The best of the best: Birdwatching at McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at the height of spring migration. So many unique habitats next to each other – lakeshores, meadows, woods and wetlands – are home to an incredible variety of birds, many of which can be seen, heard and discovered in just one visit. With Darlington Provincial Park and Second Marsh in the mix, it’s pretty much the best nature destination in all of Durham Region, and I love going there.
Orchard orioles, northern thrashers and yellow warblers prefer the more open upland parts of the preserve, so be on the lookout as you head out onto the trails of the parking lot at the east end of Colonel Sam Drive. Swamp wrens will sing their raspy song from the cattails lining the swamp, and blue-gray gnatcatchers stutter in the willows of Cool Hollow as you approach the lake.
Second Marsh is famous for so many bird sightings, including the first nesting record of lesser gulls in North America, discovered by George Scott in 1962. A visit any day in May could reveal four or five species of herons, half a dozen different ducks, four gulls, three terns and a whole host of shorebirds – and you never know when a real rarity might appear. Be sure to keep scanning the skies for hawks, sparrowhawks and eagles that might soar.
Each year Darlington’s conifers grow taller and denser, just what migrating songbirds need to rest and recuperate after a grueling night flight. Entrance to the park is free for pedestrians, so stroll through the woods there, listening to the chirping songs and calls of warblers, vireos, wrens, catbirds, orioles and wrens.
So many natural ecosystems so close together not only appeal to visitors eager for a dose of the outdoors, they provide a valuable opportunity for biological research, judging by the number of studies that graduate students various universities have conducted there. . It was perhaps this fact that inspired the members of the Friends of the Second Marsh, who had a “bold” vision: to create a center for research and education on site, in the beautifully designed building overlooking the marsh, the wildlife sanctuary, the provincial park: the former head office of GM Canada, currently for sale.
The world could certainly benefit from a Great Lakes Center as it envisions it, with specialists working together to address everything from climate change to invasive species management. Just thinking about the possibilities sends a wave of hope through the cloud of climate despair.
Nature inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-725-2116.
Metroland columnist Margaret Carney has so much to discover and marvel as she explores the great outdoors.