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Thursday, 10 April 2008

Harbingers of Spring


That's what my sister said when she saw these American robin pictures (right and below) Ron took at the end of March. It was one week after the first official day of Spring but the snow banks were still high in our neighbourhood making it hard to believe that it really WAS Spring. Some years a few robins even over-winter in the Bluffs. Migrants started arriving in Toronto a few weeks earlier but were yet to appear in my sister's area of Northern Ontario. These robins were just two of about a dozen frantically gobbling up last-year's fruit both under and in three ornamental crab trees. The robin below seems unimpressed with the snow. But the robins weren't alone in their feeding frenzy nor were they what drew us to shoot at that location.

We subscribe to ONTBIRDS a free email service provided by the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) were birders share their sightings of interesting birds. On this sunny day it was a report of Bohemian Waxwings that enticed us out to the crab trees. Neither of us had ever even seen that bird species - let alone photographed them!




As we were leaving our house we noticed a small flock of Cedar Waxwings (above and right) high up in the trees in ours and the neighbouring front yard. Since Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings are often seen together (just not by us), we watched them carefully with binoculars to be sure that there weren't any Bohemian's amongst them. No luck, so off we went to the reported location.

When we arrived the robins and some starlings were the first birds we spotted. But in a few minutes a flock of Cedar Waxwings flew into the trees. Ron of course was already shooting whatever bird decided to pose. As the birds flew in and out of the trees we soon realized that quietly and without fanfare the Cedar Waxwings had been joined by Bohemians. Our first sighting! (Below)
For the next couple of hours Ron would photograph the birds as they fed and flew in and out of the trees. They seem to come in waves, sometimes being a mixture of bird species or sometimes just Bohemian waxwings alone. Mostly they seemed oblivious to us but occasionally one would cock its head wondering at the sound of Ron's camera as he clicked away. He gave them lots of space as he was shooting with a 500mm lens. But even at that distance they sometimes would fly by so close to him he could feel the wind from their wings. It was a lovely experience.

We were also treated to our first Northern Mockingbird sighting of the year when it swooped in to participate in the crab-apple buffet. Ron didn't get any pictures but here are a few from last year.

Now the snow has disappeared from our yard but I continue to monitor Spring's progress. A few days after we saw the waxwings my sister finally saw her first robin of the season and in ONTBIRDS they were reported further north in the Temiskaming District on April 3rd. I'm anticipating my first warbler sightings of the season. As early as Mar 2nd ONTBIRDS had reported sightings of yellow-rumped warblers in Ottawa, but they were only reported south at Point Pelee and near us in Whitby on April 8th. When I finally get to spot a warbler peeking out from apple blossoms like this yellow warbler that's when I'll know for sure that it's really Spring!

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