The Joys of Late Summer Birding In and Around London
While in mid-summer it might seem to some that birds just migrated north to their breeding territories, the southbound parade of migrants has already started. Least Sandpipers fly south through Southwestern Ontario from July to September (photo by PAUL NICHOLSON)
Whether you are a casual bird appreciator or an avid bird lister, there is a lot in the birding world that will captivate you through the second half of the summer.
August and September are wonderful times to truly observe birds. There is an opportunity to carefully observe late-nesting birds such as the American Goldfinch, and other species that might be attending to a second or third brood of chicks.
We might also see some birds mid-moult now. Replacing feathers means that the birds can continue to fly with strength and confidence. It also leads in many cases to a new look for a bird. We are familiar with the distinctive and often bright breeding plumages of many birds. After going through one or in some cases two moults, however, some birds look a little drabber. Bobolinks, for example, moult twice. When they are nesting in grasslands around London in the late spring and early summer, the males sport a blond helmet and dramatic black and white plumage, but by late summer, this vivid breeding plumage is replaced by the more muted tones of their so-called basic plumage.
The behaviours of some bird species also change. Whereas American Robins pair off in the spring to nest and raise young, by the later summer Robins will start to congregate, sometimes in large groups. I have seen big roosts of Robins in the Medway Valley Heritage Forest Environmentally Significant Area in north London. Other birds such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, having seen their young successfully fledge, will turn their attention to fattening up so that they can fuel a long flight south.
The last months of summer represent a final opportunity to see some species in the city. If you haven't yet seen all of our heron species, don't wait until December. Head over to The Coves Environmentally Significant Area. In and around the ponds you have a reasonable chance of seeing Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, and Black-crowned Night-Heron in August and September. Similarly, don't wait until October to fatten up your list of flycatcher sightings. When summer is done, our Eastern Kingbirds have disappeared, so get your grassland birding in now.
It surprises some folks to learn that the southbound migration for some species starts in July. As a group, shorebirds are early migrants. Least Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs can be seen on their way south in July, August, and September. Check any mudflats for shorebirds now. A particularly good location for shorebirds in London is the Dingman Wetlands on the south side of Dingman Dr. east of Wonderland Rd. in south London. If you go birding at this location, take your binoculars, and a spotting scope if you have one.
Get to any of London's Environmentally Significant Areas in the first weeks of September to find migrating warblers. Access to these ESAs is free. Other excellent local hotspots for early September migrants include Fanshawe Conservation Area and Komoka Provincial Parks, both of which are accessed by a day-use pass or seasonal pass. Some London birders will head south to Hawk Cliff on Lake Erie east of Port Stanley in September to see Broad-winged Hawks and other early raptor migrants.
As always, think about equipping yourself with fresh intel from birds alerts
such as the online eBird Canada platform before heading out. This can give you an idea of what species are being seen in the area or at a particular hotspot on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.