Sunday 2 January 2022

Middlesex Biggish Year—What Happened???

As some readers may recall, in January 2021 I decided to go for a laid back "biggish" year in Middlesex County. I wasn't going for any records, but wanted to see how well I could do if I actually put in some effort. For the first six months of the year I was really cooking...but then, I just faded out of Middlesex birding existence. 

For all intents and purposes, I still think I did a biggish something, just that something was a "Biggish Half-Year". I got a job in Algonquin Park starting in July, and with incredible luck (and perhaps a little bit of hard work), I have managed to keep employment here throughout the remainder of 2021, and into the new year. As such, no new Middlesex year birds, save for Marsh Wren and Baird's Sandpiper when I visited home over Labour Day weekend. 

My grand total for the year was 228 species, 226 of which I saw by June, which certainly exceeded my expectations. Remember those codes from way back when? Here is the breakdown. 

Code 1: 129 species

Code 2: 61 species

Code 3: 24 species (1 new)

Code 4: 9 species (1 new)

Code 5: 4 species

Which adds up to 227, so I missed adding something in there, but it probably isn't crucial, so meh, close enough. Its a "biggish" year, I don't need to put in THAT much effort figuring it out. 

Basically I saw all the code 1 species (yay me), all but two of the code 2 species, all but 10 of the code 3s and then didn't see a bunch of the others, as expected.

There were many highlights from the year, some of which I will detail below:

It was a great start of the year with winter finches. Quite funny actually, crossbills had pretty much all left by the end of November, and then bam, on January 1st I found over 40 White-winged Crossbills. Pine Grosbeak ended up being the only winter finch to evade me. 

Common Redpoll

Red Crossbill

First big rarity of the year was a Harlequin Duck that we had to do some sleuthing to find out the most likely location that is was being seen at. Seems I picked the right spot, and managed to refind it!

First (and I think only) OBRC bird of the year was a Spotted Towhee coming to a feeder in North London. My first lifer of the year as well. 

A Trumpeter Swan down along the river was another great pick up. I only encountered one other pair during the year.

Short-eared Owls, always a highlight. This photo is actually from Lambton County, but I could see them from Middlesex...

I saw two Snow Geese in 2021, and this is one of them. It was not at the original reported location in Strathroy when I went, but I found it on a hunch in a nearby field. 

Golden Eagles didn't give me nearly as much trouble in 2021 as they did in 2020. This is one from Newbury, where they overwinter.

Some Northern Shrike action is always appreciated. 

Arguably the "rarest" bird I found this year, a "Cassiar" Dark-eyed Junco from North London in March. I just didn't seem to luck out with any good rarities this spring.

Common Ravens are a formally rare species in Middlesex, but we now have a few breeding pairs. This pair occupied the site in 2020, and then again in 2021. 

I found several Vesper Sparrows throughout the course of the spring. A species I had honestly only encountered a handful of times before.

A good sized flock of 30+ Lapland Longspurs in April was a highlight. 

This is one of two Eastern Whip-poor-wills that I saw this year. 

A Common Gallinule took up residence at the Strathroy Sewage Lagoons for a couple of weeks, proving that I had not needed to abandon my schoolwork and drive over there as fast as possible. 

Evening Grosbeak!!! Very few were reported this year in the county, after the previous fall's major flight. I was lucky enough to come across a grand total of three.

A rarity that was enjoyed by many was a Blue Grosbeak in Kilally Meadows in North London back in May. It was extremely elusive, and despite me birding there every day for most of May, I only saw it twice. Easily could have been "my" bird, as I had walked right by where it was found several times that same day! 

We enjoyed a variety of shorebirds in Middlesex this spring, including dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstone, White-rumped Sandpiper, and two phalaropes. My only Black-bellied Plover of the entire year anywhere in Ontario was a single bird that flew in at dusk at the Dingman Wetland in mid May.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Semipalmated Plover...there was a surplus of these in May

Wilson's Phalarope

Short-billed Dowitcher and Lesser Yellowlegs

Least Sandpiper


Short-billed Dowitcher

Wilson's and Red-necked Phalarope

What I would consider my best find of May was an Acadian Flycatcher at Kilally Meadows, my spring birding patch. I saw a number of nice birds here this spring, including Golden-winged Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, and a couple of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

My last year bird before leaving in July was this Prothonotary Warbler that was only around for a day in South London. I had spent some time in Skunk's Misery at the end of May trying to find some, encountering Cerulean Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher along the way, but no luck.

A big highlight of the year was a Western Meadowlark near Glencoe. I first saw it on May 8th, but my photos from late June turned out much better...

Not pictured are many other nice species such as Dickcissel, Northern Mockingbird, Forster's Tern, American Bittern and Upland Sandpiper.

Now for some honourable misses...

Orange-crowned Warbler - this is a tricky species in the spring (although usually I see at least one), so I wasn't really worried since they are a dime a dozen in the fall...but then I just never came back in the fall.

Gray-cheeked Thrush - I don't really have a good excuse for this one. I am very surprised I didn't see any in May (though as I recall, Catharus thrushes were actually fairly difficult to come by). I think this is just one I was also counting on as being fairly easy in the fall, at least as a nocturnal migrant flight call.

Red-shouldered Hawk - this one is all about patience with a healthy dose of pure luck. I did do a few hawkwatches in the spring during a time they were supposed to migrate through, but no dice. Middlesex isn't a great place for hawkwatching, and I find that my yard seems to be as good a place as anywhere (both my Middlesex observations of this species come from there). There was a wintering one early in the year I didn't connect with, and of course, no fall for me!

Red-necked Grebe - not a huge miss actually, as I believe there was only one seen all year! I birded Fanshawe CA pretty heavily in April, but I couldn't find one. 

Cattle Egret - just adding this to say that I searched unsuccessfully for two different birds during my visits home in November

Now, other than those, I don't think that I really "missed" anything. Sure, there were lots of other rare shorebirds (Hudsonian Godwit), some geese (Ross's Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese), a Sedge Wren, and a saw-whet owl, but I wasn't around for those! It stings a bit, but nothing I can do.

So in conclusion, I am quite happy with my six month effort, and even happier that I wasn't able to complete the remaining four months of the year as initially planned. I probably would have surpassed 240, maybe even 250 species, had I been around for the entirety of 2021, but oh well. I had more fun finding a Black-legged Kittiwake on Lake Opeongo in the cold than waiting for a Gray-cheeked Thrush to call while sitting on my back deck in the cold.

Well. That's all folks. 

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