Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.
After returning from my vacation to southern Ontario I had two days off, but with no car I wasn’t able to go birdwatching anywhere exciting. On April 19th I headed out to the storm water ponds well before the rain was supposed to start around noon, but got caught in a light shower just as soon as I arrived. I decided to continue my walk anyway, as a few new species had been seen there while I was away: Sophie added Northern Harrier (!), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Peregrine Falcon (!!) all on April 16th, and Peter Blancher added Fox Sparrow on April 17th. I wasn’t sure whether any of these birds would stick around for very long, but thought it would be great to see what was new.
I found a couple of White-throated Sparrows, two Barn Swallows, and two Tree Swallows almost right away. Ten Hooded Mergansers were still making use of the pond, though most of the geese had left. Only five Mallards were present.
Wallaceburg is in Chatham-Kent, but Lambton County is just a ten-minute drive away from my mother’s house. I didn’t realize this when Mom suggested we go birding north along the St. Clair River; although I am not a huge county lister, the new eBird profile pages are great incentive for birding across county lines. The profile pages provide you with a coloured map of all the countries, provinces, states and counties where you have birded, the colours shading from yellow to red depending on the number of species seen, and there is something about seeing all those empty white spaces (much like a Sudoku puzzle) that creates a festering need to fill them in.
The St. Clair River connects the upper and lower Great Lakes and separates Ontario from Michigan. There are numerous small parks and lookouts along the river that can be used for picnicking, camping, or river-watching. Although most of the parks consist of manicured lawns with a few trees here and there, the chief attraction here for birders is the thousands of ducks, gulls and other migratory waterfowl that congregate here in the winter and during migration, in particular Common Goldeneyes, Redheads, and Canvasbacks. We took a drive from Port Lambton up past Sombra on my first morning in southern Ontario, crossing over into Lambton County as we stopped at some of these parks and giving me the opportunity to fill in one more county on my eBird profile page.
We headed out of the park to eat a late lunch in Leamington (nothing along Point Pelee Drive was open on Easter Sunday) and then returned to the marsh boardwalk as our final stop in the park. It was a bit cool out on the water, but it was great to see several Barn and Tree Swallows swooping over the observation platform. As usual, there were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds and grackles, but unlike other years we saw no warblers or small migrants in the trees adjacent to the parking lot. Six Turkey Vultures and one Double-crested Cormorant flew over, and we heard two Song Sparrows and three Swamp Sparrows. We also saw two Herring Gulls land on a small clump of dirt in the marsh – this was the first time I’d seen this species at this location. Common Yellowthroats hadn’t returned yet, so we didn’t hear their rolling “witchity, witchity, witchity” song in the cattails.
Point Pelee National Park is only about a 75-minute drive from my mother’s new house, so on Easter Monday we got up early and made the trip down. We arrived at the Visitor Center at 9:45 am, and as this was the first time we’d ever been there outside of the Festival of Birds, we were unprepared to find that the center did not open till 10:00, which was the same time that the tram to the tip started running. I was also surprised to see that the non-birders (including families, cyclists, and dog-walkers) out-numbered the birders. Although Point Pelee is a year-round destination for bird watching, I suspect that the number of non-birders was so high due to the holiday, the nice weather (finally!), and the fact that entrance to Canada’s National Parks is free in celebration of our nation’s 150th birthday. Fortunately we only had a short wait before we could get to the tip and start our birding day, and although we were still a few weeks away from the peak of songbird migration, we still managed to find some interesting birds.
On Good Friday I traveled to southern Ontario for my annual spring visit with my mom. Last winter she moved from Kitchener to Wallaceburg, which is about 30 minutes northwest of Chatham-Kent near Walpole Island; although situated in a mostly agricultural area, the move to Wallaceburg meant new birding opportunities and a chance to work on my Chatham-Kent county list. My mother and step-father had already visited one of the best birding spots nearby, Peer’s Wetland, which was also an eBird hotspot that looked promising with 159 species; although we ended up visiting quite a few places, Peer’s Wetland ended up being the most interesting, as well as my favourite spot. As it is only a 15-minute drive from my mother’s house, we visited it almost every day.
April has arrived, and I think spring has finally arrived with it. We’ve finally had some nice, sunny days and the weather has warmed up, so Deb and I finally got together to do some birding on the second day of April. We headed over to Mud Lake, where we only managed to tally 20 species; this is usually a great place to take in spring migration, but there was surprisingly little difference in the species seen since my previous visit on March 18th. The best birds there were an American Tree Sparrow, three Wood Ducks flying along the river, and an adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods. Once again a male and female Downy Woodpecker pair came readily to my hand to take some food. I am now noting these birds in eBird, as I’ve been hand-feeding them for a couple of years now. The starlings singing near the filtration plant were of special interest, as we heard them imitating the calls of a Killdeer, an Eastern Wood-pewee, and even a Tree Frog!