If you plant it, they will come…
LWI members were privileged to be invited to visit the Enbridge Solar Farm, in Sarnia, on June 21st to observe how the restored tall grass prairie habitat has attracted rare bird species. Resident expert Larry Cornelis led this 3-hour outing. 28 members, including Larry, participated. The group included novice through to very experienced birders. Weather was ideal: clear, sunny but not too hot.
The Enbridge Solar farm is the largest in Canada and has a total of 257 hectares covered with 1,300,000 solar panels, enough to power 12,000 homes on a sunny day. Due to electrical grid limitations there will be no more panels installed on this site. The remaining 188 hectares of the Enbridge property have been designated for conversion to tall grass prairie and these areas were the subject of our visit. The very secure property is normally inaccessible to visitors so this was a unique opportunity to see these large grassland areas close-up.
The highlights of the outing were multiple sightings of Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrows. Both rare species were observed in the tallgrass prairie rehabilitated areas and these birds are evidence that restoring habitat does have the positive outcomes expected. Other bird species observed were: Killdeer, Brown-headed Cow Bird, Willow Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Savannah Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Eastern Kingbird, Turkey Vulture, Cedar Waxwing, Meadowlark, American Crow, Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron, Grasshopper Sparrow (3), Clay-coloured Sparrow (7), Mourning Dove, Common Yellowthroat, Starling, Common Grackle, Northern Flicker, Catbird, Indigo Bunting, Red-tailed Hawk, Robin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Kudos to Larry for organizing and leading this activity, it really was an awesome day! A special thank you to Enbridge for allowing us to visit the property and for planting this habitat. Indeed it is encouraging for all naturalists to see the relatively short term effects of planting tall grass prairie. Imagine what might be possible when other land areas are restored in this manner.
Camping and birding at its best. We have tons of fun on what has become a favourite outing for many club members. We will explore all of the islands birding hot spots in pursuit of spring migrants such as warblers and thrushes.
Learn more by reading Richard Wilson’s review of the 2016 trip or contact Richard Wilson for more details.
Book your ferry ride early and sign up soon. Limited camping spots available.
Watch for other posts about Pelee Island to be added to the blog in the weeks and months before the event.
Join us for our 3 Wednesday walks in Canatara Park.
View resident and migrant birds.
Each spring, migrant birds move through Canatara Park on their way to their nesting grounds. Walk with an expert birder to view resident and migrant birds.
The walk leader is Eric Marcum (519-332-6122). Eric is a long time birder with experience in the NE United States, northern Canada and many hours in and around Sarnia. Eric’s experience in hearing and identifying bird songs adds to the experience.
There are three walks scheduled starting on May 3 and continuing May 10 and May 17, 2017. Start time at 6:00 PM.
The walk, beginning at the main entrance to Tarzan Land (south-west corner of Christina St and Cathcart Blvd), is an easy one over flat chip covered paths and sidewalks.
The walk is open to everyone without charge. Binoculars are most useful. Photo opportunities exist throughout the tour.
See the Tourism Sarnia-Lambton web-site www.tourismsarnialambton.com/listing for more information about Canatara Park.
Last year I attended the Birding Course put on by Lambton Wildlife over the course of several weeks. Many presenters shared their wisdom and experience on identifying, locating, and photographing birds, as well as the equipment and references needed to succeed as a birder.
The last part of the event was a morning walk through Canatara Park on a beautiful morning, April 30th, 2016. Many of the course attendees showed up with their binoculars and their new found enthusiasm to identify birds by sight and sound.
I hope you enjoyed my earlier post about Pelee Island. This latest post focuses on bird photos.
As you may know, thousands of birds migrate through this area every spring. Pelee Island is a stopover for many interesting species, and attracts avid birders. Having access to some very experienced and knowledgeable LWI birders who attend this event makes the trip especially worthwhile. For some competitive birders, Pelee Island offers the annual Botham Cup. This event is a bird “race” taking place over a 24 hour period from Friday noon until Saturday noon. Teams try and sight as many bird species as possible. Two teams of LWI members entered the event; one competing in the “green” category which means restricting your movement around the island to walking or bicycling. The other team used their car. Both teams placed well, and earned a mention at the culminating banquet held at Pelee Island Winery and hosted by author Margaret Atwood (an island resident in the summer).
Anyway, take a look at the photos and if you enjoy birdwatching and have never been to Pelee Island, you may want to plan to attend the LWI camping trip in 2017.
Every spring for many years now, LWI holds a group camping outing on Pelee Island. 2016 was the first year for myself and Roberta attending. Pelee Island is an easy 1 hour and 30 minute ferry ride from Leamington. The campground is located only a few kilometers from the ferry dock and is well situated for making forays to the various corners of the island.
