By: Markus Legzdins

Tuesday 19 December 2023

HSA Big Year - Month of September Summary (September 1 - 30)

September was quite the month for rare birds in the HSA! Birders gathered on strong east winds at Van Wagners, while on calm days, others birded their local parks and other migrant traps for fall warblers. 

The first new bird I saw in September for my HSA year list was a juvenile American Golden-Plover at Windermere Basin. George and I had been scouring the sod farms in Hamilton and Haldimand for this species but came up unsuccessful each time. Even to this day I don't think anyone had any luck at the sod farms this year, even though, I thought it had looked promising. 

On September 4th, I noted some of the first hawks beginning their journey south. Small numbers, but a good variety in just a short watch a few hundred meters north of the lake. A couple Turkey Vultures, two Broad-winged Hawks, two Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk, and a lone Osprey soaring high with the vultures. 

Broad-winged Hawk

In September, you can find great numbers of shorebirds in flooded fields or basically anywhere where they can find food (nutrients in the soil/mud). Since the James Snow Parkway flooded fields had been so productive recently, we decided to check it out to see what had changed. Water levels had decreased, exposing the nutrient-rich mudflats. George and I spotted two White-rumped Sandpipers among the many Semipalmated & Least Sandpipers. 

White-rumped Sandpiper

September 9 started off as just a normal day of lakewatching, but little did I know, it was going to be one of my best days ever at Van Wagner's Beach

I was the first to arrive. Heavy fog covered the lake, barely making the wave tower visible. There weren't strong winds predicted, I just thought to get out as it was the first moderate east winds in the past 2 weeks. Two hours into the lakewatch, six others had joined me on the viewing deck. (5 out of the 6 were under the age of 20 #youngbirderpower!!) We watched a MANX SHEARWATER fly around and eventually land on the water! I'm sure this is a moment that none of us will forget. We celebrated, high-fived, cheered, and could not believe what he had just witnessed. A bird many birders could dream of seeing on a lakewatch but now it has become a reality. 

Manx Shearwater - 3rd Ontario record!
Checklist for that day (video bonus) -

The streak of luck didn't end there. Later in the day, we had seen several Parasitic Jaegers and a single Long-tailed Jaeger. I counted 10 Sabine's Gulls throughout that day as well. The first one being spotted by Barb Charlton. Sabine's Gull was a lifer for me that I was really hoping to catch up with this year. Wow, they truly are special! 

adult - Sabines Gull! A plumage we rarely see in Ontario

An American Golden Plover landed on the beach and offered great views to many as it stood in one spot for a couple hours. 

American Golden Plover

While still at Van Wagner's that day, a report of an Eared Grebe came in from Oakville, a 12 minute drive from my house. I debated chasing right away and miss a good bird at Van Wagner's or stay till sunset and see the Eared Grebe on the way back home.... if it stayed. I picked the second option since it was found in a large pond and would likely remain there till dusk. It did!

Eared Grebe

The next day it was... gone! Phew, glad I could see it when I did. 

I and many others returned to Van Wagner's the next morning, hoping for a repeat of yesterday's crazy action. Obviously many hoping for the Manx Shearwater to make a reappearance or for something on a similar rarity level to show up. The winds were significantly lighter but still most people persisted throughout the day and were treated to an adult Black-legged Kittiwake flying with a group of Sabine's Gulls.

In the afternoon a report came in while we were at Van Wagner's of a Yellow-throated Warbler at Woodland Cemetery. This was a rare bird and it only made sense to chase it right away as it was only about a 15 minute drive away. Mourad and I spent a couple hours searching for it - lots of warblers but our target species was not seen again. 

In September I chased two reports of Connecticut Warbler; one in Hamilton in mid-September and one in Brant County at the end of the month. I spent a few hours at each location but they both seemed to evade me. As you can tell, chasing rare warblers in the fall is very difficult. 

On the 13th, north winds made for a nice day of hawkwatching. I had a nice raptor flight over my house with over 700+ Broad-winged Hawks! 

At Bronte Beach I finally caught up with a Black-bellied Plover that had been hanging around for a while. 

Black-bellied Plover

By mid September I was still seeing large groups of warblers. My last expected warbler species at this point was OCWA, which could show up between now and the end of October. 

While birding some fields around Oakville on the 23rd, I had 15 American Pipits fly over me. A new HSA year bird for me! Always nice getting local additions. 

On the 24th, I did some more lakwatching at Van Wagner's, influenced by the moderate east winds predicted. I saw some more Sabine's Gulls, a whole bunch of Parasitic Jaegers and an ARCTIC TERN! I didn't know it at the time - called it off as a Common Tern but since I managed to get some photos, it has been concluded that it was an Arctic Tern (Thx Brandon!). Only seven other previous records in the HSA.

