You've certainly heard the saying that the early bird catches the worm. This is certainly true when it comes to seeing migrating birds. Before sunrise, birds start singing away and they tend to be the most active within the first couple hours of the day. However, it's not like they totally disappear after that. At anytime of the day, there should be a variety of birds anywhere you go. Sometimes, the last couple hours of the day are just as good as the first.
As the leaves begin to emerge, being able to actually see songbirds in the treetops becomes more and more difficult. Being able to identify them by song and call might help you figure out what that bird flitting around the treetops is. With so many birds out there singing away, especially when some species can make so many different sounds, it can definitely be overwhelming to try to figure it out. There are many resources online that have bird song files that you could listen to, but the technique that worked for me was recording unknown songs and calls with my phone and then asking for help identifying them. Once I listened to the file over and over and got a positive ID, it stuck in my head.
Local fan favourites during spring migration are Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. However, here are some lesser-known species to watch out for that I think are just as fascinating:
- Blue-headed Vireo – this is the first vireo to pass though locally. Their white spectacles on a blue head definitely stand out. They sound very similar to the most well-known Red-eyed Vireo.
- Clay-coloured Sparrow - these are relatively plain-looking sparrows that are found in shrubby fields. Listen for their insect-like call.
- Olive-sided Flycatcher – this species is listed as a special concern on the Ontario Species at Risk list. Watch for them late in May, sitting up at the top of a tree or shrub, watching for their next meal.
- Wilson’s Warbler – with yellow plumage and a black cap, they look very similar to male American Goldfinches. However, their thin bill for eating insects is very different that the goldfinch’s thick seed eating bill.
- Chimney Swift – if you see a small bird flying around above that looks like a cigar with wings, it is probably one of these.
Much of the land that The Kensington Conservancy protects is very important for these migrating birds. Species such as Red-winged Blackbird, Wood Duck, and American Bittern will use wetlands, like the ones found on the Stobie Creek Preserve and Black Hole Preserve, to rest during migration, but for some, these wetlands will actually be a final destination where they will breed. Many warblers, vireos, sparrows, thrushes and other songbirds rely on forests for migration stopovers. It is hard not to find Pine Warblers and Hermit Thrushes on the Ripple Rock Preserve each spring. The small bay off the Boyer Preserve is actually designated as a wildlife staging area, where hundreds, and sometimes thousands of ducks will congregate before continuing north.
With everything going on in the world right now, the best place to experience spring migration this year might just be your own yard. Backyard bird watching has become extremely popular in recent weeks as many people have been staying home and looking for new hobbies to pass the time. You might be surprised how many species you can see, even if it is just from looking out your window for those that do not have a yard of your own. Short-eared Owl, Greater Yellowlegs, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and Peregrine Falcon have been a few of the highlights of mine from my yard recently, so you never know what you might see from yours!
If you are able to get out locally to safely enjoy some nearby greenspaces, then your bird watching opportunities may get even better. The Foster Parkland and Walking Trails in Desbarats are very “birdy” during May. These trails are maintained by us here at The Kensington Conservancy and begin at The Kensington Conservation Centre (69 Boyer Drive in Desbarats). Between the centre and the trails themselves, I have personally recorded over 130 different species of birds. The trails offer a variety of habitat types, such as open meadow, mixed forest, wetland, and open water, but they do have their ups, downs, and uneven footing, so they may not be suitable for everyone. Even just a leisurely walk down your road might be worthwhile to see some interesting birds.
If you're looking for a good way to document your sightings, eBird is the place to go. This is the world's largest biodiversity-related citizen science project. Millions of bird observations have been submitted to it, allowing scientists and conservationists to use the data study birds and make conservation decisions. It also acts as a personal database for you own sightings, so you can keep track of how many birds you've seen and where you've seen them.
So, whether you go out looking for the next big rarity, you simply enjoy the birds that come to you, or somewhere in between, May is the best month for it.
If you have any interesting sightings, whether in the St. Joseph Channel area or wherever you are in the world, feel free to share them with me. I never get tired hearing about good bird stories!