By Brian Smith and Kai Clemen | January 2023
For both serious and casual birders, Waterloo Region is rich in birding hotspots. And while the birding season truly heats up with the warmer days of spring that welcome countless migrating birds, there is still much to be spotted right now. All you need to know is where to look.
Below are some of the region’s best winter birding destinations for those willing to brave the cold in search of that local rarity. So pack up your binoculars and get going!
Hespeler Mill Pond
Walking the path that runs alongside the pond (which is much more a lake in terms of its size), there are treasures to be discovered on the water, as well as within the trees and bushes bordering the shoreline. Along with the usual gathering of Canada Geese, don’t be surprised to find Trumpeter and Mute Swans, plus various gull, hawk, duck and woodpecker species. And there are often rarities to be seen, such as an Iceland Gull or Ross’s Goose – both recently spotted at Hespeler Mill Pond. Check out recent spottings and directions . And also check out the pond’s Ellacott Landing viewing area.
F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area
Even non-birders will enjoy this walk through the woods, but those in search of winter birds will be doubly pleased. Along with the usual assortment of Black-Capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, plus various species of Sparrow, Nuthatch, Woodpecker and Wren, this winter season welcomes a rare pair of visitors–two members of the Tufted Titmouse species. They can often be found visiting the first boardwalk to feed on seeds, just a short walk from the parking area. Check out our recent lists and directions.
Country Roads West of Linwood (Snowy Owls!)
This isn’t a specific ‘hotspot’ as much as it’s a broader area to be explored–-with one magnificent treasure in mind: a Snowy Owl. Whether it be feasting on its breakfast in a field or sitting atop a roadside post or tree, this section of country roads a few minutes west of St. Jacob’s is prime Snowy Owl territory. Potential bonus birds include several Hawk species and Horned Larks. Just be careful to avoid some of the roads not maintained for winter driving, or you may be hunting for a tow truck instead. And remember to bring a steely-eyed passenger to look for your owl while you watch the road. For a better idea of exactly where Snowy Owls have been spotted in this area, visit https://ebird.org/species/snoowl1/CA-ON-WT and click on the ‘larger map’ button above the range map.
Bob McMullen Linear Trail / Confluence of Grand and Speed Rivers
This is a location that offers the best of both worlds, as it takes you on a hike through forested areas that occasionally emerge at the banks of these rivers. This allows for a wide variety of species to be spotted, from the friendly Chickadees and “Little Brown Jobs” in the bushes, to the waders and divers on the water. This time of year the waterways are populated with a variety of birds, from the more common Swan, Goose and Duck species to more unique finds such as Gadwalls, Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes. And don’t be surprised to come across a resident Bald Eagle circling overhead. Take a sneak peek at what may be awaiting you here.
Of all the locations listed here, this is the most hit-or-miss. But the hits can be home runs, as in an Eastern Screech Owl perched just a few feet from the trail, a Cooper’s Hawk searching for prey on the forest floor, a Winter Wren scooting along a branch, or a gathering of wild turkeys down by the river. And even if the birds aren’t as plentiful as hoped, the intertwined winter trails always are. On a sunny winter day, it’s an ideal destination for a family outing. Click here for directions and recent bird sightings.
Brian Smith and Kai Clemen are birding and outdoor enthusiasts who both live in the City of Waterloo. They are partners in Waterloo-based Camp-5 Communications, and Kai is also an award-winning photographer. When not working, you’re likely to find them at any of the above locations with binoculars and camera at the ready.