Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Posts Tagged ‘Birders


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They came to occupy our back roads and farm fields. Stoically perched on hydro poles and fence posts, they survey their bleak surroundings, heads rotating in seemingly full circle, ever vigilant for any movement in the mud and snow. Oblivious to any kind of weather, they wait. Patience is their stock in trade. They sit almost motionless for hours; the only sign of movement is the wind ruffling their feathers. When they take flight they glide low over the ground. Then with a few short strokes of their wings they gain height and settle again on another high vantage point – to wait.

It all started with emails from Bruce County Birders. The Snowy Owls had arrived in more than normal numbers. This was something that doesn’t happen every year. Sightings were posted. Locations changed from day to day. The excitement was palpable. The news sent all serious birders on a quest. The search was part of the excitement. Those that found them were happy to send their photographs.

Our first sighting was early in the morning driving down Bruce Road 3 at 80km an hour…one solitary bird, high above the road on a hydro pole in the breaking dawn light. It was an accidental view, a fleeting glance but a glance nonetheless. We crisscrossed the county a number of times after that. Finally, one sunny day, on our way out of Paisley towards Underwood we saw four of them. They sat quietly for their portraits waiting for us to be done.

Looking at them I got the impression that they were unimpressed with the whole procedure. If I were a Snowy Owl looking down at all these people with their binoculars and cameras with protruding lenses I would probably be wondering what all the fuss was about.

But I’m not a Birder or a Snowy Owl. 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 5, 2012 at 5:21 PM


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Day One: 

The day showed little promise.

Overhead the overcast sky alternated between dark and gun-metal gray. In the first hour of our drive thick fog hung over the highway. As we approached Georgian Peaks slashes of white appeared through the shadowed morning. The remaining snow on the ski hills was prominent enough to cut through the mist. Throughout our drive to Algonquin Park we were in and out of rain.

We were on our way to meet up with members of the Bruce Birding Club (BBC) to spend time hiking Algonquin’s bush and bogs searching for four Boreal Species  – Spruce Grouse – the Grey Jay – the Black-Backed Woodpecker and the Boreal Chickadee.

Now Birders are an intrepid group. Nothing stops them. There is no inclemency that can slow them down. Rain gear is like a second skin to these people. So when we entered the Park’s West Gate in a downpour, I knew to expect nothing less than a damp, wet 48 hours.

Algonquin was still in winter’s grip. Ice covered the lakes. And as it slowly melted, it threw up lateral levels of fog that drifted across dark green trees, black blogs, up jagged slices of granite and into the brooding forest. The sight of it left you with an ominous feeling.

A line of cars were parked at the side of the road. Across from them a moose stood stoically at the edge of the bush while humans armed with cameras moved in clicking away.  We found some of the BBC.

After settling in at the East Gate Motel we put on our second skin to tromp around the Park’s Logging Exhibit. A hard rain fell as we carefully made our way across the lingering snow and ice covered paths in the forested areas. No birds of note.

That night, Kevin Klute, our guide, (education@algonquinpark.on.caled us through the darkness in a Wolf Howl. No wolves answered. Was this an omen?

Day Two: 

The weather continued as promised the day before.

Our motel was typical strip-mall style small town Northern Ontario, a stone’s throw from a highway dominated by giant 18-wheelers driven by Mad Max types who cared little for the speed limit.

I thought our room’s mint-green walls would inspired nightmares, but we slept surprisingly well. And for $5:00 East Gate’s cozy dining nook served an excellent breakfast.

The good people of the BBC were hoping for ‘good looks” in today’s Boreal Species quest. As a guarantee, Park Naturalist Kevin came armed with a recording of a female Spruce Grouse call.  With iPod and tiny speaker he wandered off into the bog. After a few short minutes he yelled. Success! He found a male, deep enough in, to make getting there an adventure. Determined not to miss this, BBC Birders found themselves sinking knee-deep in roadside snow. But, they all emerged happy and excited.

Rains came mid-day. We parked in the mud flats of the Sanitary Station. Kevin returned from a scouting and announced that it was a ‘rubber boot trail.’

And that’s how it all ended for N. and I.

Sadly, perhaps, she and I are not true birders…yet. We were not ready for a walk in the rain through knee-deep mud on a water-soaked trail. We decided to leave. The day kept its promise as we headed for home in the fog and rain once again 

Check out Jennifer Howard’s shots at:

Bruce Birding Club at the West Gate - Day 2 (Doug Pedwell shot this)

The elusive Spruce Grouse deep in the bog. (Stewart Nutt photo)

64 Species Sighted   
• Common Loon – 1,
• Double-crested Cormorant -1
• Great Blue Heron – 2,6,9
• Canada Goose
• Wood Duck – 10
• Mallard
• American Black Duck
• Canvasback Hwy 61 and road to VC
• Ring-necked Duck – 2.3.11
• Common Merganser – 2. 6
• Turkey Vulture
• Red-tailed Hawk – 1
• Merlin – 6,
• American Kestrel – 12
• Ruffed Grouse – 8, 11
Spruce Grouse – 3. 7, 11
Sandhill Crane -1 
• Wild Turkey -1,2
• Ring-billed Gull
• Herring Gull
American Woodcock
• Mourning Dove
• Rock Pigeon
• Belted Kingfisher -5
• Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -5, 4
• Downy Woodpecker 5.7.
• Hairy Woodpecker 5.7.
• Northern Flicker – everywhere
• Pileated Woodpecker – 5
Black-backed Woodpecker – 11
• Eastern Phoebe – 5,7
• Eastern Kingbird -12
• Blue Jay -5. 6.7.11
• Gray Jay
• Common Raven -2, 7.
• American Crow
• Tree Swallow  1,
• Barn Swallow -7
• Black-capped Chickadee -5 +
Boreal Chickadee – 11 on rail trail
• Red-breasted Nuthatch -5
• White-breasted Nuthatch -5
• Brown Creeper -7
• Winter Wren – 6
• Golden-crowned Kinglet -3
• Ruby-crowned Kinglet -3, 5, 7, 11
• American Robin
Hermit Thrush – 4
• European Starling
• Bohemian Waxwing -7
• Yellow-rumped Warbler -7,11
• American Tree Sparrow – 5.7
• Chipping Sparrow -7
• White-throated Sparrow -5.7, 11
• Song Sparrow -7
• Swamp Sparrow -7
• Dark-eyed Junco
• Snow Bunting -12
• Brown-headed Cowbird -7
• Red-winged Blackbird
• Common Grackle
• Purple Finch -8
• Pine Siskin – 8
• American Goldfinch -9


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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