Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Species seen on Evening Bird Walk

Hello Birders,

IMG_0628A Birders Start out (1024x649)











MVFN group on evening bird walk. photo Howard Robinson

Thanks for participating in the MVFN Bird Walk on June 19th on the 12th Concession Line, Lanark Highlands.  Below is the list of species that the entire group saw or heard starting at the Union Hall.  Thanks very much to Lynda Bennett, our expert bird guide for the evening, and to Cliff Bennett and Ray Fortune who led smaller groups for part of the walk. Thanks also to Ray for letting us walk through his woods so that we could find a few more species and to Howard Robinson for sharing the attached photos.  Overall Lynda and I enjoyed the walk very much and were very pleased with the number of species recorded for the evening.


IMG_0655A Indigo Bunting














Indigo bunting. photo Howard Robinson


  1. Turkey vulture
  2. American robin
  3. European starling
  4. Song sparrow
  5. American crow
  6. Tree swallow
  7. Black-capped chickadee
  8. Great Crested flycatcher
  9. Blue jay
  10. Mallard
  11. Indigo bunting
  12. Common grackle
  13. Yellow warbler
  14. Chestnut-sided warbler
  15. Catbird
  16. Red-winged blackbird
  17. Common loon
  18. Cedar waxwing
  19. Eastern Kingbird
  20. Eastern Phoebe
  21. Red-eyed vireo
  22. Veery
  23. Ovenbird
  24. Brown thrasher
  25. Pileated woodpecker
  26. American goldfinch
  27. Hairy woodpecker
  28. Wood thrush
  29. House wren
  30. Brown-headed Cowbird
  31. Ruffed grouse

Mary Robinson

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ Birding Committee.


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A Lanark Big Year – May 28th – Why I Bird

A Lanark Big Year – May 28th – Why I Bird

Yellow Warbler










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.

P1010376 Dowitcher










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.

Barred Owl_1 Murphy's Point_1








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  Cape May Warbler








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.







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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.


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.


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.



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A Lanark Big Year – March 25th – Harbingers of Spring!

“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.

iana Common Goldeneye   Iain's cardinal

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.

Iains Trumpeter swans

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.

Iains K&P Trail

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.

So the next 3 months will be even busier than the first 3 and please share with me any unusual sightings at .

iains Christie Lake

Spring has sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’?





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A Lanark Big Year – February 28th – One Bird at a Time!

pdf  with photos: A Lanark Big Year –  February 28- One Bird at a Time!

Southwest Corner of the CountyLanark Country Roads2









February! What can one say about this month of cold and snow? Well for one thing, it has been a season of seeing one bird at a time! Lots of local day trips coupled with outings to the NW and SW corners of the county resulting in a maximum of one new species on any given day. As well I have noticed that Lanark has an incredible mixture of tree species, from the Pines, Spruces, Oaks, Maples, Hackberrys, Hickorys and many more. Last year I guided a couple, who are birding buddies of mine from Ferintosh, Alberta (south of Edmonton), around eastern Ontario and they loved the variety of tree species as much as the eastern birds. He worked as a forester for the Alberta government so he know his trees, and he was amazed at the variety. As well one notices how young many of the trees are, a result of the centuries of logging, both for settlement of the land and to supply the Royal Navy’s ship building yards.

This is also a year that the Great Lakes are more frozen then they have been in decades with the result that there may be more and different duck species on any open water there is left. In Almonte, I saw the 5 Redheads just east of the bridge, a first for my Lanark life list.


First Catholic Church2

I have walked and driven the Mississippi River several times in the last month and regularly see Common Goldeneyes and Mallards at Appleton, and Carleton Place. I also spotted one sleeping male Red-breasted Merganser in the rapids by the Pakenham Five Span Bridge. He seemed unconcerned about the chunks of ice bopping around him as he dozed. In the last few days 7 Lesser Scaup turned up on the river across from the Carleton Place High School.

In early February, Zaza and I did a tour of the southwest corner of the county. It was another cold but at least sunny day and we worked our way west on County Rd 6 from Perth to Althorpe and then onto to County Rd 36. South on 36 takes you out of the county as we crossed the Tay River which still had an open stretch. We turned left onto Parish Rd to head back toward the county and came across the site of the first Roman Catholic Church in that area established in 1840. It was established by Irish priests from Armagh and all that was visible was a marker. Parish Rd got us back to County Rd 10 (Westport Road) and travelling east we came to the Lanark County sign. So far all we had seen were Crows, Ravens and Blue Jays. Is it just me or are there many more Blue Jays this year? We see them throughout the county as well mobbing feeders. From there we travelled all the way to Merrickville, where just on the edge of town a Sharpie dashed across the road and behind a house. I suspect lunch was ready at the feeder. We ended the day by coming up the eastern edge of the county surveying all the fields for Larks but no luck.

Blueberry Mountain

Our second day trip was to Blueberry Mountain. The drive turned up a beautiful Adult Bald Eagle soaring near Hopetown, Purple Finches on Flower Station Road and of course Blue Jays everywhere. We reached the Blueberry Mountain parking lot but there was way too much snow to do any hiking without snowshoes. I now know the area better and plan on hiking the K&P Trail in the spring.

I decided it required a more concerted effort to find Larks so I started driving all of the eastern county roads with large open fields between Pakenham and Merrickville. Persistence paid off. We found a small flock of Snow Buntings on the edge of McArton Rd near the Appleton Road end and stopped. Again Zaza was the first to notice the two Horned Larks just into the open field and separated from the Buntings.

Okay now for the numbers. Remember I had identified 61 target birds for the first three months of 2014, well I have only seen 34 so far; not a single Siskin, Redpoll, Crossbill or Grosbeak in sight. In addition I have seen 8 species I didn’t target for this season, such as the Varied Thrush, Robin and some of the Ducks, for a total of 42. It is a slow start for a target of 200.

purple finch2




So remember to let me know of interesting birds you see, such as Owls, Raptors in general, Longspurs and any of the normal winter finches I am missing. Email me at

Cheers and may March be better!




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