Nordmann’s greenshank lands in Cairns, birdwatchers flock to see threatened migratory bird


To the inexperienced eye, it would have meant nothing but to Adrian Walsh the sight of a Nordmann’s greenshank standing next to a common greenshank on the Cairns Esplanade was a “miracle”.

“Immediately the cogs in my brain started turning around and I was trying to think what the heck was this bird?” he said.

Mr Walsh was the first person to report the extremely rare bird on New Year’s Day, but the coming months could be the vagrant’s last in far north Queensland.

Affectionately referred to by bird watchers as Nordy, the lone bird is thought to have flown off course during its migration from Russia to South-East Asia.

Never before spotted on the east coast of Australia, the bird is so rare, recent estimates say between 1,000 and 2,000 are left in the wild.

“The consensus is that it’s a young bird and that sort of explains why it’s here,” Mr Walsh said.

“I’ve spoken to a few experts in Russia and in China about the bird and they’ve had a look at the photos well.”

Nordy has since become a star attraction, drawing bird enthusiasts to Cairns from across the country.

“As it became clear that it’s a bird that’s staying for a long time, people really felt it was worth the investment for flying up here,” said Golo Maurer, key biodiversity area program leader at Birdlife Australia.

“You can see they stayed around a bit longer, went up to the tablelands and got some birds there as well.”

Mr Maurer said the Cairns Esplanade was of global significance and a popular destination for migratory birds.

“It’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world and of course in Australia as well,” he said.

“The birds are used to having this beautiful feeding ground there that is easily accessible and that the tide pushes them right up.”

Mr Walsh said it was an opportune time to see the Nordmann’s greenshank because it was unknown if the bird would take flight and continue its migration or stay a year longer.

“It’s perfect at the moment in the late afternoon, you’ll get an incoming high tide,” he said.

 “And what it does, it pushes a lot of the waders into what we call a stage roost.

“So, they’ll stage here until the tide gets too high, and then they’ll fly off to their overnight roost.”

Mr Walsh explained that the adult Nordmann’s greenshank, in its breeding plumage, had heavy black spots on its chest, hence it was also referred to as the spotted greenshank.

Few spots appeared to have developed on Nordy since it was first spotted by Mr Walsh, while other migratory shorebirds on the esplanade were showing heavy breeding plumage.

To see the bird, look for features such as a slightly upturned, bi-coloured bill that’s yellow at the base. It also has yellow legs and light-grey plumage.

To the untrained eye, wading birds on the esplanade may look alike.

Mr Mauer said the key was in their natures.

“The beauty of migratory shorebirds, because they all look sort of similar… you gotta take your time and look at them and get a feel for them,” he said.

“Nordmann’s greenshank is a hectic feeder.”

Mr Walsh laughed as he described the gluttonous bird feeding on crabs almost every time he had observed it.

“Sometimes it will have great difficulty, it will bite off more than it can chew.

“I’ve seen it discard more than a couple of shells that it hasn’t quite gauged the right size and has not managed to swallow them.”

Nordy mingled well with the other shorebirds and was not shy of passers-by on the esplanade.

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Central Australia sees first signs of recovery as tourists flock to the Red Centre




The area is becoming such a popular destination there’s concern there may not be enough staff to cater for the influx of travellers. Isabel Moussalli reports.

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Gem hunters flock to tiny Queensland town after severe flood brings sapphires to the surface


Floodwaters have subsided in Sapphire, and fossickers are flocking to the tiny outback Queensland town, hoping to strike it rich.

The Sapphire Gemfields is one of the largest sapphire-rich areas of the world and covers almost 900 square kilometres.

The flood in mid-March inundated seven properties, but it also washed away the top layer of soil, giving fossickers a helping hand to unearth a precious gem or two.

NSW Tourist Meredith Etheridge visited the Gemfields for “a little bit of a poke around”.

With a geography-fanatic father, she knew the rain would help her hunt for precious stones.

“I grew up with rocks around, and I was the kid who always had rocks in her pockets,” Ms Etheridge said.

“I would like to find a sapphire, but I’m happy with anything.”

Victoria Bentham co-owns a Sapphire caravan park with her husband Darrell Bentham.

She said the floods, while devastating, had an unintended upside.

“Now that the area is drying out, people are ringing, asking if the floodwaters have subsided, which they have, and they want to come out specking and fossicking for sapphires,” Ms Bentham said.

