PAUL ROEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

Wildlife and Nature Photography

Posts tagged ‘London Ontario’

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
November 10 – 17, 2017

The movements of Cedar Waxwings can be incredibly predictable during the month of November. I often find flocks of these birds each year in the same fruit trees.

The movements of Cedar Waxwings can be incredibly predictable during the month of November. I often find flocks of these birds each year in the same fruit trees.

I have always enjoyed birding in November. Sure the big push of migrants has already moved through and the weather can be fickle at best, but great birding opportunities exist for a variety of species. It is at this time of year that I have some of the best views of Cedar Waxwings as their movements can be extremely predictable.

With seasonal temperatures not conducive to insect activity, waxwings are easily located feeding on fruit. Find fruit trees and you will most likely find waxwings. That being said, be extra observant when searching for Cedar Waxwings in November. During spring and summer months waxwings will regularly give away their location with their high-pitched whistles, but at this time of year they tend to remain almost silent as they gorge themselves on berries. 

With most of the leaves now gone from the trees, locating birds is less challenging and one of the many things I like about birding in November.

With most of the leaves now gone from the trees, locating birds is less challenging and one of the many things I like about birding in November.

This week I decided to check one of my favourite locations for finding Cedar Waxwings and in particular a few specific trees. Sure enough, as in previous Novembers, waxwings were present. Also observed among the sizable flock of Cedar Waxwings were large numbers of American Robins also enjoying the bounty of fruit.

As I watched this feeding frenzy I heard the occasional soft call of a robin and the odd whistle from a waxwing, but otherwise this group of hundreds of birds was silent. Cedar Waxwings will not remain in one area long at this time of year though, as once the berries are gone so too will the birds. Finding more fruit trees in areas that are close by and following the flock is key to achieving continued views over the course of the month. 

Bald Eagle activity increases along the Thames River in London, Ontario during the month of November.

This Bald Eagle was observed along the Thames River in Springbank Park. This is one of my favourite sections of river for observing these majestic raptors all winter long.

November is also when Bald Eagle activity along the Thames River in London, Ontario begins to increase. Eagles that have migrated from our north are often attracted to the river due the fact many sections remain open year round, offering a sustainable food supply throughout the winter months. Combine this with the local population consisting of many first year birds from several nest sites in the area and chances of spotting a Bald Eagle along the river are pretty good. This week I had great views of a mature eagle as it flew downstream in Springbank Park. 

This Blue Jay was one of the many birds I have observed so far during the month of November.

This Blue Jay added a touch of colour to an otherwise grey day.

Other plentiful birds around the Forest City in the past seven days were Blue Jays. These birds are often quite vocal revealing their whereabouts making them an easy bird to locate. Speaking of vocal birds, I was treated to great views of a male Red-bellied Woodpecker as it called from high up in a dead tree. Northern Cardinals were yet another songbird heard long before they were seen. 

With the leaves off the trees in November, birds like this Red-bellied Woodpecker are much easier to locate.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker takes a break from trying to extract a meal from beneath the bark of a dead tree.

Waterfowl numbers on the Thames River really seemed to increase this week, with mostly Canada Geese and Mallards observed. I always look closely at these large flocks for any ducks that look slightly different as November is when I often find the odd Gadwall or other dabbler mixed in with all the Mallards. This week I did locate an American Black Duck/Mallard hybrid while birding along the river. Within the next month, good numbers of overwintering waterfowl including mergansers and Common Goldeneye will appear on the river for another season. 

This male Northern Cardinal was busy foraging on seeds that had fallen to the ground.

This male Northern Cardinal was busy foraging on cedar seeds that had fallen to the ground.

If you are not convinced that great birding opportunities are available throughout the month of November, I encourage you to get out and give it a try. Resident birds are always abundant and overwintering species will continue to arrive in the area as the weeks progress. Dress accordingly to the day’s predicted forecast and always be prepared for rain or wet snow as weather in November can change at a moment’s notice. Be extra observant as sometimes birds can be right in front of you while not making a sound, as evidenced by the Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwings are just one of the many songbirds I target at this time of year.

Cedar Waxwings are just one of the many songbirds I target at this time of year.

Birding in November has always been rewarding for me and is why I look forward to the change in weather so much. I think if you visit your favourite natural area this month you too will agree November birding is incredibly rewarding. 

Good birding,
Paul 

*If you were unable to attend one of my November workshops, I have added more dates in January. If you were able to participate, I have added a couple of new workshops that might interest you as well. Please view my upcoming events for more details.*

Red-headed Woodpecker: An Unexpected Backyard Visitor

This Red-headed Woodpecker paid a visit to my backyard this past week.

This Red-headed Woodpecker was an unexpected visitor this past week to my backyard.

