Spring migration was a different experience for many of us in 2020. This is usually a very busy time of year; Iike many others, I temporarily relocate to the Point Pelee area for a chunk of May to maximize the bird migration experience. With national and provincial parks closed for the duration of spring, this was simply not possible. Our two weeks in quarantine during late March and early April further cut down on naturalizing opportunities, but we made do where we could.
During the early days of the pandemic, municipalities, conservation authorities and other public land managers simply closed their borders, meaning that everybody had to concentrate in the few remaining public lands that remained open. It became increasingly difficult to find hiking areas that were not jammed full of people. Luckily, some of these restrictions began to ease later in May as it became apparent that hiking outdoors was a relatively low-risk activity during a pandemic.
Being forced to stay close to home provided an opening to investigate areas that I had largely ignored during previous springs. Laura and I lived at my parents’ house in Cambridge for the entire season. It was a trip down memory lane visiting local hotspots where I had cut my teeth as a budding naturalist.
During late spring and early summer, I embarked on two trips to northern Ontario. One consequence of the pandemic was that a job contract fell through. For me, it was unprecedented to have so much free time during what is normally a very busy time of year. I took advantage of this unique chance to explore the north at my own pace.
For those concerned about my travel within Ontario, I took great care in minimizing risk of virus transmission. I slept in my car, camping on crown land away from civilization. I only explored areas that were far from other people. This is more difficult to do in southern Ontario, where public land is scarce and human population is high. I could probably count on two hands the number of conversations with an actual human that I experienced during these trips. Yes, I had to buy groceries, but this would be no different regardless of my location. Filling up on gas was easy to do safely, by paying at the pump and using hand sanitizing wipes before and after filling up. I have no problem in being honest about my travels since I know that my odds of transmission were no higher than if I stayed in Cambridge.
My first trip was an adventure to Rainy River District and back. Birding the north shore of Lake Superior in the late spring was a long-awaited dream of mine. While I did not find any birds that could be considered provincial mega-rarities, there were still many avian highlights:
-Wilson’s Phalaropes in Bracebridge (a rare bird for Muskoka District) and Nipissing District;
-a flock of around 190 Brant flying over the Powassan lagoons;
-an adult Little Gull at Hurkett Cove, representing one of very few records for northern Ontario away from James Bay;
-a surprise Loggerhead Shrike on the Sibley Peninsula (east of Thunder Bay);
-the first Lesser Black-backed Gull record for Rainy River;
-a Golden Eagle in Rainy River (I can only find reference to one other district record, surprisingly);
-a Red-headed Woodpecker in Marathon; and,
-successful twitches of a Harlequin Duck in Fort Frances and a Vermilion Flycatcher near Sault Ste Marie on my way home.
Of course, the regular bird and wildlife species were a lot of fun, even if they do not provide quite the same jolt of adrenaline as a rarity. All of the expected boreal and prairie bird specialties were easy to locate, including lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse and a Great Gray Owl. My final tally for the trip was over 200 bird species.
The butterflies were fantastic as well. I caught up with a number of new species for my Ontario list, including Red-disked Alpine, Large Marble, Western Pine Elfin and Freija Fritillary. My only regret from the trip, and it is a significant one, was that I neglected to bring along my moth light and sheet.
My second solo trek took place in mid-June. This time, I ventured to Fraserdale in Cochrane District and back to Cambridge over nine days. I searched for butterflies by day and moths by night. Much of the focus during that trip was on these aforementioned moths, but I will feature these in a later post. The birding was fantastic with almost all the boreal species accounted for. I also discovered a House Finch in the town of Moonbeam, the first record of this species for Cochrane District. Highlight butterflies included Taiga Apline, Western Tailed-Blue, Grizzled Skipper and Purplish Copper.
And that ends Part 3 of my summary of 2020. I have three additional posts to come; one about nocturnal mothing adventures throughout the summer, and another two about the autumn bird migration in Ontario. Stay tuned.