The World Outdoors: Prevention is best to address bird watching risks

Bird watching isn't exactly skydiving, but there are still risks and it makes good sense to mitigate them whenever you head out for a hike.

Leaves of three? Let them be! Poison ivy flourishes across Southwestern Ontario. Direct contact with skin can result in a bothersome rash. (PAUL NICHOLSON/Special to Postmedia News)

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Bird watching isn’t exactly skydiving, but there are still risks and it makes good sense to mitigate them whenever you head out for a hike.

For example, lyme disease is a wretched condition that will, if unchecked, leave people with painful persistent symptoms such as joint pain, severe headaches, heart palpitations, general pain, and fatigue.

It is an infectious disease that is spread by a bacterium carried by black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. These small arachnids look like dark sesame seeds with eight legs.

It’s best to take preventative measures. Instead of hiking around in shorts and flip-flops, it makes great sense to wear long pants and shoes. You will have seen some hikers who have tucked their pants into their boots or socks for an extra measure of care. A repellent containing DEET can also be used.

After your hike, check to ensure that a tick hasn’t latched onto your skin.  If one has done so, remove it with tweezers. That should do the trick, since even if the tick is a deer tick carrying the bacteria, it takes 24 hours for the infection to be transmitted.

If a “bull’s eye” rash appears, seek medical guidance and talk to your doctor about the possibility of Lyme disease. Other initial symptoms could be flu-like.

Pay attention to the geographic distribution of black-legged ticks. They are much more numerous at Rondeau Provincial Park than in Middlesex County. for example. The Middlesex-London Health Unit has other useful supplementary information online.

Another good reason to wear long pants is to prevent poison ivy rashes and stinging nettle irritation. I see poison ivy on most of my hikes. The old saw “Leaves of three, let them be” is good advice.

Some years ago, while birding on my own on Algonquin Provincial Park’s Mizzy Lake Trail, I encountered a black bear. It was an exhilarating experience, but became worrisome when the bear stood on its hind legs to check me out. There was another bear on a hill behind me. I kept my cool, found a stick, and started whistling. Then I hiked out slowly.

I had no hiking friend, no cell service, and no gear beyond my binoculars and camera. Since then, whether I’m back in Algonquin’s wilderness or hiking trails in Southern Ontario, I always carry a whistle. It hangs from my camera and never needs batteries. It can be used to create noise, alerting a bear or coyote to my presence. I also have a bear bell now.

Hiking with a buddy mitigates risks. I am most often bird watching with a friend, but there are still lots of occasions when I’m out on my own. The whistle could also be useful if ever I tripped and wrenched a foot. Just having it with me brings me and my anxious middle daughter peace of mind, too.

If you are in a new birding area it’s easier to get disoriented. Five years ago, just before flying home from central Florida, I felt sure I had time for a bit of a hike on the Withlacoochee State Trail. I was distracted by a swallow-tailed kite and got completely turned around. I made my flight. But I should have taken a trail map.

Beyond this, there is common sense. Ensure your phone is charged before you head out. If you might be out for some hours, take some water and a snack in your backpack. Be mindful of traffic if you are birding along a road. And carry a map if you are unfamiliar with your destination.

Nature notes

  • National Moth Week runs from Jul. 20 to 28. It is a chance to celebrate and learn about these nocturnal lepidopteran insects. More than 2,200 species have been reported in Ontario alone on the iNaturalist platform. Ontario is home to one of the world’s leading moth experts, Toronto’s David Beadle, who has co-authored two Peterson Field Guides, Moths of Northeastern North America and Moths of Southeastern North America.
  • Over the past couple of weeks there have been a few yellowlegs sightings reported. This signals the earliest fall migration activity.

g.paul.nicholson@gmail.com

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