The Birds of Northumberland County, Ontario
Up-date No.1 December 31, 2012
Compiled by Clive Goodwin
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This is the first up-date of the material in The Birds of Northumberland County. It is now over a year since the cut-off date used for records included in the original text (April 23, 2011), and there have been a number of noteworthy changes in this period. These include the addition of an exceptional six new species of birds and one new butterfly for the County, plus the occurrence of a new race and additional occurrences for six species of those birds with ten or fewer records for the County.
We also include notes of interest on some rarer species of both birds and butterflies, and add further comments on the problems inherent in displaying accurately the status over the years of the two most abundant colonial water bird species in the County.
New Bird Species and Races for the County
Common Eider: A December 1976 report of this species at Presqu’ile Provincial Park (below, Presqu’ile) was rejected by the records committee of the day due to the possibility of the bird being a female King Eider. On September 21, 2011 two dark brown Common Eiders were located by Douglas McRae between Gull and High Bluff islands at Presqu’ile. There were no subsequent reports, and the Presqu’ile waterfowl hunt commenced three days later, making further sightings unlikely.
On October 1 Margaret Bain located an immature Common Eider off Chub Point, south of Grafton. It stayed in the vicinity until October 4, and was seen by many. It seems very likely that this bird was one of the two seen earlier at Presqu’ile.
White-faced Ibis: Formerly this species was regarded as conspecific with Glossy Ibis, and hence all our earlier sightings of dark ibis were recorded as Glossies. There were at least four events, most of which gave rise to several reports each, including a group of eleven birds in 1976. Since then five more ibis records were not seen well enough to be sure of their species, while three birds were identified as Glossy Ibis.
On July 15, 2011 a dark ibis was seen in the gull colony on Gull Island at Presqu’ile by S. Oswald, but it was not fully identified at that time. It remained in the vicinity sporadically until September 12, and was finally identified as this species.
Swainson’s Hawk: On May 8, 2011 Frederick and Lois Helleiner were driving south on the main entry road at Presqu’ile when they saw an adult light morph Swainson’s Hawk soaring overhead. It gradually gained height and finally glided eastwards and out of sight. The bird was not seen again.
Common Gull: The Common Gull (Larus canus canus) is currently considered to be the European race of the Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus). In the late winter of 2011 the large concentrations of Ring-billed Gulls in Cobourg harbour attracted at least two Mew Gulls, the second of which, on March 23, found by Sarah Petrasek, was subsequently confirmed as a Common Gull.
Common Gull, Cobourg Harbour, March 23 2011. Photos© Bruce Parker
Common Gull, with Ring-billed Gulls Cobourg Harbour, March 23 2011. Photos© Bruce Parker
"Big mirrors on Primaries 10 and 9 and the amount of black in the wingtips is typical of Common Gulls in Europe" - Jean Iron.
Common Gull at Cobourg Harbour on 23 March 2011. Photo© Bruce Parker
Rufous Hummingbird: On August 4, 2012 an adult male Rufous Hummingbird was seen by William Gilmour visiting his feeder at 83 Bayshore Rd. on the Presqu’ile peninsula. The bird was seen repeatedly by several observers over the course of the next hour and 20 minutes, but then left, and was not seen subsequently.
Thick-billed Kingbird: The most unexpected sighting in many years was a Thick-billed Kingbird found by William Gilmour, at the east end of the Calf Pasture area at Presqu’ile on August 28, 2012. This cooperative bird remained in the general area until August 31, and was seen by hundreds of observers.
Thick-billed Kingbird, found by William Gilmour, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, August 29 2012. Photos© Sherwood McLernon
Cave Swallow: There was an undocumented sighting of this species, which in recent years has become a fairly frequent late fall visitor to the southwest of Ontario, in Brighton on November 10, 2007. Fall 2012 yielded a number of reports along the Lake Ontario shoreline, including a bird reported from the A.K.Skulthorpe marsh in Port Hope on October 30 by Jerry Ball. Two days later, on November 1, five Cave Swallows were foraging near the small marsh at Chub Point, and were seen and photographed by three observers including Jerry Ball, together with David Milsom and Martin Parker.
Cave Swallows seen by Jerry Ball, together with David Milsom and Martin Parker at Chub Point, November 1 2012. Photos© Dave Milsom
Additional Sightings of Bird Species with 10 or Fewer Prior Records
Pacific Loon: A bird at Chub Point, October 19, 2011 was our third.
Snowy Egret: A bird seen at Presqu’ile, July 5, 2011 was probably the eleventh occurrence (there are more sightings in the database, but likely of birds already recorded).
