Ontario has a bird records committee which has been in existence since the early 1980s. The committee is made up of a rotating panel of experts, and their primary goal is to vote on records of rare birds that have shown up in Ontario. So for instance, if someone was to find a rarity (usually a species that shows up less than 4 times annually is fair game), they are encouraged to write up a rare bird report. The OBRC votes on all these records and publishes the results each year. While not every rarity that is seen in the province is voted on by the OBRC, the majority of them are.
As a birder, one of the most exciting things for me is the thrill of finding a rare bird (or "chasing" a rare bird found by someone else). To be a successful rare bird finder draws upon a few things including the amount of time spent birding, the observer's skill in identifying birds, and a bit of "luck". Another way to improve the odds of finding rare birds is knowing where to look for certain possible rarities at certain times of the year. In an effort to become better versed in this latter aspect of rare bird finding, I have been perusing all of the old OBRC publications. I have an Excel spreadsheet that details every record that has been accepted and rejected by the OBRC, and I will use that for the premise of this post.
August is generally a slow month for rare birds in Ontario. That is not to say it is a poor month for birding in general as it can be exceptionally good. Shorebirds are at the peak of migration, as are many neotropical songbirds. It is possible to see 120+ species in a day along the shores of the Great Lakes on a good migration day in late August. But the number of rare birds just aren't there!
This graph shows all of the total records of rare birds accepted by the OBRC since its existence. The second graph is the same as the first with all records of Cave Swallow removed. Cave Swallows used to be super rare in the province, until they started to show up regularly in late fall. As a result, 61 records of Cave Swallow were accepted for late October/early November from 1999 to 2009, when it was finally removed from the review list. Some observers have seen over 100 in a single day.
As you can see by the above graph, August is one of the slower months for rare birds. It is only better than the months of July, January, February, and March.
So, what are these August rarities? Are there any trends of particular species having a tendency of showing up in August? I'm only including birds that were first discovered in August. If someone found a rare bird in July and it stuck around until August, that does not count. I am also only including birds that are still currently on the review list. For instance, Long-tailed Jaegers have 8 accepted records from August, but they are now regularly seen in late August along western Lake Ontario, and are no longer a review species.
- a total of 128 rare birds (of 62 species), first discovered in August, have been accepted by the OBRC.
- herons are well represented. Little Blue Heron (9 out of 73 total records), Glossy or White-faced Ibis (7 out of 129 total records), Yellow-crowned Night-heron (5 out of 43 total records), and Wood Stork (4 out of 9 total records).
- Curlew Sandpiper (8 out of its 29 total records) and Piping Plover (6 out of its 73 records) are well represented. Other shorebirds on the list include Willet (2 out of 18 records for northern Ontario), Western Sandpiper (2 out of 2 records for northern Ontario), Long-billed Dowitcher (1 out of 7 records for northern Ontario) and Long-billed Curlew (1 out of 2 records for Ontario). There have also been single records of these Eurasian megas: Sharp-tailed Sandpipiper and Spotted Redshank, each with 3 accepted records for Ontario.
- There are 5 accepted records of Rufous Hummingbird in August, out of 23 total records. I find it surprising that 10 out of the 23 total records pertain to birds found in July or August. I always used to think that this was a species that was seen most frequently in late autumn.
- as expected, there are very few records of rare Passerines: only 27 records of 17 species. The only species to have shown up more than twice include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (4 out of 59 total records), and Kirtland's Warbler (3 out of 51 total records).
|Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - an occasional August vagrant|
- Several species of mega-rare seabirds have shown up in August, with some of them assisted by hurricanes. These species include Band-rumped, Leach's, and Wilson's Storm-petrel, Frigatebird sp., Great and Manx Shearwaters, and Black-capped Petrel.
- August is a slow month for rarities in general, but there have been some fantastic rarities over the years! As well as the species mentioned above, some additional megas include Ontario's only Royal Tern and Lesser Goldfinch records, 1 of 2 Black-throated Sparrow, Long-billed Curlew, Cassin's Finch, and Prairie Falcon records, and 1 of 3 Common Ground-Dove records. Not included in my spreadsheet, since it only covers to the end of the 2011 OBRC report, is last year's Thick-billed Kingbird from Presqu'ile Provincial Park. It was the first record for Ontario, the second for Canada, and one of the biggest rarities to ever show up in the province.
|Ontario's first Thick-billed Kingbird|