OVN Founding Member Receives Contributions to Science Award from the University of Waterloo

2 February 2023

New Hybrid Bird Discovered

for more information:

Tree Tour with John Enright on Saturday, 4 June 2022

This tree tour has been scheduled for the OVN, but others are invited.

Duck Rally

Duck Rally – March 26th, 2022

Nine intrepid birders participated in the OVN duck rally on Saturday March 26th, 2022. Cold temperatures, (2 to 3°C), intermittent snow, rain and wind made viewing difficult at times, especially after the sheltered viewing stand at Aylmer wildlife.

A brisk NW wind at Aylmer lagoons chilled the participants who followed that with hot chocolate, coffee, and  snacks at the Tim Hortons nearby. The next stop, Calton Swamp, added a kingfisher and a red-breasted nuthatch to the ducks which were repeats of previously viewed species.

Four participants rounded out the early afternoon finish with delicious hot Caribbean food at Beach Patties restaurant (member Lisa Partap) in Port Burwell.

A total of 14 species of ducks and 23 species of ducks and waterbirds were tallied. An additional 10 species of passerines or upland birds were observed. Several participants picked up some important, “easy I.D. tips” for various species of ducks, especially at a distance.

Thanks to Bruce Bolin for organizing and coordination the venues and times. Participants, in no particular order, were Bruce Bolin, Jeff Robinson, Pat Wray, Mike Andrews, Janis Hamilton, Kim Sheppard, Art Veldhuizen, Trish Snider and Ron Allensen.

Special thanks to Donna and Andy Eveland for lending their spotting scope, and to Tom Manley who was otherwise occupied representing the OVN at an Ontario Nature regional meeting.  

  • RA


Otter Valley Naturalists Hold 16th Annual Christmas Bird Count

The Otter Valley Naturalists Club held their 16th annual Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 19th in support of the National Audubon Society’s yearly winter survey.  Twenty-four people participated, each covering a section of the Port Burwell-Vienna 12 km radius circle.  The aim of the survey is to find as many bird species, and their population numbers, as possible.

The data collected is contributed to form part of the Audubon Society’s data dating back to 1900.  The count was started by conservationists at the turn of that century as an alternative to what was then the Christmas-time practice of hunting birds to see how many different species and numbers they could kill.   Instead, volunteer bird enthusiasts’ now count winter birds on one designated day each Christmas season throughout the Western Hemisphere.

In a preview to a beautiful December day, the calm conditions of the predawn hours were ideal for calling and locating owls.  A significant count of fourteen screech owls and 3 Great-Horned Owls resulted.  Daylight revealed an out of season House Wren for one participant.  It was sighted amid a group of five Winter Wrens.

A record high number of seven Hermit Thrush were tallied.  However, despite mostly open flowing water and lakes, waterfowl species were down significantly with only seven species counted, the most numerous being the Canada Goose.  Cardinal numbers were down as well with a count of 99, shy of the 2009 record of 292.

Red-bellied woodpeckers were recorded in good numbers, especially at feeders, but the most numerous woodpecker was the Downy.  Kathryn Boothby, Adrian Juurlink, Janis Hamilton and Dave Jolly all observed our rarest winter woodpecker, the Yellow-Bellied sapsucker, for a record count of four.

A pair of Eastern Towhees, unusual for this time of year, have been in residence for over two months at Monarch Landing, just east of Port Burwell.  They did not disappoint and showed up on schedule.  They were seen and photographed by several people.

A number of the people have participated in this count every year since its inception in 2006.  Former Port Burwell resident Joe Stephenson combined a trip from B.C to visit family and count birds.  “I love it”, he said,” It gives me an opportunity to visit with my children and grandchildren, and enjoy nature at the same time.  “One of Joe’s sons, Rob, who travelled from Parry Sound to participate, was rewarded in discovering a rare winter bird, the “Yellow-Rumped Warbler”.  It was the only warbler species found on the day.  

Up to now Rob’s favorite bird to find each year has been the “Brown Creeper” which did not turn up this year.  However, by the end of the day he had changed his tune and was “Pumped about the Yellow-Rumped!”

Other participants came from Woodstock, St. Thomas, Delhi, London, and Hamilton.

“It’s a very fun day”, said Tom Manley, the president of OVN, and official compiler of the data.  “All current Covid protocols were followed by participants.” he added.  “We just had to cancel the gathering and usual dinner at the end of the day.”

Tom added that he would like to thank everyone who participated and helped make it another great OVN event.  “It’s wonderful to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated group of volunteers willing to spend an entire day in the field under what are often challenging weather conditions.”

   –  Submitted by Ron Allensen

OVN Membership

Due to the pandemic and the associated safety measures, the OVN has not been holding in-person meetings.  When in-person meetings will resume remains uncertain.

Membership fees were waived for one year, but donations were welcomed.  The membership fee is $25 for families and $20 for individuals.   Junior/student memberships (for under 16 years of age) are just $5.

