Here’s another excellent guest post by our friend Matt Medler. As mentioned previously, he used to work for BSI and currently works for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is the second of two posts on his recent trip to Northern Ontario. Click here to view his first post.
When Jeff first contacted me about traveling to a Wilderness North lodge, I immediately jumped at the chance. In today’s world, it is rare to find areas that are free of the many human noises (cars, planes, factories, farms, etc.) that make natural sound recording so challenging. Whitewater Lake is one of those special “quiet places,” and Wilderness North had generously offered to host me at Striker’s Point Lodge for nine days so that I could investigate the area’s avifauna and pursue natural sound recording for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library.
Located more than 40 miles from the nearest road, the Whitewater Lake area is a place where visitors can truly enjoy the sounds of natureâ€”the omnipresent “Oh Sweet Canada” of White-throated Sparrows; the spiraling, melodious songs of Swainson’s Thrushes; the high-pitched sounds of Magnolia, Tennessee, and Nashville Warblers; the pitter patter of falling rainâ€¦and the incessant howling of 20+ mph winds. Unfortunately, the sounds of wind and rain were the dominant natural sounds during my stay at Striker’s Point, and they effectively restricted my recording efforts to a very brief window during my first morning on the lake. While exploring a narrow bay (nicknamed the “Bay of Pigs”) in the early morning, I was able to record a cooperative Swamp Sparrow singing from the nearly impenetrable alders along the shoreline). In between the sparrow’s loud, ringing songs, one can hear some of the other birds present in the areaâ€”White-throated Sparow, a Swamp Sparrow countersinging with my recording subject, Nashville Warbler, distant Winter Wren, and the ringing song of an Olive-sided Flycatcher.
A short ways from here, I came across a group of female-type Common Goldeneye (quite common in the area) and was able to catch a few gruff calls as one goldeneye flew by me. By this time, it was starting to get quite windy (especially by recording standards), but the wind audible in this recording was just a gentle breeze compared to what would blow nearly non-stop for the next three days.
Another Windy Day
Credit Matt Medler
What is striking about Striker’s Point Lodge is that it is literally surrounded by wilderness. In one direction is Whitewater Lake, 25 miles in length, and with no other sign of civilization for as far as the eye can see. In the other direction is roadless, trailless Boreal Forest. I have never experienced a greater sense of wilderness than I did while at Whitewater Lake. Ironically, though, I spent most of my stay here inside of the main lodge due to the bad weather. The constant high winds not only rendered sound recording and birding impossible, but also made it unsafe to venture out onto the lake. Fortunately, the accomodations at Striker’s were quite comfortable. I had an entire cabin to myself, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room, but I spent most of my “down time” in the main lodge, which contained the dining room and a small TV room. In order to keep the staff sane throughout their five months at the lodge, there was both satellite television and a fairly high-speed internet connection. The five-person staff was extremely friendly and helpful, keeping my boat and cabin in order and providing delicious meals. Although I do not usually eat fish, I especially enjoyed the fresh walleye that the fishing visitors and I enjoyed for lunch one day. (Normally, a staff member meets fisherman out on the lake and then prepares an “on the shore” walleye lunch on a sandy beach, but we had to settle for having this lunch in the lodge due to the weather.)
Although my time in the field was quite limited, I did manage to see some good Boreal birds when I was able to venture out. Tennessee, Nashville, Magnolia, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were all common; I also noted several Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat, as well as two Yellow Warblers in shrubby deciduous growth where the lodge area met the lake. During my morning along the Bay of Pigs, I was investigated by at least two Gray Jay family groups, and I heard the wheezy calls of Boreal Chickadee. The Olive-sided Flycatcher audible in the background of my Swamp Sparrow recording was one of three audible from one spotâ€”a nice little concentration of one of Canada’s newest “at risk” species. Other classic Boreal species found in this same area included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Winter Wren, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a flock of about 15 flyover White-winged Crossbills. Two of the most conspicuous species during my visit are birds not typically associated with the Boreal, but which both have more than 25% of their breeding populations found there: Cedar Waxwing and Northern Flicker. Out on the “big lake,” I found both Boreal gulls (Bonaparte’s and Herring), at least two Bald Eagles, and four species of waterfowl (Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Mallard, and American Black Duck).
With the long-term forecast not looking promising, I reluctantly decided to head back to base camp after four days and begin my return trip to Ithaca. Despite the disappointing weather conditions, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Striker’s Point. The staff were great, and the setting on Whitewater Lake was simply spectacular. My experiences in this impressive wilderness leave me eager to return in the future to explore the area and its rich Boreal birdlife.