Southern Ontario: Shorebirds!

Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

On Saturday, May 9th I took the train to southern Ontario for my annual visit with my family. My mother is a birder, too, so we usually spend a few days birding while on our vacation. This year we returned to the shores of Lake Erie to visit Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park. Along the way we stopped in at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons (permit required) to check out the shorebird action. This is one of my favourite spots in southern Ontario. Not only are there lots of shorebirds (usually in the hundreds), there are lots of birds of all types. We tallied 34 species there, including a Baltimore Oriole and a Warbling Vireo singing in the tree across from the gate and a Killdeer running down the road upon our arrival.

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Migration Resumes!

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

I resumed my early morning visits to Hurdman on Monday, May 4th and was happy to finally see some new birds. I realized things had changed when I heard my first Black-throated Green Warbler along the feeder path. It was foraging in a relatively small tree, and when I saw a second bird darting among the new leaves I was pleased when I identified it as a Nashville Warbler.

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also present, as were several White-throated Sparrows scurrying along the path. It seems like I’ve been waiting for these birds to arrive for ages, and to my surprise I found a single White-crowned Sparrow among them. The White-crowns arrive later in May, after the juncos leave, and I wasn’t quite expecting them yet as I had just seen a junco two days earlier at the Beaver Trail (my last junco sighting of the spring, as it turns out). Altogether I saw between 20 and 30 White-throated Sparrows foraging in various spots along the trail, the largest flock of clear-cut migrants I had seen so far – I have seen and heard other White-throated Sparrows this spring, but never more than ten, and those behaved more like breeding residents singing on territory than migrants just passing through. (Indeed, this turned out to the only large flock of migrant White-throats I’ve observed this spring, adding another mystery to this year’s spring migration.)

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An OFNC Outing: The Flora and Fauna of Sheila McKee Park

Eastern Red-backed Salamanders

Eastern Red-backed Salamanders

When I woke up on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a good day as soon as I looked out the back window and saw a Blue-headed Vireo and a Black-throated Green Warbler in a neighbour’s tree. Both species were new for my (seen from the) yard list, but that’s not what made me so happy; it is the fact that these birds appearing in my wide-open neighbourhood with no real tree canopy could only mean that migration had finally resumed! If I was seeing these kinds of birds in my own neighbourhood, who knew what birds could be found in more migrant-friendly habitat! That morning I planned to attend Jakob Mueller’s OFNC outing to Sheila McKee Park along the Ottawa River. I had never been there, but I was guessing that if it was anything like Shirley’s Bay, I might see all kinds of birds!

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Waiting for Migration to Resume

Raccoon

Raccoon

The long-awaited south winds arrived on Saturday, and I was eager to get out the door early and see if any new birds had blown in with the gorgeous weather. I started off the day at Jack Pine Trail where I hoped to find the Black-backed Woodpeckers again. Though I didn’t see the woodpeckers or any new birds (where are the Winter Wrens? The Field Sparrows?), I did come up with 25 species, including two Tree Swallows flying over the marsh at the back, three different Brown Creepers singing, two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a flock of 10 Cedar Waxwings flying over, half a dozen White-throated Sparrows singing, and a single Purple Finch.

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A Lull in Migration

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Steady north winds for the past week have brought migration to a halt. While the temperature this week has been much warmer than last week’s cold, gray, miserable weather (20°C compared to only 8°C!), the steady winds out of the north have had a distinct bite to them and, even worse, have prevented the next big wave of birds from continuing their journey north. Very few new species have arrived, while earlier migrants appear to have moved on. I’ve been to Hurdman three times in the past week and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden once – not only have I NOT seen anything new, but have found that even the species that were present were present in very low numbers. In fact, other than a few juncos, a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a single Hermit Thrush (heard only) at the FWG, the only birds I’ve seen in these places are the common breeding birds.

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Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Duck (male)

Ring-necked Duck (male)

On Saturday I got up early as I only had a couple of hours until it was supposed to rain. My first stop of the day was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard a White-throated Sparrow singing as soon as I got out of the car. This reminded me of the White-throated Sparrow I had heard singing somewhere close to the parking lot all last summer; I wondered if the same territorial male had returned. What made this observation interesting is that I haven’t yet heard or seen any White-throats around, other than the three over-wintering sparrows at Mud Lake. This seems a bit late to me, as I’m sure I’ve seen them by mid-April in previous years.

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Migration at Hurdman

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Spring migration is progressing, and although several new species have arrived recently, none are back in any big numbers – except maybe the Bohemian Waxwings that moved through last week and the juncos that are starting to move through now. I spent a few mornings at Hurdman Park before work last week, hoping to take advantage of the early hour to find some new birds. On Monday the 13th I had a good outing, spotting two Green-winged Teal huddled against the shore (a first for me at this location), two Common Goldeneye, two Hooded Mergansers, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, about 20 Bohemian Waxwings, a single American Tree Sparrow, and two Rusty Blackbirds. I heard their squeaky song and thought it sounded different from a grackle’s rusty gate-hinge song, and just got my binoculars on the birds when a Red-winged Blackbird chased them off. I also heard an Eastern Phoebe singing and heard the rattle of Belted Kingfisher, though I saw neither bird.

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