I collected the necessary equipment out of my trunk to do a dawn Great Egret count. This included a spotting scope, binoculars, camera, and note pad. I would be recording arrival times, direction and time for any Great Egrets arriving in the Shirley's Bay area. This was part of a project studying the expansion of Great Egret in southern Ontario. In the Ottawa-Gatineau district there has been a major increase in the number of Great Egrets over the past decade. It's amazing how this population has flourished in our area. The first record for our district was in August 1972 and last September, Ben and I counted 33 roosting at Shirley's Bay. Last fall, there were two roost sites used, one at Conroy Island, Deschenes Rapids and the second at Shirley's Bay. Deschenes Rapids is the site where Ring-billed Gulls started nesting in the early 90's and by the mid 00's both Double-crested Cormorant and Black-crowned Night-Heron were discovered breeding. It is only a matter of time before the Great Egret will be found breeding in the Ottawa-Gatineau district. This summer, the Great Egret was discovered breeding for the first time in the Kingston district. Their range is definitely expanding!
Now back to my 5:45 a.m walk. As I make my way to the causeway I could hear a Great horned Owl calling and then a young started to call, giving a loud rasping call, maybe still begging for food. At the dyke, Canada Geese were calling and many of the ducks, mainly Mallards and a small number of Green-winged Teal could be heard. Once I reached my viewing area, a few 100 metres down the dyke, I positioned my scope and quickly scanned the marsh.
6:15 a.m.-Though still dark, I could make out a number of species but no egrets yet. To the east an orange hue cascaded over the sky as the sun began to peak through the horizon. Over Lake Deschenes, hundreds of gulls began to take flight and head inland. After roosting overnight Canada Geese, Mallards, Green-winged Teal began to take flight in small groups while a number of shorebird species started calling, either arriving after a long flight or looking for a feeding area. It was an amazing experience.
Over the years, I've birded in a variety of conditions-recreational, educational and competitive, but this experience was different. This time I had the time to enjoy the solitude and most important, absorbed the moment. In our fast paced life, moments like this overwhelm the senses. Take the time to enjoy..
I arrived at the site at 6:00am. There were 2 Great Horned Owls calling and numerous Swainson's Thrush calling overhead. The first egrets weren't seen till 6:38 a.m. Here is the break down:
6:38am: (5) GREG arriving from east
6:39am :(2) GREG arriving from east
6:40am: (1) GREG arriving from east
6:41am: (3) GREG arriving from east
6:43am:(7) GREG arriving from east
6:50am: (2) GREG arriving from east
All 20 GREG landed and there was a feeding frenzy with 21 GBHE, just west of the causeway. The egrets were still feeding when I left the area at 8:00am. Unfortunately due to the distance and water depth I couldn't see any bands.
Sunrise along the Ottawa River