A warm sunny day in early October provided the incentive that several friends and I needed to seek out one of Ontario's rarest reptile species. I had only laid eyes on Wood Turtles twice before - once in Michigan, and once in Ontario. It took a while but once we found the first, we could not stop finding them! All credit goes to my friend Dav who spotted every single turtle.
Warm temperatures on October 10 spurred me to visit St. William's in Norfolk County for some late season mothing. Species diversity was quite low, but there were a few surprises as usual. While I waited for dusk to fall I birded some nearby areas, such as the Turkey Point beach where several Long-billed Dowitchers were feeding.
This uncommon late-season geometer moth, Apodrepanulatrix liberaria, is a specialist of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus sp.).
In August I put into action I long-awaited plan of mine. I started my own guiding company here in Ontario called ONshore Birding. Starting a small business during the middle of a global pandemic is not necessarily a clever idea, but I had the time in the autumn to get it off the ground. I have enjoyed some very successful tours, and I thank each and every one of you who have joined me in the field! I am really looking forward to when the current lockdown in Ontario lifts so that I can continue to run tours.
A tour in Hamilton on October 18 was hugely productive with close to 70 bird species seen. Highlights included the long-staying Ross's Geese at Bayfront Park, a late Blue-headed Vireo, all three scoters and a Barrow's Goldeneye in Stoney Creek, and a surprise flyby of the long-staying Brown Booby.
I also ran a Hawk Cliff tour on one of the best migration days of the autumn. Nearly every Ontario raptor species made an appearance, including a handful of Golden Eagles. It was the finches that really stole the show and we tallied over 500 migrant Evening Grosbeaks.
In late October I ventured down to the Point Pelee area for an excellent weekend of naturalizing, filled with good moths, great birds, and even better company.
Laura and I continued to visit Port Weller frequently throughout the late autumn. Some days were better than others, but even small changes in the bird populations are interesting at a location that I visit so regularly.
On November 6 and 8 I visited Short Hills for my final two mothing sessions of the season. The temperature was unseasonably warm and I was hoping for a few southern immigrants, but it was not to be. Very few individuals appeared (around ten species of moths in total) and I finally threw in the towel following these visits. I am already looking forward to 2021 mothing nights!
The month of November is often stellar for producing rare birds in Ontario, and 2020 was one for the ages. Perhaps it was due to the weather conditions, or maybe because more eyes were out looking for birds, but rarity after rarity was reported. During a span of four days I added three lifers (species I had never seen before anywhere). These included Ontario’s first ever bean goose (likely Tundra Bean-Goose), second Variegated Flycatcher, and ninth Black-headed Grosbeak. I also caught up with a few others like a Cattle Egret in Waterloo Region, Black-throated Gray Warbler in Toronto, and Mew Gull in Brantford.
The autumn of 2020 was an excellent finch year. Each species of “northern” finch passed through southern Ontario in varying numbers, though few stuck around into December (at least where I live in Niagara). Evening Grosbeaks and redpolls were especially numerous, but Pine Grosbeaks were frequently reported as well and I bumped into my first Niagara Pine Grosbeak near Queenston.
I ran several gull tours along the Niagara River in December to great success. While mega rarities remained unaccounted for, lots of the typical Niagara gulls could be studied, and it was a good autumn in particular for Little Gulls. Gulling will hopefully remain solid throughout the first few months of 2021 as well.
Most of my December exploring took place in Niagara, though I ventured to the Toronto lakeshore one day where I enjoyed a nice diversity of species. Highlights included a very cooperative Northern Shrike and a long-staying Swainson’s Thrush.
Laura and I dropped in to Valley Inn in Burlington one day and found this cooperative Gray Catbird feeding on some berries. Gray Catbirds vacate the province in the autumn but there are always a few stragglers in December. Some even attempt to overwinter.
I will finish this summary by posting a few other birds not featured above.
While 2020 went off the rails and Laura and I had to significantly adjust our plans, I am thankful that we could still make the most of it. Bring on 2021!