Just as local birders were starting to come to grips with the fact that spring migration was coming to an end, an amazing rarity near downtown London put in an appearance. Bird watcher Scott Milne found a Tricolored Heron at Greenway Park near Wonderland Rd. in London. It was fortunate that Scott knew this species. He had seen these herons before in the south-east U.S.
The news travelled quickly. Posts on the eBird platform and on Discord as well as text messages and phone calls alerted other area birders who streamed in. By late morning, birders from elsewhere across southern Ontario were arriving.
Through the morning and into the afternoon, the heron fished successfully in shallow waters, and then roosted in the shade of a tree.
This is a petite species. It is just 66 cm tall and it is thin. It has a two-tones bill. The bird is so small, it proved difficult to spot at times when it was feeding in the rocks of the river. This was an adult bird, with mostly slate blue plumage and a contrasting white belly. Its behaviors are as interesting as its field marks. It will occasionally flap its wings and trot a little when in pursuit of fish.
This Heron generally prefers to be near salt water and is expected to be seen along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, through Florida, and along the south-east coast of the U.S.
When I was viewing the bird, one of the other birders admiring the Heron was Pete Read, the long-time compiler of London and Middlesex bird records. “This is first ever record for Middlesex.” he confirmed. For birders who keep detailed county lists, this was great news.
The sighting was a lifer for many folks at the park, meaning this was the first time they had seen the species anywhere.
There was some speculation about why this Tricolored Heron has ended up in London, but there was no consensus. Sometimes, heavy weather will blow a bird off course, but that seems unlikely in this case.
Tricolored Herons are typically seen somewhere in Ontario each year. Last spring, one put in an appearance by the Erieau Rail Trail. There is another of these birds in the Collingwood area now.
Birders, bird photographers, and even passersby were delighted with this bird. It has already been featured on social media platforms. As with any rarity, if you have an interest in observing it, it’s best not to wait too long. The bird is unlikely to persist in the area.
After Scott Milne found and posted this Tricolored Heron on the morning of June 7, birders flocked to London’s Greenway Park. photo by Paul Nicholson.