This post includes ruminations and ideas emerging as I analyze the data collected for my PhD dissertation focusing on the act of birding. It doesn’t represent a final thought or particular endpoint: these are ideas in progress. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of my ideas, too.
During my analysis, I kept track of all the places mentioned by birders during interviews. With the exception of ‘sewage lagoons’ I’ve mapped the locations and the results are interesting. Immediately apparent: with two exceptions (The highlighted locations of Fisherville and the Carden Alvar) all these places are on or within short distance of a Great Lake.
So what does this tell us of the practice of birding in Ontario? Well, it tells us that birds are found where there is habitat as most of these locations are marshes, woodlots or other (relatively) undisturbed or protected natural areas and birders go to look for them in these places. That’s to be expected, isn’t it? It falls within conventional wisdom, certainly.
View Locations mentioned by Ontario birders in a larger map
There are, however, protected habitats that birds could be found throughout the province. So why such a focus on these near-lake habitats? Clearly, the Great Lakes are playing a role in the kind of birding that takes place in Ontario: they act as a concentrator. In the spring, migratory songbirds “fallout” in these remnant habitats (Point Pelee as a spring hotspot for songbirds, Beamer Point for raptor migration) and the lakes act as a barrier against which birds fly during fall migration (Cranberry Marsh, High Park, Hawk Cliff).
Interestingly, it really emphasizes that conventional birding practice focuses on migratory birds. And more specifically for Ontario, migratory birds as they move to and from the shore of a Great Lake, in part, because these places are most reliable for finding birds.
Two notable outliers: First, Fisherville. This region has hosted a winter population of Long-eared Owls. And people love Owls. Second, Carden Alvar. A unique habitat, with many rare or unusual bird species that cannot be found elsewhere in Ontario found here (the Loggerhead Shrike, for example). So this points out two allied practices: birders travel to find unusual birds (hence, the Carden Alvar’s emergence as a location) and birding practice changes in the winter (thus appears Fisherville).
Some thoughts about that. In winter, time is more diffuse and the birds are less predictable–irruptions occur in a (sort-of) pattern over years rather than in a regular seasonal pattern like spring and fall migration. Birds that appear in the winter are here primarily looking for food rather than being on the move to nesting / wintering grounds. In my experience, you know that Snowy Owls will be, say, near Arthur, but they’re diffuse enough that they can be hard to find.
So, the places that concentrate these winter birds (Fisherville, Amhurst Island) emerge as birding locations.