In a place that conjures up thoughts of a bleak grey existence, punctuated by tall rises and strip malls, there lies an apparent enigma. It exists as you break away from the endless city and across fields of corn and tobacco that fuel our own self-destruction. Past cottages, full of temporary relief and cheap beer, past gas guzzling SUVs towing equally gas guzzling powerboats, and past shops selling vanity and excess.
It is Southern Ontario's wild. Long Point.
Thirty-five kilometers of land, with an unbroken shoreline on one side, and a thriving bay on the other, it is the antithesis of Toronto. At its end, the feather in its cap. A Long Point Bird Observatory field station. The Tip.
For five weeks, August through October, I had the pleasure of calling the Tip my home.
Access is by boat and cell reception is minimal. The power is solar, and
supplies few. It is Southern Ontario's version of island life. Windswept and lorded over by a lighthouse, its sandy soil and phragmites choked ponds become the back drop of one of nature's finest events, the fall migration.
Forsaking their temporary homes in the north, birds, of all varieties, pour south. Instinct and urgency drives them, and the Tip becomes both a refuge for this southward journey and a vantage point from which to witness the spectacle.
Simply sit, watch and listen.
On a good day, the warblers pour off the lake,
diving into the vegetation bordering the beach. Thrushes, viroes, and sparrows stalk the willows and wild grape vines, while sapsuckers, nuthatches and creepers scale the poplar trunks. Skeins of geese pass overhead, while the finches chiurp away in bounding flight. Over the water, gulls, cormorants and ducks stream by, indifferent to our scopes and notebooks. All are being driven by the change in season, and by the most fundamental need, survival. Some will not travel far. Others are just beginning their trek which will take them to the heart of the Amazon and beyond.
Positioned at the end of this somewhat unassuming stretch of land, I was privileged enough to share in its beauty and secrets. I was privileged enough to have brief glimpses into the birds' frantic and fascinating lives.
At the station, we trap and band birds for research. Every morning from August until November, birds are caught, banded and released. For 60 years this has been happening at Long Point. The wealth of data collected is used to inform us of our feathered companions' doings, and to aid them in their struggle against the never-ending onslaught of human kind. In my time, I banded 888 individuals of 77 different species. I marveled at the feistiness of a Yellow-throated Vireo, of the softness of a Saw-whet Owl and the adorableness of a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. I was joyed by the cryptic beauty of an American Woodcock, the flashiness of a Canada Warbler and of the character of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Each species, and each bird, unique and wonderful in its own.
In reflection, surrounded by the birds, restlessly moving onward, my soul was transported to a distant past. My conscious was connected to the primeval urge to be a part of the seasonal movement. And when the birds took off, so did I!