Ontario: Winter 2020–2021

Winter 2020–2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Adam Capparelli

Josh Janvrin

Recommended citation:

Capparelli, A., and J. Janvrin. 2021. Winter 2020–2021: Ontario. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-aDs> North American Birds.

We would like to extend our gratitude to Blake A. Mann, Roger Frost, and Maureen Riggs for regional reporting, Michael V. A. Burrell and Andrew Keaveney for assistance in data logistics, and Riley Walsh, Laurel Wood, Alexander Skevington, and William Van Atte for contributing the photo highlights for this report.

Most of Southern Ontario experienced the driest and mildest winter in recent memory, with significant snow cover not occurring until late January and February. Along the Lake Ontario shore even this snow cover did not last long, and there were very few nights with extreme cold. Central and northern Ontario experienced more typical winter weather, especially with the arrival of the polar vortex in late January which brought substantial snow and intense cold.  February was easily the coldest and snowiest month for the province as a whole.

With mild conditions for the southern parts of the province, half-hardy species were present in good numbers. Such species as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush and Gray Catbird lingered throughout the winter. The excellent irruption of winter finches continued with all species well represented. Notable rarities included Eurasian Green-winged Teal (Common Teal), Glaucous-winged Gull, Rock Wren, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Scott’s Oriole, and Black-headed Grosbeak.

Waterfowl through Gulls

A “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal (Common Teal) was present from 26 Dec22 Jan (Ina Rodina) and again on 28 Feb (Leslie Kinrys) at a reservoir in Toronto, Toronto Co. A female King Eider was notable 27 Feb21 Mar at Point Pelee, Essex Co (Jeremy M. Bensette, Kory J. Renaud, m. ob.), as any seen away from Lake Ontario are unusual. There were several reports of Barrow’s Goldeneye this winter away from the traditional locations. The continuing bird in Owen Sound, Grey Co was present throughout the winter from November into March (m. ob.) while the bird first reported in November from Whitby, Durham Co was last reported 28 Jan (m. ob.). New observations were: 19 Dec in Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Co (David I. Pryor), 1922 Dec in Stoney Creek, Hamilton Co (Isabel J. Apkarian, Richard Poort), 28 Feb in Barcovan Beach, Hastings Co (Andrea Kingsley, Adam Holder), and 28 FebMar+ in Peterborough, Peterborough Co (David J. Milsom). A covey of four Willow Ptarmigan present from 26 Feb into March on the Detour Lake road, Cochrane Co (Jeff H. Skevington, Vincent Fyson) was part of a southward movement of this species this winter. Unfortunately, word got out to a hunter and many individuals were bagged, as the species is considered game in the province (though clearly this was not intended for vagrant birds). An Eared Grebe was reported on 6 Dec from Amherst Island, Lennox and Addington Co (Bruce M. Di Labio). The White-winged Dove first reported at a feeder in Coldwater, Simcoe Co (Anthony Glenesk) was last seen on 8 Feb. A Virginia Rail present 1317 Feb was an excellent winter bird for Barrie, Simcoe Co (Carolyn Mollison).

Reports of Black-legged Kittiwake came from Niagara Falls, Niagara Co 11 Dec (Marcie L. Jacklin) and Ipperwash Beach, Lambton Co 22 Dec (James Holdsworth). A Laughing Gull was photographed on 5 Dec in Toronto, Toronto Co (Amanda C. Guercio). The Mew Gull found in November in Brantford, Brant Co was reported again on 2 Dec (William G. Lamond). It was an excellent winter for Slaty-backed Gull in the region with multiple reports concerning at least three birds. The continuing Lake Ontario bird from the fall was last reported 6 Dec in Mississauga, Peel Co (m. ob.) and 28 Dec in Toronto, Toronto Co (m. ob.). A second bird was reported from Bracebridge, Muskoka Co Nov4 Dec (fide. Michael V. A. Burrell). What was likely the Muskoka bird was then seen on 5 Dec in Barrie, Simcoe Co (Ben Freeman),  from 2328 Dec in Orillia, Simcoe Co (Brandon R. Holden), and from 1819 Jan back in Barrie, Simcoe Co (Anthony Glenesk). The third bird was first reported 19 Dec in Thorold, Niagara Co (Ryan Griffiths) and then on 7 Jan at Niagara Falls, Niagara Co (Marcie L. Jacklin, Robert Manson). A Slaty-backed Gull photographed in Peterborough, Peterborough Co (Iain Rayner) may have been the Muskoka/Simcoe bird and the individual reported on 1 Feb in Toronto, Toronto Co (Allison Zhang) may have been the Toronto/Peel bird again. Ontario’s first well-documented (photographed) record of Glaucous-winged Gull was unfortunately a one-day wonder, present 18 Dec in Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Co (Kirk Zufelt).

