Let us say right off the top that ‘newcomer’ is not exactly correct. This summer we saw and photographed five new birds and a new snake … new to us. They may have been around our cottage at White Lake for a long time. It is simply that we have never seen them before 2019. We are not true birders in that we do not travel around-and-about chasing specific birds or competing to achieve a high bird count. None-the-less, we treasure the birds that come to us.
The first new bird for us came in June … the blue-headed vireo. Three Mile Bay is well within the summer range for this vireo but this was our first sighting and we hope not the last. As it so often happens, once we have seen a bird and learned about it, we tend to see it continually ever after. Slightly smaller than its cousin the red-eyed vireo which we first saw in 2016, the two vireos have similar songs, so in 2020 we hope to face the challenge of learning to distinguish one from the other.
Another June 2019 first for us was a sighting of a ring-necked snake. Much, much smaller than the northern water snake and even the garter snake, this ring-necked snake was curled up one morning at the edge of the lane to the cottage. The day was still cool and the snake was not moving yet, so Bruce had an opportunity to take several shots. The ROM field guide tells us the ring-necked snake prefers areas of shallow soil where the bedrock is near the surface, a fitting description of our little piece of cottage paradise.
Perhaps we should not judge, but our favourite ‘first’ of 2019 was the black-billed cuckoo. We knew the presence of this cuckoo was a possibility but we had not dared to dream of seeing one. Based on Facebook postings, we think the black-billed cuckoo may be more common in south Lanark. We heard it over a few days before finally seeing it in July. The song is a distinctive ku-ku-ku. Sibley’s says the black-billed cuckoo is a solitary and uncommon bird of woods with wet openings, another good description of parts of our area. How thrilled we were to snap this photograph. Our fingers are crossed, hoping we see them again in 2020.
Despite the biting insects, Bruce spent more time than in previous years in this beloved kayak, patrolling the margins of the marshes across the bay. His effort paid off in August when he caught photographs of three different marsh birds. The first was a sandpiper. For a long time, we thought it was a skinny spotted sandpiper, but eventually our expert friends at the Ontario Birds Facebook page advised that the sandpiper in the photograph below is a solitary sandpiper, probably on its way north to its summer range. August 10th seems a little late to us, but no doubt, this solitary sandpiper had a good excuse, and we were glad to see it.
Just a few days later, in mid-August, Bruce was able to get a series of photographs of both juvenile and adult Virginia rails. Again, Sibley describes this bird as solitary and uncommon, so we are thrilled to be able to share this with you.
Drifting at the margin of the marsh paid off with a fifth new bird for us this year … the marsh wren. Although described as common, White Lake appears from the tiny map in Sibley’s to be at or near the northern edge of the marsh wren’s summer range. Trying to get a decent photograph, Bruce captured many photographs of reeds with a hint of wren behind. Finally, though, here is one we dare to share of a marsh wren juvenile.
With the thrills of all these new-to-us species, we can hardly wait for 2020 at the cottage.
For additional information on these species, refer to the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; and, The ROM Field Guide To Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario.