Frigid temperatures and high winds made for predictable birding this past week. As expected, birds could be found in areas out of the wind and close to a food source. Wind breaks come in a variety of forms, and some of my favourites are evergreens, hillsides and riverbanks. The thick foliage of an evergreen tree provides great shelter from elements like wind and snow, as well as hungry predators. These trees are also an excellent food source as their cones contain seeds. The leeward side of a hill or riverbank is also a perfect place to find birds during windy conditions. I located several bird species in these areas feeding on a variety of fruits and seeds from the various trees and shrubs. Although I did not come across any lifers, I did tally 29 species to add to my 2015 year list.
Waterfowl numbers on the Thames River drastically increased this past week. As area water bodies freeze several species, including many diving ducks, migrate to the river to overwinter. Good numbers of Common and Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead are visible. My favourite stretch of river for observing winter waterfowl is between the Sanitorium Rd bridge in the city’s west end, and the Wharncliffe Road bridge, mere blocks from the city’s core. Large concentrations of waterfowl can be observed on this stretch of river. The river’s current flow in this section keeps the water open year round, providing these ducks with a place to feed. I enjoyed watching a flock of Hooded Mergansers feeding in this area. The ducks dove repeatedly, surfacing with gobies on almost every dive. After catching their fill they proceeded to an ice flow for some preening and a nap. Springbank or Greenway Park are excellent access points to this section of river. Plenty of free parking is available and walking is made easy as The City of London’s Parks Department does an incredible job of plowing and salting the paved path that parallels the river between these two parks.
Bald Eagles are also common in this section of river during winter months. In fact, winter is the best time of year to view these majestic raptors along the river within the city. This past week saw I observed adult and juvenile birds flying up and down the river. Other raptor species observed this week were Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawks and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Brown Creepers are a resident species across our region, but their numbers do increase in winter as birds that breed to our north migrate to our area to overwinter. Birding in wooded areas this week revealed many of these small, incredibly well camouflaged birds. Brown Creepers can be observed climbing tree trunks as they search for food behind the bark. Their feather pattern blends in with almost any tree bark making them extremely difficult to locate. Learning their call will increase your odds of locating this bird.
Other tree clinging birds observed this week were: Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, as well as Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. At one point I observed a Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpecker all in the same tree only a few feet away from each other. Unfortunately too far apart to fit all three in a single camera frame.
Many of the other common year round resident birds were also observed this past week. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Black-capped Chickadees to name a few. Winter birding can provide some of the best views of the year. Birds are much more visible perched in tree that contains no leaves, and this is one huge advantage of heading out this time of year.
Birding during the cold winter months can be incredibly rewarding and is a great way to stay active. Dressing accordingly and limiting your time outside if needed are key to enjoying this activity. If you wonder what I wear to stay warm during these extreme winter conditions you can read my blog post Enjoy Winter Birding By Dressing For The Weather.