Wednesday started in a similar fashion to most of my days, with a trip outside to fill my feeders. I like to ensure my feeders are full to start the day, so I am ready to enjoy the birds when they arrive at dawn and throughout the day as I work from home. After filling the feeders, I returned inside and sat down at my desk ready to begin my workday. As I glanced over my computer screen out the window, I noticed a flash of red at the feeder where I had just placed a handful of peanuts in the shell. Naturally, I assumed it was one of the Red-bellied Woodpeckers that regularly visit, but upon closer look I realized the bird was not a Red-bellied Woodpecker, but a much less common Red-headed Woodpecker. 

Having only seen a Red-headed Woodpecker a few times in my lifetime, words cannot describe how excited I was to see this bird at my feeder. Red-headed Woodpeckers are currently listed as a species at risk in Ontario and therefore rare in most areas. The majority of reported sightings in Southwestern Ontario come from within two of our provincial parks, Rondeau and Pinery, as well as Point Pelee National Park.

I was pleasantly surprised to look out my window and see a Red-headed Woodpecker on my feeder.

I was rather shocked Wednesday morning to look out my window and see a Red-headed Woodpecker on my feeder.

Typically when a new species or first of year migrant arrives in my yard, I am quite content to watch from indoors and let the bird feed undisturbed while getting accustomed to my yard before I venture outside in an attempt to capture an image. I would much rather enjoy viewing the bird from inside and not have a photograph than risk spooking the bird and have it leave my yard just for the sake of an image. On this day there was construction going on in the yard behind me with dump trucks, a backhoe, and several men working. I watched as the Red-headed Woodpecker made several trips to and from my feeder unfazed by the loud noises coming from the adjacent yard. Given the nearby commotion, I decided that my presence in the yard was unlikely to startle the bird if I kept my distance and avoided sudden movements. As I slipped quietly out the back door with my camera in hand I could hear the bird calling form a tree in the corner of my yard.

I positioned myself partially hidden on the corner of my deck at a 90 degree angle to the sun. This was not my first choice in terms of light or background for a picture, but again first and foremost, I did not want to frighten the bird. Only a few minutes passed when the Red-headed Woodpecker swooped down from the tree and landed on my feeder. I quickly pressed the shutter button capturing several images before the bird grabbed a peanut and flew off over the yard behind me. My excitement level was so high that I was actually shaking and uncertain how sharp my images would be knowing that there was a high probability of camera shake. I realized the presence of a Red-headed Woodpecker in my yard would be a major distraction from my work not to mention I may never get another opportunity like this again, so I decided to spend the day in my yard observing and photographing this rare visitor. Fortunately, my schedule allows me to set my own hours and the lost time can be made up by working evenings and on the weekend, a small sacrifice I was more than willing to make in order to enjoy this beautiful bird.

This large tree behind my house proved to be the favourite perch of this Red-headed Woodpecker.

This large tree behind my house proved to be a favourite perch of this Red-headed Woodpecker. Each time the bird returned to my yard it would pause briefly on this tree before continuing on to the feeder.

As time passed, it became even more evident that this bird was not perturbed by me or the loud noises coming from my neighbour’s yard. Even the loud banging of a dump truck tailgate did not prevent this Red-headed Woodpecker from making frequent trips to my feeder. Realizing that the bird was likely to return multiple times, I decided to switch positions in order to achieve better lighting and backdrops for my images. Still, I kept my distance from the feeder and stayed hidden behind various trees and shrubs in my yard.

Great views of this Red-headed Woodpecker were had as it perched high above my feeder in a large sycamore tree.

Great views of this Red-headed Woodpecker were had as it perched high above my feeder in a large sycamore tree.

I first observed the Red-headed Woodpecker on my feeder around 7:30 a.m. and watched as it made regular visits throughout the day. Sometimes an hour would pass without seeing the bird, but its pattern of approaching from the south continued for several hours. When I finally went inside for dinner after 5 p.m. the bird was still making frequent trips to my feeder. I had to step out at 6:30 p.m. to run an errand, but when I looked out the back door before leaving, there it was grabbing a peanut and heading off to the south. 

When I awoke Thursday morning, I headed back out to fill the feeders and hoped that the bird may still be around. After returning inside, again at about 7:30 a.m., I heard the Red-headed Woodpecker call and glanced out the window. High up in the sycamore tree I could see the morning sun glistening off its black back and red head. My schedule the remainder of the week did not allow me to devote as much time watching the bird, so I am unsure if it is still present. Having this bird stick around would be incredible, but despite plenty of food and adequate habitat, I imagine with such low numbers of these birds in our area it will move on to explore new areas in search of a potential mate. I will be sure to provide updates if the bird remains in the area. 

Peanuts, both in the shell and halves kept this Red-headed Woodpecker returning to my feeder throughout the day.

Peanuts, both in the shell and halves kept this Red-headed Woodpecker returning to my feeder throughout the day.

