Ontario Spring Bird Migration
Every year many people long await the signs of spring, longing for an escape from the harsh winters. For some, let’s call them “Bird Nerds" the first arrivals of the migration is enough to whip them into a tizzy, over this springtime phenomenon. We could not be more excited about the arrival of the migrating birds of Ontario, this springtime joy has definitely added to my life in the past few years. I follow Ontario Birds on Facebook, catching glimpses of certain species as they make their way across the province. It is also helpful at identifying when certain species are in your area.
From colourful songbirds, like the Yellow warbler to elusive waterfowl like the Blue-winged teal, Ontario has a wide array of amazing birds passing through during the spring months. As a beginner Bird Nerd and photographer, I love to capture these species in their natural habitats. Because of the brief and sudden influx of bird species, we must move fast to be able to view and photograph these animals. The long trail walks while hauling camera gear all becomes worth it, when you capture a photo better than the year before, or get reward with a “lifer” species. Sometimes, I wish I could take weeks off at a time, just to photograph and follow the bird migration.
We are located on the Southern shores of Lake Huron, which puts us in a wonderful spot for birding. During the winter months we get Northern Cardinals, Black-capped chickadees, Dark-eyed juncos, White-breasted nuthatches, Red-breasted nuthatches, Tuffed titmice, and American Goldfinches all at our backyard feeder. Then if we are lucky we get to spot the infamous Snowy Owls, on backroad drives. On a frigid winter days, die-hard Canadian birders can be found parked at the side of the road at the last known location of a resident Snowy Owl.
The birders in our area, always get excited around the middle to end of March, because this is when our first large spring migration occurs. Around this time the Tundra Swans fly in by the thousands, filling the sky and flooded farmers fields. Looking for tasty morsels and a little rest, on their long journey north to their breeding grounds.
Then in April, we start to see an influx of bird species. Here in Southern Ontario, the first American robin sighting is our sure sign that spring is on the way! At this time we start to see species appearing such as; Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Chipping sparrows, Fox sparrows, Turkey Vultures, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and Grackels. We have also been lucky enough to have nesting Sandhill Cranes in our area the past few years.
Depending on the springtime melt we can also get a few water species on our flooded farmers fields, ponds, rivers, and lakes. They never stay for long, as this area seems to be just a stop over through their spring migration path. Last year, we had a warmer weather and then it turned colder again. The water species started to build up in our waterways and they stayed here for a few extra weeks, which was nice for birders and photographers in the area. Regardless, as to how long they stay getting to see species this close to home such as; Common mergansers, Hooded mergansers, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, Ring-neck ducks, Wood ducks, and Common Loons, is definitely a treat!
The month of May is well known in Ontario for Spring Bird Migration. This is when many of the little songbirds begin to make their appearance. Plenty of events are held to celebrate this wonder of a phenomena. Birders from all over the world flock to one National Park in particular, because there is hardly any other place in the world where birders can consistently view a massive variety of bird species at one time in a small area. Point Pelee National Park, is part of a peninsula that is the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland. This prime location is the crossroads of two large migration routes, and one of the first points of land birds reach after crossing Lake Erie. The park holds an annual Festival of Birds every May; where you can book naturalist led hikes, birding experts hold informative presentations, you can complete a 100 species challenge, and explore the world of birding with your entire family. Many birders are after the legendary Prothonotary Warbler, which can be spotted frequently at Point Pelee. As well, the park has recorded forty two out of the fifty five regularly occurring warbler species in North America. Some of the most challenging, but well worth the effort birds to photograph, are colourful little song birds, such as; Yellow Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Nashville Warbler, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow throated Vireo.
While, Point Pelee National Park is definitely a crowd pleasing favourite with such a variety of bird species. I personally enjoyed going to Rondeau Provincial Park, also located on a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. Over three hundred and sixty species of birds have been seen in this area, from daily oddities to seasonal returnees. One of things I enjoyed about Rondeau, was its unique feeling of being small and big at the same time. We would be walking on a trail, full immersed in the forest and the birds around us with not another human in sight. One of my favourite parts was the Old Pony Barn area, we were able to view and photograph so many bird species here. Plus, we even had a white-tailed deer make a magical appearance from the bushes.
Early morning is definitely the best time to spot numerous bird species. As a photographer though, I always seem to find that the best shots seem to happen when shooting late in the day with the sun at your back, so the bird’s plumage is well-lit and catchlight in the bird’s eyes. A photograph in the golden light of the evening sun is always so alluring. However, there are always times where the bird species either do not cooperate with your vision, or they cooperate but it is in harsh noonday light, so I am always shooting even if the conditions are not one hundred percent ideal.
This is just a small example of some of the amazing birds, and bird related activities in Ontario during the spring months. The exact timing for each species will vary from year to year, and some areas receive many more visitors than others. A great way to find a particular species in your area a is to use the eBird recent sightings map, or follow Ontario Birds on Facebook. These are not always a guarantee of finding the species, but it is definitely a helpful starting place.
ONTARIO BIRDING FESTIVALS:
Rondeau Provincial Park: Festival of Flight (May 1 - 21, 2019)
Point Pelee National Park: Festival of Birds (May 1 - 20, 2019)
Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory: Spring Birding Festival (May 11 - 20, 2019)
Pinery Provincial Park: Migration Weekend (May 17 - 20, 2019)
Presqu’ile Provincial Park: Warbler and Whimbrels (May 18 - 19, 2019)
MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Huron Fringe Birding Festival (May 24 - 27, 2019 and May 30 - June 2, 2019)
BIRDER QUICK LINKS:
POINT PELEE NATIONAL PARK QUICK LINKS:
RONDEAU PROVINCIAL PARK QUICK LINKS:
SPRING BIRD MIGRATION PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS:
The species we saw on our Spring Bird Photo Adventure 2018 at Point Peele National Park + Rondeau Provincial Park:
Great Crested Flycatcher
Black and White Warbler
Red Breasted Merganser
White breasted nuthatch
Chestnut Sided Warbler
Great Black-backed Gull
Cape May Warbler
Yellow throated Vireo
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