Southern Ontario: the final days

A cold front moved in the following day, and I hoped it would bring in some good birds. My mother, step-father and I went to Rondeau Park for the day. It was cold and windy, however – cold enough to require my winter gloves – and the “good birds” I was hoping for failed to materialize. We added only four birds to our trip list: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chipping Sparrow at the Visitor Center feeders, and a Prothonotary Warbler and Veery along the Tulip Tree trail. The Spicebush Trail and Pony Barn areas were deathly quiet, and only a few birds along the maintenance loop – including a Red-bellied Woodpecker – made the stop worthwhile. Altogether we saw only three warbler species: Prothonotary, Chestnut-sided, and Yellow Warbler.

Rondeau Provincial Park

Rondeau Provincial Park

The strong winds continued when we stopped by Hillman Marsh later in the day. The OFO was there with their “Shorebird Nights” program, and I enjoyed talking with Mike Burrell in the viewing shelter. We had a much better outing here than we did at Rondeau, with 29 species altogether. Unlike our last visit, songbirds were in short supply, while the water birds were the stars. The mist from two days ago had cleared, and we could see deeper into the cell where a number of ducks were foraging. These included Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Northern Pintail. A few larids were also loafing way out in the shallow water, including a single Herring Gull, several Bonaparte’s Gulls, one Caspian Tern and several Forster’s Terns.

Best of all were the shorebirds: Black-bellied Plovers, a pair of Killdeer, one Greater Yellowlegs, about five Lesser Yellowlegs, one tiny Least Sandpiper, about 500 Dunlin, and about five dowitchers were present. The shorebirds were quite flighty and often flew up and wheeled over the water before returning to the middle of the cell. At one point after the flock landed I had three dowitchers in my scope: one Long-billed and two Short-billed! Mike explained the difference to me, telling me that Long-billed Dowitchers have bars on their flanks while Short-billed Dowitchers have spots. I could see this clearly in the scope. Then he pointed out a male Wilson’s Phalarope spinning in the water, trying to stir up some invertebrates to eat.

Although the strong wind was an unpleasant distraction, the numerous birds in shorebird cell helped make up for an underwhelming day at Rondeau Park.

We were scheduled to drive back to Kitchener the following morning. However, after running into fellow OFNC member Jeff Skevington while at dinner in Leamington and hearing about the many warblers along a trail between the Blue Heron picnic area and Sanctuary Pond, we decided to return to the park in the morning. This was a great decision, even if it was still cool and terribly overcast in the woods. We had 24 species in just under in a hour, not including two flycatchers which unfortunately didn’t call. We saw a Bald Eagle fly over, and there were warblers – 13 species altogether, and multiples of each! We saw and/or heard a couple of Black-and-white Warblers, a brilliant male Prothonotary Warbler (likely the same one Jeff had mentioned), many Common Yellowthroats (all of which were foraging low to the ground – we only saw them when they kept hopping up out of the vegetation onto logs), an American Redstart, a couple of Northern Parulas, a couple of Magnolia Warblers, one Bay-breasted Warbler, a couple of Blackburnian Warblers, multiple Yellow Warblers, one Palm Warbler, about four Yellow-rumped Warblers, one Black-throated Green Warbler, and one Wilson’s Warbler. It was a great way to end our road trip!

On Thursday we went to the Linear Trail on Cambridge to try to pick up a few more birds. We saw several swallows flying out over the Grand River while a few Chimney Swifts soared overhead. Then I heard a Blackpoll Warbler’s distinctive metallic song, and eventually spotted him in a shrub above the path. He wasn’t very responsive to pishing, but he did move quite slowly through the branches – so slowly he would have been easy to photograph, had there not been so many intervening branches. This was the best image that I got:

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

I also heard a Tennessee Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and an American Redstart, although only the redstart came out to investigate when I started pishing.

American Redstart

American Redstart

There were lots of Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos and Song Sparrows, and I heard at least five different Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and four Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers (spotting these tiny birds in the huge trees was tough, but we did get a look at two). We saw one House Wren, one mystery thrush (likely a Hermit Thrush – it flew off too quickly to get a good look at it), a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and some sort of shorebird – possibly a yellowlegs – on a small sandy spit in the water. It flew off before we could even get close to it, and unfortunately it didn’t call.

Grand River

Grand River – click to enlarge. The spit where the shorebird was is in the middle of the photo.

There were no Orchard Orioles, but plenty of Baltimore Orioles. I finally managed to get a photo of one amongst the blossoms of a shrub in flower, something I’ve been trying to do for a few years now. Baltimore Orioles generally return north when the apple and cherry trees begin to bloom, as these birds feed on the blossoms, the blossom nectar, and the insects attracted to both during migration.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

The best bird was one that we heard but didn’t see – a Sandhill Crane. We heard it calling from across the river on the RARE property, and although we kept hoping to see it flying overhead, it seemed content where it was. Altogether we ended up with 40 species, not including the thrush, on the Linear Trail. We later visited the creek near my mother’s apartment and ended up with two more birds – a Carolina Wren which we only heard, and a Swainson’s Thrush at the edge of the water.

I ended the trip with 108 birds. This included one lifer (the Kirtland’s Warbler), 13 species of waterfowl, only two herons (where were the Green and Black-crowned Night-herons?), two birds of prey (Osprey and Bald Eagle – where were the falcons, accipiters and buteos?) 11 shorebird species, one owl, three wrens (still no Winter Wren for my year list), 20 warbler species, and six sparrow species (interestingly, no White-throated Sparrows). Once again we had to work hard for the birds at Point Pelee and Rondeau, as the weather worked against us. Still, it was an enjoyable trip overall, and I got to see some birds I wouldn’t have seen (or heard) in Ottawa – which is the main reason for going.

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2 thoughts on “Southern Ontario: the final days

    • Thanks Jason! I was really hoping for some great Orchard Oriole photos this time, but ended up with some great Baltimore Oriole photos instead – I can’t complain too much about that!

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