Despite being a species at risk in Ontario, a number of Red-headed Woodpecker sightings have been reported in 2017 to the various bird observation websites including eBird. As many as 6 Red-headed Woodpeckers were observed during this spring’s Festival of Birds at Point Pelee National Park. Other sightings from Elgin and Middlesex counties have also been submitted. Friends of mine who live in Orillia, Ontario informed me that they had a Red-headed Woodpecker visit their feeder in early May. Closer to home, a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker was reported last December along the Thames River near Civic Gardens Complex. This particular bird remained in that area throughout the winter. and I was fortunate enough to view it back in January. Unfortunately, I have not seen any recent reports indicating that it is still in the area. Perhaps this is the same bird now displaying adult plumage. Whether or not these increased sightings are a sign of hope for this fragile species only time will tell.

Having this Red-headed Woodpecker spend the day in my backyard visiting my feeder is a memory I will always remember and certainly a highlight in my life as a birder.

As is the case with all species at risk, habitat loss is one of the biggest factors leading to their reduced numbers. Red-headed Woodpeckers nest in dead trees, so the removal of these potential nest sites due to development, agriculture or safety reasons likely has contributed to their 60% decline in Ontario over the past 20 years. If you have dead trees on your property and it is safe to do so, leave them. Dead trees and branches not only provide potential nesting locations for many cavity nesting birds including the Red-headed Woodpecker, many birds prefer dead branches over live ones for perching. Decaying wood also houses plenty of insects which will in turn attract more birds. Dead and decaying trees may not be as aesthetically pleasing as live ones, but they are a key element to the survival of so many birds. By leaving some dead trees on your property you will certainly attract more birds, and who knows you may just save a species at risk in the process.

Good birding,
Paul      

 

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
February 17 – 24, 2017

 

White-breasted Nuthatch exploring tree cavities.

White-breasted Nuthatches were observed in good numbers this past week while birding in the Forest City.

With record breaking temperatures and plenty of sunshine, it was a great week to get out birding. In my last post Early Spring Migrants Highlight The Family Day Long Weekend, I reported observing several first of year species including Red-winged Blackbirds and an Eastern Meadowlark. As expected, this week’s continued warm temperatures and south winds brought even more first of year species back to our area.

Flocks of Tundra Swans can be observed as they make their way across Southwestern Ontario each spring.

Tundra Swans are now making their way through Southwestern Ontario as they migrate north.

Each spring, Tundra Swans can be observed throughout our area as they make their way north to their breeding grounds across the arctic. This past week, I observed my first flock after hearing their calls from high overhead. Learning and recognizing the call of the Tundra Swan is one of the best ways to locate them. Surprisingly, these large birds can pass by overhead often going unnoticed if not for hearing their call. Two of the best places in our area to observe large flocks of Tundra Swans as they migrate north are the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area and the Thedford Bog. Information on these two areas including how to get there and dally swan counts, can be found in the provided links.   

Killdeer are the first of the shorebirds to return to Southwestern Ontario each spring.

Killdeer are among the many birds that have returned to our area ahead of schedule.

Another first of year species I observed this past week was a Killdeer. Like most of the birds I observe, this bird was first located by ear. After hearing its call, I observed this bird foraging in the wet grass at a local park. Killdeer are the first of the shorebirds to return each year, and like the Red-winged Blackbirds and Tundra Swans have arrived early. 

Ring-necked Ducks and other waterfowl have begun their spring migration ahead of schedule.

Several ducks have begun their migration north and are now present in our area including this female Ring-necked Duck photographed on the Thames River at Greenway Park.

Having seen both Northern Pintails and American Wigeons on the Thames River earlier this month, I was optimistic more dabbling ducks may now be present. Unfortunately, after multiple visits to the river this week, only Mallards and Canada Geese were observed. I did locate a lone female Ring-necked Duck while birding at Greenway Park. These divers are frequently observed in our area each spring during their migration north. As area lakes and ponds become free of ice, we can expect to see an increase in migrating waterfowl in our area.

Common Grackles are once again present in Southwestern Ontario.

Large flocks of Common Grackles were observed throughout the city.

Other early migrants seen in good numbers this past week were Common Grackles. These birds like the others mentioned are ahead of schedule. Despite their early arrival, this was not my first grackle sighting of the year. Back on February 5, I had one in my backyard feeding on peanuts.        

With the recent record breaking temperatures, Downy Woodpeckers and other birds are exploring nest sites earlier than in previous years.

Downy Woodpecker excavating a tree cavity.

Resident birds were also seen in good numbers this week with woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees being the most prevalent. Many of these cavity nesters were observed either exploring or excavating tree cavities. 

1000's of Tundra Swans Migrate across Southwestern Ontario each March.

Aylmer Wildlife Management Area and the Thedford Bog are two of the best places in our area to achieve close views of migrating Tundra Swans.

Many of the early migrants that are typically observed in our area in mid to late March have arrived in our area ahead of schedule. Despite cooler weather in the forecast for next week, above seasonal temperatures and more south winds are predicted. These are ideal conditions to bring even more migratory birds back to Southwestern Ontario. If you get the chance, spend some time outdoors enjoying this beautiful unexpected weather and the birds that have accompanied it. If you are interested in seeing large flocks of swans as they migrate through our area, follow the daily reports from Aylmer or Thedford and plan a trip accordingly. Visiting either of these locations and seeing such a large concentration of birds is well worth the short drive from London. 

