It has been a while since I posted on this blog, for a couple of reasons. My wife and I took part in a wonderful road-trip back in September and I spent several weeks working on a multi-part documentary that took up much of my time (it’s called Journey Across Northern Ontario). And then along came the second wave of Covid-19 and I have been respecting the lockdown and stay-at-home orders.
The rules look like they might be loosening soon, but in the meantime I thought I would write a post reviewing some of the sightings enjoyed during the last year.
I was taking part in a “Virtual Walk Across Canada” where I would take the steps recorded on my Fitbit and plot them on a map of Canada, travelling east from Vancouver to Newfoundland. Unfortunately, my Fitbit has since died and has been replaced by a Garmin watch with some exciting features, but it is incompatible with the software I was using. Oh well! I might pick this up manually at some point, but it’s probably too much work. Moving on…
I want to walk the length of The Bruce Trail, but this is a gradual multi-year project. I made some progress in February when I visited the area around The Welland Canal.
As the standing snow began to thaw and the spring showers arrived in Southern Ontario, I slipped and slid my way along precarious parts of these trails. But it was fun to see birds getting more active and hearing the laughter-like calls of a bird I’m very fond of: The Red-bellied woodpecker. While climbing a steep bank, I came across these three agitated birds near several tree cavities. Some early flowering plants began making their first appearances, too.
April was a write-off while adhering to the restrictions related to the first appearance of Covid-19, and these restrictions unfortunately continued into May and the peak spring migration period. Later in the month, a trip to Presqu’ile was possible. This was my first visit to one of the top birding locations in Southern Ontario and we enjoyed a few observations including lots of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, several warbler species, a Scarlet Tanager and an Orchard Oriole (a first for me). With the sun feeling warm and the days growing longer, plenty of berries were around to fuel the courting displays Cedar Waxwings, who flirtatiously pass the fruits back-and-forth.
A non-birding revelation occurred in June. For the first time in ages, the work schedules of my wife and I finally synchronised, meaning we could make frequent weekday evening and weekend trips together. We made dozens over the coming month. It is hard to pick a single highlight from June, but here are a few.
July – August 2020
Things generally quieten down as temperatures soar in July and August, but we had a couple of cool mammal sightings.
A quick nod to a few sightings of Black-and-white Warlbers, too. They might not be spectacular looking, but they are my favourite warblers.
September – October 2020
In September I spent two weeks traveling across Northern Ontario and, as mentioned, made some videos about it. This was a trip of probably 5,000km and involved seeing quite a few new birds. Perhaps I should write about it, too?
In October I took another week staying around “cottage country” including a trip to Algonquin.
November – December 2020
Covid-19 returned and a temporary change to my work hours kept me away from the outdoors. My hours are now back to normal and hopefully Covid-19 will continue to subside….
No big trips since my visit to the Windsor Area earlier this month as I prepare for an epic two-week Northern Ontario road-trip (more on that later). I’ve made a few quick trips to the Toronto and Durham areas that I thought I would touch on.
Lynde Shores & Cranberry Marsh
This is one of my top local spots to visit and there have been some fun observations this month. Sara had been keen to see a Black-crowned Night Heron and finally did so at Tommy Thompson Park, but since then, we have seen several juveniles in their grey and white spotty plumage at Cranberry Marsh. There is also an absolute abundance of Great Egrets (as well as Great Blue Herons) present in the marsh. Each time we submit our birding list to Ebird (a bird citizen science website where you enter sightings), we have to provide details about the Egrets – the site doesn’t believe there are so many!
Amongst the White-tailed Deer at Lynde Shores are a doe and her two fawns who we have affectionately named “The Twins” and we see them together on most visits. The fawns still have their spots for now.
A few bird species are beginning to move south, including our warblers. One of my all-time favourite birds is the Black-and-White Warbler, and we spotted one of these among conifers at Lynde Shores. It was dark and the bird is quick moving, so no wonderful photos, but below is a snap for the fun of it. More on warblers shortly.
Birds of prey are also heading south for greater warmth. We, and another couple we met, observed a two Bald Eagles flying over Lynde Shores towards the marsh. One was an adult with the iconic white head, the other was a juvenile. We inadvertently caught up with the juvenile a little later. Such a huge bird that really puts you in mind of their dinosaur ancestors.
The tiny bird pictured below is a Least Sandpiper pottering around feeding on the muddy parts of the marsh and it represents a new bird on my life list, taking me to 194 birds. Getting close to the 200 mark!
A quick mention for Thicksons where we saw a huge number of Cedar Waxwings catching insects on the wing over the marsh to the east of the waterfront trail. Flycatchers are migrating (or beginning to consider it!) and we saw some Great Crested Flycatchers here, including a couple perched in a tree.
