MIGRATION RESEARCH FOUNDATION
The Story of the Laughing Bonaparte’s:
The birth and creation of the "Laughing Bonaparte’s" took place at Fréderic’s birthday party last February.
Before going to his party that night, I had just received a publication of Bird studies Canada and information about the Baillie Birdathon. For years I wanted to participate in this 24 hour birding marathon, which generates essential funds for bird research and conservation, so I thought that Alain Goulet, Fréderic Hareau and I should participate and would make a good and fun team. The problem was when? Seeing that all three of us were busy with many birding activities in May, when could we find the time to participate in this extreme birding. After weeks of negotiating on when and where we could all get together in May, we finally agreed on the date. It was going to be on May 20th-21st, and the area we were going to search for our feathered friends was my home town of Kingston Ontario. This is a beautiful area where we are cable of observing a variety of birds in different habitats, also it’s the capital of old Irish-British-Scottish pubs, which was maybe the real reason Alain wanted to be part of the team.
Now we still had an opening for a fourth member on the team. After weeks of interviews around the country, we decided on Martin Bowman. We only gave up a couple of draft picks and some future considerations to acquire him. Every team needs a Scotsman, so it was great that Martin wanted to be part of the team. We felt he could add some wisdom to our young team, and some good Scottish jokes, also the fact he is a pretty good birder.
And as for the name we all decided upon was "The Laughing Bonaparte’s". Obviously we knew during these 24 hours there was going to be many laughs and also seeing we had a birder from France, Fréderic, the name was perfect for our team. The bad news was a week before the departure to Kingston; our beloved Alain had to pull out of the team because of his busy schedule. But the real reason was he couldn’t get away from his gorgeous little baby girl. We decided not to replace him, and go through this challenge with only 3 gulls!
We met in Kingston on Friday at 4pm, in one of my many offices around the country, Tim Horton’s. There we discussed our planned trip with the help of a member of the Kingston field naturalist, Erwin Batalla. He had mentioned certain areas in the Kingston region where we could find certain species. That morning Erwin had gone to Amherst Island, just outside of Kingston and situated on Lake Ontario, to scout out the area. Unfortunally the water level was high, meaning less shorebirds to be seen. We had planned weeks before to visit the Kingston, Opinicon Lake, Napanee, and Amherst Island areas. But we adjusted our outing and decided to finish the day at Presqu’île for the shorebirds.
After leaving Tim’s, the adventure began; we were off to some lagoons in the Kingston area. Our forecast for the next couple of days was chance of a major thunder shower in the late evening and sunshine the next day. While driving to our first destination, Martin spotted an Eastern kingbird and felt we should officially start the games. I assured Martin that chances are we were going to see this tyrant many times during our 24 hours. We all had a good laugh, when our first birds of the birdathon appeared. They were two magnificent Great Egrets flying towards Lake Ontario, which official kicked off our start time at 4h55pm. After visiting these lagoons with its unique smell, we headed off to a marsh area where it was divided by a busy road. Unfortunately we had our first victim, a Least Bittern. Most likely minutes before our arrival it was hit by a car. We didn’t count it on our bird list because Fred said it wasn’t breathing any more, and wasn’t willing to give it CPR. But Martin did consider it, seeing it would be an extra bird on our list.
Now seeing we had only a few more hours of daylight, we rushed off to the Opinicon Lake region where it was the only time and place where we could observe forest birds. In the horizon we could see clouds and even hear thunder in the distance. Upon getting there Fréderic finally was able to see his Yellow-throated Vireo, a lifer for him, while Martin and I were observing Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers. Hours before our departure at Tim’s, Erwin, had mention that both Cuckoo species hadn’t been seen yet. Well we were lucky; we were able to observe both of them before sunset.
After sunset we had a few species that we had to find. At a distance we heard Wild Turkeys, Whip-poor-wills and an American Woodcock who was impressed by our car. Interesting enough there was at least 7 Barred Owls heard on this road. We also had Long-tailed Ducks and Brant fly over us, which was great because we weren’t planning to be near Lake Ontario.
It was about 10h30pm, when we decided to leave the area and head back towards Kingston. While driving to Kingston, we had noticed that we had just missed the major thunder showers. So far our trip was going as planned.
Our next species we were looking for were owls. We decided to stop at Cataraqui cemetery, to see if we were going to be greeted by a couple of Harry Potters! Unfortunately no Great Horned or other owls were to be heard in this beautiful and historical cemetery. But I’m pretty sure we spotted a few ghosts. Martin added them to his ghost list.
It was nearly 12pm when we decided to go and have our 3 hour nap, before starting up again. The other option was to visit a military base where a resident Eastern Screech-Owl was often heard. Seeing Kingston has many penitentiaries and the thought of birders waking up soldiers in the middle of the night didn’t really feel good. Thank god Alain wasn’t there, knowing him he would of taken the chance to find that little owl, and we would have all ended up in some army prison. So we decided for our safety, and one less species, to go and have our nap instead, before continuing the birdathon at 3am.
