Today’s post comes from Sarah Wiebe, Senior Naturalist at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park.
Before this year, I would never have considered myself a “Bird Nerd.”
My journey started at my home in southern Ontario, but it wasn’t until I arrived at my summer destination (Kettle Lakes!) that I really hit my nerd stride.
Becoming a “bird nerd”
Despite having grown up visiting Ontario parks and working as a naturalist for a few years, I only recently took up birding when I set myself the challenge of seeing as many birds as possible in a year.
It all started at home, in southern Ontario. There are many good places for bird watching where various species can be observed throughout the winter.
Magnolia Warblers are one of my favorite birds in the park because of their beautiful colors and patterns.
I was able to add many birds to my list and was even able to explore some unknown places near my house. I was really excited when I saw my first snowy owl, a temporary visitor to the south during the winter months!
Finally, it was time to decide what I was going to do over the summer.
When I heard there was a vacancy at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, I jumped at the opportunity. He was very excited to explore a region of Ontario that he had never been to.
And it turns out I was following the birds north too!
Migrating North: Birding in the North
Kettle Lakes is located in the boreal forest ecoregion. The boreal forest is a vast area across Canada and is known for its pine, black spruce, vast wetlands, and of course, birds!
In Ontario, boreal forests cover 862,000 km² of land (i.e. approximately 1.5 times larger than France) and 15% of Canada’s boreal forest ecosystems.
During the spring, billions of birds migrate from their winter homes in the south, such as Central America, to their summer breeding grounds in the boreal forest.
So, like the birds, I migrated from my winter home in the south to my summer home in Kettle Lakes.
A buggy feast
Before coming to Kettle Lakes, I was warned about the mistakes northern Ontario could have in the spring.
But I soon learned that this is what makes it so good for birds!
This yellow warbler caught something in the trees for her chicks. Warblers are insect specialists, especially juicy caterpillars.
The boreal forest has abundant food such as black flies, moths and caterpillars.
Many species of birds flock from all over America to raise their young. Around every corner there is a bird looking for a snack or a nest of babies begging for food!
Imagine walking down the snack aisle at the supermarket and being able to buy all your favorite treats – that’s what it’s like for birds in the northern world!
That’s why we say that the boreal forest is the nursery of North American songbirds.
Plus, all of these birds help protect the trees from being overwhelmed by insects and keep our forests healthy!
A reward for bird watching
While I was in the park, I saw warblers, woodpeckers, and waterfowl.
I’ve been able to see many new species that are just passing through, such as the Canada Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!
Along one of my favorite trails in the park, the Tamarack Trail, I can see magnolia warblers, black warblers, downy woodpeckers, and even scaups, a type of duck!
The Tamarack Trail
At the end of summer, I will follow some of the five billion birds, adults and young, back south to my winter home.
Although it will be sad to leave my summer home, I know that, like the birds, I will soon return to northern Ontario.
Interested in discovering the amazing world of bird watching?
Here’s how to get started:
Download bird watching apps
eBird is great for seeing what birds are in your area and where to go to watch them, and helps you keep track of the birds you see.
White-throated sparrows were some of the first birds I saw in Kettle Lakes and can be heard singing, “Oh-Sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada” in the treetops.
Merlin is a free online bird guide that can help you identify birds by how they look and sound.
Do you have a photo of a bird and don’t know what it is? Post it on iNaturalist!
Find a pair of binoculars
You’ll be surprised at the difference they make.
You don’t need an expensive camera or binoculars to watch birds. There are many affordable binoculars available and some parks have equipment rental programs where you can borrow a pair.
Post your questions or photos on social media with the hashtag #AskAnOPNaturalist.
We’d love to hear about your birdwatching adventures and would be happy to help you discover your mystery bird!
Now is the best time to start bird watching. We are at the beginning of a multi-year project called the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2021-2025).
The OBBA is a community science project, which means that ordinary people can contribute to scientific research. This project aims to map where the birds are in Ontario and their numbers from as far south as Middle Island in Lake Erie to Hudson Bay in the north!
Learn more about the project.