Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 26 June 2017

More DICK-y birds

Most readers will be well aware of the significant influx of Dickcissels (DICK is the 4-letter code used by birders) into Ontario. In the past, I would have said southwestern Ontario, but according to reports on Ontbirds and ebird, some are well beyond these parts. Birds have shown up in Grey and Bruce counties, as well as the Waterloo area and as far as the Peterborough area.

According to the most recent ebird database, there are at least 14 sites in Lambton County. I am aware of about 18 sites in Chatham-Kent, with likely a few more as yet undetected. If those rarities such as Violet-Green Swallow and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher would just stop showing up somewhere in Ontario, maybe birders would be more inclined to get out closer to home and discover many more DICK sites across southern Ontario :-).

Yesterday I had the opportunity to explore a property of ~40 ha (100 acres) just east of Blenheim. It is an abandoned pasture, with some of it having grown rather shrubby, but with at least a quarter of it left quite open. Tallgrass prairie species had been planted on it a few years ago. It is private property, and is posted with "No Trespassing" signs. However I have known the landowner since my high school days, and thankfully he has given me permission to explore it.

My ears aren't the greatest, and it was rather breezy, but I encountered 19 DICKs in all: 15 males and 4 females. Given that DICK is polygynous (a male often has more than one mate) it is quite possible that there may have been 30 or more birds here. On a less windy day, I might have found more than I did. I did flush up three of the four females, but due to the early stage of their nesting cycle, I did not want to disturb them so I didn't look for nests.
 With most birds only having arrived here in the past couple of weeks, it is likely that incubation has barely begun if at all, and nest abandonment is much higher at this stage. Hopefully in another couple of weeks or so, females will be seen carrying food and nesting can be confirmed then.

The light varied considerably.....sometimes very bright and sunny, sometimes heavy overcast. When the birds were down low on a dead weed stalk it was relatively easy to get decent photos.
When they were up higher, the bland sky made it much more challenging.

The breezy conditions caused both the birds and the stems they were perched on to be constantly in motion, so it was often difficult to maintain decent focus. Fortunately at least a few of the many dozens of shots I took were worth keeping. I learned early in the game that dead weed stalks such as Common Mullein were more stable and less prone to the wind than most other more flimsy stems.

There were the other expected birds to be found, including a few Bobolink and Savannah Sparrows, and even an Orchard Oriole.

A little later I continued slowly down the road, and there in a partially cut and raked alfalfa field I caught a glimpse of a suspicious bird flitting by. It landed and there was another DICK, perched on a Curled Dock stem.

Another bird was also in the field. I'm not sure how long it will be until the hay is all cut, raked and baled, but I suspect the future of these birds is not promising. In yet another grassy field only a couple of kilometres away was another DICK.

It is surprising to some extent, why the birds pick some sites (e.g. the partially cut hayfield) and there are numerous other grassy fields that looked perfect, but without DICK. And one tallgrass prairie planting just east of Ridgetown of about 5 ha in size, where I had a DICK four years ago, is without any this year. At least not yet......

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