Canada and
northeastern United States. Spruce cone abundance is very good in the
foothills of Alberta and eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in Canada,
but poor in the southern half of British Columbia and in Washington
State. A bumper white spruce cone crop in southern Yukon attracted high
numbers of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins this past summer and
they may remain there through the winter. Spruce crops are generally
poor in the Atlantic Provinces, New York State and New England States.
WHITE PINE: Cone crop is spotty with scattered good to excellent crops
across Ontario. White pine crops are low in Atlantic Canada, New York
and New England States. HEMLOCK: Cone crop is poor in Ontario and
elsewhere in the East. WHITE BIRCH: Crop is poor across the boreal
forest of Canada and in central Ontario, but birch crops are much better
in southern Ontario south of the Canadian (Precambrian) Shield.
MOUNTAIN-ASH: Berry crops are generally excellent across Canada and
Alaska, but poor in Newfoundland.

Forecasts apply mainly to Ontario, but neighboring provinces and states
may find they apply to them.

PINE GROSBEAK: The Pine Grosbeak breeds in moist open habitats across
northern Ontario. It is most common in northeastern Ontario which
receives more precipitation than northwestern Ontario (Peck and Coady in
Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Pine Grosbeaks should
stay in the north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop is
generally excellent across the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska,
except for a poor crop in Newfoundland. The feeders at the Visitor
Centre in Algonquin Park usually attract Pine Grosbeaks even in
non-flight winters. If Pine Grosbeaks wander into southern Ontario they
will find good crops of European mountain-ash berries and ornamental

PURPLE FINCH: This finch winters in the north when the majority of
deciduous and coniferous seed crops are abundant, which is not the case
this year. Most Purple Finches will migrate south of Ontario this fall.
A few may frequent feeders in southern Ontario. Purple Finch numbers
have declined significantly in recent decades due in part to a decrease
of spruce budworm outbreaks since the 1980s (Leckie and Cadman in Atlas
of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007).

RED CROSSBILL: This crossbill comprises at least 10 "call types" in
North America. Each type has its particular cone preferences related to
bill size and shape. These crossbill types may be at an early stage of
evolving into full species and some may already qualify for species
status. They are exceedingly difficult to identify in the field and much
remains to be learned about their status and distribution. Types 2 and 3
and probably 4 occur regularly in Ontario (Simard in Atlas of Breeding
Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Red Crossbill types prefer pines, but the
smallest-billed Type 3 (sitkensis subspecies of AOU Check-list 1957)
prefers the small soft cones of hemlock in Ontario. It will be absent
this winter because hemlock crops are poor. Type 2 may be the most
frequently encountered Red Crossbill in the province. Some Type 2s
should be found this winter where white pine crops are very good such as
northeastern Algonquin Park and along Highway 69 north of the French
River in Sudbury District. Possible this winter are other Red Crossbill
types associated with red pine, which has some locally good crops.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: High numbers of White-winged Crossbills are
currently concentrated in southern Yukon where the white spruce cone
crop is bumper. These may remain there this winter. This crossbill's
highest breeding abundance in Ontario is in the spruce dominated Hudson
Bay Lowlands and adjacent northern Canadian Shield (Coady in Atlas of
Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Most Ontario reports this past summer
came from this area where the white spruce cone crop is heavy. Some were
singing and presumably nesting. They might remain in northern Ontario
this winter if seed supplies last. Some may disperse southward as spruce
seeds run low and could appear in southern Ontario and northern United
States. However, they will be rare or absent this winter in traditional
areas such as Algonquin Park where spruce and hemlock cone crops are
very poor. Unlike the Red Crossbill, the White-winged Crossbill has no
subspecies (monotypic) or call types in North America. Its nomadic
wanderings across the boreal forest mix the populations and allow gene
flow, which inhibits geographical variation and the formation of

COMMON REDPOLL: Redpolls should irrupt into southern Canada and the
northern United States this winter. The Common Redpoll's breeding range
in Ontario is mainly in the Hudson Bay Lowlands from the Manitoba border
southeast to southern James Bay (Leckie and Pittaway in Atlas of
Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). Redpolls in winter are a birch seed
specialist and movements are linked in part to the size of the birch
crop. The white birch crop is poor across much of northern Canada.
Another indicator of an upcoming irruption was a good redpoll breeding
season in 2010 with double and possibly triple broods reported in
Quebec. High breeding success also was reported in Yukon. Samuel Denault
of McGill University has shown that redpoll movements at Tadoussac,
Quebec, are more related to reproductive success than to tree seed crops
in the boreal forest. Redpolls will be attracted to the good birch seed
crops on native white birch and European white birch in southern Ontario
and to weedy fields. They should be frequent this winter at feeders
offering nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. Watch for the larger,
darker and browner "Greater" Common Redpolls (rostrata subspecies) in
the flocks. It is reliably identified by its larger size and
proportionally longer thicker bill and longer tail in direct comparison
with "Southern" Common Redpolls (nominate flammea subspecies).

