Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today's Forecast, Snow and 10,000 Tundra Swans

March 12

Long Point during the month of March is an exciting place if you're a birder. Migrating waterfowl, swans and cranes pass through the area each year en route to their breeding grounds. Though Jean and I ticked Tundra Swan earlier this year while birding along the Niagara Parkway, I was looking forward to viewing the massive numbers of Tundra Swans in the fields and air during the OFO trip. E-mail reports informed ONTBIRDS subscribers that there were a staggering 10,000 Tundra Swans at Long Point. You could not see the water for the swans.

This was our third year of attending the Long Point OFO trip and instead of waking up early and driving for two hours to reach the St. Williams Forestry Station, we booked a bed & breakfast in Port Rowan. The same B&B we used for accommodation during the 2010 OFO Annual Convention. I took a vacation day on Friday and Jean and I planned to leave St. Catharines in the afternoon. Early Friday morning, our host at the B&B contacted us to ask if we still coming to Port Rowan. "It's snowing like crazy here!", the host informed Jean. That was a surprise to us, St. Catharines had no snow at all. The heavy snowfall raised concerns. Not for travelling but how the snow may hinder our chances of observing Sandhill Cranes. My concerns grew exponentially upon arriving in the small Norfolk County town. Along the way, we observed Tundra Swans in flight, 3 in Jarvis and 4 as we turned south towards Port Rowan on Regional Road 42. Would the morning snow storm have an affect on our swan viewing the next day?

Yikes! The harbour in Port Rowan was still frozen and covered with snow.

Unlike the 2009 trip, there was no way the small bay, west of the marina, would produce either phase of Snow Goose this year.

Looking towards the causeway we could see small pockets of open water containing small numbers of Tundra Swans.

More ice and snow when viewing the harbour from the bed and breakfast.

After an evening meal at a restaurant near the causeway, Jean and I drove along Long Point Road. We heard and observed Tundra Swans in the area surrounding Big Creek.

On Saturday morning, we woke to the calls of the nearby swans with no need to rush. The meeting place for the OFO trip was only a 10 minute drive. Add French toast with syrup from Oxford County and you could not ask for a better start to a day of birding.

Saturday's first sighting occurred during breakfast. Jean spotted a large bird flying over the harbour. It came to a rest on the ice and views through the scope supported our call of immature Bald Eagle.

Less than an hour later, we met our fellow OFO members and trip leaders (Jim Heslop, Bob Stamp & John Olmsted). No stops at Booth Harbour or Port Rowan this year. 18 cars started the search for a reported Greater White-fronted Goose.

The group stopped at Dedrick Creek. We found over 40 Canada Geese, including 2 in a tree, but no lifer Greater White-fronted Goose this day.

For Jean and I, we added two species to this year's Ontario list. A pair of Northern Shovelers were spotted in the background of the flooded field and Killdeers (3) announced their return to the Long Point area.

We moved on to Lakeshore Road, checking the fields west of Hwy. 59 until we reached Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Area. The fields on either side of the road are an excellent spot to find swans and migrating ducks. Horned Larks greeted us as we started our drive towards Port Royal. A Merlin was perched at the top of a tree along the side of the road and all had extended views of the small falcon. Small flocks of Tundra Swans flew overhead while hundreds and hundreds more were resting and feeding in the fields to the north.

In the flooded sections, Jean and I scoped a number of Redhead, Northern Pintail, and American Wigeon. To the south, our group's first observation of Sandhill Cranes. The cranes (3) were in flight and calling.

Blackbirds were out in force as we passed through Port Royal and Common Grackle was added to our year list.

At Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Area the small man-made pond was frozen so the ducks made use of the nearby flooded field. More Northern Pintail, Redhead and Tundra Swans. Jean and I also spotted American Black Duck, Canvasback and a Northern Shoveler mixed in this group and for the third year in a row, Sandhill Cranes in the neighbouring field.

We moved north to where Concession Road 1 crosses Big Creek. No waterfowl in the swollen creek on the north side of the road. Looking south we found 1 American Wigeon and 1 Gadwall amongst the Canada Geese.

We moved on to Long Point and thanks to Bird Studies Canada, the group had access to the Old Cut Field Station during lunch. Luckily, I had the correct amount of cash on hand to place in the honour box to obtain a copy of Ron Ridout's, A Birding Guide to the Long Point Area. The guide has me planning to return and explore the Long Point area by ourselves to tick a lifer Northern Goshawk.
Birding around the Old Cut simply added birds to the 2011 Norfolk County list. It was less than a year ago that Jean and I ticked our lifer Gray-cheeked Thrush here after it was subjected to some measuring, weighing and banding.

Another drive along Lakeshore Road added Northern Harrier and Great Blue Heron to the day's list. Our final stop was in Walsingham to visit the feeders owned by a member of our group. A variety of birds were on the property, including Pine Siskin, House Finch, American Goldfinch and White-throated Sparrow. In the creek, another county addition for 2011, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. Though it took all day to see one, the group had a close look at a Bald Eagle (an immature with a transmitter attached to its back) as it flew overhead.

And with that, another Long Point trip came to a close. One last 2011 Norfolk addition for Jean and I as we headed back to the Niagara Region though. Not too far from the forestry station, we spotted over a dozen Wild Turkeys. Despite the ice along the Lake Erie shoreline and the snow cover, we had a great day of observing early migrants. Thankfully, the snow storm occurred on the Friday and not the day of the trip. With our target species ticked, Jean and I can turn to the next batch of migrants, including our annual yard visitor, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. He's due to arrive in a couple of weeks.

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