Category Archives: birding

HNPNC Spring Birding Challenge 2020


Dear members,

Bird sightings from currently restricted areas will not be posted. This includes all conservation areas and any properties associated with the Bruce Trail.
We will adjust the Spring Birding Challenge as required in this rapidly changing crisis. For now, sightings from your own properties are most welcome.

Don Scallen
Acting President
Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club

Spring is almost sprung, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, overwintering birds are still around, some spring migrants are already here, with many more to come on their northerly migration.
So, whether you are self-isolating, or being good citizens and practicing social distancing, the birds are still out there, and there’s no need to distance yourself from them – they will almost always be the ones to decide when you come too close!
And since we are now not getting together in social groups as we have in the past, here’s an opportunity to still be involved with the Club, and hopefully have fun at the same time.
We are proposing to set a goal of collectively identifying 200 species of birds in the Halton and Peel Regions between now and Saturday 21 June, the end of Spring.
It’s easy to do, and there are 2 ways to do it. First, just create a checklist of what species you can identify, including the numbers of each species, along with your location and any pertinent comments like nest building, courtship, feeding young, etc and simply email that to me.
Secondly, and even better, is using eBird, which is a wonderful tool I have talked about before. I know some of you are already eBird users, but if you are not, it’s easy (and free) to create and set up an account at Once you’ve done that, you can enter your sightings on their website. Or better still, download the mobile app to your phone from either Google Play or the App Store. With the mobile app, you can enter your sightings on the fly, and you can even choose to track the location where you are birding. I have been using the website for a few years now, but recently I have been using the
mobile app, and if I can use it, anybody can!
In addition, eBird keeps a log of all your checklists, species seen, locations and much more. You can also search for sightings in any region you choose, you can search for a particular species of interest, the list goes on…..
And, very importantly, all the data entered contributes to science and conservation – and what naturalist club member doesn’t want to do that? Then, just share your checklist with me!
A total list of species seen will be posted on the Club website every few days, and the idea is to accumulate as many species as possible.
So, let’s look out there and see if we can get 200 species. Good luck and happy birding! For the time being, we will stay in and around our homes. As the conditions improve and we are able to venture farther away from our residence, our hot birding spots will become our objective.
TARGET: 200 species by the end of spring. If you have a photograph of a bird you can’t identify, send it along.
E-Mail your list and any questions to Ian Jarvie (


Snowy Owls and Bad Fortune

“They’re not used to looking for a car or a truck coming”, says terrestrial ecologist.
“If you happen to see a snowy owl, that’s just good fortune”, says Bruce Mackenzie of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club.

What appears to be an earlier than usual arrival from their Arctic breeding ground, is not good fortune for the owl. reports
“Snowy owls arrive in Hamilton area, but bad fortune is waiting”

The National Audubon Society wonders if this winter will bring an irruption of the Arctic raptors to the continental U.S.
“Hold Onto Your Bins: Another Blizzard of Snowy Owls Could Be Coming” reports via Lesley McDonell, a terrestrial ecologist at the Hamilton Conservation Authority in Hamilton, Ont.,
“Vehicles hit three snowy owls in southern Ontario in past week”

If your aim is to try and understand the behaviour of this species, you have something in common with many scientists.
This document from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology might help.
“Snowy Owl Distribution, Migration and Habitat”
or follow the citizen scientist on E-Bird to track the owl.
“Snowy Owl Tracking and Checklists”

snowy owl l01 (1)
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HNPNC outing to Laurie Reed’s Heronry, May 28, 2017