HOARY REDPOLL: The breeding population in northern Ontario is the most
southerly in the world (Leckie and Pittaway in Atlas of Breeding Birds
of Ontario 2007). Careful checking of redpoll flocks should produce a
few Hoary Redpolls. There are two subspecies. Most Hoaries seen in
southern Canada and northern United States are "Southern" Hoary Redpolls
(exilipes subspecies). During the last large redpoll irruption in
2007/2008, several "Hornemann's" Hoary Redpolls (nominate hornemanni
subspecies) were found and supported by photographs. Hornemann's Redpoll
was previously regarded as a great rarity south of the Arctic, but it
may be more frequent than formerly believed. Hornemann's is most
reliably identified by its much larger size in direct comparison with
flammea Common Redpolls or exilipes Hoary Redpoll. Note that white birds
loom larger than life among darker birds and size illusions are

PINE SISKIN: Similar to the White-winged Crossbill, there are currently
high numbers of siskins in southern Yukon attracted to a bumper white
spruce cone crop. They could stay in Yukon for the winter. Siskins show
a tendency for north-south migration, but are better considered an
opportunistic nomad (Pittaway in Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario
2007). Banding recoveries show that siskins wander from coast to coast
searching for conifer seed crops. They were uncommon this past summer in
Ontario and the Northeast. Some might winter in northern Ontario where
the white spruce crop is heavy. However, siskins are currently uncommon
in the Northeast so there are potentially only very small numbers that
could irrupt south in eastern North America.

EVENING GROSBEAK: Highest breeding densities in Ontario are found in
areas with spruce budworm outbreaks. Current breeding and wintering
populations are now much lower than a few decades ago mainly because
large spruce budworm outbreaks have subsided since the 1980s (Hoar in
Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007). If some come south this
winter, they will find large crops of Manitoba maple (boxelder) seeds
and plenty of black oil sunflower seeds at feeders waiting for them.


BLUE JAY: This will be an average flight year with smaller numbers than
in 2009 along the north shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie. Beechnut
crops are poor to none. Acorn crops are spotty, but considerably better
than last year. More Blue Jays will winter in Ontario than last winter
due to caches of acorns and other mast crops.

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This nuthatch is a conifer seed specialist when
it winters in the north, thus its movements are triggered by the same
crops as the boreal winter finches. The southward movement, which began
in the summer, signaled the generally poor cone crops on spruces, balsam
fir and white pine in the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest region
across Ontario and in Atlantic Canada, New York and New England States.
Red-breasted Nuthatches will be very scarce this winter in central
Ontario such as Algonquin Park. White spruce crops are excellent in the
northern half of the boreal forest, but it is uncertain how many
Red-breasted Nuthatches will winter that far north.

BOHEMIAN WAXWING: Most Bohemians Waxwings will stay close to the boreal
forest this winter because mountain-ash berry crops are excellent across
Canada, except in Newfoundland. Some should wander south to traditional
areas of eastern and central Ontario such as Ottawa and Peterborough
where planted European mountain-ashes and ornamental crabapples are
frequent. If you get the opportunity to visit northern Ontario this
winter, you may see Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks feeding
together on mountain-ash berries. The grosbeaks eat the seeds and
discard the flesh whereas the waxwings swallow the entire berry and
sometimes eat the fleshy leftovers of the grosbeaks. The similar
coloration of Bohemian Waxwings and female Pine Grosbeaks may be
functional, perhaps reducing interspecific aggression when they feed

