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The World Outdoors: Bruce County birding a world apart

By Paul Nicholson,
London Free Press,
June 16 2017

The Bruce Peninsula is in many respects a different world.

The topography is certainly different. So is the plant life.

Think escarpment and white cedars.

Even though birding in Bruce County isn’t a simple day trip, it can be a great experience. Pack your binoculars.

One of the jewels at the south end of the county is MacGregor Point Provincial Park near Port Elgin. This park hosts the Huron Fringe Bird Festival during spring migration, but the birding is always interesting. Through the summer, you have a chance to see nesting species that we don’t usually have farther south such as black-throated green warblers and ruffed grouse.

On my last visit I was scanning the trees for birds and noticed what I first thought was a raccoon. Once I put my binoculars on the animal I was happy to discover that it was a porcupine. The fisher is another mammal seen in the park. Entrance to MacGregor Point Provincial Park is by annual pass or day use vehicle permits.

Sauble Beach is an interesting stop because for several years piping plovers have been nesting on the beach. This is an endangered species that is at risk of extinction or extirpation. There were setbacks last June. Predators and surging water from the lake wiped out some chicks but three young birds did survive. Several plovers arrived back last month.

Piping plovers nest on sandy beaches and, not surprisingly, they have been out-competed by human beach-goers. Fortunately, at Sauble Beach the breeding site is a bit north of the primary beach area. There is good signage, protective barriers have been established, and a local volunteer group led by Alicia Fortin continues to play an important stewardship role.

When in Bruce County, it seems wrong not to check out the dramatic escarpment that defines the east side of the peninsula. Immediately north of Wiarton, Spirit Rock Conservation Area offers beautiful trails and dramatic views of Colpoy’s Bay. I have seen pileated woodpecker, other woodpeckers, and flycatcher species here.

Further north is Bruce Peninsula National Park. This park, established in 1987, is the northern end point of the Niagara escarpment.

Less well known locations will hold good surprises as well. I checked out 100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario, co-authored by Chris Earley and Tracy Read and published last year by Firefly Books, for inspiration. Among the six Bruce County hot spots highlighted was the Petrel Point Nature Reserve.

This 33 ha gem is near Red Bay on the west side of the peninsula. I enjoyed an excellent hike along its boardwalk and trails. Highlights here included a family of Cooper’s hawks and towhee. Ontario Nature has additional details about this location.

Nature notes

– When I head north to Bruce County, birds are always top of mind but the night sky is impressive too. Far from the light pollution of big cities, the sky seems to be littered with stars. In 2009, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada made Bruce Peninsula National Park and Five Fathoms National Marine Park one of only 17 Canadian “dark-sky preserves.” This designation means that there is control of local lighting with good nighttime lighting practices and outreach programs.

– A number of bird commentators, including Ben Lizdas at Bird Watcher’s Digest and Greg Neise of the American Birding Association have characterized the migration this May as bizarre, unpredictable and generally slow. Factors such as weather, climate change, and bird population declines have been cited as factors. Bird scientists’ analyses of eBird data will give us more insights.

– Butterfly enthusiasts will be interested to learn that the second edition of Jeffrey Glassberg’s Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America has been published this month by Princeton University Press. It is a comprehensive and authoritative field guide illustrated with 3,500 photographs.

– The pileated woodpecker is Southwestern Ontario’s largest woodpecker by far. At more than 40 cm in length it is 30 per cent longer than our next biggest woodpecker, the Northern flicker. Pileated refers to a bird with a crest on its head. The pileum on top of the head runs from the bill to the nape.