How Do They Do It!?

It had been a day of tough weather conditions: 25+ knot winds out of the SE were pushing up 3.5 metre waves, blowing the white foaming crests off. All day we pounded through the waves on the icebreaker Amundsen, mapping the sea floor of lower Frobisher Bay….and waiting for a commercial freighter to rendezvous with us so we could assist it through the Northwest Passage – or a version of it. My job on the ship was to count the seabirds I encountered and, thanks to nearby shrimp-fishing vessels, there were lots of them, especially Northern Fulmars. These enterprising birds have come to learn that fishing vessels can be a good source of food and will flock to them as soon as they see them. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) they confused our ship as just another fishing boat – a much bigger one….so maybe more scraps? There were thousands.

But they weren’t the exciting things. A couple of times during the day individual Snow Buntings flew up to the ship, checked it out, and kept going – generally SW. Now we’re about 10-20 miles off the SE end of Resolution Island and there’s a lot of very cold, inhospitable ocean if they miss it. The next land is northern Quebec/Ungava. I’m not sure where these birds would have come from. Eastern Baffin Island? Maybe even Greenland? (We get Greenland buntings in southern Ontario and several that have been banded in southern Ontario – one by us – have been recovered on the west coast of Greenland.) It’s possible.

One young male landed on the ship to get out of the snow but eventually took off again. It’s a good thing; this boat is a death trap to passerines. There’s no food to sustain them and eventually they succumb to hypothermia if they stay. On this trip, on the ship, I’ve seen several White-throated Sparrows, a couple of Common Redpolls, a Savannah Sparrow, and an American Pipit. None of them made it to my knowledge. I found the Savannah Sparrow lying dead on the upper deck; it had simply run out of energy in the 1 degree temperatures and windy conditions.

Late in the afternoon though I was amazed to see a small flock of male Snow Buntings winging their way, obviously on migration. How could they do it?! In these conditions? Well… seems they can make the conditions work for them. The wind was blowing hard from the SE so the swell it was pushing up was running NE to SW and moving to the NW. If it helps, get a pencil and paper. Draw a line across the page and mark NE at one end and SW at the other. This line represents the wave and the trough that the birds were sheltering in. They would be moving from the NE to the SW end. Now the wind is pushing that line/wave/trough toward the NW – represented by the top of the page. The resulting direction of movement for the birds is W(est). Get it? Following this strategy those birds would have reached Resolution Island in about half an hour. There they could hunker down and feed – get ready for the next leg – or just keep going until the next major landfall. These birds knew what they were doing and weren’t in that much trouble. Their major concern would be getting spotted by a hungry Glaucous Gull or a Peregrine Falcon – the former are pretty common in the vicinity of the ship and I’ve seen 2 falcons, both well offshore….and hunting.

It’s small wonder I like these small birds so much. They’re survivors.

Snow Bunting on deck

Snow Bunting on Deck

Glaucous Gull

Northern Fulmar

August 23rd – An Experiment


Great shot of a hunting Black-crowned Night Heron. -MMG

My laptop was quite a good one…..when I bought it about 12 years ago. It did all kinds of things and saved all kinds of files. But I noticed that over the years it began to slow down and then slow down even more. [Evidently aging can do that. Who knew!?] And it was sort of finicky; e.g., although I could whip off a blog complete with pictures when I was at home, I couldn’t do it away from home. So I’d have to wait, build up material, and do my thing when I returned.

Well enough of that says I and I sought expert advice. And then I talked that advisor into picking out a good laptop for me and programming it with the stuff she thought I might need. And she did…..Presto! It was that easy!

So right now, I’m in a little motel in New Brunswick in Perth-Andover and I’m actually doing up a blog….complete with pictures. HUZZAH!!! I am moving (or have been moved) into the New Age.

A very young American Robin. Possibly the progeny of a third brood…. -MMG

We had a young robin just like this one that was hanging around our back deck waiting for the Baltimore Orioles to drop cherries from the jam feeder. The robin would whip in an swallow it whole.

A young Gray Catbird. -MMG

An adult (note the red eye – juvenile irises are brown) Red-eyed Vireo. This one was foraging in a family group of 4 birds. -MMG

Seems to be lots of caterpillars around this year, which is good for this Black-billed Cuckoo. – RdeB


August 22nd – Get Ready!


One of our most colourful birds: Blackburnian Warbler. This handsome male was caught and banded at Ruthven this past Spring.

Migrants have been working their way south since the end of July but haven’t been all that noticeable (to me anyway). The thing that tells me that the migration is really getting underway is when I see a long-distance warbler that I know breeds north of here and thus is on its way if I see it here.

