Nature Notes for August 5, 2011
It is easy to take for granted natural areas that are near at hand. I have spent more time than usual in Presqu’ile Provincial Park this summer.
This park contains a large variety of habitats in a rather small area. It has mature mixed woods, good quality marsh, sand beaches, Pannes, old field, open lake, the more protected Presqu’ile Bay and offshore islands.
Since records have been kept, 333 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Some are rare and would be unusual to encounter more than once in one person’s lifetime. Some are regular visitors during the passage of migration. Some breed in the park and raise their families here.
Presqu’ile’s new Marsh Boardwalk allows visitors a good look at many marsh birds which would otherwise only be seen from a canoe. Regularly, Least Bittern have been reported this summer from the area of the first observation platform. This small heron is very secretive and one is lucky to get even a fleeting glimpse.
The larger American Bittern could also be heard, and sometimes seen, from the boardwalk. This heron is also somewhat secretive, but it has a loud voice. At dawn and dusk, a number of them could be heard singing their “chunk-a-lunk” song.
Presqu’ile’s marshes have quite a high density of MarshWrens. Throughout the season, they could be heard singing their loud trill. If an observer was willing to wait for a little while, he was almost certain to catch sight of this active little bird. While canoeing in this marsh, we were able to approach many Marsh Wrens quite closely.
There is also a good population of Swamp Sparrows in Presqu’ile Marsh. These males sing a different sort of trill than the wrens, but also have a loud song.
To our surprise, we found a family group of Common Loons just off the Fingers in Presqu’ile Bay. Until this summer, I was unaware that a pair of loons has been nesting for several years somewhere in the marsh. I had thought that they preferred the smaller lakes in cottage country. This indicates that there are areas of the marsh that are undisturbed by motorized watercraft.
Over the marsh, many swallows could be found hunting. Most were Barn and Tree Swallows, but there were a few Purple Martins.
Several species of birds that breed on the offshore islands pass over on their way to and from foraging areas. The largest proportion of these birds are Ring-billed Gulls. Other colonial birds nest here too: Herring and Great Black-back Gulls, Caspian and Common Terns, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Double-crested Cormorants.
Caspian Terns, large fish-eating, gull-like birds with a raucous voice and a huge orange bill, were often seen fishing in the open channels of the marsh.
Numbers of their smaller relatives, Common Terns, have experienced a precipitous decline in recent years. Presqu’ile used to have a very large colony of Common Terns, but they are mostly gone now, pushed out by Ring-billed Gulls. The Ring-bills winter further north, so arrive back on the breeding colonies earlier than the terns, and grab all the good nesting sites.
At this time of year, birders head to Presqu’ile in hopes of finding south-bound migrant shorebirds. Twenty-five species of shorebirds are regular in the park; forty-two have been reported over the years. Presqu’ile’s beaches provide habitat for these birds, a habitat that is rather scarce in Northumberland County. So far, there have been very few shorebirds reported this summer. By the time this column appears, their numbers may have increased.
The knowledgeable staff naturalists at the Park provide interpretive programs all year for those who want to learn more about the natural features of this park. This column has mentioned only birds in a couple of habitats. There are also butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, a great variety of vascular plants, turtles, frogs…… The list is very long.
For more information about programs in the park, check out www.friendsofpresquile.on.ca