A winter trip to Algonquin Park is a birding adventure. The park is a
three hour drive north of Toronto. Finch numbers will be low in
Algonquin forests this winter, but the feeders at the Visitor Centre
should attract redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks. Gray Jays
frequent the suet feeder and sometimes Pine Martens and Fishers feed on
the suet and sunflower seeds. A high observation deck overlooks a
spectacular boreal wetland and black spruce/tamarack forest. Eastern
Timber Wolves (Canis lycaon), which until recently was a subspecies of
the Gray Wolf (C. lupus), are seen occasionally from the observation
deck feeding on road-killed Moose put out by park staff. The Visitor
Centre and restaurant at km 43 are open on weekends in winter.
Arrangements can be made to view feeders on weekdays. For information,
call the Visitor Centre at 613-637-2828. The Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5
near the Visitor Centre and the gated area north on the Opeongo Road are
the best spots for finches, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse
and Black-backed Woodpecker.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources from across the province designated by an asterisk* and many
others whose reports allow me to make annual forecasts: Dennis Barry
(Durham Region and Washington State), Eleanor Beagan (Prince Edward
Island), Ken Corston* (Moosonee), Pascal Cote (Tadoussac Bird
Observatory, Quebec), Mark Cranford, Samuel Denault (Monts-Pyramides,
Quebec), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario), Carrolle Eady (Dryden),
Cameron Eckert (Yukon), Brian Fox* (South Porcupine), Francois Gagnon
(Abitibi, Lac Saint-Jean, Saguenay, Quebec), Marcel Gahbauer (Alberta),
Michel Gosselin (Canadian Museum of Nature), David Govatski (New
Hampshire), Charity Hendry* (Ontario Tree Seed Plant), Leo Heyens*
(Kenora), Tyler Hoar (Central and Northern Ontario), George Holborn*
(Thunder Bay), Eric Howe*, Peter Hynard (Minden), Jean Iron
(Northeastern Ontario and James Bay), Bob Knudsen (Sault Ste Marie,
Ontario), Bruce Mactavish (Newfoundland), David McCorquodale (Cape
Breton Island), Erwin Meissner (Massey), Andree Morneault* (North Bay to
Renfrew County), Brian Naylor* (North Bay to Renfrew County), Martyn
Obbard*, Stephen O'Donnell (Parry Sound District), Fred Pinto* (North
Bay to Renfrew County), Dean Phoenix*, Rick Salmon* (Lake Nipigon),
Harvey and Brenda Schmidt (Creighton, Saskatchewan), Don Sutherland*
(Northern Ontario), Ron Tozer (Algonquin Park), Declan Troy (Alaska),
Gert Trudel (Gowganda), Mike Turner* (Haliburton Highlands), John
Woodcock (Thunder Cape Bird Observatory), Alan Wormington, and Matt
Young of Cornell University, who provided detailed information about
seed crops in New York and other eastern states. Jean Iron and Michel
Gosselin made many helpful comments and proofed the forecast.

LITERATURE CITED: Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2007 by editors
M.D. Cadman, D.A. Sutherland, G.G. Beck, D. Lepage and A.R. Couturier.

Ron Pittaway
Ontario Field Ornithologists
Minden, Ontario
23 September 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21, 2010 Presqu'ile birding

The birding at Presqu'ile Provincial Park was excellent today. There was a good movement of land birds including 1000+ Yellow-rumped Warbler, 200+ White-throated Sparrow, 50+ White-crowned Sparrow, and 150+ American Pipit. Other land birds of noted included 2 Gray-cheeked Thrush, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2 Lapland Longspur, and 1 Common Nighthawk. On Gull Island we observed 59 species including 1 Buff-breasted Sandpiper, 1 Whimbrel, 1 American Golden Plover, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, and 5 Baird's Sandpiper.
Good birding, Bruce

Directions: To reach Presqu'ile Provincial Park, follow the signs from Brighton. Locations within the Park are shown on a map at the back of a tabloid that is available at the Park gate. The water level between Owen Point and Gull Island was knee deeep in some places.

Access to Gull Island off Owen Point is restricted from March 10-September 10 to prevent disturbance to the colonial nesting birds there. Starting September 25th there will be limited access due to waterfowl hunting. Birders can visit the area on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday while hunting takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

One of the best locations to see Buff-breasted Sandpiper during the fall is Presqu'ile Provincial Park.

Whimbrel in flight off Gull Island.

The Whimbrel is a rare but regularly visitor to Presqu'ile during the fall.

Osprey over Gull Island

The Lapland Longspur is a regular migrant during the fall at Presqu'ile.

September 19, 2010 Birding Lake Dore

Spent a couple of hours birding Lake Dore in Renfrew County. There was lots of activity on the lake once the fog lifted. The highlight was a first winter Little Gull feeding with 150+ Bonaparte's Gull. As the the fog lifted an immature Bald Eagle flew over and all the resting gulls began to fly around and we spotted the boldly marked Little Gull easily. There was a nice variety of water birds including 88 Common Loon, 28 Horned Grebe and 11 Red-necked Grebe. There were several feeding flocks of warblers around the edge of the lake consisting of 30 Yellow-rumped, 8 Palm, 1 Tennessee and 1 Northern Parula, along with 10+ White-crowned Sparrows and 2 Northern Cardinals.