Loons through Thrushes

The Pacific Loon first reported in the fall from Hamilton, Hamilton Co and Burlington, Halton Co was last reported 30 Jan (m. ob.). An American White Pelican present on and off from 19 Dec25 Jan at Turkey Point and Long Point, Norfolk Co (Timothy B. Lucas) was an unusual winter bird. Three different Least Bittern were reported from the marshes at Long Point, Norfolk Co on 3 Dec, 8 Dec, and 1617 Dec (Adam Timpf). Away from their usual location in Niagara Falls, a Black Vulture wintered in Prince Edward Co, from 22 Dec2 Jan in Bloomfield (Tyler L. Hoar), 8 Jan at Sandbanks Provincial Park (Paul Jones), and from 20 Jan into March at Picton (Cheryl Anderson). The continuing White-eyed Vireo from the fall in Toronto, Toronto Co was last seen 14 Dec (m. ob.). The long-staying Black-billed Magpie in Echo Lake, Algoma Co was present throughout the winter period (Nicole Levesque-Pelletier). A Fish Crow was a good bird for Waterloo Co seen on 2 Jan near Wallenstein (J. Brett Fried).

A Rock Wren was present from 23 Jan–13 Mar in Glen Robertson, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Co (Carmelle Hagen, William Hagen).  Carolina Wrens are more common now in Ontario than at any time in the past 25 years with several counties reporting record numbers.  In general, frugivores were common this winter due to a large crop of wild grape. Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins were reported throughout the season. A Northern Mockingbird was a good winter bird for Algoma Co, present from 20 Dec5 Jan in Birch Point (David Euler). Reports of Townsend’s Solitaire came from Huntsville, Muskoka Co 2 Dec (Dale Wenger), 9 Jan (Wendy Hill), and 11 Feb–17 Mar (Wendy Hill); Pelham, Niagara Co from 1622 Jan (Nancy Smith); and Mallorytown, Leeds and Grenville Co from 25 Feb–12 Mar (Gerard Phillips, Stew Hamill). There were several sightings of Varied Thrush this winter. The continuing birds from the fall in Dorion, Thunder Bay Co and Gullrock Lake, Kenora Co were last reported 1 Dec (Norma Maurice), and 20 Dec (fide. Merle Nisly), respectively. Additional birds were reported 1631 Dec in Shuniah, Thunder Bay Co (Connie Hartviksen), 17 Dec in South Baymouth, Manitoulin Co (John Diebolt), and 27 Jan26 Feb in Kingsville, Essex Co (Theresa Schiller, Pat Schiller).

Finches through Chat

A Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch was remarkable for Newburgh, Frontenac Co (Kingston Field Naturalists). The last reported sighting was on 17 Feb, but it’s unknown exactly when it arrived. This record represents one of the most easterly sightings of this species in North America. Several House Finches stayed the winter (Oct24 Feb) unusually far north at Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Co (m. ob.). The eight winter finches were common across the province, with many counties reporting record numbers. A high count of 250 White-winged Crossbills were observed on 3 Dec near Port Britain, Northumberland Co (Roger Frost). Another high count of 219 Evening Grosbeaks were seen on 3 Jan at the Rice Lake Plains CBC, Northumberland Co.

