Bevy of Migrating Birds Visits Oxtongue Lake
In the spring of 2013, 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 migrating birds such as Purple Finches visiting my dad’s bird feeder just outside the patio door.
While my dad and Bob set off to check for flood damage at lakeside, intermittent rain showers continued to add to the rising waters.
Already, the situation was quite serious with beach properties submerged beneath at least a foot of water.
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.
The song birds 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 the Purple Finch’s feathers had such a burgundy hue.
The adult male Purple Finch has a crimson crown with a seemingly raspberry wash on his breast, back and rump.
The 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.
The powerful, conical beaks of Purple Finches are larger than other sparrow’s beaks. They eat mainly seeds, berries and insects, and will frequent bird feeders as they are fond of sunflower seeds, millet, and thistle.
The adult male Purple Finch is smaller than the male Pine Grosbeak, which we had seen at my dad’s feeders during the winter, and equally as beautiful. The burst of colour did much to brighten an otherwise dreary day.
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.
As my dad battled the crush of floating sheets of ice, I was happily capturing the ongoing events with my camera.
What a pleasant surprise it was, then, to see other migrating birds, such as a Belted Kingfisher which 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.
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. They have been known to nest on my parents’ property in years past.
I had better luck later when I spotted numerous White-throated Sparrows 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.
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.
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.
At the same time, a Fox Sparrow 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.
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.
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 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.
Instead, they were filling up, probably in preparation for the next leg of their migratory route.
As if to join the party, a couple of American Tree Sparrows happened by. American Tree Sparrows are identifiable by their chestnut-coloured crown and two-toned beak.
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 Sparrows are plump and long-tailed sparrows, yet small with round heads.
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.