Our Zoom presentations, both live and recorded, remain available.  See the sidebar for the link.

Cheques for memberships or donations, payable to the Otter Valley Naturalists, can be sent to the following address.  Please include your contact information, with email if you have it.

Otter Valley Naturalists
℅  22 Old Vienna Road
Tillsonburg Ontario  N4G 3C4

Arthur Langford Nature Reserve Trail Maintenance

On 10 July 2021 eight members of the OVN performed some trail maintenance and mosquito feeding at one of the properties of the Long Point Basin Land Trust, the Arthur Langford Nature Reserve.  Seen in the image, left to right, are Gord, Bruce, Eric, Lucy, Ray, Peter, Andy and Mike.20210710_113946 cee



2020 Christmas Bird Count

20 December 2020

bird count helpers in area 5 Kevin and TJ Robinson

Young TJ helps dad, Kevin Robinson, count in sector 7 for the CBC with his “birdoculars”.


On Christmas Bird Count Sunday, Trevor and Leanne Stephenson were birding along the Otter Creek in the village of Vienna with their children when they had an interesting experience.

Leanne recounts the details;
Walking along the Otter in downtown Vienna, were heard blue jays uproariously mobbing something.  Trev said “Let’s go see what that is”.  “It could be an owl!”  And in a fenced yard in Vienna, we saw a great horned owl flapping against a window trying to free itself from a window screen while escaping the mob of blue jays!  The owl did escape and we lost it’s path (approximately 11 AM in full daylight).
This must have been especially exciting for their three-year old daughter Aster.  We must note that at six months of age Luna has eclipsed her sister as the youngest OVN Christmas Bird Count participant on record!

COVID-19 and OVN

Please be aware that although OVN events are still on our calendar, some near term events are likely to be rescheduled or revamped as on-line video meetings.
We will continue to be in contact with our speakers for the upcoming events to ask if they can reschedule for alternate meeting dates in 2021 or in some cases, give an on-line presentation.
The Straffordville Community Centre is closed for community use as are most potential alternate sites.

Bees of the Eastern Forests

by Rachael Winfree

The northeastern United States was once blanketed by broadleaf forests. Despite the changes to the landscape wrought by agriculture and development, many of the original species of forest bees persist.   One can see the magazine here.  Go to page 11.

Despite the article’s focus on the northeastern United States, the information is relevant to forests here in southwestern Ontario.


Bird Houses

Janis Wall Hamilton

It is always rewarding to support our fragile nature.

Prothonotary Warblers

This spring Rex Martin and Janis Hamilton were birding in the first marsh section of Yarmouth Natural Heritage Area. Along the trail they stopped to distance chat with other fellow birders. That’s when they observed two Prothonotary Warblers.  These birds are on the SARA (Species at Risk Act) registry.  Rex had the idea that the Prothonotary Warblers needed a nesting box to encourage a nesting pair.  Janis suggested her husband, Gord Hamilton, might help make a nesting box.    Rex later received permission from Dusty Underhill, Catfish Creek Conservation Authority’s Supervisor, and then asked Gord to help him.

Gord made six prothonotary warbler nesting boxes and on May 31st they went to Yarmouth Natural Heritage Area to install them.  Ron Casier from the St. Thomas Field Naturalist Club met them to open the park and assist.  Rex brought his kayak and Gord brought the nesting boxes and tools.  Rex paddled into the wooded marsh and attached the boxes to trees approximately 3 feet above water level.  This is understood to be the prothonotary warblers’ preferred nesting height.  The two wooded marsh areas in Yarmouth are ideal prothonotary warbler habitat.  Afterward the conservation authority placed caution tape and signs requesting photographers and park goers to distance with respect for the sensitivity of this area and the rarity of these birds.

three photos

Perhaps the Corona Virus is affording more people the time to walk and bird this area  and therefore many more species being documented. Perhaps the habitat and climate are now supporting these birds’ travel to our regions.  Whatever the reason, Yarmouth Centre has been visited by many warblers and various bird species that normally head farther West.


Bluebird Box K1__7813ceAs a separate project, Gord Hamilton of the Otter Valley Naturalists made 60 Bluebird nest boxes late this past winter.  Various OVN members installed them and many of the nesting boxes housed Bluebird families this spring. Others were home to Tree Swallows.

Corrine Genier, a Ph.D. candidate from Western University, subsequently studied some of these nests, taking blood samples, tail feathers and banding Bluebirds and Tree Swallows to assess the diet quality of nestlings.  Part of her project is collecting associated insects to study the food available to these bird species in their respective nesting habitats, in particular comparing riparian habitats to inland habitats.


2020 Spring Birdathon

30 May 2020

Thanks to several members who participated in the 2020 Great Canadian Birdathon while distancing.  Some members dispersed to different areas and together we came up to the edge of 100 bird species, as you will see in the list.

