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Before the Storm

September 8, 2013

I’ve been working hard on honing my meteorological theories. So far the wisdom I’ve amassed boils down to this: some days the meteorological gods smile upon you, and other days they shake their heads in mild disgust and mock you (often mercilessly). I have little scientific data to support my theory, but plenty of personal experience, most of which speaks to the latter part of my meteorological aphorism.

Yesterday proved to be a miracle of a day: the forecast screamed solid rain form morning to late afternoon, but we decided to thwart nature’s plans and headed west to two of my favorite and most underrated parks on the shores of Lake Erie in Southern Ontario. By the time we reached Selkirk Provincial Park at 8am, the sky had darkened slightly, as if it couldn’t decide whether or not to commit to the promised downpour. A thin stripe of peachy pink rose above the horizon, enveloped by the darkening, already fall-colored lake water and the greyish sky. We interpreted the sky as an offering: a few hours of calm before the storm. And in we went.

Closed for the season, Selkirk greeted us with deserted, slightly eerie calm. We heard Eastern Wood Pewees (Contopus virens), whose rather high-pitched whistly call that reminded me of gym class. Dozens of Chickadees joined in the fun, but they didn’t seem to announce flocks of warblers the way they often do. We did catch a glimpse of a female Black-throated Blue and a Chesnut Sided warbler, some sort of vireo and an Olive-sided Flycatcher, who looked an awful lot like a pewee, but sports more of a flashy white bib on its chest. We walked along the boardwalk through a swampy area where we tried to find birds, but saw elephantine dragon flies instead and heard nothing but the screeching of cicadas. A few gulls overhead, a few Turkey Vultures, and numerous corpulent snails doing their thing.

We then headed for the late John Miles’ abandoned bird banding trailer, which still stands in a wooded area of the park. The windows are no longer, the tires have flattened, the screens are punctured, but a chrome tea kettle still stands on the banding counter, along with remnants of banding equipment, the remains of a few dusty manuals, parts of a sofa likely used as a makeshift bed, pens, and other debris. I wonder how many people camping in the park know that they are in close proximity of a ghost of a banding station.

Rock Point Provincial Park lacked the melancholy of Selkirk. The park is fully operational until (Canadian) Thanksgiving and has a vibrant banding station (which we didn’t visit due to clouding skies that imposed a most natural curfew on our visit). We walked along the limestone shore and admired the fabulous fossils embedded in the rocks, while honing our shorebird ID skills.

Rock Point Provincial Park. Fossils! Limestone! Beach! All of this makes for the most underrated park in Southern Ontario. Apart from the weather gods, the olfactory gods also smiled upon us: the stench of algae escaped us completely! Photo from here.

Rock Point Provincial Park. Fossils! Limestone! Beach! All of this makes for the most underrated park in Southern Ontario. Apart from the weather gods, the olfactory gods also smiled upon us: the stench of algae escaped us completely! Photo from here.

I’m happy to report that I had no difficulty distinguishing the Semipalmated Plover from the Killdeer this time and also swiftly found the miniscule Least Sandpipers. Severe difficulty arose when I couldn’t tell the Semipalmated Sandpipers from the Sanderlings. Thankfully at one point the they congregated together, and I saw a size differential and noticed that the gregarious Sanderlings were a fair bit chunkier. Legend has it we also saw a Baird’s Sandpiper tucked into the bunch, but I’m not even sure I was looking at the right bird.

Oh, shorebirds. I’m pretty sure I’ll grow to love you one day, but right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by your speed and your indistinguishable physiognomies. But I’m full of admiration for your intrepid yearly migratory voyages from the high arctic to South America.

As we climbed up the sand dunes towards our car, I felt a few drops of rain. And by the time we reached our dining destination, the sky no longer displayed ambivalence about unveiling a colossal downpour. But brunch at Flyer’s Cafe in Dunville made up for the horrid weather.

 

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