By Angus Inksetter
Saturday, March 20th, was the spring equinox and the day Saugeen Nature ventured forth on their annual search for winter raptors still lingering in the area, plus early spring migrant arrivals. It is always an outing by car and usually we car-pool to save on fuel and to have a more social time; with covid protocols in place, however, we had one family group per car, Under these conditions five cars met north of Chesley in the morning and worked their way north, zig-zagging back and forth from the Bruce highway 10 to the County Line. When we reached the junction of concession 10 and the County Line we kept going north, stopping at two places where the Sauble River crosses roads and again at a large flooded field north of Bruce highway 5.
Ideally, this outing is a chance to see some of the beautiful snowy owls which grace our winter landscape. Unfortunately that was not to be this year. The owls were scarce this winter, although there were a few in the area, and the early snow melt sent most that were here moving north before we went looking for them. The day had other rewards in store for us in spite of the lack of owls. The Grimston flats are always a good area for raptors and gave us good views of some rough-legged hawks. These are large birds of prey which visit here, like the snowy owls, in winter, and return to the far north for their summer breeding season. They are larger than red-tailed hawks and show distinctive patterns of black, white, brown, and, in the juveniles, yellowish ochre. To complicate matters further, rough-legs come in two colour “morphs” which look quite different. We managed to see a light morph juvenile, showing the yellowish colour on its head, a light morph adult with the black patches at its “wrist” and belly, and a dark morph adult which is largely black but with large areas of white on the undersides of the wings.
Other highlights of the trip followed at each stop. At the massive eagles’ nest we could see nothing at first. After a short while a magnificent adult bald eagle flew out of the nest and landed in a nearby tree; all who wished had a good view. Along the Sauble River we also saw killdeer, mute swans, northern pintail, goldeneye, mallards, and countless Canada geese. In the flooded field farther north were many more Canada geese, ducks, and twenty-eight tundra swans. The tundra swans were laggards in their own migration, as the majority of that population had already moved through Grey and Bruce counties toward their nesting grounds on the arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska.
The original intention of the outing was to travel west to the Lake Huron shore after seeing what the County Line had to offer. By the time we had taken in the life on the flooded field with the tundra swans we had been out for more than two-and-a-half hours. The consensus was that we had had a good morning, so we went home for a late lunch.
For more information on Saugeen Nature and to learn about other outings in the club’s programme, visit www.saugeenfieldnaturalists.com.