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Special Account – Birdathon 2012 at Cabot Head

July 26, 2012

This post is exceptional in that I am using it to share the story of my birdathon in 2012 with my potential and actual sponsors.  Normally the blog is about birds observed from our apartment in 2012.  This post describes my birdathon around Cabot Head on the Bruce Peninsula.  At the bottom of this post is information on how to sponsor me.  All of the money raised goes to support bird conservation, and most supports the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory’s Migration Monitoring program.  My short-term goal is to raise $500.  However, if you spread this, you could help me double that goal.

The 2012 Team – Andrew, Rod, Salvadora, Ted

On May 19th, I teamed up with my usual Birdathon partner Rod Steinacher, the new Station Scientist at Cabot Head Research Station for BPBO Andrew Sawyer,  and our very special guest from Managua, Nicaragua Salvadora Morales.  Rod and I had started at 4 am listening to two federal species at risk: booming Common Nighthawks and wailing Whippoorwills near the Red Pine barrens along highway 6.  What a great way to start!  We added  another species at risk, Golden-winged Warbler, as well as Clay-colored Sparrow and the usual gaggle of scrubland species near Lark Whistle, before driving to our rendezvous at the Cabot Head Research Station.  It was about 6 am when we me up with our other teammates, and spent the next several hours birding the environs of Cabot Head.   Having two very sharp-eyed observers with us made the task someone easier this year though we never drove over 30 kilometres per hour, had good meals, and included the all important siesta in our day!  A highlight from the Research Station was sitting on the picnic bench overlooking Wingfield Basin, and watching several raptors including Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed and Broad-winged Hawks spiral over our heads before turning west.

Birdathon route – more or less

We left the station, driving around to the Lighthouse on the other side of Wingfield Basin.  The conifers bordering the walkway along the finger of land pointing across the mouth of Wingfield basin were teaming with warblers.  Of note were a numbers of warblers with very high-pitched “tssee tssee tssee” type songs, one distinctly higher than the other two, another with a more two-syllable quality, but all near the end of most mortals’ hearing range.  I think that for me, it was the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever, I was able to observe Cape May Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler in the same tree at the same time– and in numbers!   We feasted on the sight of these birds.  Our bubbling enthusiasm stopped a few passing birders with big cameras in their tracks and they proceeded to ‘capture’ the spectacle.  I was especially happy that Salva could experience the crippling views of Canada’s three classic long-distance migratory boreal budworm warblers.  Bay-breasted and Blackpoll fly through or over Nicaragua en route to and from wintering grounds in South America.  Blackpoll has one of the longest migrations of all warblers, dispersing in the vast forests of northern and central Brazil.  Cape May Warbler may over-winter on the Caribbean slopes of Nicaragua and southern Central America, but is mainly on the island chains in the Caribbean.

Salvadora, Rod and Andrew at the dock of Dyer’s Bay

Departing from the Lighthouse, we headed south towards Dyers Bay.  Along the way, we observed a few White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-necked Grebes and Common Loons to go along with the Common and Red-breasted Mergansers.  Red-necked Grebe is the trigger species for the Cabot Head Important Bird Area which stretches from Dyers Bay to High Dump.

By the time we left Dyers Bay, shortly after noon, we were well over 100 species, and starting to get hungry and tired.   It was sunny and warm – a pattern that would become the enduring memory of the summer of 2012.  The combination of warmth, sun and fatigue eventually caught up with us, and we drove to Rod’s to take our usual siesta (a Canadian tradition that we wanted to share with Salvadora), before hitting the road around 5 pm.

With renewed energy and vigor, we set off for our next stop, the Tobermory sewage lagoon, a birding hotspot where there were sure to add

Taking time to be silly

some species, and we were not disappointed . . . Bank Swallow, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked duck, Virginia Rail, and Red-bellied Woodpecker were all there.  However, the real show was along the edge of the forest that was bordered by a small slope covered with Staghorn Sumacs.  Feeding on the berries were several brilliantly coloured Eastern Bluebirds.  Amongst them were four Scarlet Tanagers, two males and two females.  To top things off, two Red-headed Woodpeckers, a species we had not observed on birdathon in several years, foraged on a tree along the forest edge.  At one point, all of the birds were within the same binocular view, lit-up by the late afternoon sun.   We were out of superlatives to describe the beauty of this scene.

Filled with awe, we drove to Tobermory to look for House Sparrows and Pigeons.   OK, this put a bit of a damper on the awe inspiration, particularly because the local House Finches that Rod swore up and down by, eluded us.  I guess our timing coincided with their siesta.

Sandhill Cranes at Crane Lake

The last major stop, the best way to close out the day, was Crane Lake in Bruce National Park.  Just before getting there, Salva spotted an Upland Sandpiper on a rock in the hay-field along the Dyers Bay Road, that left us both dumbfounded about how she managed to recognize it back in the field amongst the grass, and also cognizant of how lucky we were to have her and Andrew as part of the team (there were a few of those moments from both of them).   We spent about an hour before sunset wandering down to the wetland, spotting some Wood Ducks, hearing Grasshopper Sparrow and Marsh Wren.  The expanse of Crane Lake is breathtaking.  It also lives up to its name, as we always encounter numerous Sandhill Cranes, wandering in small groups quietly foraging, or filling the air their explosive bugling.

A last stop in the dark along the Crane Lake Road afforded us our final species – Eastern Screech Owl.  When we got back to Rod’s the tally was a satisfying 135 species.   My description captures the highlights of the day, but there were several long periods during which we added no species, and we always end up shaking our heads over the species we missed.

If you wish to sponsor me for birdathon, please go to my birdathon sponsor page , and help me reach my goal of raising $500 to support BPBO’s migration monitoring program and the Baillie fund.

Many Thanks!


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