Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff


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I was told, by those that know, that one of the most spectacular advents of spring is the Tundra Swan migration. For some of these great birds, this annual passage brings them, for a few short days, to Grand Bend Ontario to feed, rest and build up enough strength, for the next leg of their journey.

Last year N. made the trip south, returning with many pictures and much enthusiasm about what she saw. And so it was that I joined her and her Bruce Birding Club friends as they made their ritual journey down Highway 21 to the soggy farm fields where Tundra Swans were resting before relentlessly flying northward, as their brains are hard-wired to do.

It was a bright, blue, crisp, clear, sunny March morning when we headed out in an eight-car convoy. Flat farms fields still held ground frost. The warmth of the rising sun soon took care of that. The walkie-talkie crackled with the chatter of drive-by bird sightings. Although no sooner were we informed of the, “Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on the hydro pole on the right,” than we were past it and rubber necking to get a view before we sped out of sight. This continued all the way down. Birders are an ever-vigilant breed. They never stop looking even when they’re driving.

After a couple of refueling and relieving Tim Horton pit stops we arrived at our first destination. We parked along the shoulder of a secondary road in front of Grand Bend’s sewage lagoons. The Birders called them cells. Birdsong greeted us as we stepped out of our cars.

Overhead a “V” of Tundra Swans, white against the brilliant blue sky, flew past. Their ‘honking’ was nothing like that of geese. It was softer, more musical–at least to me.

“What are we looking for here,” said someone behind me. “Anything with wings,” replied one of the veteran birders with a chuckle. We climbed over the chain-locked gate and headed in. On the wet and muddy trail the colourful underbelly of a dead turtle distracted me for a moment. It didn’t have wings so I moved on.

Eventually after sightings of different ducks, song sparrows, killdeer and others that I can’t remember, we left the odorous ponds in search of swans.

Obviously these birds are creatures of habit because they were right where they were supposed to be…basking in the waterlogged farm fields on either side of the highway.

There were thousands of them…some taking off in small groups while others arrived…a sea of white sitting on the mud…strutting on the mud…all of them jostling to secure a little space for themselves, while they constantly chatted with each other, raising their voices, flooding the surrounding area with a cacophony that eventually sounded quite pleasant. The sight of it all was really worth the trip.

But how long can you stand at the side of the road looking at swans? Eager for a closer view, our line of vehicles took a back road to get behind the fields. To say we got lost may not be entirely correct. But, we ended up on a dirt track beside a canal. It was wide enough for a single line of vehicles. And it was a dead end.

Imagine eight cars in a row with no room to turn around. We managed nonetheless. And we laughed about it.

It is true that birds have an innate sense of direction…I can’t always say the same for Birders.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 18, 2010 at 9:30 PM

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