Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What would you do to see an endangered species?

Note: All Plover shots were taken by Brendan Toews.

I'd do a lot it would seem. Drive 700 km round trip. Have a bag of salt and malt vinegar chips and 3 bottles of beer for dinner. Spend 4 hours trying to get wet wood to burn. Sleep in 8 degree weather in nothing but a sleeping bag that was half the length of me and an old t-shirt. Wake at 6 am and eat nothing but a granola bar. All under the watchful eye of a video camera.

Just another day in a Punk Rock Big Year, right? One thing this big year is teaching me is that 40 isn't actually the new 30. My body tells me every chance it gets that I'm not as young (and punk) as I once was. Would I do it all again for the chance at an endangered species? Hell yeah, I'd do it the very next day for that, and probably for a fairly common species. Especially when it comes with making a couple new birder friends. Even better, one of them was a metalhead.

I picked  Jon Wayne Brown up in Toronto right after grabbing some gear from a great director friend of mine, Jonathan Bensimon, who was cool enough to lend me his camera, tripod and a nice long lens to film my adventures this past weekend. Jonathan and I sat and had a coffee while transferring some footage he'd shot while I was helping FLAP collect dead and injured birds in early May. He also showed me some things he was working on that were really cool uses of stills in video. Hard to explain but when the video comes out, it'll be amazing. Then I headed across town to meet Jon. We got right on the highway and promptly into gridlock traffic. You see it was Canada Day and every person in Toronto was heading north. It's an odd phenomenon. Everybody heads north to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. But since everyone's doing it, you don't escape a thing. It's the same shit, with Mosquitos. At least that's how I see much of Muskoka. I went further north but the endangered bird is nesting on one of the most popular tourist beaches in Ontario. Thankfully, people are not usually out in full force at 6am.

Piping Plover by Brendan Toews.
The bird in question is a Piping Plover. A small shorebird that hasn't been nesting on the east shore of Lake Huron since about the 50s or 60s. In 2007, Kim Toews (pronounced Taves) and her son Brendan, were walking along the beach doing a little morning birding. Kim has been coming to the Sauble Beach area since before Brendan was born so she was well versed in it's nesting species. She saw something she wasn't too sure of. Brendan, already a very keen birder, said immediately that it was a Piping Plover. He told me that he was just reading about it the night before for some reason. He and his mom knew this was an exciting discovery but they kept it under wraps until they were sure that the birds weren't just passing through to another area further north. After carefully watching them a few days, they noticed Behaviour that might suggest nesting. They contacted the powers that be and things started getting really exciting. The beach was blocked off and 24 hour surveillance was started. The birds were banded and so were the chicks when they showed up.
Piping Plover with chick by Brendan Toews.
Kim and Brendan had discovered a new nesting pair of birds that were endangered in Ontario. It was like a birder's dream come true. I know I'd like to discover such a thing and I don't know a serious birder that wouldn't. The Ontario Field Ornithologists gave them an award and they have been back every year to see the progress. When I visited, about 4 years later, there were now two nesting pairs. They have seen a female chick from the 2009 season return in 2010 and successfully nest and fledge young (making this an Ontario record). The hope is that these little guys keep coming back and start to flourish again. One pair is great, two is twice as good. My fingers are crossed for more progress. Someday, I'd like to bring my kids to see one of the ten nesting pairs. That would be something.
Piping Plover chick by Brendan Toews.
I see a lot of myself in Brendan. It's been a while since I was 17 but my dad has since told me I was not your average kid. I feel that way about Brendan. He seems wise beyond his years. He might wear a Metallica t-shirt but he's also able to identify 95% of Ontario's birds by sight and 75% by sound alone (way more than me, even at 40yrs. of age). I'm sure he has his teen side but he's more than just an average teenager. I felt like I could have intelligent one to one conversations with him. Not something I often feel around someone his age. Usually I feel like throwing teenaged kids off the nearest cliff but that might just be me becoming a curmudgeon as I age. His mom is just flat out, a nice person. She's easy to talk to and very kind. She approached me about coming up to see the bird. She offered to show me around and make sure I got the best looks possible for my documentary. And she definitely delivered. I got very nice views of both the male, female and even the chicks. The male stood on a driftwood stump while his young fed on the shore behind him. He watched us as much as we watched him. How could he know that the three of us would probably take a bullet to save one of his chicks.
Piping Plover by Brendan Toews.
Piping Plover by Brendan Toews.
Afterward, I dropped Jon off in Owen Sound so he could get a bus home. How's that for dedication to the project? I headed further north to see my family again. If you remember from the last post, I left them on Manitoulin Island for a week. Now I'd head up and they'd be in my arms again. We spent an awesome weekend on the island, touring it a bit. Sure I saw some birds, heard even more of them, but the big deal to me was being with my wife and kids again. We drove home on Monday to avoid some traffic. Boy did I ever pay for it at work Tuesday. It was kind of like getting hit with a dictionary in the face. Not fun at all. But the first day back to work is behind me and I write this at my antique Oak desk in the quiet of my living room, drinking a beer and a little Irish Whiskey; kids sleeping soundly upstairs. Right now, life seems perfect, if you don't count all the writing of ads due this week and the fact that unusual birds seem to be turning up at each of the four corners of Ontario this week. No rest for a Punk Birder I guess...

July 1st day list

Piping Plover
Great Egret

July 3rd day list

Northern Goshawk

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