Local Environmental Protection Councillor Sutherland brought forward a motion to express South Frontenac’s “concerns that the current approval and regulatory process for development does not adequately protect our lakes and wetlands and does not take full account of the concerns of local communities.” This would be sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. These concerns are based on the Township’s experience with the Johnson Point development in a wetland area on Loughborough Lake where, although South Frontenac sets the zoning conditions, actual site plan control falls between the Township, the Cataraqui Conservation Authority, and in some areas, the Ministry of Natural resources, often resulting in poor enforcement of ongoing environmental protection.
Mayor Vandewal said that the Official Plan Review and update will include public consultation, and would be the appropriate time to improve environmental protections.
Councillor Revill proposed an amendment to the motion referring the issue to the Development Services Committee, for their recommendation on how to strengthen the process of protecting local lakes and wetlands.
Sutherland said he felt it was important to deliver this message as soon as possible, given that the province is currently undertaking a fundamental review of all aspects of the development review process.
The motion passed with Revill’s amendment: Morey, Ruttan and Sutherland opposed.
Role of Conservation Authorities Unclear
A second motion was proposed by Deputy Mayor Sleeth, to write to the three Conservation Authorities in South Frontenac, seeking clarification of their mandate, and expressing concerns about the apparent expansion of their roles. Councillor Revill said he would like to bring the question to the next CRCA meeting, and if Council still felt the question was unresolved, a letter could be sent at that time. Sleeth agreed, and the motion was deferred.
Public Services Budget
Public Services Director Mark Segsworth and Area Supervisor David Holliday presented a general overview of the budget items they will be submitting to Council. They focussed on new projects and carry-overs from the past year. This is the township’s largest department, covering roads (building, maintenance, plowing and traffic), recreation programs and facilities (parks, beaches, playing fields, public halls, etc — who knew SF had 21 boat launch sites? ) and solid waste (collection and disposal of garbage, recycling and hazardous waste).
Saturday January 26 has been set aside for an all-day Council session to thresh out the details of the budget: what to keep, modify or remove.
At the all candidates meeting that was held in Sydenham, Fran Willes got the biggest laugh of the evening when, during her opening remarks, she said “last time I lost by only 4 votes, so I’m playing on your sympathy here by asking you to vote for me this time.”
She could not have known at the time, no one could, that when the votes were counted this time around, in a computer server somewhere in Nova Scotia, she would be exactly 4 votes shy of winning once again. There is no word on who those 4 people are and if it was the same 4 this time around.
The last time she lost out 688-684 to Mark Schjerning, who went down to defeat in the mayoralty race this time around, and this time she lost 1079-1075 to Randy Ruttan. In 2018, as well as in 2014, Ross Sutherland led all vote getters in Loughborough District. This time he received 1647 votes. Farrah Soaft rounded out the field with 275 votes.
In the race for Mayor, Ron Vandewal was comfortably re-elected to a second term with 3,237 votes (48%), almost as many votes as the total of both his opponents when added together. Mark Schjerning received 2,164 votes (32%) and Phil Archambault 1,274 (19%).
It was a wide-open race in Portland District. The only incumbent, Brad Barbeau, had been appointed two years into the term, after the death of Bill Robinson. In this election, two new members were elected. Ray Leonard received the most votes by a fair margin (1,156) and Doug Morey was also elected (579). Tom Bruce finished in 3rd place (528), followed by Brad Barbeau (495) and Bruno Albano (222)
When contacted the day after the election, Vandewal said he was happy to have been re-elected.
“I felt all along that with two candidates opposing me, they would end up splitting the votes against me, and to a certain extent I think they did that,” he said.
He also said that he expects the township to continue in a similar path that it has been on, and that he would like to sit down with Council early in the new term to talk about the direction the township wants to go in, particularly as far as public works is concerned.
“I would like us to set a direction. What projects do we want to take on, and do we want to shift the emphasis towards roadside maintenance, which we sometimes neglect in favour of road construction,” he said.
There was some controversy in the run-up to the vote, about an ad that Ron Vandewal purchased on the Verona electronic sign that is operated by the Verona Community Association. Phil Archambault said he thought it might be improper because the operation of the VCA sign is subsidised by the township, which covers the sign’s electricity costs on behalf of the association.
Wayne Orr, Chief Administrative Officer for South Frontenac, responded in writing to a question about the propriety of Vandewal paying to use the sign.
