Sunday, 9 June 2013

Kitchener-Waterloo Naturalists Field Trip

Trip Report
Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists'Outing
Carden Alvar
8 June 2013

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

KWFN Members: Miriam Bauman, Alice Buehrle, Roland Buehrle, Donna Cassidy, Gord Cassidy, John Tomins, Michelle Tomins

Guest: John Lichty

    We met Roland and Alice at 06:00 at the commuter parking lot, having already picked up John Lichty, and we headed off for the Kirkfield lift lock, the first stop on our Carden Alvar adventure. Along the way we tallied the birds we saw and were pleasantly surprised when a Green Heron flew in front of the car near the Campbellville Road exit from Highway 401. Just west of Kirkfield a Turkey Vulture was on the side of the road feeding on a carcass.
    A few changes have been made at the lift lock, a Government of Canada facility, since I was last there in 2010. No Parking signs have been erected along both sides of the road and there is a fee of $2.00 to park in a gated parking lot. That's all well and good if one plans to spend the day, or a few hours at least, in the area, but since many people stop just to use the washrooms it seems a little excessive. We parked along the road at the side of the restaurant. Strangely, only the ladies'washroom was open, so we used it in sequence - ladies first of course!

Kirkfield Lift Lock 08:16 - 08:44
                                                              The canal

    We walked the trail which runs alongside the canal, but there was not much to be seen. Lots of bird song was heard of the common species one would expect at this location.

All species: Rock Dove, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow.

Kirkfield Road from the Lift Lock to McNamee Road 08:44 - 09:18

    There is always a little excitement when beginning this section of the trip for it is along this stretch of road that one first encounters some of the signature species of the alvar. We were not disappointed and soon heard the buzzy song of a Grasshopper Sparrow and had excellent looks at both Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink. But most exciting of all, we sighted our target bird for the day, the critically endangered eastern Loggerhead Shrike. It was first seen on a zig-zag rail fence, about 2 km north of the lift lock on the west side of the road. It then flew farther back and landed on a tree, where it perched briefly before going into a dense bush, where we speculated it might be nesting. We waited to see whether the bird would emerge from the bush and we were not disappointed. It perched very cooperatively on a low, stick-like growth, and we were able to get it in the scope. Everyone had first rate views of this bird. I had originally thought we might spend a good deal of our time searching for this species and I could hardly believe our incredible good fortune when we lucked into it so early in the day. As it happened, it was the only one we saw so our good fortune seems magnified.

                              Distant View of Loggerhead Shrike 

All species:  Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle. 

South Wylie Road 09:18 - 12:25

    I think this is the only time over many, many visits to Carden Alvar that I have not spotted an Upland Sandpiper within the first two or three hundred metres. Today, for the first time ever, we could not locate an Upland Sandpiper anywhere, despite a concerted effort. 
    The Wilson's Snipe did not disappoint, although initially Roland and Alice saw a couple that we missed. Eventually, everyone had great views of this species and we were entranced to hear them winnowing in the air, and then perching on top of a fence post, a sight which always seems emblematic of Carden Alvar to me.
                                                Wilson's Snipe

 Eastern Kingbirds, it seemed, were everywhere one looked and we saw a pair engaged in a very spirited battle to drive away an American Crow. It was incredible to see their dogged determination and lack of fear and indeed the crow was routed. I think we were all uttering silent cheers for the kingbirds!

                                               Eastern Kingbird

    It was at this stage of our trip that we were joined by the Tomins and the Cassidys, for they had left a little later than us, and planned to stay overnight in Orillia and return to bird the alvar again tomorrow. John Tomins, driving his all-wheel drive vehicle fortunately, came onto Wylie Road from Alvar Road, and said that the conditions were simply awful. After the recent heavy rains he commented on pot holes large enough to swallow a car! Given the conditions, we elected not to go beyond the Sedge Wren marsh to search for the grassland species of the northern section of Wylie Road.

                                            Prairie Smoke

    Numerous other species delighted us. A complete list is given below.

All species: Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch.

Sedge Wren Marsh 12:25 - 14:21

    This marsh was famously named for the Sedge Wrens which could reliably be located here in years past. In recent years, however, no one seems to have been able to find a Sedge Wren, although the name conferred on the marsh continues to honour its presence. 
    There is now a trail through the marsh and we took it. It was quite productive and we added Virginia Rail for the day and heard the wonderfully atmospheric sound of Ruffed Grouse drumming in the forest. We heard the teacher teacher call of an Ovenbird, a Common Nighthawk was flying early and there were numbers of Swamp Sparrows at very close range.
                                              Swamp Sparrow

All species: Ruffed Grouse, Great Blue Heron, Virginia Rail, Common Nighthawk, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Grey Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle.

Kirkfield Road from McNamee Road to Cameron Ranch

    This short drive was marked by sightings of both American Kestrel and Merlin.

All species: American Kestrel, Merlin, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle.

Cameron Ranch 14:41 - 16:10

    This location was not as productive as it sometimes has been in the past but it was an enjoyable walk nonetheless. Highlights included a marvelous flyby of two Wilson's Snipe and Michelle's keen hearing picked out a Vesper Sparrow for us, truly an emblematic species of the Carden Alvar. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds, perched in the open near a nest box, permitted excellent photographic opportunities and we saw our only Eastern Towhee of the day.

                                       Male Eastern Bluebird

All species: Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Great Crested Flycatcher, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle.

Total species for the day:  58

General Comment

    It was a wonderful day's birding at one of Ontario's premier birding sites. Every single participant on this trip contributed significantly to its success and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to bird with such a fine group of naturalists.


  1. There was one member who failed to produce a target bird.

  2. Great outing - missed the shrike but had a family of upland sandpipers on our Sunday outing.


  3. Looks spectacular -- I need to get up there sometime.

  4. If ever you do be sure to let me know.