Ms Bentham said she anticipated more enquiries as the ground dried out, luring more sapphire hunters to the area.

Her bookings for Easter are almost full and up to 60 per cent after the holidays.

“Every day, I’m getting more and more phone calls, so business is looking good for us,” Ms Bentham said.

Tourist David Webster travels regularly from Brisbane. He tried his luck in the creek beds after the flooding.

He had found some “keepers”, but the big one still eluded him.

“It makes you dig harder, I can tell you. It gets the blood pumping.”

Mr Webster began fossicking after he retired and found himself in need of a hobby.

“I’m quite happy out here. I love it out here,” he said.

“Five years ago, I started, and I’m still going.”

The Sapphire Gemfields are almost 900 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, near Emerald in the Central Highlands.

The townships of Sapphire, Rubyvale, Anakie and Willows Gemfields make up the Gemfields. 

Low-lying homes were evacuated in the recent flood, described by Central Highlands Mayor Kerry Hayes as a once-in-a-decade event.

Victoria Bentham said the region’s fossicking areas were large, and big stones were still ripe for the taking.

“We still hear stories of people finding sapphires,” she said.

“That’s been called ‘amazing grace’, and it’s one of the rarer yellow ones.”

The Miners Heritage jewellery shop in Rubyvale inspected and confirmed the carats of the sapphire, which was found by a young visiting couple.

Large discoveries are often kept anonymous.

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Ticketmaster delays as fans flock for first taste of footy in a year


St Kilda tweeted: “Apologies to members who are having trouble booking tickets, it appears the influx of people on Ticketmaster’s site is causing issues.

“Members have a priority window until 3pm, so please keep trying while we look into this further.”

Ticketmaster has been contacted for comment.

Ticketmaster responded to fans who were complaining on Twitter.

“Please make sure you are following the link provided by your club to access the pre-sale. As this is a popular event, tickets are sold as long as seats are available, and sometimes they go very quickly. We suggest you keep trying the website during this sale,” it said.

”When a popular event goes on sale there are literally thousands of customers simultaneously attempting to purchase tickets across all distribution channels.”

Collingwood said that as of about 1.15pm on Monday the game with Richmond had not sold out, and advised fans to keep trying for tickets

The AAMI Community Series begins on Thursday, March 4 at Marvel Stadium when Carlton play St Kilda.

Collingwood then play Richmond at Marvel on Friday night. Marvel Stadium will have 50 per cent capacity but limits for GMHBA Stadium and Arden Street Oval are yet to be announced.

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More farmers flock to agitation sites


NEW DELHI: Farmers protesting at the three sites at Delhi’s borders held a day-long fast, between 9 am and 5 pm, as they observed “Sadbhavna Divas” to mark the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers stayed put at the Ghazipur border on Saturday morning, as more supporters poured in at the protest site on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway in Ghaziabad following which Delhi Police shut down NH-24 highway and all roads leading to Ghazipur border. Union home ministry temporarily suspended internet services in Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri borders and their adjoining areas from 11 pm of 29 January to 11 pm of 31 January to “maintain public safety and averting public emergency” amid the ongoing farmers’ protest.

Meanwhile, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the crime branch of Delhi Police has issued a second notice to nine farmer leaders, including Rakesh Tikait.

 

The Delhi police carried out raids in Punjab’s Jalandhar on Friday to arrest Jugraj Singh and Navpreet Singh who hoisted the Nishan Sahib flag at Red Fort on January 26. Meanwhile, 38 cases have been registered till now in farmer’s rally matter and 84 persons have been arrested, according to the police.

Security personnel, including from anti-riot police and paramilitary forces, were deployed in massive strength. Multiple layers of barricades, including concrete blocks, were being put at the protest sites.

The farmer leaders on Saturday morning, wearing garlands, observed “Sadbhavana Diwas”  (Harmony Day) and observed fast on Saturday after the immense outrage over violence by protesters during their Republic Day tractor rally. The farmer leaders sat on the dais during the fast, as crowds of supporters swelled, especially in Ghazipur where the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) is leading the protest.

 

“The farmers have fought this battle for over two months now and they won’t relent or retreat,” said Rakesh Tikait, the BKU spokesperson.

Till now, the agitation was seen as mainly being led by Punjab-based farmer unions.

A multitude of green-and-white caps, symbolic of the unions spearheading the battle, union flags and the tricolour, planted on tractors dotted the highway. On various tractors and camps, photos of legendary farmer leaders such as Chaudhary Charan Singh and Mahendra Singh Tikait were put up.