Arctic Tern!

Parasitic Jaeger

Near the end of the month I did more lakewatching closer to home. At Arkendo Park, I saw my first Parasitic Jaeger in Halton this year and I was also lucky enough to see a Pacific Loon make a quick fly by.

The next day, I joined up with Jeremy Bensette to spent a evening lakewatching in Peel. We had 3 Parasitic Jaegers and a group of late Common Terns. 

On the last day of September, guess what I did? More lakewatching?! Yes. I noted recently arrived groups of Surf & White-winged Scoters, a couple more late Common Terns, and a nice sized flock of 21 Black-bellied Plovers flying around and soon landing on the beach at Hutches. 

So yeah - busy but productive month. 8 new species added to the year list, some I thought I would never see but the more you're out, the more you're going to see.

End of September HSA year list: 261

HSA rare birds of September: Added in previous months, added this month, have not seen.

Red-necked Phalarope (2) - Off Van Wagner's Beach (Rich Poort; Sept 1)

Hudsonian Godwit - Departed Windermere Basin on the evening of September 4 after being present for 11 days allowing many birders to see it (Rich Poort)

Whimbrel (1) - alongside 6th Road in Stoney Creek (Nick Giannamore; Sept 6)

Red Knot (1) - Windermere Basin (Rob Dobos; Sept 7)

Long-billed Dowitcher (1) - Windermere Basin (Rob Dobos; Sept 7)

MANX SHEARWATER (1) - Off Van Wanger's Beach (Adam Capparelli; Sept 9)

Eastern Whip-poor-will (2) - Roosting at Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton (Tristan Uchida; Sept 9)

                                            -  Roosting over Spencer Creek in Dundas (Sterling Sztricsko; Sept 14)

Eared Grebe (2) - Zachary Pond in Oakville (Dominik Halas; Sept 9)

                          - Off Van Wagner's Beach (Bill & Sarah Lamond; Sept 25)

Yellow-throated Warbler (1) - Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton (Sterling Sztricsko; Sept 10)

Connecticut Warbler (2) -  Pinetum Trail in RBG (Catherine Manschot; Sept 11)

                                       -   Along Mulligan Rd. in Brant (Jason Pizzey; Sept 25)

Acadian Flycatcher (1) - Confederation Park in Stoney Creek (Rich Poort; Sept 13)

Golden-winged Warbler (1) - Shell Park (George Prieksaitis; Sept 13)

Arctic Tern (1) - Off Van Wanger's Beach (Markus Legzdins; Sept 24)

Pacific Loon (1) - Flying past Arkendo Park in Halton (Markus Legzdins; Sept 27)

Saturday 30 September 2023

HSA Big Year - 2ish Week Summary (August 14 - 31)

As summer comes to an end, the fall season soon begins! Local species are getting ready for their long journey back south, and the species breeding far north of us, rest and refuel in some of the great spots the HSA has to offer. 

Some of the main birding events I look forward to in the fall are hawk migration, fall warblers, juvenile shorebirds, and lakewatching. 

Lakewatching is probably one of my favorite forms of stationary birding. Lake Ontario takes up just less than a quarter of the HSA area and specifically the west end acts as a funnel for wandering birds on northeast or east winds because of its shape. Although the lakewatching season reaches its peak in September & October, a few avid birders including myself have tried our luck early on. I have mainly been out on the days that called for moderate northeast or east winds, as those are the days you're more likely to see rare/uncommon birds because they get blown in closer to Hamilton. So far, this season, I spent more than 44 hours lakewatching from Van Wagner's Beach, and over the course of that time, I've seen some pretty neat things!


Distant Black-legged Kittiwake

Parasitic Jaeger (juvenile)

Semipalmated Plover

Red Knot

Parasitic Jaeger (subadult)

My attempt at digiscoping a group of Red-necked Phalaropes

Lakewatching is challenging and certainly requires patience and skill. Majority of the birds you'll see (that be loons, jaegers, shorebirds, gulls, etc.) are flying, often more than a kilometer away, and views may be very brief. Not to mention the terrible weather that usually comes with strong east or northeast winds. 

So far, we've lucked out with just one rainy afternoon during a lakewatch. With all that, you can imagine most birds don't stick around and often aren't chaseable so you just have to be present on as many days as possible and hope for the best. 

