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What Is That … New Bird?


Each year at the end of cottage season we like to identify and research new species we have observed and photographed around White Lake.  One might think that after seventeen years at our cottage we would have run out of new species, but not so.  This year we saw and photographed so many new species that this article only deals with first time sightings of birds.

We commonly see ring-billed and herring gulls which grow to 45 centimeters and 65 centimeters in length, respectively.  This fall we spotted our first Bonaparte’s gull.  It is smaller than our commonly-seen gulls, growing to 35 centimeters in length.  Like other members of the gull family, they are swimming birds and are omnivorous, feeding on aquatic plants and animals, refuse, and carrion.  This individual no longer has a blackish head (breeding plumage) as it has been replaced with non-breeding plumage – a white head with a black ear spot.

One sunny morning we heard and, after careful searching, saw our first brown thrasher.  This bird is a member of the mimid family, whose members resemble the thrush family but have longer tails and curved beaks.  One field guide describes these solitary foragers as common but usually hidden in dense brush where they feed on insects, amphibians, reptiles, and berries.  Adults grow to 30 centimeters in length.  Certainly not at all common to us, we heard this individual singing and finally spotted it high up in a tree.

ID confirmed on ON FB by Mike Maroney June 22, 2023;

In July, we saw our first least bittern hidden among the reeds in a marsh near our cottage.  These solitary hunters feed on small fish and reptiles.  They are about half the size of their cousins the American Bittern, only growing to 33 centimeters in length.  One of our field guides notes “you will seldom see a least bittern – it is very shy and secretive.”  We can attest to that.

Northern flickers, members of the woodpecker family, are a common sight around our cottage.  However, this summer we saw our first leucistic northern flicker.  This is not a new species for us but we decided to include it here since it is unusual and interesting to watch for.   Leucism is a genetic condition in birds and mammals that strips away pigmentation from portions of an individual’s feathers, hair, or skin, causing patchy colouration.  Leucism is not albinism.  Albinism is a different genetic condition which results in individuals not being able to produce melanin, the natural pigment that gives feathers, hair, skin, and eyes their colour, and resulting in individuals being white or pale all over.   This flicker shows the characteristic patchiness of leucism.

After a careful review of our summer pictures at home this fall, we were surprised to see we had photographed a new member of the woodpecker family, a red-bellied woodpecker.  Our field guides indicate we are near the northern-most edge of their range.  Adults can grow to a length of 24 centimeters.  Red-bellied woodpeckers feed on insects, fruit, seeds, and nuts.  The grey face of the bird in this picture indicates it is a female.  We have crossed our fingers in the hope we will see more of these woodpeckers next summer.

We also saw our first American bittern this year but did not include it here as we included it in a recent article.  We saw other new species this summer as well, including beetles, moths, dragonflies, a firefly, a horsefly, a fisher, a coyote, and moose.  After 17 years at our cottage, we continue to discover, photograph, and learn about new species every summer.  It appears that the more one looks, the more one finds.  As the old car license plates said, Ontario truly is ours and “Yours to Discover”!

We relied on three field guides for preparing this article, including Jeffrey C. Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds, Roger Tory Peterson’s Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, and David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

Just as a little postscript, it is difficult for us to believe that this is the 150th nature article we have prepared for the Millstone News.  We are looking forward to writing more.




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