There were many birds on this year’s short list for the 2023 London/Middlesex Bird of the Year, including a Tricolored Heron seen in London’s Greenway Park in June. Photo by Paul Nicholson.
There’s no doubt that London’s keenest birders will be birding hard until December 31. Although an exciting species might well be seen in the last days of 2023 by one of these birders, or even on a Christmas Bird Count route, it isn’t too soon to consider the Bird of the Year for London and area.
On the short list, we have to include the Black-billed Magpie that has been seen this month at the Dingman Constructed Wetland in south London. More often found in western North America, this is a surprising bird for Middlesex. It is also a very flashy bird. It’s plumage is black-blue with contrasting white on its belly and wings. Much of its 50 cm length is a long tail. Surprisingly, several Magpies were also seen in July in Elgin County.
The Magpie could, however, be an illustration of the recency effect. Does this bird come to mind simply because it is the most recently seen? Ross’s Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose were two species that local birders saw on the north side of London in the very first days of 2023. Both of these geese are great sightings for Middlesex birders. I think however, that this is merely an example of the primacy effect, another bias. The first birds of the year stick in the mind just because they were the first.
Is there any reason that last year’s London/Middlesex Bird of the Year, the Black-necked Stilt, couldn’t get this year’s nod as well? After all, these birds returned yet again to nest at the Strathroy lagoons on Pike Road in west Middlesex, and there was breeding success. This was exciting to witness for the second year in a row.
A Golden Plover just east of London should be on our short list for 2023. A Western Kingbird found just last month was another tremendous local find.
There were some outstanding birds seen just beyond London and Middlesex. A Roseate Spoonbill caused great excitement by putting down in September at the Springwater Conservation Area. It obliged birders by staying for several days. It was in Elgin County about 25 km from London. In November, a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch found by area birder Michele Carnerie delighted the fortunate enthusiasts who were able to see it. This other “mega-rarity” was a little closer to London and Middlesex, but it was still an Elgin County record.
One candidate species that comes to mind is the Bobolink. This wonderful bird can be seen and heard in grassland habitats that surround the city. The Ontario Field Ornithologists recently voted to make this species their bird of the year for 2024, so why not get the jump on them? (Check out Bird Friendly London’s Bobolink species profile.)
Some of my personal favorites each year are the birds that I find and identify on my own. As much as I enjoy seeing all birds and new birds, there was for me a satisfaction in finding a Red-shouldered Hawk west of the city in March and an American Avocet at Komoka Provincial Park in October.
There are many other reasons that an individual birder will favour a particular bird watching experience. Perhaps having a family of American Robins nest on your property created special memories. Maybe it was seeing a new Middlesex species such as a Northern Mockingbird or Grasshopper Sparrow out by the London airport that was special for you. Other birders will sometimes favour a sighting in a new bird watching location, or a “lifer” bird, or a bird experience that was shared with a friend.
Bird Friendly London will give the nod for the 2023 London/Middlesex Bird of the Year to the Tricolored Heron found in Greenway Park close to downtown London in June. It was a shocking find that was enjoyed my birders from across Southwestern Ontario. The bird, first posted by Scott Milne, was the first record for the species in Middlesex. These small (66 cm tall) herons are typically found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, through Florida, and along the south-east coast of the U.S.
Perhaps your best bird was a different species. In any case, as the year winds down, it is fun to reflect back on our bird sightings, and cast our minds forward to dream about which birds await in 2024.