Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Stealing an idea from Ken...

Ken Burrell made a post on his blog today about his all time Ontario winter bird list, so I thought I would steal his idea and do the same! If you haven't already, check out Ken's blog...

Up until recently I didn't care in the least about my all-time winter bird list and until last year I had never chased a bird simply because it was a "good" bird to see in the winter.  I think the first good winter bird I chased for that reason was the Bobolink on the mountain in Stony Creek last January, and that was only because I was in the area to look for Short-eared Owls! But as these things do, I have slowly become more interested in keeping a winter list and this winter I have chased the odd bird which would be new for me. One reason why I became interested in my winter list is because I was the official "keeper of the list", as you can see from my weekly or bi-weekly posts to Ontbirds. Additionally, it seemed like everyone else was keeping a winter list and of course I didn't want to be left out. :) Besides, it gives you an excuse to see some interesting birds in the dead of winter!!

So, what are the most interesting birds I have on my winter list? I'll have two categories: the ones I chased, and the ones I found on my own. Links to my blog posts about those birds will follow in brackets.

Smew (
Yep, the insane Whitby bird, one of only a few records of this species for inland North America. Christmas Miracle at Whitby Harbour is right, as the beaut was found on December 26, and only lingered for 2 more days. I was lucky enough to be able to race out there with Brett Fried and Erika Hentsch on the 27th, and we were treated to great views for the 10 minutes I was able to be there before racing home for Christmas dinner!

White-winged Dove (
White-winged Doves show up every year in Ontario, but there had only been one previous winter record. This one was coming to a bird feeder in North Bay, and so I drove up there with Brett and Barb Charlton to nab it for my big year.

White-winged Dove - North Bay (February 14, 2012)

Band-tailed Pigeon (
The other rare member of the Columbidae family I was able to see last February, this one coming to Al Sinclair's feeders in Muskoka. It took two tries, but I finally got it with David Bell, Andrew Keaveney, and Sarah Jane Stranger-Guy. The third winter record for the province!

Rob Dobos came up with this incredible find in Stony Creek, only the 2nd or 3rd winter record all time for Ontario, and first in many decades. While looking for Short-eared Owls last January I decided to look for it. That involved about 30 seconds of crossing the road and walking up onto the dyke, having the bird flush right away.

Bay-breasted Warbler (
The Sedgewick Warbler found by Jesse Pakkala and David Bell last December. I saw it very briefly in December, and again a week ago once its identity was confirmed as a Bay-breasted. Only the 3rd winter record!

Bay-breasted Warbler - Oakville (January 8, 2013)

Western Tanager (
Last December I stopped by the little parkette in Oshawa with Brett and Erika and we were able to see the bird easily, along with Doug McRae who stopped by. This was the 4th winter record for the province.

Self found winter rarities...
I haven't been in the birding game long enough to have accumulated a long and decorated list of rarities that I found, but I've had a few in the few years I have been birding. Here are some of my best finds in the winter:

Fish Crow (
At the time, this was definitely my best find, since it ended up being the first confirmed winter record for the province! Andrew Keaveney and I found one with a large groups of American Crows in Fort Erie last winter, which also ended up being year bird #100 in my Big Year attempt. Subsequent searches by other birders turned up 5 birds. Since then, Fish Crows have expanded their ranges north and west into Ontario, though they are still a rare bird here.

Fish Crow - Fort Erie (February 9, 2012)

Sanderling and White-rumped Sandpiper (
Not too rare, but still there only a couple previous winter records of each of these. These birds were co-found with a big crew of other birders, down at Purple Palooza in Presqu'ile this past December.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
There are about a dozen records of this species in the winter. I happened to find one in December, 2008 at LaSalle Park in Hamilton. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently someone had found it a number of days earlier. It was a female bird and since I was a relatively new birder, I was stumped for a while as to what it was!

Nashville Warbler (
This was a big highlight from last December as I found this bird at Sedgewick while chasing the Cape May Warbler that Cheryl Edgecombe and Rob Dobos found. There is some debate as to whether it is the western form or not.

Nashville Warbler - Oakville (December 11, 2012)

Wilson's Warbler 
Another one co-found with a group of people, this time while at Bayfront Park in Hamilton while chasing the Black-throated Gray Warbler. I think Mark Dorriesfield was actually the first person to lay eyes on it though! Bayfront was a magical spot last winter, hosting Orange-crowned, Wilson's, Black-throated Gray, and Black-throated Green Warblers along with Blue-headed Vireo and 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers last winter.There are about a dozen records of Wilson's Warbler in the winter.

Obviously I have a lot of misses as well. Some that come to mind are Spruce Grouse, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Gray Catbird. There have also been a lot of great winter birds that I could have easily chased but decided not to. This list includes Razorbill, Phainopepla, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Northern Parula, for instance.


  1. Josh, a brief comment on the history of Ontario "winter listing" is in order. It was made popular by the late James L. Baillie, who every year in the Toronto Area kept a list of species seen each winter. And of course he wrote about his findings in his weekly newspaper articles. Thus winter listing became very popular in the Toronto/Hamilton areas starting in the 1960s/1970s etc. Soon birders became very interested in their Ontario Life Winter Lists, and as they say .... the rest is history.


    There are four "true" wintering records for Ontario. Including early December records (which are actually late fall migrants), then occurrences for the "winter-season" jumps up to seven total.

    1. According to my OBRC spreadsheet there are 3 previous records for Ontario that fall between December 1 and February 28/29. Why don't you try to get people to submit documentation for these other records?

  3. According to my database, six of the seven have documentation, but possibly only five have been reviewed by the OBRC. Another bird present for two months from December 1957 to February 1958 appears not to have any documentation, but was seen by dozens of people; valid yes, documented no. There are, of course, hundreds of Rare Bird Reports that *could* be reviewed by the OBRC, but it takes a lot of time to get them prepared and co-ordinated. When the OBRC was formed in 1982, we didn't instantly review all 3000 pre-1982 records --- most are still sitting there waiting. Heck, its hard enough just to process the 2012 records!

    1. What has the OBRC been doing for the past 30 years then?? ;)

  4. Oops! Just realized that one of the Western Tanager wintering records actually pertains to March 2-13, 2000 --- outside the "winter season" reporting period. Thus everything I say about numbers above can be reduced by one!