As the days become longer and spring approaches, many of the birds that have been overwintering across our region will begin their migration north. There are currently great opportunities in and around the city to view some incredible species, but with every passing day the window of opportunity narrows. The frigid temperatures are partially responsible for the incredible winter birding we have experienced this winter; not knowing what next winter will bring it is best to act now if there are certain birds you still wish to see.
For the second year in a row, Snowy Owls irrupted throughout Southwestern Ontario including many sightings around London, Ontario. Recent sightings from south of the city in the Manning Drive and Wellington Road area, as well as the Old Victoria Road and Wilton Grove Road area have been reported. This past week I decided to check the area Northwest of Strathroy, a popular wintering area for these Owls, and located two.
If you still need a Snowy Owl for your year or life list, and you are not planning a trip to the Arctic, than I suggest heading out in the next couple of weeks as these birds will be migrating north very soon. Rough-legged Hawks are another raptor to keep an eye out for while driving the back roads. Breeding in the Arctic Tundra and taiga these large birds of prey are only seen in Southwestern Ontario during winter months.
While searching for Snowy Owls be sure to keep an eye out for Snow Buntings. These predominantly white birds can be observed at the side of roads and in the fields adjacent to them. Snow Buntings return to their Arctic breeding grounds in early April leaving little time to see them across Southwestern Ontario. Flocks of Horned Larks can also be observed in the same areas as Snow Buntings; these ground birds can be found year round across our area, but are much easier to locate during winter months when the ground is covered in snow.
Small songbirds including finches like the Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin will soon migrate north. These birds can be seen at backyard feeders feeding on sunflower and nyjer seeds. If your feeders are not being visited by either of these species, I am still observing good numbers of these birds along the banks of the Thames River feeding on Alder catkins. Many overwintering sparrow species including: White-throated, White-crowned, American Tree, and the Dark-eyed Junco will soon be absent from the region as spring approaches.
Those of you that subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know what an incredible winter it has been for waterfowl on the Thames River in London, Ontario. With 20 species of waterfowl reported, the banks of the Thames has been popular with birders this winter. Many birders have been walking the banks in search of the Harlequin Duck. This rare duck is only the second ever recorded in Middlesex County, with the last reported in 1968. If you have not yet experienced the beauty of a Harlequin Duck, than I recommend heading down to the river as soon as you can. The eastern population of this duck breeds across Northern Quebec, Labrador, or Southern Baffin Island and is yet another species that will soon be gone.
It is not just the Harlequin Duck that will disappear from the Thames River. Some of the 20 species of waterfowl that will be leaving our area in the near future include: Common Goldeneyes, Greater Scaup, Canvasbacks, and White-winged Scoters.
If there is a species that you are wishing to see this winter, but are not sure where to locate them than consult the eBird species map. This map is a great tool for birders to locate any species around the world, and is easy to use. Simply enter the species you wish to locate, and the location in which you would like to observe it. To narrow your search, select the current year. The map will then display all reported sightings of that particular species. You can then zoom in to see the exact location of all reported sightings nearest you.
One key factor that triggers bird migration is the amount of daylight. As the days get longer, overwintering birds will start making their way north to their breeding grounds. Many of these species will likely be leaving within the next couple of weeks. Our clocks go forward this weekend giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evenings to head out birding in search of some of these overwintering species. When it comes to Snowy Owls or the Harlequin Duck, take advantage of daylight savings and make a point to get out and observe these birds. There is no guarantee that these birds will return to our area next winter and present such incredible views.