Good birding,
Paul

  

Common Loon On The Thames River In Springbank Park

A Common Loon in winter plumage swimming on the Thames River.

This morning while walking in Springbank Park, I observed this Common Loon in winter plumage on the Thames River.

Today started the same way many of my Sundays do, with a call from my Dad. Most weekends, my Dad and I try to meet for a walk somewhere and enjoy the various sights and sounds of nature while we catch up on each other’s week. This morning we decided on walking along the Thames River in Springbank Park. Those of you that have followed my blog for a while will know that this is one of my favourite locations to bird during the winter months. With an abundance of waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey, there is always something to see.

Our walk started out with us observing many of the usual species including Mallards, Canada Geese and a few American Black Ducks. Among the diving ducks present were small numbers of Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, and Common Merganser. Some of the more abundant songbirds present were Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, and a large flock of American Robins calling from the trees along the near bank of the river. Many of these birds could also be observed foraging on the ground in area where melting snow was running down the bank into the river. A lone Red-tailed Hawk was observed as it left its perch from high in a tree and soared out over the river.

All in all it was a pretty typical walk for us along the Thames River with a nice variety of birds, ones that we would expect to see at this time of year. As we made our way further through the park, just upstream from the old pump house, a large bird in the middle of the river caught my eye. After stopping to take a closer look, I could identify the bird as a Common Loon in winter plumage. This bird sat motionless as we watched it for several minutes. The whole time we watched, it never dove, and spent periods of time with its head under its wing.  

Common Loons typically overwinter along the Atlantic Seaboard, with some birds overwintering on the Great Lakes, This is not a bird we would regularly see inland on the Thames River at this time of year. Common Loons; however, are known to make brief stops on inland bodies of water in our area during migration, so this particular bird may be late making its way south or early making its way north. Another possibility is that with the cold weather this past week, the area in which this Common Loon came from may have recently iced up. 

I don’t imagine this bird will remain in the area for very long, so if you are interested in viewing it, I would try to get to the river as soon as you can. The closest access to this bird is from the park’s easternmost parking lot (the one nearest Wonderland Road). From the parking lot there is a set of stairs leading to the pathway adjacent the river. These stairs are not maintained during winter months, so exercise caution if using them. After reaching the path, walk slightly downstream towards the old pump house. When I left the park, this bird was still visible at this location in the middle of the river. 

Good birding,
Paul

 

A Proven Technique For Easily Locating The Subject In Your Camera’s Viewfinder

Trying to locate birds in flight in your camera's viewfinder is made much easier by following this simple technique.

Locating a fast flying bird in your camera’s viewfinder can be quite challenging. Fortunately there is a simple technique which makes achieving this incredibly easy.

Wildlife photography can be quite challenging. Unlike landscape or portrait photography where the subject is large and stationary, nature photographers must deal with much smaller subjects, and ones that are almost constantly moving. Whether its a bird of prey in flight, a small songbird flitting among the branches, or a butterfly moving from flower to flower, one of the hardest elements of wildlife photography can be locating the subject in your camera’s viewfinder.    

Fortunately, there is a simple trick photographers can use to make locating their subject much easier. By using your camera’s hot shoe as a sight, locating your subject will become much faster. If you are unfamiliar with what a hot shoe is, it is the mount on top of your camera where an external flash or other accessories attach. If your camera is not equipped with a hot shoe, you can simply use the top of the camera body itself as a sight.

With many other objects for your camera to focus on, locating the subject in your camera's viewfinder can be a challenge.

This well camouflaged America Robin was quickly found in my viewfinder by following this simple technique.

Once you have determined your subject, instead of looking through your viewfinder trying to locate it, simply look above the viewfinder through your hot shoe moving the camera until the subject is located. When your subject appears, slowly lower your eye into the viewfinder and you will see your subject in the viewfinder. Next, acquire focus and take the shot..The key to this technique is moving only your head slightly, enough to see through the viewfinder without moving your arms and subsequently the camera, losing sight of your subject.

This technique can be practiced with larger, stationary objects until perfected. Once you are comfortable with moving just your head slightly and not your arms and camera, you can move on to smaller moving subjects. As I mentioned above, this technique is incredibly helpful for photographing birds in flight as locating a bird against a large expansive background through your viewfinder can be incredibly difficult. It is equally effective for quickly locating a bird surrounded by branches or other objects. In fact, this technique can be used in any in any situation regardless of the subject. 

Using my  hot shoe as a sight, I was able to easily locate this Black Swallowtail Butterfly in my camera's viewfinder.

Using my hot shoe as a sight, I was able to easily track this Black Swallowtail Butterfly as it moved from flower to flower.

If locating the subject in your camera’s viewfinder is something you struggle with, give this technique a try. I think you will find that with a little practice this approach will alleviate a lot of frustration and ultimately lead to more keeper images.    