He said, in part, “All candidates have the opportunity to use campaign advertising within the confines of their authorised spending limit. The choice of advertising (i.e. newspaper ads, social media, hand delivered flyers, mail outs, lawn signs, election billboards, etc.) rests entirely with the candidate. The township does place restrictions on the location of signs. In summary the VCA Electronic Sign is not a township asset under our control and as such the township is not in a position to intervene in this situation.”
Wayne Conway, of the VCA, said that Vandewal approached him about renting rotating space on the sign and was referred to the VCA website, which outlines the terms and the cost.
“He rented it for two weeks. We could have and would have accommodated other candidates but none came forward. Use of the sign is free for not-for-profit groups and we have spots available for businesses, at a fee, as well, to help us cover our costs.”
Archambault told the News that if the vote was close, he would consider lodging a complaint or taking legal action, but not if, as ended up happening, Vandewal won handily.
(Editors note - We reached out to Fran Willes before preparing this article, but she did not call back in time for this week’s paper. Back in 2014 and again in 2018, she raised concerns during the voting period about problems some residents have had accessing the online/telephone voting system that the township uses.)
Perth Road Hall was packed with most of the standing room filled at last Monday night’s Meet the Candidates event, sponsored by the Perth Road/Buck Lake Community Association.
The event ran in three parts, beginning with the School Board candidates: each candidate spoke briefly, (5 minutes?) introducing themselves and the key points of their platform, followed by a 15-minute period for questions from the floor, then a one-minute summary from each.
Incumbent school trustee Suzanne Ruttan, currently Vice Chair of the Limestone District School Board, is being challenged by Roger Curtis, a former SHS teacher, who is part of a group advocating for greater transparency and better communication between the Board and the public.
Three are running for the two Loughborough district Council seats: incumbent Ross Sutherland, retired school principal and long-time township resident Randy Ruttan, and former Council member Fran Willes. (A fourth candidate, Farrah Soaft, appears to have withdrawn from the race.)
Current Mayor Ron Vandewal has two challengers: present Council member Mark Schjerning, and Storrington resident Philip Archambault.
Some of the questions from the floor related to personal concerns, but most were popular themes: improving services for seniors and youth; poor cell service (a universal groan); planning and development issues, particularly those relating to shorelines and subdivisions; communication between citizens and local government; cannabis (should it be sold in the Township and if so, where?); and the eternally popular ROADS. Everyone has road-related opinions and concerns. We have over 800 km of roads in the township, and we all travel on them, so they are a perennially popular topic.
As for what the night’s campaigners said about these issues, I leave it to the interested reader to discover for themself by attending Meet the Candidates night next Wednesday, October 10th at Grace Hall, Sydenham, where at 7pm all the same candidates will be assembled for another go-round.
When Core Lee and Jeff Day purchased the Holiday Country Manor in 2016 they knew they were in for an adventure. They had purchased a business that had been focused mainly on fishing tourism for many years in a historic building that was solidly built but certainly needed some freshening up. They also took over on Canada Day weekend, and had no bookings.
“We were sitting out front on Canada Day weekend, having drinks, with no one in the hotel, just having bought the Inn, and we thought, this is not good,” recalls Jeff Day.
As they now approach their third summer, they have a better idea of the kind of business the Country Manor has become, and where it is going. They are putting a newer youthful spin on an older property (1840’s manor). They have been doing intermittent renovations, working around the busy seasons by taking on different spaces. They have also made changes to the food they offer and the niche they serve. The dining room is open from Thursdays to Sundays, the lounge and patio that is open for special occasions, and the Manor is available for all kinds of events. Over time, mostly in the quieter times of the year, they have been working on improvements.
“Our goal is to keep the historic feel of the building, with a clean look,” said Core, from the dining room last week with the spring sun finally pouring in.
The walls have retained their 19th century character as the wainscotting and lathe and plaster are intact. They are painted white, the hard wood floors have been restored, the furniture is vintage.The Manor, which began life as the Vanluven House, the base out of which Henry Vanluven supervised the mill in a town that was at that time was known as Vanluven’s Mills, is a stone building, and Jeff and Core have revealed the stone exterior walls as part of their renovations, another nod to the character of the building.
The commercial kitchen, where Core, an experienced chef and food entrepreneur, supervises all the meals, has recently been augmented with a large new hood that covers all the cooking surfaces. A new fryer is waiting for installation, and this summer’s new menu, featuring more casual offerings, is ready.
Sunday brunch at the Manor draws customers from across South Frontenac, the City of Kingston and the surrounding region. And while reservations are not normally required, the Mother’s Day brunch is an exception. Last year 170 people enjoyed Mother’s Day at the Manor, and this it pays to reserve early.
