Muskoka Specific Atlasing Notes

Least Bittern Two locations for this species have been found in the interior of Muskoka in rather small wetlands with only small patches of cattails. In one case a bird was calling from an area of thick willow shrubs. It is possible that they are more common here than previously known. Taped calls are helpful in locating them.

Great Blue Heron Herons seen in or adjacent to suitable nesting habitat (places they are likely to breed) can be recorded as H. Suitable nesting habitat would be most places where there are secluded copses of trees, not trees in built-up areas. If they are flying over high, record them as X.

Turkey Vulture Vultures seen flying reasonably low down and not soaring at great height should be recorded as H. In Muskoka suitable nesting sites are likely to be found in every square.

Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and Goshawk These hawks are either uncommon in Muskoka or just hard to find. All three species have been confirmed as breeding here in the past but there are not many records. If you do think you have one of these take some extra effort to be sure which one it is and be careful that you are not seeing the more common Merlin or Broad-winged Hawk. If you find a nest I would appreciate a call so the identification can be confirmed.

Wild Turkey Single turkeys should be recorded as an H even though they are still being reintroduced in our area. They have bred in the region successfully for a few years and will likely persist.

Rails Virginia Rail and Sora are likely breeding in most Muskoka Squares but are not always easily located. You may hear them calling early in the breeding season but later they will go undetected without the use of taped calls. In Muskoka both species can be found in any wetlands with some standing water and cover such as sedges, grasses, shrubs or cattails. Note that they can be found in areas with little or no cattails.

Herring Gull Herring Gulls sometimes nest singly on small rocky islands. If you see one flying or resting near a lake with a rocky island it can be recorded as H. Other sightings away from colonies or lakes are recorded as X.

Caspian Tern Caspian Tern may be breeding singly in our area rather than in colonies. Observations in the Georgian Bay area and inland at Gravenhurst Bay and Sparrow Lake suggest that single nests may be found (but so far have not). Record them as X away from colonies but keep this possibility in mind when observing this species, especially if small rocky islands are present.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo This species has been confirmed as breeding in Muskoka in the past but is very rare. Black-billed Cuckoo has been common in recent years due to the current peak in the Tent Caterpillar cycle. Because Black-billed can produce a call very similar to Yellow-billed I am recommending that Yellow-billed Cuckoo records not be accepted unless the bird is seen. The following comments from Ron Pittaway are reprinted here with his permission.

Both cuckoos occasionally dump eggs in each other's nests and possibly imprint on each other. Also, there is a record of a hybrid in the Auk or Wilson Bulletin, but I can't remember the issue. Much more often, songs of the Black-billed sound like Yellow-billed than the reverse. I find that if you hear a possible Yellow-billed, don't go after it and scare it, but wait and it may start to sing like a typical Black-billed. If after a good wait and it still sounds good, you should carefully try to track it down, and be sure to get your binoculars on it if it flushes. Many possible Yellow-billed songs will have to go down as unidentified unless confirmed by sight. When I lived in Ottawa and found the nests of both species, I found that classic Yellow-billed songs given over a long period of time always turned out to be Yellow-billed when seen. There's been a lot said in birding circles about their songs and overlap, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. The definitive paper on the songs of these cuckoos has yet to written.

Owls We expect to find Barred, Great Horned and Saw-whet Owls in Muskoka. The best way to find them is by playing taped calls after dark in suitable habitat. This year we also have a record for Screech-Owl near Gravenhurst and in recent years have had a few reports of them as far north as Port Sydney. Long-eared Owl is a possibility also but they have never been confirmed as breeding in Muskoka. A good place to look for them is in conifer plantations.

Belted Kingfisher Banks suitable for nest sites are likely to be found in all Muskoka squares but this species can travel some distance from the nest site to fish. Kingfishers sitting beside a stream can be recorded as H unless it is close to a square boundary.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher This flycatcher was probably missed during the first atlas because of their inhospitable habitat preference. They are found in wet wooded swamps with sphagnum floor, partly open with fairly large but well spaced tamaracks or spruce, with alder and/or Mountain Holly understory. Their call is very similar to Least Flycatcher, so if you think you hear a least flycatcher in swampy habitat, check it out carefully. Taped calls can be used to locate birds that are not calling or pull them in closer for positive identification.

Purple Martin Please check all martin houses for possible colonies. These birds have declined greatly since the last atlas with only two active colonies known this year in the whole region.

Sedge Wren Sedge Wrens are being found in wet and even semi-dry hayfields. Sedges are not required for suitable habitat. Usually they are heard and not seen so you should get familiar with their song. Playing taped calls in wet fields and beaver meadows with fairly long grass is a good way to find them.

Lincoln's Sparrow Lincoln's Sparrows have been found breeding in the region as recently as two years ago. You should look for them in open sphagnum bogs with scattered small trees.

House Finch House Finches disappeared from Muskoka about five years ago. They are not expected so before recording them take extra effort to be sure of the identification.