Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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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

The White Winds of Southampton

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SNOW SQUALLS!

It was reported in the local media that we’ve had over seven feet of snow so far this winter. Right now it doesn’t look that way.        

We’ve had some rain and warm weather. The melt has taken the snow down and, for the most part, cleared the ice out of the river. Judging from the height of the banks along the road you might agree. But that’s the work of the snow ploughs. They hit street-snow fast and hard. Their big blades throw it fairly high and thick. If you look at the piled up mounds in parking lots, malls, driveways and street corners you could agree that the white stuff has hit us with serious regularity. Even the hillocks at the edge of the pack ice on the lake are impressive.                 

If you ask me, though, we didn’t get dumped on by regular, everyday snow storms. No! Here along the Lake Huron shoreline we get Snow Squalls. ‘White Wind’ if you will.         

You can track them through Exeter Radar on the Environment Canada site. You watch it build and move slowly – heading straight for you. The wind pushes clouds out of the North or West out over that vast expanse of water. That’s where the magic occurs. The snow builds. Winds gather velocity. When both make landfall it falls…vertically mostly.        

Although that’s not exactly correct because the Squall whips snow in every direction – so thick and so fast all you see is a monochromatic blend of grey and white. There is no colour. Just a blinding blast of white that stops everything…cold.          

Snow is blown across flat farmer’s fields and roads are closed. Snow days pile up too because schools close. Driveways drift up deep. What lands on the ground doesn’t stay there long because the wind picks it up and moves it elsewhere. Then it stops. There’s a lull of about ten to twenty minutes. Then the streamers build up and hit again.        

And so it goes. The repetition tends to get boring after a while. This can go on for nights and days. You get a lot of reading done. Or else you stock up on DVDs. Or send stupid e-mail jokes. Or update your FaceBook profile.        

Surprising thing is…it doesn’t bother the birds. They gather at your feeders and fight one another for prime perch position. Some hunker down on the railing, fluff up their feathers and ride out the wind. They are braver than we are.

Eventually you get a break and after the snow-plough passes (having clogged up your driveway) the familiar white noise of snow blowers fill the air. You join your neighbours for the ‘clearing-up’ ritual. And sometimes – when you’re almost done – a Squall comes out of nowhere and you’re lost in the White Wind again…waiting for it to move on through. If waiting means watching the seven feet grow to ten…fine.

Snow Squalls have their own timetable.

You can’t fight ‘The White Wind.’  

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 2, 2008 at 10:26 PM