Good birding,
Paul

Warbler Migration Does Not Disappoint
In The Forest City

The orange feathers on the Blackburnian Warbler's head help separate it from other warblers.

Blackburnian Warblers are my favourite when it comes to warblers. I eagerly await their appearance each spring.

During the month of May, I focused most of my efforts on observing and photographing warblers throughout the Forest City. Opting not to visit Point Pelee National Park this year, I was quite satisfied with the 21 warbler species I observed, all within a ten minute drive of my house. Two highlights for me were a couple of life birds, the Canada Warbler and Cerulean Warbler.

This Chestnut-sided Warbler was observed while birding during spring migration at the Westminster Ponds ESA in London, Ontario.

The Chestnut-sided Warbler returns to our area in mid-May each year. These birds will remain in the area throughout the breeding season.

My most productive locations were the Westminster Ponds ESA and Greenway Park, both located in the city’s south end. The cool start to the month resulted in a lack of leaf cover, which made for optimal views and photographs. I found early mornings to be the most productive and used the weather, most notably the wind, to my advantage.

The dark black neck feathers on this Black-throated Green Warbler indicate it is a male bird.

Black-throated Green Warblers were one of the most abundant warblers I observed this May in the Forest City.

Warblers feed on insects, so naturally I positioned myself in areas where insects were abundant. How do I find areas rich with insects? I use the wind. A stiff breeze will blow insects from open areas into wooded or other sheltered areas that are protected from the wind. These protected areas will then be full of insects and consequently warblers. For example, at Westminster Ponds ESA I would search for warblers along the edges of the ponds opposite the direction of the wind. If the wind was north, I would bird on the south side of the pond and vice versa. The morning winds would push the insects across the open ponds into the trees and shrubs along the bank. It was areas like these where I found the highest concentrations of warblers. Early in the month when there was a lack of leaf cover and shelter in the canopy, strong winds helped keep the insects and thus warblers, at eye level.

Black-throated Blue Warbler observed in London Ontario during spring migration.

The Black-throated Blue Warbler breeds further to our north and therefore only passes through our area in spring and fall.

As expected Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow Warblers and Palm Warblers were the first to arrive at the start of the month. These three species always arrive in early May. Magnolia Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers soon followed. As the month of May progressed, the late arriving warblers began to appear, including the previously mentioned Canada Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers.

Northern Parula photographed at the Westminster Ponds ESA.

It may not have warbler attached to its name, but the Northern Parula is one of 21 species of warbler I observed in London this spring.

Some warbler species lack the word warbler from their names and can be forgotten as warblers. Ovenbirds, American Redstarts and Northern Parulas are all warbler species that were readily observed during May.

Black-and-white-Warblers cling to tree trunks similar to nuthatches.

Black-and-white-Warbler

Black and White Warblers are regularly observed clinging to tree trunks. If careful attention is not paid, these birds can be mistaken for nuthatches due to this characteristic and the similar colour in plumage.

This underside photo of a Blackburnian Warbler clearly shows their vibrant orange head and neck plumage.

Blackburnian Warbler

My favourite warbler, the Blackburnian Warbler, is regularly viewed from underneath as it forages high in the canopy. Fortunately, due to the high winds I achieved eye level views of this stunning bird.

The male Wilson's Warbler is easily identified by his black cap. Wilson's Warblers migrate later in May than many other warblers.

The male Wilson’s Warbler is easily identified by his black cap. Wilson’s Warblers migrate later in May than many other warblers.

While many of these warblers just pass through our area on their way to their breeding grounds further north, some remain and nest in our area. Female Yellow Warblers can currently be observed incubating eggs throughout many of my favourite birding areas.

American Redstart (male) perched in a tree with a blue sky background.

American Redstarts, like the male pictured here, spend the breeding season in our area and are one of the many warblers we can enjoy until the fall when they migrate south. 

Next time you are out birding, keep an eye out for some of the warblers that breed across our area. Now that the leaves are fully and emerged and these species are nesting, they are certainly more challenging to locate but great views can still be achieved. If you do come across a nest, remember to respect the birds and give them some space.

American Redstart (female) perched in a leafless tree.

Female American Redstart 

While the peak warbler migration may have passed, some late migrating warblers will still be making their way through our area. If you get the chance, head out on a cool, windy morning and position yourself where the insects will be most abundant. Keep a close eye for movement at eye level, as well as higher up in the canopy. You may just be rewarded with some great views of these beautiful warblers.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
May 6 – 13, 2016

Male Scarlet Tanager perched overhead showing off its vibrant plumage.

Observing two male Scarlet Tanagers while birding at the Westminster Ponds ESA was a highlight for me this past week.

It was another fantastic week birding in the Forest City with a steady increase in migrants, including many more first of year species observed. The week started out with firsts of Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, as well as Warbling Vireos, and a single Magnolia Warbler observed at Greenway Park. While warbler numbers have been increasing steadily to this point, I still wasn’t observing a tremendous variety with Yellow, Palm, and Yellow-rumped being the most abundant. I knew it was only a matter of time before the migration flood gates opened.

