On Sunday morning I ran my annual route for the international Breeding Bird Survey. It is one of my favourite events of the year. The challenge of getting out of bed at 3:45 am, arriving at the beginning of the route a half hour before sunrise, and spending the next few hours identifying birds—mostly by ear—at 50 stops along a 40-km route always makes for an exciting time. Read more details about this survey in last year’s post.
After having to contend with windy weather (which causes lots of noise in the forest, which interferes with identifying birds by ear) this year I was blessed with a perfectly still morning. It was foggy, not too much to interfere with visual observation, just enough to add some wonder to my journey. The photo above was taken at stop number 23, which overlooks Otter Lake just north of Dorset, Ontario. You cannot really see them in this photo, but every year there are a few herring gulls perched on those little rocky islands.
Overall stats this year were underwhelming: only about 53 species compared to 61 last year (I won’t have a final number until I compile my data). The species count for a single year is not meaningful, it is just more fun to get more birds.
However, I had two new species for the route: two wild turkeys and a wood duck. Wild turkeys have been rapidly expanding their range in Ontario, and this is the first time I have seen them in cottage country. Wood ducks have always been around, but the chances of actually observing one on the route are slight. This year I got lucky, heard one call in the woods and then saw it fly across the road.
Last week I mentioned that I have recently been lucky enough to observe olive-side flycatchers on the route. This only happens at stop 50, the last of the day, where the road runs along a slow-moving river with alders and a wet woods with a more boreal profile than the mixed deciduous-coniferous forest around the previous 49 sites. The bird did not disappoint me this year, uttering its distinctive quick three-beers song nearby. I believe I have heard it there three of the past four years.
Here is a video of something not unusual but very special, a beauty I hear every year in the deepest corridors of the woods: the diminutive winter wren with its big, shimmering song. In this video you can also hear other regulars on my route: the tuneful, melancholy fee-bee of a black-capped chickadee, the harmonic, wheezy downward spirals of a veery, and (around 2:42 to the end) the wheezy zee-zee-zee-zo-zee of a black-throated blue warbler. But the spirited wren is the star of this show.