By late Thursday the LWI group camping site was well populated with tents, dining shelters, pop-up camper vans and one truck camper. Some members come as early as Tuesday, with most departing back to the mainland on the Sunday. A total of 21 campers attended, with ages ranging from elementary school up to ?? Most campers in the group brought bicycles, as the island is relatively small and quite flat. For some outings we did choose to drive, in order to facilitate moving to other locations depending on bird concentrations or lack thereof. We enjoyed group hikes, campfires, late night owling (successfully calling in screech owls!) and great camaraderie. The atmosphere at the campsite was very relaxed and driving on the island is slow and easy; everyone waves at other vehicles.
The island is a mix of agricultural land, vineyards, and protected conservation lands, each with its own unique habitat. I thought the best way to describe the nature aspects of the trip was to show some photos. 2016 was a record turnout for this popular LWI outing and we hope 2017 will be even better. I have split my photos into two posts; the first will be general nature photos, and the second post will focus on bird photos. Enjoy!
May, the best birding month of the year is just around the corner and that means it’s time to plan for the annual LWI Pelee Island camping trip! Every spring, a group of LWI members camp out on the island, enjoy the outdoors, take in the island sights, and most importantly enjoy extraordinary birding opportunities. (more…)
Thirty-eight people gathered on a cold Sunday morning in February to enjoy the many waterfowl that visit the St. Clair River during the winter months. Our first stop was at the Bluewater Bridge where we were treated to a good view of the peregrine falcon that flew past and landed on the bridge. Our scopes came in handy and some of the participants had great success with “digiscoping” (using your camera/cellphone to take a photo through the scope). We saw a pair of cackling geese which was the highlight of this first stop!
I think the funniest event at this stop was when two walkers stopped to ask our large group, with scopes and binoculars pointed out toward the lake, “What is coming?” My response was met with the most incredulous look I have ever witnessed … as my response was “we are looking at ducks”. At this point he paused and said “What?” I said again “we are looking at ducks … and geese.” He replied with a chuckle and said “Well, there are lots here.” And continued his walk. I guess it takes some getting used to the idea that a group of people are willing to brave the cold wind to stand and look at ducks and geese!
Further down the river we stopped at Guthrie park to observe the dabbling and diving ducks around the warm water outflows, the ice-taxiing gulls, and eagles staging their hunt at the head of Stag Island. Then, without warning, thousands of birds took to the air from their water rafts to put on an aerial orchestra. Was it an eagle or a boat that caused the commotion? We weren’t sure, but the fleeting moment was spectacular!
We continued to enjoy the day with several stops along the river, ending at a great little restaurant in Sombra. Although we saw bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, swans, and lots of waterfowl I think from the reactions of the participants I would have to say the highlight of the day was the lesser black-backed gulls!
A big thanks to Paul Carter for leading the group and making sure everyone had the opportunity to see the different birds and explaining what to look for when identifying different species.
Here is a partial list of bird species we enjoyed throughout the morning:
- Peregrine Falcons
- Cackling Geese
- Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks
- Herring Gulls
- Northern Cardinals
- Canada Geese
- Hooded Mergansers
- Bald Eagle
- Common Goldeneye
- Common Merganser
- Lesser Black-backed Gulls
- Greater Black-backed gulls
- Red-tailed hawks
- Mute Swans
- American Black Ducks
The winter bird survey at the Sarnia Solar site will be held Monday, January 2, 2017. Meet 9:00 AM at the Sarnia Solar Site located on Churchill Line. Larry Cornelis will provide instructions and will coordinate the event. All are invited to participate; dress according to weather conditions.
Contact: Larry Cornelis (519 339-8785; email@example.com)
Serious planning and commitment for the Lambton Wildlife spring camping trip to Pelee Island begins on April 1! April 1 is not the first day to sign-up, nor is it the first camping day. It is the first day that a camper can make a car reservation to the Pelee Island car ferry Jiiman. Space on the ferry is at a premium and it is very important to reserve a spot. Vehicle space fills quickly. The Jiiman is a 200 foot vessel capable of carrying 400 passengers and 40 vehicles. Once the ferry reservation is made, you have about five weeks to wait before the big day.
The official camping dates run from Thursday to Sunday. Some campers arrive on Tuesday and stay until Saturday. Others come and go as their schedules permit. The most popular schedule seems to be to leave Leamington on the Thursday at 10:00 AM and arriving on Pelee Island around 11:30 AM. People put in time in different ways on the ferry. Some choose breakfast, in the cafeteria, at the stern of the vessel. Some will sit in the forward section chatting or taking a nap. The brave will be on the open stern deck taking in the view. This year going to the island and riding on the sunny stern was a chilling experience, as a north wind was blowing. Once the ferry’s speed matched and exceeded the wind speed, riding the stern deck was very pleasant. Net effect of North wind and sailing South was no wind and no wind chill!
