Devoted readers of my blog might remember that eight years ago (!) I visited Amherst Island, Ontario for the first time. But that was before I knew how to dress for birding and, perhaps more significantly, before I had any interest in raptors. So what I remember most acutely from the day was freezing feet. The entire day took on the color of freezing feet, and if you’re not familiar with that particular hue in the crayola color box, it’s a morose grey with occasional pain flashes of the scarlet variety.
This year’s trip to Amherst was a vast improvement, not only because of my Sorel boots that apparently withstand temperatures down to -40 (but that is nonsense because it was only -7 and I was still a bit cold, but nothing extravagant). What made this trip infinitely more satisfying — apart from the fantastic company — was that I knew my raptors better. So when we saw dozens of Northern Harriers practically grazing out in the field and I saw the white spot on their rump, I knew exactly what I was looking at. And when a Northern Harrier scared off a group of 30 Common Redpolls, I couldn’t help by smile. I’d been trying to see redpolls all winter, and finally, here they were, so close they nearly invaded my personal space. I managed to find a few Bald Eagles, which thrilled me to now end, and winked at a gorgeous Red-bellied Woodpecker. I wanted to apologize to the Downy, whom I didn’t have time to properly acknowledge or appreciate, as he (actually it was most definitely a SHE) made an appearance just as I was fawning all over the red-bellied. I saw my first Rough-legged Hawks of the season, and watched a Red-tailed Hawk devour a vole in slow-motion. Voles pretty much littered the terrain. So much so that the Red-tailed Hawk looked a bit nonplussed about the whole enterprise and dug into the vole rather sluggishly. We also saw a total of five Snowy Owls and three Northern Saw-whets, most of whom were busy chilling or sleeping, or a blend of the two. I love how birds give not a hoot (pun intended) for us (unless we’re disturbing them) — it’s a comforting thought. Even walking on icy surface, terrified I’d fall, trip over my binoculars and break every bone in my body, for three hours didn’t detract from the spectacular day. And as if the birds weren’t great enough, the sun shone brilliantly from morning till evening. We ended the day with a magical ferry right back to shore, back to Millhaven, back to reality, where the ferry ploughed through the ice majestically, as the sun slowly set and the light turned from bright blue to sparkling pinkish-purplish to never-ending glowing indigo.