Starting a lakewatch with heavy fog

Finishing the lakewatch with great visibility and warm sun

On August 18, a Roseate Spoonbill was found in Brantford by local birders Sarah, Eric, and Bill Lamond. It was seen flying over the Grand River and heading west. This sighting was not in the HSA but it was pretty darn close, close enough for us to join the search to hopefully relocate it in the HSA. We spent the remainder of the day in Brantford looking in random ponds that could host this stunning bird with pink plumage in and out of the HSA. We visted spots we probably never would have visited if it wasn't for this occasion. Wandering through cornfields, driving down narrow dirt roads, and scouring the Grand River to get to places where this bird could be hiding. Mid day, we received an update that there was a good possibility that the Spoonbill had been seen the day before along the Grand River at Glenhyrst Gardens. My thought was that it could return to its roosting spot, so we did an evening stakeout. A few hours had gone by and with light fading, we were left with no other option but to call off the search for the Roseate Spoonbill. 

A couple of Wilson's Phalaropes turned up at the James Snow Parkway flooded fields in Halton so George and I went to go see those. 

Wilson's Phalarope

Some of the first fall warblers have started to arrive in large numbers like Cape-may Warblers. I birded Joshua's Valley Park quite a bit during this period and found some nice birds including this Olive-sided Flycatcher!

Olive-sided Flycatcher

George and I spent countless hours searching the sod farms in Hamilton near Caledonia searching for American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, and mainly Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Surely there were many more Killdeer present on the sod farms this year than the previous year but yet we nor anyone could find these other species. 

After nearly lakewatching for nearly the whole day on the 25th, Rich Poort and I drove over to Windermere Basin to see if we could find some shorebirds. Rich said he liked to bird here after work because a lot of shorebirds tend to fly in at sunset to feed and rest. We did exactly that, it was about 5pm when we got to the basin and to our surprise we found a Hudsonian Godwit! It was such a treat to see this massive shorebird up close that is a pretty rare visitor to the HSA. 

Hudsonian Godwit

And as luck would have it, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was found at Windermere Basin just four days after the Hudsonian Godwit showed up. My dad and I chased this bird after school and I'm very glad I was able to see it that evening because birders went back the next morning and were unable to locate it. We had distant looks as it pranced through the long grass but it was still nice to enjoy the presence of this bird along with a couple other happy birder friends. 

End of August HSA year list: 253

Rare bird sightings: 

Anhinga - Flying at a high altitude west over Dundas (David Moffatt; August 27)

Golden-winged Warbler - Adult male at Bronte Marsh (Gavin Edmondstone; August 27)

Red-necked Phalarope - Two flying around CCIW in Burlington (George Prieksaitis; August 26)

One at Windermere Basin in Hamilton (Keith Dieroff; August 27)

Off Lakeland Center, several groups totaling roughly 30 individuals (August 28)

Wilson's Phalarope - Two at the James Snow Parkway flooded fields in Halton (Micheal Kirchin; August 19)

Cerulean Warbler - Female at Confederation Park in Hamilton (Rich Poort; August 23)

Hudsonian Godwit - Adult at Windermere Basin in Hamilton (Rich Poort & Markus Legzdins; August 25)

Red Knot - Two along the beach at Confederation Park (Rich Poort; August 26)

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - One at Windermere Basin (Rich Poort; August 29)

Roseate Spoonbill - Spotted on an island on the Grand River off Glenhyrst Gardens in Brantford by a local who was walking by (Christina Cooper; August 17). At the time she was not sure what she saw but when an alert was sent out to be on the lookout for a Roseate Spoonbill that was seen nearby but out if the HSA by Sarah, Eric, and Bill Lamond, she chimed in and said that she was pretty sure she had seen it the evening before along the Grand. She provided a very convincing description for a bird that is quite unmistakable so if this record is accepted it would represent the first for the Hamilton Study Area!

Sunday 13 August 2023

HSA Big Year - Weekly Summary (August 7 - 13)

After being gone for about 6 weeks in Michigan, I am now back home! I got back on the evening of August 7 and before even stopping at home we tried for a Wilson's Phalarope that had been found at Windermere Basin the day before. My mom and I bumped into Mourad who was also searching for it but still after looking through all the yellowlegs, we could not find it. 

The next morning I returned to Windermere Basin with my dad, hoping that the WIPH would be there, but again, it was nowhere to be found. After that we drove over to Dundas Valley CA, hoping to cross paths with a rare finch species for the HSA, the Red Crossbill! Starting in late July and continuing to this date, Red Crossbills have flooded into parts of Southern Ontario in search for suitable habitat to breed and food where pines and other conifers are prevalent. 

