Last week when I saw the forecast for the Family Day long weekend I knew it was going to be a great weekend for birding. Above seasonal temperatures and sunshine would be a nice change from the what seems like never ending cloud cover we have experienced so far this winter. What really peaked my attention about the forecast was the predicted winds, which were to be out of the south. I was optimistic that the combination of warmer temperatures and south winds would bring a few migrants back to our area ahead of schedule.
One of my first observations of the weekend was that several birds were beginning to vocalize much more with Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens heard signing loudly throughout many of my favourite areas. While the wrens were a challenge to see and photograph due to their propensity to remain in heavy cover, many of the cardinals were observed singing out in the open. Blue Jays are regularly observed all winter long in our area, but I noticed increased numbers as several large flocks moved through a local park. I couldn’t help but wonder if these flocks may have been birds that overwintered to our south and were making their way north. Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches were also seen in good numbers and much more vocal than in previous weeks.
On Sunday I drove down to Port Stanley, Ontario to see what species may be present on or along the lake. As soon as I stepped out of my truck I could hear the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds, my first of the year, echoing from a patch of phragmites near Little Beach. Song Sparrows could also be seen and heard calling from the shrubs adjacent to the rocky shoreline. As I walked out further towards the lake, a lone male Redhead swam close to shore. A pair of Common Mergansers passed by overhead while a few Canada Geese landed on the east breakwall. As I glanced out at the hundreds of gulls, mostly Ring-billed and Herring, that stood on the remaining ice, I heard the call of an Eastern Meadowlark, another first of the year for me. I turned and located the bird singing from one of the few remaining tall trees on the far side of the meadow. As I raised my camera to take a very distant shot, the bird dropped down into the thick tangles of grasses and brush below before I could press the shutter.
While driving back into London, I observed a few Turkey Vultures soaring over the open fields. Turkey Vultures are known to overwinter in Port Stanley and I have observed them there in previous trips this winter, but these were the first birds I have noticed inland, leading me to believe that maybe these birds too were ones that have recently returned to Southwestern Ontario.
Seeing the first wave of migrants arrive back in our area ahead of schedule has made for an exciting start to the long weekend. With more beautiful weather in the forecast for holiday Monday, it looks like yet another great day to get out birding. In fact, most of the week looks nice with continuing warm temperatures and more south winds. If the forecast holds true, we should see even more early migrants arrive back in our area. If you get the chance this week, I highly recommend getting out and enjoying the sights and sounds this beautiful spring-like weather has brought with it.