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Larry Cornelis giving introductory talk

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.

Savannah Sparrow

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.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

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.

Clay-coloured Sparrow

Clay-coloured Sparrow on cup plant

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.

Goldfinch enjoying the natural habitat

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LWI was fortunate enough to have been invited to the Sarnia Solar Farm for a winter bird count!  Expertly led by Larry Cornelis, the day was a great success.  A total of 22 species were sighted over a four hour period with spectacular views of short-eared owls.  At one point eight short-eared owls flew up and were flying over our heads … it was an unbelievable sight to witness a murder of about 40 crows mob the owls as they dipped and dived around one another.  At one point a red-tailed hawk joined in the flock but didn’t seem to be taking sides!

Here is the full report from Larry Cornelis:

Sarnia Solar Kestrel

Winter Bird Survey, January 2, 2017

Enbridge/Sarnia Solar

  • Sunny, light breeze, 0c to +4c
  • 9:00 am to 1:15 pm
  • Walked 6 km, drove 16 km (total party mileage)
  • 20 participants, organized by Larry Cornelis RTL

 

 

Survey Comments

This is the 3rd winter bird survey at Sarnia Solar conducted by RTL staff and the second survey that local birders/members of Lambton Wildlife were invited to participate in. Twenty participants were lead by Larry Cornelis. The weather was excellent and a very thorough survey was conducted.

The tall grass prairie sites and abandoned fields at Sarnia Solar provide excellent habitat for grassland bird species and raptors. This was reflected in the number of raptors observed on this survey. Of note were the 12 shot-eared owls. Short-eared owls are in decline and are classed as a ‘species at risk’ ranked ‘special concern’. The grassland-like habitats provide the highest ecological values for the 1100 acre site. All wildlife species that inhabit grasslands are in decline with many classed as species at risk.

Other highlights were the 30 robins, 1 bald eagle,1 great blue heron and 1 northern flicker. This was an increase of 5 species over last winters survey. Other observations included 1 jack rabbit, 2 white-tailed deer and numerous meadow voles.

Larry Cornelis RTL

Rough-legged Hawk

Species

Canada Goose 21                           Great Blue Heron 1
Short-eared Owl 12                         American Kestrel 1
Red-tailed Hawk 10                         Rough-legged Hawk 3
Northern Harrier 4                           Bald Eagle 1
Pigeon 75                                        Downy Woodpecker 4
Northern Flicker 1                            Blue Jay 1
Horned Lark 3                                  American Crow 80
Black-capped Chickadee 8              White Breasted Nuthatch 3
American Robin 30                          European Starling 250
Snow Bunting 3                                American Tree Sparrow 50
Dark-eyed Junco 1                           American Goldfinch 9

22 species                    571 individuals

 

 

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; larry.cornelis@gmail.com)

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.

Bring your binoculars, waterproof boots and something warm to drink!

Contact: Larry Cornelis (519 339-8785; larry.cornelis@gmail.com)