April is finally here. This is the month when it truly begins to feel like spring, yet Mother Nature played a cruel April Fool’s trick on us by sending us a mix of snow and rain on Sunday morning. I managed to get in an hour’s worth of birding before the gray skies began spitting snow, starting first at Sarsaparilla Trail where I found a male Wood Duck, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a male Bufflehead, and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks on the pond. This was the first Bufflehead I had seen here, bringing the total number of species observed to 75 – up 15 from the 60 I reported in my blog entry about Sarsaparilla Trail.
Monday was our last day on the Bruce Peninsula. We said good-bye to Port Elgin and drove north toward Southampton and Sauble Beach. In Southampton we stopped at Fairy Lake, which had been advertised as a “nature lover’s oasis”. I was expecting another Mud Lake, or at least a network of trails surrounding the water. Instead, we were disappointed to find that there was only about 20 feet of wooded habitat surrounding the lake with a single gravel path traveling through it; we could easily see the buildings next to the park. The only birds we found were a couple of chickadees and Song Sparrows in the narrow band of trees and a tame Mute Swan and a couple of ducks (one mallard and one domestic-mallard mix) on the lake itself.
My mother and I left MacGregor Point Provincial Park around noon on Sunday and drove north to Southampton for our boat journey to Chantry Island. This island has been designated as a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and during the breeding season there are as many as 50,000 birds (including chicks) on the island, the majority of which consist of the Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants that nest here in large colonies. Because of its status, the number of people allowed on the island on any given day is strictly limited and tours must be booked through the Chantry Island Tour Base. My mother and I booked our tour shortly before the trip, and after getting some lunch in town, we arrived at the dock a little after 1:00.
Our last event of the Huron Fringe Birding Festival was a relaxed nature walk along the Old Shore Road Trail on Sunday morning. Our guide, Margaret Anderton, intended to visit the beach area north of the Visitor Center, the Pitcher Plant Marl, and various wetlands, hardwood and coniferous forests in between. This event didn’t start until 9:00 so my mother and I took the opportunity to sleep in. When we arrived we were still early, so I stopped to take some photos of some of the Yellow Lady’s Slippers growing just beyond the Visitor Center parking lot. The day started out cool and cloudy (as usual), though thankfully it didn’t rain.
The next morning it was still cloudy and cool. Our morning walk with Judith King started at 7:00 a.m. and took us back to the Bruce/Saugeen Townline and the Ducks Unlimited pond. We scared up a Great Blue Heron fishing in the fast-running water in the ditch beside the road, and then had to park about seven vehicles near the bridge. This was difficult as road had no shoulders and barely fit two passing cars; this was demonstrated for us first-hand when a car approached us from the opposite direction and both vehicles had to drive with one tire in the grass. The wide spot where I had parked the previous night seemed long enough to hold about three vehicles, and it took much maneuvering to get our vehicles safely off to the side.
After the walk ended my mother and I ate lunch at the Visitor’s Center then did some exploring of our own. We returned to the Huron Fringe Trail, the official name for the boardwalks encircling the Visitor Center, and spent some time on the beach. We didn’t see anything unusual in either place, although it was great to see all the Herring Gulls on the water, a species I usually don’t see in Ottawa until late fall and winter.
In late May my mother and I set out on our fourth annual birding vacation. Our destination this year was not Point Pelee and the Lake Erie shores, but rather MacGregor Point Provincial Park on Lake Huron at the base of the Bruce Peninsula. This park is the home of the Huron Fringe Birding Festival, held annually on the first two weekends after the May 24th long weekend. The birding festival features guided hikes both in and outside the Park, showcasing the various birds, wildflowers, butterflies and insects that call this area home. We signed up for the first weekend (Friday, May 27th – Monday May 30th) and drove to Port Elgin, our base of operations, on Thursday morning.
The next day the clouds moved in. I drove east to Petrie Island in search of marsh birds and migrants. When I stopped by the marsh along the causeway, however, the water levels were still high. I didn’t hear or see any rails, bitterns or Marsh Wrens; there were a few mallards and Tree Swallows, a single Great Blue Heron and that was about it. A couple of Yellow Warblers were singing in the shrubs and a pair of Red-wings were mating on the ground. Then I noticed a dark bird flying over the water on the other side of the causeway; it was my first confirmed Black Tern in Ottawa! I watched its graceful flight for a while before it vanished over the marsh.
After checking Roger’s Pond, I decided to leave the clearing and take the right-hand trail (if facing north, toward Roger Stevens Drive) which looks as though it circles the pond. I have never followed the entire trail around the pond before and was hoping to find the little log shelter I’d seen pictures of in other peoples’ galleries.
The trail immediately plunged into the woods, although in several places only a thin screen of trees separated the forest trail from the pond clearing. At no time did I see the water, but in these open spots I found a singing Chestnut-sided Warbler in all his breeding-plumage beauty and a singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
The first day of the Victoria Day long weekend was warm and sunny and gorgeous; it felt more like a day in mid-summer than late spring. I took my insect net out for the first time this season and headed over to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to see what I could find. Although I knew many of the butterflies and dragonflies unique to Marlborough Forest would not have emerged yet, I still had hopes of finding some interesting reptiles and amphibians. I was also curious as to whether I would find any interesting birds there, as I had never been there before during migration.