I was still in Michigan when all these reports of RECR started showing up on my rare bird alerts from eBird so I had to make a plan where to begin searching for them when I got back. Almost all the RECR sightings were heard while they were flying over so that made it even more difficult to track them down. Red Crossbills have quite a loud and distinct flight call sounding like "kip kip kip" or "jip jip jip". 

Since James Lees had been hearing and seeing Red Crossbills for a few days in a row, we went to Dundas Valley CA that morning. James had been hearing almost all of the crossbills by the HQ of DVCA but I mixed up the locations and headed to another part of the conservation area. I was already quite skeptical of trying for these finches today as it was quite windy making it difficult to hear anything but we still tried because if you never try, you won't see it. 

Just as we were pulling up to the parking lot I noticed a small group of birds sitting along the gravel road. A goldfinch lifted up from the road, then a darker colored bird. Could it really be a Red Crossbill I thought? The bird had flown up to a small bush right next to the road where I could get a better look at it and where I confirmed it was a female Red Crossbill! 

There was not one, not two, but three! Two females and a male. The group flew off and just a minute later a male flew over calling "kip kip kip". My dad and I walked around for about another hour after that but could not find or hear anymore. 

Adult female Red Crossbill

The rest of this week I've pretty much been taking it easy, birding around my yard and visiting some parks not too far from me. I've been so happy to see such a variety of baby birds in my backyard and around locally. 

Recently fledged Sedge Wren

Mourning Dove

Young Northern Mockingbird

Fall migration has just begun and it will only get better! The somewhat confusing fall warblers are just around the corner and all the juvenile shorebirds are trailing close by. My first warbler of fall was this pretty Canada Warbler in my backyard.  

Canada Warbler

This weekend was great because I added five new species to my HSA year list! On Saturday morning while out birding with my mom, specifically looking for shorebirds, I spotted a Willet at Tollgate Ponds in Hamilton. 


On Sunday I went out with George, again looking for shorebirds. Our first stop was at a couple sod farms in Haldimand County. These fields of sod attract all sorts of sandpipers because they're full of nutrients. If you're lucky, you may find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper foraging with other Killdeer. We found a whole bunch of Killdeer but no BBSA, although it is a little early for them to be showing up. 

We then drove around Niagara looking for wet & muddy fields hosting shorebirds. There were a few good spots we stopped at that had quite a variety of shorebirds but most of other places were just dry or didn't have anything in it at the time. That aside, it was a very nice day to be out. 

After eating lunch in Grimsby, we drove over to Windermere Basin. After scanning the back of the basin over and over again we found a shorebird that looked a little different than the rest of the Lesser Yellowlegs. It was a tad thinner, had long yellow legs, a white supercilium, and had a longer droopy bill. Any guesses? If you guessed Stilt Sandpiper, you're correct! 

I thought that would be the last place I go today but that changed right as George dropped me off back at home. A report of a Red-necked Phalarope & 2 Wilson's Phalaropes came in from Niagara, just about where we were 2 hours earlier. 

My mom and I departed from home in Oakville about 30 minutes after the report came in and arrived at the location just after 5pm. The spot was quite nice, being a large flooded area of a soybean field just off the side of the road. There were already other birders present who kindly helped me get on both phalarope species in an instant. An added bonus was a Baird's Sandpiper foraging in the same flooded field! 

Wilson's Phalarope

Baird's Sandpiper

Red-necked Phalarope

My mom and I spent the rest of the wonderful evening chatting with other birders and enjoying the presence of all the unique shorebirds up close. A truly great weekend for shorebirds!

Flooded soybean field in Niagara

For interest's sake, here are the rare species I missed while I was away. Surprisingly, I didn't miss much. 

- Wilson's Phalarope at Windermere (Rob Dobos; August 6)

- Lark Sparrow visiting a private feeder for a day in Brantford (Denys & Sharon Gardiner; July 25)

- Dispersed reports of Red Crossbill across Hamilton and Halton

Current HSA List: 249

Recent Rare Bird Sightings:

Wilson's Phalarope - One at Windermere Basin in Hamilton (Rob Dobos; August 6)

Single bird on Cosby Rd in Niagara (Marcie Jacklin; August 13)

Two juveniles in flooded soybean field off South Grimsby Road 6 in Niagara (Bob Highcock; August 13)

Red-necked Phalarope - Single bird in flooded soybean field off South Grimsby Road 6 in Niagara (Shannon Hingston; August 13)

Red Crossbills - All over the place around Hamilton, specifically DVCA (James Lees). 

