Thursday 13 July 2017

It's getting a little ri-DICK-ulous.... a nice way, of course.

The influx of Dickcissels into Ontario continues. Or maybe the overall numbers which have arrived has stabilized, but the documentation of them continues.

Many readers will know by now that Dickcissels (DICK is the standard 4-letter code for this species) arrived in Ontario in unprecedented numbers this year, beginning on about June 11 as far as we know. Since the word got out, birders across southern Ontario and elsewhere have been finding this species in many suitable habitats. The influx of this usually mid-western species (e.g. Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, etc) has, not surprisingly, been most noticeable in the counties of Essex and Lambton as well as the municipality of Chatham-Kent (C-K). There are various reasons believed to be responsible for this current situation, which I may deal with in a future post. Regardless, at last count, it appears that C-K has the greatest number of sites where DICK have been found, with almost 30 known sites involving more than 100 birds. Lambton and Essex have slightly fewer sites and birds, but that could change if all the adequate habitat was surveyed. Indeed, there are significant parts of Lambton that is industrial and off limits to birders, but that doesn't mean it is off limits to birds. Undoubtedly there are many that have as yet been undetected.

I've been out recently to check on potential new sites or previously known sites where DICK have been observed in the last few weeks. While heading southwest of Chatham a few days ago, I noted a scrubby weedy field along the road just north of the village of Fletcher. I didn't think anything would be there, but stopped anyway. I was surprised to see a pair of them, including the male with food in its beak indicating that it was likely feeding young.

I checked a few other more likely spots, without detecting any DICK. But eventually I did find some. I came across a field of clover and in noting a bird on the wire, was treated to the typical DICK song. This next photo shows the open field of clover, etc, surrounded by grain crops.

A female was nearby and I watched both birds for awhile. There was a No Trespassing sign on the hydro pole, so was content to watch from the road. A short time later a fellow in a SUV stopped to see what I was up to. When I explained, he indicated he was the landowner and I could wander through the field if I wanted, so I thanked him and took him up on the offer. I managed to get some more photos of the birds, including the female.

All the while I was intent on the activities of the DICK, there were at least 3 male Bobolinks also in the field, and I managed to get some quite nice shots of these cooperative birds. Many sites will also have Savannah Sparrows and occasionally Eastern Meadowlarks.

A little farther east was an abandoned industrial site, grown up with grasses and Phragmites. A male DICK was singing on the wire while another male was heard towards the back of the site. Presumably females were on nests nearby.

Just a little farther down this same road was another likely looking field.
I heard and watched one male DICK singing from the top of the small tree in the centre of this photo, but it was too far to bother attempting a photo. Another male was seen briefly at the eastern edge of this field.

On the northeast side of Blenheim, there has been several DICK present for a month or more. One of the three males sometimes sits on a weed very close to the road, so one can get photos right from the car.

I have been up to Lambton on occasion, and come across DICK there. The prairie planting patches along Bickford Line, associated with the Bickford Oak Woods Conservation Reserve, has attracted DICK in at least two spots. The DICKs will feel right at home here, since these prairie patches are chock full of prairie plants. This next image, taken in September of 2016, shows the prairie patch at the corner of Bickford Line and Hwy 40.

There are at least two pair of DICK here.

Dickcissels like weedy fields, especially if there is Teasel present. Native prairie vegetation is also a plus factor.

Along Hwy 40 in Lambton County, there is a very wide road allowance especially on the west side of the highway. A lot of prairie species have been planted and left to grow, which makes it perfect habitat for DICK. On one occasion while I was travelling this road, even at highway speeds I detected at least 3-4 male DICK singing.

Hwy 40 near Wilkesport Line
This influx of DICK may not happen in Ontario at this scale again for quite some time, so take advantage of it if you can!


  1. No doubt there are some undetected yet in Lambton.
    Heard one at the BOW site this afternoon as I went by in the car. The song is so recognizable!

    1. Maybe someone could use a drone with a sensitive microphone to fly over those industrial sites and record DICK songs.....Lambton could have by far the greatest number of these birds if only one could get to all the good habitat.