Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Birding Club

MEA CULPA

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I have not paid too much attention to this Blog since well before January. Not because I haven’t had anything to say (which is partly true). But blogging, to me, becomes a tad boring (for the writer) if the writer isn’t following a personal message or cause or theme. And I, for one, don’t believe in listing or recounting all that happens to me on a regular basis.

brdfest2What I have been doing on a fairly regular basis, though, is posting a blog for the Huron Fringe Birding Festival (http://huronfringefest.wordpress.com). Not because I am birder but because I’m married to one and she is on the Festival Committee and I let myself be talked into becoming their ‘Blog Master’ as they have titled me.

Birders are interesting people, if not a touch obsessed. Actually a lot of them have become good friends. Their varied backgrounds and varied interests make for good conversation and good laughs. The Festival is over now so more time will be spent literally rambling on metropolitanhomesickblues.

So what has been happening over the many months? Sadly our cat of 19 years has left us. 

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Miss Molly was a clawless, long hair “tort” as they say, a rescue cat my wife brought home one day. She does that sort of thing with animals. Molly and I were buddies. When she wasn’t sleeping she was wherever I was, even in the middle of the night. When she walked into a room she walked to me and demanded (in the voice of her people) that I pick her up to carry her on my shoulder or place her beside me in whatever chair I was sitting in…room for her or not.

When she had had enough of her lazy life, Molly told us. She went quietly. She is well remembered.

A short piece of the Bruce Trail became my responsibility over that period.

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I am Trail Captain for a length that runs above the Slough of Despond towards Skinner’s Bluff. Its up on the North Bruce Peninsula and it’s a lovely hike. My duties are to inspect the trail at least three times a year and keep it clear and walkable as it varies from gentle to rocky to wet in the spring. Rest assured there will be words and pictures coming your way as summer unfolds.

Of course, who can forget the now legendary Winter of 2014.

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I can’t remember when it started, but it felt like it lasted forever. The Great Lakes were frozen over. The ice never left Lake Huron until mid May. Blizzards, road and town closures, endless driveway snow blowing, shovels and roof rakes were the norm.

boulder

 All of that is past us now. Just had to get it all out of my mind on to the page as an excuse to write this blog.

THE BRUCE BIRDING CLUB IN ALGONQUIN PARK

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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:  http://natureworksphotography.blogspot.com

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

TUNDRA SWANS

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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

BIRDING

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Snow geese

Early on a November Sunday.

The sun had melted the frost that came by night and the remaining moisture hung in a haze over the Sound. The grass was still green. A few leaves, drained of colour remained on the trees. The day started out warm and comfortable. It was a typical ‘British Morning’. So says Peter, our guide for the day.

I am here looking out over Owen Sound with Birders from the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Now, I am not a birder. Far from it. But, I am outside, under an unbelievable blue sky, in the company of people who find staring at waterfowl from a distance, fascinating. They come armed with books; binoculars and spotting scopes, which make birding, look like a very expensive hobby.

As the day, progresses, and we scoot from location to location, literally circling the Sound from one shore to another searching for different species of ducks, geese and biggest genus of sea gull in the world…I am impressed. I am impressed with the fine points of difference between ducks and greater and lesser geese recently arrived, thanks to the shift in jet stream, from different parts of Canada’s north.

And there were firsts for me as well. I saw pure white Snow Geese for the first time. I had never seen Snow Buntings before. They’re big. And their winter plumage gives them hawk-like colouring. Across from the grain elevators on the foreshore just in front of the weeds a Great Blue Herron stood silent as a sentry.

Its regal head turned slowly as if watching me watching it through the binoculars. It too, is big.

I learned that is it OK to talk, but softly, as you approach birds sitting close to shore. You won’t spook them this way. They know you’re not a threat if they hear and see you. Why? Because predators move swiftly and silently.

I learned that birders never stop birding. A prime example of this happened on Grey Road One as we drove past Cobble Beach. Peter, from the open window in the lead vehicle, frantically waving and pointing skyward, suddenly pulled off the road. We scrambled to follow suit without a long rear-ender. He jumped out and ran from car to car. There up in the sky, just above us, a Bald Eagle was gracefully riding the wind off Georgian Bay in lazy circles. It must have been a crazy sight to the motorists that zipped by us…14 people with binoculars trained on a dark, white-headed bird who couldn’t care less.

Birders know what to look for and where. They love nature. They love the land. They know what they’re doing. And I would follow them again just to be amazed at a world most of us tend to ignore.

Peter discovered this epitaph on a grave in Suffolk. The author was not recorded but the date was 1560:

The wonders of this world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades:

These I saw.

Look ye also, while life lasts

Good advice.