Willet - One at Tollgate Ponds in Hamilton (Markus Legzdins; August 12)

Wednesday 12 July 2023

HSA Big Year - Month of June Summary (June 1 - 23)

I was originally planning to do weekly updates for June but never really around to it so I'm doing another month recap. In August, I'll try to get back into the routine of doing weekly updates.

In June, I added 5 new species to my 2023 HSA year list bringing me to 243. Although five new species does not sound like much, it was a crucial part of the big year to find the species that I missed earlier in migration and could be tough to find in fall. If you did not already know, I am in Michigan and will be for the next few weeks. This meant I had to get my two main target birds, Black-billed Cuckoo and Alder Flycatcher before the end of June.

Both these species had evaded me throughout May but thankfully they are local breeders here in the HSA. I had to leave for Michigan on the 23rd so I only had so many days to go out and look but at the same time manage with school work and upcoming exams. In the end, I somehow managed to do both of those. 

On the 19th, I visited Rowan Keunen's yard, hoping to see the Alder Flycatcher(s) that he's had on his property for the past few weeks. Also viewed from is yard is a spectacular pond that has hosted several rarities within just the past year. Things like Little Blue Heron, King Rail, Red-necked Phalarope and many species of shorebirds. It shouldn't be long before another rarity is found there by Rowan! 

Rowan kindly showed me around his property and it wasn't long before we spotted the pair of Alder Flycatchers. After that, my dad and I drove around the nearby roads and tracked some more down! These ones were chasing each other around and calling a whole bunch. 

Alder Flycatcher

Black-billed Cuckoo was the other target bird I was hoping to get before I left. In the HSA, it seems like Yellow-billed Cuckoo is more abundant than Black-billed and in general Cuckoos are very difficult to find. I was lucky enough to see a Black-billed Cuckoo in the DVCA on the 17th but that's all thanks to the tip I received earlier that morning from Matt Mills. 

Black-billed Cuckoo

Now onto a surprise bird, an Acadian Flycatcher! This was a bird that I had about a 50/50 chance of getting in the HSA this year. Surely ACFL occurs every year within the boundaries of the HSA its just that the ID can be a little tricky in the field if its not calling and they usually prefer dense forests which means they could go unnoticed fairly easily. 

The one that was found at the end of May in the Cambridge area actually stuck around for a while and I was fortunate enough to get access to the area of woods near the Sudden Tract that the Acadian Flycatcher had been seen in. This male was on territory and trying to attract a mate with its beautiful songs and calls.

Acadian Flycatcher

Throughout June I've also been focused on birding along the lakeshore. Possibilities are just about endless on the lake even during the summer months. Of course now with the amount of people on the beaches and walking out on the piers, little is attracted to land and take a rest. But you never know what you're going to see unless you go out and look. 

I spotted several northbound Common Loons, some late winter ducks like Common Goldeneye & Red-breasted Mergansers! What also felt rewarding was a group of 10 Sanderlings flying east past Oakville Harbor one fine day. 

I also had some luck at Arkendo Park; finding a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a pair of Horned Grebes. Lots of gulls and terns gather on the large cement pier and I'm always hoping to find a Franklin's or Laughing Gull there. 

On June 10, my mom and I went kayaking at Binbrook CA in Hamilton to see if maybe the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron found in late May had stuck around. We arrived in the early morning and paddled around for 3 hours covering a distance of 4 miles. No Yellow-crowned Night-Heron but I'd say it was still a very worthwhile trip. 

Eastern Kingbird

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

On June 18 I went out with Nate Klassen looking for grassland birds in Bronte Provincial Park. We enjoyed the presence of all the Bobolinks and their interesting R2-D2 like song. Plenty of Savannah, Field, Song and Swamp Sparrows were also hanging around in the grassy fields. 


Enjoy the rest of your summer and make sure to still get out as there is much to be found! ✌

End of June HSA year list: 243

Rare birds in the HSA throughout June:

Brant - Surprisingly a second bird appeared and joined the original Brant. Foraging on the grassy waterfront lawn with several other Canada Geese (Frances Maas)

Acadian Flycatcher - Singing male on territory on private land near Cambridge. Found at the end of May and continued until at least June 13 (Will Van Hemessen).

American White Pelican - Group of 4 flying east over Lake Ontario being viewed from Rattray Marsh in Mississauga (Tess Jackes; June 14).

