On Thursday, the latest rarity here in the Ontario birding scene became widely known. A Black-throated Gray Warbler in an urban park in the east end of Toronto! The Black-throated Gray Warbler is a wood-warbler of western oak and juniper woodlands, yet each year, a handful seem to be reported in eastern North America. I had seen two Black-throated Gray Warblers in Ontario previously, but it had been a few years and I was itching to study and photograph this one.
With my schedule free on Friday I dropped Laura off at work and then motored around the west end of Lake Ontario. My plan was to (hopefully) observe the warbler early in the morning and then fill out the rest of the day by exploring nearby Tommy Thompson Park.
I have a love/hate relationship with Ottawa and its birding scene. Love, because the many excellent local birders seem to turn up more than their share of delectable rare birds. Hate, because the drive there is rather long, and most rarities seem to require an unsuccessful twitch first, followed later by a successful one.
The Ottawa Birding Area has a long and storied history. Many of Ontario's top naturalists and birders cut their teeth alongside the Ottawa River and throughout the surrounding area. As a result, a not-insignificant number of really rare bird species have been reported from eastern Ontario. Just in recent years the general area has been the location for a few provincial first records: Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Little Egret, and recently, a bean-goose.
The rare bird situation here in Ontario continues to boggle the mind. Yesterday evening, a birder named Janet Junker-Lafond posted photos of a bird that she could not identify. The location was alongside a public trail in Brooklin, Ontario and she had photographed the bird on Friday, November 13. I just about fell out of my chair when I first saw the photos, which clearly showed a Variegated Flycatcher. A Variegated Flycatcher!?!
The excitement and adrenaline rush of observing a rare bird species is hard to beat. The purest thrill is when this moment comes to pass organically. Imagine finding an extremely unusual species in your "local patch" when you least expect it, for instance. But these finds are few and far between. This is especially true with those mega-rare species: birds which have occurred only a few times (or never) in your respective country, state or province.
For many birders here in Ontario, one of their most revered bird lists is their Ontario Life List. This is the summation of every bird species that they have ever encountered within Ontario. Like many birders, my Ontario Life List is one of my most cherished lists, sitting a rung below my World Life List and my World Photographed Life List, sharing a rung with my Canada Life List but sitting a few rungs above any other bird list.
June 15 - Balsam Lake, City of Kawartha Lakes
June 16 - Innisfil area, Simcoe County
June 17 - Bala area, Muskoka District
June 18 - From Bala to Elk Lake, Timiskaming District
June 19 - Elk Lake to Fraserdale
June 20 - Boreal Butterflies and Woodpeckers of Fraserdale
June 21 - Smooth Rock Falls to Hearst Birding, Matachewan Mothing
June 22 - Matachewan to Hilliardton Marsh
June 23 - Purplish Coppers in Parry Sound District
I had a late start to the day on June 17, not entirely unexpected given the shenanigans and mothing from the previous evening. Dave and I played one last game of bocce ball at Josh's place before we hit the road. I dropped off Dave at his apartment and hopped on to Highway 400, heading north into cottage country.
It was mid-day when I arrived at my destination - a large area of open rock barrens, interspersed with bogs, fens, and stands of maple, ash and oak. This particular location is an area that I have visited often. Usually a couple of times each year, sometimes more. I unfortunately cannot say where the location is exactly because there are a number of sensitive species that reside there, including quite a few reptiles that are considered "Species at Risk".