We had a wonderful outing to the heronry between Speyside and Campbellville. On the way, I saw a Black-billed Cuckoo flying across the road. Sadly, we could not stop quickly enough for everyone to get a good look at this bird.
We went on to Laurie and Judith Reed’s property and made ourselves at home on their barn balcony, overlooking the hundred-acre swamp. There were 17 active Great Blue Heron nests, most with fuzzy young and one adult tending the 2-4 babies. We saw a swan on an old beaver nest. Closer views with a scope revealed a pair of Trumpeter Swans on this nest, one with number J57 on its yellow wing band. A Common Gallinule was seen preening, and a second bird seen soon after. Later, another pair of these quite rare “common” birds was seen. We also saw two Pied-billed Grebes and heard their strange call. Tanya was excited to see a Black-billed Cuckoo, but only momentarily before it hid in a shrubby tree. It called on and off the whole time we were there. Several Eastern Phoebes were flying about and collecting insects, and must have had a nest nearby. Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Oriole, and a lone Willow Flycatcher, singing its “fitz-bew” call were also observed, along with Yellow Warblers and Gray Catbirds. I spotted a Snapping Turtle having a face-off with a much smaller Painted Turtle. A count of all the turtles revealed 29 painted and two snappers sunning on logs. Turkey Vultures soared over, an Eastern Kingbird posed on a stick and Red-winged Blackbirds feuded for prime territories. A few Tree Swallows seemed to be nesting in the swamp with the herons. Although only five club members came out of this event, it was a great way to spend a nice sunny afternoon. Many thanks to Laurie and Judith for their hospitality, and for maintaining this great habitat.

Author: JOHN BEAUDETTEAperture: 11Camera: PENTAX K-5Iso: 200Copyright: BEARMUGS WEB DESIGNOrientation: 1
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Swift Watch

Bird Studies Canada is conducting SwiftWatch, a long-term monitoring program, with the goal of raising awareness about chimney swifts, a species that has declined by 95% since 1968. You can help by volunteering with the Halton SwiftWatch Program, where you will be assigned to a known roost site, and will spend one to four evenings (about 8 to 9pm) in the spring monitoring it for bird activity; May 24, May 29, June 1, June 5.
If you are interested in volunteering or learning more, please contact Emily at
More information about the SwiftWatch Program is also available here. Ontario_Swiftwatch_Protocol.pdf

Winter Birding Report

January 26, 2017
Sedgewick Park, Oakville
Suncor Woods, Oakville
Woodlawn Cemetery, Burlington
LaSalle Marina, Burlington

Don Scallen, Archie Tannock, Fiona Reid, Tanya Pico, Yves Scholten, Alexis Buset, Gary Hall and Ian Jarvie

The weather for this year’s outing, while it was not cold for this time of year, was drizzly and damp, with mist and fog, quite thick in places. Despite that, we had a very productive day, with some particularly notable sightings.

The first stop was at Sedgwick Park where we saw the resident Yellow-rumped Warblers and Golden Crowned Kinglets. The Orange-crowned Warbler failed to make an appearance, although we did see a Tufted Titmouse, which was an unexpected find, and some members saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. In addition, we heard a Carolina Wren calling its usual “peter-peter-peter”, and a number of other species were also seen. The table below lists all the species seen throughout the day.

We then proceeded to an area where owls had been previously reported and were not disappointed. At Suncor Woods, we had spectacular views of a pair of Great Horned Owls, which obligingly posed for a photo op for several minutes before flying off. One was noticeably smaller than the other, and we assumed that they were the male and female of a mated pair.
As if one owl species was not enough for one day’s outing, two Long-eared Owls were spotted nearby, tracked down by finding the regurgitated pellets at the bottom of the trees they were roosting in. They were well camouflaged, high in two pine trees, but not well enough to escape our eagle-eyed (or should I say owl-eyed) Naturalist Club spotters!
Other notable species were a Red-tailed Hawk and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Several Robins were also seen, and the trend in recent years seems to be that more and more of these birds are staying around our area, rather than migrating south.

After a quick lunch stop at the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s, we headed off to Woodlawn Cemetery where a Tufted Titmouse and a Screech Owl had been reported some days earlier. Unfortunately they kept themselves well hidden, and Juncos and Chickadees there were the only birds to be seen.

