Hey all, I'm on holidays this week and really shouldn't be blogging. I was trying to stay off the computer this week but here I am, quiet night at home after a few days away and thought "why not blog?" It's not a time waster on the internet. And maybe the whiskey is inspiring me too? LoL! I deserve it even if it's not "Whiskey Wednesday"! Hoo boy, I'm off to a ramble already...
Okay, so this week off I wanted to do at least one thing different. And I did it! Something unlike me as I prefer the norm and comforts of home and nearby but I guess the birds and wildlife can make me a braver sort. I pondered sometime ago to visit Holiday Beach out in Amherstburg, Ontario (near Windsor). I follow them on Facebook and enjoy their posts of Fall migration from Hawk Tower. I've heard tales from friends about this marvelous spot and everyone paints a fantastic picture of raptor migration with their stories.
So early Monday morning I departed to the area. I hadn't much of a plan other than spending the day, finding my way to Leamington by evening, hopefully finding a hotel room in town, spend the night and then hit Pelee National Park the next day. It was an exciting journey into the unknown, traveling way across the 401 into new areas. I wanted to leave by 4:30am but found myself just crawling out of bed by then. I had packed the day before so there wasn't much to get ready other than a coffee, some cereal, and clean myself up quick. I was on the road by 5:15am.
I was stunned how busy the 401 was already. It's scary how many cars were out there and people were in such a rush to go ??? Work I imagine. It was disturbing to think how many people probably just jumped out of bed, barely woke themselves up, and got in the car and went. Some real aggressive drivers, not that is any different from any other time on the 401. People racing to Assholeville to be amongst their people.
Anyway, I was glad once I was out of the city limits and traffic eased off.
The approx. 4 hour drive went by pretty quick as I cruised to the sounds of Arch Enemy and Teenage Head. I guess it's not real cruising music to some, and there are some tunes that do make me want to put the pedal right down but I won't; I need my licence.
As I passed through Tillbury, I saw the signs for Pelee. Part of me just wanted to turn off there and go to what was familiar to me and enjoy that. But the adventurous side pushed me onwards. I had jotted down the MapQuest directions on a piece of paper but as I got closer to Windsor, it suddenly wasn't making much sense. My GPS that a friend gave me did not recognize Holiday Beach Conservation Area nor the address I entered. I did not see the turn off I was looking for according to my notes, and one exit before the border, I took it. Oddly enough, it brought me to the street I wanted. From there, the directions were still incorrect to some degree. I had a road map in the truck as well but for the time being I just used good old common sense and was happy I knew which way south was, to Lake Erie. I headed that way and figured in due time I would run out of road and then make the important decision of going right or left on that last road and not straight into the lake. ;)
Even at the last road, nothing signed anywhere for Holiday Beach. I sat for a moment, no traffic to get upset with my delay here and I played "eenie meenie minny mo" on which way to go. Ha ha! Joking! I opted for right for some reason and within a minute or two of driving I saw a sign for the park. Woo hoo!
I dunno if it was the shortage of sleep, the road fatigue or ??? but I kept running into sort of road blocks, not real ones, just these moments where I suddenly wasn't sure what to do, and just like those kids' adventure books called "Choose Your Own Adventure" I was playing just that with my adventure so far. And each choice was a good one, which eventually brought me to my destination.
Even in the park, skipping my little gate entry fiasco with an automated pay to park machine, I found some roads blocked due to landscaping crews. I ended up driving through a playground to another road that eventually led me to the parking area I needed to be at. From the parking area, I still could not see Hawk Tower with all the trees. I did not spot the tower until a corner around one path and there it was almost in front of me. Talk about building the suspense!
I was in awe at the tower, how high it was. I don't know why. I mean, it's called "Hawk Tower" so of course it's going to be tower like. I viewed the grounds momentarily as I thought about the tower and the people high up there. It seemed like a long walk up, which was a lot of time for me to think about stuff, maybe build my nerves up or knock them down. I am not exactly the most out going social person, especially to just walk up to a group of strangers and start chatting but that is what I did.
I took those 3 flight of stairs up, reached the top, kinda looked around for a minute or two, and then just walked up to somebody and introduced myself. I said who I was, where I was from, why I was here (as I heard so much about the place). Lucky for me everyone was quite receptive and nice. I have been to other places where the reception was cold if anything at all.
I had heard a lot about this place over the years. Some fantastic bird stories and some bits about the people. Mostly good. Some did make it sound like a super serious place where you watch/observe, you don't speak and maybe you will be welcomed back for another visit. Shit like that can be a little intimidating. But it was nothing like that. A reminder that one should never pass judgement through others opinions... go find out for yourself.
So, from the get-go, it was an enjoyable experience. I didn't bother the watchers too much, just watched them point out the birds, take in their ID's, occasionally ask how they knew it was what bird when they were so high up and listen to what they had to say. Over time more people climbed the tower, some regulars, some newbies like myself, but everyone had a great time. We all conversed here and there, mostly bird talk, sharing our sightings and tales from elsewhere. It was cool to learn one of the guys, Scott, took part in the Peregrine Falcon fledge watch at the Ambassador Bridge. So basically we got to talk shop about the joys and woes of chasing Falcon chicks around.
Here are a few photos before I continue from story...
First bird of prey for me to see was this adult Bald Eagle. Wicked! A resident bird to the area but I was a-okay with that.
Sharp-shinned Hawks were in high numbers that day.
