Friday, March 29, 2013

March: In like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Spring has well and truly arrived to Southern Ontario. Over the past few days I've had a number of new bird arrivals for the year, including Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Killdeer and Turkey Vultures in numbers, Eastern Meadowlark and more. The non-bird action is finally heating up as well, with chipmunks now commonly seen (and heard!) and lots of new plants coming up, as well as the first of the butterflies as I'll show at the end of this post.

But first, I had to be in Algonquin Park on Thursday afternoon, and it felt like stepping back in time a month. Although it was reasonably warm (a few degrees above zero), snow and ice still covered the landscape and the only signs of spring were a few crows and four Canada Geese, neither of which winter in the park. Driving along the highway did not turn up any of the hoped-for Great Gray Owls, but a short stop at the Spruce Bog Boardwalk parking lot was very enjoyable with a couple of Algonquin specialties.

Gray Jays are usually very cooperative in winter and this time was no exception, with at least two birds coming right in to investigate as soon as we got out of the car. Like essentially all Gray Jays accessible along the highway through the park, both individuals had a unique set of colour bands allowing their movement and presence to be tracked.

Shortly afterward, I heard the calls of several Boreal Chickadees among the numerous Black-capped. This species has become very tame here this winter, and it wasn't long before we were getting excellent looks. One individual even came down to my dad's hand several times!

Unfortunately, I could not entice one down to my hand. I have never been able to personally hand-feed a Boreal, as they are normally far more timid than the much more common Black-capped.

Back in the lowlands of Southern Ontario, the long winter feels like a distant memory with double-digit temperatures today and forecast again for tomorrow. My most exciting sighting was this pair of Ring-necked Ducks that have been hanging out on a stormwater pond for the last two days:

Normally this would not be a particularly exciting find, but these were on my local patch (i.e. most regular birding spot) in Mississauga. I'll say more about my patch at some other point, but suffice it to say that after 5 or 600 visits I don't add new species to my patch list very often! Thus I was very excited to find these as my 173rd patch bird. This has been my top prediction for the next bird added for quite a while, and they showed up exactly where and when I expected. Ring-necked Duck was probably the last really easy bird to add to my list.

Finally, with the warm weather today I spent some time in the early afternoon looking for butterflies and snakes emerging from hibernation. No dice with the snakes, but I was happy to find a couple of Mourning Cloaks basking in the sun. The two individuals were along a fairly busy trail, and whenever one was flushed by a passerby into the view of the other, they would engage in a long, spirited chase through and above the trees before separating and returning to exactly where they started.

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