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The Birdman: Nov. 11 and a moment of silence in the vast northern wilderness

Every year a group of birders takes a special birding trip that also honours the fallen

The local bird club has an expedition every Nov. 11, in part to explore Halfway Lake Provincial Park, but also in part to share a moment of silence to commemorate Remembrance Day.

We started the damp, grey sombre day with a nice warm Timmy’s in our hands. Collecting at Chelmsford, the troop quickly car-pooled into three vehicles of international persuasion. A GMC, a Mercedes and a Mini were off with the 11 adventurers on the annual excursion north in the pursuit of northern visitors. 

A quick stop at Dowling to pick up a straggler and back on the road again to our first stop. The Boy Scouts camp at Windy Lake proved to be very quiet. In the distance, across the lake in a tall pine, Bruce notices a sentinel. We all watch through binoculars and fog with intense gazes and eventually the large brown bird moves enough to give us a flash of white on the head and tail: bald eagle! 

The camp site was occupied this year with a weekend social so we made our way to the next stop. Trucks roar by with little tolerance for slower vehicles. It is the Timmins run and they have to get to their locations. We eventually arrive at Halfway Lake Provincial Park. It is not very cold, but there are three inches of snow on the ground, so there should be ideal opportunities to read the tracks that we come across. 

Rachelle and Alice are trackers and can offer some interpretations of the goings on from the night before. The silence of the area is impressive. The camp site is deserted as we make our way to the beach area and open Halfway Lake, not yet frozen. Bruce hears a subtle chipping of wood on a dying tree. A sure sign that there is a woodpecker working the bark. We get closer and eventually find the maker of the noise.

Perched on the main trunk, there is movement as the head moves, a golden yellow crown visible with a dark black body. The bird seems oblivious to our attentions as John, Gilbert and Phil start clicking away with cameras. A black-backed woodpecker, one of the three-toed varieties, is feeding on the insect grubs hidden under the bark of the pine. 

We continue our trek through the park. Snowshoe hare tracks are seen, but not as common as usual this year. Smaller columns of tracks crossing the snow covered roads indicate shrew and maybe woodland jumping mouse as well. The round imprints of Canada lynx are seen meandering through the camp sites.  

We are determined to find a regular that seems scarce this year. Rachelle finds more tracks and follows them close to the underbrush of a spruce. The imprint is unmistakable and the hazelnut border is probably the food attractant. Bruce makes sign from further down the road. He has found one! Dampness and water droplets in the air make these birds go for cover. 

They freeze in their demeanour to avoid predators and are hard to find. There in the shadows, under the canopy of the conifers, is a statue-like ruffed grouse. Several trekkers had to look hard before they could make out the dark silhouette of the bird.

As 11 a.m. arrives, we all stand for a minute’s silence to commemorate Remembrance Day and what it stands for. Passchendaele was particularly highlighted this year in the media. This special field trip was part of our ceremony, a tradition that has been followed for many years.

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