Looking upstairs at the Manor, the fishing lodge atmosphere is being transformed but the character of the rooms remains steeped in it’s historic past as a manor home. One by one the rooms are being upgraded, the furniture refinished, and each room given some of its own character.
Modern marketing tools have helped attract more overnight visitors, and the proximity to Kingston and its tourist market has been a benefit.
“We have done very well with bookings online. Our prices make us attractive to visitors to Kingston who are looking for something different, and when they come here we are able to show off what this region has to offer,” said Jeff.
And there is a lot to offer in terms of hiking opportunities, fishing and boating on Loughborough Lake (the hotel also has docking facilities and boats) and is close to Frontenac Park and other attractions.
The visitor experience is important to Core and Jeff. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has been very active on Loughborough Lake and the Battersea area and they have developed trails that abut the Manor.
“We are also doing some research and looking at putting up historic plaques to give visitors a sense of the history around the property ,” said Core.
As they prepare for the start of the summer season, the Country Manor will also be holding a Wine and Dine with your spirits event on May 3, and the Mother’s Day brunch buffet on May 13. On May 19th, the summer season kicks off with the unveiling of he new summer menu (look for corn fritters and the Manor’s take on Short Ribs) which will be a major change from last year.
“The three course dinner that we served last year was too formal. This year the menu is more casual with an a-la carte menu featuring some exciting hand crafted apps and some sharing platters,” Core said.
The Manor is open for breakfast year round from 7-11am Thursday to Sunday. The lounge is open from Thursday to Saturday from 5-9pm, with live music on Thursdays during the summer, with Perth Brewery beer on tap and a selection of domestic and imported beers and spirits. The ice cream parlour will be open as well during sunny afternoons and evenings. And for those who live on Loughbroough Lake, they offer guest boat parking at their dock.
This summer, when Canada Day weekend rolls around, they will be busy serving and entertaining guests, Jeff the ever attentive host and Core running the kitchen, both aided by a solid staff team. There will be little time to relax the way they did on that first Canada Day at the Manor, and they seem to like it that way.
A controversial vacant land plan of condominium on Loughborough Lake will be considered once again by Frontenac County this week, and if the county follows the advice of their lawyer, opponents of the project will be disappointed when they leave.
Meela Melnick-Proud, Sarah Harmer and Matt Rennie will appear as a delegation. They will be armed with a lengthy report outlining, among other things, how the shoreline at some of the locations in the proposed condominium development has been cleared, in contravention, they say, of one of the “conditions of approval” that were included in a ruling by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in its ruling on the project. Their report quotes item 5b of the OMB ruling “... the vacant land condominium agreement applying to all the waterfront units shall set out the municipalities environmental protection policies requiring that the area within 30 metres of the highwater mark of a waterbody or wetland shall be maintained in a natural state for soil and vegetation.”
They made a similar presentation to South Frontenac Council two weeks ago, and South Frontenac asked Frontenac County to investigate the matter.
A lawyer working for the opponents, David Donnelly, states in a letter of opinion that under Rule 106 of the Ontario Municipal Board, the county can act directly to halt a development if an applicant has failed to comply with conditions set out in an OMB ruling. In his opinion, failure to maintain the shoreline in a natural state constitutes such a failure to comply.
“The Township having had regard to all the circumstances should act as authorized to preserve the site, order restoration, and deny development. The only question remaining is whether the Township will act in the public interest to do so. Failure to act will also send a clear, and opposite, message to residents,” he concludes at the end of his letter of opinion.
When Frontenac County Council considers the matter this week, they will have a letter of opinion from their own lawyer, Wayne Fairbrother, which contradicts Donnelly’s opinion.
Fairbrother said that the county does not have the authority to change the conditions of approval for the subdivision since the matter is now the subject of an OMB ruling.
He also said that the County’s role at this time is merely is to confirm that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR-F) has been approached about species at risk issues and that all the recommendations coming from the MNR-F are eventually incorporated into the plan of condominium.
Magenta corporation has applied to the MNR-F for a “benefit permit” based on a plan to offset the impacts of the project on habitat for three species at risk, gray (black) rat snakes, blandings turtles, and whip-poor-wills. That application still pending.
Based on legal advice, county staff have recommended that Council and should not act on the concerns expressed by Melmick-Proud, Harmer, and Rennie.
The matter went before Frontenac County Council on Wednesday, after this newspaper went to press.
