late sept ON 2014 067

On September 17 I commenced an unusual road trip: three venues in two different countries. The first part of the excursion was hosted most delightfully by the Essex Region Conservation District, based in Essex, Ontario. Kris Ives had been corresponding for a while regarding their passenger pigeon specimen and desire to create a traveling exhibit to mark the anniversary. She was collaborating on this latter project with my friend Sarah Rupert (a naturalist at Point Peele National Park) and the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary. Given that some of Ontario’s best migration locations are close to or within the Essex region, the district sponsors a number of birding events including the Shorebird Songbird Festival in May at Hillman Marsh Conservation Area and the Hawk Festival in September at Holiday Beach Conservation Area (Holiday Beach has long been known as one of the premier locations in the continent.) Kris asked me if I was going to be anywhere near Essex during any of their bird programs. With enough trips planned, one is bound to be near somewhere else and so her offer fit in perfectly with two Michigan engagements.

To ensure ease in crossing the border, Kris had sent me a letter of introduction stating that I was to  provide a lecture on behalf of the district. It turned out that the most arduous part of the crossing was conducted by police on the US side who wanted to see the contents of my trunk and asked me a bunch of questions. They did not seem all that impressed by letter. Having satisfied those folks, the Canadian guard was great. He was something of a naturalist with a strong interest in the Carolinian forests of southern Ontario. (These are deciduous forests that contain sassafras, Kentucky coffee tree, and a few other species at the northern limit of their range.) Fortuantely, there was no large line behind us because he kept up a very nice conversation. Sarah later told me that when the guards find someone  particularly patient or whom they find interesting,  they will often engage them in palaver.

I began to lose confidence in my Map Quest directions to McKinnon’s Bed and Breakfast, located in Amhrest burg so I stopped at a real estate office, figuring they ought to know the local area. It turns out the lady not only was familiar with local geography but passenger pigeons too, having written a paper on them when she was in school. (I gave her a copy of the book.)  The bed and breakfast is located on the Lake Erie side of a peninsula; the other side of the road is a large marsh.  The McKinnon’s were very accommodating and their home is lovely. I thought of Sarah Palin as I stared out through their living room window and could see the United States.

Great-blue heron near McKinnons.

Great-blue heron near McKinnons.

Kris came a little later and turned out to be the most wonderful of hosts for the day and a half she had me in her care. She kept track of our schedule as we visited a number of fascinating areas. We packed a lot into that first afternoon. First off we stopped at the museum on the grounds of the John R. Park Homestead Conservation Area, Harrow, Ontario. This where Kris works and we also lingered with the passenger pigeon that the district is borrowing from a local private collector. Since it wasn’t far, how could we not  see the waters of Pigeon Bay.  Then we met Claire  Sanders, who is  Coordinator of the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup, who joined us.  We ran into someone who had just seen a huge swarm of monarchs in a field but our perusal of the site failed to yield anywhere near the number  reported.

Passenger pigeon at Pt. Pelee National Park.

Passenger pigeon at Pt. Pelee National Park.

The final destination of the day was Point Pelee National Park to see my friend Sarah Rupert, who is a naturalist there. Point Pelee juts into Lake Erie and is the southernmost point in mainland Canada. It is renowned as a migrant trap. I was there once before, in 1970, and was awed by the swarms of birds and birders. I recall in particular a cerulean warbler foraging on the ground, a joy to the birders but no doubt very stressful to the bird who prefers when food is available high in the forest canopy. The museum has a wonderful assemblace of displays, but the two that resonated with me most was a- big surprise-  handsome male passenger pigeon mount and a quilt depicting the past, present, and future of Point Pelee through the eyes of  the Pottawatomie, Odawa, and Ojibwa peoples who have lived here over the years.

First Nations quilt at Point Pelee NP.

First Nations quilt at Point Pelee NP.

The next morning was mostly about birds. We hit a bird banding station near Holiday Beach. Migration for small birds was slow but both a gray-cheeked thrush and a ruby-throated hummingbird intersected the nets and were banded.

Removing gray-cheeked thrush from net.

Removing gray-cheeked thrush from net.

Gray-cheeked in hand.

Gray-cheeked in hand.

Examining gray-cheeked primaries.

Examining gray-cheeked primaries.

It did turn out to be a very good day for raptor movements. The banders caught a sharp-shinned. Later, from the viewing platform at Holiday Beach,  kettles of broadwings circled high over head. Even at lunch, at Mettawas Station where we were joined by Kris’s colleagues Richard Wyma (General Manager) and Danielle Stuebing (Director, Community Outreach Services), the hawks kept flying. Fearful of being labeled ADHD, I still could not help from shouting out during our conversation that a merlin was flying over.

Observers at Holiday Beach hawk watch.

Observers at Holiday Beach hawk watch.

After lunch we stopped at the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Refuge in Kingsville where we were met by Craig Capacchione, Outreach Coordinator/Curator. Jack Miner was an early conservationist who began banding migratory waterfowl in 1909.  His data helped lead to the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty that protected birds moving between Canada and the US.

Wood ducks and trespassing hooded merganser at Jack Miner museum.

Wood ducks and trespassing hooded merganser at Jack Miner museum.

Dinner and my talk was at a lovely vineyard, named Cooper’s Hawk (for  both the raptor and the accounting firm  where the owner use to work).  Tom O’Brien, the owner, gave me a little tour and offered me some of their product, which is in fact very highly regarded by aficionados. At that moment I really wish I was a drinker, but an hour before my talk did not seem to be a propitious time to start. These are the words that define their operation: “Our vision is to grow quality wine in an environmentally supportive surrounding. Preservation of our natural habitat through sustainable practices is our priority. Making wine for you to celebrate with family and friends is our goal.”

It seems that some of the most interesting stories and people come my way during book signings. Toward the end of the line was a young woman named Kate Stasiak who turned out to be a veterinarian who specializes in wildlife. Her most recent assignment was performing necropsies on caribou in the Northwest Territories. She held in her hand a paperback copy of the book that she bought- it was the last copy-  in The Yellowknife Book Cellar,  which bills itself as “Canada’s most northern independent bookstore.”  I am still amazed that the book wound up in such an unexpected place. The evening and my Ontario adventures ended with Kris, Sarah, Kate, Kate’s sister Iga, and I going out for snacks. But not too late for I had to cross the border in the morning and needed to be alert for my expected grilling by the US border guards.

Sarah, Claire, and Kris.

Sarah, Claire, and Kris.

 

Passenger pigeon on loan to Essex Region Conservation Authority.

Passenger pigeon on loan to Essex Region Conservation Authority.

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