Adventure in Westport

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

My last day in Westport, May 16th, had arrived. I began my day with a 2-kilometer walk through town; it came as a surprise just how many birds the greenspace around town attracted: I heard a Common Yellowthroat, Warbling Vireo and a House Wren, and saw a White-crowned Sparrow and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak visiting a feeder. Other birds on my walk included Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, a Red-winged Blackbird and a Northern Flicker, plus the usual Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, starlings, chickadees, robins and grackles. The tall trees, wide yards, dense hedges and shrubs, as well as the water nearby, provided plenty of habitat for migrating birds.

I had been visiting the waterfront on and off during my time in Westport. On my drive in on the very first day I had noticed a large flock of gulls and terns resting at the ends of the two piers; however, it was pouring rain that day and I didn’t take time to stop and check them out. I have regretted this decision ever since, as I had not seen the terns there since. When I returned first thing in the morning I found two Herring Gulls and about 30 Double-crested Cormorants at the ends of the piers, but no terns. The low sun shining on the water, however, made the harbour appear quite beautiful.

Westport Harbour

Westport Harbour

Not long after I arrived I heard the distinctive call of a Merlin and watched as it flew into a large evergreen tree, carrying something. A second one arrived and landed in the bare tree to the left of the parking lot, close enough to get some photos!

Merlin

It seemed that they were nesting in the evergreen, as there was a large nest tucked just inside the branches where the first Merlin had disappeared. The second one remained out in the open.

Merlin

After leaving the harbour I found my way to the church in the northwest corner of town. I heard a Killdeer flying over somewhere and thought I heard a Brown Thrasher singing as well, but couldn’t locate the bird or confirm it.

Westport church

I got some breakfast and bought some pastries at the bakery before returning to the harbour. This time there were about ten terns resting on the dock along with the 30 cormorants. These were the first terns of the year for me, so at first I was uncertain as to whether they were Common Terns or Caspian Terns – Common Terns are common in Ottawa in the spring, showing up at the Eagleson ponds in May in most years, while Caspian Terns are more common along Lake Ontario or, in the fall, along the Ottawa River. Caspian Terns are larger, with large red bills, but I wasn’t sure whether these were large enough for Caspian Terns. It wasn’t until after showing my photos to a few other people that I was able to confirm they were, in fact, Caspian Terns!

Caspian Terns

I saw a couple of workers get out of a car and start walking toward the docks; realizing their intent, I managed to get only a couple of photos before the men headed out onto the dock, causing all the birds to fly out into the bay. Unfortunately, this is one of the drawbacks of birding in populated areas – I find that generally, other people aren’t as accommodating toward birders or photographers as they are toward joggers, dog-walkers and people with walkers or small children. I don’t think this is the result of any unwillingness to give us a few moments or more space; I believe they are simply unaware that they are about to scare off whatever it is we’re focused on at the moment. In any event, the birds were gone and it was time to seek the solitude of the woods of the Foley Mountain Conservation Area. Fortunately the now-cloud-dappled sky held no hint of rain on this visit.

I walked north and west of the parking area along a large, two-kilometer loop that took me deep into the woods, past the beaver pond, and close to the highway. I tallied 37 species on that loop, including Ruffed Grouse (heard only), Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, Wood Thrush, White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow (heard in a cattail-filled pond between the conservation area and the highway), Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, and nine warbler species: eight Ovenbirds, one Northern Waterthrush singing in a low wet area, two Black-and-white Warblers, one Common Yellowthroat, two Blackburnian Warblers that I managed to see, one Black-throated Blue Warbler, four Pine Warblers, at least five Yellow-rumped Warblers, and one Black-throated Green Warbler. There was a large flock of migrants in the trees near the beaver pond, with a few other individuals scattered throughout the loop. The Ovenbirds were the most conspicuous of the warblers, and I even managed to spot a pair foraging on the ground.

Ovenbird

After returning to the parking area I did a second loop east into the woods along a trail that took me to the edge of the bluff. I had another Ruffed Grouse, two Scarlet Tanagers – including a bright red male singing out in the open – three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, two Brown Creepers, and seven warblers along this loop, including another eight Ovenbirds, two Black-and-white Warblers, one Nashville Warbler, one Magnolia Warbler, two more Blackburnian Warblers, six Pine Warblers, and two Yellow-rumped Warblers. One of the Pine Warblers was foraging low in a leafless deciduous tree and provided some great photo opportunities; the rest of the warblers were too high up in the trees to photograph, or were heard only.

Pine Warbler

The best part of my day came when I heard the thin whistles of a Bald Eagle calling; I rushed to find an opening along the top of the bluff and eventually spotted an adult soaring over the escarpment. I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard one calling in the wild, and it was amazing to watch it fly by overhead. Two Turkey Vultures were also soaring above the escarpment, but it was the eagle that stole the show. A little further along I was amazed to hear the sound of a loon calling from the lake; I added it to my checklist even though it wasn’t in the conservation area, and I couldn’t see it.

I was almost done when I heard something else: three large engines shattering the silence somewhere along the main road. My heart sank as I realized three school buses had just arrived. Sure enough, when the engines stopped I heard the sounds of a large group of children and some adults. My quest for solitude was over, and even though I had hoped to cover a few more trails – my eastern loop covered almost 2.5 kilometeres only and I wanted to go back to the Visitor Center – I decided it was time to go.

Before I left Westport for good I stopped for gas at the edge of town on Concession Street. There I was amazed to see an Osprey carrying nesting material to top of a metal silo in the field next to the gas station; this is probably the same Osprey I’ve seen flying past the motel. A Savannah Sparrow singing in the same field was a nice surprise. Since there were so many farm fields nearby, I took a short drive along the roads outside of town and found a great spot on Noonan Road where I found Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, a House Wren, and another Savannah Sparrow to add some “field” birds to my list. My three-day visit added 53 species to the 21 species on my list for the county of Leeds and Grenville; I had a total of 71 on this trip altogether!

Westport is a beautiful area, and I was glad to have spent a few days off in the “southern” part of Eastern Ontario. Although the weather could have been much better, it was wonderful to visit some new places and familiar trails during the height of songbird migration, and see some Ontario birds that don’t breed as far north as Ottawa. I would highly recommend a trip to Foley Mountain, Frontenac Park, and Murphy’s Point during migration or the breeding season to take in the beautiful scenery and wildlife. It was not quite as amazing as a trip to Point Pelee in the spring, but it is a nice alternative to the Ottawa birding scene when a change of scenery was needed. My only regrets are that the weather didn’t cooperate, and that I couldn’t find a good spot for shorebirds. I definitely plan to return in the future!

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2 thoughts on “Adventure in Westport

  1. I had the good fortune to live in Westport for almost 3 years. It was an amazing, birdy place. I remember counting 14 Bald Eagles in December when the dock area started to ice up. And 25 Blue Jays at my feeder one day. Red morph screech owl in the box in my garden…I could go on! Miss it quite a bit sometime.

    • I remember hearing about that screech owl – awesome! Westport is great. I would have planned a return trip to Foley Mountain later in the summer for odes and butterflies if there hadn’t been construction warning signs stating that the highway was going to be torn up for a couple of months. Maybe next year!

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