[Ontbirds]California Gull at Rainy River - 9 July

Glenn Coady glenn_coady at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 10 10:50:55 EDT 2005

Ontbirds subscribers,

Yesterday, July 9th, while atlassing in the Rainy River area, I discovered 
an adult California Gull on Byrnes Rd. It was among 400+ Ring-billed Gulls 
and 150+ Franklin's Gulls which were feeding in a freshly cut hay field.

To reach this field, proceed 1.65 km north from the corner of Hwy 11 and 
Government Rd. (corner with the Roadrunner Motel and the Rainy River Curling 
Club on it) to the corner of Government Rd. and Byrnes Rd. Turn right (east) 
and proceed 1.97 km along Byrnes Rd. Many observers will remember this as 
the same farm property where John Lamey discovered a singing Baird's Sparrow 
in 1996.

Many of the Ring-billed Gulls were following a tractor cutting hay on the 
north side of the road. The California Gull was loafing with large numbers 
of Ring-billed Gulls and Franklin's Gulls on the south side of the road near 
the area with the large rolls of newly cut hay.

The western part of Rainy River district has received an enormous amount of 
rain this spring and summer (much like nearby southern Manitoba) with the 
very hot and humid spell of the past week (persistent 32-34C) being the 
first long break from precipitation. Consequently, the water levels on 
Lake-of-the-Woods are very high (Windy Point is now a small island - most of 
it now being under water) and most poorly drained hay fields across the 
entire area have effectively become nice facsimiles of wet sedge fens.

The result is that Le Conte's Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and Yellow Rails are 
present in astounding numbers, much higher than I have ever experienced in 
the area (although I'm sure such occurrences are periodic). Le Conte's 
Sparrows are not only to be found in EVERY sizeable hay field, but fields in 
which I am used to hearing or seeing 1-2 birds often have 10 or more, and 
those which normally have 5-10 birds often have 20-30. On many point counts 
Le Conte's Sparrow outnumbers Savannah Sparrow.

Similarly, the number of sites for Sedge Wrens has increased dramatically, 
with more birds per site than usual.

In driving the area at night, the number of Yellow Rails is truly 
remarkable. The traditional area sometimes suitable for them along Wilson 
Creek Rd. has at least 50-60 birds. In addition, most of the large flooded 
hay fields have Yellow Rails. I have found Yellow Rails ticking at flooded 
hay fields along Hwy 600, River Rd., Colonization Rd., Acree Rd., 
Worthington Rd. 2, Worthington Rd. 3, Blue Rd. 2, Blue Rd. 3, etc. I have 
found them in flooded hay fields as far east as Pinewood and Stratton as 
well. An estimate of about 200+ birds would be quite conservative. How many 
additional birds already incubating full clutches are already fallen silent?

Unfortunately, many of these ephemeral territories are in hay fields that 
are right now being cut, meaning many of these Le Conte's Sparrows, Sedge 
Wrens and Yellow Rails will undoubtedly meet with nest failures.

Bird song in the area is still quite good, the one noticeable exception 
being Connecticut Warbler, which is sometimes found by pishing or use of 
playback, but I found few that were still singing in the aspen stands.

On July 5th, I found an adult Red-shouldered Hawk off Hwy 621 south of 
Gameland - presumably a wandering individual, but I did see it fly into a 
swampy mixed forest on private land which I could not obtain permission to 

Other atlassing highlights have included a nest with young of Red-bellied 
Woodpeckers (yes, you read that correctly!) found south of the Oak Grove 
Camp on July 8th, a long-sought Yellow Rail nest, fledged young Marbled 
Godwits in squares 15UQ90 and 15UP99, and several Connecticut Warblers 
carrying food (presumably to already fledged young, as this nest has 
regretfully eluded me yet again).

Black-billed Magpies continue to proliferate in this area, with many more 
active sites each time I visit, and used nests being simply ubiquitous now. 
On one point count I had 28 Black-billed Magpies! The good fortune of fine 
weather enabled me to do 150+ point counts in 5 squares in western Rainy 
River district.

Good luck to all with your own final atlassing push in your area,

Glenn Coady

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