Several Opposition parties, including the Congress, TMC AAP, RLD and the Left, have openly supported the stir. Abhimanyu Kohar, a senior member of Samkyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), said that the ongoing agitation would gain strength, as farmers in large numbers will join them in the coming days.

 

Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), said in Chandigarh that he expected a record gathering by February 2 at the border points of Delhi.

“People in large numbers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand are reaching the protest sites. Possibly by February 2, there will again be a record gathering of people at the protest sites,” he said, adding that the agitation would remain peaceful.

Rajewal also criticised the Haryana government for suspending Internet services. He accused the Centre of instilling a sense of fear among people by showing pictures of the “unfortunate incidents”, apparently referring to the January 26 violence in the national capital.

 

Rajewal appealed to those joining the agitation at Delhi’s borders to keep the protest peaceful. “It is our responsibility to keep the agitation peaceful,” he stressed.

To a question on joining the investigation following notices issued by the Delhi Police to farmer leaders in connection with the Republic Day violence, Mr Rajewal said, “We will send them a reply.”

The Delhi Police has issued notices to around 20 farmer leaders, including Mr Rajewal, over the violence during the farmers’ tractor parade, asking why legal action should not be taken against them.

 

A team of forensic experts on Saturday visited the Red Fort, where the protesters had indulged in vandalism, hoisted a religious flag and attacked the police personnel, to collect evidence.

The Delhi Police examining dump data of mobile calls, registration numbers of tractors in probe into January 26 violence said that it had received 1,700 video clips, CCTV footage from public related to tractor rally violence.

The police had on Friday used tear gas and baton charge to break up a clash between farmers and a large group of men who claimed to be local residents at the Singhu border.

 

The Delhi Traffic Police said that the movement on the National Highway 24 (Delhi-Meerut Expressway) has been stopped.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, demanding a rollback of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020,  the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations.

 

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities to farmers and introduce new technologies in agriculture.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Police filed an FIR of criminal conspiracy, under IPC Sections153, 504, 505 (1)(b) against Shashi Tharoor, journalists-Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Paresh Nath, Editor in chief of Caravan, Anant Nath, Managing Editor of Caravan & Vinod K. Jose, Executive Editor of Caravan.

Due to misleading and false information by the Caravan that a farmer protestor has died due to police firing, a case has been registered in IP Estate Police station. FIR includes certain others also who also tried to mislead the public, cops said.

 

As per post-mortem report the cause of his death is shock and haemorrhage due to a head injury received after his tractor overturned.

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Farmers flock to sell kapas, CCI reports double procurement figures


Written by Parthasarathi Biswas
| Pune |

December 24, 2020 11:21:29 pm





Cotton growers have started bringing in their produce to the markets and procurement centres of CCI since October. (Representational)

COTTON GROWERS in the country have accelerated their sales fearing another lockdown and disruption of sales. Till December 24, Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) has reported a procurement of 65.10 lakh bales (each bale weighing 170 kg in combed ginned cotton), which is almost double the amount it procured last year at the same time.

Cotton growers have started bringing in their produce to the markets and procurement centres of CCI since October. Normally, sales pick up after January as farmers tend to dry their crop after picking in hope of better returns. Pradeep Kumar Agarwal, chairperson-cum-managing director of CCI, said sales were brisk. “We have seen procurement picking up across the country,” he said.

Telangana recorded the highest procurement, where 4.83 lakh farmers sold 21.86 lakh bales of cotton to the CCI. Maharashtra with 2.05 lakh farmers selling 10.99 lakh bales has come second. Gujarat, the highest cotton producing state in the country, has recorded only 38,021 farmers bringing 1.92 lakh bales of cotton. Overall, 12.66 lakh farmers have sold 65.10 lakh bales to CCI, for which they have been paid Rs 19,048.87 crore as per the government-declared minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 5,825 per quintal.

At present, wholesale prices of cotton in most mandis in Maharashtra range from Rs 5,400 to Rs 5,500 per quintal. PK Jain, founder president of Khandesh Cotton Gin/Press Owners and Traders Development Association, said most farmers were scared that CCI will suspend their MSP operations and, thus, were hurrying to offload their produce.

“Recently, citing quality issues, MSP operations that were taking place at Rs 5,825 have been corrected to Rs 5,605 per quintal. Thus, farmers are mostly rushing to sell their produce,” he said.