(The decision of Council will be posted at Frontenacnews.ca)
South Frontenac Council and the Canadian Guitar Festival could be headed towards a showdown, and the outcome could be something that no one wants, the end of the festival.
Township Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Orr said on Tuesday that he has written to Del Vezeau, the owner of the Loughborough Holiday Park and the convener of the festival, urging him to seek legal advice about the implications of the ruling by Judge J. Hurley.
The township sought a declaration from the court that Vezeau’s use of the property for events “such as music concerts and weddings” is in contravention of the zoning that applies to the property, which is primarily a campground. The township also sought an injunction “restraining [Vezeau] from using or permitting the use of the property” for any purpose not in compliance with that zoning.
Judge Hurley granted the application, in part. He made the declaration that the use of the property for the events in question contravenes the bylaw, but did not grant the injunction that was requested by the township, indicating that he did not want to “tie the townships hands” because if the injunction were granted the guitar festival “could no longer take place”.
By not granting the injunction, he is in effect allowing the township to defer from enforcing the zoning bylaw.
As he said further, this leaves the township the option of granting or not granting an exemption to the township’s noise bylaw to Vezeau for the guitar festival each year.
The township had attempted to remedy the zoning matter with Vezeau previous to launching the court case, by urging him to seek a change in the zoning of his property, but he did not do that. Last year, the township did not grant the requested noise bylaw exemption for the guitar festival, partly because Vezeau was already advertising and selling tickets to the festival before requesting the exemption. This year, based on Judge Hurley’s decision not to impose an injunction, Vezeau is again advertising the festival and selling tickets.
By encouraging Vezeau to seek clarification of the legal ramifications of Judge Hurley’s ruling, the township is seeking to avoid legal issues in the future.
“If he contravenes the ruling, he could be be facing contempt of court charges,” said Orr.
Vezeau is also facing a $10,000 bill to the township because Judge Hurley awarded court costs to the township for the hearing that took place.
“One of the concerns we have on council, is that based on what is being said on the Guitar Festival website, Vezeau may not be aware of the true implications of the Judge’s decision,” said Councillor Ross Sutherland, of Loughborough District.
One the site, it says: “We are very pleased to announce that the court has upheld the worth of the Canadian Guitar Festival to the municipality, the artists and fans of the best fingerstyle guitar music in the world! An attempt by a few South Frontenac Municipality Council members to seek an injunction that would have effectively ended our world renowned Festival and Competition has been denied by Judge Hurley in Ontario Superior Court.”
“He seems to have failed to realise that the judgement was essentially in the township’s favour, and that is why court costs were awarded to the township,” said Sutherland. “He needs to petition Council for an exemption to the noise bylaw.”
Indeed, immediately after denying the injunction, Judge Hurey wrote: This does not mean that the injunction would not be granted should 366078 Ontario [Vezeaus corporation] contravene the bylaw or fail to abide by the declaration I have made. If that happens, South Frontenac will be at liberty to bring another application or seek a contempt order.”
(The News attempted to contact Del Vezeau on Tuesday for comment, without success.)
Back in August the 11 year old goalie with the Napanee Crunch Pee Wee B team who attends Loughborough Public School entered a contest that is open to Montreal Canadian Fan Club youth members. She submitted a drawing to be considered for a special ticket to be used for a single Canadians game during a promotion the team was organising for Family Weekend in February when they were scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday afternoon games at the Bell Centre.
“I think we heard that she won in late August or early September,” said her father Adam, in a telephone interview this week. “It seemed like it was so far in the future we didn’t think that much about it. Then all of a sudden it was here.”
Meredith, along with her parents Sue and Adam, all Canadians fans who have been suffering through a disheartening season, had a big lift when they went to the game this past weekend. Meredith’s drawing had been transformed into an NHL ticket for Saturday’s game between the Habs and the Anaheim Ducks. The Canadians came into the game on a three game losing streak, with season record of 20 wins, 25 losses, and six ties, headed nowhere, but somehow they put a good game together and won 5-2.
The ticket had nothing to do with the team’s improved play, or did it? Nothing else changed for the team that hasn’t been able to score goals all season, except for the ticket.
The Canadians went on to win again on Sunday afternoon, as the Peters returned to their home base in the Godfrey area.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Adam, speaking for Meredith, who was under the weather, so much so that she missed a hockey practice on Tuesday afternoon.
As for the Canadians. They have been off until tonight, when they play in Philadelphia.
