2014 Wallace Birdathon Report

by Roger Frost

For my 2014 Birdathon, I thought I would use more or less the same route I used last year. I was planning to do the birdathon starting mid-day on Thursday, May 22. On Wednesday morning, the weather was clear and my wife Elizabeth suggested that I start my birdathon that day. I checked the forecast and found that rain was expected on Friday morning. I decided to avoid the rain and run the birdathon from mid-day Wednesday to mid-day Thursday, May 21-22.

I started my birdathon at the Wesleyville OPG property at 1:00 p.m. in hopes of finding one of the site’s Northern Mockingbirds. Unfortunately, new security gates blocked my access to the best mockingbird sites. (After all, you wouldn’t want any dangerous bird watchers on the property.) I did manage to find Osprey, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Next, it was off to Candlewick Woods with a quick stop to pick up Orchard Oriole at Willow Beach Road on the way. The lane to Candlewick was very quiet, with only a few Chipping, Savannah and Vesper Sparrows. Lake Ontario had lots of waterfowl, almost all of them Red-breasted Mergansers or Long-tailed Ducks. After much searching, I located several Common Mergansers and a single Common Goldeneye. On entering the woods, I was disappointed in the number of birds. I had great looks at Great Horned Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker and Red-bellied Woodpecker, as well as several other species of breeding birds. Migrants were almost totally lacking, with only one Magnolia Warbler present.

The wet field at Haskill Road had Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and two Black-bellied Plover, but little else. Port Hope harbour had Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Spotted Sandpiper and more Red-breasted Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks. However, it lacked any rare gulls or shorebirds.

I now headed for Brighton, with a quick stop at the Calnan Road pond to add Green Heron and Great Egret. The Brighton sewage lagoon ponds were almost devoid of birds, aside from a couple of Mute Swans and a few Mallards. The constructed wetland added Common Gallinule and Marsh Wren, but nothing else.

Presqu’ile Provincial Park added several more birds including Purple Martin, American Bittern, Bufflehead, Blue-winged Teal, Brant and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Overall, the park was very disappointing. A walk of the Owen Point Trail added only Willow Flycatcher as a new species. The Marsh Boardwalk was more productive, but yielded no rails or Least Bittern.

It was now after 7:00 p.m. With daylight beginning to run short, I headed for Dunbar Road in the Northumberland Forest. Along the way, quick stops at Lone Pine Marsh and the vast Cold Creek wetlands added many common nesting species, but none of the marsh birds or raptors that I needed.

I arrived at Dunbar Rd. with enough light left to hear a few forest birds such as Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, Nashville Warbler, Field Sparrow and Eastern Towhee. Much to my surprise, I also saw 3 Common Nighthawks, including a pair doing a display flight. I thought that there was little chance of seeing nighthawks because of the relatively early date. I have done birdathons a week later in May and have missed them. While watching the nighthawks, I noticed a small flock of 15 diving ducks flying over the forest in the last few minutes of sunlight. The scaup shape and short wing stripe identified them as Lesser Scaup, a much needed boost to my waterfowl list. As darkness came on, the first Whip-poor-will sang, joined by several more as it grew darker.

With what little twilight that remained, I checked the Jewell Road wetland for marsh birds. It was almost impossible to hear anything because of the numbers of spring peepers. Still, I added a couple of fly-by Hooded Merganser and heard a Wilson’s Snipe. I checked a couple of other local marshes as well, but could not hear any rails due to the noise of the peepers.

It was now completely dark, and I switched to looking for owls. It was a beautiful calm quiet night, perfect to hear owls. Unfortunately, I heard no owls. However, I heard several flocks of flyover Long-tailed Ducks migrating to the Arctic. It was now after 10:00 p.m., so I headed home for food and bed. A tally of the list put me at 117 species, only two less than this time last year. It also showed that I had lots of bad misses that would be difficult to make up on Thursday morning. Up at 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, I was greeted by thick fog. There had been some rain and thunder overnight which left everything wet.

By shortly after 5:00 a.m., I was at the Jewell Rd. wetland again. The peepers were not quite as loud and I heard snipe and American Bittern, but no rails. At a nearby marsh, I also came up empty for rails, but added calling Wild Turkey and Black-billed Cuckoo. At the Macklin Road Marsh, I finally got lucky and heard 2 Virginia Rails. However, the fog had been so thick that I could only see about 30 meters into the marshes, so I could not see any waterfowl or herons that might be there.