Jain also said out of 340 lakh bales the country was supposed to produce this season, 140 lakh bales had reached markets. “Around 200 lakh more bales would be coming in,” he said.

Indian cotton traders are upbeat about the prospects of the crop this year with cotton candy (376 kg of cotton) trading at Rs 42,000 as against the prevalent price of Rs 44,000 in the international market. Jain said they were confident that 60 lakh bales of cotton would be exported, with Bangladesh and Vietnam being the main buyers.

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Tourists flock back to Fraser as locals tell tales of triumph over bushfires that threatened their homes


Less than two weeks after a bushfire roared towards the township of a Happy Valley on Fraser Island (K’gari), stories of survival and triumph are still doing the rounds.

Flames jumped the dingo fence encircling the township and residents were evacuated as smoke blanketed the area.

Happy Valley was saved by the efforts of a team of largely volunteer rural firefighters, led by Darren Gorlick.

Darren Gorlick says fire was moving toward Happy Valley from several directions.(ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)

As the flames grew closer to the township of fewer than 100 people, Mr Gorlick led a team out to the fire grounds to conduct back-burning in a last attempt to keep the blaze away.

He said fire was heading for the township from multiple directions.

“We knew there were aeroplanes doing water drops, but we couldn’t see them the smoke was so intense,” he said.

“There was nowhere to go and there was only one way it was going and that was straight for us.

“The hazard reduction burning earlier this year was a massive factor, especially on that north-west corner.

A picnic table damaged by bushfires at Happy Valley on Fraser Island.
Miraculously, a picnic table was the only infrastructure damaged at Happy Valley.(ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)

“It’s amazing to see how that fire racing towards the valley hit that block and stopped.”

Further south at Yidney Rocks, the blaze again came within metres of property, stopping at the back door of holiday cottages.

Mr Gorlick said the race was now on to prepare the holiday accommodation for tourists as they returned for the Christmas holidays.

“Recovery is now getting back on normal terms — it’s been a long process,” he said.

Rear view of Maheno Cottages near Yidney Rocks on Fraser Island after bushfires.
Fire stopped just short of Maheno Cottages near Yidney Rocks.(ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)

“The Valley still looks as beautiful as it did but it’s not until the outskirts you can see the damage.

“The smoke through the Valley was intense, so everybody’s going through pulling houses apart trying to get them ready for the tourists starting Christmas holidays.

“During those few days of the fire, there was just nothing — it was just doom and gloom but then a couple of days later the smoke cleared and the birds are all back.”

The recovery is well and truly underway and tourists are being welcomed back to the island.

Troy, Hayden, Ruby and Amanda Frazer stand together at Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island.
Troy, Hayden, Ruby and Amanda Frazer at Lake McKenzie yesterday.(ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)

Troy Frazer and his family from Brisbane were days away from cancelling their trip, but Tuesday’s reopening of tourist facilities came just in time.

“It was fingers crossed but still touch and go and we kept our booking and here we are — it’s beautiful,” he said.

“We were booked to come over Saturday and then that got moved to Monday and then it got opened up Tuesday and we really didn’t want to go anywhere else.

“The firies have done a great job and everyone is thankful for that — hats off to them.”

Tourists already flocking back

Tourists are now making their way back to the World Heritage-listed island from around the country.

Emma Trimble and her friend Shona Kalinbak, both from Thursday Island, have already made the southward trek to Fraser.

Tourists Shona Kalinbak and Emma Trimble on Fraser Island off south-east Queensland on December 16, 2020
Shona Kalinbak (left) and Emma Trimble says bushfire damage has not stopped their visiting all the sites on their wish list.(ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)

“The weather is so beautiful today and we’re lucky to be able to visit — the fire hasn’t stopped anything,” Ms Trimble said.

“We’re very impressed — it’s beautiful.”

Tourism operators have reported good booking numbers for the festive season.

Locals have remained hopeful that Christmas tourism will help the island recover after a challenging year.



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Canberra region wine stocks are drying up as record numbers of visitors flock to cellar doors


For wine producers across Canberra and Murrumbateman, this year has been particularly tough.

The devastating summer bushfires blanketed the region in thick smoke, destroying their ripening crop.

“The smoke taint was so bad, it wasn’t worth harvesting,” Greg Gallagher, winemaker at Gallagher Wines in Jeir, said.

“We offered our grapes to local farmers to feed their animals but that offer was knocked back so we just left the fruit on the vines to rot.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and winemakers had to close their cellar doors.

