A Lanark Big Year – May 28th – Why I Bird
A beautiful Yellow Warbler photographed by Susan Wilkes
May in Ontario is the reason I bird! It is an incredible month with the arrival of large numbers of song birds and especially the Warblers. Warblers are little gems that arrive from the neotropics in huge numbers. They set up home in the north (especially the boreal forest), find a partner, raise a family and get ready to head back south, all in a matter of a few months. They are small, constantly moving, often brilliantly coloured and they have complicated songs. When you find yourself in the midst of a few hundred of these jewels and the air is filled with song and you don’t need binoculars to identify them since they are so close, you remember this is Why I Bird?
This year was a really good migration year. It started out slowly in April with cool temperatures which meant there were few species and individuals. On a cold and rainy day I stood by the Mississippi in Carleton Place while a few hundred brave swallows fed over the river in endless swoops and dives. Despite needing to constantly clean by binocs and my glasses I was able to see Tree, Barn, Cliff and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. A great start to this family with only the Bank and Purple Martin left to find this year.
May 1st was a nicer day starting with a Snowy Owl north of Wolf Grove Road, probably the latest I have even seen one here. Later that afternoon I stopped at my favourite flooded fielded north of CP on Ramsay 7 and south of Drummond Road. Over the last month I had learned that constantly scanning any flooded field could turn up something and this was a banner day. I found a single Long-billed Dowitcher! Of course, this species can be difficult to tell from a Short-billed Dowitcher, especially when you find out the bill length has little to do with separating the two species. I called Joyce and Mike Jaques who came out and we decided it was probably a Short-billed and given its rarity here we emailed Bruce Di Labio, a very knowledgable local birder. Immediately, just by date, he leaned towards a Long-billed as they arrive around this time so a few days later he came out to view the bird and take pictures. Luckily I went out again and met him there. He walked me through the markings that confirmed it was very likely a Long-billed. Subtle items such as amount and extent of barring on the chest and sides as well as brightness and amount of frosting around the body feathers were crucial to the identification. One thing I learnt from this experience was that I knew these distinguishing marks from books and a few sightings over the years, but I didn’t have enough field experience to apply it in this case. The joy of birding is that there is always something to learn.
Long-billed Dowatcher. photo by Mike Jaques
The first week of May continued to be slow for new arrivals but there was Upland Sandpiper and Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Campbell’s Side Road near Weedmark, Northern Waterthrushs calling along several roadsides where the forest was thick and wet, as well as a flock of 50 Rusty Blackbirds making an incredible racket near Malloch Road as they stopped for a break on their way north. An early trip to Murphy’s Point with my buddy Rick only turned up a few Black-throated Green Warblers, Pine Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Black and White Warblers and lots of Turkey Vultures and Red-shouldered Hawks. We did see two Barred Owls there which are resident at the park.
Left: Barred Owl (photo Rick Muise) and right, at Murphy’s Point, photo Susan Wilkes
On May 9th a warm front came through and everything changed. There were warblers everywhere for the next two weeks. While enjoying a glass of wine and supper in the backyard, a small fall out of birds happened; Nashvilles, Yellow-rumpeds, Black-throated Blue and Cape May Warblers appeared. The next day the O Kee Lee park in CP was filled with warblers; Blackburnian, Magnolia and Redstarts. A few days later my buddy Rick and I walked the Carbine Trail at the end of Ramsay Conc 9. Many spots of on the trail were busy with Black-throated Blues, Cape Mays, Nashvilles, Yellow-rumpeds, Ovenbirds and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Everywhere I went in the next week had excellent numbers. Even the small woods at Almonte Lagoons was buzzing with calls including a close look at the Solitary Vireo and a single Semipalmated Plover at the edge of the snow melt. As well as warblers the Red-Eyed and Warbling Vireos arrived along with a Yellow-throated Vireo on Nolans Road.
Yellow Warbler (left) and Cape May Warbler (right). photos by Susan Wilkes
As well this spring there were excellent numbers of Scarlet Tanagers seen at Mill of Kintail, Ken Allison’s on Wolf Grove, Carbine Trail and Lanark Highlights around Watson’s Corners. Its’ characteristic song is like a Robin with a sore throat.
Left: Scarlet Tanager (photo Rick Muise) and right: Creeper (photo Susan Wilkes).
In addition to all of the gems from the south were the White-crowned Sparrows who spent 2 weeks in our yard before moving north. They seem to race from one place to another incessantly calling with heads that look like they are wearing bicycle helmets. Green Herons turned up at ponds through the county and Towhees could be heard calling “drink your teeee” in many locations.
My network of birding buddies moved into high gear. First Arnie invited me over to see Woodcock at 8 PM one night. Before arriving I walked the roadside at McGibbon Creek on 9th line Beckwith in the twilight and scared up a Least Bittern. Later at Arnies’ I was treated to wine and Woodcocks in their front yard. Then Ken had a resident pair of Swainson’s Thrushes which seemed to evaporate every time I arrived. I finally saw them after dropping Ken off at is home and he emailed me they were back 5 minutes after leaving his driveway. Thanks to cell phones I got the email immediately and went back to see them. During all of this I have been searching for Sandhill Crane with several reports from my network but no luck until I drove into Rosetta to find a single bird in a cornfield. The month was topped off by a beautiful male Indigo Bunting at a friend’s feeder!!
Thrush (photo Rick Muise)
Okay, time for the numbers. As of the 27th of May I have 165 species. Now that is only 35 from my goal of 200, but in the world of big years the final 20 birds are the hardest and will still require turning up several less than common species.
Cheers from the guy with the crazy idea till next report.