Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Deluge of Spring Migrants

Waterloo County, ON
16 March 2015

     From about mid March onward every birder looks for good numbers of migrants to arrive from the south, with a daily increase in both species and sheer numbers. Miriam and I sallied forth with great expectations and were not disappointed. Even before we opened the door of the car at our first stop we heard the distinctive and evocative song of the Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus , as sure a clarion call of spring as ever there was one.

     Substantial flocks of this species were actively foraging with Brown-headed Cowbirds Molothrus ater and it was evident that the receding snow left behind a bounty of vegetal matter and no doubt the rising temperature created micro climates where insects abounded.

      In terms of Red-winged Blackbirds, males arrive before females and establish territories, so it was somewhat surprising to see this female among the males. I don't think I have ever seen the two together at this early juncture in the season, but there she was foraging alongside the males. Perhaps she will have the benefit of selecting the fittest male of all, although since Red-winged Blackbirds operate under a system of polygyny, she will certainly not have exclusive access to any one male.

     A little later in the year Brown-headed Cowbirds would represent a threat to the breeding success of Red-winged Blackbirds, but since nesting has not yet begun they seemed content enough to feed alongside each other.

     American Robin Turdus migratorius was well-represented also, although their numbers were not as great as the previous two species.

     Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris is a resident species but it too joined in the feeding bonanza, and it was interesting to note that their bills have turned from winter brown to the bright yellow of the breeding season.

     We saw but a few Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula but we expect their numbers to swell with every passing day.

     A lone Killdeer Charadrius vociferus rounded out the list of migrants for our afternoon expedition.

     In addition to the birds as heralds of spring, there is no surer indication than the annual commencement of the maple sugar season. When we have daily temperatures above freezing, with a return to below freezing overnight, the sap starts to flow in the Sugar Maple Acer saccharum and sap pails seem to sprout on trees everywhere. Even the few trees at the local Mennonite school are not left unexploited.

      The sap is collected and transported to a sugar shack where it is boiled down taking approximately 20L of sap to produce 1L of syrup.

      Most of this activity in our area is concentrated in the hands of the Mennonite community and they lay in huge amounts of wood over the winter in preparation for the sugaring-off period ahead.
      The result is the sweetest, purest, sublime syrup you have ever tasted and it is always on our pantry shelf. Eaten with a light, fluffy pancake or a hot waffle, it is surely one of life's great gastronomic treats. Guess what I might decide to have for lunch?
      It used to be that any time we visited friends overseas we would take maple syrup as a gift; alas 911 put a stop to all of that. Along with all other liquids it is forbidden in hand luggage and it's too risky to pack it in a suitcase, to say nothing of the way it eats into the weight allowance. It's sad but true, we now live in a world where a jug of sweet Ontario syrup might pose a threat to life and limb. Oh for a return to yesteryear! 


  1. Brilliant post David,these images bring back fond memories,love the Red-winged Blackbird,he looks gorgeous.

  2. Wonderful birds, so different from ours.. ;)

  3. Beautiful birds !! And your shots are wonderful !

  4. Great that Spring has arived with such lovely birds. We do not have this kind of birds here. Verry interesting to read how Maple Syrup is made. Must indeed taste wonderful.

  5. Beautiful series, David. I only see bird species that are new to me. Top!
    Gr Jan W

  6. Nice looking sugar shack. I'm watching for all those migrants, but the only ones so far are a few starlings.

  7. Bonjour,

    Mon ami Léo le toucan ne me contredira pas lorsque je vous écris que j'adore l'ensemble de vos photos avec toutes ces espèces emplumées...
    Vos clichés sont magnifiques...
    En plus vous nous régalez et me mettez l'eau à la bouche en pensant aux crêpes au sirop d'érable.

    Gros bisous ♡

  8. I bet you are having a ball observing and photographing the migrants as they come back to breed!
    WOW, that is a great series but my attention went straight to the Kildeer... what a lovely tropical looking bird.
    Also you make my mouth watering with this maple syrup!! It must be something else!
    Keep well, hugs to share with Miriam!

  9. .Wonderful kind you had here for the lens.
    Beautiful photographs taken.
    Greetings Tinie

  10. Just the species I remember from my April days at Long Point David. It's so good to see the Red-winged Blackbird but very disappointing that I can not hear that wonderful song and their strident melodies coming from the depths of the reeds.

    It is a true shame indeed that you are now unable transport your delightful National Dish to other parts of the world. However I understand that there is an excellent postal service in Canada just as there is in the United Kingdom via the Royal Mail courtesy of Her Majesty. May I suggest that you acquaint yourself of their joint expertise in moving small parcels across the Atlantic Ocean and delivering the same to deserving causes?

    Enjoy your daily waffle my friend. Wish me luck with my beans on toast.

    1. Is it possible that the deserving cause you have in mind would be the Phil Slade Charitable Foundation?

  11. Hi David! Thanks for your visit and comment our new posts.
    Fantastic series of photos! Congaratulations!
    The Red-winged Blackbird is so cute :-).
    Warm greetings from Poland

  12. Your spring migrants, to date, look a tad more interesting than ours, David. A splendid set of images! I only had a brief view of Red-winged Blackbird when I was in USA in 2008, and missed getting a photo of that very handsome bird - just got Yellow-headed and Brewer's from the large mixed flock.

    Only got a record shot of American Robin too, but did find a Kildeer (which I suspect that Noushka is confusing with your Grackle image).

    Only four months and three days to go!

    Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  13. Beautiful pictures David.
    Here in the Netherlands are not such beautiful birds.
    Have a good weekend.

  14. Hello David,
    I see birds that I have never seen in my life. The blackbird with the red piece in its feathers is great but the American robin is a beautiful bird to see. The bird in picture 10 is also so beautiful though I could not decipher the name. Magnificent bird blog.
    Greetings, Helma

  15. Beautiful images, lovely are the Red-winged Blackbird and the Brown-headed Cowbirds, special.

  16. It must be wonderful to be seeing life springing into existence and action all around after the cold, snowy winter, and lovely images of those first two birds particularly to share.

  17. Wow, all these gorgeous birds. It must be a joy to see and photograph them, David. For me, watching your pictures, it already is. I love the red winged blackbird. And about the maple syrup ...... since we have been in Canada and the States I love it. There are special stores in the Netherlands that sell the syrup. It's very expensive here. I have learned to bake American fluffy pancakes (we can't buy the instant pancake flour here) and for us it's a treat too. It reminds me that I have some in the freezer. Yummie! Greetings, Joke


  18. Dzięki powrotowi emiratów jest więcej gatunków do podglądania :-)