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The Birdman: Communing with our avian friends on the Island

Spring migration means an opportunity to see some unusual species passing through ont heir way to the Arctic
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The least sandpiper is one of the smallest sandpipers and is grouped as a "peep", due to its size and colouration. (Chris Blomme)

When I was younger, there was this exciting movie release with Kirk Douglas called “The Light at the End of the World.”

Although the story wrapped up with a rather sad ending, the distant lighthouse imagery always seemed to stay with me. This weekend past, a birding expedition to our own local light at the end of the world took place. 

The light is the old and historic Mississaugi Lighthouse near Meldrum Bay, on Manitoulin Island, a three-hour drive from Greater Sudbury. It is an annual trip for some birders as it is a unique location during the spring bird migration. 

There are opportunities to find some very unusual species that migrate through the area on their way to the Arctic. Shorebirds in particular are of interest. These fast flying small packages of energy will move in small flocks at high speed and occasionally stop along the shore for a quick feed on insects close to the shoreline. 

Three of us made a three-hour walk along the shore, which this year had a particularly high-water mark. Lake Huron is up. Two flocks of some 20 dunlin were seen feeding. They have red-brown backs and a black belly smudge that looks like they have been wading in oil. 

Amongst the two groups were ruddy turnstones. These are dramatic red-brown birds as well with distinctive black markings on the face. Their small chisel-like beaks can flip small stones looking for food. Small groups of killdeer were calling as we made our way, and spotted sandpiper and a lesser yellowlegs watched us walk by. 

Warblers were singing in small numbers during the overcast weather with occasional light drizzle. American redstart, yellow warbler, a magnolia warbler and a black-throated blue warbler moved through the dense white cedar foliage that is so common here. 

Finally, a pigeon-sized bird flew towards us, its long down curved bill open as it made its loud curlew-like call: A whimbrel! These unique birds often fly in small groups and can endure strong winds as they fly over the water towards their northern breeding grounds.

The park is unique as well. It has had different proprietors over the years and this year is no exception. Maddie, a Sir Sandford Fleming student, has taken on the task of running the park this summer.

On the weekend of our visit, her family and friends were moving mountains to make the park a place well worth visiting. Maddie is full of energy. The lighthouse has received a considerable facelift last year and stands majestically along the skyline. 

A secondary building offers access to coffee and a few amenities, if you have forgotten some of your camping needs. An old-fashion comfort station offers the basics and the camp sites are located along the shore, as well as partially inland. Sites are well concealed, offering privacy from each other, with buffers of naturally growing white cedar trees. A resident red fox was seen and red squirrel and the odd eastern chipmunk will make a campsite visit. 

Sunsets are spectacular and on occasion the Northern Lights are very attractive. The campsite is open until early September and details can be obtained online.

Check it out. 

Chris Blomme is an executive member of the Sudbury Ornithological Society and works with animals at Laurentian University. Have a question for Chris? Send it to editor@sudbury.com.
 



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