Celebrities are flocking back to the Haliburton Highlands.
They’re floating by docks, flitting gracefully from feeder to branch. They’re indulging in juicy worms and gossip or singing songs more renowned than anything on the top 40 lists.
The birds of Haliburton County are back for the summer.
They’re the reason a group of intrepid fans arrived at 6:30 a.m. May 21 for the Don Smith Memorial Bird Walk, hosted by the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust.
As birder Ed Poropat welcomed the group to the Haliburton County Rail Trail, the birds had already begun singing.
“It’s been getting quite busy … we’re right in the peak of migration right now,” said Poropat. “We should have lots to see on our way,” he added.
With that, the group set off in the hazy late spring morning. On the path? Hushed tones and the crunch of gravel. In the trees? Thousands of conversations, tasty pine cone breakfasts and happy trills.
It was the first memorial walk, which board member Sheila Ziman said would hopefully be a yearly tradition to pay homage to Smith’s memory. Smith was a bird enthusiast, who led a Spring Warbler walk once a year for the Haliburton Field Naturalists.
“He was always keen. He was the one I learned from … he was so animated and happy to do it for us,” said Ziman.
Smith, who passed away in 2021, was a small mammal researcher, passionate about birds and creatures of all kinds.
Every few metres the group would pause and look up, glimpsing a member of the flying famous. A stork cut a dark shadow 300 metres out across Gelert Road. From behind pine needles a Bandit Warbler coyly observed awestruck fans.
A Scarlet Tanager dashed across the trail. “Hopefully we’ll get a good look at one of those up close,” Poropat said.
In a grove of evergreens, a Warbler performed its signature tune: “teacher, teacher.” Poropat explained how these tiny birds craft small nests under leaves expertly blending into their environments.
As is the case with all stars, there are copy-cats eager to emulate the greats. The Grey Catbird, calling down on the group from afar, mimics a range of birds, warbling along in a jumbled script that, for some reason, contains a “meow.”
For each bird the group hushed, lifting binoculars or squinting up at the treetops. They caught flashes of an orange belly or a grey beak turned to the sun. Poropat quickly identified each, listing its unique features. Often, he’d withdraw a book containing detailed drawings of each species. No bird too small, too common, all rendered expertly down to each gleaming talon and shiny beak.
Some were just passing through, catching a bite to eat. Others, like so many ground-dwellers this time of year, will call the Highlands home again after spending the winter down south.
As the sun rose higher, the group rambled further and the woodland gossip continued. The Highlands’ winged and famous are back.