A Grasshopper Sparrow was a winter rarity on 27 Dec for Long Point PP, Norfolk Co (Adam Timpf). A rare Lark Sparrow was seen 7 Jan at Goulais River, Algoma Co (Ken A. McIlwrick) and another 30 DecMar at Ashton, Ottawa Co (Brian Jeffrey). A Golden-crowned Sparrow, originally observed in the fall, survived the frigid climes of Sioux Lookout, Kenora Co (Laurel Wood) and was still being seen in March. Harris’s Sparrows were notable Nov23 Jan at Sistonens Corners, Thunder Bay Co (Jeff Robinson), 4 DecMar at Port Dover, Norfolk Co (Peter Stewart), 19 Dec1 Jan at Cobourg, Northumberland Co (fide Roger Frost), 27 DecMar at Omemee, Kawartha Lakes Co (Ron Baker), and 7 Jan23 Feb at Port Stanley, Elgin Co (Al Hurst). Lincoln’s Sparrows were notable 30 Dec1 Jan at Brampton, Peel Co (D. Cairns) and 3 Jan at Castleton, Northumberland Co (Taylor Brown). There were three reports of Spotted Towhee: 12 FebMar at London, Middlesex Co (Brad Carey), 28 Feb (perhaps longer) at Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Co (Shane Gorrell), and Oct8 Mar at Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Co (Erin Nixon). A Yellow-breasted Chat was a surprise on 5 Jan at Toronto, Toronto Co (Gerry McCann).

Blackbirds through Buntings

A few Yellow-headed Blackbirds were observed including one at Thessalon, Algoma Co from NovMar (Conny Poeschl), two birds from 1826 Jan at Wallaceburg, Chatham-Kent Co (Blake A. Mann),  and at least three different birds at Leamington, Essex Co: 5 Dec (Jeremy L. Hatt), 12 Dec4 Jan (Frank Shepley), and 2630 Dec (Andrew Wiebe, Kara Wiebe). A Western Meadowlark overwintered (NovMar) at Manitouwadge, Thunder Bay Co (Tammie Hache), and another bird made appearances on 10 Feb at Glencoe, Middlesex Co (Chetna Bhatt), and 1721 Feb at Alvinston, Lambton Co (Trish Snider). There were four reports of overwintering Baltimore Orioles: 16 DecMar at Mimico, Toronto Co (Stella Bastone), 21 Dec13 Feb at Oxenden, Grey Co (Jarmo Jalava), 21 Dec at Georgetown, Halton Co (Christine Elliott), and 16 Feb at Pickering, Durham Co (Raimund Krob). A Scott’s Oriole was outstanding for Chelsey, Grey Co (fide Jeff H. Skevington) seen from 11 Nov13 Dec, far from its typical range in the western part of the continent; however, the bird was only known to a handful of birders and disappeared before viewing arrangements could be organized.

A testament to the mild weather in the southern half of Ontario were several warbler sightings. An Ovenbird was seen 26 Dec at Port Severn, Muskoka Co (Melissa Remark) and another from 821 Jan at Ottawa, Ottawa Co (Darryl Ryan). Three warbler sightings at Mississauga, Peel Co included a Tennessee Warbler on 21 Dec (Marvin and Janet Medelko), a Cape May Warbler from 30 Jan18 Feb (Carol Hennigar), and a Bay-breasted Warbler from Nov5 Dec (Mac Marzolini). A Palm Warbler stayed from 28 Nov24 Jan at Ontario Place, Toronto, Toronto Co (Francesca Bouaoun), and another was reported on 1 Dec at Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Co (Evan Sinclair, Nathan Earle). A Black-throated Green Warbler was photographed 15 Dec at Kincardine, Bruce Co (Marshall Byle). A Summer Tanager was reported from Nov3 Dec at Amherst Island, Lennox and Addington Co (Janis Grant, Paul Mackenzie), and another stayed the winter from Nov14 Feb at Newmarket, York Co (m. ob.). A Black-headed Grosbeak was remarkable for Sawpit Bay, Algoma Co (William Van Atte), November–March+. The bird’s survival was in doubt after hitting a window, but it appears to have had a full recovery. The winter’s only Dickcissel was seen 24 Jan3 Feb at Port Rowan, Norfolk Co (fide Stuart A. Mackenzie).

Photos–Ontario: Winter 2020–2021

Click image to view fullscreen with caption.