Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

The Third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2021-2025)




In the February 2020 edition of OFO News, the newsletter of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, Mike Cadman wrote an article announcing that the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas would be starting in January 2021. For those who have participated in either or both of the two previous Atlas projects, this will be exciting news. If you haven’t been involved in a Breeding Bird Atlas before, you might be wondering what’s involved. A five-year project might sound a little scary but it’s necessary to give Ontario naturalists time to cover the very large province in which we live. In Southern Ontario alone there are about 2000 ten-kilometer squares to be covered. In Lanark County we have all or parts of about 50 squares.

You can get involved at many levels; you don’t have to commit to covering a square. In the past there have always been “casual observations” to report even if you weren’t in one of “your” squares. This time around, such reporting will be even easier because technology has come a long way since field work for the last atlas ended in 2005. For those of you who use eBird to report your bird sightings, reporting for the atlas will be similarly based on submitting checklists. For the atlas, though, you will be looking for, and reporting, breeding evidence, not just “presence”. However, almost any bird observation during the breeding season is potentially evidence of breeding at some level, ranging from “Possible”, through “Probable” to “Confirmed” breeding.

Another vital component of the atlas is point counts. The goal is to conduct in each square 25 five-minute point counts of all species heard or seen. I wasn’t too excited about point counts before the second atlas started, but it quickly became my favourite atlas activity. I even found bird species I would otherwise have missed!

I encourage all Lanark birders to get involved in this incredible citizen science opportunity. It will get you into new areas, greatly increase your birding skills, especially song recognition, and will be a lot of fun. You don’t have to be an expert birder to make meaningful contributions – you can report the birds you know in the area where you live. Conducting point counts does require a fairly high level of expertise in recognizing bird songs, but you can start working to improve your skills now. This year’s breeding season is already underway, with much more to come.

If anyone has general questions about what it takes to help out with a breeding bird atlas, I’d be happy to try to answer them.

Ken Allison


If you want to see some of the maps based on the first two atlases, you can check them out at:

If you want to practice bird song and call identification, I recommend starting out with the Dendroica tool at:

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April Morning Bird Walks/COVID-9 Year

by Michel Gauthier

Every year in April, MVFN (Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists) organize four Early Morning Bird Walks. Typically, this means inviting the community to participate in guided walks at four different locations, on four consecutive Wednesday. The aim of those walks is to familiarize club members and the community with various aspects of birdwatching.

For the last twelve years, the club has dutifully recorded the number of species obtained during those walks. As of 2017, the club began recording not only the number of species but also the number of birds for each species. From then on, this data has been shared with eBird – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year, because of the social distancing measures required to combat COVID 19, the Morning Walks were cancelled. The club, however, found a way to maintain the string of data while strictly adhering to the social distancing measures.

On each of the assigned Wednesday, one of our experienced birdwatchers (or two if they were part of the same family unit) took his/her daily walk at the place where the Morning Walk was supposed to take place. Luckily, the coronavirus closures did not affect any of the designated locations, so our volunteers were able to record the birds and species while doing no more than their prescribed daily walk.

One would think that reducing the number of birdwatchers to such an extent would have dramatically affected the count, but surprisingly, the numbers of birds and bird species did not deviate significantly from previous years. Maybe the lack of human conversation enabled our birdwatchers to hear and locate more birds. Or maybe only one or two humans wandering through the bird’s environment spooked fewer birds. Whatever the reason, the charts below this article show the results.

Sadly, maintaining the Morning Walks data streak is a small consolation when compared to the hurt inflicted on our community by COVID 19, but in these trying times, one must endeavour to find a sense of normalcy wherever one can. We hope with all our hearts that by next year, we at MVFN will again be able to invite the community in joining us for the Early Morning Bird Walks.

But until then, we encourage everyone to go out birding on their own. MVFN has a Guide to birdwatching in Lanark County that suggests a number of good birding routes. Some of the routes are on federal land or provincial parks that are currently closed to the public but the majority are open and easily allow for social distancing. Just check before you go.

Those new to bird watching will find it helpful to have a field guide to aid in identification. There are a number of apps available for smart phones that will help but Merlin – a free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – is highly recommended. See how many of the 46 species found on the early morning bird walks you can spot.






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MVFN Presqu’ile Day Trip



Wood Duck, Common Merganser, Canada Goose
Photo by Simon Lunn



Once again MVFN will join the Friends of Presqu’ile Provincial Park to celebrate the return of thousands of ducks, geese and swans to Presqu’ile Bay – one of the greatest natural areas for birders on the north shore of Lake Ontario. This is a great opportunity to brush up on water fowl identification with many species swimming close to shore.

Join us on Saturday March 21, 2020 to experience the thrilling sight of thousands of waterfowl which stop on their migration north and west to their summer breeding grounds.

There are also many species of land birds in the Park. Our expedition coincides with the 44th Annual Presqu’ile Waterfowl Weekend, put on by the Park staff and Friends of Presqu’ile Provincial Park volunteers.

DATE: Saturday, March 21, or in case of adverse weather, Sunday, March 22.


