Chantry Island

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.

We were able to add two birds to our trip list before the boat had even left the harbour: a Belted Kingfisher perching on a wire over the water, and a small flock of Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking for insects over the water. We left shortly after that in a small, aluminum boat that reminded me of my childhood summers at my grandmother’s cottage.

Chantry Island from the boat

The Herring Gulls were nesting right on the beach and along the rocky pier where the boat landed. We were warned that they might become aggressive and had to carry large sticks over our heads to deter them from attacking. The gulls were indeed unhappy that we had to walk right through their nesting grounds to reach the lighthouse, and we had many good views of their nests and even their eggs when they attempted to chase us off.

Herring Gull on nest

Herring Gull eggs

We climbed the 105 stairs to the top of the lighthouse. It was cool and a little dank inside, and the stairs were very steep. I had forgotten how much I hated heights until we reached the top, but our guide – a bird bander who monitors the population of the egrets who nest here – assured us that there was no way we could fall. Still, I felt a little uneasy with nothing between me and a long fall to the ground except a thin pane of glass. I looked for a rail to hold onto to, but found none.

Great Egret on nest

Eventually the amazing sights below pushed all thoughts of falling from my mind. We could see a couple of Great Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants on their nests right below us and, in a few cases, the blue eggs of the egrets as they stood guard on a nearby tree branch.

Great Egret eggs

We also saw two Black-crowned Night-herons fly by (one adult and one juvenile), and about three Great Blue Heron nests. Our guide told us that the Ring-billed Gulls nest on the ground in the middle of the island, but that the previous winter a pair of foxes appeared on the island and may still be here. The eggs and chicks are particularly vulnerable to predation.

Double-crested Cormorant on nest

After looking around we went back down to the ground and took a look around the lighthouse property. Because it is a sanctuary we weren’t allowed to leave the premises though I dearly would have loved to go exploring!

Outbuilding in the back garden

The gardens appeared lush, although it was still early in the season for many flowers to be in bloom. We did see a couple of Cabbage Whites flutter by, and saw a few other birds including Blue Jay, American Redstarts, Common Grackles, and a Song Sparrow. A Great Egret was perching in a nest right behind the garden, so I took a few pictures.

Great Egret

The majority of the nests in the area appeared to belong to the Double-crested Cormorants.

Cormorant Colony

We were allowed to explore the lighthouse keeper’s cottage and the boathouse. All of the furnishings in the cottage were loaned to the lighthouse by the Southampton museum, and entering the cottage really was like stepping back in time. I passed on the opportunity to inspect the outhouse.

The lighthouse from another angle

Outside the Boathouse

Looking toward Southampton

It was soon time to leave, though I would have loved to have spent more time here. We carried our sticks back to the boat and braved the attacking gulls once again. A couple of nests were temporarily exposed while the Herring Gulls attempted to defend them. The eggs were large and speckled, and most of the nests had only two or three which is the typical clutch size of this species.

Herring Gull eggs

My mother point out one nest which had a chick in it. The chick was small and resembled the egg it so recently hatched from.

Herring Gull chick

Herring Gull on Nest

We were soon on our way back to the mainland, but not quick enough for the gulls, I’m sure. It was wonderful to be out on the water, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our outing. Chantry Island is a special place, and we were glad we were given a rare opportunity to witness the circle of life.

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