As we drove to our next stop, LaSalle Marina, the fog thickened and by the time we reached the lake, the visibility was extremely poor. The waterbirds close to the shore were easily visible, with the usual contingent of Trumpeter Swans living up to their name, and hundreds of Mallards and several Black Ducks along the water’s edge. A Pied-billed Grebe was seen among many Scaups, and a Snow Goose was only just visible through the fog further out, swimming with a group of Canada Geese. Scoters, Buffleheads, Goldeneye and two Coots were also spotted. There were many more unidentifiable waterfowl barely visible through the fog, and likely even more beyond that. A bold beaver also swam past us, hugging the shoreline, and later we noted quite extensive damage to several trees, with at least one having been brought down and used as the beaver equivalent of Tim Horton’s. Along the boardwalk trail many woodland songbirds were to be seen, including a Carolina Wren, but the highlight was an Orange-crowned Warbler, pointed out to us by another birder present.

From there, we had intended to go to the Burlington Lift Bridge to view the waterfowl and the resident Peregrine Falcons, but the poor visibility, the lateness of the day and the cold damp weather persuaded us that it was time to call it a day.

A total of 39 species were seen in all, so, despite the cold and damp weather, I think everybody would agree that we had a great day of winter birding!
Note: Here are some images of the owls and other wildlife.

IAN 7477
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Birding in the 21st Century – EBird

ebird_logoA year or so ago I moved into the modern age and started to use an online resource called eBird to log my bird sightings. eBird is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is essentially a database where individuals worldwide record their sightings of birds. To date, thousands of birders worldwide have logged millions of sightings since its inception in 2002.
Individually, it provides an easy way to record your sightings, manage your checklists, and investigate what birds are being seen in any geographical area of interest. Cumulatively, this provides an invaluable resource for scientific study and conservation efforts.
To use eBird, simply create an account with a username and password, and off you go. And it’s free!BEA11046
Submitting your observations is easy, just go to Submit Observations (not surprisingly!) and follow the prompts, starting with location, followed by date, start time, outing duration, and then, on the next page, list the species you have seen. The birds are listed in taxonomic order, and there is a search function which makes finding your bird easy. Enter the number of that particular species you have seen, and you can even drag and drop your photographs too.
Since the information you submit is entered into a scientific database, data quality is extremely important, and the people at eBird are nothing if not rigorous. For example, eBird detects when you record a “rare bird”. It automatically flags the species as being rare based on location, time of year, or numbers seen. It then asks for further substantiation – photographs are great for this. The photograph doesn’t have to be Nat Geo front page quality either, even poor ones showing details of the bird are enough. The rare bird submission is then vetted by local expert birder volunteers, and if considered valid, it is then entered into the main database. But even if the reviewer does not consider it substantiated, it still shows on your personal checklists.
After you have entered your sightings, you can go to the My eBird tab and view your life list and manage your checklists, which are sortable by species, date seen, location and a number of other parameters. You can even download your checklists or share them with others via email.BEA11945
Because lots of other birders are doing the same as you, there is a huge database of information which is extremely useful to us birders. To investigate what has been seen and where, navigate to the Explore Data tab and click on one of several links and explore sightings by region, hotspots, species or bar charts. There are even interactive maps!
An additional feature is the ability to sign up for rare bird alerts, and you will receive emails telling you where and when rare species have been seen in the particular region you are interested in.
If you want an easy way to log and manage your sightings, and a great way to investigate what birds are around you, eBird is a wonderful tool. But perhaps more importantly, by contributing your birding efforts you can individually play a small but important role in “citizen science”. Collectively, birders worldwide are building a hugely important scientific database being used by, for example, educators, biologists, and conservationists.
So, next time you grab your binoculars and bird book and head out, why not think about using eBird when you get home?

ebirdlogo-en-canadaIan Jarvie
Halton North Peel
Naturalist Club


Hello SwiftWatch Volunteers

The chimney swifts have arrived back in Halton, and with that marks the start of the 2016 SwiftWatch season. This year, the National Roost Monitoring Blitz is on May 21, May 25, May 29, June 2 and 6. If you’re available on one or or more of these days, your observations are important to the protection of this species at risk. Additionally, if you see swifts or identify chimneys being used please let me know for future monitoring efforts.

