The latest bird celebrity here in Niagara Region is a Townsend's Solitaire just west of St. Catharines in the town of Pelham. Local birder Nancy Smith discovered the thrush on Saturday January 16 at the bridge for Fifteen Mile Creek along Centre Street. Luckily for the birding community, the thrush has been reliably found in this same area for three out of the past four days.
The current pandemic-induced lockdown in Ontario has meant that traveling long distances to go birding is out of the question for me. Fortunately, the Townsend's Solitaire was found at a location just a few minutes away from where I reside in St. Catharines. As birding is a relatively low-risk activity from a global pandemic perspective, I had no issues with making the short drive to the area to get some fresh air.
Unfortunately, my first visit was unsuccessful but I still enjoyed a couple of hours outside during a beautifully calm morning. While walking along Centre St to the south, I stumbled across an attractive Red-headed Woodpecker. It was caching something inconspicuously in a mature oak, but soon the Blue Jays came by to scream at it. The woodpecker held its own and refused to leave the area.
Red-headed Woodpeckers used to be fairly common in southern Ontario but they have undergone a rapid population decline over the last four decades. They still can be found breeding in small numbers, and occasionally some may overwinter as well. This was only the second Red-headed Woodpecker that I had encountered during the winter locally.
Yesterday morning I returned to Centre Street. Kayo Roy had called me with great news - the solitaire was back! I raced over to the site and enjoyed my fill of this rare visitor from the west.
The Townsend's Solitaire is a long-tailed, slim, gray thrush that breeds in the Rocky Mountains. During the colder months of the year, this species leaves its alpine climes and migrates to lower elevations, especially to areas along the eastern edge of the Rockies. It is not too surprising that this species is occasionally reported in eastern North America, having overshot its typical wintering grounds.
Ontario typically sees three to six records of this species annually, though this bird represents just the second record ever for Niagara Region. The first was discovered on November 6, 1983 in Fonthill.
The solitaire was rarely out of view during my 90 minute stay. It spent most of its time feeding voraciously from the abundant rose hips, juniper and buckthorn berries that lined Fifteen Mile Creek. Fortunately, a large supply of these morsels remain, so there is a chance that the solitaire may continue to frequent this area in upcoming days.
A short rest and preening session was next on the agenda for the solitaire.
Many of the vagrant songbirds that appear in the Great Lakes Region during the late autumn are likely doomed to spend their final days here as winter slowly takes hold. Most southern species just aren't equipped to survive a Canadian winter. The Townsend's Solitaire, however, is a hearty bird that is not fazed by snow and cold weather. It will likely make its way west once spring arrives.