Archive for November 4th, 2009


In June, just as the year was springing forward into summer, I visited the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Now, in the opening days of November, the year is falling back into winter. The trees have mostly lost their leaves and the grasses are turning brown. All that remained of the butterfly population was one lone pale yellow Sulphur and a few Woolly Bears, hurrying across the walkway as they search for a winter home. There was still plenty to see, however.


As RailGuy and I headed down the path, a large bird that we hadn’t noticed took off from the cattails to our left and flew overhead. My first thought was that the bird was a Great Blue Heron. They’re quite common throughout this area. But no! I was excited to see that it was a Great Egret (Ardea alba egretta) These big white birds, just a bit smaller than the herons, are much rarer. Great Egrets have been expanding their range northward, and the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001-2005 notes that nests found in the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry counties area, where the Sanctuary is located, were new sightings, not reported in the previous atlas 20 years earlier.


The egret wasn’t about to stick around for a photography session. I was only able to get a shot from quite a distance. When we walked a bit farther up the path and looked back, we could see that there were two egrets, one wading in the water and one perched on a stump. They may have nested at the Sanctuary this summer. Egrets, like herons, are colonial nesters, so perhaps others were here, or will join them in future years. At the beginning of the 20th century, Great Egrets were hunted almost to the point of extinction for their feathers, which were popular as decorations on hats. The plume trade was very lucrative, and not only egrets but sea birds such as pelicans and terns were hunted. The Audubon Society and other groups were important in raising public awareness, and articles such as “Woman as a Bird Enemy” gradually caused the use of feathers as ornament to fall into disfavour, ending the hunt by World War I.


Farther along the path, this nest was conspicuous in a tree at the edge of a marshy section. It’s builders remain a mystery. Whoever they might have been, they were very skilled.


The ends of the long cattail leaves that were woven into the nest can be seen and the exterior of the nest features a draping of moss.


It was a beautiful day, and we continued along the path as it enters a section of forest. There are many large, attractive trees here, mostly Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), with a scattering of Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). White pines can be recognized by their long needles, which grow in bundles of five. They are the only 5-needled pine native to eastern North America. White pines are popular plantation trees, but this stand didn’t show the characteristic rows that mark a plantation.


There were a number of fallen trees, their roots laid bare in big discs of soil. I wondered if a changing water table level, due to the flooding for the nearby Seaway, had caused what seemed to be a greater than average number of tumbled trees.


There were plenty of chickadees flitting about in the undergrowth, and some of the pines showed extensive woodpecker activity, including this tall snag. I was surprised it was still standing, considering that so many of its apparently healthier neighbours had fallen.


After admiring the forest, we turned around to head back to the car, passing under this arch formed by yet another listing pine.


We passed by this lodge, which appeared to be abandoned, on the way back. There was evidence of recent beaver activity too, but that’s a subject for another post.


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