Highlights from my 2013 Breeding Bird Survey

The view of Otter Lake from stop 23 on my BBS route

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.

8 thoughts on “Highlights from my 2013 Breeding Bird Survey

  1. Interesting you posted this. Yesterday I was parked by an open area in a suburban part of the metro, bordered by some trees. I became aware of an odd sound, and realized it was a birdcall, loud enough to be heard thru the glass. So I rolled down the windows and listened. I didn’t recognize it (which isn’t saying much), so I was hoping your winter wren’s song would turn out to be it (it’s not). After some YouTube research, it’s possibly a nightingale, but none of the ones there resemble the call I heard. I noticed some blue jays hanging around this same area in previous days, so that could be them (I never heard them, as a kid, so I have no way to know). It’s definitely not an American robin, nor a red-winged blackbird, nor northern oriole (now, those I remember). The call lasted 3-5 seconds, started out higher-pitched, then descended in pitch and ended in something almost like a rattling, which is what caught my attention in the first place.

    1. Joe, the only bird that came immediately to mind from your description was a field sparrow, which has a descending, accelerating trill. I sometimes call it the ping-pong ball bird: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Field_Sparrow/id (scroll down to the recording). However, I don’t often encounter it in urban areas; more in meadows and agricultural places. Strictly speaking, I would describe the sound at the end as a trill, not a rattle. Two birds commonly described as having a rattle call are the yellow-billed cuckoo http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-billed_cuckoo/sounds and belted kingfisher http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/belted_kingfisher/sounds , neither of which would likely appear in the habitat you describe. I also thought of the house finch; listen to the first recording on this page: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_finch/sounds It ends in a raspy slur. House finches commonly inhabit suburban areas. Also try the northern or yellow-shafted flicker, a kind of woodpecker sometimes found in cities: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/sounds I guarantee your bird was not a nightingale, a Eurasian bird which has not become naturalized anywhere in North America that I know of. A sighting in Minnesota would likely make the local news.

      1. Hmm, none of them sound right. Wish I had thought to record it with my phone. Also keep in mind I’m not the best judge of sounds. 🙂

        (btw, still sifting thru photos for that story; haven’t forgotten)

  2. Hi Van. What was your species list and totals after you compiled your data (if you don’t mind sharing)? It would also be neat to see your route on Google Maps or the like, if you have time to play around and create a personal map for it.

    Thanks, and keep up the great work!

    1. Kellie, since you asked, I will post that information once I’ve compiled the data. I’m leaving for a week’s vacation as the blogathon ends, so it won’t happen until mid July, but I’ll try and remember to let you know.

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