January 2019 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
The Joys of Birding in Winter
By Lee Ellis
Don’t hibernate, go out and enjoy winter!
I used to be like many Canadians who dreaded autumn because winter soon followed. In 2002 I started a dog walking and pet sitting business and quickly learned that if I didn’t change my attitude – and my wardrobe, winter would consume me and my new business venture would be short lived. Since becoming a birder and wildlife photographer over ten years ago, winter has turned into a season I look forward to, as I put the new attitude and clothing to good use.
The great thing about observing nature is there is always something new. There is a pattern to bird migration in late winter, pandemonium for a few weeks in spring, a bit of a lull in summer and then a frantic fall as birds start to migrate south.
Winter has many treasures as some birds move south for a few months and stay in southern Ontario. Some favourites are dark-eyed juncos, buffleheads, snowy owls, snow buntings and rough-legged hawks. Other birds such as Northern Cardinals, red-tailed hawks and trumpeter swans are year-round residents.
Deer are also seen more regularly, as are coyotes and foxes. The lack of foliage makes them more visible.
In the Bluffs, we are so lucky to live in an area where wildlife thrives. Bluffers Park is a great place to go for a walk in winter as we have a good variety of waterfowl and mammals, as well as some birds of prey. We also don’t have the crowds that take over the park in summer and can watch our natural world at a more leisurely pace.
Within a relatively short distance of the Bluffs is Tommy Thompson Park, also known as the Leslie Street Spit, where owls are often seen as well as large numbers of waterfowl. Since it’s not protected by buildings or trees, it can be quite cold if the wind is coming off the lake, something that has to be taken into consideration when planning a trip.
East of the Bluffs, Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby is a great place to visit as they encourage feeding chickadees, chipmunks, cardinals and blue jays. There are often deer walking through the area as well as wild turkeys – please do not feed the deer, they need to remain wild.
You don’t need expensive binoculars or a great camera to see or photograph most of these animals. Sometimes it’s best to leave all of that at home and just look and listen. Instead of hibernating and waiting for spring to arrive, layer up and go outside. When you think of it, winter can last 5 months a year, why dread it when you can adjust your way of thinking and embrace it? Layer up and enjoy it!