Good birding,

Directions: To reach Lake Dore, go north of Eganville on Hwy 41 for 5 km., then left on Point Church Rd. Drive along the road looking for clearings along the lake shore to view the water. If you require any additional information, please email me privately.

The Common Loon regularly stages on Lake Dore during fall migration. Moulting adults can be found in large numbers through mid September to mid November.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16, 2010 Stewart D. MacDonald 1927-2010

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Stewart D. MacDonald, Canadian Ornithologist, at age 83 on September 10, 2010. He was born April 22, 1927 in Bayhead, Nova Scotia. Stu began his career as a technician in behavioral science at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa, now the Canadian Museum of Nature. He later attended the University of Iowa and returned to the museum in Ottawa as Assistant Curator of Ornithology. Stu was an accomplished artist and prepared the line drawings and maps in “The Birds of Canada” (Godfrey 1966, 1986). He spent much of his career studying Arctic birds including Ross's Gull and Ivory Gull. He retired in 1988 as Curator of Vertebrate Ethology at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Stu received the Massey Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 1992 for his distinguished work as an Arctic explorer and ornithologist specializing in animal behaviour. He was generous with his time and vast knowledge of bird behaviour. Stu was a mentor to many birders and will be remembered with great fondness.

For more information please contact his son Bruce MacDonald at

Bruce Di Labio

Stewart D. MacDonald

In 1992, Stewart D. MacDonald was awarded the Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. It was the icing on the cake for this arctic biologist after a career spent researching arctic ecosystems and championing the cause for conservation of this fragile environment. Retired and living in rural Dunrobin west of Ottawa, Stewart reflects on some of the milestones on his journey. It began on the ancestral family farm in Nova Scotia. He used to watch Cliff Swallows forming mud pellets for their nests while he was still in the carriage (although admittedly he does not recall). Even at this early age Stewart exhibited an intense curiosity about bird behaviour. This interest grew through his teens as he began to see the relationship of birds to their habitats. He said he was so fascinated with the marsh on their farm that “I frequented it almost as often as a bittern.” He befriended several knowledgeable people who encouraged his interests. In high school he became involved with entomological research programs and did a credible job for the Dept. of Agriculture in Fredericton. He was also showing skill in wildlife illustration. This combination helped land him a job as a technician with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. After finishing school he moved to Ottawa in 1947 for some high living at $100/month. “I was overwhelmed at the thought of having such wealth”. Stewart graduated from preparing mammal skulls to bird specimens collected by newly arrived ornithologist Earl Godfrey (author of The Birds of Canada). He thought it was fabulous to be able to handle so many species that he had only seen from a distance. His first trip to the arctic came in 1949 when he was the Canadian representative on the Smithsonian Expedition to Prince Patrick Island. It was an intensely interesting summer studying birds, mammals, plants, invertebrates, geology and fossils and the beginning of a career-long love affair with the arctic. He returned north four times before departing for Iowa in 1956 to obtain

a degree. He returned in 1959 as Assistant Curator of Birds, having developed a strong interest in grouse behaviour. He was later made the museum’s Curator of Vertebrate Ethology (animal behaviour). For 20 years, beginning in 1968, he spent his summers at the research station he established in Polar Bear Pass on Bathurst Island. This outpost served a generation of budding biologists and nature illustrators who came to research the north and

sample its beauty. Our knowledge of arctic ecosystems and the biology of a variety of mammals and birds is due

in no small part to his efforts there. Stewart led the charge to protect this unique area from development by oil and mineral interests. After 18 trying years, Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area was established. He was also instrumental in the designation of Seymour Island Bird Sanctuary, site of a major breeding colony of Ivory Gulls. Over the years he has banded about 1,500 adults and young. Stewart is a storyteller and in his time he has amassed quite a few of them. His love of the north and his efforts to protect its fragile ecosystem put him face to face with thousands of people across North America. Through public presentations, which featured his excellent photographic

skills, he instilled a sense of respect and awe for the arctic. This arctic legacy continued through a museum travelling exhibit that toured Europe and North America for over 11 years. Included among Stewart’s accomplishments is finding the first nest of Ross’s Gull in North America, providing drawings for The Birds of

Canada, doing the taxidermy for a number of the breathtaking dioramas in the Museum of Nature in Ottawa

and developing an extensive body of research on grouse. Today he quietly enjoys nature at home, where Bluebirds nest on the property and Pileated Woodpeckers frequent the feeders. Looking back, “The greatest satisfaction was providing an opportunity for promising young students to experience field biology.” This soft-spoken man has left a large footprint on the Canadian landscape.

Ontario Birding News