About 6:00 a.m., I arrived at Webb View Marsh to find the fog had lifted so I could see the entire wetland. I scanned the marsh for 10 minutes, looking for Black Terns and any other birds that I needed. I saw Canada Goose, Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher, but no terns. The only new species added here was a singing Least Flycatcher.

I now headed to the Alderville area to look for Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers. As I drove towards Alderville, I went back into the fog. At my first stop, I got the target Golden-winged, but missed Blue-winged. I did add a Raven and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Several other stops added many of the common breeding birds of the area, as well as Tennessee Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Canada Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler. Finally, at the eastern end of the Alderville First Nation Reserve, I located a Blue-winged Warbler and added Winter Wren and Broad-winged Hawk nearby.

It was nearly 8:00 a.m. now, so I headed for Peter’s Woods. On the way, I stopped at a few wetlands in search of Great Blue Heron, but found them all still shrouded in fog.

In the parking lot of Peter’s Woods, I met Bill Newell who was there to take some measurements to build a new visitor’s log box. The woods were rather quiet. An hour’s walk produced only a Brown Creeper and a Gray-cheeked Thrush. I missed White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-shouldered Hawk and Barred Owl.

It was now beginning to get late in the morning. The sky was gray and overcast. Bird song was waning. I had already seen most of the regular forest breeding birds and didn’t have much hope of finding the ones I needed. I decided to go back to the Lake Ontario shore and look for grounded migrant landbirds, shorebirds and other waterbirds which I had missed the previous afternoon. I might as well have the low clouds and fog work in my favour rather than work against me in the forest.

Still, I had to check the one stake out bird on my list, a Northern Goshawk nest in the Northumberland Forest. The female goshawk was right on the nest and I began to retreat from the area without her raising a fuss. As I began walking back to the car, enjoying singing Purple Finch, Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet, the male goshawk attacked. This racket brought the female as well. I retreated much more rapidly, always looking over my shoulder to keep an eye on the very aggressive male. The male escorted me halfway back to my car, before he felt that I was no longer a danger.

My first stop on the lakeshore was Cobourg Harbour, which was completely fogged in. There could have been hundreds of shorebirds on the breakwaters, but I couldn’t see more than 20 meters. I quickly gave this up as a lost cause and headed for the Lake Street marsh in Port Hope.

As I drove to the east parking lot at Lake Street, I met Anne Tesluk and Simone Merey scanning the larches for birds. They had seen several species of warblers, flycatchers and vireos, as well as orioles and Indigo Buntings. I parked and went back to join them. Among the 14 species of warblers were Blackpoll, Cape May and Wilson’s, all of which were new. We also saw a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, which was a new species for the birdathon. A quick check of the area along the creek failed to produce the gnatcatchers that usually breed there, or any other new birds. With just over an hour to go, I decided there barely enough time for a flying visit to Candlewick Woods.

On the way to Candlewick, I decided to check the jetties at Port Hope Harbour again. These are shorter than the ones in Cobourg so I might be able to see any birds on them. This proved to be a good decision, as there were two Great Black-backed Gulls and four Whimbrels on them. Unfortunately, there were no other shorebirds. I did carefully scrutinize a group of 6 Common Terns to make sure they were not Arctics.

I walked the laneway to Candlewick as fast as possible. There were very few birds on the laneway or the orchard. Was this an omen? I was not distracted by waterbirds on the lake, as the fog was so thick you could not even see the lake. A lone male Bobolink sang from a small shrub on the shorecliff.

The woods were full of birds. In the first group of warblers encountered, I added Philadelphia Vireo. I worked along the south edge of the woods with half an hour to go. I quickly scanned the groups of warblers to see if there were any more new species. The flocks mainly consisted of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee Warblers, and American Redstarts, with a good sprinkling of other species. In the southeast corner of the woods, I heard and then saw a Northern Parula to add to the list. Along the east side of the woods, I heard a Swainson’s Thrush, another new species. With just a few minutes remaining, I reached the northeast corner of the woods and scanned the white spruces for anything  new. I was not disappointed. A female Bay-breasted Warbler appeared, and then another. Altogether, there were at least 12 Bay-breasted. With time now expired, I stood and watched the spectacle of warblers and vireos in that corner of the woods. A Blackburnian here, a Canada there, a Black-throated Green, another Cape May. I ended up spending over an hour more in the woods, seeing 17 species of warblers.