After our short nap, we rushed off to our favourite coffee shop, Tim’s, for a quick breakfast and interestingly enough an extra-large coffee!
We had inside information that there was a Prairie Warbler located just north of Kingston, the last 4 days. There was really no hesitation, and we were off to find it and add it to our list. Upon getting there we were greeted by a handsome Barred Owl perched on a wire searching for some rodents below him. We stayed at this area, hoping we could hear our Prairie Warbler. Contrary to its name, these birds are not found in the prairies but scrubby area in eastern North America, with a few nesting colonies found in Ontario. Our little friend never showed up. Maybe the Barred Owl had him for breakfast.
We were than off to Napanee area, where our mission was to find as many field species as possible. The problem was there was fog, so we improvised and visited a wooded and marsh area next to a lake to see if we could find other species till the fog lifted. I told my fellow Bonaparte’s this was a great place during spring migration to find the Blackpoll Warbler. When the three of us got out of the car, Martin asked me, seeing I’ve been here often, if we needed to put on our boots. I told them it wasn’t necessary that there were nice trails and a boardwalk. Also the fact I was here last week with one of my groups and it was just fine. Well guess what, 20 minutes into our walk, there was at least 3 inches of water over the boardwalk. Martin gave me a Goshawk stare when he saw this, but this didn’t stop Fréderic and me from going ahead in pursuit of that rare bird. Martin had decided to use his Cirque du Soleil talent and climbed on the rails to get to dry land. But this didn’t stop us from all having wet shoes and socks. At one point we were surrounded by many Black Terns and even a Common Nighthawk feeding over the lake. We never did find that Blackpoll. At our return to the car, with our wet shoes and socks, we observed a beautiful Mourning Warbler, before heading off to another marsh area. Now we had a major problem, wet socks and shoes! But this is where Martin’s wisdom came in handy. We decided to remove our wet socks and hang them outside the back car window so they can dry faster in the wind. You should have seen the faces of people in the cars passing us, when seeing our socks, flopping around on the window and wind. They must have said something like, ahh those crazy birders from Quebec!
Around 9am we were on beautiful country roads surrounded by fields located just north of Napanee. We were lucky to have Upland Sandpipers, Wilson’s Snipes, Grasshopper Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks and many fields of Bobolinks everywhere. Even a Chukar!
While observing a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes, a local farmer drove next to us and asked if we wanted to see some special birds which was located on his land. We said sure, but first he had to drop off a few turtles he found around his land and the road and wanted to release them in a nearby river where it was safer for them. We all said how thoughtful of him for doing this. When we got to this little river, he got out of his old rusty pickup trunk, and took the turtles one by one and threw them Frisbee style into the river! I wonder what the turtles were thinking when they were in mid-air and landing in the river.
After this we were off to his land to see this special bird that he had talked about. Apparently this bird had been in the area for a couple of years, even nesting. Upon our arrival I went straight to the area where this bird was last seen, while my fellow gulls were still in shock after seeing the turtle Frisbee demonstration. I was getting closer to a bushy area, when I heard something that I never heard before, a bob-bob-WHITE. Then it appeared, it was a beautiful male Northern Bobwhite, showing off his beautiful feathers. We were all excited, seeing it was a lifer for both Frederic and I.
Now we had seen all the species possible in this area, so we were off to Presqu'île provincial park. Before going there we decided to have lunch at the Brighton wetlands, where we observed many other species, like a nesting Osprey. We also had dry socks!
We got to Presqu’ile around 1pm, and we still had nearly 4 hours to find more species, especially shorebirds. At Owen's Point our «français» Fréderic found our team mascot, a Bonaparte’s Gull. Martin said it would have been embarrassing if we didn’t have this gull on our bird list. Unfortunately, due to high water level, it wasn’t really good for shorebirds. Finally, our adventure was minutes from ending. While removing my shoes in the car and anticipating a shower a good meal and a cold beer, my fellow gulls Fred and Martin, were still trying to get another species. It’s funny how both of them told me earlier they weren’t competitive, hum?
At 4h55pm our birdathon officially ended and we were back to Kingston for a good meal. The laughing Bonaparte’s first Baillie birdathon was a success. Good weather and a well prepared trip abled us to observe or hear 14 species of ducks/geese/swans, 6 species of raptors, 7 species of flycatchers, 6 species of Thrushes, 20 species of warblers, 10 species of sparrows/Towhees for a grand total of 150 species of birds in 24 hours. What was special about the trip was the bond that was created between the Bonaparte’s, and will always last. Already into our trip we were planning for next year’s Baillie. Beautiful birds, gorgeous habitats, 24 hours, many laughs and incredible team mates were all worth the experience. For sure the Laughing Bonaparte’s will be reunited next year more memories. Thanks to all who were kind enough to make donations for our cause, and let’s hope next will be just as exciting.
On behalf of the Laughing Bonaparte’s
Kingston Region Birdathon, May 20-21, 2011 --- List of 150 bird species seen and/or heard
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