Tuesday 11 December 2012

December warblering

Everyone knows that December is the best time to see warblers in Ontario. Err...well maybe not, but things have been a-happening down at Sedgewick Park in Oakville! 3 days ago, Cheryl Edgecombe found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet here. While not a warbler, it is a tough bird to get in the "winter birding period" which extends from December 1st to the end of February. The following day, Cheryl returned with Rob Dobos and they were able to turn up a male Cape May Warbler, 2 Orange-crowned Warblers, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler along with the kinglet.

A second kinglet turned up yesterday along with the other birds, so I decided that I would make the trek down there this afternoon. I am not one of the hardcore winter listers by any means, but I do enjoy seeing odd birds in the winter and the Cape May fit the bill. But more importantly, I was wondering what else could be lurking with these birds here! Black-throated Gray Warbler would be one of the more regular western warblers in Ontario, a species which is prone to being found in late autumn and early winter in Ontario.

Black-throated Gray Warbler - Bayfront Park (December 20, 2011)

Remember that little bugger in the above photo? That is the Black-throated Gray Warbler that Rob Dobos found at Bayfront Park in Hamilton, last December. The story there is similar to Sedgewick Park's story this year. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was originally found, then the Patagonia Picnic Table effect took over. While searching for the gnatcatcher, the following list of birds ended up being found: 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 1 Black-throated Gray Warbler, 1 Black-throated Green Warbler, 1 Wilson's Warbler, 1 Orange-crowned Warbler, and several Yellow-rumped Warblers. Not bad!

I arrived at Sedgewick this afternoon and began looking. Almost immediately when I arrived at the spot where the warblers had been seen, a flash of green caught my attention. I looked at the skulker and eventually had a half decent look - a bright Nashville Warbler! This can be a very difficult bird to get in December - in fact there hasn't been one in at least the last 5 years. If anyone knows when the last winter Nashville Warbler was, please let me know. The only other one I can find on Ebird was from 1996.

Nashville Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville

Eventually it popped out in the open long enough to get at least a half decent photo. There was limited light and my camera has extremely poor ISO performance so the photos are less than ideal! This was, by the way, photographed species #299 this year in Ontario for me. Still need Rock Pigeon!

It was actively foraging in the same manner as the Orange-crowned Warblers, gleaning who know's what (spiders, maybe?) from the insides of rolled up dead leaves.

Nashville Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville

I worked over the area along the little creek east of the water treatment facility to see what else I could find. This looked like an ideal spot for a lost neotropical migrant to try to eke out a living in mid December. It was a sheltered location, there was moving water (some of the warblers would drink from it periodically), it was directly next to the water treatment plant which was pumping out warm water, and the thickets held berries.

In short order, both Orange-crowned Warblers showed themselves, but they remained very skulky and I was unable to get photos of either. One was brighter than the other, though they both appeared to be the regular form we get in Ontario.

The Cape May Warbler was next on the agenda, a bird I was happy to catch up with. It was very active, keeping an eye on me for a lot of the time I was there.

Cape May Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville

Cape May Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville

The Yellow-rumped Warbler announced it's presence with a few "chup" notes, and I eventually was able to see it and photograph it too, for a 4 warbler day! Last but not least, I heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet calling from deep within a thicket but I was unable to coax it out. I ended up staying at Sedgewick for almost two hours when it was all said and done. No Black-throated Gray Warbler, but I was happy to find the Nashville!

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Sedgewick Park, Oakville

I guess the moral of the story is this: Get out and check all of those little creeks and sheltered places along the Lake Erie and Ontario shorelines! The odds are very high this time of year that if you find a warbler, it could be some western warbler, like a Townsend's or Black-throated Gray. This December has already seen a higher number of warblers, so this could be the year that a pesky Lucy's or Grace's Warbler is found.


Blake A. Mann said...

Those bright winter warblers sure catch your eye!
Back on 11Jan1998 I found a Nashville at Rondeau Park. It was around at least ten days. Its characteristics suggested the western subspecies!

Alan Wormington said...

Two more recent Nashville Warblers for the winter period:

December 1-6, 2006: Toronto
December 21-26, 2006: Cootes Paradise

Bruce Mactavish said...

The December warblers found in this little location is probably only an indication of what exists undiscovered in other habitat rich areas of Hamilton and the rest of southern Ontario. Nov/Dec has long been considered Thee Warblering Season in St. John's, Newfoundland. This probably explains why more Townsend's Warblers have been seen in St, John's, Newfoundland than all of Ontario spring and fall.

B Mactavish

Alan Wormington said...

I agree Bruce, if I still lived in the Hamilton area I would be systematically checking all the little creeks, parks and woodlots along Lake Ontario between Hamilton and Toronto. I already know lots of them from living in Hamilton years ago, but just today I was looking at Google Maps and can see even more areas that look interesting! Back in the old days --- some say I am now old! --- we used to search a lot of these areas on foot. Now most birders just want to stare at the lake for many hours, hoping for a Glaucous-winged Gull or something!

Mark Cranford said...

Count Week for the South Peel CBC starts tomorrow. That includes all of Oakville and most of Mississauga. This is our 50th year as an Audubon count circle. We've had Yellow-rumped 13 times (annual since 2006), Pine 5 times, Orange-crowned 3, Yellowthroat (COYE) 3, Nashville 2 and an Ovenbird in 1990. We need that Cape May. Contact Ontbirds, Hamilton Birds or me with anything usual in the ONPH circle for the next 7 days.

Anonymous said...

I do think that a birder in NF has a step up over a birder in southern ON for finding those rare western warblers, though. Though I don't know much about St. John's, presumably that is the only "high quality" habitat for warblers late in the fall, for miles around? I would imagine most of the rest of the NF shoreline is pretty bleak for a vagrant warbler. Where as in Ontario, there is obviously a lot more habitat along Lakes Erie and Ontario. Which probably explains why so many more western warblers seem to show up in St John's compared to Ontario, despite there being many more birders looking in Ontario! They are just more concentrated out your way. Perhaps since it is well known that this is the time of year to look at warblers in St Johns, every birder does that. While in Ontario few are doing that. Even still, I think there are still more birders in ON looking for these western warbs this time of year than birders in St Johns, yet more western warbs are found in St Johns!

Anonymous said...

Alan, isn't it you that is staring at the lake for hours? I seem to recall you doing a tip watch at Pelee nearly every day in the fall ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Hester, I just use a basic DSLR and a 300 mm f/4 lens. All of the above photos would have been possible with just a simple Point and Shoot camera with a fair amount of zoom.

Alan Wormington said...

Stand at Tip and stare at lake all morning; walk around looking for vagrant passerines all afternoon. Its a perfect combo around here!