I headed out of the woods with fog now gone and the sun shining. On the lake were several Red-breasted Mergansers, but no Long-tailed Ducks. No doubt they had left last night.

I arrived home, made myself some lunch, and counted up the species. Despite the last minute good luck, I knew that this was not going to be record setting. I was a bit surprised to tally 146 species, with a long list of missed birds. The worst misses were Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I also missed many scarce and/or secretive breeding birds like Sora and Barred Owl.

Overall, I was happy with the total. The decision to come back to the lakeshore proved to be a good one, as it added 10 species. I would have been lucky to add half that number if I had remained in the forest. I also would have missed the sheer pleasure of observing scores of warblers, vireos, flycatchers and buntings in Candlewick Woods.

Thank you to all those who sponsored the Wallace Birdathon.

Roger Frost

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The full list:

Common Loon Ring-billed Gull Tree Swallow Bay-breasted Warbler
Pied-billed Grebe Herring Gull Northern Rough-winged Swallow Black and White Warbler
Double-crested Cormorant Great Black-backed Gull Bank Swallow Blackpoll Warbler
American Bittern Caspian Tern Cliff Swallow American Redstart
Great Egret Common Tern Barn Swallow Ovenbird
Green Heron Rock Pigeon Black-capped Chickadee Northern Waterthrush
Turkey Vulture Mourning Dove Red-breasted Nuthatch Mourning Warbler
Brant Black-billed Cuckoo Brown Creeper Common Yellowthroat
Canada Goose Great Horned Owl House Wren Wilson's Warbler
Mute Swan Common Nighthawk Winter Wren Canada Warbler
Wood Duck Whip-poor-will Marsh Wren Scarlet Tanager
Mallard Chimney Swift Golden-crowned Kinglet Eastern Towhee
Blue-winged Teal Ruby-throated Hummingbird Eastern Bluebird Chipping Sparrow
Lesser Scaup Belted Kingfisher Veery Clay-colored Sparrow
Long-tailed Duck Red-headed Woodpecker Gray-cheeked Thrush Field Sparrow
Bufflehead Red-bellied Woodpecker Swainson's Thrush Vesper Sparrow
Common Goldeneye Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Hermit Thrush Savannah Sparrow
Hooded Merganser Downy Woodpecker Wood Thrush Grasshopper Sparrow
Common Merganser Hairy Woodpecker American Robin Song Sparrow
Red-breasted Merganser "Yellow-shafted" Flicker Gray Catbird Swamp Sparrow
Osprey Pileated Woodpecker Brown Thrasher White-throated Sparrow
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Eastern Wood-Pewee European Starling Northern Cardinal
Northern Goshawk Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Cedar Waxwing Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Broad-winged Hawk Alder Flycatcher Blue-winged Warbler Indigo Bunting
American Kestrel Willow Flycatcher Golden-winged Warbler Bobolink
Ruffed Grouse Least Flycatcher Tennessee Warbler Red-winged Blackbird
Wild Turkey Eastern Phoebe Nashville Warbler Eastern Meadowlark
Virginia Rail Great Crested Flycatcher Northern Parula Common Grackle
Common Gallinule Eastern Kingbird Yellow Warbler Brown-headed Cowbird
Black-bellied Plover Warbling Vireo Chestnut-sided Warbler Orchard Oriole
Semipalmated Plover Philadelphia Vireo Magnolia Warbler Baltimore Oriole
Killdeer Red-eyed Vireo Cape May Warbler Purple Finch
Spotted Sandpiper Blue Jay Black-throated Blue Warbler House Finch
Whimbrel American Crow "Myrtle" Warbler American Goldfinch
Least Sandpiper Common Raven Black-throated Green Warbler House Sparrow
Wilson's Snipe Horned Lark Blackburnian Warbler
American Woodcock Purple Martin Pine Warbler Total Species:146