Birding Luther Marsh

Sandhill Crane by Andrea WestmorelandYesterday I did a practise run for the Baillie Birdathon. I took along my friend, Jaye, to Luther Marsh. We enjoyed a successful day, in fact each of us saw at least one life bird. Mine was a sandhill crane (photo at left by Andrea Westmoreland via Flickr).

I have never done a “big day” close to home, so I plan to do the Birdathon entirely (or mostly) within Wellington County. I had sent out an inquiry to the local birding hotline about the best local hotspots. Ornithologist Mike Cadman replied with many useful suggestions. He recommended starting and spending a good part of the day at Luther Marsh. It is one of the most significant wetlands in Southwestern Ontario, located at the north end of the county. It provides “critically important habitat for waterfowl, herons, rails and many other bird species.” Grand River Conservation Authority provides a good map of birding access points to the area.

We arrived at the main gate to the wildlife management area around 6 a.m. (somewhat later than intended) and stayed in the vicinity of Luther Marsh until 1:30 p.m., before making a side trip to Arthur Sewage Lagoons. Then we had to head home because I am leaving on vacation today and needed time to pack. I learned much from the excursion:

  • Luther Marsh is (as Mike suggested) an excellent site to concentrate during the crucial early morning hours when birds are most active; a trail from the main gate leads through diverse habitats around the north side of the marsh; by 9 a.m. we already had 50 species
  • Note to self: get to bed early the night before so I don’t poop out at 3 p.m.
  • Be ready to leave the house by 3:15 a.m. so I can arrive at the gates by dawn, roughly 4:30
  • the farthest reaches of the northern trail yielded some good species like bobolinks, however most of them turned up later at other sites close to the road, so I could choose not to follow that trail more than 3 km
  • Mallard Pond did not yield much of interest, but Monticello Wetland was worthwhile: that was where we saw more bobolinks along with some ducks and savannah sparrows
  • At the north end of the map is an excellent unnamed site (number 4): arriving there around 11:30 a.m., we quickly added some great species to our list without walking more than 100 m: northern harrier, solitary sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, least sandpiper and one of my favourites of the day, a palm warbler; in the distance I heard a common raven
  • Arthur Sewage Lagoons yielded five swallow species and a variety of ducks, such as northern shoveler and blue-winged teal
  • an extra pair of eyes makes a big difference; doing the birdathon alone will be a bigger challenge

Altogether we counted about 75 species by the time we returned home at 3:30. On the actual day of the Birdathon I plan to carry on much longer and visit various other hotspots around the south end of the county, too.

Palm Warbler by Kelly Colgan AzarSome of the other highlights for me were mourning warbler (a life bird for Jaye), green-winged teal, tundra swans and a good view of a scarlet tanger. At left is the lovely palm warbler (photo by Kelly Colgan Azar via Flickr). It was a delight to see several sandhill cranes fly over and hear their wooden croak. They can often be seen around the Guelph area, but they are timid. I had never in my life been in the right place at the right time until yesterday morning.

If you would like to sponsor me in the Baillie Birdathon, please visit my fundraising page. I am aiming to raise $1,000 for bird conservation. Toward that goal I will match any gift of $50 or more by May 23 with an additional $5.

In 45 minutes Danny and I are leaving on vacation! We will spend the next few days in Prince Edward County (wine tasting and more birding) before moving on to Montreal early next week. Our final destination is the Men’s Spring Knitting Retreat at Easton Mountain Retreat Center near Albany NY. I can hardly wait!

I am continuing the Blogathon. A few posts have been pre-written to give me some down time, but I will also provide a travelogue. So follow along with our adventures the next few days.



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