Saturday, 24 May 1980

CANADA May 1980 (part 2)

This blog finishes recounting a two week trip to Ontario in May 1980 with Graham Armstrong, Richard Bosanquet, Maurice Chown, Rupert Hastings, Graham Hearl, Andrew Moon and Pete Naylor.  All were really great companions.  Rupert, Graham H and Pete are very sadly no longer with us but are rarely far from my thoughts.  It is based on old, fairly uninformative notebook entries, memories of varying reliability and digitised slides

18 May.  A quick look around Point Pelee convinced us it was time to move on.  Down to 18 species of warbler including a stunning male Prothonotary, 2 Parulas (including the one seen the previous day), Cerulean, 13 Blackburnian and 6 Bay-breasted.  We crossed into USA at Detroit with little delay and drove to the Haehnle Sanctuary west of Ann Arbour in Michigan.  There we saw a female Hooded Merganser and 4 Sandhill Cranes (2 of them were dancing). We then drove north to Marion where we camped after dark.

19 May.  After a look around Marion where we saw 10 Prairie Chickens, American Bittern and 2 Henslow’s Sparrows before driving on to Grayling where we had an appointment with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  This was the most accessible site for Kirtland’s Warbler but before we were taken to see them we had to sit through a 30 minute film about what was being done to protect them.  Fair enough but we would have enjoyed the film a lot more if we had seen the birds first, especially as it stressed that they were hard to see when not signing and only sang early morning.  At about 10:00, although it felt more like noon(!), we were taken to a stand of conifers of appropriate height and there without too much trouble we had good views of a singing Kirtland’s Warbler.  I was worrying unnecessarily!  At Grayling we also saw 2 Sharp-tailed Grouse and 3 Upland Sandpipers.  We continued north to Wilderness State Park where we saw Piping Plover, Black-capped Chickadee and 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches.

20 May.  We drove from Sault St. Marie (back in Canada) east to Algonquin seeing a Sandhill Crane (S of Sudbury), Ruffed Grouse, 2 American Woodcock, Hermit Thrush, 2 Veerys and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

21 May.  All day around Algonquin where I saw 4 Great Northern Divers, 2 Hooded Mergansers, 4 male Spruce Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Killdeer, 2 American Woodcock, 5 Belted Kingfishers, Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, 2 Blue and 7 Grey Jays, distant small bright yellow bird (Evening Grosbeak) and 10 species of warbler including Chestnut-sided, 2 Magnolia, Canada, Wilson’s and 2 Overbirds.  Mosquitoes were starting to become a problem.  It seemed strange seeing locals out in their gardens in full bee-keeping headgear but as I’d not thought to bring any insect repellent I started to look at them quite enviously.
Spruce Grouse at Algonquin

American Red Squirrel
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle

American Swallowtail
22 May.  A morning at Algonquin before heading back towards Toronto.  We saw American Bittern, 3 male Spruce Grouse, 3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Boreal Chickadee, 3 Blue and 4 Grey Jays, another distant small bright yellow bird and 9 species of warbler including Pine and Blackburnian.  Richard Bosanquet had been in contact with a friend from his old school who lived in Guelph and he had very kindly offered to take us out for a day.

Beaver Lodge
Great Northern Diver
Tree Swallow

Grey Jay


23 May.  An enjoyable day being guided by David Brewer around various sites near Guelph, just west of Toronto.  We’d not seen Loggerhead Shrike which was soon put right when we visited a territory where a pair were in residence.  During the day we also saw 2 Hooded Mergansers, Nighthawk, Eastern Phoebe, 100 Cliff Swallows at a colony, 18 Cedar Waxwings, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds at a nest box, Chestnut-sided and 2 Bay-breasted Warblers, 3 Ovenbirds and a Northern Waterthrush and 10 Bobolinks.  Both Rupert and I had not seen Pileated Woodpecker during the trip and felt that our best chances had gone although we were still on the lookout for one.  One of the more open sites we visited had a very wide ride going down one side of a valley and up the other.  Rupert and I had lagged behind the others a bit, Rupert more so than me.  As I started the climb I saw something flying across in front of me.  I lifted my binoculars and don’t now recall what it was, other than not being at all notable.  Rupert, who was behind but higher than me, saw me looking and something and lifted his bins to see what it was.  He quickly caught me up.  ‘That was a bit of luck’ he said to me.  I looked at him rather blankly.  ‘The Pileated Woodpecker you were looking at?’  Rupert had got onto a different bird that either I hadn’t been sharp enough to spot or was just over the brow of the hill for me.  Rupert was one of the very best birders it has been my privilege to have been birding with but my reply on that occasion was probably unprintable!  Although if I had seen the bird I very much doubt I would have thought much more of it.  Now it still feels like an open sore but is one of many great reminders of Rupert.

24 May.  On our final morning we visited Niagara on the Lake and St. Catherine’s.  David Brewer took us 4 at a time to see a Red-shouldered Hawk at a nest, quite tense as if it flew those going into the wood to look at it were likely to miss it whereas those waiting outside should not.  Fortunately it performed.  After David made some enquiries we then twitched 2 House Finches on a feeder.  Niagra was quite impressive but rather too urban an environment and a bit commercialized for a natural wonder.  A quick look around one of the car parks suggested it might be the best place outside the USA to collect a full set of State number plates.  To be thinking such things it was clear the trip was over and we headed back to Toronto Airport.  It had been a very enjoyable time, made so by having such excellent companions, many thanks to all.  The locals at Point Peele felt it had been a far from classic spring but for us it had been very successful.  Numbers and variety might have been down but seeing over 100 American warblers in a day was amazing.  In our two weeks I had seen just over 210 species of which 146 were new, excellent value at a cost of about £260 all in.

Niagra Falls
me at the falls.  We  wouldn't have fancied the pleasure boat below even if it had been free

[blogged February 2014]

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