Saturday, 12 April 2014

Spring is here!

(This post was mostly written on Thursday, I just haven't been able to find the time to post it until now)

Ever since returning from Europe, I have been stuck in my office in Aurora, writing reports and getting ready for the upcoming field season. Luckily the longer daylight hours have enabled me to do some local birding, to mixed results.

On Monday I drove around some fields in King Township (where I currently live) to see if I could find any waterfowl or other spring migrants. At one point I stopped to photograph this grackle in a small wetland.

Eventually I found a flock of ducks in a flooded field and added several species to my "local patch" list (which includes King Township): American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Redhead, American Black Duck, and Rusty Blackbird. 

The next evening I met up with David Szmyr near the Beeton sod farms in search of migrants. We checked a number of areas finding most of the expected species. Highlights for me included my first Blue-winged Teals of the spring, an Eastern Phoebe singing away, and a Snow Goose in a field. The Snow Goose was in the same location that a Ross's Goose was reported the previous day.

I have to say it was pretty nice to be standing with the sun on our backs on a warm April afternoon, looking at hundreds of ducks. The wind was non-existent and the water was smooth as glass, adding to the enjoyment of the evening! 

The following night I decided to stop at the Cawthra-Mulock reserve located west of Newmarket in King Township. This is an area with some interesting breeding species, including Clay-colored Sparrow and Blue-winged Warbler. I was hoping to hear American Woodcocks. The fields were quiet wet (too wet for woodcocks), but by driving around I heard a single one peenting somewhere in the distance. A flock of Common Mergansers flew over as well, my first for the local patch. I'll have to return soon to get some more woodcocks!

And finally, a few nights ago I checked out Happy Valley located near where I live. This is a tract of mixed woods that has a number of interesting breeding species: Barred Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Acadian Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, etc. I was hoping to see some salamanders, but unfortunately most of the ponds were still ice covered (and up to 30 cm of snow remained in some locations in the woods!) and I struck out. Hopefully this upcoming week I can finally see my first Ontario herps of the year...


Every day, more and more spring migrants have been reported in Ontario. Many of the more recent arrivals are in line with what is expected for the date. It seems we are finally catching up after the long winter! If you haven't seen it already, I would recommend checking out Mike Burrell's page on spring arrival dates in Ontario. He used Ebird data to determine on what date a push of each species typically arrives in Ontario. For April 13th, he has Louisiana Waterthrush, Pine Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow listed. Considering the weather forecast, I would be surprised if multiple individuals of all three species aren't seen in Ontario by then! 

Speaking of spring, the next 7 weeks will likely be the most exciting weeks for birders in Ontario. Check out this graph I made a couple of years ago, detailing when rarities are seen in Ontario, broken down by week of the year. 

Mid-April can be an interesting time for birding in Ontario, depending on the weather conditions. Occasional systems from the south and southwest may pass through southern Ontario, bringing large pushes of birds with them. This time of year, it is not too uncommon for species like Eared Grebe, American Avocet, Yellow-throated Warbler, a southern heron/egret (Little Blue? Snowy?), or something rarer to make an appearance. The weather is scheduled to reach 20 degrees, and the winds have mostly a southern component until Monday. Already some killer birds have been seen along the Great Lakes, but nothing so far in Ontario. Now that there is strong rarity potential it makes going out looking for birds that much more exciting. However, this early in the spring, these weather systems can bring with them less rarities than what we may hope for. At the very least, expect a lot of kinglets, Brown Creepers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Phoebes, sparrows, and maybe some early warblers this weekend! :)

Coming soon, to a sewage lagoon near you!