Friday 15 March 2013

Birding in northern southern Ontario

On March 14th I left my usual stomping grounds of southwestern Ontario between Hamilton and Point Pelee, venturing north to Collingwood and Owen Sound. I normally wouldn't go birding up there in mid-March, however I had agreed to give a presentation to the Owen Sound Field Naturalists in the evening so I made a day out of it, birding along the way.

In southern Ontario, spring has more or less arrived. Yes, there is still snow on the ground, and the salamanders and frogs haven't awakened yet. But the sun is feeling warmer, the days are longer, and many early spring migrants have returned. Quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are back, along with waterfowl, Killdeer, American Robins, and the first Song Sparrows. When I was in Pelee a few days ago it felt like a typical mid April day.

But that is not the case further north! In many areas the snow is still 20-30 cm deep, with blowing drifts across the roads. The only spring migrants that I saw (apart from some waterfowl) were American Crows and Ring-billed Gulls. Nowhere to be seen were Red-winged Blackbirds, and I did not cross paths with any robins. On a few occasions I slowly drove the perimeter of a concession block, stopping periodically to look and listen. Several times the only species I saw were American Crows and European Starlings. The temperature was cold and the strong northwest wind was brutal.

Northern Pintail - Collingwood harbour

But I did see some birds! Early on, a highlight was a flyover Red Crossbill north of Shelburne in Dufferin County. It was my first RECR since early December, according to my records. Maybe they are back on the move again, after being absent all winter?

Eventually I made it to Collingwood, and I spent about 4 hours driving along the coast to Owen Sound, periodically stopping. This is a beautiful drive (hugging the picturesque shoreline in many stretches) and I can definitely see some rarity potential. There are several little harbours and rocky shoals that look perfect for vagrant waterfowl, shorebirds, or gulls.

Horned Grebes made several appearances and I saw a total of 6. A Pied-billed Grebe was also fairly notable in one of the marinas in Owen Sound - it is presumably a spring migrant.

All the expected winter ducks were present, including White-winged Scoter, Redhead, Long-tailed Duck, both scaup, and 3 mergansers. Several sharp looking Ring-necked Ducks were new arrivals. The highlight for me though was a group of 5 Black and 9 White-winged Scoters just west of the harbour in Meaford. Out of the 5 Black Scoters, 1 was an adult male, 3 were immature males, and 1 was an adult female.

Black Scoters - Meaford, Ontario

Black Scoters are not too common on southern Georgian Bay, and it turns out that this was the first time some had been reported to Ebird from Grey County. Cool to see!

So that's that. I still have plans to make one more Point Pelee post; probably tomorrow.

No comments: