Thursday, 18 January 2018

To See 300 Birds in Ontario (in a Year)

When it comes to year listing in Ontario, 300 is THE magic number. On average, there are 340-350 species spotted each year in the province, so seeing 300 means you have to be on top of your game. In light of my friends Jeremy and Tim's Big Years, it got me thinking about year lists. In addition, I later heard that this year, 2018, has been dubbed the "Year of the Bird" by National Geographic, in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty. That sealed it. I decided to undertake the challenge of spotting 300 species of birds in Ontario this year. For a high school student without a driver's license, this may prove to be challenging. However, I am sure with the support of my family and friends, and tad bit of luck and strategy, I should be able to reach my goal, or at least come close to it!

So, how does one go about seeing 300 species in Ontario? Each year, there are about 300 regularly occurring species in Ontario, so as long as I can catch up with most of them, along with a few rarities, 300 is an attainable goal. I have grouped birds together by family and evaluated their status in Ontario to better understand what species that will be "easy" and which ones will require additional effort and carefully planned trips.

Ducks, Geese, and Swans

There 47 species of waterfowl on the Ontario checklist, 38 of which are regularly occurring. Most are fairly widespread and shouldn't prove to be a challenge, however there are a few which will be harder to see such as Greater White-fronted Goose, Ross's Goose, Brant, Eurasian Wigeon, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, and Barrow's Goldeneye.

Gamebirds

There are 10 species of gamebirds on the Ontario checklist, all of which can typically be found somewhere in the province at some point in the year (origin may be questionable). Obviously I can't go to all corners of the province looking for them, but I do believe with enough effort, 7 can be found. Some of the harder ones to locate will be Gray Partridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Northern Bobwhite (if there are even any left), and Spruce Grouse (technically should be easy, but I beg to differ!).

Grebes

Five species make up the Ontario grebe list, all of which can be found at least once most years. Three are super easy, while Eared Grebe and Western Grebe require a bit more effort.

Pigeons and Doves

Eight species have been recorded in Ontario. One of those species will be impossible, the Passenger Pigeon, for obvious reasons. In total, there are two species that will be easy (Mourning Dove and Rock Pigeon). Based on the past few years, the likelihood of me coming across at least one additional species is great. The most likely rarities are Eurasian Collared-Dove and White-winged Dove, the latter which will hopefully take up residence in Rondeau again.

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Guelph, July 2016)

Cuckoos

There are two species of cuckoos in Ontario, and as long as I go birding enough in the correct habitat, both should be easy to see.

Goatsuckers

Five species can be found on the Ontario list. Two are regular migrants and breeders, while a third has recently been found somewhat reliably in the province in one location (Chuck-wills-widow).

Swifts

There are three species of swifts on the Ontario list. Two are rare vagrants, so that leaves me with one, the Chimney Swift, to try and find (thankfully, they are easy to locate!)

Hummingbirds

Six species have been recorded in Ontario, all of, except one, are rare vagrants. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are very easy to find in Ontario, so that won't be an issue. In the extreme case we have another hummingbird species in 2018, it will likely be a Rufous Hummingbird.

Rails, Gallinules, and Coots

Eight species of rails, gallinules and coots are on the Ontario list. Six or seven are regularly found in Ontario. In my case, around five or six would be possible. The harder ones to come across will be Yellow Rail and King Rail, both of which breed in select areas of Ontario.

Cranes

Two species of cranes have been recorded in Ontario. Sandhill Cranes are regular migrants and breeders, while Whooping Cranes are very rare migrants. I am most likely to only come across Sandhills in 2018.

Shorebirds

There have been 52 species of shorebirds recorded in Ontario. Around 35 are found on a regular basis in Ontario each year. Many of these are common to uncommon migrants and breeders which should be found pretty easily if I bird the right habitat at the right time if year. Of some of the regular shorebirds in Ontario the following will be among the hardest to track down; Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Ruff (assuming they show up!), Purple Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, and Red Phalarope.

Black-necked Stilt (Tilbury, April 2017)

Jaegers

Three species of jaegers are found in Ontario each year, and with enough luck, I should be able to see all of them.

Alcids

Seven species from this family have been recorded in Ontario. I personally don't expect to see any in Ontario this year, but I do expect at least one species to occur in 2018.

Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers

34 species have been recorded in Ontario, 16 of which regularly occur in Ontario. Many are easy to find in the right place, however will require a little extra effort to see such as Franklin's Gull (summer territory in Rainy River), Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Arctic Tern. Gulls are also pretty famous for showing up in weird places, so I am also expecting a few vagrants such as Black-headed Gull and Laughing Gull to show up.

Loons

Four species of loons have been spotted in Ontario, three of which are regular breeders and migrants. Common Loons will be easy, whereas Red-throated and Pacific Loons will require a bit more effort to spot.

Albatrosses, Shearwaters, Petrels, and Storm-Petrels

Amazingly, 10 species from these families have been spotted in Ontario. As with the alcids, I don't expect to see any of these birds this year. If I do happen to be extremely lucky and spot one, it will most likely be a Manx Shearwater, which has a history of showing up occasionally.

Storks

One species has been spotted in Ontario, the Wood Stork. This is a bird that I don't expect to show up in 2018, but the chance is always there! The last time one showed up was actually six months ago in Point Pelee, but the time between that bird and the last one was 16 years!

Frigatebirds, Gannets, Cormorants, and Darters

Seven species have been recorded in Ontario, only one of which is regular, the Double-crested Cormorant. In recent years Neotropic Cormorants have become semi-regular, so it is a possibility. Anhigna and Magnificent Frigatebird would be very rare, but are a possibility of the weather is right.

Pelicans

Two species of pelicans have been recorded in Ontario. American White Pelican will be common and easy in the correct location (Rainy River, recently Pelee area), whereas Brown Pelican is a rare vagrant from the ocean coastline of further south.

Herons, Bitterns, Ibises, and Spoonbills

16 species have occurred in Ontario, and about 8 occur with regularity in a year. Of the regular species, Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret will prove hardest to come across. Rarer species that are a possibility include Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, and White-faced Ibis. What species of rarities show up, and how many, will depend on the condition of the habitat in their normal range.

Cattle Egret (Blenheim, October 2016)

Vultures, Osprey, Hawks, Kites, and Eagles

17 species have been seen in Ontario, 14 of which show up on the regular. I should be able to catch up with 12 species reasonably easily, while Black Vulture and Swainson's Hawk may prove more difficult. While Black Vultures are regularly seen in Niagara, seeing one on the Canadian side will be the challenge!

Owls

12 species of owls have been spotted in Ontario. All of the recorded ones breed except for Snowy Owl (regular winter visitor), and Burrowing Owl (very rare vagrant). With enough effort (and luck), I should be able to observe 10 species this year, however I will only have one or two chances throughout the year for certain species (assuming I can even make the trip due to a whole bunch of other factors). Some of the species that will be hardest to find include Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl. Of course, every species will be difficult in it's own right...except Snowy...I have already seen one this year! :-)

Kingfishers

Only one species, the common Belted Kingfisher, makes up the Ontario kingfisher list.

Woodpeckers

10 species have been spotted in Ontario. I should have a shot at 9 species (Lewis's Woodpecker is a very rare vagrant), with all but two being easy. Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers will require a winter trip up north.

Caracaras and Falcons

Six species have been recorded in Ontario, three of which will be easy (Peregrine, Kestrel, and Merlin), one of which will be unlikely (Gyrfalcon), and two of which are very, very unlikely (Prairie Falcon and Crested Caracara)....heck, throw in one more "very" for the caracara.

Flycatchers

25 species of flycatchers have been seen in Ontario, 11 of which breed, and one which is a regular spring/early summer rarity (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher). 10 of the regular breeders will be pretty easy to find. Western Kingbird is breeder that is a rarity here in southern Ontario, but it may be possibly found in the Rainy River area.

Shrikes

Two species make up the Ontario shrike list, the Northern Shrike that is an uncommon winter visitor to southern Ontario, and the Loggerhead Shrike, a breeder that can be regularly found at a few sites.

Vireos

9 species have been recorded in Ontario, 6 of which are regular migrants. 4 are easy to see in a single day during spring migration, while the other 2 will require a little bit of extra effort (Yellow-throated and White-eyed).

Crows and Jays

8 species have been found in Ontario, 6 of which are found regularly on Ontario. Three will be easily found, and three (Gray Jay, Black-billed Magpie, and Fish Crows) will be reasonably easy with enough effort.

Larks

Only one species, the Horned Lark, is found in Ontario. This species if very easy to find.

Swallows

8 species of swallows have spotted in Ontario. 6 are regularly found in Ontario, and they all are fairly easy to find. One species, the Cave Swallow, is a semi-regular vagrant in late October to early November.

Chickadees and Titmice

Four species are found in Ontario, three of which are regular in Ontario. Tufted Titmouse and Black-capped Chickadee are very easy to find, whereas Boreal Chickadee will require a bit more effort.

Nuthatches

Two species of nuthatches are found in Ontario, both of which are very common in Ontario.

Creepers

One species, the Brown Creeper, is found in Ontario. This species is very easy to find.

Wrens

Seven species of wrens have been recorded in Ontario, five of which are regular. None of the species should cause an issue when it comes to locating them.

Gnatcatchers

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a common migrant and breeder, and is the only species of gnatcatcher in Ontario.

Kinglets

Two species of kinglets, the Golden-crowned and the Ruby-crowned, are found in Ontario. Both are very common.

Thrushes

Thirteen species of thrushes have been seen in Ontario. Seven of these are regular migrants and breeders, all of which are common enough to easily be found. Three additional species, the Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, and Varied Thrush are prone to vagrancy, and often will show up in Ontario during the fall and winter months.

Mountain Bluebird (Waterloo, November 2017)

Mockingbirds and Thrashers

Four species have been recorded in Ontario, three of which are regular and should present no issue.

Starlings

Only one species, the European Starling has been recorded in Ontario. This species is common.

Waxwings

Two species have been recorded in Ontario, the Cedar Waxwing and the Bohemian Waxwing, both of which are common enough to be seen this year.

Old World Sparrows

Two species of old world sparrows have been seen in Ontario, the House Sparrow and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. House Sparrows are very common, while Eurasian Tree Sparrows are a very rare vagrant.

Pipits

Two species of pipits have been recorded in Ontario, one of which, the American Pipit, is a common migrant and will be easily found.

Finches

Fourteen finch species have been recorded in Ontario, ten of which are regular to Ontario. Seven of those species should be relatively easy to spot, while the other three, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, and Hoary Redpoll will be harder to see. While those three show up in traditional locations each winter, it is a matter of me making it to those locations at the right time!

Pine Grosbeak (Algonquin, February 2017)

Longspurs and Snow Buntings

Five of these species have been recorded in Ontario, two of which are regular winter visitors, and one, the Smith's Longspur, is a breeder of extreme northern Ontario, but it a rare vagrant in southern Ontario during migration.

Wood Warblers

Forty-four warblers have been sighted in Ontario. On average, somewhere around 36-38 species are seen during the average year. 35 are regular migrants or breeders. Louisiana Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Kirtland's Warbler, Cerulean Warbler,  and Prairie Warbler will likely prove to be the hardest of the regular warblers just due to either they have very specialized breeding habitat that may be remote, or their window of migration is very small. Each year there are typically a couple vagrants or spring overshoots, the most likely being Kentucky Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler.

Sparrows

Twenty-nine sparrow species have been seen in Ontario, twenty one of which are regular. Fifteen of those species will be very easy to find, the remaining six (Lark Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, and Harris's Sparrow) will require a bit more effort and some luck.

Yellow-breasted Chats

Only one species, the Yellow-breasted Chat, has been recorded in Ontario. This species can be hard to find, however if one was to put in enough time during the spring, at least one should be found.

Cardinals and Allies

Thirteen species have been spotted in Ontario, six of which are regular. Of those six, only Summer Tanager may cause an issue, as there is only a small window during spring migration of which I will be able to "easily" see this bird.

Blackbirds

Fifteen species have occurred in Ontario, eleven of which are regular. Yellow-headed Blackbird and Western Meadowlark will prove to be the most difficult because they are only found in a few locations in Ontario (though the Yellow-headed is prone to vagrancy).

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Mitchell, August 2017)


As you may have noticed, I haven't really mentioned many rarities. Dozens of rarities show up in Ontario each year, many of which are completely unexpected (Wood Stork, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Townsend's Warbler in 2017 for example). I hope to come across a healthy number of them this year, which should, ideally, make up for any of the "regular" species that I miss.

In the end, 300 is a nice idea, but when it comes down to it, I just hope to travel to some new places, see some cool birds and met some new people (and spend more time with old friends!)

I think if anything this year, I will become a better birder, not only with identifications, but on gathering a deeper understanding of the species themselves. Things such as a knowledge on the status and distribution of the species are almost necessarily to not only see, but appreciate, the birds I will encounter over the next year.

Of course, my endeavour over the next year depends on three things...luck, weather, and support from my family. The last one is the most important because as a 14 year old kid, I can't exactly drive and ultimately financially support an entire year of birding. Heck, I would go broke after the first twitch (which is in the works by the way...those who follow the Ontario rarity scene  might know what I am scheming!)

So there you go....2018 is going to be one very fun and hectic year!


I should go study for exams...

13 comments:

  1. Oh Quinten! Obsessed much? πŸ˜„ Yes, studying is a very good thing! Good luck on your exams! 😊

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    1. Obsessed is a strong word...but it is the correct term.

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    2. Wishing you all the best on your quest to 300 species! πŸ‘ I'm sure that with your determination and "hunger" to learn more about birds you will do your best to attain this goal. πŸ˜€

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  2. Wow, Quinten! Good luck going for 300 species!

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  3. You should try and get up to Rainy River around the end of June/early July. You will check off a lot of good things for Ontario!

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    1. That is in the works...we'll have to wait and see what happens! Rainy River is certainly on my bucket list!

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  4. That's a great plan Quinten! To add a bit more encouragement to your great energy, Tim's initial goal part way through the 2017 year was to pass 300 species, and due to some pretty extreme circumstances, he ended up with his whopping 329!! Perhaps that will be unreasonable to hope for without someone aiming much higher than that to travel around with, but I think you can do 300 without doing anything dangerous or driving mom and dad crazy haha.

    I can think of someone with some very recent experience who can help answer questions and dilemmas as they arise... Good luck pal!

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    1. Thanks Jeremy! I appreciate your encouragement, and I'm sure I will be in contact with you at some point during the year for some tips! See you in the field!

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  5. Hey, dosen't your mom and dad have a say in all this travel? Haha. You come up with the gas money, we will try and come up with the timeπŸ˜†

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