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.
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.
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.
The temperature dropped by the time Saturday rolled around, and it was only -19°C when I headed out birding. I was eager to add some more birds to my brand new year list, and started off the morning with a walk at Old Quarry Trail, hoping that the trails would be much quieter first thing in the morning given the frigid cold. I still needed Pileated Woodpecker for my list, and was hoping to find a few other surprises such as Ruffed Grouse, Northern Goshawk, an owl, some winter finches, or even a Black-backed Woodpecker. Any mammals would be welcome, too, as Old Quarry Trail is a good spot to see White-tailed Deer and porcupines. When I arrived I set off on my usual walk along the northern-most trail. There were only two other cars in the parking lot, and for most of my walk I saw no one on the trail.
After we returned from Mexico I only had a week to enjoy migration in Ottawa before heading off to southern Ontario to see my family. When I awoke in my own bed on Saturday, the day after our return to Ottawa, I was happy to find some migrants right out in the backyard: a Red-winged Blackbird was singing and two male Brown-headed Cowbirds were foraging in the neighbour’s trees, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flitting around in a shrub in the yard behind ours, and a Chipping Sparrow and three Dark-eyed Juncos were vacuuming up the seeds beneath my feeder. Both the cowbirds and kinglet were year birds for me. Out front I heard a Common Grackle singing and saw a Blue Jay breaking off twigs from the tree outside my window for nesting material. I was surprised that the juncos were still there, but – as expected – the Pine Siskins were gone. Indeed, although I heard and saw others around Ottawa until the middle of May, I never had any visit the feeder in my yard again.
Easter was early this year, which is always a bit disappointing as a birder – when it falls at the end of March, migration is just getting under way and there isn’t the same variety of species around as there would be later in April. Still, I was looking forward to adding a few birds to my year list, so I headed over to Mud Lake yesterday (Easter Sunday). I still haven’t seen a Great Blue Heron or Brown-headed Cowbird yet this year, and it’s just about time for Eastern Phoebes, Northern Flickers, Tree Swallows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to arrive back on territory. I was also curious as to whether the Northern Mockingbird was still around – there haven’t been any reports, but then I don’t know if anyone has gone and looked for it. With a forecast high of 13°C, it seemed a nice day to go for a walk around the lake, though it was still close to 0°C when I headed out.