Bird sightings: Keep your binoculars at the ready
This past spring, many readers reported increased sightings of Sandhill Cranes. Now, these large grey birds (think of a Great Blue Heron) with a red crest have been migrating south. On 12 November, well-respected Ottawa birder Bruce di Labio posted photographs of large flocks of them on Facebook, where in Renfrew County he counted more than 700 individuals.
Although the cropped lands between Cobden and Lapasse are known staging grounds for migrants, Di Labio explained such large numbers are unusual.
Di Labio recommends it’s worthwhile to revisit familiar areas with binoculars, scopes, and cameras because sometimes a very unusual bird can be discovered in areas we take for granted.
On 4 November he discovered a male King Eider Duck near Shirley’s Bay – an unusual sighting for these Arctic sea ducks. The male is resplendent with a green cheek, orange flaring up to its eye, and vermillion-red bill – all of which are outlined dramatically in black. Its head is silver, neck and breast taupe, while back and breast are black with white highlights.
Happily, birders often record their sightings and Di Labio noted the first record of a male King Eider in this region occurred November 7, 1889.
Readers are starting to post photographs of Evening Grosbeaks on Facebook. Once extremely common bird here, lately populations have dwindled. When I moved to Spiritwood north of Quyon in 1989 30-50 of these gold, black and white birds dominated my winter feeders and in fact I considered them “nuisances” because of their voracious appetites. (Rather like blue jays…)
However, I’ve not had any notable numbers for perhaps 20+ years. Last year a couple of Evening Grosbeaks visited, and I was delighted.
This November? Readers north of Shawville are already posting photos of 15 Evening Grosbeaks.
On November 6, forest bird biologist Carl Savignac spoke to Macnamara Field Naturalist Club members about this species. MFNC website explains “Citizen–based science investigations such as the Christmas Bird Count now suggest that this colourful bird has declined by 77% throughout North America since the early 1970s. For this reason, the species is now designated as a Special Concern in Canada.” (bit.ly/2PpIN5E)
Savignac explained that their decline coincides with Spruce Budworm fluctuations: these caterpillars are one of Evening Grosbeaks’ favourite foods, so when there’s an outbreak, the birds thrive. Savignac wrote the status report on this species for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), noting, “Fluctuations of Spruce Budworm populations, which naturally occur every 25-40 years in eastern Canada … are likely a key factor in fluctuations of the Evening Grosbeak population since 1970.” (bit.ly/2DE3QLu)
Natural cycles of budworm infestation notwithstanding, it’s my hope that here in Pontiac we see many more Evening Grosbeaks. As Di Labio states, keep your eyes peeled, take your binoculars and cameras, and watch your feeders and favourite haunts. We never know what we’ll dicscover!