Before I tell you a bit about past successes, let me share why unexpected or lingering birds hang around when the conditions will assuredly be toughest?
Generally, one of three things causes these birds to risk death. Either they are injured or sick and can’t leave; or weather conditions, such as persistent strong southerly winds, move them here inadvertently; or they get misdirected on their way south and head eastward instead of going towards the tropics. In any case, they generally are doomed as food is scarce and will become more so as the months progress.
One interesting and uncommon phenomenon takes place in a small woodlot in Oakville, called Sedgewick Park, that annually attracts several species of warblers and vireos, all of which should have migrated to the tropics by December 1st. The attraction here is a plentiful food supply of midges, due to the sewage plant located immediately adjacent to the park. Eventually, the midges die off and the food runs out in mid-January, so all these birds perish, but in the interim birdwatchers have a chance to study these birds at their leisure.
Over the years, I’ve personally found 266 species of wintering birds in Ontario. Included on my list are: the super rare Yellow-billed Loon, and 41 kinds of ducks, geese and swans. Hawks and eagles are well-represented by 15 species, and 20 species of gulls have been recorded. Surprisingly, since they rely exclusively on insect prey, I have found 18 species of shorebirds in the winter.
Rare finds from Canada’s east coast were a Thick-billed Murre in 2013 and a Razorbill in 2006. Other rarities included the White-winged Dove from the south and the Band-tailed Pigeon from the Rockies. I once even had a budgie in January and twice I had a Rufous Hummingbird?! Nine kinds each, of owls, is a good count, but unexpected was a very rare Gray Flycatcher, one of only a couple of records for any time of year for Ontario, which showed up in late December 1994.
Then, in 2015, a Vermillion Flycatcher, from the southwest U.S. desert, stayed for several weeks. Five kinds of wrens and 8 thrushes, including Ontario’s rarest thrush, a Fieldfare from Europe, graced my list. Amazingly, I have seen two very rare desert-dwelling Phainopeplas, which are closely related to our waxwings. Additionally, I have seen 21 species of warblers, vireos and tanagers over the years. Every one of these is dependent on insects for food, so it is surprising to have seen so many different kinds.
Rounding out the list are 29 kinds of sparrows, including a European Brambling, 10 kinds of orioles and blackbirds, and 12 finches. The diversity is quite unexpected, and for me it has been a refreshing adventure that helps me cope.
The sad part is knowing, pretty much any insect-dependent species that lingers in the cold will perish. But on a happier note, most of the others will do just fine and can easily handle the cold and snow, if they can find sufficient food and shelter. So if you’re having trouble dealing with winter, give winter listing a try and see how many kinds of birds you can find.
Check out North Durham Nature’s website for some opportunities, such as Christmas Bird Counts, to help find local wintering birds, at www.northdurhamnature.com. Uxbridge’s is on December 27th and Beaverton’s December 30th.
On another note: I am guiding a birding trip to Colombia, in January 2018, and two of the participants had to drop out unexpectedly, so if any of you are interested in truly escaping the cold and want to join me in Colombia, where we will see about 500 species of birds, mammals and more, please let me know right away, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send details on cost and the itinerary.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, and on LinkedIn and Facebook.