Migrating Birds Visit Oxtongue Lake, Spring 2013

purple finch on tree - oxtongue lake - ontario

This past weekend, while communities floundered under the worst spring flooding ever, song birds were flocking to Oxtongue Lake as part of their seasonal migration.  What a pleasure it was to see Purple Finches (Carpodacus purpureus) visiting my dad’s bird feeder just outside the patio door.

Bob and my dad head to check flooding levels - Oxtongue Lake - Ontario - april 19 2013

While my dad and Bob set off to check for flood damage at lakeside, intermittent rain showers continued to add to the rising waters.

oxtongue lake - flooded - april 19 2013

Already, the situation was quite serious with beach properties submerged beneath at least a foot of water.

canada geese on oxtongue lake - ontario

canada geese swim in rain - oxtongue lake - ontario

The weather was great for the ducks and geese, and they were quick to take advantage of the available  open water, whereas the lake, itself, was still frozen over.

purple finch - in birdfeeder during rainstorm - oxtongue lake - ontario

The songbirds had to make the best of a wet situation that day, and the dampness of their plumage was very evident.  I couldn’t get over the fact that a Purple Finch’s feathers had such a burgundy hue.

purple finch - looks my way - oxtongue lake - ontario

An adult male Purple Finch has a crimson crown with a seemingly raspberry wash on his breast, back and rump.

purple finch - view of back - oxtongue lake - ontario

purple finch - female - on grass - oxtongue lake - ontario

A female Purple Finch, on the other hand, is olive greyish streaked with dusky brown, and the underparts are white, heavily streaked with olive.  The females have a whitish eye stripe and a dark line down the side of the throat.

purple finch - looks ahead - oxtongue lake - ontario

The powerful, conical beaks of Purple Finches are larger than other sparrows’ beaks.  They eat mainly seeds, berries and insects, and will frequent bird feeders where sunflower seeds, millet, and thistle seeds are found.

purple finch - on tree in heavy rain - oxtongue lake - ontario

An adult male Purple Finch is smaller than a male Pine Grosbeak, which we had seen at my dad’s feeders during the winter, and equally as beautiful.  Their colourful plumage did much to brighten an otherwise dreary day.

flood waters from stream - oxtongue lake - ontario april 19 2013

As the day evolved, more and more runoff threatened to overpower culverts along Oxtongue Lake Road.  There seemed to be no end in sight of the flood waters rushing into Oxtongue Lake.

Marvin moves ice - oxtongue lake - ontario - april 19 2013

As my dad battled the crush of floating sheets of ice, I was happily capturing the ongoing events with my camera.

oxtongue lake - flooded beach - april 19 2013

What a pleasant surprise it was, then, to see a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) land in the top of the small bush by the shore.  Before I could snap a photo, it flew off and landed on the top of the neighbour’s flag pole.  Still, I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, but it was a welcome sight.

Oxtongue Lake flooding - flood land and fences into the lake  - April 20 2013

A few moments later, I saw an uncommon bird land in some long, dead grass that the rising waters had not yet covered.  I guess I was so focused on the drama of the unfolding flood situation that, again, I didn’t manage to get a photograph.  When it flew across my dad’s property and landed next to the roadway on another patch of relatively dry soil, I recognized the unmistakeable beak and profile of an American Woodcock (Scolopax minor).  They have been known to nest on my parents’ property in years past.

white throated sparrow - male - with a seed in its peak - oxtongue lake - ontario

I had better luck later when I spotted numerous White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) foraging for seeds on the ground.  At first, I thought I was seeing White-crowned Sparrows, until I looked at some images on the camera and detected the prominent yellow spot in front of the eye.

white throated sparrow - view of back on grass - oxtongue lake - ontario

With their chestnut brown backs, striped with black, the White-throated Sparrows blended in so well with the brown grass and pine needles that I nearly missed seeing them.

white throated sparrow - male - oxtongue lake - ontario

It was very entertaining watching these small sparrows scratch through the leaves in search of food.  It is not uncommon for them to eat fresh buds in the springtime, which might explain their keeping in and under the cedar hedge.

fox sparrow - red form - hunts for seed - oxtongue lake - ontario

At the same time, a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) crept out from under the cedar trees.  The foxy red hue of the plumage is most noticeable on the tail, and the white underparts are heavily blotched and arrow-marked with rusty or chestnut feathers.

fox sparrow - red form - looks to camera - oxtongue lake - ontario

This large robust sparrow was also comedic in its actions.  With its hyperactive ground-scratching behavior, sprays of leaf litter were sent flying.  Fox Sparrows use their sturdy legs to uncover insects and seeds.

This pair busied itself for most of the afternoon, scratching below the bird feeder and underneath the cedar hedge.

common red poll - looks down from tree - oxtongue lake - ontario

I tell you, I was kept busy.  It seemed that the inclement weather was bringing out all sorts of birds.  The next thing you know, a number of Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) arrived on the scene.  I later tried to report these through ebird Ontario sightings where I learned that they should already have left the Oxtongue area for their summer grounds in the far north.

common red poll feeds on ground - oxtongue lake - ontario

common red poll - on tree - oxtongue lake - ontario

Instead, they were filling up, probably in preparation for the next leg of their migratory route.

american tree sparrow sits on roof - oxtongue lake - ontario

As if to join the party, a couple of American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea) happened by.  American Tree Sparrows are identifiable by their chestnut-coloured crown and two-toned beak.

white throated sparrow - on grass - oxtongue lake - ontario

Again, these  sparrows are passing through during their migration to the edge of the Arctic tundra where they nest.   We were happy to oblige them with some nourishment.

american tree sparrow on ground - oxtongue lake - ontario

American Tree Sparrows are plump and long-tailed sparrows, yet small with round heads.

Oxtongue lake - flooded shoreline through birch trees - april 19 2013

So, while extreme high levels of water covered many northern Ontario communities, bird migration was in full swing.  It certainly was a treat to see such a variety of birds in one place at one time.

Checkout our other Spring Flood of 2013 postings:

Ragged Falls - spring rush  -  Oxtongue River - Ontario - April 20 2013

Ragged Falls Under Major Spring Flooding – Oxtongue River

Oxtongue Lake flooding - flood land and fences into the lake  - April 20 2013

Oxtongue Lake – The Spring Flood of 2013

Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean

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