“We had no cellar door visits and we had very few wholesale sales because pubs, clubs and restaurants had to close as well,” Mr Gallagher said.

“So financially, we took a very, very big hit.”

Wine barrels lay empty after smoke forced Gallagher Wines to dump last year’s vintage.(ABC News: Rosie King)

Now winemakers are facing a new challenge: a shortage of wine.

“We’re virtually out of most of our white wines — we’ve only got a little bit of our riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay left,” Mr Gallagher said.

“We’re out of our rose and we won’t have any more of those in the bottle until possibly next June or July.”

Less than 10 per cent of Canberra district producers were able to make a 2020 vintage so they are relying on whatever stock was left over from previous years to keep up with demand.

“Normally we forecast for our wines to produce enough to get us through for 12 months, 18 months at a stretch,” Bobbie Makin, winemaker at Murrumbateman Winery, said.

Wine lovers turn out in record numbers

Since COVID-19 restrictions started easing, visitor numbers to the region’s wineries have been at record highs.

“As soon as the restrictions started to ease, we felt it,” Mr Makin said.

“It’s been amazing but it’s also another reason why we’re running low on stock.”

Man pouring a bottle of wine into glasses
Bobbie Makin has a spring in his step thanks to an influx of visitors to his cellar door.(ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)

Mr Gallagher, who has been making wines in the region for more than 20 years, has enjoyed a similar boom to business.

“One of the blessings of the lockdown of the states was people in New South Wales and Canberra couldn’t go to South Australia or Victoria or Queensland, so they started exploring their own backyard and found what treasures we have here,” he said.

“I hope they keep coming, and most of them have said they will, because they love that it’s not the big, commercial wineries — it’s small, family-run wineries where people show up and have fun.”

Woman holding two wine bottles
Local Simone Saunders snaps up some of the remaining bottles of wine from Murrumbateman Winery.(ABC News: Rosie King)

Murrumbateman resident Simone Saunders said she was trying to do her part by buying wine locally more often.

“I try to buy everybody’s wines to share the love around,” Ms Saunders said.

“But it’s lovely to see more visitors in the area. It’s great for the wineries and also for the whole district.”

Mr Makin said the influx of wine lovers had put a much-needed spring in his step.

“It absolutely lifts me but our staff as well,” he said.

“To have them back to work on weekends and see people moving around, it’s exciting for everyone — a nice, positive finish to the 2020 saga.”

Bumper harvest likely as red wine supplies dwindle

As for 2021, there is good and bad news.

Consistently good rain through winter and spring has meant vineyards are in top shape now.

“The health in the vineyards at the moment is amazing,” Mr Makin said.

“I’ve got everything crossed.”

That will be good news for white wine and rose drinkers, as those lighter varietals will be bottled and back on shelves next year.

Winemaker Greg Gallagher examines vines at his vineyard
Greg Gallagher’s grape vines are flourishing this summer and he’s hopeful of a bumper crop.(ABC News: Rosie King)

But red wine is likely to be in short supply.

“If we’d made a 2020 vintage, the whites and roses would be on sale now but the reds would still be in the barrels, maturing and developing,” Mr Gallagher explained.

“But they’re all empty, so next June, July and August when we’d be looking at getting those wines out and bottling them for sale, it’s not going to happen.”

Mr Makin is facing the same challenge.

“At the moment, the pressure is on the white but come next year, the pressure will be on the reds,” he said.



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A flock divided: As some snowbirds brace for their first Canadian winter in years, others are sitting poolside in Florida


Normally at this time of year, Jeff Read and his wife, Dollie, would be at their vacation home in a gated community on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

The snowbirds from Cornwall, Ont., typically spend their days at the pool or the beach. Read enjoys riding his Harley with a motorcycle club.

“It’s easy living,” says the 68-year-old retiree.

But when the Star caught up with Read this week, he was still in Ontario, staring out at a snow-covered driveway and seemingly resigned to the fact that the couple would be staying put this winter.

It is, after all, the year of COVID-19.

In the same way Canadians coast to coast are having to wrestle with whether to book flights to see loved ones in other parts of the country this holiday season, snowbirds who escape to warmer destinations every winter are having to make tough choices: Do they visit the winter homes they’ve poured their retirement savings into or stay put and brave a Canadian winter?

The Canadian Snowbird Association estimates that 70 per cent of its 110,000 members will hunker down. The federal government has urged Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.

