May 18 – Birdathon

It’s been a very good few days for birding, and for adding to my Big Year.

May 18, 2013 – BIRDATHON (I’ve copied a summary below) – It is also not too late to sponsor the team, so if you are interested in doing so (it is such a great cause), you can sponsor me online at:

This year the Ruthven Park Ringers was comprised of Matt, Liz and Ben, all volunteers at Ruthven. We were aiming for 150 species, or at least an improvement upon the 141 species the team had last year. Our Birdathon took place entirely within Haldimand-Norfolk, an excellent place for spring birding.

We started Birdathon with a census at Ruthven Park. Upon arriving at 530 am I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting in a neighbouring woodlot. Once the team was fully assembled we made our way around the census route. Right on cue 3 COMMON LOONS flew overhead, on the way to their northern breeding grounds. We were treated to a nice movement of passerines, including several warbler species. Species we detected only at Ruthven included the loons, CHIMNEY SWIFT, EASTERN TUFTED TITMOUSE, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, HOUSE FINCH and PINE SISKIN. We also had 12 species of warblers, including BAY-BREASTED, CAPE MAY and TENNESSEE. We were off to a great start.

We headed north to York where we had nesting CLIFF SWALLOWS at the bridge, and then south down the Grand River. Along the river we added EASTERN MEADOWLARK, GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, BOBOLINKS, BROWN THRASHERS, and a nice flock of AMERICAN PIPITS. These birds were feeding in a plowed field and provided excellent looks. These were bonus birds!

We took the country roads down to the Haldimand shoreline, adding HORNED LARK and our only ROCK PIGEONS and RED-TAILED HAWK for the day.

Along the Lake Erie shoreline we added all the common gull species, including a banded GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL. Shorebirds were sparse, but we were able to find DUNLIN and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Ducks were nicely represented with RED-BREASTED and COMMON MERGANSER, AMERICAN BLACK DUCK, MALLARD, GADWALL, and a pair of REDHEAD.

It was time to head into Norfolk County. Our first stop was the Townsend Sewage Lagoons. As usual, there were a number of interesting birds here. Highlights included RUDDY DUCK, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN COOT, HOODED MERGANSER, WOOD DUCK (with babies), and singles of RING-NECKED DUCK and CANVASBACK. Shorebirds were scarce, but we added a single SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. We completed our swallow category with a few BANK SWALLOWS foraging over the lagoons.

A quick stop in Simcoe rewarded us with 3 CLAY-COLOURED SPARROWS on territory, as well as 3 flyover SANDHILL CRANES.

We made our way to St. Williams (adding a BROAD-WINGED HAWK along the way), where we added PINE WARBLER, and heard our first of many HOODED WARBLERS.

Backus Woods was good to us with YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS, and singing NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, CERULEAN WARBLER and WOOD THRUSH. A female RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD was also new for the day. One of the highlights was watching a stunning male HOODED WARBLER sing and forage close to us.

With all the campers having arrived to Long Point for the long weekend, we decided our best bet for finding migrants would be in the day-use area of the new Long Point Provincial Park. We made our way to the parking area, had a nice picnic lunch and starting looking for migrants. We were not disappointed. In a small area (200 m or so) between the gatehouse and the parking area we had a fantastic wave of warblers. In a matter of minutes we added WESTERN PALM WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, WILSON’S WARBLER and BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER. These were just 4 of the 18 warbler species that were would see in this area throughout the afternoon. Other new birds included LINCOLN’S SPARROW, LEAST FLYCATCHER, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and VEERY.

With the afternoon half-over we decided to try for some water birds. A stop along the causeway added BLACK, COMMON and FORSTER’S TERN. We also added our only PIED-BILLED GREBES.

The Port Rowan Sewage Lagoons were full of common shorebirds, but a few SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS and a single WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER were nice additions.

With time quickly ticking away we targeted a few species, including VESPER SPARROW at my farm, and 2 pairs of BALD EAGLES at nesting sites.

We decided scanning the inner bay from Port Rowan could be good. Here we saw both GREATER and LESSER SCAUP, BUFFLEHEAD, and we heard a CAROLINA WREN singing from some thickets.

We decided since Long Point Provincial Park was so good to us, we would try there for another 30 minutes before heading to Big Creek for marsh birds. Bird activity was still high, and fortunately there were a few new birds. We had a nice NORTHERN PARULA, and right before we were about to leave a stunning RED-HEADED WOODPECKER flew onto a poplar for our viewing pleasure. While driving out of the park a flyover GREEN HERON was a welcome bonus, as was a calling AMERICAN BITTERN.

With light quickly fading we walked out to the viewing platform at Big Creek. Birds were pretty scarce, but we did have our first SWAMP SPARROWS and MARSH WRENS. Our only other new bird was a close flyover BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON.

We made our way back to St. William’s where we immediately heard a few EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL’S singing away, as well as a few displaying AMERICAN WOODCOCKS.

It was a long day, but we thought we might as well check Dry Lake on our way back to Ruthven for rails. After a few minutes we heard a VIRGINIA RAIL calling from some cattails. What a great way to end our Birdathon. At 143 species, we successfully achieved one of our goals!

Thank you to everyone who sponsored the team. We are already looking forward to 2014!





About canadabigyear2013

I'm a lifelong birder and naturalist who is undertaking a Canada Big Year in 2013.
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