Needs list for HSA

Stilt Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Pomerine Jaeger
Barred Owl
American Pipit
Common Redpoll
Eurasian Wigeon
Eared Grebe
Ross's Goose
Barrow's Goldeneye
Piping Plover
Hudsonian Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Red Knot
Purple Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Wilson's Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Sabine's Gull
Northern Gannet
Neotropic Cormorant
American White Pelican
Cattle Egret
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Black Vulture
Golden Eagle
Nelson's Sparrow
Northern Goshawk
Cave Swallow
Pine Grosbeak
White-winged Crossbill
Red Crossbill
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Connecticut Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prarie Warbler
Summer Tanager
Kirtland's Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler

Tuesday 6 June 2023

HSA Big Year - Month of May Summary (May 1 - 31)

In the month of May I added 72 new species to my 2023 HSA Big Year list! Of these 72, one was a lifer, four were new additions to my Halton County list, and 8 were new for my Hamilton list.

To kickoff May, a male Golden-winged Warbler was found in Grimsby at 40 Mile Creek and stayed for the majority of the day offering quite nice looks. At that same location I also saw my FOY Bank Swallow and Baltimore Oriole.

Golden-winged Warbler

On the 4th, I discovered a female Harlequin Duck swimming off Coronation Park in Oakville after school. When I had the opportunity to see the one in Burlington at the beginning of the year, I forgot to take a photo. Now that I had the chance, I took some pictures of it swimming right along the shore in very calm water. 

Harlequin Duck

On the 5th, Mark Jennings found a Black-legged Kittiwake floating around and eating midges on the lake. What made this experience super special was that it was so close to shore and it was in adult plumage! Most Black-legged Kittiwakes that show up in Ontario are younger birds with the dark "M" pattern seen mostly in flight. Your best chances of seeing these are during the lakewatches in October and November. They tend to be flying way out on the lake and usually require a scope to get somewhat decent views so seeing one in May and super close was just awesome. 

Black-legged Kittiwake

The next few days consisted of the expected new migrants, mainly warblers, thrushes and sparrows. Waking up early to bird Shell Park and other nearby parks most mornings with my mom just about became a routine. It was fascinating to study and observe the bird migration forecast for each night, usually determining how early we'd go out the following morning. 

Scarlet Tanager (#200)

Blackpoll Warbler

Orchard Oriole


I also spent some of my weekends at Beamer CA in Niagara hoping to catch a glimpse at a rare raptor like a Black Vulture, Swainson's Hawk, or Mississippi Kite. On May 6, I had the honor to be an official counter at Beamer and had a really nice day enjoying the raptors and passerines migrating in the sky over the tower. There's always something to learn from the kind and experienced birders that visit there. Even on the slow days of hawk migration there was something to talk about to pass the time. 

The evening of May 12, my mom and I spent a few hours around the Halton Regional Forests listening for things like Eastern Whip-poor-will, Barred Owl, Hooded Warbler, and Wood Thrush. Didn't get any of the owls or nightjars but did hear a singing Hooded Warbler right at dusk and a Wood Thrush.

On May 14 (Mothers Day), after birding in Burlington and driving to Hamilton we received news of a Worm-eating Warbler at City View Park! We turned around immediately as we had literally just passed by City View Park not even 10 minutes before the message got sent out. My mom and I were first on scene and were soon joined by Rob Dobos and Ben Oldfield then began our search to try and see this rare southern warbler species. As a group, we searched for something like 30 minutes before we were all able to hear it then get some good looks at it. This was a lifer for my mom and I, as well as for Ben! Exactly one year ago (May 14, 2022), Ben and I found what was quite possibly the bird of our lifetimes, a Hepatic Tanager. One year later, here we are again, looking at a very rare bird for the region together. Quite the coincidence and a great Mother's Day gift from the bird gods. 

Worm-eating Warbler

On May 17, George and I went to see a Red-headed Woodpecker in Peel that had been visiting a peanut feeder for a while. Just as we arrived, we saw it fly up from the feeder and into a tree. Stayed put for a minute, then departed north over the house never to be seen again by us that day despite looking for another 20 minutes. 

Red-headed Woodpecker

On the morning of the 19th, a Prothonotary Warbler was found at Bayfront Park just as my Mom dropped me off at school after we finished birding that morning. I felt terrible that I couldn't make it there immediately but sometimes birds stay the whole day at one location and then leave that night. That seemed to be the trend with most warblers and other birds so far; dropping everything and chasing the bird right away and then they turn out to stay the whole day or even many days. 

The last report we got of it still being there was around 1:30pm and we could only get there around 5pm. When we got there it was incredibly windy and I felt very disappointed. It was a "needle in a haystack" situation. Leaves on the trees blowing everywhere, not being able to hear anything, and the bird likely seeking shelter somewhere. We still searched for 2 hours and even with the help of Mourad, the Prothonotary Warbler was nowhere to be found. Such a rare species for the HSA, and could've been an easy chase just if I could have gotten here a few hours earlier. But that's just how it is. You can't be everywhere all the time and there are some birds you will miss. "If you never try, you won't see anything" something I try to keep in mind.

