Baillie Birdathon: Report #1

Dear Friends,

We almost didn’t go. We had been kept awake by
violent thunder storms that swept through the area
during the night. The weather man was calling for
the same throughout the day. However, at the
moment (8 am), although the skies were dark with
heavy clouds, there was no rain and no wind. The
Blue Elephant restaurant in Simcoe had supplied
us with water, pop, veggies and tasty wraps so we
decided to meet Steve Wilcox at 10 am, as
planned, for our annual “Baillie Birdathon”.

On the way to Long Point heavy fog rolled in from
Lake Erie, not quite pea soup, but very thick. We
wondered just how many birds we could identify
from 30 feet. Things were looking dismal, but the
forecasted storms held off. We parked the van
across from the banding station and got out. The
air was filled with bird songs. The storms had
grounded migrants; things were looking good. It
was already a few minutes after 10 am and Steve
was there so we started our count. It was
amazing, one of the best migration days of the
year… and to think we almost didn’t go. In the
parking lot we met Doug Tozer, Kris Dobney and
Rosie Kirton, three of the staff of Bird Studies
Canada who were also doing their Birdathon. The
seven of us joined up for an hour or so. Kris took
this photo of the six of us.

For an hour or so we birded around the parking lot and
the banding station. Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow-rumped,
Magnolia, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Blackpoll,
American Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted,
Northern Parula and several other warblers seemed to
be everywhere. We found a Yellow-throated Vireo,
several Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, White-
crowned, Song, Chipping and a very late White-
throated Sparrow and a host of other birds. House
Wrens and a Carolina Wren were singing up a storm.
About 11.30 am the sun had burned away the clouds
and the fog and it became quite warm and humid. Bird
song seemed to suddenly drop off, but for that 1 1/2
hour I had some of the best birding that I have had in

We went to the Old Provincial Park for half an hour or
so and added Veery, Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s
Thrushes. We found the resident Brown Thrasher and
Warbling Vireos. Catbirds and Cedar Waxwings were
abundant. Our List was growing very quickly.

Now we checked a cottage for a fairly rare
Summer Tanager that had been hanging around
for about a week. It was sitting in a small Tulip
tree; a bonus bird that was nice to compare with
the Scarlet Tanager. A quick stop at the
causeway viewing stand produced Marsh Wrens,
Swamp Sparrows, Mute Swans, Common
Yellow-throats, Black and Forster’s Terns, a
noisy American Bittern, Pied-billed Grebes and a
few others.

By 12.30 we were at Diane Salter’s home in
Walsingham eating our lunch on her front porch
adding Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied
Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings, Orchard Oriole,
White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches
and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to our list. Her
feeders are amazing. A Broad-winged Hawk soared
above. Later we also saw a large and beautiful Fox
Snake, a species of much concern in Ontario.

Thirty kms and half an hour later we had added
Clay-coloured and Grasshopper Sparrows, both
uncommon in our area, but birds that we knew
were there, in a field near my home. Chimney
Swifts flew over the downtown stores in Simcoe.
The Townsend Sewage lagoons east of Simcoe
were somewhat disappointing, but we did add
Bobolink, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal,
Ruddy Duck, White-rumped, Least and Solitary
sandpipers, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher and a
couple of others to our list. Overhead the skies
were darkening and it looked like we might be in for
a storm so we headed south and east towards the
Lake Erie shore line. Along the lake we found
Bonaparte’s, Great Black-backed, Herring and
Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns were fairly
common, an Eastern Phoebe sang from a tree and
we saw a flock of 16 or 20 Whimbrel. A lovely
immature Bald Eagle was in a field feeding on a
small fish or bird. It flew when I stopped the van
and we could see part of the prey in its talons.

A check of the Nanticoke harbour did not reveal the
hoped for Black-crowned Night Heron but was good for
Double-crested Cormorants. To the north the sky was
black with obvious rain; it appeared to be coming our
way, so we headed west back to Long Point. On the
way we picked up a Hermit Thrush in St. William’s
forest. We encountered just a few sprinkles of rain, but
learned later that tornado-like weather had caused
trees to topple close to the Townsend lagoons where
we had been earlier. Lucky us. A Woodcock, Wilson’s
Snipe and Whip-poor-will finished the day and we
returned to Simcoe for 5 hours of shuteye.

Breakfast was at 4 am and at 4.30 we were on the
road. The customary Screech Owls did not respond
to Steve’s imitation. Pine Warblers and Eastern
Towhees were singing by the time we drove
through the St William’s forest. Backus Woods
once again cast its magical spell; Red-eyed Vireos,
Hooded, Cerulian and Blackburnian Warblers,
Eastern Wood Peewees, Great Crested
Flycatchers, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted
Grosbeaks filled the air with their symphony of
song. The unmistakeable Rat-a-tat-tat of a Yellow-
bellied Sapsucker, the drum of a Pileated
Woodpecker added the necessary percussion. The
loud, clipped song of a Northern Waterthrush
echoed across the woodland pond but we couldn’t
see or hear the Prothonotary Warblers that we
knew were present.

Prothonotary Warblers, a Carolinian species, are
very rare breeding birds in Canada with only a few
pairs in places like Rondeau Provincial Park and
Backus Woods here in Norfolk County.
We carried on and in a different part of Backus
woods we found a Louisiana Waterthrush and a
Blue-wing Warbler. A Ruffed Grouse drummed.
Back to the pond we went and this time a pair of
brightly coloured Prothonotary Warblers were busy
hunting for insects along the side of the pond. What
a wonderful sight of such beautiful birds. My day is
always made when I get a view of one of Nature’s
treasures such as these.
We had made a clean sweep of the possible
Woodpeckers, except for Red-headed, and so
decided to drive several miles to an Old growth
forest where they are known to breed.

The trip paid off as we found a couple of birds
foraging high in the trees, but time was running out
and so we headed back to the Old Cut banding
station to see what new migrants might have
returned overnight. Another quick look from the
causeway viewing stand produced a Sandhill Crane
that we had somehow missed the previous day. We
found a Willow Flycatcher at Old Cut, and just like
that, another “Birdathon” was over.

As a group we tallied 155 species, not our best,
but certainly one of our best. A great deal of our
success must be attributed to Steve Wilcox. His
ability to hear and find the birds is truly remarkable.
Once again: “Thanks!” – and if you are still waiting
to send your cheque it should be made out to
Baillie Birdathon or Bird Studies Canada and
mailed to me at:

George Pond, 411 Queensway W.,
Simcoe, Ont., N3Y 2N4.

Now the hard part, the collecting of pledges. Most
are already in, but I still have a number of usual
sponsors to hear from and I’m hoping to raise at
least $8,000 – $8,000 that will all be used for
conservation in one way or another and will help to
make this world a little better, not only for us but for
future generations.

I want to sincerely thank you for all your previous
donations to the “Baillie Birdathon” and if you have
already sent in this year’s donation—“Thanks”
I am finding that more and more sponsors are
donating “On-line” and although Bird Studies
Canada advises me immediately it often takes me
sometime to update my own records.

If Bird Studies has your e-mail address your receipt
will be sent by e-mail very shortly (if you have not
already received it). If not, your receipt will be
mailed sometime within the next few months.

George E. Pond