With winter on our doorstep, I thought it might be fun to recall some of the amazing birds that have shown up in Ontario this summer and fall. This is not a complete list, but certainly a nice sampling of what came to our province.
The spring migration was good, perhaps even great on some days. Lots of warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, ducks and hawks joined the surge north in April and May. Amongst them was a rare, but not unprecedented, Mississippi Kite. This southern hawk seems to show up annually, at Point Pelee National Park and occasionally elsewhere in the province. This was not a ‘chase-able’ species, meaning it showed up, was briefly seen, then immediately moved on and was not re-found.
Then came late summer and fall and things really picked up! The first mega-rarity was a Purple Gallinule, from the extreme southern USA and Central/South America. It showed up in a Phragmites patch (yes they do have some benefits!), west of Kingsville, and stayed for weeks, to the delight of birders who made the pilgrimage.
Later, in the same area, a first for Canada showed up at Rondeau Provincial Park. The Great Kiskadee is a Central and South American flycatcher that shouldn’t be any closer to us than Texas, yet here it was! It stayed for several days, then disappeared in early September, only to be re-found in early October, where it stayed well into December.
Not to be outdone, the herons put on a good show too, with all the rare ones making multiple appearances. Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Snowy and Cattle Egrets, and multiple Yellow-crowned Night-herons were scattered about the province for all to enjoy. These normally southern species come here from time to time, but never in the numbers we saw this year. The reason for the influx, likely has much to do with strong and persistent southerly winds that brought warm weather and exciting birds to us. But the best of the show turned out to be Reddish Egret, which has only been seen in Canada twice before, yet this year one showed up in the Bruce Peninsula and stayed for weeks. Its characteristic feeding behaviour, where it holds its wings over its head and back to create shade, was observed by hundreds of avid birders along the shore of Lake Huron near Oliphant.
And to add a bit of excitement, nearby, a Swallow-tailed Kite put on its own show for over a week, as it hunted for insects over soybean fields near Wasaga Beach. This gorgeous black and white hawk is found, again, in extreme southern USA and beyond.
Late in the season, a call came out about yet another rarity, this time it was a western species. Say’s Phoebe (kin to our Eastern Phoebe – a flycatcher) showed up near Rondeau Provincial Park, then promptly disappeared. Many looked for it to no avail, then in late September, another or the same, showed up at the Old Airfield, at Algonquin Provincial Park. This one was catching small insects, over a period of about 4 or 5 days, sometimes under blustery conditions. In early October, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, the third rare flycatcher this year, showed up near Barry’s Bay, but few got to see it as the bird moved on quickly. Another vagrant from the Arctic, the Northern Wheatear, only stayed a short time as well, near Timmins, was photographed and it too disappeared.
So what is going on? Is this climate change at its best? Well, really no one can say specifically why these birds showed up this year. We must remember, every year rare birds come here and many are seen, but most aren’t. An interesting anecdotal observation is, many of these super-rare birds were first identified by novice birders and reported on social media. Some were unknown to the observer, and they reached out for help in identifying the birds. What a boon for the rest of us! Many of these, in the past, would have gone unidentified and unreported. What a great year it’s been for birdwatchers!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, and on LinkedIn and Facebook.
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Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.