Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Springbrook to Campbellford (or the day an Ornithologist got to meet Darwin!)

Our campsite last night felt a little like Grand Central Station for wildlife. We pitched the tent beside a deer trail, with fresh deer prints, but that was the least of it. A group of coyotes went through, howling and yipping and attracting the attention of a dog that was much closer than we expected. At one point something large and clumsy walked by, snapping sticks as it went. A while later a smaller something climbed a nearby tree, scrabbling and scraping and then chewing noisily. A young bird or animal whined persistently, and every now and again a Red-tailed Hawk would call. Needless to say, it wasn't a restful night.

As we set off on the trail around 7:30 am, it was a cool and overcast morning. We crossed two wooden bridges over the meandering river, and stopped to watch a pair of Mallards take flight in a fit of splashing.

Soon after that we left the trees behind and headed out across open, rolling fields and farmland. The corn was about 4 inches high, giving the dry, brown fields a thin layer of light green on top.

Sean paused to photograph rustic red and grey barns, some with horses grazing lazily in the meadows beyond. A family of three Killdeer chased each other around an open patch in one of the fields, keening noisily.


A little farther along two deer came bounding across the rolling hills towards us as if propelled by spring loaded legs. One stopped in deep grass to peer at us, only its head and long, pink ears visible above the waving green sea.


As we walked, we were struck by the geometry of the landscape. Unlike in the forests and wetlands we've been walking among, where everything is free flowing, here the landscape is full of straight lines. The fences, furrowed and ploughed fields, hedgerows, roads, and power lines all bisect the hills in a series of lines and angles.


This didn't mean there wasn't a lot of life. Barn Swallows performed their aerial acrobatics overhead. The hedgerows were alive with Baltimore Orioles, Brown Thrashers, Yellow Warblers, and Song Sparrows. A few lonely Ring-billed Gulls circled low over the fields.

As the morning progressed, the temperature began to climb. The smell of cows, freshly mown hay, and wild roses was strong in the hot, humid air. By around noon the waves of heat reflecting up off the light gravel trail were starting to be uncomfortable.


In one of the few sections of trail that passed through a small woodlot, we passed a group of around 50 beehive boxes. You could hear their collective buzzing from the trail, and see the golden bees swarming around above the hives.

Back out in the open, we came across a very sad sight, which is symbolic of the plight many grassland birds face. We heard the distinctive, mechanical calls of three male Bobolinks, and when we spotted them, they were walking between the rows of a cut hay field. They were looking down, calling repeatedly, clearly searching for where their nests had just been.


It is easy to vilify farmers for killing grassland birds that nest in their fields by mowing during the nestling or fledgling stages, when the young birds are unable to escape. However, farmers struggle to make ends meet, and by mowing early, they can often get an extra hay harvest in. In addition, apparently the hay is more nutritious for the cows, and fetches a higher price if it is harvested earlier. Like many environmental problems, the solutions are not as simple as we would like them to be.

As we listened to the Bobolinks, the repeated scream of a Red-tailed Hawk rang out over the hills. We spotted a large adult perched majestically atop a snag on a hilltop. Suddenly a Blue Jay swooped in, mobbing it repeatedly until it took to the air.


As we continued on we came to a barnyard full of curious cows, many of whom had young. The cooing of Mourning Doves, as well as the raucous cawing of American Crows mixed with the mooing of the cows.

Towards the early afternoon we came to a junction of two trails and stopped in the shade to take a break. As we sat there we watched a pair of Brown Thrashers taking a bath in the dust of the trail. Small flocks of American Goldfinches and Cedar Waxwings bobbed about along the edges of the trees. Surprisingly to me, we also saw quite a few Eastern Phoebes and other Flycatchers. I usually see them in forests, but of course there are plenty of flying insects on agricultural land as well.


As we sat at the junction a convoy of five ATVs pulled up. One of the riders came over to chat, and said the group was doing a loop from Hastings to Tweed, where they were picking up some trail maps to refill the information boxes along the trail. It was nice to meet a group of ATV users that were actively involved in maintaining the trail and ensuring that all was well along the route.


By this point in the afternoon it was extremely hot, so we decided to give our new gossamer gear umbrellas a test run. They clip onto our backpacks, so we could hike with them hands free. It felt a little like we were wearing tinfoil hats to keep the government spies out, but the shade they provided was a wonderful relief. Although waves of heat were still reflecting up off the gravel trail, it was much cooler under their welcome shade. I think this was a worthwhile investment.


We spent the afternoon trekking over exposed, rolling, agricultural land. Even the birds seemed to be sheltering from the heat. A few Turkey Vultures circled overhead, and a Northern Harrier flew low over a field, actively pursued by a pair of irate Red-winged Blackbirds. At one point we passed a landowner getting ready to cut the only tree left along his laneway. We couldn't help but question the wisdom of this as we scurried from one shade tree to the next, taking a short break under each one.



We were delighted to be met by two wonderful people when we reached Campbellford. They have invited us to camp in their backyard tonight, and they have put an enormous amount of thought and effort into how to host us in a completely socially distanced way. It is fantastic, and they have spoiled us rotten! Jill walked the last stretch of trail with us, while her husband, Darwin, drove our gear ahead.  Really, how can you do a bird walk and not meet Darwin along the way?  Well, today we did!

In the afternoon we met with Sue from the Trent Hills Now Community News Magazine for an interview, and then we shared an amazing dinner and great conversation with Jill and Darwin on their deck, all from 6 ft away or more. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful but very hot day.


  1. Love to read about your peaceful journey which is always jam-packed with such useful technical bird-detail. I feel like I'm learning a lot along the way. :-)

  2. The picture of the blue jay dive bombing is priceless!


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