Several members have been kind enough to support this activity and to raise funds for Birds Canada and OVN in a 3/1 split, i.e. 75% to Birds Canada and 25% of the funds return to OVN.  If you wish to contribute, you still can.  The Canada Helps link is:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies- canada/p2p/birdathon20/team/otter-valley-naturalists/

2020 Birdathon - 3 columns


World Migratory Bird Day

9 May 2020

Several OVN members individually participated on this exceptionally cold day.  48 species of birds were observed.


Bats and COVID-19

by Miranda Sawyer

Bats have been in the news recently for an unfortunate reason.  In late January of this year, it was reported that bats – specifically the Chinese horseshoe bats, of the genus Rhinolophus – may have been the original source of the then-emerging novel coronavirus that has since turned into a global pandemic.  Although this was widely reported, the actual situation is far more complicated and nuanced, and this early reporting may have already caused unnecessary harm to bat conservation.

The reason for these reports is that scientists studying the genome of this new virus quickly found that its closest known genetic match was to a coronavirus found previously in Chinese horseshoe bats.  It was a 96% match, making it very similar but not identical to the virus affecting humans.  Less widely reported, however, was that the virus was later also found to have similarities to one found in the critically endangered pangolin, or ‘scaly anteater’.  While this virus strain was less similar overall (only a 90% match), certain portions of it were a much closer match (99%) than the bat coronavirus.  It is now believed likely that this virus is kind of naturally occurring “chimera” of different viruses, which may have passed through multiple animal hosts such as pangolins before ultimately infecting humans.

Bats have a remarkable ability to seemingly resist viral infections.  As a result, it is possible for them to carry certain viruses without being harmed by them.  This ability to act as a “reservoir” for viruses has led to them being blamed for disease outbreaks, even in cases such as this where there is no current evidence of direct transmission.  This can have serious effects on conservation efforts, as people turn against them and blame them for these diseases.  There are already reports of a town in Indonesia killing hundreds of wild fruit bats in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, despite this species being entirely unrelated to the pandemic.  This mirrors a situation in 2004, where 10,000 palm civets were culled by the Chinese government after being identified as the likely host sources of virus responsible for SARS.

With the new link to pangolins, there is growing concern that something similar may happen to them as well; Pangolins are already critically endangered due to heavy poaching for the Chinese market, and a further loss in numbers would be disastrous.

This mass-culling of wild animals in response to pandemics is especially unfortunate when considering that these diseases are only able to jump from animals to humans because of human actions in the first place.  It is when these animals are taken from the wild and then kept or killed in unsanitary conditions that these kinds of disease crossovers can occur.  If these animals were left alone and protected in the wild in the first place, situations like this could have been entirely prevented.

Please, spread the word.  Bat conservation has always struggled against misguided public perception of bats as dangerous pests, rather than the beneficial and vital part of the ecosystem they truly are.  Don’t let this become yet another reason that bats are persecuted.

Sources and further reading:

  • It’s wrong to blame bats for the coronavirus epidemic


  • Missing link in coronavirus jump from bats to humans could be pangolins, not snakes


  • Coronaviruses Similar to The COVID-19 One Have Just Been Found in Pangolins


Miranda Sawyer holds a Zoology degree from the University of Guelph. She has a lifelong passion for bats and has travelled to places as far as Jamaica and Israel to work with them in the field.  She had been the scheduled speaker for the Otter Valley Naturalists 14 April 2020 meeting.  Due to the pandemic that meeting was cancelled.  She has kindly agreed to give a presentation next year, 8 March 2021.


Purple Martins Get Help from Kathryn Boothby – CBC News


Our speaker for the May meeting, Dr. Andrew Peregrine, has provided this updated chart as of May 30.  Among the updates shown is the increased estimated Lyme disease risk for our area.pastedImage


Free Online Course:  The Cornell Lab Offers eBird Essentials

This is a new online course from their eBird Academy.  This eBird Essentials course guides one through how to get the most out of the eBirding experiences and invites one to become a part of this worldwide project.  It is estimated to take about three hours to complete, but can be taken a little at a time, if desired.

  • Discover tools that help you find birds wherever you go
  • Gain confidence submitting your sightings
  • Get expert tips for using eBird and joining the community



What is the OVN?

The Otter Valley Naturalists consists of about 50 members.  We are members of a much larger provincial body known as Ontario Nature (ON). Ontario Nature includes over 160 clubs and over 35,000 members from across the province of Ontario.

The OVN meets monthly, usually the 2nd Monday of each month, September through June, at the Vienna Community Centre.  The club  has speakers and activities every month. Some of the activities include: the Christmas Bird Count, the Baillie Birdathon (in Conjunction with Bird Studies Canada), a summer butterfly count, Monarch Butterfly tagging, a spring cleanup, nature walks, education and outreach, habitat creation and rehabilitation projects.

We look forward to seeing you!