Read cited the ongoing closure of the land border as a big factor in their decision. He and Dollie usually like to drive down with their two dogs. Plus, he was worried about the pandemic.

According to U.S. media reports, the number of coronavirus cases per week in the state has tripled since Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened Florida in late September, lifting all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses and banning local fines against people who refuse to wear masks.

Florida now has the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the U.S. after Texas and California.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t like to be told what to do mask-wise,” Read said. “I don’t really feel like getting sick because somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask down there.”

So, he’d just purchased a whole assortment of winter essentials: a snowblower, snowbrush, boots, crampons, gloves and antifreeze windshield-washer.

Scroll through recent posts on a snowbirds Facebook group and it doesn’t take long to see the contrast in choices. While some members have been posting pictures of themselves on sun-drenched beaches and patios — “I am sitting in my lanai in Florida drinking my favourite wine for $10 at 10 p.m. in my shorts,” one snowbird posted recently — others have shared pictures of their snow-covered yards.

“I just bought a snow shovel … after 12 years,” Jarmila Pitterman, 76, of Kitchener, Ont., wrote, followed by two sad-faced, teary-eyed emojis.

Bob Slack also counts himself among those getting re-acquainted with snow gear.

Slack, past president of the Canadian Snowbird Association, and his wife normally spend their winters in Winter Haven, Fla., where they own a property on a golf course.

This will be their first winter in Canada in 23 years.

Slack, 78, of Athens, Ont., said he recently got snow tires and boots. His wife bought a new winter coat.

“We went to Canadian Tire today and bought a new shovel,” he said.

Like Read, Slack cited the land border closure and pandemic as key reasons for their decision.

“We get a report everyday from Florida with the number of cases in the state and in our county. Not looking great at all. If you get sick and the hospitals are full, what do you do?” he said.

While they’ll miss Euchre nights and Friday night fish fries at the clubhouse, Slack said he has regained an appreciation of the beauty of freshly fallen snow.

“The big thing we’re worried about is getting used to the driving again. When you haven’t driven on snow and ice in many years, you’re timid to go out.”

That’s exactly the reason Bruce Murray believes he and his wife, Heather Dodge, made the right call to flee Halifax for Largo, Fla., earlier this month.

“If you’re down here enjoying the sunshine, it’s healthier for you than shovelling snow or driving in winter … or depression or loneliness,” he said.

Murray, 57, said he and his wife never had any doubts about going south for the winter.

Before booking their flights, the couple, who purchased a mobile home in Largo last year, contacted friends in the area whom they trust and were satisfied it was safe to come down.

“We decided that we’d be healthier and just as well here as we would be in Nova Scotia,” he said, noting that, in recent days, COVID-19 numbers have climbed in the Atlantic region, as they have in other parts of Canada. (On Wednesday, Pinellas County, where Largo is located, topped 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the second consecutive day. By comparison, Nova Scotia reported 16 new cases.)

Murray said they mostly cook at home but will occasionally do takeout from restaurants. Anytime they’ve ventured into a public space, such as Home Depot, people are masked, he said. Even people attending outdoor yard sales are masked, for the most part.

There is little congestion at the beaches or parks where they like to roller blade, bike and bird watch, he said. And when he had to go to the DMV to pick up licence plates for the used car he had purchased, it was by appointment only and the place was virtually empty.

Murray said the riskiest activity he and his wife engage in is probably pickleball, but they are careful about not touching their faces after handling the balls.

“We haven’t seen anything that’s scared us yet,” he said.

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“Every morning we get up, the sun is shining, the birds are singing. If you don’t watch the news, we wouldn’t know COVID existed here, except for the masks.”

Brian Hoffman and his wife, Lesley, of Lake Temagami, Ont., say they have no regrets after travelling to their vacation home in Punta Gorda, Fla.

Brian Hoffman, 50 and newly retired, said he and his wife, Lesley, similarly have no regrets after coming down to their vacation home in Punta Gorda about a week ago.

“Cheap gas, cheap alcohol. Lots of sun,” he said.

The couple, of Lake Temagami, Ont., started coming to Florida four or five years ago. At first, they weren’t sure whether they’d make it down this year, but when they heard there was a creative way to get themselves — and their car — across the border, they jumped.

They hired a company to ship their car across the border to Detroit and then hopped on a short charter flight from London, Ont., to Detroit where they reunited with their car.

