Spring has, technically, arrived in Ontario, though below-freezing temperatures would suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, robins and cardinals are singing, killdeer are flying overhead, and the red-winged blackbirds’ unmistakable trilling song has returned.
Don’t let cold temperatures depress you! One can still see plenty of phenomenal waterfowl decked out in gorgeous plumage. Just last weekend, I enjoyed a fabulous 22-species waterfowl extravaganza at the Desjardins Canal in Hamilton which included gorgeously coiffed common, hooded and red-breasted mergansers. Other unexpected highlights included a king eider, a redhead duck and white-winged scoters enjoying a moment of respite now that the snowy owl has departed.
Another phenomenon to experience before spring begins in earnest, is migrating tundra swans. One can see them in all their glory at Long Point, or in the town of Aylmer, before they head north to breed in the high tundra (as their name suggests). Having the chance to witness thousands of tundra swans hanging out together, before their northward flight, is a truly magical experience.
Once you get your fill of waterfowl, it’s not too early to start planning for spectacular spring warblers. Start listening to warbler songs, because no matter how cold it feels now, the trees won’t be bare for long. And once they are decked out in full foliage, birds will be hard to find and the ability to identify them by song will give you a tremendous advantage. So bring on the bird call CDs, YouTube videos and smartphone apps.
It’s also time to begin planning for the Baillie Birdathon, North America’s oldest sponsored bird count. The goal is to identify the largest number of bird species within a 24-hour period at any point during the month of May. All money raised goes toward bird research and conservation. Now that’s a worthy cause!
If a birdathon isn’t quite your speed, consider attending or volunteering at one of the many bird festivals happening across the province. These events feature informative talks, guided walks (sometimes with celebrity birders) and the chance to socialize with and learn from other birders. And there’s always bird-friendly coffee on hand to make the early morning start even more palatable. Check-out the Nature’s Network calendar for spring birding events happening across the province.
So though it may not feel like it, spring is very much here.
Julia Zarankin is a writer, editor, and former professor of Russian literature and culture at the University of Missouri. She's a long-time contributor to ON Nature magazine and our blog.