Early Spring Birding: Mer Bleue, Bearbrook, Cardinal Creek

With a week of warmer weather behind us, I had a feeling that today would be good for the first expedition of the Spring.  I rose at 5 AM, careful not to wake Sue, dressed quietly, packed my binoculars and camera, and pulled my bike from the basement.  I then cycled over to Elgin Street and ate breakfast at Dunn’s.  After breakfast, I carried my bike on to a 95 bus to Orleans, in the east end of the City.



From the Place D’Orleans Shopping Centre, I headed south on Tenth Line Road.  I passed out of the urban area, into the farm fields, where I stopped to admire two eastern phoebes flitting around a derelict barn.  It looks like a good place for barn swallows.  Dropping down into the lowlands around the Mer Bleue bog (a globally significant wetland), I almost immediately came across a beautiful northern harrier, which drifted away across a damp, grassy field.


I turned on to Smith Road and climbed a low rise, getting my first glimpse of the fields and floodplain east of Mer Bleue.  A flock of geese cackled in the pasture beside the road.  In the scraggly hayfield behind them, a dozen sandhill cranes gleaned through the hummocks.  Unfortunately, my camera is limited to optical 5x zoom and digital 10x zoom.  But you can just make them out the photos.

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From Smith Road, I turned south on Milton toward Bearbrook.  During most of the year, it meanders through a broad floodplain of corn and hayfields.  In the spring, though, it spreads into a wide, shallow lake.  Canada geese gather by the tens of thousands, fattening themselves on the leftover grain.  They are joined by mallards, pintails and teal.  Sometimes flocks of snow geese stray a bit west of their usual migration route to them.  Today, though, I saw only geese and pintail.  But I was fortunate to see the arrival of the largest flock of geese that I’ve seen in many years:  perhaps five thousand, straggling in from the southeast, probably from the Ottawa River.

Flock of Geese

From Bearbrook, I headed a little east and then north into the Cardinal Creek area.  I cruised the roads for several hours, exploring some of the places that I’d featured in a recent planning study (the Greater Cardinal Creek Subwatershed Study):  woodlots, karst pavements, the Proulx sugarbush.




I ended my explorations at the Cardinal Creek karst:  a cave and ravine system, formed where the creek tumbles over a steep escarpment.  For most of the year, the creek by-passes the ravine, travelling underground through the cave (which is blocked off to protect the public).  During the spring run-off, however, or in summer storms, it fills the ravine with a torrent.
All things considered, the day could hardly have been more successful.  I cycled 86 km, saw almost every bird that I hoped to find, and arrived home safe and sound for good supper, a hot bath, and relaxed evening.
My bird list for the day:
  • Ring-billed gull
  • Song sparrow
  • Robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Canada geese
  • Mallard
  • Pintail
  • Wood duck
  • Common goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Great blue heron
  • Sandhill crane
  • Killdeer
  • Woodcock (heard)
  • Wild turkey
  • Kestrel
  • Northern harrier
  • Red-tail hawk
  • Turkey vulture
  • Mourning dove
  • Pigeon
  • Common flicker (heard)
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • Eastern phoebe
  • Tree swallow
  • Crow
  • Raven
  • Red-wing blackbird
  • Brewers blackbird
  • Common grackle
  • Starling
  • Cardinal
  • Chipping sparrow