Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Bancroft and Back

As mentioned in my last post, a couple weeks ago we were up north at the Lodge with friends and family.  Towards the end of the week, I wanted to take a few hours and tour the countryside.  I actually contacted Mike Burrell, an avid birder who also blogs, and, until recently, lived in the area.  I was hoping he might point me to some hot spots for this time of year in the Bancroft area.  He gave me a few suggestions, but they were further west than I hoped to go in the short time I had.  He also pointed out to me (the South-western Ontarian that I am) that up in this area, touring pretty much any back road is likely to result in finding what is moving through the large "wildernessy" expanses of the area.  It turned out to be quite true.

I first headed to Bancroft to do a few errands, and on the way, spotted this small flock of black birds.  I pulled over, and tried to approach but they quickly flushed into the trees and then headed off to a more isolated part of the forest.  It wasn't till looking at the pictures later, that I saw something peculiar.  It was obvious that the birds on the ground were Common Grackles, but looking closer, noticed peculiar tail feather configurations.  No amount of searching on the net gave me even any hints.  I emailed the pictures to my two trusty sources (Dwayne Murphy and the Scholtens father-son team).  I think it ends up that I caught pictures of molting Common Grackles, and not some rare Blackbird of some sort.

Common Grackles -
Some with molting tail feathers producing an interesting feather configuration.
My errands done, I headed up the granite cliffs along a steep lane to Eagle's Nest Park and Lookout.  The view from the lookout was nice, but southwest winds and cloudy skies were not suitable for any raptor migrations.  I did actually see a hawk buzz right over my shoulder and into the woods at one point, and swoop up the path into the forest.  I followed but never found it back.  About the only thing on wing I saw there was a very different dragonfly which was patrolling near the lookout and landed on the railing briefly for a picture.


After trying to find the illusive raptor, I bumped into a gentleman who was collecting buckets of acorns.  Apparently it was a bumper crop this year and they were bringing them to a tree nursery to be start and become seedlings for planting in parks and wilderness areas.  He pointed me to the trail which circles the park.  I'd been to the lookout a number of times but never walked the trail there.  Many of you who read this  have been up to Eagle's Nest likely skipped over the trail like me.  Next time you should hike it.  It's beautiful.  Here is a link which has a map if the trail.  The trail passes through a cool valley with dense trees and mossy ground, and then climbs back up onto the granite outcrop which Eagle's Nest is known for.  You'll see a large pond which is perched hundred's of feet above the surrounding area, and then walk along the stone ridge overlooking the northern vistas of Eagle's Nest "mountain.

As I headed down the trail, almost right away I walked through a small group of warblers busily chasing and catching insects in the oaks and maples above.  They were Black-throated Green Warblers and ended up being life bird #101.

female Black-throated Green Warbler

male Black-throated Green Warbler

to the perched "Lake" up on Eagle's Nest rock

Beaver's work at perched Brethour Lake

Brethour Lake (taken with my cell phone - thought I'd try the panoramic mode out)

I was not intending to be gone for too long, so I rushed this trail.  I could have stayed and enjoyed much more.  Definitely a spot to return to in the future.

As I headed back to the Lodge, I noticed a few Turkey Vultures circling relatively low, and passing quite close over the road. I stopped, thinking I might get a few nice flight pictures.

soaring Turkey Vulture

Canadian Thistle flower

As I took pictures of the soaring birds, I noticed they seemed to be a few of them and they were really concentrating on one location.  Even though I sheepishly thought I was probably just making the stereotypical  assumption that there must be something dead they were interested in, I crossed the road, and walked to a clearing.  As I rounded the corner, a Turkey Vulture flapped its way out of a tree nearby and laboured up into the sky and circled closer overhead.

One of the MANY Turkey Vultures I flushed out.

Well, that was the first of about 25 that I flushed out as I rounded the corner further and walked deeper into the clearing.  That was after I caught whiffs of the distinct odour of something dead.  My nose lead me in the right direction and the many vultures confirmed I was in the vicinity of what had attracted them.  There was a dead White-tailed Deer which had been dumped down a bank.  I saw a set of tire tracks directly up the bank from the deer and wonder if it was a road kill which had possibly been brought there... It did look like there was a bullet wound right at the kill location above the front legs and behind the neck.  Who knows, but the Turkey Vultures were certainly not going to worry how it got there.

dead White-tailed Deer

Most of the huge birds flapped away and either circled me above, or found more distant perches to wait me out.  Two lingered long enough for me to get very close and get full frame shots!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture on the top of the bank above the deer.
A Common Raven had also joined the scavengers and though a poor picture, still better then the only other picture I'd gotten earlier in the summer.

Common Raven

Again, I figured I'd better get going, and cut short what could have been a very interesting place to stay and watch from a bit of a distance.  I'm sure they would have gotten used to me and I could have watched an interesting scene.

But, my trip back was not going to be quick.  As I rounded a bend, a young doe and a fawn were at the side of the road.  The doe didn't like my slow approach with the camera out the window, but the fawn stayed long enough for some nice pictures.  

White-tailed Deer fawn

White-tailed Deer fawn showing its namesake.

When it finally headed for the cover of the forest, I noticed there was an older, larger doe there as well.  It was much larger than the other doe, and had a greyish coat than the other's more tan.  It stared me down and I was able to slowly drive closer, crunching along the gravel road before it elegantly bounded into the forest after the other two. 

White-tailed Deer doe.
Well, with the afternoon really getting on, light fading, and the spit of rain starting to hint at more than that coming, I headed for the Lodge once again.  But, I'm afraid I didn't make it with that departure either.  In a small pond beside the road was a Great Blue Heron sharing the water with a number of Mallard ducks.  The males were just getting their colours (or were they molting and getting them back?)

Mallard Ducks just getting their colours.

Great Blue Heron - just landing.

Great Blue Heron

I scrambled over some blue berry clumps and through soggy ground and long grass to get closer (never close enough though!).  The heron seemed less concerned about me than the ducks, but eventually the soggy ground and water stopped me.  I was able to watch and see it catch a frog though.

Great Blue Heron - hunting

Great Blue Heron with frog.

I did eventually make it back to the Lodge.  By that time the rain was spitting harder and I had no choice but to follow the road, looking neither left or right lest I be tempted once more.   A great afternoon out in the "wilderness" of the Bancroft area.  Until next year.  Or, maybe a winter trip?  We'll see!


  1. Congrats on the life bird!! Looks like a wonderful place to spend some time. The Turkey Vulture shots are amazing!

  2. Congrats on the lifer Brian. Love the panoramic shot of the Lake! Good stuff!


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