This year marks the start of a five-year breeding bird survey for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which is a collaboration between Birds Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Nature. Approximately 300 bird species breed in our province, and the goal of the atlas is to map the distribution and relative abundance of these species by looking for evidence of breeding for as many species as possible. By conducting surveys every 20 years researchers are able to determine which species are expanding their range, which ones are shrinking, which species are increasing in abundance, and which ones are declining. Although data collection began on January 1, 2021, breeding bird surveys don’t really kick into high gear until mid-May once almost all of our breeding birds are back from their wintering grounds in central and South America to Ontario. As I was not a birder when data was being collected for the second atlas (2001-2006), this was my first chance to participate as a volunteer atlasser, and I jumped at the opportunity. Over the last few years, and especially during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve gotten to know the birds within my own area quite well, and after looking at a list of the species found in my area during the second atlas, I knew I could contribute some new data on species that were missing. For instance, Red-shouldered Hawk wasn’t found in the last atlas in my area, although I found a pair occupying a nest in Stony Swamp back in 2016. Barn Swallow was recorded only as being in suitable habitat in the last atlas, while they used to nest under the bridge at the Eagleson ponds before the city put wire mesh underneath it. And Killdeer was last reported as showing agitated behaviour, while I’ve seen a fuzzy newly-fledged bird at the Eagleson ponds once.
Last year a friend told me about a Barred Owl nest at a trail fairly close to where I live. I checked it out a few times over the summer – the nest was located in a natural tree cavity – but saw no owls on any of my visits. I completely forgot about the owls until I visited again late in April 2019 and someone told me that an owl was sitting out in the open. I was delighted, as this was a species I needed for my year list. I found the owl fairly easily, sitting quietly on a branch along a different part of the trail, and when I continued on to the nest I was happy to see that it was occupied as evidenced by the tail visible within the entrance.
On the first day of the long weekend I decided to look for odonates at Mud Lake. Specifically, I wanted to find some spreadwings, Fragile Forktails, darners, big river clubtails, or Swift River Cruisers, as I hadn’t seen any of these yet this season. I ended up seeing a couple of Slender Spreadwings, a few skimmer species, one big river clubtail perching on a rock in the river (likely a Black-shouldered Spinyleg), and little else in the way of odes. Unfortunately my best dragonfly of the day turned out to the first one of the day, a skimmer that flew in from the lake, landed, and hung from a leaf about two feet above my head. I could only see the underside and I registered only two things: that it had large coloured patches on the hindwings, and that it appeared red. My first thought was that it was a Calico Pennant, but the spots didn’t look quite right, and the dragonfly seemed larger than a Calico Pennant. I moved around the shrub to get a view of it from the top, but the dragonfly flew off before I could get a photo or even a better look. Only later did I wonder if it was a saddlebags of some sort, or perhaps even a Widow Skimmer whose colours I’d misjudged. I’m not sure what it was, but I really regretted not getting a photo or better look.
All too soon Friday arrived, and I was finally able to sleep in until 5:00 am instead of waking up at 3:30 am. I was up and birding 45 minutes later, taking pictures of everything I would miss once we returned to Canada – our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm the following day, and this was our last full day in the country. We hadn’t made any plans or booked any excursions, so I was able to get in a few hours of birding before breakfast. As usual it was humid when I set out, but not too hot yet; I headed out to the spot beneath the red-flowering trees first, curious as to which birds I would find there early in the morning.
After the boat tour we did some birding down a dirt road which was initially lined with trees on both sides before opening up onto a large field on the right-hand side. The mosquitoes in the treed area were terrible, and even though we sprayed up with Deep Woods Off! both Doran and I got bit – the nasty little creatures even bit me right through my clothes in several places.
Right near the beginning of our walk Ollie heard a Tropical Gnatcatcher and finally found it about 20 feet up in a tree. It was difficult to see in the branches, so I asked if pishing would bring it in. Ollie said that they were more responsive to the call of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – which sounds exactly like our Northern Saw-whet Owl. Ollie started whistling the owl’s call, but the gnatcatcher stayed up in the canopy. It appeared to be a cute little bird, just like the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers of southern Ontario with a black cap, and just as active.
Yesterday was a great day for seeing new things. I started the morning at Old Quarry Trail with no particular goals in mind; it’s been a few years now since I’ve been there at the height of breeding season, so I just thought I’d take a look around and see what I could find. This was a good decision as I ended up adding two new birds to the eBird hotspot list (one of which was also new for my Stony Swamp patch list!), and found a new lady beetle species.
On Saturday, April 30th I took the train to Kitchener to visit my mother and step-father, and on Sunday, May 1st we drove down to Point Pelee. We weren’t able to check in at the Best Western just outside of the park until the afternoon, so we headed to the Tip as soon as we arrived at 11:00. The weather was not cooperative – it was cold and overcast, with the same north winds I’d experienced in Ottawa. North winds in May are never good for migration; birds trying to fly across the Great Lakes will stay on the south side of the lakes until the winds shift from out of the south, giving them a boost across the water. Of course, north winds could also mean that any birds already in the park would likely stick around before continuing north, but this did not seem to be the case.
The next morning Doran and I decided to look into taking a couple of boat rides. There was a boat tour right in the marina that guaranteed manatees; while not the same as the two-hour boat tour that had so enticed us at Flamingo, it seemed an interesting way to spend an hour and a half. Doran also wanted to go on an air boat ride, so we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel for recommendations. She recommended Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides a couple of minutes down the highway. In the end we decided to do both, and walked down to the marina to see if we could book seats on a manatee tour that same morning. Fortunately there was a boat leaving in 20 minutes, so we made reservations.
I was off work on Friday, July 5th, so when Chris invited me to go out dragon-hunting with her, Bob and Mike Tate, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with them in the east end. I did not know that it would be the last time that the four of us would go dragon-hunting together or the last time I would see Bob.
We started off the morning at Mer Bleue. It was very warm and humid, and thick, dark clouds kept blocking out the sun. Although it constantly looked as though it might rain at any time, we were lucky that it held off until the afternoon, after our outing had ended.
Migration is over, and most of our birds are engaged in the business of breeding. Though it’s rare for me to find birds nesting on structures that aren’t man-made (e.g. Osprey, phoebes, bluebirds) this year I’ve found two: an American Redstart and an Eastern Kingbird.
While kingbirds are known to nest out in the open, redstarts are usually more secretive, building their nests in the fork of a tree or a shrub at least two metres above the ground. The tightly woven open cup is typically made of grasses, bark strips, hair, leaves, twigs, or mosses, all glued together with spider silk. Male American Redstarts do not attain full breeding plumage until their second year and, while they may sing and defend small territories in their first year, they typically do not find a mate. Once they have attained breeding plumage, some males will mate with two females at the same time. These males hold two separate territories up to 500 metres (1,640 ft) apart. Once his first mate has finished laying all her eggs has begun incubating them, the male proceeds to attract a second mate in his other territory.