“A Lanark Big Year – March 25th – Harbingers of Spring!”
While the weather this year here in Lanark County has not been appreciated by many, and some would say abysmal, for the birds spring is in the air. Over the last month I have seen several signs of spring, some birds in our area are already calling to secure their territory and the first migrants have arrived. Early in March I started to notice Hairy Woodpeckers in groups of 2 or 3 chasing each other around the trees and chattering noisily. The Common Goldeneye on the rivers are flinging their heads backwards and calling, and the Cardinals are everywhere in our neighborhood, perched on high points, fluffed up with crest showing and saying what sounds exactly like “Pretty, Pretty, Pretty”. I guess if you’re a male then declaring your beauty works. The Goldfinches are starting to turn yellow again and the Purple Finches are singing.
Waterfowl is now arriving, treating us to Red-Necked and Pied-billed Grebes at Appleton for over a week and my first Canada Geese appearing along the river, including two at Jebbs creek just west of Smith Falls where it crosses County road 1. A pair stood on the creek bank on a small batch of brown grass within a field of deep snow looking for a place to start a nest. It is believed that the main driver for migration is food and the main trigger is the longer days even if the destination hasn’t quite escaped winter. Being first to secure a nesting site combined with the long summer days are significant contributors to maximizing the success of the next generation.
One of the treats for me as a birder this year was the arrival of the Trumpeter Swans. This a species I have never seen in Lanark County even though they commonly pass through every year and some nest locally. By mid-March there were reports of swans on the Tay River around DeWitts Corners, then 2 swam by houses at the east end of Lake Ave in Carleton Place. Close together two were at Clayton dam and 6 arrived on March 15th by the Carleton Place High School, which Arnie Simpson took pictures of and emailed me, one of which I have included. I had been trying to see Trumpeters for a couple of weeks by then, but when the email arrived I was just west of Arnprior birding with a buddy. We raced back to CP but by then they were gone. As a result I started checking 6 places on the Mississippi twice a day plus an extensive tour of the Tay with no luck. Then on Saturday March 22, another email from Arnie, a pair at the O-Kee-Lee park here in CP and luckily I was having coffee at home. Zaza can attest to the blur that left the house. The pair were still there and I got an excellent view of them, with their long straight bills, lack of yellow lores a la Tundras and they are considerably larger than a Tundra Swan. During these forays to see the swans I did regularly see the Adult Bald Eagle up and down the river as well as my first of the year Ring-billed Gulls (4) huddled on the ice near the boat launch.
March has not added many species to my list but some of them are special. Early in March I drove to the K&P Trail at Flower Station. It was a very clear and cold day. I walked west and spent two hours on the trail, dodging the occasional train of snowmobilers who must be enjoying this season. Eventually I heard the slow and irregular tapping of a woodpecker. By slogging through the thigh high snow I came across a female Black-backed Woodpecker working along a leaning dead tree. Unfortunately my photographer Zaza didn’t join me for a cold walk at 7 AM or I would have had an excellent picture. On a quick trip around the fields east of Appleton I came across a Merlin sitting on the side of an old manure pile which is located at the corner of Hamilton Side Rd and Ramsay 12. I always check this pile as it is a good spot for birds including large flocks of starlings using it for food and warmth. This was a female bird with the warm brown back, faint mustache and heavy breast streaks.
Finally I decided to test my owl calling abilities. I selected a calm slightly overcast evening when the temperature was close to zero. I drove up to Ramsay 7B just south of Sugar Bush Road where the roadsides are lined with cedars. I had been to this spot years ago when Michael Runtz had given a talk on owls at the Mill of Kintail and then went owling at this location and up the road for Barred owls. I used my cells’ bird call recordings to try and call in a Saw-whet Owl but with no luck. I thought maybe volume was the issue so I switched to doing the call myself. It took only about 10 minutes and I heard one owl calling faintly in the distance. It wasn’t long before it came much closer and second Saw-whet started up. At that point, I stopped and just listened to them calling to each other; one of those Zen moments!
First Turkey Vulture over our house on March 19th and first Great Blue Heron at Glen Isle on March 20th!
Okay so let’s wrap up my first three months with the numbers. I had identified 61 target birds for the first 90 days and after 81 days I have 54 species. If I had seen any of the normal winter Grosbeaks, Siskins, Redpolls and Crossbills I would have been at or above my target. So I will just have to get those species next winter. I have now created my next 3 month target list and it is comprised of 155 species. This number is large and reflects the nature of migration in Ontario; a punctuated event! My birding pals on the west coast who used to live in Ontario have all noted how dragged out is the coastal migration and that there is generally a lot less individuals at any one time.
Spring has sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’?