We get a lot of visitors from Canada in the summer who drive half a day south to the nearest warm ocean water and big beaches.
They stay at our abundant campgrounds and motels and are an important part of our tourist economy.
As it happens, we also host a lot of Canadians in the winter, just not many people.
Many species of birds fly down here for temperatures that are always mild (compared to their tundra and boreal forest homes) and for waters that seldom freeze.
Bird tourists vastly outnumber the human kind, including our three most populous winter species: white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and yellow-rumped warblers.
Birders would love white-throated sparrows if they were less common, for they are quite beautiful with striped crowns and a bright yellow patch in front of the eye in addition to their namesake field mark. Their distinctive song sounded like “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” to old-time birders, but now we think of its homeland version of “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.”
Often with the sparrows, or nearby, are the juncos, slate gray (their former name) above and white below, with white stripes on the tail and a pink bill. Slaty the junco — a snowbird to many in the U.S. — is one of the continent’s most common birds, with a population estimated at 630 million.
Even though they look so different from each other and aren’t closely related, white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos sometimes interbreed, producing what looks like a darker version of the sparrow with white on the tail feathers.
Yellow-rumped warblers used to be called myrtle warblers, after the berries they gorge on when they’re here. As the only warbler that can digest the wax of myrtle berries and bayberries, they can nest farther north.
The myrtle name was reduced to subspecies status when ornithologists discovered that Audubon’s warbler in the West was actually a subspecies of the myrtle, so they called them both yellow rumped.
One of my favorite Canadian visitors is the ring-necked duck, found on freshwater ponds such as the former sand mine at the Egg Harbor Township arboretum on School House Road.
From a distance, it looks like a scaup with a white patch at the front of the gray side. But get binoculars on it in good light and its three-color bill is amazing. You’ll wonder why that striking feature didn’t figure in the name instead of the obscure neck ring chosen by early biologists looking at dead specimens.
Often found with the ring-necked is a fellow diving duck from Canada, the red-breasted merganser.
A few weeks ago, another possible visitor from the north, an immature bald eagle, was making half-hearted dives on these ducks and geese at the arboretum lake.
Perhaps the most elegant guest from the north is the tundra swan, whose straight neck and black bill make it easy to identify.
In summer, these swans nest alone in the continent’s far north. Now they can be seen in small flocks on ponds adjacent to marshes such as at Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area, in the impoundments circled by driveable dirt roads in the Tuckahoe and Corbin City divisions.
Unlike the summer tourists, the winter birds spend no money here. But they too can help support the tourism economy.
Some years, snowy owls find the hunting grounds here more to their liking and stay for weeks. Their presence alone is enough to draw thousands of birders to the area.
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