Civitan Hall Parking Lot, 7:15 a.m.
Union Hall (Wolf Grove & Tatlock Road), 7:30 a.m.
Glen Tay Public School (just past Perth just north of Hwy #7), 8:00 a.m.
3-hour total travel time each way (with one pit stop)
Arrive back home ~ 6:00 p.m.

There is a $11.20 per vehicle park entrance fee ($9.00 Senior rate). Provincial Park passes are honoured.

BRING: Lunch, hot beverage, binoculars, and spotting scope if you have one. Have extra warm clothes ready for cool, windy weather.

The “Friends” volunteers have an outside BBQ lunch, hot drinks and snacks available for purchase outside the Nature Centre, which has indoor, warm washrooms and a Gift Shop.

YOU MUST PRE-REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT. To register, complete the form at this link. For more information, contact Cliff Bennett at , or 798-6295.

Cliff will email before 7:00 a.m. if the trip is postponed until Sunday because of the weather.

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2019 Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count  – Final Tally

The 16th annual Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC) took place on January 4th, 2020. The normal annual date of December 30th had to be changed due to freezing rain conditions.

The total number of birds counted and recorded this year was 3008 birds, lower than the highest count, in 2010, of 4276, but only 3 fewer than 2017. The total number of species recorded was 35, 4 more than last year. Over the sixteen years of conducting the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count, which started in 2003, a total of seventy-five species has been recorded. The lower number of species can generally be attributed to the absence of waterfowl in the area on count day owing to the severe cold weather and freeze-up of most water areas.   This year, although there was some open water on Mississippi River and Dalhousie Lake, there were no water birds reported.

By L. Balthazar

There was a good count of bald eagles (around 7) although not a record. The record was two years ago (2017) with a count of 17. All other raptors were absent except two red-tailed hawks, a Cooper’s hawk and five barred owls.

The feeder count had the same number of species as last year (23) but over 400 fewer birds. It was a good year for ruffed grouse (16). The record was in 2013 (38).  This year’s count was the third best for blue jays (586). The record was 641 in 2013.  This was only the third year that white-winged crossbills were spotted.  All other birds in the finch family were absent except goldfinches. They are still up north in the Boreal forest because of an excellent food source.

Sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC) takes place every December 30th no matter the weather except this year. The field counters take to the roads and fields to register every bird seen or heard within a twelve kilometer radius centered on Watson’s Corners. The circle is divided into four equal sections each with a Section leader.  Special thanks to Ian Paige, Jeff Mills, Ramsey Hart, Rémy Poulin and Pip Winters who serve as Section Leaders, and to Lise Balthazar who organizes the Feeder Count.   Everyone did a great job especially when we had to suddenly change the date. All of the volunteer leaders, feeder counters, field counters and coordinators are to be commended for spending the entire day as citizen-scientists. 

Thank you to Michel Gauthier for setting up his laptop and screen at the Lanark Civitan Club and entering the data so that everyone is able to see the results as they come in, and to Cliff Bennett for doing the final audit of the results. His contribution throughout the count since the Lanark Highlands count began, including his inspiration and encouragement to area birders, is immeasurable. 

The Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count is one of over two thousand counts held across North and South America and is the largest citizen-scientist activity anywhere in the world. All records are stored with the Audubon Society and used for research and conservation programs. For further information or a complete list of the tally, please contact Cliff Bennett at or count coordinator Marilyn Barnett at .  If you know birds by sight or sound and would like to participate in next year’s count, please get in touch in early December 2020.

Submitted by Marilyn Barnett

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Rideau Ferry Christmas Bird Count Results 2019

The Rideau Ferry Christmas Bird Count took place on December 14, maintaining the tradition of having the count on the first available Saturday in the designated CBC period. The weather was quite appalling with overcast skies and persistent rain, however mercifully the promised freezing rain failed to appear. Some roads and trails were still quite icy so caution was in order.

Despite the less than wonderful conditions the count attracted 30 field observers split into 9 parties, while 15 people watched birds at their feeders. A total of 46 species were tallied, comprising some 5724 individuals. This was a far better total than I had originally forecasted when confronted with the weather forecast and experiencing the actual conditions in the field.

Two new species were observed for the count: Lesser Black-backed and Iceland Gulls, both single birds identified after close scrutiny of a huge flock of Herring Gulls heading over Rideau Ferry late in the day. Thanks to Mark Gawn and his team for their diligence and expertise. Many species were indeed represented by a single individual: Bufflehead, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Notable by their absence were the winter finches, presumably because of the bumper food supply further north. Four additional species were observed during the count week (3 days either side of the count date): Great Blue Heron, Great Horned Owl, Snow Bunting and Common Grackle.

The results were compiled during a potluck dinner at Sarah Anderson’s home on the outskirts of Perth where attendees enjoyed a lively social interaction (largely dominated by birding stories!) before heading out into the snowstorm that had blown up. Luckily all made it home safely.  The results can be seen at Rideau Ferry CBC Results or on the Audubon site.

Alison Bentley
ONRF CBC Compiler

Thumbnail Photo by Camilla Cerea/Audubon

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