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Brewster's Warbler L pic, Warbler Hunters: Arthur Needles, Chris Dunn, Kevin Shackleton and Ron Fleming R pic.

Canada 150 + 1

The first birdathon since my retirement seemed to call for a new strategy. Couple that with the fact that John “Hawkeye” Watson would be missing from the team, the birdathon would not be comparable to our recent ones in Simcoe County. I decided to do things pretty much in reverse order as eBird indicated that the Minesing Wetlands and Tiny Marsh were two of the hottest spots in Simcoe and we usually arrived at them late in the day. The biggest shakeup was a late decision to move the birdathon up a day to avoid 15-20 mm of rain forecast for May 21. Fortunately, the guys were OK with the bottom to top reversal and made adjustments to go on May 20. I had a gut feeling that this was going to be the year that the Warbler Hunters finally broke the 150 species barrier.
I picked Chris Dunn up at 3 a.m. and we headed for Rosemont to join Art Needles, our driver and gourmet chef, for a 4 a.m. owl prowl. We had tips from John Schemelefske on Great Horned, Eastern Screech and Barred Owls, but only heard Great Horned for just the second time on a Simcoe County Birdathon. We also heard our only Vesper Sparrow during this period.
Between 5:23 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. on Baldwick Lane, Pine Grove and McKinnon Roads we tallied about 60 species and received reinforcements when Ron Fleming joined us at 8 a.m. Notable birds at this stage were Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Winter Wren, Grasshopper and Clay-coloured Sparrows, Broad-winged Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Cape May and Bay-breasted Warblers.
We left Ron’s car in Angus and then headed for Tiny Marsh except that I gave Art the wrong directions at a key intersection and we ended up in the middle of Wasaga Beach, one of Chris’s least favourite places on earth. We wanted the Piping Plovers at some point but figured we would swing by later. We made the best of my mistake and found that the cool morning temperature and strong wind had cut down on beach goers and made traffic lighter than usual and we were in and out in good time with the plovers and eight additional species for the day. Our running total was 103 species at 10:30 a.m. and, while it was early going, it seemed to me we were having a very good start to our birdathon.
Ir only took 15 minutes to reach Concession 3 Tiny Township north of Tiny Marsh and we followed our usual routine of walking long stretches of the dirt road looking and listening for songbirds. The temperature had risen from a frosty 1C in the early morning to 13C by 11:30 a.m. and the birds were quite vocal. We covered the 3 kilometres of forested road in about 80 minutes and tallied 45 species of which 21 were new for the day. Key finds were Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Canada Warbler.
We had to make a decision to go north or south at that point and the team was good with the idea of a Matchedash dash. Cowan Trail gave us Sedge Wren, Green Heron, Bald Eagle and Swainson’s Thrush. A Brewster’s Warbler gave us a wild card, but we found a pure Golden-winged Warbler before we left the area. The stop at Tiffault Trail did not produce the gallinule I hoped for, instead we found a fabulous bird as we came back to the van. Ron was able to track an eagle with his scope and call out to us the features he was seeing which he was sure made it a Golden Eagle, a bird we did not have on our birdathon species list.
We looped back to the Tiny Flos Town Line and Art had our only look at a Northern Mockingbird, a tip from Alex Mills. Our “lunch” stop at about 3:30 p.m. netted us a Northern Flicker and then it was time to chow down on lobster, special smoked sausage, cheeses and various salads thoughtfully provided by Art. I recorded our running species tally of 136 as we hit the road at 4:25 p.m. and the team was galvanized. We talked about breaking our old record from 2014 of 147 species and even reaching the elusive 150 mark on the year of Canada’s 150th birthday. We had two key stops left and could always hope serendipity would give us a bird or two as we travelled.
The Stayner Sewage Lagoons can make or break our big day and this year they came through in a big way. We added four lingering duck species, a Greater Yellowlegs and amazingly, a Peregrine Falcon Chris spotted as it was about to fly over us. It was on our birdathon checklist, but none of us had ever had one on a birdathon. It ranked right up there with Ron’s Golden Eagle as the kind of bird you need to cap a big day.
Collingwood Harbour was the next make or break stop and things looked bleak to start with, but scanning the shoreline of the inner harbour revealed Redhead, Long-tailed Duck and Lesser Scaup. A change in location added Purple Martin and our 149th species, a female Hooded Merganser.
It was almost 7 p.m. as we made our way to the Collingwood Airport to try for Upland Sandpiper. Again I mis-directed Art and we lucked out when we passed a big puddle with three ducks on it. Art got us turned around and safely parked and we found a single Semi-palmated Plover for bird 150.
I guess we could have quit then, but we still had more possible species to tick in lovely habitat before the sun set at 8:30 p.m. A run along Concession 2 Sunnidale only gave us our 151st species, a small flock of Northern Shovelers. We dipped on the Least Bittern on McKinnon Road and decided to pass on the American Woodcock back on Baldwick Lane. It was 8:49 p.m. We headed back to Rosemont arriving at Art’s at 9:15 p.m.,17 hours and 350 kilometres after we set out on what would prove to be our biggest day ever.

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