Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Signs of Spring and Birding by Ear

I haven't been birding lately and with the warm weather on Tuesday I decided to head out. Unfortunetly, one major factor I forget about when it turns mild in the winter here at Lake Erie...FOG.

I decided to head for Point Pelee because sometimes it may be clear in the park. Alas, still foggy. When I arrived at the tip it was quiet until I heard a fimiliar sound, the whistling wings of Goldeneye. They flew right overhead but of course, I never saw them. Another welcoming sign at the tip was the calls of Horned Larks heading north..Spring migration has started..As for me, today seemed to be a day of birding by ear.

I get great pleasure of just birding by ear. I enjoy jogging, and jogging while wearing binoculars can be a burden. At home on the farm, I would go jogging and enjoy the songs of Savannah and Song Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, American Kestrels, Indigo Buntings, and during migration, Black-bellied Plovers. I would then come home and tell mom, and, feeling like she was missing out would bike along side me.

Of course, we aren't in the heart of migration yet, so just picking up any bird call would be a bonus. Arriving at the Shuster Trail, one of my favourite spots in winter I got out and instantly heard, not one, not two, but five Carolina Wren males setting up territory with full song!! This is just a welcoming sound to my ears..could spring be just around the corner, or is it just the mild weather? Carolina Wrens weren't the only birds singing, a male Cardinal was tuning his vocal chords as well. Not the clear whistle we are used to, just practising his scales so to speak. 5 White-throated Sparrows, as well as 8 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1 Robin, 2 Downy Woodpeckers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker as well I heard, and once in a while, would catch a glimspe. Each of these birds have distinct call notes, which leads to easy identification.

After Shusters, I decided to head out of the park and see if the Onion Fields, Hillman and Wheatley would be a little clearer. Birding by ear is fun, but I really would like to see ducks as well.

One bird I never had a hard time seeing was the 20 Turkeys on the road in the Park. I have seen a total 27 of these birds in one spot and have seen them both a the tip, near the Dunes area and even in the interior of the park near the canals. I wonder if I am seeing the same flock, or are there multiple flocks now.

Driving along Concession E, I had a nice flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. Whether these are migrants, or a nomadic flock I have no idea. I'm guessing a momadic flock. They were all chatting together with some of the males practicing their song, though it sounded more like a mutter than anything else.

Hillman Marsh was way too foggy, so I continued to check out Muddy Creek before heading home. Mallards were the only birds I could find there.

Kind of a slow day for birding, but there are definetely signs of spring out there, perhaps only those that one closer to nature may notice, but signs none the less. I can't wait until I hear the first Killdeer. For me, hearing the Killdeer in the distance over a lightly snow covered field is a sign that winter is slowly loosing its grasp.


  1. I rely very heavily on my ears for birding! I am grateful for excellent hearing and my friends are amazed how I can pick things out long before they are seen. I have learned to recognize most bird songs and calls so that helps too! Spring is just around the corner, and I cannot wait!!

  2. I have just attained a copy of a book titled "Birdsong", which an excellent read so far. The first whole chapter was dedicated to a story involving a group of researchers trying to discover why Black-capped Chickadees do not have different dialects across their range in North America, and yet on an island offshore, there are three different song-types by the birds there. It's a really interesting read and I'll have to let you borrow it when I'm finished.