Saturday 2 January 2021

New Year, New List

When the clock struck 12 on New Year's Eve, we welcomed a new year, and with that, new lists. While I don't really have any intentions of a "big year", I thought it would be fun to try and tick off as many species as possible for my Middlesex year list in the first little bit of the year. I'm still riding the high of the exceptional birding in 2020, so we'll see how long my enthusiasm lasts. Probably until the sedges start to grow again.

I started off the day before sunrise in my neighborhood. I tried to get a screech-owl in one of the ravines, but no luck. I did have one here last March for a bit, but it was probably just a transient individual. My first bird of the new year was a Mallard. Better than how I started 2020, with a House Sparrow!

I picked up Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, and Mourning Dove in short succession, then went to the wetland, where I had my first finch of the year, a Common Redpoll. It took a little bit of work to dig one up, but I eventually got my target, Swamp Sparrow. I picked up another 20 or so species as well.

Next, I went to Fanshawe Conservation Area, a favourite haunt in the last couple months of 2020. I was disappointed to find that the lake was largely frozen over, so there wasn't the large concentration of ducks as I had a couple days prior. I scoped the geese at the north end, and came up with three Cackling Geese, not a bad species to get in January. 

Overall, I found it to be much quieter than I had been expecting, but there were still a few quality birds to be had. While in the campground, I heard a couple soft "chuts", and was surprised to see a flock of 15 White-winged Crossbills fly over. These were the first crossbills I had seen since November 24th, so I thought they had all moved through. I guess we are getting the second wave.

I was told about a Fox Sparrow coming to some seed, but after waiting around for a bit, it was a no show, so I continued on my way. I checked another area which is a popular spot for feeding birds, and often gets some good wintering sparrows, and was rewarded with an immature White-crowned Sparrow, and a White-throated Sparrow. 

A bit later in the afternoon, I went to the very northern part of the lake, where the large numbers of Mallards that I had missed were apparently hanging out. Here I picked up Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Common Goldeneye. I also had another flock of White-winged Crossbills fly over, this one totaling 30 individuals! The previous high count for Middlesex this past season was eight, so that was pretty exciting! 

Down near Komoka, I tried for the reported Hoary Redpoll, but found no redpolls at all where they had been seen. I still have a couple months to try and find one I figure, so not a big deal! The quarry ponds in the area were frozen over, much to my disappointment, but at least the Mute Swans could be seen resting on the ice.

Out Strathroy way, we found three Snowy Owls, two of which were quite close on the hydro poles. They are always a highlight. A Northern Flicker flew by as well, which was a bit unexpected.

The weather was really turning at this point, but since I was in the area, I checked in at the sewage lagoons, and found the Common Yellowthroat that had been there since at least December. A bit of an odd wintering bird for this area. I also had a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which was my last new bird of the day.

My year list at the end of January 1st was a respectable 50 species.

Today, I went out in the morning in the neighbourhood in hopes of Carolina Wren and Cooper's Hawk, but came up empty handed. It was then back out to Fanshawe, where I found the lake to be largely ice free in the north end. I spent the better part of an hour counting the waterfowl, and came up with 1300 Canada Geese, 960 Mallards, 70 American Black Ducks, 34 Common Mergansers, a few Hooded Mergansers and goldeneye, as well as the wigeon. I also had an amazing 20 Cackling Geese. 

Just the usual suspects on the remainder of my walk, and I was getting worried I wouldn't see a single year bird that day! A fly over Rough-legged Hawk was a nice surprise, a new bird for my modest Fanshawe list. I stopped by the Fox Sparrow spot, and thankfully had it come right in to my pishing.

As I was crossing the dam, I spied a Merlin sitting in the distance, proving to be my only other year bird of the day. 

A fun couple days of birding, looking forward to what is still to come!

Happy New Year!

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