Black Vulture: Birds were seen at Presqu’ile on April 11, 2012, and (perhaps even the same bird) north of Grafton on May 7, 2012, our fifth and sixth occurrences.
Worm-eating Warbler: A Cobourg bird on May 7, 2011, was probably our eighth.
Blue Grosbeak: A Presqu’ile sighting on May 11, 2012 was our seventh (although a bird seen at Cobourg on May 9, 1970 may have been the same individual as another at Presqu’ile on May 11 that year).
Blue Grosbeak, found by David Bree Senior Naturalist Heritage Leader, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 11 2012. Photo© David Bree
Blue Grosbeak, found in the Calf Pasture area of Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 11 2012. Photo© David Bree
Notes of Interest on Some Less Common Bird Species
Trumpeter Swan: A mixed swan pair (Mute x Trumpeter) nesting was noted from the Brighton area in the main account; however, more recently a pair of Trumpeters were reported as nesting successfully in the Campbellcroft area in both 2011 and 2012.
Piping Plover: Presqu’ile occurrences of this endangered species in the spring of both 2011 and 2012 included banded birds. In both years, these proved to have been banded in northern Michigan. The 2011 bird was banded the previous year.
Piping Plover, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 4 2011. Photo© Doug McRae
Piping Plover, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 10 2011. Believed to be a different bird than the one seen on May 4 2011. Photo© Doug McRae
Piping Plover, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 15 2012. Photo© Doug McRae
American Avocet: We have 15 records of this species, from some 10 occurrences. All of these were of single birds, but on April 23, 2011 a spectacular flock of 32 birds in full alternate plumage spent the day at Presqu’ile.
American Avocets, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, April 23 2011. Photos© Doug McRae
Bohemian Waxwing: This winter visitor has shown dramatic increases since 2000. The winter of 2010-11 yielded some 7048 birds reported (some amount of duplication in counts is inevitable), over three times as many as the previous high of the 1999-2000 winter.
Bohemian Waxwing, January 20 2011. Photo© Sherwood McLernon
Louisiana Waterthrush: This species has yielded records of territorial males singing since 1995, and a pair has been reported nesting in the Ganaraska Forest just west of the County boundary for some years. On June 9, 2011 a bird was seen entering a nest site in Peter’s Woods Provincial Nature Reserve, yielding our first confirmed evidence of probable breeding for the County.
Colonial Waterbird Records: We continue to receive comments and queries about the ‘inaccuracies’ in the figures shown on the charts for Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls. We strongly urge users to read the accounts of these two species on the website itself, and also to read the caveats at the beginning of the charts section.
The database is a compilation of sight records by observers across the County and over the years. It’s increasingly acknowledged that such compilations can yield valuable information, for example, providing evidence of global warming, and of the effects of West Nile virus.
But the two species mentioned are particularly abundant in the County, due to the huge (and normally inaccessible) colonies at Presqu’ile, and they are carefully counted, albeit rather infrequently, by wildlife agencies. Birding visitors to the Park in the breeding season are faced with a dilemma: do they try to count these species, knowing full-well that any such count is bound to be wholly unrepresentative of the real numbers present, or do they ignore them, at the cost of making their records even less accurate? And if they choose to count, what do they count?
Away from the Park birders face similar, although less pronounced, problems. Ring-billed Gulls steadily patrol the waterfront, backwards and forwards. How many birds are patrolling? Does it make any sense even to record Ring-billed Gulls under these circumstances? The cormorant numbers are even more difficult to come to grips with, as the back-and-forth movements include not just single birds, but large flocks.
Whatever is decided, even by those who consider that any counting apart from ‘noteworthy species’ is a total waste of time, or those who count enthusiastically for a year or two and then not bother at all for the next three, the database itself, and any simple charts derived from it, are faithful mirrors of those decisions, but much less accurate pictures of these birds’ status over the years.
New and Additional Butterfly Records for the County
Brown Elphin: An insect photographed between Beaches 2 and 3 on the pannes at Presqu’ile on May 8, 2011 by Karen Anderson was our first record of this species.
Brown Elphin, Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 8 2011. Photo© Karen Anderson
Crossline Skipper: One, July 30, 2011, Presqu’ile.
Giant Swallowtail: Presqu’ile had its first-ever record of a first brood on June 28, 2011, and the year yielded a noteworthy eleven sightings in all from the Park.
Clouded Sulphur: One at Presqu’ile on April 30, 2011 was early.
Banded Hairstreak: Additional Presqu’ile records were on August 6, 2008 and July 30, 2011.
Eastern Pine Elphin: One in the pannes at Presqu’ile, May 7, 2012 was the first for the Park.
American Snout: One was seen on Victoria Beach, Cobourg, June 21, 2012.