Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Return of the Dickcissels

They're back! Over the course of the past few days, Dickcissels have returned to places they were present at in 2017. Of course the site just east of Wheatley has had them for a couple of weeks or more this year, but that was a location where they had been present for several years.

2017 was an unprecedented year for them in Ontario, and the southwestern municipalities of Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton had the vast majority. Members of the Ontario Field Ornithologists will be aware of the article I wrote in the April, 2018 issue of Ontario Birds discussing the 2017 influx of Dickcissel in Ontario. One of the questions I posed near the end of the article was whether any would return in 2018. The Dickcissel population in the heart of its range had been expanding slowly north and northeast for a few years, and if birds have successfully bred in their newly expanded territory, there would be a good chance they will return the following year. We haven't had the same types of weather yet that 2017 experienced....sustained high winds from the west or any returning birds are likely the result of successful nesting in 2017.
So far Dickcissels have been reported in several places where they were known to have nested the previous year. This includes places in Lambton and Middlesex as well as several places in Chatham-Kent. For example the Campbell Line Pasture just northeast of Blenheim had as many as 19 birds in 2017. So far only one or two birds have been reported this year, but I am not aware of anyone doing a thorough check of this large site. Observations have been from the road only, and that is probably due in part to the presence of large numbers of Wood Ticks. Even if you stay on the grassy laneway, you can encounter a couple of dozen ticks or more in just a few dozen metres or so.

The Dealtown Crown Land prairie (southwest of Blenheim) is another site which had as many as 11 Dickcissels in 2017. I went out a few days ago and came upon at least one and possibly two, males as well as two females. Today some birders went to the site and also saw two males and two females.
It will take a bit of effort to re-visit all of the sites in southern Ontario to see what the return rate might be. I will be keeping a close look at eBird and Ontbirds to document the results.
There are other grassland birds occupying similar sites. Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks are frequently encountered. The former is officially a Species At Risk, so it is nice to see them around in good numbers.
Eastern Kingbirds aren't really a grassland species, but they do like open shrubby areas adjacent to grasslands. I came across several pairs of kingbirds at the Dealtown site.
 Along the trail in to the Dealtown site there were lots of Summer Azures.
A recent, but short, visit to Rondeau didn't turn up any unusual birds. But I did see that Hoary Puccoon is doing well along the grassy beach areas.
A few butterflies were out along the trails there, including:
Red-spotted Purple
Spicebush Swallowtail
Northern Crescent
 I'm a little rusty on my skippers, but I think this next one is a Hobomok Skipper.
I also saw Monarchs, Red Admirals and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, but didn't get any photos.

On the Monarch theme, a few days ago Marie and I noted a female Monarch busily laying eggs on some of the numerous Common Milkweeds in our yard. I thought they might have hatched by now and did some investigating. Sure enough I found my first Monarch caterpillar of the year.
It is really tiny, measuring not quite 4 mm in total length, so undoubtedly only hatched a day or two ago.

I was up at the Angler Line area to see if the Cattle Egret and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were still around. They were on private property, but the landowner has graciously told me to come by any time. The Cattle Egret has apparently not been seen for several weeks now, but the Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still around at another feeder. One of these days I hope to get my kayak out to see if they are nesting in the maze of cattail islands about half a kilometre off the end of Angler Line. So although I didn't catch up with my target species, I did have the satisfaction of seeing other things.

Yesterday I was at a meeting at a private property just west of Lighthouse Cove, in Essex County. We did spend a bit of time outside, and saw some interesting critters.

An immature Bald Eagle flew by.
 There were two or three Black-crowned Night-Herons.
 It was bright and sunny, so Map Turtles were taking advantage of the conditions.

No more room here!
 Several Northern Water Snakes were also enjoying the sun, including this big female. Since water snakes give birth to live young, they need to bask a lot so that the young are fully developed to result in a successful birth later in August.
 Some water snakes were a little shy.


  1. Great photos as usual, Allen!

  2. Are your water snakes poisonous?
    The yellow and black sea snakes along the Kenya coast are very. However we used to swim with a wary eye, but as they were very shy, they would generally retread not attack.

    1. Fortunately our water snakes are not poisonous. They can be a little aggressive and have an anticoagulant so that if they bite, you will bleed quite freely, but there is no poison to worry about.

  3. Perhaps Dickcissels will be commonplace in SW Ontario as they expand their range. It will be interesting to see how many show up this season.

    1. It is certainly looking like that could be the case based on early reports of them this year. If they successfully breed again I think it is even more likely.