If you are interested in volunteering and have a roost that you would like to monitor, please email me with your location. If you’d like to be assigned a roost, let me know where you’re able to monitor (Acton, Georgetown, Milton, Campbellville, Oakville, Burlington) and I’ll find one convenient for you.

swifts_chimneyThe 2016 protocols and data collection forms are available here.

Presence absence worksheet

SwiftWatch Data Form

Ontario SwiftWatch Protocal

Generally, try to be outside at least 30 minutes before sunset (up to an hour if it’s a cool or rainy night) to start recording swifts entering the chimney. Once it’s dark out and visibility is reduced, chances are all of the swifts are in for the night.

We will be hosting two Swift Night Out events this summer. Invite friends, families and community members, and bring your lawn chair, camera and binoculars:

Acton, May 15: Meet at User’s Self Storage, 59 Willow St N at 8PM

Oakville, August 8: Meet at the old 291 Reynolds Street at the old Oakville Trafalgar High School, located in the parking lot to the southeast of the hospital at 8PM

We hope to see you out this summer! 2016 SwiftWatch Flyer

Emily Dobson
Halton SwiftWatch Coordinator

A Letter to Forks of the Credit Provincial Park Seeking Preservation of Meadows 2016

Attention: Jill Van Niekerk, Superintendent of Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

Forks of the Credit Provincial Park contains many hectares of old field habitat, resulting from the abandonment of agricultural land. These expansive meadows provide habitat to a diversity of flora and fauna including a number of species at risk.

Meadowlarks (threatened) nest here. Bobolinks (threatened) use the extensive old field habitat for foraging before fall migration. Bank Swallows (threatened), nest in adjacent quarry operations and forage over the meadows. Monarch butterflies (special concern) lay eggs on the abundant milkweed and nectar on the profusion of asters, goldenrods and other old field wildflowers.

Beyond these species at risk are a number of plants and birds at FCPP that are locally uncommon. Among the plants are Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta), Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Amethyst Aster (Symphyotrichum x amethystinus). Locally uncommon birds, supported by the old field habitat, include clay-colored sparrow and orchard oriole.

According to Biodiversity in Ontario’s Greenbelt, a document released by The David Suzuki Foundation and Ontario Nature in November 2011, “only 441 hectares of the Greenbelt is covered by grasslands – far less than one per cent of the entire plan area.” The Nature Conservancy of Canada states that “Grassland bird species have shown steeper, more geographically widespread and more consistent decline than any other category of North American species.”

According to the Bobolink and Meadowlark Recovery Strategy prepared by the Government of Ontario in 2013 “Over the most recent ten year period, it is estimated that the Bobolink population has declined by an annual average rate of 4% which corresponds to a cumulative loss of 33%. Over the same period Eastern Meadowlark populations have declined at an average annual rate of 2.9% (cumulative loss of 25%).”

Although various factors are responsible for these declines, the loss of old field and grassland habitat in Ontario is widely acknowledged to be one of the major drivers.

FCPP is gradually reverting to woodland. Over three decades of observation by HNPN club members, this transition has been very evident. Without human intervention, the ecologically valuable old field habitat and the diverse flora and fauna that it supports, will eventually be lost.

Our club recognizes that species diversity depends in large part on habitat diversity. We are supportive of the maintenance of a mosaic of habitats at FCPP. Extensive forest in the valley of the Credit River should clearly be protected. The current meadowlands merit protection as well, which will necessarily entail some measure of active landscape management. Areas of shrubby growth – also very important habitat – should be maintained as well.

The Forks of the Credit Provincial Park Management Plan published in 1990 by the then Ministry of Natural Resources (Now Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) appears aligned with the concerns of the Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club. Article 3.0 reads: The goal of Forks of the Credit Provincial Park is to protect the park’s outstanding natural, cultural and recreational environments and to provide a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. The existing old field habitat has both natural and cultural value.

A specific protection objective of the FCPP management plan (Article 4.1) is to protect the park’s six species of vascular plants which are regionally rare. Only one of these plants – Aster pilosus – is listed in the management plan, but the other five may include other plants that depend on open meadow habitat to grow.

