July 22, 2016, RBG Arboretum, Hamilton ON. I wouldn’t exactly say I was humbled (one should try to avoid that), but I more or less had to eat my words this morning. I had the pleasurable assignment of leading a two-hour birding hike for an indeterminate number of people, and I misled everyone, including myself.
The background to this is that Ontario’s Royal Botanical Gardens had staged a two day bio-blitz, an all out effort (yesterday and today) to see just what species and forms live, grow, breath, fly, buzz or just sway in the breeze in this large tract of land. Yesterday was for professional botanists, entomologists and zoologists and today was open to anyone interested in contributing. My job was to lead a group of bird enthusiasts and see what we could find.
I was quite surprised at the size of the group that gathered, perhaps fifteen or twenty: some novices, some clearly skilled and a very helpful number of young ears and eyes. Before we set off I explained how July birding can be very quiet, that the noise, the clamour and the drama of migration, courtship and territory-claiming is over and that the birds are now much quieter and more inclined to remain unseen. My expectations were low; how wrong I was; we ended up with a tally of forty-seven species, Whew!
I was relieved quite early in the walk to spot a Ruby-throated Hummingbird atop an ornamental beech, it was in almost exactly the same place as we reliably found one last year so quite possibly the same bird. Just as I feeling relieved to have found the hummingbird, one of our young members called out, “Scarlet Tanager!” and there in deliciously full view, a male posed for several minutes, even allowing several to get some really good photos.
I had hinted at the outset that we might, just might, be lucky enough to see a bluebird this morning and, lo and behold, as we revelled in the tanager spectacle at least one Eastern Bluebird came quite close. American Goldfinches flew overhead to add to the colour of the moment. An Eastern Wood Peewee took issue with the tanager’s presence and chased it around for a while, Blue Jays shrieked from the forest behind, a Northern Flicker or two cried out and, to my delight, a Red–eyed Vireo sang its ‘here I am – way up –treetop’ song. It was shaping up as a very good morning.
Venturing down towards a large expanse of water we added Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat and Black–crowned Night Heron, many of which were reasonably well seen by everyone. We were all excited to see a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret almost side by side, what a comparison!. I asked people to be on the lookout for Bald Eagles and in due course one of our younger members caught sight of one, albeit fleetingly. We also managed distant glimpses of an Osprey, a Belted Kingfisher, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Mute Swans and Barn and Northern Rough–winged Swallows.
As we straggled towards a rainy end of the walk I was happy to admit that I’d been needlessly, what? un-encouraging about our morning’s prospects. Perhaps a lesson learned; I really should get out more.