Birdwatchers get very excited on December 31st as they know that a new year and a new migration is coming soon. The days will get longer and the weather better and with it will come the birds!
Birders are a funny lot; they want to keep a list of all the bird species they see in a year, so January 1st becomes very important to them as their new list begins! But there is another phenomenon that is happening right now.
Strange birds that don’t seem to belong in Ontario show up regularly and sometimes stay for a bit and sometimes just pop into our lives for a few hours and then leave.
This winter a Summer Tanager, from the southern USA, has been frequenting a feeder in Newmarket for several weeks and a beautiful Baltimore Oriole is reportedly in North Pickering right now. The origin of these two birds is likely quite different. The oriole is presumably a bird that nested in Ontario, but for some reason didn’t migrate in September, as its kin did. Why would that be?
Well, migration is linked to many factors, but high on the list is the length of daylight we experience. Hormonal balances and responses to day length vary seasonally for birds, so perhaps this oriole was ill or injured and couldn’t get away on time. Once the urge to migrate passed and it healed, it simply stayed and found a generous host who puts out special food for it. In regards to the former, the tanager doesn’t breed in Ontario so likely it came here on the strong south winds we had in September and October and then was confused as its migrational impulses were askew. It, too, found a generous host and stayed here. Neither bird would be wise to leave their ‘home’ feeders now, as food is scarce, and the energy spent to find a new home would likely result in their demise.
Bohemian waxwings are moving through our area now. They nest in western Canada, for the most part, but annually do eastward migrations, ending up in Newfoundland or Quebec and of course Ontario. They are not lost but follow traditional migration patterns which bring them to our doorsteps in varying numbers most winters.
Finches of all kinds (including redpolls, grosbeaks and crossbills) are on the move as well, and again their journeys are voluntary. They are seeking food as cone and nut crops are poor in the north.
Other nifty wandering birds include a Glaucous-winged Gull in northern Ontario. This is a mega-rarity, as it will be the first record for Ontario if accepted by the Ontario Rare Bird Committee. Also in Ontario are several Slaty-backed Gulls. Now this one is a puzzler?! These birds are west coast birds that move generally in a north/south direction, With no big storms having moved them here from the west coast, it is being speculated, with the Arctic opening up, these birds first wandered north along the Pacific coast then east along the Northwest Passage and likely into Hudson Bay and finally here.
Warblers are notorious lingerers, and strange records emerge as the years pass. This year a Northern Parula, Black-throated Green & Bay-breasted Warblers and an Ovenbird delighted birders in Ontario. These birds, again, just missed the migration window and then became trapped here awaiting spring. If they can find food and shelter, they will be fine!
Owls seem to be moving now, as many Snowy Owls have been reported across the province and it appears the Great Gray Owls have started to move southward, with one showing up in Port Hope last week. We have yet to record a Great Gray in Durham or the Kawarthas this winter, but (fingers crossed) we will soon. Again, please let me know if you see one of these incredible birds or if a Northern Hawk-owl or any other owl shows up. Email me, at: (email@example.com.
So however they got here, let’s show respect; if you find a rare bird give it some space, its life is a lot tougher than ours.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, on LinkedIn, the standardnewspaper website and on Facebook.