Friday, November 4, 2011

Big Nickel Birding: A Lifer in Sudbury

July 18

Jean and I were in Sudbury for a few days to visit my brother, his wife, and the newest addition to our family and on our first full day in the Nickel City, we stopped at Dynamic Earth for a photo-opportunity. We did some birding in the shadow of the Big Nickel and though the sightings found along a short, gravel path were not worth the $5.00 parking fee, we had great views of an American Crow and 2 Common Ravens in the yard of a business below Dynamic Earth. It is not often that I get a chance to compare these two corvid species side by side. 

Later in the day, it was time to start searching for warbler species missed during their migration through the Niagara Region.  My brother Bruce suggested the trail along the southern edge of Kelley Lake and we started our walk from Fielding Memorial Park.

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Bruce tagged along with us this time and he was introduced to Birding 101. OK, Canada Geese he has seen on a number of occasions but we did get him some scope views of his lifer Cedar Waxwings. Warblers observed included, Yellow, Nashville and American Redstart, but the desired Blackburnian tick did not occur.

We came across some Mallards and spotted a smaller, non-breeding male American Wigeon hidden in their ranks, a great find for the region at this time of year. The county list continues to grow, but still no firsts of the year or lifers. 

The day was not over yet. We had picked up a trail guide while at Dynamic Earth earlier in the day. There were a number of non-motorized trails listed and Jean and I decided to walk along the Bell Grove Trail on the south side of Ramsey Lake. The plan was to access the trail from the parking area of a boat launch, but construction in the area prevented us from hiking this section of the trail. An evening of birding would have to be done elsewhere. We travelled further east to the Bethel Lake Trail.

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The trail starts on the north side of the small lake and crosses a marsh before ascending to an overlook on the south side. Little did I know we were about to find lifer # 308.

It was almost 8:30 PM and the sun had started to set. The trail is only 1 kilometre so we had a comfortable amount of time to reach the overlook and return to our car before it was dark. We spotted a pair of Ring-necked Ducks on the lake and while crossing the boardwalk, we found Song Sparrow and Common Yellowthroat.

As we walked up the zig-zag trail to the overlook, a loud song emitted from the birch trees. I had not heard the song in the field before nor had I heard it while studying songs and calls on various bird identification sites. There was some movement low to the ground and we were soon determined to get on this bird. The mosquitoes appreciated our sedentary stance and I had some glimpses of a brownish bird that looked like a thrush at first. The problem was, the loud song was not flutelike at all. Then again, the thrush may not be the bird singing. The song was a series of two syllable phrases.

The bird jumped up onto a log to face me and though I had not seen this species before, this was one of those moments in birding when you realize what you're looking at without referencing a field guide. The brownish bird had spots on its white breast but it was the two dark stripes on either side of an orange crown that had me excitedly but quietly exclaiming, "Ovenbird!" "Ovenbird!" "Ovenbird!". Well maybe not that many times. It seems a befitting recollection since the song of the Ovenbird is described as teacher, teacher, teacher. Though it breeds in southern Ontario, this bird has proven difficult to find while birding in the Niagara Region.

In addition to seeing the crown, Jean observed the bold white eye ring from her vantage point as the warbler continued to skulk along the forest floor. And with that, even before listening to the song back at my brother's house, we knew we had ticked our lifer Ovenbird.  

Though we were delayed by the lifer and it was getting dark under the forest canopy, we still had time to take in the view of Sudbury from the summit of the trail before calling it a day.  

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