Bald eagles in Komoka

I recently mentioned to Western University’s Biology graduate student Jessica Deakin that I had gone to the 2016 Pointe Pelee Bird count and seen bald eagles for the first time.

She then revealed to me that she had seen a couple of bald eagles recently. Apparently there is a breeding and nesting pair which has made the Komoka Provincial Park its home.

She was not sure where in the park their nest was, but this is something I plan to investigate next time I go there.



Eagles on the beach!

As our group walked further into the woods of Pointe Pelee Park, we saw birds on branches and trees that were only ten feet from us. The proximity made it much easier to determine whether a bird had a splotch of colour on its neck, or to pick up another characteristic by which a bird can be identified.

As birds flew away towards more distant trees, observing their flight as well as their body proportions were other important cues for determining what birds we had just seen.

We were following a well maintained path towards the eastern beach, 1 Km away. People at the front cleared away some of the snow but the path itself was quite level and without any obstacles. The woods were fairly thick and the only openings were areas where one large tree may have been felled by a storm, and since then only a few bushes had sprouted in the clearing.

Nothing but wooded areas in all directions.

At one point, one of the two hikers in front of me suddenly pointed at a tree. At first I did not see anything then yeah, I noticed how some type of shape was moving near the upper trunk of a large maple. It was a bird for sure, and the orangish spot led someone to say it was a female cardinal.

And so bird name and number sighted swiftly went into a bird count template form which Western student Gabi Foss had volunteered to complete. The form included well known names like starlings and gulls, but also lesser well known bird species such as merganser.

One species even provoked gasps of laughter each time it got pronounced: “Junco!”

—“Junco, where are you?”

—“Oh, don’t let me get started, Junco!”

Yup, the Western contingent was at it again.


The beach

It was sunny by the time we reached the beach. The sun rays were welcome warmth and they created shimmering effects on the lake and through ice floes that had cramped up along the beach.

Large birds could be seen in the vast expanse of sky above Lake Erie. Someone said that a bird with a light white spot on top of its head was a bald eagle.

A few minutes later, we saw more bald eagles!

Two were far away into the sun, perched on a branch near the horizon. You could barely make out their shadow against the sun, through the excellent view finder which park interpreter Andrew Laforest had set up for us to see in the distance, towards the edge of the park.

The 2016 Pointe Pelée Bird Count

This is the first of two posts on the Pointe Pelee Bird Count which took place on December 19th, 2016. But let me step back now…

I joined the Western Parks Canada club in October 2016.

In December, I learned that one of the leaders of the club, Cara McGuire, was organizing a field trip to Pointe Pelee National Park. A major bird counting effort was going to take place at the Park.

Five Western students did go and I was one of them. We left London at 6 a.m. and arrived at the Visitors Centre of the Park shortly after 8 a.m. The car trip gave me a chance to get to know my classmates. They were from different faculties and backgrounds, so it was great to chat about international and local activities each of us had undertaken

We met other bird count participants in a dining area that had been set up in the back of the auditorium of the Visitors Centre. There, the director of the bird count welcomed us and later she invited us to get a hot drink before starting on the bird watching hike that would eventually take us to several scenic areas of the park.

There were 9 groups of bird counters altogether – ours was essentially the rookie group, i.e. people on their first bird count.

During the first hike, we traversed the Visitors Centre parking lot diagonally to reach a hiking trail. The open areas of the parking lot gave us the first opportunity to see flocks of starlings in trees, and to discern a few more flying away at our approach, as we started to walk into the woods.

These early sightings gave me a good feeling. “Yes, I too can figure out how to spot birds!”

The featured image shows the beach on the eastern side of the park