Nature Canada
Chris St. Michael-Merganser family

The Progressions of Spring: Reflections from our Naturalist Director

Spring migration progresses, though our society grinds to a halt in the face of COVID-19.

I get my inspiration every morning from birds—they are the first thing I hear at this time of year. I wake at 5 a.m. to a lone robin or cardinal song. Sometimes these songs are woven into my dreams, as are the birds. Many times I have caught myself waking up from a ‘birding’ dream in which I just identified a species that was actually singing outside my window. 

By sunrise, the cacophony of many songbirds is impressive. The cardinals and robins are joined by the beautiful two-note “love you” of the black-capped chickadee. The recently returned song sparrow’s melodic cantor is reminiscent of the opening music of some old TV Western of which the name escapes me.

I started a new routine this morning. I laced up my hiking boots and headed out at 7 a.m. for a one-hour walk through the nearby subdivision and university campus to a trail on public lands along the Ottawa River. The trail has a great lookout over the river and is a good birding location. The rain was light but steady. Not one person but me was out walking. The normally busy road between my place and the river was essentially deserted with two almost empty buses passing by—the only vehicles observed over the three or four minutes during which I walked along the sidewalk parallel to the road. 

The walk was fruitful and produced 20 species. It included several ducks along the river that were the first of the year for me: hooded merganser, American black duck, and northern pintail amongst the expected common goldeneyes, common mergansers, and mallards. There were large formations of Canada geese overhead—groups of 50 to 100 in their distinctive V-formation. The small islands along the river were abuzz with ring-billed gulls—flirting with each other or scuffling over the best square metre of territory for a nest site.

Several starlings were perched high in the urban tree canopy in a subdivision by the river. They busied themselves with their favourite imitations of other bird species. Amongst them was the classic “killdeer” in perfect tone and pitch. This time they didn’t trick me, but I was still in awe of their prowess. 

These members of the myna family were introduced to North America in the late nineteenth century in New York’s Central Park. They are an important part of the urban environment of most cities in the Americas. While they are much maligned by some conservationists because of their sometimes-aggressive behaviour and competitive advantages over some native migratory species, I have learned to enjoy their incredible mimicry at this time of year. There are always one or two moments when they must snicker to themselves, softly whispering “got him” as I hopelessly scan the sky for a killdeer, meadowlark, or pewee, even though these species are not expected for a few weeks.

Like Ted, are you also enjoying the new sights and sounds of spring? We’d love to see any photos you have to share. You can reach us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Nature Canada thanks the frontline medical workers for their efforts during this time. We follow the advice of the World Health Organization and Health Canada. Please visit these two websites for the latest information on how to protect you and your family from COVID-19.

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Yours in nature, the Nature Canada team.

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