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.
Stony Swamp is one of my favourite spots to go birding – not only is it close to home, but there are multiple trails to choose from, with plenty of interesting habitats. While Stony Swamp is dominated by mixed deciduous/coniferous forest, there are a few streams, beaver ponds, alvars and marshes which provide habitat for a good mix of birds. As it was supposed to start raining around 9:00 this morning, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay out birding today. However, the bright sun and reasonable temperature (only -2°C when I left at 7:30) made me long for a walk in the woods. I decided to go to Sarsaparilla Trail first to check on the pond, and then to the Beaver Trail to look for additional woodland birds. I figured that would keep me occupied until the rain began.
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.
Although it was supposed to rain on Saturday, I decided to go out birding when I saw that the rain hadn’t started yet. The sky was gray and overcast, and a strong, cold wind was gusting across the open fields, but I managed to spend three hours looking for new migrants before the wind drove me back inside. My first stop was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard my first Song Sparrow of the year singing from the edge of the woods. I also heard at least six Dark-eyed Juncos singing from various parts of the woods, though I wasn’t able to spot any. Four mallards had found a sliver of open water on the pond, while a single Purple Finch and several Red-winged Blackbirds called from the edges of the marsh. Three Common Grackles flew over as well. I checked the edges for Great Blue Herons tucked along the shore but came up empty.
October is here, and that means migration has shifted from swallows, flycatchers, tanagers, and orioles to kinglets, sparrows, finches, and waterfowl. I had an incredible birding weekend, and saw many mid-season migrants that were either year birds or my first of the fall.
Saturday was not only beautiful in terms of weather (sunny, with temperatures rising to at least 17°C), but also because of the fall colours. There were birds everywhere, represented by a number of different species, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such an incredible day this time of year.
Deb and I went to Algonquin Park last Sunday to enjoy some birds, fall colours, and late-season odonates. The fall colours were said to be at their peak, and with the temperature expected to reach a beautiful, sunny 20°C, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. Unfortunately the great weather enticed several other carloads and busloads of people to visit, so the park was the busiest we had ever seen it. Police were stopping people before they drove into the park to remind them of the speed limit (only 80 km/h in the park, and 50 km/h at the gate), and the parking lots along Highway 60 were full of cars – most even had a tour bus or two parked at the entrance. Some trails (such as the Lookout Trail and Peck Lake Trail) were so busy the cars had spilled out of the parking lot and were parked along the narrow shoulder of Highway 60.
I had a pretty good birding day on Wednesday. No, I did not take a day off work, and no, I didn’t see anything new or rare. It began when I stepped outside onto my back deck early Wednesday morning to throw some peanuts out for the Blue Jays. I was just about to toss them into the yard when I heard a rapid, high-pitched “see see see” call coming from my neighbour’s yard. The call was familiar and distinctive, but I had never heard it in my neighbourhood before; for a moment I wasn’t sure what I was hearing, other than a few chickadees in my neighbour’s pine tree. I stood still for a moment, listening, and when I heard it again, I knew I had a new bird for my yard list: Golden-crowned Kinglet!