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.
It was nice to be able to walk right up to these orchids and take some close-ups of them.
The walk started off with two surprises: four Common Loons swimming near a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the lake, and the arrival of five Ruddy Turnstones on the beach! These medium-sized shorebirds flew in together and began foraging in the rocky area near the water. We didn’t want to get too close in case we scared them.
We also saw three Spotted Sandpipers, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Terns, Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls. Margaret stopped to look at many of the wildflowers growing along the trail, including these beautiful Dwarf Lake Irises.
I began to understand why it was called a “relaxed” nature walk as the group dawdled over just about every blossoming flower they found. I found the pace just a bit too slow for me; I find I prefer to walk at a good pace, stopping only when I hear a bird and want to locate it, or see something that interests me. Then I’ll take a few pictures for later identification (if I don’t know what it is), and move on. If it’s something really interesting – such as a Boreal Owl staring at me from a snow-laden tree, or a Snapping Turtle laying eggs only a few feet away, or a Dragonhunter devouring a smaller dragonfly – then I’ll linger. I took a few photos of a large patch of gaywings but grew started to grow bored with the wildflower discussion when there were no birds or insects nearby to capture my attention.
The sun started to peek out between the clouds by the time we arrived at the Pitcher Plant marl; it was even beginning to warm up. We saw a few Spring Azure butterflies (see top photo), another Hoary Elfin and a couple of Chalk-fronted Corporals.
The marl itself was interesting. It is the most fragile ecosystem in MacGregor Point Provincial Park. The grayish mud – called marl – is very poor in nutrients, especially nitrogen. The plants that have adapted to this infertile habitat obtain their nutrients elsewhere…in this case, from the insects that land on them! Sundews, Bladderworts and Pitcher Plants area all carnivorous plants which grow here, and trap insects through specialized mechanisms in order to obtain sufficient nutrients to survive and reproduce.
The Pitcher Plants were deep red in colour with a number of tube-shaped “leaves” growing from the base of the plants, each resembling a small pitcher. The lip of the “pitcher” provides insects attracted to the flowers with a space to land; the veins inside contain nectar to lure the insect inside. Once the insect reaches the curve of the tube, which is lined with fine downward-pointing hairs, it becomes trapped. Unable to climb back out, the prey eventually falls into the bottom of pitcher, which contains rain, dew, and a digestive enzyme which dissolves the insect so that it can be consumed by the plant.
Unfortunately, none of the plants were growing close enough to the boardwalk in order to observe this process.
Margaret said she knew where a Winter Wren had set up territory, and lead us to a small boardwalk over a swampy area. We didn’t find the wren, but had something just as good: a Northern Waterthrush singing right above us out in the open. He was too high up to photograph, but it was nice to get a look at this bird and compare him to the similar-looking Ovenbird. A couple of Green Frogs were sitting quietly on a log, so I took a few pictures of them instead.
We later heard a Winter Wren singing near the beach, and found a few other interesting species such as Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Great Blue Heron flying over and several Cedar Waxwings. In one of the ponds next to the main road I noticed something moving in the water; it looked to me like a dragonfly nymph.
Margaret also showed us a small, hidden pond where a number of beautiful red Painted Cup flowers were growing. This plant used to be known as Indian Paintbrush but the name was changed to become more politically correct.
On our return journey I stopped to take a couple of pictures of Lake Huron, the first ones of the weekend where the sun is actually shining. The Bruce Peninsula is said to be famous for its sunsets; sadly, we never saw a single one due to the weather.
My mom and I returned to the Turtle Pond boardwalk one last time after the walk was over, hoping to catch another glimpse of the Green Heron. It was absent, but two Painted Turtles were sunning themselves on distant logs.
This was our last event of the birding festival, and our last day spent in the park. I was disappointed that the weather wasn’t more cooperative for my photography or for seeing butterflies and dragonflies; I was also a bit disappointed that most of the birds we saw were breeding birds on territory, rather than species migrating through.
We saw no Blackburnian Warblers, Palm Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers or Swainson’s Thrushes, all species normally seen on previous birding vacations; I think it was too late in the month to see most of these birds, as they probably have all moved through already. We were missing a lot of shorebirds and a lot of ducks as well. There were a few other places we planned to check before we left, and next on our list was Chantry Island.