Thirty Species at the Ponds

Downy Woodpecker

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.

When I reached the stand of trees just south of Emerald Meadows Drive I scared up a huge flock of juncos feeding in the grass. I spent some time watching and listening, and heard a couple of White-throated Sparrows and saw a single Chipping Sparrow. I was delighted to hear a Fox Sparrow singing in the grove of trees; with patience, I was able to see two of them! This put my personal list at 98 species, and 21 for the day.

I returned again today because the rain had cleared up, although it was still cool (7°C) and overcast. The Hooded Mergansers were still present, along with about 10 Canada Geese and 6 mallards – I suspect all the migrants had left, and the geese and ducks that still remain intend to breed here. I saw about 20 swallows swooping over the central pond, and could only identify one Barn Swallow among all the Tree Swallwos.

In the stand of trees beyond the bridge I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a White-throated Sparrow. I checked the southern pond and although the western edge looked mucky enough to attract migrating shorebirds, none were present. I turned around and headed back toward the bridge, and saw a large songbird fly up from the ground and land in a tree.

Brown Thrasher

I was intrigued by the bird’s shape and rusty brown colour, so when it landed in the bare branches of a tree I stopped to check it out. It was a Brown Thrasher – one of the last birds I expected to find here as they prefer open areas with lots of shrubs. I managed to get one photo before it flew to a shrub on the other side of the bridge, and from there to the point.

I followed it, hoping to get a better look but was unable to relocate it. I walked to the vantage point looking out over the floodplain, scaring up several sparrows in the weedy field along the way – all of the ones that I checked were American Tree Sparrows, and I counted at least 10 of them as they flew across the circular retention pond toward the grove of trees. I scanned the mudflats for shorebirds and found a Killdeer and a Greater Yellowlegs. The Killdeer was busy complaining about my presence, but the yellowlegs took no notice of me as it walked right by me on the opposite shore.

Greater Yellowlegs

I headed over to the grove of trees next, and was happy to see all the activity there. I heard both a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Golden-crowned Kinglet and managed to spot the Golden-crowned working its way through the branches of a deciduous tree. Juncos were everywhere, scattering as I walked along, and I heard a White-throated Sparrow singing from the conifers. I also heard an American Tree Sparrow and a Fox Sparrow singing and managed to see both of them. An Eastern Phoebe was fly-catching deep within the grove, while a beautiful male Yellow-rumped Warbler was flitting through the branches of a tree out in the open.

While scanning the grove I noticed a male Downy woodpecker working on a tree. I thought he was drilling for food when I noticed him removing bits of wood from the hole, excavating a nest. A female was sitting on a branch nearby, just hanging out. It will be interesting to revisit the site later in the season to see if they have any young.

Downy Woodpecker

I was up to 29 species and hoped to find one more – I hadn’t heard any ravens or seen the flicker or kingfisher yet. I was keeping an eye and an ear open for any of these birds when I heard something different – the musical, ringing tones of a Purple Finch! I found the singer, a beautiful raspberry-coloured male singing on top of a chimney. I added one last bird to the list with a Chipping Sparrow singing in a spruce tree on my way out.

It was great seeing so many birds around the ponds – my first 30+ species day this year. The Brown Thrasher was my 99th species at the ponds, and it was great seeing all the songbirds there. Once the other water birds come back, the herons and cormorants and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, it will be easy to reach 40 species in an outing. Although I don’t know whether spring migration will bring in as many interesting birds as there were last fall, I’m hoping to at least see some new warblers in the large grove of trees – I can’t wait to see what turns up next!

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