Yes, it happened again. I was compelled. Yesterday I went out and did a birding “big day.” This is a marathon of sorts, without the running, where I go out and try to find as many different species of birds as I can in a 24 hour period.
Why? Well it’s spring. The world has come back alive again with colour and sound. So many birds are migrating through on their way to the boreal forest, or setting up nesting territories here and getting ready to stay for the summer and raise some young. But whether they are staying or just passing through, all the birds are in brilliant breeding plumage, and most importantly, they are SINGING their hearts out.
Over the years when I heard a bird song that I didn’t recognize, I have always been curious to find out what type of bird is singing. So through cassette tapes, then CDs, and now the Sibley Bird App on my iPhone, I have been able to learn who is singing around me, even if I can’t see it. So fun! Especially because at this time of year, it changes every day. It’s a way to be tuned into the changes in nature that go along with the changing seasons.
So let’s get this big bird day going.
I got up at 4:20, brewed up some coffee for my travel mug and wrapped up warmly for my walk down the street. By 4:45 I was out listening for the night birds. At 6 degrees Celsius it was quite chilly, and there was a bit of glow right at the horizon. A Whip-poor-will was the first bird of the day for me- their call is unmistakable as they just say their own name over and over faster and faster until they sound like they are going to short circuit! Another real treat so early in the morning was hearing the baby barred owls in the woods near my house screeching for food from their nest. Until then I didn’t know they had hatched! Fun times ahead.
The sun came up on a beautiful clear spring day, and by wandering around the fields and forests near my house, and watching my feeder birds while I ate my breakfast, I was able to identify over 50 species of birds before heading out in the car to continue my quest.
My first stop was the Brighton Constructed Wetlands, which is a virtual nursery for waterfowl and a great place to find shorebirds. The visit there started out well enough, with cute downy little goslings and ducklings, and innumerable red winged blackbirds flying around.
Things went south a bit when a Mute Swan decided it didn’t want anyone near its nest, and took repeated flying lunges towards the Canada Geese that were in the path in front of me.
I stayed well out of the way of this drama, and when the coast was clear continued on my way.
I guess these little cuties are worth protecting, right?
It was fun finding a few shorebirds, some of them unexpected for this time and place.
My next stop was Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a sure bet for birding this time of year.
I spent the rest of the day at the park, exploring the different trails and looking and listening for birds. I had some help along the way, from people who pointed out birds in their spotting scopes that I would never otherwise see, or who helped me with sounds that I was unsure of.
Last year when I did my first “big day”, I found 92 species of birds in one day. So you know of course what my goal was this year: 100. And once I told people about my goal for the day, and that a dollar for each bird identified would go to Bird Studies Canada, they were more than willing to lend a hand.
Just so you know I don’t always go sneaking around in the woods and swamps by myself.
Back to the birds. Warblers! So many kinds! So many songs! Presqu’ile in the morning by the lakeshore is just magic for finding these flying jewels. The midges (little insects) hatch at just the right time, perfect for these little birds who have just crossed over the vast expanse of Lake Ontario. I am still learning my warbler songs. There are about 25 warbler species that are pretty common to find in our area and they have songs that are different, but all high and fast and often hard to tell apart in the moment. So this is where my camera helps. I can always review later.
As the day went on I had such a wonderful time exploring the trails of the park and the different habitats like beaches, forests, and fields. I had some idea of how many species I had found, but I knew it was by no means accurate. I may have double counted something, or conversely, left it off the list. There were also some species I needed to check photos of to be sure. So as the day passed and my little book began to get fuller and fuller, I felt I was probably on the right track. However, new birds come far more slowly at the end of the day, as all the “easy” or common birds- like Robins and Chickadees- have already been accounted for. But there are always happy surprises.
Such good news- Endangered Piping Plovers have arrived at the beach at the park, and two of them have mated and may be starting to nest. Piping Plovers have not nested there for years, so this is extremely good news. Park staff have put up a rope barrier around their nesting territory so people will not walk through and destroy the nest by mistake. The nests are just little scrapes in the sand with a few tiny items from the beach inside, so are very easy to miss.
This is this year’s annual park pass. Let’s hope it is a sign of great things to come!
One of my last birds of the day was an American Bittern in the marsh. These birds make a very loud and strange pumping sound, but this particular individual was just sitting quietly, trying to look like the grass and cattails. By 7:30 I was home, and went on one last walk under an almost-full moon to listen for night birds.
Once my official tally was finished- reporting only the birds I am positive about the ID, I had my species total for 2016: 101. Just think- all those different kinds of birds were out there yesterday, in an area between my house and the tip of Presqu’ile Park, which is only a 20 minute drive away. Sure, my phone tells me I walked 18 kilometres yesterday. But you don’t have to bird all day and night and walk any huge distance to enjoy the flow of nature right through your own backyard. If you hear a new bird you haven’t heard before, go out and find what it is. There are all kinds of apps for phones now that make birding ID much easier than it used to be. Or ask a friend to go birding with you. Then at least you can lurk around in the woods together.
Here’s my official list from yesterday. Thanks for visiting my blog! Leslie