Thursday 5 May 2022

Marsh Madness

If you are connected to the birding world in any way, by now you have likely heard about the absolute mindboggling bird that is the Marsh Sandpiper in Thedford, Ontario.

On Saturday evening (April 30), I was texting back and forth with Jeff Skevington, planning a day trip to the north part of Algonquin Park (Brent, on Cedar Lake). We were all content and set for the next day (which included a 4:30 am meet-up in Pembroke), when he called me with an absolute bombshell: James Holdsworth, birder extraordinaire, had found the first Canadian, and Eastern North American, record of Marsh Sandpiper. Pretty crazy. Unfortunately, Jeff went on, there would be no access, and we couldn't very well go sneaking in. Alas, we would continue with our plans the next day. I wasn't bummed out, I was much looking forward to birding in an area of the Park I hadn't been in several months! 

About 30 minutes later I get another call from Jeff. He had managed to arrange access for birders the following day. To make a long story short, I made a split second descion, and agreed to meet him in Belleville at 10pm. 

A couple hours later, I left my Jeep in a parking lot (after taking a couple photos, as I expected I would have to report it stolen), and was in a car with Jeff and Paul Lagasi on the 401 headed west. The Marsh Sandpiper had been seen flying away to the northwest earlier that evening, so our hopes weren't high ("5% chance its there"), but at least it would be a fun trip, and we would be able to reconnect with some people we haven't seen in some time.

We arrived at Jeff's parents house near Woodstock around 2am, and quickly settled in for a few hours of sleep. While I'm sure many birders were not sleeping well that night because of the prospect of the bird the next day, I had trouble falling asleep thinking about my Jeep that was probably on some cargo ship halfway across the Atlantic by now. I did, eventually, drift off to sleep, and, not a word of a lie, dreamt of birders trespassing in sewage lagoons (which for the record, we were NOT doing the next day). 

5am came early, especially since we had set our alarms for 5:45am. I guess the coffee pot had other plans for us, and decided to beep, rousing us from our short slumber. After a quick breakfast, we were on the road towards the Thedford Sewage Lagoons. We got there shortly before the gates were set to open, but dozens of birders had already beat us.

The municipal worker with the key wasn't there at 8am sharp, but that was no problem for the nearly 100 birders there. When he finally arrived at 8:05am, he was met by the sight of everyone already scoping the sewage lagoons from the middle berm. Jeff and I had remained at the gate (I was in no hurry to not see the bird that had definitely already left the night before), and he seemed pretty chill with it. Or maybe he was just too stunned to speak. 

Jeff and I sauntered up to the crowd, and figured that the bird had not been seen as there didn't seem to be any direction to where people were pointing their optics. However, just a couple minutes later, miraculously, the Marsh Sandpiper was spotted. It wasn't long before everyone got on it. A collective sigh of relief was breathed. 

Over the course of the next few hours I think I spent more time looking at birders than the bird. This will be my one Southwestern Ontario birding trip of the spring, so certainly nice to see so many familiar faces, and to meet some new ones! All in all, I'd say close to 400 people saw this bird over the course of the day.

Our group left mid-day to go explore some other local areas. Not too much of note to speak of, but I was kind of shell shocked seeing so many birds! I think I forgot that it was spring...

We got back on the road after 4pm, and made our way east. It was around 9:30pm that we got back to Belleville, and I was relieved to see that my Jeep had somehow survived the time I was away from it. 

Three hours, two deer, many cookies, and one quick nap in Bancroft later, I arrived back home at the East Gate in Algonquin Park, all in time for work Monday morning. What a crazy day it had been. I'm sure we missed a Great Crested Grebe up on Cedar Lake, but hey, what we don't know can't hurt us?