New Year’s Day, Jan 1, 2014. My alarm clock goes off at 3:50 AM. I get out of bed immediately, go downstairs and have a quick shower to wake myself fully. Getting dressed, I begin with long underwear. I will be outside the better part of the day, near Lake St.Clair participating in the Lake St Clair National Wildlife Refuge Christmas Bird Count and it is cold (-9 C, 16 F) and windy. Yesterday, I bought a balaclava (a hat that covers most of the face.
I load all of my birding gear and my lunch in the car and head out. The plan to meet Cindy Cartright and Maris Apse in the parking lot of the grocery store in Watford, a twenty minute drive from my home and from there leave in one car for the Bird Count. Cindy has left her home at 2:30 in the morning. She lives up north in Southhampton. She drives straight to Maris’ place in Grand Bend and together they drive to Watford. When I arrive, they are in the parking lot waiting for me.
I takes about an hour to drive from Watford to the site of the bird count. We pass the time catching up on events of the past couple of weeks, drinking coffee and in anticipation of the days coming bird count. We plan to meet Paul Carter (from Sarnia) at a corner store (no longer in business) in Oungah, which is close to our birding/count area. From there the four of us will head down toward the refuge to begin owling at 6 AM.
The logistics of getting the four of us down to the refuge to begin owling at 6 AM went off without a hitch. And over the course of the next hour and a half, we successfully called out 7 Eastern Screech-Owls. At 7:45 AM it was time to begin our first walk.
Around the shore area of our portion of the count circle, there are several “hunt clubs”, privately owned hunting clubs that cater to groups of duck and geese hunters. Most of the club owners are happy to accommodate participants in the Christmas Bird Count, welcoming us onto their property. Off we went, two of taking one path and the other two, a slightly different path, so that we could cover more territory.
Not all the day is spent walking, but the majority of it is. After owling, we birded for another 9 hours. Of the nine hours, 6 were spent walking and 3 were spent riding around the back roads within our portion of the count circle. While riding, we are constantly scanning the fields and roadways, looking for birds.
We had a great day, despite the weather. We saw a Great Blue Heron, bravely flying into the wind over one of the hunt clubs. We saw nearly 4,000 Snow Buntings in total. They were in flocks of hundreds, maybe a 1,000 in one flock alone. Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs were plentiful. We saw 3 Bald Eagles and 26 different hawks of various species. Mourning Doves and Crows were everywhere. We saw lots of woodpeckers, including a Northern Flicker. We had a couple of big flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and quite a few sparrows, especially American Tree Sparrows.
Along about 5 PM we stopped birding and headed into Chatham to meet up with the rest of the counters at a Tim Hortons for the wrap-up and day’s tally. But we couldn’t find the right Tim Horton’s. We went to 4 different ones and finally gave up. We could not stay out any longer. Two members of our group (Maris and Cindy) had to get on the road as they were heading to up to Southampton that night so they could participate in the Saugeen Shores Christmas Bird Count on Thursday. I think they are nuts. Bird nuts, that is.
I got home about 7:45. A long day. And a great way to bring in the new year.