Tuesday 9 April 2024

Total Solar Eclipse 2024: Port Rowan

The total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024 is a well known phenomenon, and certainly not one to have missed—the next total solar eclipse occurring in Ontario is in 2099, and I have heard that the next one in this region won't occur until 2144! The last total solar eclipse to occur in North America was in 2017, and before that, 1979. Clearly this is a rare event! The "path of totality"—that is, the areas in which totality (the moon completely covering the sun) occurs, is outlined in the following map. As you can see, the Lake Erie shoreline was all in range, and so we (Dana Latour, Kiah Jasper, Alessandra Kite, Erik Van Den Kieboom, and William Konze) made the journey down to Port Rowan to observe this celestial event. 

From County of Brant (2024)

The original plan was to head down early and do some birding in the region in the morning, however due to some unfortunate circumstances (school), the plans were changed last minute so that Dana and I would join the others around midday at Port Rowan wetlands to observe the eclipse. So we did just that!

Certainly a major draw for the six of us was to observe the faunal response to the eclipse. Spoiler alert: it wasn't nearly as drastic as I think we were all expecting, but it was still interesting. More on that to follow.

The eclipse was set to start at 2:02 PM, and that it did. There were many clouds which proved worrisome (indeed, there was much concern that none of Southern Ontario would get to observe the eclipse for the clouds!), however as the eclipse progressed, it seemed more and more likely we would luck out for totality!

As the eclipse progressed, we noted several small flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls heading south towards the lake, as well as a number of Great Blue Herons heading that same direction. There were also a number of Tree Swallows and a few assorted ducks. Chorus frogs were calling quite loudly, and there was the occasional Spring Peeper or Leopard Frog call mixed in. 

As we got closer and closer to totality, the lighting began to change in ways that were incredible, and unlike anything any of us had witnessed before. Things appeared to get dimmer and dimmer (we compared it to turning the brightness down on a computer or phone screen), and there was almost a bit of a sepia tone. Notably, the shadows that our bodies cast remained just as strong as ever, not dissipating as you may normally observe as the sun goes down. The clouds also began to cast odd shadows on the ground, such that it almost appeared as though a thin layer of fog was passing by our feet. 

It really wasn't my intent to get any sort of fancy eclipse photos, so I didn't exactly have the best set up for the occasion. I was using my 250mm lens, and found some success in cranking the f-stop and shutter speed up as high as they go, and dropping the ISO to the minimum of 100 (my sincere apologies to all the astrophotographers, and really, just all photographers, out there). 

The surrounding sky darkened more and more as well. 

Finally, at 3:16 pm, we reached totality, and it was nothing short of amazing. Obviously, nothing like  we had ever experienced before. The corona of the sun was visible behind the moon, as were a few solar flares. 

The sky also took on an indescribable tone of colour as we plunged into darkness. A temperature drop also accompanied this.

Note Venus (?) in upper portion of photo

But how did the wildlife react? This was certainly a big point of interest. Probably the most stark difference was how the chorus frogs quietened abruptly, and were immediately replaced by a strong showing of Spring Peepers. The Tree Swallows dropped down low to the water, as they often do in the evening (Erik hypothesized perhaps aerial insects drop lower with the light/temperature change?). The ducks on the water, once fairly spread out, began to concentrate towards the middle of the pond. The few Canada Geese on the pond moved towards a small island and pulled themselves up on it. A Northern Harrier flew in low, hunting over the wetland, and a few Turkey Vultures began to fly in towards a row of conifers, as if  to roost. A Blue Jay called and a Northern Cardinal began to sing, both of which had been silent. Finally, there were a few tight flocks of blackbirds flying around, including a small group which seemed to go to roost in some cattails. 

Although, perhaps my favourite, and most memorable, faunal response, was actually from the humans. All around the wetland, were a few dozen people had gathered, there were exclamations of awe. Off towards the lake, in Port Rowan, was a loud cheer was the moon fully eclipsed the sun. Indeed, it was hard to contain our excitement and wonder (nor did we try), and even within our little group, we all excitedly pointed out the textures of the sky and the behaviours of the birds and the frogs. We all agreed this was one of the most amazing things we had ever witnessed. 

We did our best to soak in this once in a lifetime event, and as soon as it had begun, it was over at 3:20 pm. The world was once again illuminated, and even though the sun was covered to the same degree (just on the opposite side as the moon passed by it), the world did not appear in that same muted, sepia tone as before.  The eclipse, although not fully over until 4:30 pm, had more or less come to a conclusion. 

As the eclipse ended, the blackbirds began to disperse, as did the ducks. The Spring Peepers were again overtaken by the chorus frogs. The Tree Swallows again rose to their usual heights, and the Canada Geese left their little island and began to swim out over the pond. A few Bonaparte's Gulls were high up and shooting northwards. Everything returned to normal. 

The drive home took much longer than we would have liked, given the hundreds, if not thousands, of cars departing from the region, but it was worth every second of it. I am very happy to have been able to experience this incredible happening, and it will be something which sticks with me for years to come.