The World Outdoors: Early spring migrants on the move

Share Adjust Comment Print

In the earliest days of March we can start to enjoy migration.

Even in the last week of February there were first reports from across Southwestern Ontario of tundra swans, killdeers, red-winged blackbirds and grackles. We will continue to see predictable migrants along with more interesting surprise sightings.

In terms of waterfowl, we could certainly see more northern pintails and American wigeons. Large numbers of buffleheads and greater scaups will be flying through. We should also expect shovellers, ring-necked ducks, green-winged teals, redheads, canvasbacks, lesser scaups and gadwalls flying north through the month. Blue-winged teal numbers increase later in March.

There are other waterfowl species on the move now. Expect to see migrating pied-billed grebes and American coots.

Tundra swans are classic and charismatic March migrants. These big birds will be seen and heard overhead all month but their numbers spike after the official start of spring.

Turkey vulture sightings have been reported.

Ospreys typically return through the last week of March. They have incredible site fidelity, which is to say they frequently return to the same nest site year after year. With this in mind, you can just watch for activity around last year’s nests.

The killdeer is the first shorebird to fly north. They are back now. Their numbers really climb in the last half of the month.

It surprises some to learn the American woodcock, a bird that prefers field and forest habitats, is also a shorebird. You might inadvertently flush one of these superbly camouflaged birds while out hiking.

Greater yellowlegs will appear in late March.

The Eastern phoebe is the first flycatcher to return. In fact, it usually arrives a full month before other flycatcher species. Watch and listen for this harbinger of spring in the middle of the month. It loves creeks.

The tree swallow is our first swallow species each year. It returns at about the same time as the phoebe.

By the end of the month, there will be early reports of Middlesex County’s first warbler arrival, the yellow-rumped warbler. Yellowthroat sightings will then start to be reported.

There are sparrows that we can look forward to as well. These hearty birds include Eastern towhees, chipping sparrows, field sparrows, fox sparrows and white-throated sparrows.

Red-winged blackbird numbers are already climbing. The males arrive weeks in advance of the females to stake a claim on a nesting area. By the end of the month, huge numbers of these birds will be making a racket in and around wetlands. The common grackle and Eastern meadowlark are other blackbirds that return now.

Hermit thrushes have been reported in London. Although American robins are seen across Southwestern Ontario through the winter, they remain a legitimate and beautiful sign of spring for many people. This thrush species is easy to find all through March.

Nature notes

• To keep a finger on the pulse of daily bird sightings, many birders will create a free, customized alert on the eBird platform. One of my alerts, for example, keys in on daily rarities seen in Middlesex County. The Ontbirds alert is another useful free service. It is administered by the Ontario Field Ornithologists. Ontbirds will broadcast updates about uncommon species to birders in real time or in the form of a daily digest.

• Monarch butterflies are among the butterfly species that migrate. The flight north from overwintering grounds in Mexico and some southern U.S. states commences in mid-March. Remarkably, it usually takes more than one generation of monarchs to arrive in Southwestern Ontario.

• From March 10 to 18, Rondeau Provincial Park is hosting a Wings of Spring festival. Rondeau Bay is a tremendous location for viewing waterfowl, including ducks, geese and swans. The park’s visitor centre will be open each day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and it will be the hub for programming. For details call 519-674-1768 or check the Ontario Parks blog.

• For readers planning March break activities, boost your “Vitamin N” intake with some nature activities. Whether it is participating in structured events at a provincial park or creating your own scavenger hunt at a natural location such as the Fanshawe Conservation Area, youngsters will love being outside.