Warbling Vireo clinging to an angled branch with fresh green leaves in the background.

First of year Warbling Vireos were observed in good numbers earlier this week in Greenway Park.

When I woke up Wednesday morning and looked out into my backyard, I was happy to see seven Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at my feeder gorging themselves on safflower seed. I knew a significant number of birds must have been on the move the previous night, and was excited to get out birding. Hoping to see the variety of warblers I have been so patiently waiting for, I decided to check out the Westminster Ponds ESA.

Male Magnolia Warblers were present this week in London, Ontario as spring migration continues.

Magnolia Warbler

Located in the city’s south end, this 200 hectare parcel of land is great for birding year round, but is especially good for observing warblers during spring migration. The morning sunrise quickly gave way to overcast skies and a strong east wind. Fortunately, there are many protected areas within the ESA that I expected would be holding good numbers of warblers and other recent migrants.

Black-throated Blue Warbler observed at the Westminster Ponds ESA in London, Ontario.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

After arriving at the ponds I followed a line of shrubs at the edge of a field protected from the east wind. Immediately I heard the call of an Indigo Bunting. I scanned the area and could see the bird calling from a tall perch. Unfortunately the bird flew before I could get into a position for a photograph. Making my way along the field edge, I entered the forest to see what else was present. Along a row of tall Spruce Trees an American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Red-eyed Vireo were all observed foraging high within the branches, three first of year species for me.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher perched at eye level with its tail angles slightly upward.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

As I made my way around the ESA, Hermit Thrushes could be observed sifting through the leaves on the forest floor as they searched for food. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were seen, as the calls of both Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers echoed throughout the forest. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flitted through the tree tops while orioles and grosbeaks could be seen and heard.

The bright orange plumage on the head and throat indicate this bird is a Blackburnian Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler

Arriving on the south side of Saunders Pond, more warblers came into view. Chestnut-sided, Nashville, and Blackburnian were all observed in this area. Again, all first of year species for me. Rounding out my list of warblers for the day was one for my life list, the Northern Parula, with four of these birds being observed. These birds were very high in the canopy and I was unable to capture any photos. However, the sight of these birds was an incredible experience.

Chestnut-sided Warblers are one of the many birds found in Southwestern Ontario during spring migration.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Three more first of year birds were observed before I wrapped up my day, as a Gray Catbird, Great-crested Flycatcher, and two vibrant male Scarlet Tanagers came into view in the northeast portion of the ESA. In total, 51 bird species were observed on this day, including nine warbler species. A return trip to Westminster Ponds ESA on Friday yielded many of the same birds, plus a male Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Bluebird on a small branch with a blurred out green leaf background.

Eastern Bluebird

The vibrant plumage of the Scarlet Tanager observed in London, Ontario during spring migration.

Scarlet Tanager

According to area reports, excellent birding took place this week from various locations within the city and Southwestern Ontario. Komoka Provincial Park had great numbers of birds, and the report from the 2016 Festival of Birds at Point Pelee National Park read, “The warblers were dripping from the trees.”

Male Yellow Warbler with its tail feather spread hanging downwards from a branch.

The Yellow Warbler is one of the more common warblers found in our area.

My recommendations for areas to bird this weekend would be any of London’s ESAs including Westminster Ponds. Kilally Meadows and Meadowlilly Woods are also favourites of mine. Their mixed habitat and close proximity to the Thames River make them great birding locations. City parks along the Thames River are also prime locations to find migratory birds, as many birds follow the river valley during migration. Gibbons, Greenway, and Springbank are three that I regularly visit and have success at.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are one of the birds I look forward to returning the most to our area each spring.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are one of the birds I most look forward to returning to our area each spring.

If you are contemplating heading out birding this weekend, I highly recommend it. We are in for some cooler temperatures, but there will still be an abundance of birds present. Things definitely picked up mid-week and great opportunities exist for those heading out. Regardless of where you decide to visit, there will certainly be plenty to see.

Good birding,
Paul

Good Birding Report: London, Ontario
April 21 – 29, 2016

Yellow-rumped Warbler perched in a leafless tree branch.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the first of the warblers to return to our area each spring.

Late April and early May is my absolute favourite time of year to get out birding. It is an exciting time of year as spring migration starts to pick up, and we birders see an incredible number of first of year species. Each time I venture out, I know there is the possibility to see a bird that I have not seen since last fall. This is what motivates me, and can often keep me out in the field for hours at a time. This past week did not disappoint, as I observed many first of year species, and of course many of the ones I had previously observed this year.

Palm Warbler perched on a dead Queen Anne's Lace stalk.

Late April and early May is when many migratory birds return to our area including the Palm Warbler.

The week started out with my first warbler of the year. It came as no surprise it was a Yellow-rumped. These birds have the shortest migration distance to reach our area of any warbler and are always the first to return each spring. Other warblers observed this past week included: Pine, Yellow, and Palm. All in all it was a pretty good week for warblers given it is still the end of April. Expect the number and variety of warblers to increase substantially over the coming weeks. The lack of leaf cover currently on the trees makes finding and photographing these small, fast moving birds less of challenge.