Yesterday I was doing my “usual” count around town – I meander through the streets, along the river and then do a loop in the countryside along Gowland Road, which takes me past farmers’ fields and a small woodlot. It was in the woodlot that I noticed a small bird gleaning its way through the foliage. Through my binos I discovered that it was a male Blackburnian Warbler (still pretty colourful despite wearing its “basic” – or Winter – plumage.

The centre of its range is in the Southern Shield area, so well north of us down here. Most spend the Winter in montane forests of the northern Andes but also in Amazonia and northern South America. So…..this bird has a looong way to go!

August 16th – Getting Ready…..


We’ve seen as many as 5 birds trying to access the same feeder. -DOL

One thing about this damned virus is that it’s given me a chance to catch up on my reading- all that stuff I had put into various piles (based on subject matter, fact vs fiction, etc.) meaning to work my way through it on a “rainy day”. Well those days are here, evidently, and I’m working my way through…. Now my reading spot of choice is a corner of our back deck where I can take in our 2 oriole feeders and our hummingbird feeder as well as a heavily-flowered trumpet vine that attracts both orioles and hummers.

For the past 2-3 weeks the oriole traffic has been….spectacular: as many as 10 can be seen at one time directly around the feeders. Then they fly off in one direction only to be replaced by a bunch coming in from another direction. I would love to know the absolute number that have used them during this time. Most appear to be young birds (some very young) but there’s a couple of adult males that mix in as well.

And, wow!, they sure are going through the jam – a bottle a day. I’m finding that their favourite is a President’s Choice Twice the Fruit Six-Fruit Flavour concoction that includes large numbers of cherries. The birds pick away at these and sometimes carry the larger ones off to a branch so they can tear them apart. Occasionally a cherry gets dropped but there’s a young Robin that likes to clean them up, swallowing them whole.

The young ones are doing a lot less begging now – most not all. They’re content just to bicker and vie for a spot (sometimes completely ignoring an empty feeder right beside them – it seems they’d rather fight). But this isn’t going to last too much longer. One night…soon…the sun will go down and about half an hour later this group of orioles will take off heading south. The next morning will likely find them a couple of hundred kilometers south of us, some on their way to Belize where I encountered them this past January.

In the meantime some folks have been getting out and about. Eila and her dad (Darren) did a back country kayak trip in the Kawarthas (no pictures!); Maggie and her family were at a cottage “up north” (nice pictures but too small to post); and Karen took her family on their annual pilgrimage to Algonquin Park. Here are some of her pictures:

2nd year male American Redstart just moulting into its full adult plumage. -KP

A “confusing fall warbler” – Black-throated Green Warbler. -KP

Adult Common Loon. -KP

Well-hidden Common Yellowthroat. -KP

Eastern Wood-pewee. -KP

Hairy Woodpecker. Note the very limited suffusion of red on its head indicating it’s a young (HY) bird. -KP

Another “confusing Fall warbler”: Magnolia Warbler. -KP

Male Myrtle Warbler. -KP

Pileated Woodpecker. -KP

Red-breasted Nuthatch. -KP

White-throated Sparrow – look for these guys in large numbers starting in October. -KP

Black-backed Woodpecker. -KP

Two Black-backed Woodpeckers. -KP


White Admiral. -KP

Monarch Butterfly. -KP

There is a large patch of milkweed over by the campground office at Mew Lake, and that’s where I’ve collected caterpillars and milkweed leaves for them to eat in the last few years while I’m here. Last year I probably found ten or so, and raised them in the relative safety of my mesh habitat for release. This year- one. I’m not sure what to make of that. I have seen maybe three adult monarchs flying around in different places so far which I think is fewer than usual. Lots of food available for them… just no monarchs. There is an old airfield over there too, usually dense with scrub blueberry- the little bushes are about half as high as usual, and not a berry to be seen. Maybe some unusual spring weather caused the berry drought. Makes you wonder which of these things are related- but really they all are, one way or another, aren’t they?
Tonight we will trek to the beach to enjoy the annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the wonders of the park at this time of year. The light pollution even in our relatively rural area is still significant when you compare it to the utter blackness here. Tonight, at the peak of the event, you can see 50-100 meteors per hour! It’s really something to see.

Milkweed Tussock Moth. -KP

Chowing down! I notice that when I find these guys, monarchs can be scarce… I only found one caterpillar in the large patch of milkweed I looked through today. I’m not sure if that’s an actual thing or not, though, just an observation.

Autumn Meadowhawk. -KP

Female Canada Darner. -KP

Rosy Maple Moth. -KP

Rosy Maple Moth caterpillar. -KP

Russet Alder Leaf Beetle. -KP

So…. this guy is in a family called ‘calligrapher’ beetles, because of the fancy markings on the shell. This particular variety only has 12 other iNaturalist sightings in Ontario, and this was only the 4th one in Algonquin Park. So that’s kind of fun!

Spotted Tussock Moth. -KP

Two-striped Grasshopper. -KP

Variable Dancer. -KP