Friday, October 8, 2010

To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze: OFO Annual Convention Part I

Jean and I were heading home after last year's OFO annual convention at Point Pelee when she indicated there may be a conflict with the 2010 convention. During the 2009 banquet it was announced that the 2010 convention would be held the last weekend of September. The Sunday of that last weekend was the finale of the 10 day Grape & Wine Festival in Niagara and traditionally, the day the Liberty! Bicycles Off Road Squeezer is held. So, what to do? What to do?

To Squeeze.

or Not To Squeeze.

Other than watching the Tour and a few solo rides, cycling has been non-existent this year. Weekends were spent chasing birds and considering I booked a B&B in Port Rowan back in July for this year's convention, the decision "not to Squeeze" was not a last minute one.

After sharing a fulfilling hot breakfast with birders from Ottawa, Jean and I left in a hurry for Saturday's field trip to Turkey Point and the Townsend Sewage Lagoons. Mention sewage lagoons to a nonbirder and they will look at you as if you belong on Shutter Island (Yes, I watched the film recently) but we all know what great birds can be found while standing on the edge of a sewage lagoon cell during spring and fall migration.

September 25

Turkey Point Beach

We made it just in time to hear the trip itinerary and obtain some maps from trip leader Stu Mackenzie before leaving for our first stop of the day. From the pier of a boat launch, the group of 50 birders looked east towards the beach. A few shorebirds were present, including a Dunlin for our year list. In the small bay west of the pier, we viewed waterfowl. Amongst the Canada Geese and Mallards, we observed American Wigeon and Northern Pintail (another first of the year). Looking east again, a new shorebird was spotted further down the beach but a closer look was required to determine if the dowitcher was short-billed or long-billed. Time of year was telling us long-billed but the trip leaders wanted to be sure.

There were a few Canada Geese and ducks that remained motionless in front of the dowitcher. These belonged to a hunter hiding in the Phragmites. It was opening day of hunting season and our group witnessed this hunter exhibit some shoddy hunting practices. I believe I can say that the birders present were not against the hunting of Canada Geese but were more astounded by the hunter's ill preparedness. A Canada Goose was shot but only wounded and the bird flailed around as the hunter continued to shoot in its direction. We could see shot hitting the water and bouncing off of the goose. The injured goose moved away from the shoreline and the hunter had to venture into the water for a closer shot. After 6-7 shots, possibly more, the goose was killed but the hunter had to wade into water above his chest while holding his shotgun above his head to retrieve his quarry. He was aware of our presence and upon returning to the shore with the goose he "flipped the bird" in our direction. What else could one do but laugh. It would have been a lot easier if Elmer had a small boat or dog to aid in retrieving the goose.

The group walked along the shoreline, the Phragmites separating us from the hunter, until we were closer to the dowitcher. Sadly, Long-billed Dowitcher remains off the year list.

Silver Lake-Port Dover

Our next stop was Silver Lake in the small lakeside town of Port Dover. Jean and I followed an esteemed birder from Algonquin along the backroads of Norfolk County. Upon reaching the parking lot/market at Silver Lake, I followed Ron into the farmers market while Jean waited outside in search of fellow OFO members. We had arrived in Port Dover minutes ahead of the rest of the group. Our best find before birding as a group, cupcakes!

While walking the trail by the side of the lake we had an excellent view of a Sharpie and Cooper's in flight. It was odd to see during migration but the Sharp-shinned Hawk exhibited territorial behaviour and came quite close to the larger Cooper's Hawk for an easy comparison of the two accipiters.

We moved on to the waterfront. It was not summer nor was it Friday the 13th so crowds were minimal.

Birds were as well. We left Port Dover and the Ring-billed Gulls behind. It was time to look for more shorebirds.

Townsend Sewage Lagoons

The four cells of the Townsend Sewage Lagoons are located west of the town of Jarvis and were the best stop of the day for Jean and I. The water level in cell #4 was low enough to attract shorebirds and though high winds made it difficult, we had great views of some lovely birds.

Four species were quickly added to the year list. Rusty Blackbirds flew overhead as we looked at Pectoral Sandpipers (2) through our scope. American Pipits, usually only seen by Jean and I when an observer points them out as a flock of them are flying overhead, were landing in the lagoon. Previous observations of Arthus rubescens have been mediocre at best. The last being a distant lone individual at the Blenheim sewage lagoons during last year's OFO convention. These pipits were much closer and the best views occurred when we were looking at our 301st lifer. A Baird's Sandpiper!

Levels in cells 1, 2 and 3 were high and each contained waterfowl. Ducks viewed included, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler, another addition for the year list. The lagoons were the last stop for most of the group but a few, including Jean and I, continued on to Turkey Point Provincial Park.

We walked along a park road looking for migrating passerines in the trees. No lifers or first of the years to end the day. Blackpoll (1) and Palm (1) were the only wood warblers seen. The trees at Long Point would be dripping with them on Sunday's field trip and well worth missing this year's Squeezer.

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