Wednesday 26 April 2023

Birds from "Across the Pond"

This past month has been particularly exciting for birds that normally are not found in North America (or at least, are exceptionally rare) here in Ontario. While I am not really one to chase birds for my (modest) Ontario list anymore, I certainly could not pass up the opportunities that were presented to me to see some special birds. I will detail these such instances.

The first was on April Fool's Day (April Fowl's Day). On March 30th, Dave Worthington found a Pink-footed Goose in Corner Marsh in Whitby (Durham Region). This represented the furthest west this species has ever been recorded in the province, with all previous records occurring in far Eastern Ontario. This species was first recorded in Ontario in November 2015, and has been nearly annual since. A pattern of vagrancy has recently been well established in Northeastern North America. 

I have a soft spot for waterfowl, and it just so happened that Pink-footed Goose was top of my list of "most wanted" species for the province (and really, just in general). This may have something to do with it proving to be a major plot point in the 2012 film, "The Big Year" :) 

I was still in Guelph at the time, and contemplated going when it was first found. I decided not to, although likely would have if it was somewhere I didn't have to drive through Toronto for. Although I certainly wanted to see it, it wasn't eating me alive or anything to not be.

As luck would have it, the bird was refound the next day in York Region at Reesor Pond in Markham, and was seen going to roost with the Canada Geese that evening. As such, I found myself in the wee hours of the next morning driving towards Markham, picking up Nate Klassen and Dennis Dirigal en route. It was an hour and a half drive from Guelph, which seemed much better than the several hour drive it would have been had I been going to Ottawa to try and see this bird, where they normally show up. 

When we arrived, we were greeted with dozens of birders and a thick wall of fog. The fog didn't lift for the better part of a half hour, but when it did, we were greeted by the target goose. It stuck around for a bit in fantastic lighting before taking off for the day to feed in nearby fields. A big highlight for me was hearing it vocalize a few times!

It was a pretty fun morning twitch! As a side note of interest, I have also seen a Barnacle Goose, another rare European vagrant, in York Region. I imagine that York has the best goose list of any Ontario County, with the exception of some Eastern Ontario counties.

The other fun twitch happened just a few days ago, on April 23. I was out for a morning walk around the neighbourhood (highlighted by my patch bird Gadwall, long overdue and quite exciting), when I saw a report come in for a White Wagtail, the second provincial record, in Simcoe County, in Angus (near Barrie). This would have been about a three hour drive from London, and although I was briefly tempted, I was quite content to let this bird slide.  

I got a call not too long after from Bill Lindley asking if I wanted to drive up with him. Well, that settled it. I figured I could justify a road trip with a friend. Bill picked me up about half an hour later, and we were on our way.

We decided to travel the back roads on the way to Angus. I knew the route quite well, having taken it when I drive up to Algonquin. It is a pretty nice drive, and certainly more scenic than the 401 (not to mention more relaxed). Highlight from the drive was a Snow Goose in a field right beside the road.

Bill and I arrived along McKinnon Road in Simcoe County right around 2pm, and immediately was directed to the bird by the many birders already on scene. It was far back in the muddy field, and my photos are best described as "poor", but you can tell what it is. 

There are several subspecies of White Wagtail, and they occur throughout much of Europe and Asia. This particular bird is of the subspecies ocularis, which is the Siberian subspecies. This subspecies also breeds in low numbers in Alaska. The only other Ontario record was from April 2017, and was of the subspecies yarellii, which is much rarer in North America, and comes from a completely different part of the species' range. Quite interesting, I think. 

Anyways, that's my story about seeing two birds from "across the pond"!