Honourable mention to a Northern Cardinal that came begging for food, pik-pik’ing at us, before landing on a gate and providing a nice colour co-ordinated photograph opportunity!
We also saw a couple of American Kestrels (first I’ve seen in a while), Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, a Ruby-throated Hummingbord and some small puffed-up juvenile House Wrens.
We wanted to visit Rosetta McClain Park one evening, but it is a popular spot at the weekend. A quick look at the parking that had spilled onto the sidewalk saw us continue onwards to Guildwood Park. Not a great deal to report here – it was also so busy that bikers, wedding parties and loud walkers had scared most wildlife away. A handful of Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler – although I didn’t realise until we got home and I examined the distant blurry photo!
Look away if insects make your skin crawl. There were a handful of Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasps injecting their eggs under the bark of a tree. This family of parasitic wasps is one of the most diverse taxonomic families on the “tree of life”, but they are little studied.
We returned to Rosetta McClain the following morning before most of Toronto woke. We saw some Baltimore Orioles and a few other common birds. There are some great pollinator flowers in this garden, though I only saw Monarchs, Cabbage White and a Silver-spotted Skipper.
Tommy Thompson Park: The Warblers are Coming!
We spent a couple of hours at “The Spit” on a Saturday morning after we saw reports of warblers showing up on their southward journey. For the uninitiated, warblers are a family of colourful, mostly insect-eating, small birds that largely pass through Southern Ontario during a small migration window – which is perhaps part of their appeal to birders.
We began in an area known as “the wet woods”, but didn’t have a great deal of luck here and it was also quite wet (the clue is in the name) from the morning dew. We turned back and continued along the regular trail with the intention of checking out the area around the banding station, though this is a bit of a trek.
We saw lots of American Goldfinch – the adults time their mating so that the juveniles arrive in time for thistles to seed, which they feed upon. We saw both Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos. Approaching the turn towards the banding station, we saw several Baltimore Orioles and some Yellow Warblers.
Identifying warblers is tough but fun during spring when their plumage is in ideal condition. It is even more challenging in fall where their colours and patterns are much less vibrant due to the influx of juveniles and moulting adults. I had to seek help identifying a couple of species… foremost amongst them was a Cape May Warbler. This is considered a “notable sighting” by Ebird, which was exciting. I have only seen a Cape May Warbler once before – back in 2012.
We also saw more Yellow Warblers and lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flickers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and more. There was a warbler that I suspect was a Pine Warbler, but have been unable to confirm. The second most exciting sighting was a Blackburnian Warbler.
I’m looking forward to Spring 2021 and the northward migration of the warblers – when they look more vibrant. It was a great frustration to lose the opportunity to see them in Spring of 2020 due to the isolation requirements of Covid-19.
I’ll leave this post for now – we had a few other less exciting observations in the wetland areas. We are looking at the possibility of returning for some more warbler action, but our calendar is a little busy coming up.
Point Pelee in a week or so – hoping to catch some migration action.
Northern Ontario road-trip in September. Aiming to get as far as Cochrane and Thunder Bay.
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I returned to Rouge Park five days after my last visit when I had a rare free weekday morning. Once into the park, I noticed quite soon that the Eastern Bluebirds appear to have left. I walked around for about 90 minutes and didn’t see them. More often than not, I am successful at “pishing” them into view. Three separate attempts were to no avail. I believe that they have migrated south within the last four days.
Rouge was fairly quiet this morning, except for several dozen American Goldfinches that were very active. Otherwise, there was a window of about fifteen minutes where the sun first broke over the tree line at around 8am where those fleeting moments were filled with most of the observations I made.
I saw around four House Wrens scolding away – possibly at me. A pair of Baltimore Orioles watched from adjacent trees. They will also be migrating south anytime now. There were around four Field Sparrows hanging around with Song Sparrows. The Field Sparrow was heard before it was seen – the rhythm of their song is said to sound like a bouncing ping-pong ball.
A few birds flew overhead: Half-a-dozen Canada Geese, three Ring-billed Gulls, and over the valley a Great Blue Heron flew north. A group of around four Eastern Kingbirds called to each other. I heard several Gray Catbirds and a couple of Northern Cardinals. A Downy Woodpecker gently tap-tapped on a narrow tree trunk. As I walked past some shrubs, a female Common Yellowthroat began scolding me. She hopped back and forth along a branch continuously chipping at me until she got bored with my photo taking shenanigans.
A few Barn Swallows flew around the trail head. The Tree Swallows appear to have migrated in the last week or so. A dozen European Starlings chirped and chittered on a telegraph pole. The parking was beginning to fill as I left the park and joined the late-rush-hour traffic.