On the morning of the 20th, I headed out to Burloak Park to do a lakewatch hoping to find some shorebirds, specifically Whimbrel. In Southern Ontario, we only have a short window to see these northbound migrants flying out on Lake Ontario. 

Chart representing when Whimbrels are usually sighted in Halton

When I got there it was super foggy but after waiting a while it soon cleared up. I noticed a flock of Dunlin on the rocks a little further down the park so I walked over to take some pictures of them. Just as I arrived they flushed off the rocks but soon returned. When that happened, I heard a familiar call, lots of them, somewhere up in the sky! Eventually the sound got closer to me and I could see a cloud of shorebirds circling way up in the sky over the lake. The large size, long drooping bill only pointed to one species.... the Whimbrel, a large flock of 98! Over the 4 and a half hours I was there, I was able to count a total of 229 Whimbrels. Truly a great day!


On the 21st, my Mom and I ventured out into the Curry Tract in the Halton Regional Forest hoping to finally track down a Ruffed Grouse. This has been a bird that has eluded us for several years in the HSA. We spent a few hours there walking a total of about 5km. Surprisingly we managed to find not one, but two Ruffed Grouse! One was right on a path just standing there and one we heard drumming. Other highlights from there included a Brewster's Warbler (Blue-winged Warbler x Golden-winged Warbler), Yellow-throated Vireo, and Hooded Warbler.

Ruffed Grouse

Brewster's Warbler (GWWAxBWWA)

That evening, while birding some fields in Oakville with Gavin Edmondstone, we stumbled upon a singing Sedge Wren! I went back the next morning with some other birders and we found a second one; likely a pair on territory. We monitored these birds carefully for several days and ensured they would stay safe at their location and could have a chance at breeding as the habitat is ideal. 

Sedge Wren

On the 22nd, a Black Tern was found at Windermere Basin so in the afternoon Mourad and I went to look for it. It didn't take long before some birders that arrived before us pointed it out flying with the many other Common Terns present. This bird only stayed for a day so I'm glad we went for it when we did. 

Black Tern

That morning a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was photographed at Binbrook CA in Hamilton but only posted that afternoon, so after seeing the Black Tern we headed straight for Binbrook CA because chances are it was likely still there. Rob Dobos was also looking for the night-heron but he said at the place it was seen, there was a fisherman so it likely got flushed away. It was my first time visiting Binbrook CA so I didn't realize how huge of an area it was. The majority of it is a lake with all sorts of curves and bends so lots of stuff could be hiding there. You would need a kayak and almost a whole day to thoroughly check the perimeter of the lake. After waiting a while at the lookout tower we decided that it was time to leave and that the night-heron had likely gone to roost somewhere on this huge lake. On our way back to the Mourad's car, Mourad spotted an extremely late American Tree Sparrow foraging just off the path; apparently this was the latest ever recorded date for this species in the HSA!

American Tree Sparrow

On the 23rd, after my mom finished work, we drove to Grimsby. Once again to 40 Mile Creek. This time to look for a White-eyed Vireo reported that morning. It had been seen throughout the day until about 3'ish but we knew if we didn't try, we for sure would not see it. Another fellow birder had been looking just an hour before us but the vireo seemed to elude him. After sitting in rush hour traffic we finally arrived at 40 Mile Creek and began our search. Thirty minutes in and still no WEVI, my hope was fading. Just as it seemed that it might have truly dissapeared, my mom called me over saying she had it! I ran over as fast as I could and there it was, foraging quite high in the forest canopy.

White-eyed Vireo

The next day on the 24th, my mom and I drove over to Spencer Smith Park in Burlington before school hoping to see a Brant that had been reported there the previous evening. We got there just after 6am and found the Brant feeding with a couple other Canada Geese on the grassy lawn by the lake. For some weird reason this location attracts at least one Brant almost annually. Usually its in the fall when one shows up but this year it was in spring, a nice surprise :)


In the evening of the 26th, I went to Safari Road Marsh with my mom hoping to track down the last expected marsh bird for the HSA, the Least Bittern. A very secretive species that is rarely seen as they can hide very well in the tall reeds. We got there around 7:30pm and stayed till 8:30pm. We eventually heard the low "coo coo coo" of the Least Bittern. As we were leaving, a trio of Common Nighthawks made a few passes over the marsh and then flew off from the direction they came from. 