During their runs to Costco or Wal-Mart for supplies, most people are masked and there’s plenty of social distancing, he said. Even though the state is pretty much “wide open,” most restaurants in their area seem have chosen to limit seating or do takeout only.

For the most part, they stick to their home.

“Usually we keep the pool at 85 and we’re floating and watching birds.”

Asked what advice he has for those sitting on the fence, Hoffman noted there are some parts of Florida, such as Miami-Dade County, that have far higher rates of infection than others. (On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County reported 2,120 new confirmed cases of COVID-19).

That said, “If they’re healthy and able to get insurance and able to come down responsibly and isolate appropriately and take the same precautions as they are taking at home, we haven’t seen a big difference. I would invite them to come down,” he said.

“You should live your life, as long as you’re responsible doing it.”

If snowbirds do decide to travel, they need to protect themselves, said Evan Rachkovsky, the snowbird association spokesperson.

“This includes purchasing sufficient travel medical insurance, with COVID-19 coverage, prior to their departure,” he said.

“There are several insurance providers placing $200,000 caps on COVID-19-related claims. This level of coverage, particularly when travelling to the United States, is inadequate. Snowbirds who choose to travel also need to follow quarantine requirements as well as health and safety protocols at the federal, state and local levels.”

Late Wednesday, Read notified the Star that he and his wife had had a change of heart.

They decided to book a flight for Florida for next month, after all.

The “cold” and “dampness” from spending part of the day shovelling and snowblowing may have been a contributing factor, he said.

The trip won’t be entirely for pleasure. They plan to put their home in Port St. Lucie up for sale. While they would like to have gotten another five years out of it, it was “costing me a small bundle to keep that place empty,” he said.

Read said he and his wife are now thinking of spending future winters down in Mexico, Cuba or Jamaica.

Asked about the worsening COVID-19 situation in Florida, Read said they have every intention of following the same precautions they’ve been following in Canada down in Florida.

“Grab the groceries and get out.”

With files from The Associated Press

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Boy, 7, dies in NSW swimming tragedy; COVID warnings in place as people flock to beaches


A medical team was winched to the scene by helicopter before the boy was taken to Nepean Hospital by road.

NSW Ambulance duty operations manager Peter van Praag said paramedics worked tirelessly to treat the child before he was taken to hospital but he didn’t survive.

NSW Ambulance paramedics at the scene of the tragedy on Sunday. Credit:Nine News

“These sorts of jobs have a significant impact on all the emergency services involved, but none more so than the family, and our hearts go out them,” Inspector van Praag said.

“It is just so sad.”

He said it was a tragic reminder for people to take care near the water as the weather warmed.

“Nobody intends for these tragedies to happen, but that’s the thing about accidents – they happen in second – but the impact can remain for a lifetime,” he said.

COVID warnings as people hit the beaches

The emergency comes as people flocked to the state’s beaches and watering holes to enjoy the weekend’s fine conditions. NSW Health called upon the community to maintain vigilance and avoid crowds despite a run of eight days without COVID-19 transmission.

Coogee Beach in the eastern suburbs saw a sea of sunbathers, with others submerging themselves in the rock pool to cool off, as continued physical distancing, hand hygiene and testing is still encouraged.

Swimmers cooling off in the Coogee Beach rock pool during a spell of fine weather in Sydney.

Swimmers cooling off in the Coogee Beach rock pool during a spell of fine weather in Sydney.Credit:James Alcock

“Though there have been no locally acquired cases in NSW in recent days, now is not the time to drop our guard,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.

While the majority of the state experienced sunny weather and clear skies on Sunday, the high temperatures are expected to escalate on Monday, climbing up to 34 degrees in Sydney, 34.5 in Mascot, 39 in Parramatta and 41.5 in Penrith, the highest expected reading this season.

Weather bureau meteorologist Bimal KC said the hot, dry conditions were moving in ahead of a southerly cold front bringing “fresh and gusty winds”.

“We’re expecting shower and thunderstorm activity with the front,” Mr KC said, adding the forecast rainfall was expected to be just a few millimetres.

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He said the change would bring minimum overnight temperatures to about 18 degrees in the Sydney basin ahead of milder temperatures and showers along the eastern part of the state, with the mercury staying in the low 20s during the middle of the week before climbing to 31 in Sydney on Friday.

Damaging winds were forecast for the state’s alpine region on Sunday night, with wind speeds reaching up to 120 km/h above 900 metres.

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