Returning to Lost World Lake

Lost World Lake as seen in 2021. Trumpeter swans check for nesting sites. (Marion McLeod photo)
What Marion and Dorothy found 15 years later

(Contributed by Marion McLeod. See also A Hidden Birdland, below.)

We actually did it! After 15 years, now doing field work in 2021 for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, Dorothy and I returned to one of our most remarkable breeding bird sites.

With great anticipation we hiked through the woods bordering Lost World, over and under fallen trees, remembering the beautiful scene that was awaiting us at the far edge of the forest.

However, what we saw on arrival was a vivid lesson in environmental evolution! No longer the extensive flat, barren rocks:  they are now covered in moss, overgrown with juniper and other shrubs, and shrunken in size by encroaching trees grown much taller over the intervening years. No longer the wide expanse of shimmering beaver-lake water:  this is only seen in the distance, replaced by a widening sea of water reeds, grasses and plants. No longer the atmosphere of pristine wilderness:  a well-used ATV track has left deep muddy ruts through each small cluster of trees.

We were silent as we absorbed these many changes—sad and disappointed. And yet it is still a remote and truly lovely spot. As we explored, we realized that there were also differences in the bird residents, given this change of habitat. We were unable to locate the expected Nighthawks, Pied-billed Grebes, or Bitterns among others. Perhaps it was our timing, but for early June even the birdsong seemed sparse.

We heard or saw only a few common species, but just as we prepared to depart, two very distant shapes caught our attention.  A pair of dazzling white Trumpeter Swans, with noisy fanfare, flew into the picture and landed on a sandy strip beyond the water weeds. As we watched, awestruck, they faced each other and commenced an intricate communication dance. I believe it was too late in the season to call it a “mating ritual”, but who knows?

With wings spread wide, the pair flapped, bowed, side-stepped and bobbed up and down. Finally they turned their backs to each other, and moved apart about 15 feet. Then one swam off behind a rock ledge closely followed by the other.

It was such a wonderful experience in what is still, for us, a magical place! How inspiring it is to find these beautiful creatures expanding in the wild again and adapting to new sites, hopefully to breed.

We left then with a memory of a very special encounter with nature, one which turned out to be the highlight of our birding season. Hopefully we will find our displaced species next year as we look for new habitats to explore in this wonderful area of Georgian Bay.

                                                            — Marion McLeod

Footnote I had hoped that Marion could continue writing about birding along the shores and islands of Georgian Bay as well as other subjects, but I have just learned from her family that she died unexpectedly last December (2021). We had known each other since childhood. She will be missed, certainly for being the person she was but, to me, also for typifying the values found among Sweetwaters readers appreciating the essence of this place. That came through in her writing.

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