I saw a number of Coopers Hawk, Red-tails, Turkey Vultures, some straggling Broad-wings (high up but a new species for me) and American Kestrels throughout the day as well. The Kestrel species has been declining the last number of years but I found it hard to believe as the flew by semi-regularly.
Heck, they even netted one in the afternoon.
I believe they said she was a second year female. Shitty thing was they were doing the adopt a raptor program, something I knew of, but thought it was only on weekends (not that is shitty) but I couldn't find a freakin' bank machine to pull some cash out on my way down to Holiday Beach from the 401. I should have taken the extra 2 minutes out when gassing up at the local ESSO to do it (they have RBC machines on site). So I missed the op to adopt this bird, have my photo taken with her and then get to release her from the tower. Damn! They also netted a couple Sharp-shinned Hawks which I missed seeing as I went for lunch.
I LOVE KESTRELS!
What I didn't realize is that they count other birds and creatures there too, not just raptors. The Monarchs kept them busy and so did the Blue Jays. That day alone there was over 2,500 that passed over us! Holy cow! I never thought Blue Jays migrated as we have them visiting our feeder all year round.
So cool to see them right over our heads...
It was a steady stream of them throughout the day...
Look out, they're coming right for us!
Over 50 Jays in this shot, and one Duck!
Other birds I saw were Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons galore! Apparently I had just missed the rare visiting Snowy Egret that had been seen over the last couple weeks. Lots of Mallard Ducks in the marsh too. A Belted Kingfisher put on a good flight show for us a few times. Cat Birds called constantly. Lots of American Goldfinch flocks flew overhead. Northern Cardinals popped in and out of the foliage below. A few Yellow-rumped Warblers bounced around in a Willow Tree. And small flocks of Cedar Waxwings perched in nearby trees giving us great views as well. The raptors continued as well of course, mostly Sharpies.
Great Egret out in the marsh with some Mallard Ducks
A Yellow-rumped Warbler if I am not mistaken
A couple Sharp-shins putting on a show
A Great Blue Heron
Around 1pm I decided to go for lunch. I asked about any nearby trails that I could check out during my time out as I wanted to see more of the area. A few were pointed out to me and only one stood out, a walk around part of the marsh. I got better views of the Gulls and Herons, lots of Frogs or Toads hopping around and I chanced upon this Muskrat. He was quite close to me and not overly concerned either; so I had my sandwich right there, watching him do his thing which included some snacking as well.
My view of the tower from the marsh trail.
Nuclear power plant across the lake.
I guess the funniest part to my visit was with my return to the tower after lunch. People came and went; and at one point this woman shows up, talks with those she knew momentarily and then took notice to me. Her expression was like she knew me but I had no clue who she was. She asked me if Angie was with me, or maybe it was "is your wife with you?" I'm even more dumbfounded by this person now. Who the heck is she? Soon after she explained she recognized me by Angie's latest blog, which was about our weekend of camping on my birthday weekend. It turns out she is a regular reader of Angie's. Holy small world or what, eh? She introduced herself as Karen and quickly I texted Angie. Turns out Angie is a regular reader of hers. LOL! She thought this was hilarious.
So, over the next couple hours, in between birds flying over, Karen and I chatted quite a bit. It seems we have a lot in common, meaning how Angie and I feel about various animal/wildlife related subjects and Karen is on the exact same page. I was like "Damn, if you didn't live 4 hours away, I could see you becoming part of our flock of bird buds!"
Another individual came up to the tower that I recognized as one of our first bird guides to the Pelee area a few Springs ago. Of course he didn't recognize me as he probably gives guided walks to hundreds of people each year. His name was Todd.
It was near 4pm and I had to pull myself away from the fun. I knew I had a good 45 minute drive or more to Leamington, and still had to find a place to stay for the night. I remembered where the hotels were but had no clue who had vacancy or not.
I thanked Jenna for being such a kind host. I guess she was the main counter (watcher?). Said my goodbyes to Karen. And away I went.
Oh, there was some discussion prior about looking for the pair of Eurasian-collared Doves being seen in Leamington. Karen gave me hopes of an easy find with these birds. I did my best to not believe her, in order to NOT get my hopes up and be disappointed if I didn't spot them. I'd never seen such species, or think I haven't. There was some discrepancy with that mystery Dove we had back in July. Some say Eurasian, some say African which is a domestic breed often called a Turtle Dove or Ring Necked. I lean more towards the domestic according to most guides but some still argue and say its the Eurasian. But no matter, I saw the birds for sure with this pair.
It's another funny story as I was slowly driving along Seacliff where the birds were being seen. I happened to notice someone else driving quite slowly, stopping at various flocks of Doves on the wires. I finally pulled up next to the person and asked them if they were looking for those birds. The woman said "yes". From there, we ended up looking for them together. I never did get her name but she's from the Toronto area as well. Between my spotting, going by something Karen told me about their aggression to other Doves, and this lady's scope... we got the birds. We were both quite thrilled about this! The birds were off some ways across the field but the scope gave us excellent views. Here is my blog link to our backyard Dove story from July.
After I got my hotel room, and something to eat... I went back to the school area and saw the Doves a little closer this time with the last bit of daylight.
It was a perfect ending to day 1 of my little solo getaway!
Thanks to everyone who made it so great... Jenna, Scott, Dan, Gary, Karen, Todd and others who I did not get the names of.
Last bit... Angie just shared Karen's latest blog and I get honorable mention! Check her blog out here.