The judge hearing the case of South Frontenac Township seeking an injunction against Loughborough Lake Holiday Park holding concerts, weddings and family gatherings in an ancillary building ended Wednesday’s proceedings at the Frontenac County Courthouse by saying he needed to consider the matter further and will provide a written decision.
Mr. Justice Hurley told Del Vezeau, owner of the park, and acting as his own council and Michael Hickey, lawyer for the Township “I’m not sure when I’ll get it to you” but that he would get it to them as quickly as he could.
At issue is whether Vezeau has the legal right to hold concerts (and weddings) in the barn-like structure he constructed on the property in 2009. The building has been the venue for the Canadian Guitar Festival, a gathering dedicated to all aspects of acoustic fingerstyle guitar that attracts visitors from around the world and the genre’s foremost practitioners including Canada’s own Don Ross, as well as Ed Gerhard, Antoine Dufor and John Ainsworth.
Although the Township has given its blessing to the CGF on numerous occasions (a requirement for Vezeau to get a liquor licence for the event), Vezeau has also held some other concerts including Ambush and Rock of Dimes (fundraiser for the March of Dimes) as well as weddings in the building.
Following complaints from neighbour Maureen Belch, the Township laid charges through its bylaw enforcement officer (at the Ambush concert specifically) which were later withdrawn.
The Township, through Planner Lindsay Mills, then advised Vezeau that such events were not allowed in the Resort/Recreational Commercial Zone his operation falls under (part of the 41-acre parcel falls under the Rural Zone but the services camping/trailer sites and the building where concerts take place are in the RRC zone). Mills also suggested that a zoning change could rectify the situation.
No one seemed to question Vezeau’s right to have the ancillary building for “storage and public gatherings,” only if concerts and weddings could be held in it.
Hickey laid out a comprehensive history of what’s gone on in the ancillary building, at one point mentioning a petition signed by neighbours protesting the concerts on noise concerns, saying “I want to give you (the court) some flavour of the complaints.
Justice Hurley dismissed the petition, saying “I wouldn’t care if every neighbour signed the petition (the question is) is he breaking the law.”
Vezeau maintains he doesn’t need a zoning change, telling the court: “In my view, I have been in complete compliance with the (Zoning) Bylaw.”
The judge’s ruling in this case could have far-reaching ramifications for the area, as well of all of Ontario’s cottage country in that it may become the precedent for what resort owners of all types can and cannot do on their properties.
Editor’s note: The Frontenac News plans to cover the court proceedings on Wednesday, Jan. 24 and publish the results on our web pages.
The Township of South Frontenac is taking Loughborough Lake Holiday Park owner Del Vezeau to court Jan. 24 seeking an injunction against live music events at the park.
The biggest musical event at the park is the annual Canadian Guitar Festival, but Vezeau has hosted a couple of much smaller events such as a fundraiser for March of Dimes and an Ambush concert.
“One of the biggest reasons I bought this place was so we’d have somewhere to hold the CGF,” he said. “We put up the building in 2009 and it was expensive — $130,000.
“But I don’t have a concert hall, I have a recreational facility for the pleasure and enjoyment of my clients.”
The Township doesn’t seem to have a problem with the Guitar Festival, having recognized it as having significant cultural value.
Vezeau said that gave the impression to some people that he was applying for a permit to hold it every year but “I’m not applying for a permit to hold the festival, that was only so I could get a licence to sell beer during the festival.”
However, there has been one neighbour complain about noise and after the Ambush concert (which ended before 11 p.m.) in 2015, Vezeau was charged and had to appear in court in November 2016. Those charges were withdrawn in court.
The Township has suggested a zoning change to resolve the dispute but Vezeau maintains the zoning he has (resort/recreational) allows him to host concerts from time to time.
He calls the Township’s pursuit of an injunction “specious and punitive” and even speculates that there could be an ulterior motive at play here.
“This is a 48-acre campground and I pay $5,500 in taxes yearly,” he said. “But if the property were developed, it could bring in $150,000 in taxes.
“And I have had offers from developers.”
Vezeau plans on representing himself in court and has every confidence in his chances of success.
“I will speak truth to power,” he said.
For me, a highlight of the Christmas season is taking part in a few of the Christmas Bird Counts held in our area. This year I participated in 3 “CBCs”, as they are known by many – Westport, Frontenac Provincial Park and Sharbot Lake. So how did it go this year? In three words – cold, cold and colder! More on this in a moment.
Christmas Bird Counts go back to 1900, when American ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a new holiday tradition of having people count living birds in their home towns. Coined the "Christmas Bird Census”, people believed that it could be a fun activity that also contributed to conservation. It caught on, and CBCs are now conducted in over 2000 localities across the Americas.
