Yesterday I joined a group of birders tromping through Minesing Swamp near Angus, just west of Barrie. I’ve done this sort of thing regularly over the last twenty-five years while living in three countries: England, the United States and Canada. No matter where you go, the groups are always the same: a knowledgeable leader, one or two keeners who know every bird, some middling folks like me, and a newbie who knows nothing. It’s also always a learning opportunity. Yesterday one of the other participants patiently instructed me in the difference between the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Books are fine, but nothing beats private tutelage in the field.
The day started badly, 5C and rain, but soon became 17C and sunny. We saw maybe 50 different species, but we also saw woodland flowers such as coltsfoot and hepatica as well as a couple of muskrats. Despite its dismal name, a swamp in the spring can be a beautiful place with wetlands, trees budding up, and views of undulating hills off into the next township. And I saw four life listers – birds I’d never seen before – which is always a treat.
I also realized something else. I’m a lucky guy. The region around Angus is a hard-scrabble place. The farm land doesn’t look like much, so there are countless small businesses just clinging to existence that provide families with their livelihood: a house with a driving range out back, firewood for sale, a used car lot with vehicles on consignment, a sign for a post-hole digger, and a cement block building with a quonset hut and solar panels that I imagined to be a grow-op. Nobody’s getting rich and a lot of people are just getting by.
I’ve worked hard, too, but I’ve had opportunities that others haven’t. And for that I’m grateful. In the spring and always.