Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winter Birding

Now that cold weather has set in, it is time to talk about winter birding (it comes once a year!). Some people keep "winter lists". From December 1 to the end of February some avid listers try to see as many birds as possible in that time frame. I do not keep such a list. I see what I see!

I suppose my winter birding really starts with the Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). They run from mid December to the first week of January every year. Many avid birders such as myself participate in several every season. It is a day of fun, something like a treasure hunt, and a day for socializing.

Locally, we start with the Kettle Point one that is hosted by Lambton Wildlife on the first Saturday of the count period. That is followed by Rondeau/Blenheim on Sunday.

Every count is different with regards to birds that you will find. On the Kettle Point, any blackbird is good, and sparrows are scarce. More of the finch types are there due to the conifers I suppose. At Rondeau, waterfowl are usually big in numbers, but one can expect a wide variety of birds. The Rondeau/Blenheim count sometimes tops the province in species. It is almost always in the top two or three anyway. Last year it was the highest in the province at 107 species. In the past, it has come in at a high of 113 if I remember correctly.

The next count locally is Wallaceburg, my home count. It includes Walpole Island where some good species are quite often found. Back in 2001, a Black-necked Stilt was recorded--a first for a Canadian CBC! We always do better when the weather is colder, as it concentrates birds, and more ducks and gulls are recorded in the St. Clair River.

The St. Clair NWA count is held around New Year's. Most times it is on New Year's Day when things are quiet for some reason. It relies heavily on waterfowl, therefore open water is beneficial. Last year with the mild weather record numbers or waterfowl were recorded. As well, this count tends to get big numbers of blackbirds.

The CBC's are always fun as surprises are always encountered.

In early January, some of us do a waterfowl count. I always do the St. Clair River. It is not until late December that numbers of waterfowl build up in the big river. The cold weather brings them in off the lakes. In recent years, it gets later and later it seems.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spend lots of time on the St. Clair River looking at waterfowl and gulls. Sometimes surprises are found such as an Ivory Gull! A Red-throated Loon (see photo) was a rare find, although that was in late November. (The only one I have ever seen in the river!).

Other spots to go winter birding are in provincial parks to see wintering birds. Sometimes birds of several species flock together and that is what one looks for.

Once again, surprises can occur, such as was the case on January 11, 1998 in Rondeau Park. One cold, cloudy morning I had just started on south point trail when I heard some very metallic chip notes. I knew it was something unique, but I didn't see the bird right away. After some pishing, up popped a Nashville Warbler! (No photo available).

Later in the morning I alerted some friends, and they came to see the bird. Actually the bird stayed about ten days. I did not realize it initially, but this warbler was different than the usual Nashville we see in migration. The yellow parts were brighter, and the tail flicked constantly. As well, that peculiar metallic chip note was unique. These characteristics pointed to the ridgwayi subspecies from out west. It is a separate disjunct population of the Nashville Warbler that has its own characteristics. Some day these two populations of Nashvilles may be split, so that will constitute a new species.

In some winters, owls erupt from the north. Three years ago, Great Gray Owls came down south in big numbers. Once they find a good feeding spot, they will stay for a while. I remember going to a place near Orillia to see some Great Gray Owls. None came anywhere near here though!

In January and February, owls can be looked for. Whether it be in open pastures for Short-eared Owls, conifer areas for Long-eared Owls or Saw-Whet Owls, or just to look for roosting Snowy Owls, many species can be found.

There are lots of birds to look for in various habitats during the winter!

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping to attend at least 1 CBC this year...I was going to do Toronto but I just found out I have to work the same day (the 23 of December). I'll be home in Leamington from the 24th to early January though so I hopefully I can find a nearby count for that time. Are the waterfowl counts official? Where are they held?