We visited Francis Point last weekend as part of out Snow Geese chase. It was a windy day and the birds were notably absent. What the nature walk lacked in birds, however, the frogs made up for with a chorus of song. Even in the tiniest and most ephemeral of ponds the frogs were croaking loudly in unison as they were getting into an amorous mood. The frogs made a duck-like quacking sound that initially confused us. A recent survey of amphibians at the nearby Beaverhill Bird Observatory only found Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica or Lithobates sylvaticus) and o with only anecdotal evidence of Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculate) in the area. The Wood Frog is the most widely distributed amphibian in Canada and is associated with moist woodlands and vernal woodland pools. Wood Frogs are the earliest breeders in most of their range. Wood Frogs are known to be exceptionally freeze tolerant with their blood and tissue often freezing during the winter. We made a feeble attempt to visually spot the frogs, but anytime we approached a pond the chorus immediately fell silent. We figured that was their way of saying: “Leave us alone – we are busy”.
As you approach the trail head that takes you to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory a small side road takes you to Francis Point. We tried to find Francis Point in February when the snow still was deep, but were unable to find this inconspicuous side road. It was likely covered up with snow. It is about a 500 m walk through a forested patch to get to the Francis Point bird blind, an old wooden shed that looks like it is about to collapse any minute. From the blind you have an expansive and unobstructed view of a vast grassy field. I suspect that once upon a time, when the Beaverhill Lake was larger this field may have been under water. Over the last few decades, however, the lake has been shrinking and these days it is no longer visible from the blind. Along the rafters in the blind there are cup-shaped bird nest made out of mud. There are not many options in terms of who could have made them. It could be either swifts or swallows. As there are no swifts reported at this location that leaves us with the swallows. Three species of swallows have been reported here; the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). The tree swallow is out as it nests in natural cavities of standing dead trees, old woodpecker cavities or in nest boxes. Cliff Swallows build a nest out of mud that looks very similar to the nests in the blind. Cliff Swallow nests are different in that they are more covered and have small circular entrances. That leaves us with the barn swallow. A simple web search reveals that indeed the match is perfect. Barn Swallows typically nests inside accessible buildings such as barns and stables, or under bridges and wharves. They collect mud pellets and build neat cup-shaped nest attached to beam or other vertical projections. The inside of the nests is lined with grasses, feathers or other soft materials. It never crossed my mind to peek inside the nests, but next time we visit I will have a look. Judging from the eBird reports, the Barn Swallows do not return to Francis Point until May so we still have a few weeks to go before being able to acquaint with the inhabitants of the nests.