June 15 - Balsam Lake, City of Kawartha Lakes
June 16 - Innisfil area, Simcoe County
June 17 - Bala area, Muskoka District
June 18 - From Bala to Elk Lake, Timiskaming District
June 19 - Elk Lake to Fraserdale
June 20 - Boreal Butterflies and Woodpeckers of Fraserdale
June 21 - Smooth Rock Falls to Hearst Birding, Matachewan Mothing
June 22 - Matachewan to Hilliardton Marsh
June 23 - Purplish Coppers in Parry Sound District
I enjoyed a sleep in at the Moose Motel and spent some time catching up on emails, editing photos, and researching for the upcoming days. By late morning I left the motel and continued west. Today would mostly be a birding day along Highway 11, between Smooth Rock Falls and Hearst.
Like many other birders, I keep more than a few lists. County-listing has become an interest of mine pretty much since I began birding, and Cochrane District is one of my "better" county lists. Over the years I have embarked on five rarity-filled expeditions to the coast of James Bay, several shorter autumn forays to Moosonee, and numerous trips during the spring and summer to complete breeding bird surveys for employers, so my Cochrane District list is one of the higher ones (behind Doug McRae and Alan Wormington, and possibly a few others). However, my Cochrane list still had several few holes that needed filling. Most of these are breeding species that reach the northern extent of their range in the southern part of the district - species like Bobolink, Virginia Rail, Black-billed Cuckoo and Pine Warbler.
My first stop of the day was along Lookout Road - a potholed, gravel path that passes through shrubland and light woodland west of Smooth Rock Falls. The breeze kept some of the biting insects at bay and eventually, a Black-billed Cuckoo responded to my playback. One also flew across the trail as I backtracked to my vehicle. Success!
In northern Ontario, one of the tried and true methods of searching for rare birds is to stick to the towns and open areas. Across vast swaths of forest and peatland, the highways and associated towns act like magnets to lost birds, especially those species that prefer open areas or that may take handouts at a bird feeder. I always scour the communities between Cochrane and Hearst whenever I am in the area, making a point of searching bird feeders, scanning open fields, checking sewage lagoons and landfills, and generally being attentive for the possibility of literally anything appearing. Sometimes I see nothing of interest, but other times, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher appears alongside the highway like what happened in early October of 2012.
The middle of June is not peak rarity season, but it can still be pretty good in northern Ontario. And today was one of the lucky days. While driving through the town of Moonbeam, I noticed a few birds on a lawn, underneath someone's bird feeder. One of the birds was a Mourning Dove, but the other individual piqued my interest. It soon became apparent that it was a male House Finch.
House Finches may be commonplace to those of us who reside in southern Ontario, but they are still a rare bird in the boreal forest. While the species has slowly pushed northward, this individual is the first to be reported from Cochrane District (as far as I am aware). While I would have preferred a Lazuli Bunting or Cassin's Finch, this House Finch was still a fun find.
Unfortunately, the next door neighbour saw me taking pictures from inside my car. She came flying out of her house, screaming at me and asking why I was photographing her house. I calmly explained that I was a birder, and I was taking pictures of a House Finch on her neighbour's lawn, which is a rare species. That did not seem to appease the woman and the yelling continued, and so I slowly drove off to avoid any further interaction. Despite all the time I have spent in northern Ontario, this is only the second negative interaction I can recall having had with someone. Almost everyone is welcoming and friendly in the north.
In the town of Kapuskasing I followed up on an earlier report of Virginia Rails northeast of town. It was mid-afternoon by the time that I arrived, but the Virginia Rails were grunting away. My third county tick of the day.
In my opinion, the Hearst sewage ponds are some of the best in Ontario. They consist of four huge lagoons and three smaller cells which act like a magnet for hundreds of ducks and shorebirds (if conditions are suitable). Additionally, they are surrounded by boreal forest, so one can scope shorebirds and ducks while listening to Tennessee and Mourning Warblers, Lincoln's Sparrows and Swainson's Thrushes. I had only visited these lagoons on six other occasions, though on one visit I discovered Cochrane's second record of Willet, and on another, Jeremy Bensette, Alan Wormington and I found Cochrane's first record of Eastern Meadowlark in a field near the lagoons. If only these lagoons were visited more often since they exhibit sky-high potential.
My main target species this afternoon was Ruddy Duck. Jeff Skevington and Vincent Fyson had visited here during the previous day and had discovered the female Ruddy Duck, a species which is rare but regular enough in Cochrane District. It did not take long to rediscover the Ruddy Duck in the southeast cell, though I scanned hundreds of other ducks before picking her up in my scope.
With the sun starting to sink lower in the sky I turned around and headed back east. I had not, up to this point, made up my mind where I wished to spend the night. I finally settled on the Matachewan area. This was a part of the province I had wanted to check out for butterflies, while it was also situated near birding areas I wished to explore the next day. It was a long drive, but by 11:00 PM I arrived in the area. I turned off onto a logging road and headed back towards an area identified in the ROM Field Guide to the Butterflies of Ontario.
Some rain had fell during my drive, but the conditions were warm and dry upon my arrival. The sun had only been down for an hour, and sphinx moths were on the wing. I saw a half dozen of them, as well as a Luna Moth, from my car on the short drive in from the highway. I could not set up my moth light fast enough!
I tallied eight species of sphinx moth during the evening, though none were new ones for me. Below are a few of the individuals which I photographed.
I did not find any provincial rarities, but it was still a highly productive evening with over ten species I had never seen before, some of which are pictured below.
The White-dotted Prominent Moth (Nadata gibbosa) is an attractive species that I had wanted to see for a while. It was nice to finally get acquainted with three of them. This is a widespread species that can feed on a variety of deciduous tree and shrub species.
I have a soft spot for moths in the genus Cydia. This was a new one for me - the Eastern Pine Seedworm Moth (Cydia toreuta). It was no surprise that this moth was present at this site, since its larvae feed on the seeds of two common trees of the area: the Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) and Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana).
I believe that this next moth is the Rannoch Marble (Apotomis infida). This infrequently reported species is widespread, but has only been collected from a few locales in Ontario. Two of them appeared on my sheet this evening. The hostplants for this species include Willow (Salix sp.), Field Wormwood (Artemisia campestris) and Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides).
I really enjoyed my first ever Scallop Moth (Cepphis armataria), though I would later see individuals on at least three other occasions in southern Ontario.
This Pustulated Carrion Beetle (Nicrophorus pustulatus) appeared midway through the night and smashed around for a while before settling on the sheet. This particular genus of beetle is well known for burying the carcasses of small mammals or birds, using them as food sources for their larvae.
Despite observing two separate Luna Moths (Actias luna) flying around, none appeared at the sheet. In fact, the only giant silkworm moths to appear were singles of Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) and Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). At the time, this was only my third encounter with Polyphemus Moth but I would later find over a dozen individuals throughout the summer in southern Ontario.
Below are a few other gems from the evening's haul of moths.