There are as many reasons to choose a Bird of the Year as there are birders. We’ve chosen the Black-necked Stilts that nested in west Middlesex as Bird Friendly London’s London/Middlesex Bird of the Year. Photo by Paul Nicholson.
Hundreds of bird species have been seen in London and across Middlesex County this year. Every bird watcher will have a number of special bird memories from the past twelve months.
When I think of my own local sightings, some of them are made special by the rarity of the birds or by the bird’s behaviour. Sometimes it is the setting or habitat that makes a bird sighting memorable, and sometimes it is the person with whom I was birding. I often find that sharing a great bird watching experience amplifies my pleasure.
Cackling Goose would be on many birders’ short lists of special area birds for 2022. These are sometimes challenging to identify because they are a smaller, “snub-nosed” version of the Canada Goose. That said, Cackling Geese were being seen in good numbers last winter and again through this fall. There were regular reports from Fanshawe Lake as well as other hot spots across London and Middlesex County.
On March 31 and into April, a Vesper Sparrow was a highlight for many. It was first found by London Birder Andy Nguyen at the wetland behind the Toyota dealership in north London. By some measure, this was “just” another sparrow, another “little brown job” that would be ignored by non-birders. A Vesper Sparrow, however, is not a species that most birders have the opportunity to see every year. Its field marks include white flashes on each side of the tail and a white eye ring.
Another species that would make many London bird watchers’ short lists of best birds would be the Evening Grosbeak. Through the mid-fall, many Evening Grosbeaks were being reported. The finchnetwork.org issued an irruption alert in October, noting that “Evening Grosbeaks have been trickling southward for the past few weeks. But over the last week, that trickle turned into a full-on downpour, with large numbers appearing at feeders and migration hotspots across eastern North America.”
On my personal list of honourable mentions, I have to include Marsh Sandpiper. The first-ever Canadian record of this vagrant was found by James Holdsworth on April 30. In the following days it was enjoyed by hundreds of delighted birders and it was reported widely in the mainstream media. This bird touched down at the Thedford lagoons, just 6 km west of the Middlesex County border.
Some of my other memorable Ontario sightings outside of Middlesex County included Piping Plover, Little Blue Heron, and Fish Crow. But Bird Friendly London’s London/Middlesex Bird of the Year has to have been seen in our County. So, of all the many excellent bird sightings through the year, the nod goes to the Black-necked Stilt.
In mid-April, some of London’s keenest birders were very pleased to see Black-necked Stilts wading in and out of the reeds in the north part of Komoka Provincial Park just west of London. The birds departed soon after they arrived, but days later, there were also some Stilts seen flying over the Strathroy lagoons. There are sightings such as these most years across southern Ontario. They create a stir because the usual northernmost range of the Black-necked Stilt has historically been the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas, Florida, and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
A pair of Stilts was seen again in May at the Strathroy lagoons on Pike Rd. This time, many dozens of birders had an opportunity to observe the birds. Surprisingly, the pair stayed and were successful in nesting. Four chicks were seen through to mid-August. This was the first recorded breeding pair of Black-necked Stilts in the area.
If you haven’t yet given thought to what your top sightings were for 2022, it’s not too late. It might help you to think of target birds for the New Year as well. The American Birding Association has already decided that the Belted Kingfisher is their ABA Bird of the Year for 2023.