Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A run around the county

Early to mid April is one of my favorite times of the year. Usually we have a warm spell or two in March (or even late February, such as what happened this year), but it is not until early April that it really feels like spring is here.

Bird wise, spring migration can be apparent as early as February, as Horned Larks and various waterfowl arrive during the first warm spells of the year. By March, waves of blackbirds, gulls, robins and waterfowl pass through southern Ontario, but the birding can still be quite slow, especially in the woods where only the winter resident species can be found. But by early to mid April, new pulses of migrants arrive regularly with "first of season" species noted almost daily. The woods can be alive with flocks of kinglets and Brown Creepers, a variety of newly arrived sparrows add their voices to the fields and forest edges, and the incessant calls of Western Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, and Wood Frogs emanate from many wetlands and flooded fields. On sunny days snakes can be found, and new insects are emerging with each passing day and warm spell, while a variety of early spring wildflowers are pushing through the soil. It really is an exciting time of year to be a naturalist!

Eastern Comma - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

I arranged my schedule to be clear for Monday, with the exception being an an amphibian survey I had to complete during the evening. The previous few days had seen long-distance winds originating from Oklahoma and northern Texas flowing straight to the Great Lakes, likely bringing with it new batches of migrants.

I made a quick stop south of Niagara Falls to see an Osprey nest, my first for Niagara this year. Field Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows were singing in the area, also the first I had encountered this year. I drove some fields in the north part of Fort Erie, fields that have been productive in the past. One location (flooded field near Stevensville United Church) produced a single Lesser Yellowlegs, the first of the year for me, though there was no sign of the really early Solitary Sandpiper I had found a few days earlier. A stop along Netherby Road produced a good variety of ducks as usual, including ~130 Green-winged Teal. Try as I might I couldn't pick out any Eurasian individuals mixed in! I have been checking this field regularly over the past month, but neither Eurasian Green-winged Teal nor Eurasian Wigeon have made an appearance yet.

The Douglastown Sewage Lagoons held a good variety of waterfowl (nothing too unusual), as well as a few landbirds in the woods including my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the spring. I stopped in at Morgan's Point Conservation Area next, located on the north shore of Lake Erie west of Port Colborne. There was a strong onshore breeze and few migrants were around, though I did turn up about a dozen Northern Flickers and a singing Tufted Titmouse.

By noon I had found myself at the Wainfleet Bog where I walked around for the next two hours. I was mainly looking for snakes, and while I struck out on my main target this time (Smooth Greensnake), I did see quite a few other herps, insects and even some interesting birds!

I think the next butterfly is a Gray Comma but I could be mistaken. Wainfleet Bog is evidently a good location to find this species, according to records submitted to

Gray Comma - Wainfleet Bog, Niagara Region

A couple of Eastern Towhees sang from the young birches as I traversed the bog, while my first Purple Martins of the year hawked insects high in the sky. An Osprey regularly flew over as well, no doubt a bird nesting somewhere in the vicinity.

The highlight of the walk though was a Common Raven which flew over once, calling. It was a species long overdue for me in Niagara Region as they likely nest in a few parts of the county and are often reported by others. This was my fourth new Niagara bird in the past week, following sightings of Forster's Tern, Wilson's Snipe and American Bittern.

I drove back across the county to Niagara Falls, stopping to check the part of the Niagara River above the falls. Black-crowned Night-Herons and Great Egrets had returned to the nesting colony by the old barge, while the first two Northern Rough-winged Swallows of the spring were catching insects over the river.

Red-winged Blackbird - Port Dalhousie, Niagara Region

On my way to Hamilton to complete my evening amphibian survey, I made a quick stop at Port Dalhousie to check out the harbour and see what was around. A few Fish Crows are likely nesting in the area and have been fairly reliable at the harbour, though I was more interested to see if any other rarities had dropped in - hoping for an Eared Grebe or something.

As I was watching a few newly arrived Caspian Terns as they flew around, a smaller, daintier tern suddenly appeared in the harbour. It was a Forster's Tern! I quickly ran back to get my camera and fortunately the tern reappeared after a tense five minutes of nothing. This was my second Forster's Tern for Niagara, the first occurring on April 5, 2017 at Port Weller. I believe the April 5 bird was a record early spring migrant for Niagara Region.

Forster's Tern - Port Dalhousie, Niagara Region

Forster's Tern - Port Dalhousie, Niagara Region

It was a great day of birding in Niagara and I finished with around 75 species. Things will just keep getting better over the next few weeks - it really is the most wonderful time of the year!

Canada Goose - Port Dalhousie, Niagara Region

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