Just around the corner from Safari Rd Marsh is a great spot to hear Grasshopper Sparrows. We went there in the evening and were able to hear at least 2. The first Grasshopper Sparrow that I saw this year was in Halton at Zachary Pond. Dominik Halas found that one and we were able to get a very brief look at it before it scurried into the tall grass. 

Since it was only a 15 minute drive to the Halton Regional Forests, that's where he headed next. The goal in mind was to find a bird that we have spent countless hours trying to find the HSA this year; the Eastern Whip-poor-will. Like the Whimbrels, you also have a small window with these hoping to find one roosting in a tree on migration. Last year I was able to find 2 Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Edgelake Park in Hamilton. Trying to repeat our luck, we checked Edgelake several times in late April and throughout May but could not find one. Hearing them is a little easier as they are fairly loud but you must be in the right spot at the right time. 

The "prime time" for Whip-poor-wills had just passed a few days ago but we still thought to give it a shot. We drove around most of the regional forests, stopping along the quiet roads and listening for a few minutes at each stop. We did the same thing about 2 weeks ago listening for these but came up empty. We remembered a field that had a whole bunch of American Woodcocks "peenting" last time so we went back there to listen. Around 10pm, right when we arrived, we were delighted by the sound of a distant Eastern Whip-poor-will, calling "whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will" so many times somewhere in the forest. What a relief it was to finally hear one of these after so many times at other locations. We spent another 10 minutes admiring the beautiful song of it; something very rarely heard in the HSA. 

Click here to listen for yourself (might have to turn the volume up)

To wrap up the last days of May, we attempted to locate some last target birds like Alder & Willow Flycatcher, and both Cuckoo species. At City View Park we located a couple singing Willow Flycatchers as well as a few Clay-colored Sparrow which is always good.

So yeah, overall quite a nice month it's been. Lots of rare birds, some more chaseable than others. Still lots of good birds to be found in June! #breedingbirdatlas

End of May HSA Year List: 238

Rare birds in the HSA throughout May:

Long-billed Dowitcher - Two birds this time on 5th Rd East (Rob Dobos & Dave Don; May 1)

Black Vulture - Over the hawkwatching tower Beamer CA a few times (Simon Carter; May 4)

Harlequin Duck - Female swimming off Coronation Park in Oakville (Markus Legzdins; May 4)

Black-legged Kittiwake - Adult in breeding plumage swimming ~10 feet offshore of Sheldon Creek Park just west of Bronte Harbour (Mark Jennings; May 5)

Yellow-breasted Chat - Photographed at Rattray Marsh, NW part of the park (Unknown; May ~10)

White-eyed Vireo - One photographed at Rattray Marsh in Peel (Unknown; May ~10)

Single bird found at 40 Mile Creek in Grimsby (Don Deegan & Troy Johnson; May 23)

Summer Tanager - First year male (red and yellow plumage) photographed in Burloak Woods (Lauren B; May 11)

Prothonotary Warbler - Adult male on the Chegwin Trail in RBG (TJ Umb; May 13)

Adult male at Bayfront Park in Hamilton (Alvan Buckley & Jessica Common; May 19)

Worm-eating Warbler - Singing adult male on territory for a while at City View Park in Burlington (David Flook; May 14)

Blue Grosbeak - Stunning adult male visiting a feeder in St. George, Brant County (Unknown; May 15)

Kirtland's Warbler - Singing male at Edgelake Park in Stoney Creek (Rob Dobos; May 16)

Snowy Egret - Adult found at Confederation Park in a pond and on the shoreline the next day (Jason Miller; May 20)

Mississippi Kite - Adult over Paletta Park in Burlington (Cheryl Edgecombe; May 20)

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Immature photographed on a trail at Binbrook CA in Hamilton (Steve MacIntyre; May 22)

Black Tern - One flying around Windermere Basin with Common Terns (Glenn Barrett; May 22)

Brant - One foraging on the grassy lawn with Canada Geese at Spencer Smith Park in Burlington (Frances Maas; May 23)

30 observed flying over Dundas Valley at Sulphur Springs Rd (Garth Riley, Barbara Charlton, Nancy McPherson; May 24)

Red Knot - Group of eight flying West past Jack Darling Memorial Park in Peel (George Preiksaitis; May 24)

Neotropic Cormorant - One flying off Burloak Park with several other Double-crested Cormorants (George Preiksaitis; May 24)

Acadian Flycatcher - Somewhere in Waterloo on private property (Will Van Hemessen; May 27)

Connecticut Warbler - One along the Hilltop Trail in Dundas Valley CA (Sterling Sztricsko; May 30)

Audio recording of one in a residential neighborhood in downtown Oakville (Sam Lewis; May 31)