Tree Swallow pair perched on a tree branch with a burred green background.

I have been observing Tree Swallows in our area for several weeks now, including this pair I photographed today .

Other than Tree Swallows, I had not observed any other swallows to date until this week. I am happy to report that Northern Rough-winged, Bank, and Barn Swallows have all returned to the Forest City. It is especially great to see Bank and Barn Swallows as these birds are currently listed as at risk in Ontario. The quick aerial maneuvers of any swallow are a treat to watch as they capture insects on the fly.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow in flight.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow in flight.

Other first of year species for me this week were the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Blue-headed Vireo. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can be a tricky bird to locate, but fortunately their nasally zee call will help give away their locationIf you hear their call, look up as these birds typically forage on insects high overhead. Blue-headed Vireos are the first of the vireos to return each year and can be found in the same deciduous habitats as warblers and gnatcatchers.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher singing against a pale grey background.

For me listening for the call of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the easiest way to locate this bird.

Blue-headed Vireo perched on a vine with newly emerging green leaves.

Among the vireos, the Blue-headed Vireo is the first to appear in late April.

A few first of year shorebirds were also observed this past week with the Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs added to my list. While many shorebirds tend to be found along the beaches of the Great Lakes during migration, others are equally at home along small ponds and rivers. Pay close attention to muddy or sandy shorelines along any body of water if you wish to find these birds.

Spotted Sandpiper

The Spotted Sandpiper, a small shorebird, can be found along riverbanks and pond edges throughout our area.

I am still waiting to see my first Baltimore Oriole and Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year. I have heard several reports of them in our immediate area, but they have eluded me so far. If you haven’t already, make sure both your oriole and hummingbird feeders are out, and the nectar is fresh. These birds will show up in good numbers any day now. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, another spring favourite of birders and non-birders alike, have been reported in our area, but I have not laid eyes on one yet. Grosbeaks are particularly fond of both black oil sunflower and safflower seed, so keep your feeders full. Like orioles and hummingbirds, grosbeak numbers will increase any day now.

Saturday looks like a beautiful day to get out birding and there are many great places within the city to bird. Remember a few things before you head out. Most of these returning birds consume insects, so look for them where food is abundant. I have the greatest success locating these birds in protected areas out of the wind, where there is the highest concentration of insects. Birds are most active first thing in the morning, making this the best time to head out.

Palm Warbler perched in a leafless tree.

Palm Warbler

Birds typically migrate at night, with many of these migrants actively feeding at first light to replenish spent energy after their long journey. With this in mind, carefully plan your route before heading out. If you have the option to, start at the east end of the trail and walk west. This will put the sun at your back, illuminating the birds and avoiding silhouettes. This makes observation and identification much easier, and provides the best light for photographs.

We are in for some great birding action over the coming weeks. If you get the opportunity, head to your favourite park, ESA, or other natural area, and take in the beautiful sights and sounds of spring migration.

Good birding,
Paul

 

 

 

Male Redhead Provides Excellent Views

Male Redhead duck in a pond against a stick covered bank.

This male Redhead was observed in a small pond at London’s Springbank Park.

For area birders, Springbank Park located in London’s west end is a popular destination. The mixed habitat and adjacent Thames River provide the perfect environment for a wide variety of birds, including waterfowl. When local lakes and ponds freeze, a large number of ducks and geese can be observed on the river within the park as it is often the only source of open water in the area.

With Great Lakes ice coverage not nearly what it has been the previous two winters, many expected far fewer ducks on the river this winter. Concentrations of ducks have not equaled that of the winters of 2014 and 2015, but local waterfowl enthusiasts, myself included, have still been treated to some spectacular views from within Springbank Park this winter, including a Greater White-fronted Goose and three Harlequin Ducks.

Male Redhead duck facing straight ahead as it floats on a dark coloured pond.

Eye and bill colour are key field marks that distinguish the male Redhead from a male Canvasback.

Over the weekend, a male Redhead could be observed in the narrow pond that parallels Storybook Gardens. This pond is typically filled with hundreds of Mallards and is often overlooked by some birders that quickly dismiss all ducks on the pond as this abundant dabbler. Those taking the time this weekend to scan the small pond were rewarded with close up views of a beautiful diver, the male Redhead.

Redheads are a medium sized diving duck. Males display a red head, black breast, and grey body. They are similar in appearance to a male Canvasback, but with a traditional duck-shaped head and not the sloping forehead of a Canvasback. Other key field marks to look for on a male Redhead are the bluish-grey bill and yellow-orange eyes. On the male Canvasback, the eyes are red and the bill is black.

Male Redhead Duck standing on the bank of a small pond.

After feeding on aquatic vegetation, the male Redhead exited the pond and began to preen.

