Tuesday 2 August 2011

Presqu'ile birding

After meandering through Eastern Ontario I stopped at Presqu'ile Provincial Park and stayed in the area from Sunday evening to Monday around noon.
Again, I was hoping for shorebirds but only found a few Semipalmated Plovers to add to my non-existent weekend list.

I did find a cool fossil:

I checked a field with many wildflowers for butterflies in the afternoon. While watching a Monarch laying eggs on the milkweed plants I found this new butterfly for me, a Great Spangled Fritillary:

But my favourite sighting of the weekend and probably one of my top highlights from birding this summer occurred while the sun was setting.

I was enjoying the setting sun over the marsh from a picnic table while I was reading a book.

I decided to take one last walk through the marsh before sunset. I was hoping to hear or see a Least Bittern. As I took my time walking along the boardwalk I became aware of a relatively large gathering of swallows overhead. At first I tried ID'ing the ones closest to me - Purple Martins stood out the most, Bank Swallows were numerous as were Barn Swallows. I did pick out a few Tree Swallows and I'm sure Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows were also present. I soon gave up on ID'ing all the birds and took in the spectacle materializing around me.
I was the only person on the boardwalk that evening adding to the already very calm and tranquil marsh at dusk. Thousands upon thousands of swallows emerged to swim and glide through the air above me in the fading light. There seemed to be surprisingly little chatter among them making the gathering more serene. I felt as though they were bidding farewell to the setting sun and saying their last goodbyes to one another before they went to roost amongst the cattails.
At 9:05 pm the swallows went speechless and disappeared within less than a minute.

It really was one of my favourite birding experiences from the year - this competing with birding in some of Ontario's top locations (Long Point, Pelee, Carden Alvar, Algonquin...). I think I enjoyed it more than Pelee in May! Mostly because I had planned going to Pelee and knew I was in for some good birding. In contrast, I went on to that marsh boardwalk looking for 1 bird in particular without any expectations of the gathering about to unfold around me.

I often find surprises make more of an impression and are more satisfying than something that is expected to happen.

My final estimate on numbers was 50'000. I'm pretty sure there were many more than that though. This photo alone has ~250 birds (or maybe my computer screen has a lot of dust spots) and I am zoomed in a lot so the photo shows less than 1% of the sky! On top of that, the aperture was at f/5.6 - meaning that there was a small Depth of Field meaning that most of the birds that should be in the photo are out of focus and not visible!
So, 50'000 is a pretty conservative estimate.

This photo doesn't do justice to the scene whatsoever.