Bird watching not just a summer activity, says enthusiast

Record-setting birder Jeremy Bensette explains why winter can be just as much fun for following our feathered friends.

Record-setting birder Jeremy Bensette has tips for bird watching in the winter

Jeremy Bensette said in the winter birds are more concentrated at their food sources. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Bird watching might not seem like an obvious activity in cold-weather months, but record-setting birder Jeremy Bensette believes winter can be just as much fun for following our feathered friends.

For one thing, the winter migration means a variety of species have come to the area. 

In the north hawks aren't seen in the winter, said Bensette. But there are some species like song birds in the area. He said winter finches from further north will be around to eat. Further south in Ontario, it's easier to spot snowy owls, rough-legged hawks and bald eagles.

Bensette captured a bald eagle in flight in Leamington. (Jeremy Bensette)

"I've seen as many as 60 bald eagles in one spot before in Ontario," Bensette said.

Keeping warm

Unlike skating or skiing, bird watching is a more sedentary activity which can make it difficult to keep warm.

"I almost lost a few toe nails," he said. 

Jeremy Bensette is out birding and cross-country skiing at Tommy Thompson Park. (Jeremy Bensette)

Bensette likes to combine bird watching with other actives like cross-country skiing.

"Because the birds are fewer and far between, it's still sometimes fun to go searching even if you may walk for a few kilometres and only see a few birds in total. You wouldn't know if you didn't try," he said.

Dress for the weather

There are some things to keep in mind if you do go looking for birds when the weather isn't quite warm enough.

"I always suggest to wear at least one extra layer on top," Bensette said. "I'm wearing a pair of sweat pants under my normal pants because I'm so used to doing that."

A pine grosbeak perched in the Timiskaming District. (Jeremy Bensette)

Bensette said birds are more concentrated on finding food during the winter. So when scouting them he suggested watching bird feeders and open water.

Ontario Big Year

Last year Bensette sighted 346 different species of birds in Ontario, more than anybody had ever done before.

​"My goal was always to do the best that I could do," Bensette said when he took on the venture. He does field work with Bird Studies Canada between adventures.

A snowy owl found in Toronto's Tommy Thompson Park. (Jeremy Bensette)
Jeremy Bensette is doing a Big Year, tracking down as many bird species in Ontario as he can during the year. 0:56

Bensette's photographs can be seen on his blog jeremybirder.com.