Disembarking the ferry is a quick and efficient process. Moving off the dock, campers proceed to the campground. The campground is on the east side of the island and is about 8 km from the ferry. LWI camps in one of two group camping areas. Our group camp site is very basic! It is an open area with a fire pit and a couple of picnic tables. It is surrounded by forested areas on three sides. Washrooms are about 150 m away and have flush toilets and showers. Not much more is needed by our crew. Campers choose their own spot within the area and set up camp. Some camp in tents and a few have camper vans. The most campers that we had at any one time this year numbered twenty-one. Many were returning LWI campers and at least a few were first time campers with the group. Camper ages ranged from teenagers to an unreported upper end. Saturday night high winds rocked the tents for a number of hours. Only one casualty. A smaller tent was blown over. No one was inside at the time.
The weather wasn’t great, but on the other hand, it was never wet. Nights were cool, but no frost or snow as had happened in previous years. The wind was only a minor issue. In a previous trip to the Island, camping was extended an extra day due to high winds. That year, the winds exceeded the safety standard that allowed the ferry to sail. Everyone was really disappointed that they could not leave Pelee Island on time.
The group is usually on the road birding around 6:30 AM. A lot of birders would make their first stop at Fish Point, at the southern end of the island. The structure of this outing is really flexible. You go where you want, when you want, with whom you want, for as long you want and how you want. Returning from Fish Point, the crew would usually travel along a swampy area a short distance from the Fish Point entrance and paralleling the west shore of the island. The Prothonotary Warblers nest in this area. A few other warblers were seen, but sightings of the Prothonotary Warbler were unsuccessful this year. After exploring the swamp, it was probably around 9:00 or 9:30 AM. Time for a big decision! Do we bird WinVilla or do we stop at the bakery for coffee and pastries followed by WinVilla? Either way, we will eventually stop at the bakery. Birding continues until lunch time when most return back to camp. Lots of birding sites left to visit before the day is over. Sites include The Lighthouse, Paul’s Secret Spot, Bob’s Hole, Stone Road Alvar and every road and ditch on the island.
On occasion, the sites that the birders visit have more to offer than just birds! Bob’s Hole and the surrounding trees provide a great birding spot. Bob’s Hole is an old quarry that is filled with clear blue water. The day we visited, it was populated with hundreds (Yes, Hundreds!) of American Toads. Mating season had arrived and everyone was visiting Bob’s Hole. Lots of singing and swimming about.
Each year, during our trip to the island, there is a birding competition called the Botham Cup. The Botham cup contest runs for 24 straight hours. It starts at noon on Friday and ends twenty-four hours later, at noon on Saturday. The contest is for teams of birders that try to identify as many birds as possible in the twenty-four hour period. Identity of the birds can be visually made or by bird call. There are two categories in the contest. The first category is the Green category where birders compete without the use of a powered vehicle. They can move around the island, as much as they wish, as long it is by bicycle or by foot. The other category is the non-Green category where birders can drive their car around the island from one area to the other. Winners of the contest are announced at a fund raising banquet held on Saturday night. Margaret Atwood, a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist and environmental activist, is the hostess of the banquet. Margaret arranges to have a Canadian author as a guest reader. This year, Miriam Toews was the guest. Proceeds of the banquet support the Pelee Island Heritage Centre.
Getting back to the Botham Cup – two teams from LWI were entered this year. Paul Carter and Lori Clancy entered in the Green contest. Melissa Levi and Sean Jenniskens entered the non-Green category. Birding was tough this year due to cool temperatures, north winds and even perhaps to the earliness of the season. Finding birds was difficult. Both teams identified seventy-seven birds in the twenty-four hour contest period. Neither score was good enough to win the division. The winning team recorded one hundred birds, well below the average of about one hundred and twenty-five. The prize for winning the contest was getting the winner’s name on the Botham cup. The Larry Cornelis and Paul Carter team have been winners of the Green contest in two previous years. Their names are on the Botham Cup.
Sunday marks the end of the trip. Those that need to get back to their homes early Sunday afternoon rise early to break camp. The earliest ferry leaves at 8:00 AM and arrives in Leamington around 9:30 AM. Most birders catch the noon ferry. Those really not wanting to leave will wait until the 4:00 PM ferry.
The fifth camping trip to Pelee Island was once again a huge success. The event is already being considered for 2017. See the LWI outdoor program early in 2017 for details – looks like it may be May 4th to May 7th.