Redheads feed primarily on submerged aquatic vegetation, but will also consume: snails, mussels, insects, and their larvae. I watched this duck on Saturday and Sunday as it dove repeatedly in the small pond, surfacing with aquatic vegetation. The pond seemed to offer adequate food, as the bird appeared to be feeding well.

With above seasonal temperatures on Sunday, Springbank Park was quite busy as it is one of London’s most popular multi-use parks. The male Redhead was not agitated by the constant foot traffic of adults, children, and dogs. After watching this bird feed for several minutes Sunday afternoon, it then climbed up on the bank of the pond where it proceeded to preen and settle in for a nap, unfazed by parkgoers.

Male Redhead Duck

Male Redhead

If you are wishing to catch a glimpse of this beautiful duck, he was observed in the east end of the pond closest to the old pump house. There is plenty of free parking located at Storybook Gardens, with this small pond being a short walk along the paved pathway to the east. This Redhead was observed all weekend long and will hopefully continue to provide excellent views into next week.

Good birding,
Paul

Once Again Harlequin Ducks Make An Appearance On The Thames River

Three Harlequin Ducks, two males and one female, swim along in the blue water.

Three Harlequin Ducks, two males and one female, have recently been observed on the Thames River in London, Ontario.

For the second year in a row, Harlequin Ducks have been reported on the Thames River in London Ontario. Last year a single male bird was observed, whereas this this year a trio of these ducks, two males and one female, have been seen on the river. Harlequin Ducks are rare to our area, as over half of the eastern population of these diving ducks overwinter on the Atlantic coast.

These Harlequins were first reported two weeks ago at Springbank Park. Since then, I have spent a considerable amount of time in the area trying to locate these birds. After an unsuccessful first week, I was finally treated to excellent views of the Harlequin Ducks last Sunday, in the stretch of river downstream from the Springbank Dam.

With the unseasonably warm temperatures, a significant amount of runoff has entered the river as the snow melts. This, combined with recent rain, has water levels on the Thames River unusually high for this time of year. As a result, many of the rapids in this section of river are currently under a significant amount of water, altering this preferred habitat of the Harlequin and making locating these birds more challenging.

Male Harlequin Duck swimming along a dogwood line riverbank.

The near bank provided an adequate current break for the three Harlequin Ducks, allowing me to view them from close range.

On a visit to Springbank Park with my Dad last weekend, we located the Harlequin Ducks downstream from the dam near the small island in the centre of the river. The ducks were roughly three quarters of the way across the river, drifting downstream quickly with the fast current. We watched as the group of Harlequins made their way across the river through the island, which was predominately underwater, and settled in against the near bank directly in front of us. The ducks appeared to be content using a slight jut in the near bank as a current break and were impervious to our presence. Seeing the three Harlequin Ducks at such a close range was quite exiting as last year’s bird typically stayed to the middle or far side of the river. After taking several several photos, my Dad and I carried on with our walk heading to the west end of the park.

Harlequin Ducks swimming in a line, one male followed by a female and another male.

Harlequin Ducks swimming along the near bank.

On our way back, we watched for the Harlequins in the same stretch of river as we had seen them only minutes earlier. Strangely, we were unable to locate the birds. After carrying on a little further, we noticed the Harlequin Ducks swimming in a line lead by one of the males now slightly upstream from the dam. Not making much headway in the strong current, the three ducks then drifted back through the dam and came to rest once again along the near bank. From here I managed a few more photos as the birds slowly drifted downstream.

I have been out a few times since, and unfortunately have not been able to relocate the three Harlequin Ducks. To my knowledge these birds have only been reported twice, once on February 15 and then again by myself on February 21.  With the high water, these birds may not be in the typical areas that we would expect to find Harlequin Ducks, as increased water is flowing over the rapids making these preferred areas almost nonexistent.

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks

If you are heading out this weekend in search of the Harlequin Ducks, be sure to pay close attention to any rapids that you encounter along the river. Keep a close eye for any exposed rocks that may provide a current break or area where these ducks can exit the river. Having said that, don’t discount other types of current breaks including: flooded trees, fallen logs, islands, or bends in the river. With the high water, many of the overwintering diving ducks are associating to these particular areas. Remember too that the Thames is a large river and with such a mild winter to date, there is significantly more open water than in previous years; these ducks could be almost anywhere up or downstream.

Bald Eagles soaring low against a white cloud background.

Bald Eagles are among the many birds of prey observed along the Thames River.

Even if you are unsuccessful locating the Harlequin Ducks, there is always plenty to see along the Thames River. Bald Eagles make regular passes up and down the river and often perch in the tall trees that line the banks. A wide variety of waterfowl is also present, albeit spread out due to the high water. Songbirds are always plentiful along the shrubby, tree-lined banks.

I’m sure many birders will be out again this weekend in search of the rare Harlequin Ducks and other overwintering waterfowl on the Thames River. It has been great seeing and talking with so many of my blog followers along the river over the past few weeks. If you do happen to see me, please stop and say hello. I am always happy to share my observations with fellow birders along the way.

Good birding,
Paul