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.
Once again I was hoping to see some ducks or waterfowl on Turtle Pond, and once again I was disappointed. For such a lovely spot, it sure had a dearth of wildlife!
Near the beach, however, I noticed a tiny brown butterfly resting in a juniper bush. I tried to take some photos but was unsuccessful. Then I found another butterfly on the sandy beach. It resembled the Brown Elfins I had seen at Mer Bleue but with a pale, frosty patch along the outer edge of the hindwing. A quick consultation with my iPhone’s field guide confirmed my tentative ID of Hoary Elfin, a new species for me.
I found some interesting plants in the area, including Dwarf Lake Iris, more Yellow Lady’s Slippers, and lots of gaywings.
The beach itself was a disappointment. The water was high and didn’t leave much of a smooth, sandy beach to walk along. Because of all the rain we’d had, a number of marshy wet spots had developed in the low-lying areas, making getting to the lake difficult. We didn’t stay long, and headed to another spot on our list, the open, grassy area behind the Admin Office.
We tried following the Deer Run Trail to the field between the Admin Office and the Maintenance Yard but a large pond in the middle of the trail made us turn around and seek entrance via the Admin Office yard where we found a large patch of unusual mushrooms growing.
According to Mike Pickup’s book “Birding Saugeen Shores”, the area behind the Admin Office is a good spot to check for Indigo Buntings, bluebirds, Golden-winged Warbler, and House Wren. If there is an abundance of Tent Caterpillars, Black-billed Cuckoo may be found here as well. (We were in luck….there were tents just about everywhere we looked.)
Deer Run Trail behind the Admin Office
A couple of bluebird nest boxes had been set up here, and we found a pair of Eastern Bluebirds in the area. The furthest nest box had been taken over by House Wrens, and the male was belting out his loud, musical song from a tree branch close by. There was no sign of any Golden-winged Warblers or Black-billed Cuckoos, but we were awed by a Red-tailed Hawk flying over the clearing with half a dozen crows squawking in pursuit. We also saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes (including one nesting above the front door above the office building) and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, making the stop worthwhile.
Later in the afternoon we decided to return to the Ducks Unlimited Pond, this time via the Bruce/Saugeen Townline which marks the park’s southern boundary. This is a much shorter route to the tower than walking the entire trail.
Return to the Tower Trail
We found a few different birds on our second visit. This time we saw a Great Egret slowly walking from island to island in search of prey, and heard a rail (perhaps a coot or a moorhen) squeaking from the vegetation right in front of tower. Though we watched the area intently we couldn’t see any sign of the mystery bird. A phoebe and a Northern Flicker were also new birds we hadn’t seen earlier that morning.
We then walked along the grassy dyke, encountering two families of Canada Geese with small goslings and another water snake curled up in the grass. He took off like a rocket when we walked by so this is the only photo I got:
Northern Water Snake
We were surprised and delighted when three Common Nighthawks flew over the pond, joining the swallows in search of food; this was the first time my mother and I had seen this member of the nightjar family on any of our trips. We also heard a Least Bittern calling its low, mournful “coo-coo-coo” from one of the grassy islands in the pond. Of course, this is one of the most secretive marsh birds of all and we couldn’t spot him among all the vegetation. Interestingly, we were able to contrast its call with the louder, more strident song of a Black-billed Cuckoo on the other side of the tower. We couldn’t find him either; he stopped calling when we tried to get closer to him.
When we left the park we were quite content with the day’s finds; the Least Bittern was a lifer for both of us, even if we didn’t see it. The Ducks Unlimited Pond was a fascinating spot, and definitely the highlight of our first day.