With spring coming to an end, I can’t help but reminisce about some of the fantastic birding I experienced over the past several months. With record breaking temperatures in February, many of the birds we typically don’t see until March arrived early, but as the weather returned to normal, so too did the arrival of spring migrants.
April saw the return of Eastern Phoebes to our area. These birds are always the first flycatcher to return each spring. I was pleasantly surprised to see my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year on Good Friday as it hovered over my yard. This was the earliest I can remember ever seeing a hummingbird in the area. As the month progressed, aerial insectivores including swallows and Chimney Swifts were observed throughout the area.
As May approached, I patiently waited for the return of warblers to Southwestern Ontario. First to arrive this year, as is the case each year, were Yellow-rumped Warblers. In the days following, Yellow Warblers and Palm Warblers were also observed in good numbers.
Due to some stretches of unseasonably warm weather, leaf cover this spring was further along than in previous years, which made photographing warblers and other songbirds more challenging, but I am always more than happy to just watch these colourful birds through a pair of binoculars as they flit from branch to branch.
Westminster Ponds ESA is my favourite place to bird anytime of year, but especially during spring migration. With an abundance of mixed habitat, songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey can all be observed in good numbers. During migration, it is not uncommon to see 50-70 species in a single day.
One morning in early May as I made my way along the boardwalk behind Tourist Information on Wellington Road, I observed a Virginia Rail as it walked through the emerging cattails in this swampy section of the Westminster Ponds ESA. These secretive birds are fairly common in our area, but are extremely difficult to find as they typically stay hidden within the thick vegetation of their preferred marshy habitats.
Early May was also great for observing Wood Ducks within the Westminster Ponds ESA. Looking through the wood cover surrounding Saunders Pond revealed many pairs of these beautiful dabblers. Since Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, several of these ducks were inadvertently seen high up in trees adjacent to the pond as I scanned the branches for warblers and other songbirds. Surprisingly, I also found a few late overwintering ducks on Saunders Pond with a pair Long-tailed Ducks and a lone female Greater Scaup observed. Both of these waterfowl species breed far to our north and are typically gone from our area by this time of year.
If asked what bird I look forward to seeing most return each spring, my answer would be the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The unmistakable plumage displayed on the males of this species is simply stunning, and I was happy to see these birds once again back in our area in early May.
Each May, Whimbrels can be observed in large numbers along the north shore of Lake Erie as they pass through the area on route to their breeding grounds across the Arctic. The largest flocks are typically observed around the Victoria Day long weekend give or take a few days. In years past, my timing has always been off just missing these large shorebirds by a day or two. On May 17, I took a short drive down to Port Stanley, Ontario and to my delight between 250 and 300 Whimbrels were resting on the east breakwater at the mouth of the harbour. Other shorebirds present were Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, and Least Sandpipers.
Birding this spring wasn’t just about the many migrants returning to or making their way through our area. Resident birds are always fun to observe and I was treated to excellent views of many, including Pileated Woodpeckers. These crow-sized woodpeckers truly are a sight to see and can readily be found within the Westminster Ponds ESA.
Just because spring migration has come to an end doesn’t mean that great birding can’t still be enjoyed throughout our area. With so many birds spending at least the summer months in Southwestern Ontario, productive birding will continue right through the summer leading us into fall migration.
As the temperature warms up, I recommend getting out as early in the day as you can to not only avoid the heat, but this is when birds are most active. Summer birding can be incredibly satisfying as this is this only time of year to witness interactions between adult and baby birds. You may have to be a little more patient to see some of the birds through the leaf cover, and daily species counts may not be as high, but birding during the summer months is just as rewarding as birding any other time of year.