This year marked the first time that the Ruthven Banding Station entered the Baillie Birdathon – in any fashion. In order to give it our best shot, we assembled what is known in birding circles as a “kick-ass” team – the Dream Team. In doing so we tried to cover as many demographics as possible: youth (Ben), maturity (Peter), in-between (Joanne and Matt), expert (Matt), really good (Peter), learning (Ben and Joanne), male (3 out of 4), female (Joanne). And then, at the last minute we included Marie-Pier to make it truly bilingual. You couldn’t have a more politically correct or (more importantly) a more fun group than this. They exuded camaraderie and enthusiasm right from the start and the emails I got from them when they finished in the wee hours of the next morning were just as enthusiastic. Below is Peter’s summary of the event.
Ruthven’s Dream Team. A report on our Baillie Birdathon
(by Peter Thoem)
The Dream Team: Ben Oldfield, Matthew Timpf, Marie-Pier Laplante, Joanne Fleet & Peter Thoem.
The Dream Team gathered at the Edge of the Day; Daybreak to most. We’d decided to anchor our day’s marathon by doing Ruthven Park’s daily census. It was a good idea because in a little over an hour we built a solid base of 73 species. It included all the usual bread and butter stuff like Northern Flicker, Yellow Warbler and White-breasted Nuthatch. But the combination of knowledge, experience and habitat variety helped us build a really strong foundation of birds; not only the usual inventory but some of the tougher species that might otherwise take some searching for; or a generous stroke of luck. Things like: Wild Turkey, Eastern Tufted Titmouse and Common Loon. It was warbler time too, so our route through the forest landed us 14 warbler species including Nashville, Bay-breasted and Blue-winged Warblers.
On the road, fresh and inspired, we swept along a few spots by the Grand River and quickly added some grassland birds: Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. An Osprey, a Great Blue Heron and an Orchard Oriole filled a few worrisome gaps remaining from the census at Ruthven.
We then set off in the general direction of Long Point watching the roadside farms and fields for American Kestrel and Horned Lark. We got them eventually, as well as a Northern Mockingbird that was obligingly perched on utility line.
At Townsend we spent an hour or so prowling around the sewage lagoons. There are few people in the world who make a point of visiting sewage lagoons; municipal waste water officials and birders would probably comprise the entire list. But to a birder these are rich places because to birds they are delicious places. We quickly found 10 duck species including the always elegant Northern Pintail, striking Northern Shovelers and a mother Wood Duck with young in tow. There were shorebirds too including Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitcher. A real surprise was a single Wilson’s Phalarope hunched among some Dunlins and Killdeers.
A brief stop in Port Dover gave us Semi-plamated Plover, Wilson’s Snipe and a single Solitary Sandpiper. By now our species total was 108.
Then we moved into Long Point Country – the land of heavyweight birding; and we were getting tired.
A couple of stops in St. Williams brought us some real specialties. A Northern Goshawk made it quite clear that we were unwelcome, clearly it had a nest around somewhere so we moved on. As we did so we added Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ovenbird and Pine warbler to our list.
In the depths of some of Ontario’s richest woodlands we heard, but did not see, Hooded and Prothonotary Warbler and watched a mother Hooded Merganser leading a tribe of youngsters through a Buttonwood-clogged slough. Hooded Merganser females are highly secretive during breeding and care of young, so our sighting probably came about only because we were sitting quietly hoping to see the Prothonotary Warbler.
Matt led us to some parts of Long Point that are heavily used for camping and day-use during the summer months. The combination of open spaces and thick brushy privacy screens made for extraordinary birding. The trees were jumping with birds, most of them jumping out of sight or moving just as you found them in your binoculars. There must have been a major overnight arrival of Gray Catbirds, there seemed to be one in every tree. Many of the warblers that we’d only glimpsed or heard earlier showed themselves in their full glory. A small wave of Scarlet Tanagers, males and females, caught our attention for a while, one of the males was a very orangey-red; not scarlet at all. We added Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Chestnut-sided Warblers as well as Veery, Swainson’s Thrush and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. A mystery song left us wondering whether we’d heard a Carolina Wren (which we needed) or a more likely, another Tufted Titmouse.
We had to eat and needed rehydration, so we took a much needed dinner break back in Port Rowan; we’re human after all. But with the food barely off the plate we were back to another Matt Timpf Special Place and despite some weary foot dragging we topped up with a couple of missing warblers: Wilsons and Western Palm. These two brought our total warbler count to 24. Wow! Then we added two more vireos, Philadelphia and Blue-headed Vireo, giving us a total of five counting Red-eyed, Yellow-throated and Warbling Vireos from earlier.
Standing on a viewing platform overlooking Big Creek Marsh, we wondered whether we’d catch a glimpse of a Sandhill Crane. Then as if to respond, two started bugling way off to our right. We searched and finally saw a pair flying our way. They came closer and closer, and in a perfectly choreographed flight, passed within a hundred yards of us at eye level, their long elegant legs and necks, gray bodies and rusty caps perfectly illuminated. We were silent for many minutes after. Some said it was the Bird of the Day.
As the sun went down we caught the distant sounds of an American Bittern and Least Bittern while Swamp Sparrows sang in the fading light.
It was dark as we headed home and as a last shot at two more species we stopped at a clearing along a sandy road. No sooner were we out of the car than we could hear the peeenting of an American Woodcock and from the far woodland margins the endless calling of a Whip-poor-will: “Wip-per-WILL Wip-per-WILL Wip-per-WILL. 141 species and perfect.
It was a gorgeous day and the banding was consequently pretty slow. The birding was pretty good though as we encountered 76 species, the most notable being a Great Egret that flew by….going south!? We also had 13 species of warblers.
1 Least Flycatcher
1 Tree Swallow
1 House Wren
5 Gray Catbirds
2 Cedar Waxwings
1 Nashville Warbler
2 Yellow Warblers
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
2 Common Yellowthroats
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Orchard Oriole
6 American Goldfinches
ET’s: 76 spp.