Christmas Bird Counts are conducted on any one day between December 14 and January 5. They are carried out annually within a 24-km diameter circle that stays the same from year to year. CBCs are usually group events organized at the local level, often by a birding club, naturalists’ organization or simply an enthusiastic group of volunteers. People participate in one of two ways: field observers cover a portion of the count circle on their own or with a small group, counting all birds they find. Feeder watchers count birds at their feeders for a portion of the day.
On the chosen day, field observation teams have 24 hours to identify and count every bird they see or hear in their assigned sector of the circle. At the end of the day, the numbers are compiled, and this information is reviewed and coordinated by Bird Studies Canada, the sponsoring organization in Canada. This data has proven to be very valuable in helping scientists better understand important things like bird distribution and movements and population trends over time.
The big day for the Westport CBC was Friday December 14th. It was cold and windy but sunny, with the thermometer reading about minus 20 when I set out. The mercury rose a little during the day, but the wind became more biting as the day went on. My tally was below normal, with 113 birds representing 12 species, but with several interesting highlights, including a group of 5 Eastern Bluebirds and 2 small flocks of Cedar Waxwings. Overall some 23 intrepid birders and feeder watchers tallied 5,030 birds of 54 different species. Among the most unusual birds were a White-crowned Sparrow at a feeder and a trio of Yellow-rumped Warblers – both very rare sightings during the winter in this area. Blue Jays were back in large numbers this year (at 501), in contrast to last year when they were virtually absent.
Next up was the Frontenac CBC. Coordinated by The Friends of Frontenac Park, the count takes place in a circle that encompasses Frontenac Provincial Park and includes the towns of Sydenham and Verona. Now in its third season, this year’s December 16 count drew 50 participants, many of whom met at the Sydenham Branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library for coffee and a great “Winter Birds 101” workshop. The weather was not unpleasant, with temperatures in the minus 7 to minus 10 range all day under sunny skies and moderate winds – a nice winter day. Participants tallied 3,502 individual birds of 48 different species. Highlights included a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Common Redpoll, both spotted at Loughborough Lake feeders, and 3 Rough-legged Hawks – all new species for the Frontenac CBC. Birders finished the day with a hearty and well-deserved meal at The Point restaurant in Sydenham. The day’s events also included a CBC for Kids afternoon workshop at Frontenac Park attended by several families. Plus, the Frontenac CBC had its first youth survey team, with seven participants aged 11-16.
Several years ago the Sharbot Lake bird count was revived by the keen and itinerant birder (and expert “pisher”) Andrew Keaveney, making this year’s count, held on January 5, the third consecutive recent count for this circle. The weather was likely the most memorable feature of the Sharbot Lake count day. There’s no way around it, it was brutally cold. Our small but hardy birding party headed out at 9:00 am with the thermometer reading minus 25 with a wind chill of minus 36. Man it was cold! We tallied 13 species and 83 birds, a bit higher than last year but still quite low. The cold weather handicapped us a little – I rely a great deal on my hearing to help me find birds, but the layers of hats and hoods I was wearing (to stay alive) muffled most sounds. Another teammate found the cold weather left his glasses fogged up all morning, so he was operating at less than 100%. And for the first time in my birding career, the exceptional cold made the focus wheel on my binoculars stiff and uncooperative.
At sundown, survivors converged on the Maples Restaurant in Sharbot Lake to thaw out and compare notes. In total 9 field observers and several feeder watchers tallied 1,347 birds of 32 species, including a Northern Goshawk, 2 Black-backed Woodpeckers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Several Pine Grosbeaks and Red Crossbills were tallied as well, a pair of species that are not easily found in Frontenac most years. Perhaps the most interesting find was a Brown Thrasher being treated like royalty at a local feeder. Neither the thrasher nor the Red-bellied Woodpecker had ever been recorded on the count before. Bird numbers were down a bit over the long-term average, with the weather (did I say it was cold that day?) having an impact on bird numbers. For example, open water usually yields waterfowl like ducks and geese, but this year open water was very scare.
Participating in Christmas Bird Counts for me is a bit like a treasure hunt – it’s exciting to seek out new species to add to the daily tally or come across a group of interesting birds like this year’s bluebirds or the 110 Snow Buntings we spotted north of Westport during last year’s CBC. I also get a good deal of satisfaction knowing that our effort and the data we collect is helping to paint a continent-wide picture of the status of our winter birds. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without looking for birds.