Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A Lanark Big Year- April 28th- First Waves of Migration

Last month it was all snow, this month it is all water, brown fields and budding trees. The spring migration happens in waves and April included several. As the ice left the rivers and then the lakes opened up, the ducks and geese appeared. Trumpeter swans continued to arrive and small groups could be found on the Mississippi and Rideau rivers for a day or two at a time. Next flocks of ducks arrived. Large numbers of Ring-necked Ducks are on the Mississippi in Carleton Place and they could also be found on rivers and ponds as the icy fingers of winter receded. Mixed with these flocks were Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup. Walks along the river in Carleton Place soon turned up a beautiful pair of Wood Ducks. The male to me rivals the Mandarin Duck of Asia for spectacular head markings. In amongst the flocks a lone Pintail appeared in Carleton Place. A trip to the Rideau River in early April revealed a river completed frozen over except in a few isolated places as well as a good open strip in the east end of Smith Falls. A single Herring Gull stood on the ice surrounded by large flocks of Hoodeds. In the corn fields to the east on Hwy 43 thousands of Canada Geese had arrived including my first Snow Geese of the year. I was lucky to sight three flying in a low circle apparently trying to find their place in the field.

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Along with the waterfowl, came the other early arrivals; Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrive even before the snow goes and can often be seen clinging to a bull rush while fresh snow flies sideways across the land. The males arrive a month early just to get the best breeding location and sure enough by the end of April I saw my first female. Song Sparrows started to appear in the first week of April waking us in the morning with their classic song. Amazingly Tree Swallows could be found flying low over icy fields by second week of April and Northern Harriers were flying low over the fields with their characteristic dihedral wings. Finally, the bird I always look for in spring, the Eastern Bluebird, which I saw both on Old Perth Road and Rae Side Road.

As the fields changed from snow to puddles and ponds, additional ducks arrived, with Green-winged Teal in the flooded fields of Ramsay 7 north of Carleton Place, Gadwall on the Mississippi, American Widgeon in the flooded field on Ramsay 7B north of Clayton Road and a pair of Blue-winged Teal in the flooded ditch on Drummond Side Road. Of course these flooded fields and more open marshes resulted in many sightings of Greater than Lesser Yellowlegs throughout the eastern half of the county. The bill length relative to head size and slight upturn of the Greater’s bill helps distinguish the two. As well the marshes are now noisy with the calls of the Wilson’s Snipe and the whirl sound of their wings in flight.

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The next wave of migration was that of the sparrows. Eight species arrived in April; Songs are everywhere, Vesper along Panmore Road, White-throated in my backyard, Swamp sparrows are trilling at most of the marshes, Ken and I found a Fox Sparrow singing beside Ramsay 4B just south of Wolf Grove Road, Tree Sparrows, while in the area during winter, started singing, Field Sparrows along Hwy 15 near Maclachlan Road, Savannahs calling in most open fields and Chipping Sparrow at the Olde Kirk. Along with the ecstatic call of the Winter Wren, the fields and forests are full of calls and songs.

Finally, the warblers started to arrive with one twist. Normally Yellow-rumped Warblers are seen first and then the Pines. This year Pine Warblers were calling in Carleton Place, as well as along Wolf Grove and at the Mill of Kintail days before any Yellow-rumps appeared. Of course it wasn’t long before they also appeared at the Mill and at the Indian River Bridge on Ramsay 7B

So April has made a huge difference to my numbers. I now stand at 105 species! My goal is still 200, but a more realistic number is 175. I have been getting incredible support from Arnie, Ken, Howard and Cliff as well as people I just happen to meet along the sides of a road or along a trail who are curious enough to ask what I am seeing. So as I always say keep those cards and letters (emails, text and calls) coming as they make all the difference at

So next are the Warblers, Flycatchers and Vireos

Cheers from the guy with the crazy idea till next report.

Iain