The Forks of the Credit Management Plan also includes a commitment for managing a portion of the upland meadow complex as open landscape. An entry under Vegetation Management (Article 7.2) reads: The vegetation of the field in the Natural Environment Zone in the eastern plateau will be managed (i.e., periodic mowing and/or burning) to maintain the open character of this rolling landscape. Care must be taken to protect a representative portion of the old field succession, for interpretive purposes as well as to maintain the regionally rare plant, Aster pilosus.

As cited earlier there are several other significant species of plants, birds and insects, also dependent on the old field habitat of FCPP, that merit protection. The Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club calls on Ontario Parks to act on the provisions of article 7.2. to maintain this old field habitat.

With Forks of the Credit Provincial Park there is an opportunity to help conserve a significant expanse of old field habitat that is critical to the future of at-risk species. There is an opportunity as well to educate users through interpretive initiatives (signs, display boards, publications) about the critical importance of grasslands and old field habitat for biodiversity.

With respect,

Don Scallen,

President, Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club

RELATED: Grand River Conservation Authority “Grassland for bobolinks in the central Grand”

Submission to the Ministry of the Environment Regarding Reflective Surfaces and Bird Mortality

The Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club is concerned with the Ministry of the Environment’s proposed amendment to exempt reflective surfaces of buildings from having to obtain an Environmental Compliance Approval.
Surely the Ministry of the Environment is well aware of the tremendous number of birds that die or suffer injury after colliding with windows. The toll is well documented. The Fatal Light Awareness Project estimates that 9 million birds die in Toronto alone after flying into buildings. Extrapolate that number across the province and the message is abundantly clear: window collisions are having a significant impact on bird populations. That some of the bird species are species at risk (bobolinks, chimney swifts, barn swallows for example) adds to the urgency of dealing with the problem.dead_bird
The Annual Report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released on November 3, 2015 laments the proposed exemption stating ” … it appears that the ministry’s [Ministry of the Environment] preferred approach is to ignore its regulatory responsibility and leave it up to property owners and managers to voluntarily follow guidelines and suggested strategies. ”
Michael Mesure of Fatal Light Awareness Project sites the obvious flaw in this approach. He notes that in FLAP’s 22 years of work surrounding bird-building collisions he’s found that “corporate owners aren’t interested in voluntary action.”
This isn’t at all surprising. It’s simply not in the financial interest of corporations to voluntarily comply. If the government is truly interested in mitigating bird deaths associated with window collisions and in supporting avian diversity in Ontario it has to ensure that property owners be required to take appropriate steps to significantly reduce bird collisions.
If this isn’t done, bird mortality will only increase as our towns and cities continue to grow. Bird-building safety must be addressed by the government if we truly want a bio-diverse future.

Please do not allow this exemption to proceed.
Don Scallen
President Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club
On behalf of the Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club

SwiftWatch Program

bird_studies_canadaBird Studies Canada is conducting SwiftWatch, a long-term monitoring program, with the goal of raising awareness and helping species recovery.
You can help by:

  • Reporting swift sightings so we know where birds are flying during the   day/evening
  • Locating roost sites by observing swifts entering chimneys at dusk (8-9:15PM)
  • Volunteering with the Halton SwiftWatch Program where you will be assigned to a known roost site, and will spend one to four evenings in the spring monitoring it for bird activity; May 20, 24, 28, June 1 from 8-9:15PM
  • Contact Emily Dobson at if you have seen a swift, found a roost site or are interested in volunteering!chimney_close_up
    Swift Night Out Events

Please join families, community members, biologists, and naturalists in enjoying the spectacular evening display of chimney swifts.
Bring your lawn chair, camera, and binoculars.

  1. Acton: Monday, May 18, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  2. Milton: Saturday, May 23 from 8-9:15PM
  3. Oakville: Thursday, June 4 from 8-9:15PM
  4. Oakville: Monday, August 10 from 8-9:15PM

All are welcome!
Please contact Emily Dobson at for more
information and to RSVP.