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Although a long drive, I had heard good stories about seeing butterflies and birds at Ojibway Park in Windsor. Initially, we were planning to wake up early on Saturday, drive the five-hour journey and do what we could with what was left of the day, then hopefully have a good early morning at Ojibway Park on Sunday morning. A poor weather forecast for Sunday meant we did a last-minute scramble and also booked some cheap accommodation on the Friday evening in London, Ontario – a bit less than two-hours away from Windsor.
We stayed in a cheap hotel that had attracted a clientele that was a mixture of highly dishevelled or younger party animals – or in some cases, both. The common denominator was a complete disregard for both social distancing and the legal requirement to wear masks in common areas. However, there was a bed and we slept on it.
Before leaving London, we stopped by a cemetery that is known in the area for White-tailed Deer. I would have liked some photos of this year’s fawns but didn’t have much time to spare to try to stalk after them, so made do with a so-so shot of a young male.
This area is part of the Carolinian life-zone, offering a greater proportion of deciduous trees than the mixed or transitional forests to the North and North-east. We had a couple of species we were hoping to see. The Red-headed Woodpecker is a little more common in this area, along with the Tufted Titmouse. I was also interested in any butterflies I might see.
There is a Visitor Centre (closed) near the entrance of Ojibway Park, and a collection of bird feeders nearby. They were mostly attracting common birds like House Sparrows, Common Grackles, Cardinals, and Blue Jays when we arrived.
In a swampy stretch of water running along the perimeter of the park were several turtles: Midland Painted and Snapping but also some Blanding’s – a vulnerable species in Ontario. The turtles were all actively foraging.
A couple of Green Herons were fishing along the same stretch of water which contained a generous number of small fish.
I was a tad disappointed in the butterflies I came across. I was, perhaps, expecting a busy meadow type environment. On the brightside, most of what we saw were large swallowtails. I have mentioned before that the waters are murky surrounding the identification of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail vs the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail with location and time of year being the biggest deciding factors. I am informed that at this location and at this time, any of these yellow and black swallowtails would be the second generation (out of two or three each year) of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
We also saw Pearl Crescents, Monarchs an Appalachian Brown and, a new species for me, a few Eastern Giant Swallowtails. The one below is a little tatty with damaged wings.
Life as an insect can be pretty gory and a particularly nasty way to go is at the hands of an Ambush Bug. They are well camouflaged and lie in wait on plants. When another insect arrives, which can sometimes be much larger like this Red-spotted Admiral, the Ambush Bug will grip it in place, pierce its body with its beak, and suck out the bodily fluids.
In a slight clearing we heard a number of birds including Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird and we saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I think this has been a less productive year for hummingbirds. I saw two or three at Presqu’ile back in late spring and then none until today. We heard a bird we were unfamiliar with whose scolding call was somewhat similar to a Black-capped Chickadee…. Sara realised we were looking at two or possibly three Tufted Titmice. This is a new bird for me – they are common in Carolinian Ontario, but don’t stray further north very much. This is Lifer number 192. I didn’t get a very good shot as they were well hidden, but good enough to know what it is.
In around the same area I had another lifer. I realised we were looking at a Cuckoo quite quickly, but there are two species that look somewhat similar when they are well hidden amongst leaves….once I got a glimpse of the beak colour, I was able to ascertain that it was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. Lifer 193!
Further into the woods we saw lots of American Robins, a House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chickadees, Blue Jays and more, as well as hearing a Veery – a bird I have heard numerous times but have still never seen. There were a number of White-tailed Deer, including a couple of white-spotted fawns with their mother.
In terms of flora, we saw a couple of species that you wouldn’t typically find outside of the Carolinian life-zone including Butterfly Milkweed and Kentucky Coffee Tree. The latter has large seed pods and the seeds inside can be roasted as a substitute for coffee – but unroasted, they are toxic.
Creeping Bellflower, Showy Tick-Trefoil and Asiatic Dayflower were all present. Asiatic Dayflower is named for how it will bloom for only one day each year.
We left Ojibway Park and had a quick picnic bench lunch in a nearby manicured park. It was getting a little hot, so there wasn’t much here to see beyond the ever-present Canada Geese. A Double-Crested Cormorant was in a nearby waterway.
The Double-Crested Cormorant is currently caught in the centre of an Ontario political drama with landowners and commercial fishing on one side and scientists and conservation groups on the other. The Ontario Government has gone forward with opening up hunting of the bird.
We returned to Ojibway Park, but didn’t really have too long before it started to get dark and rain was also rolling in. In a marshy area, we spotted some movement amongst the cattails and Sara eventually noticed that there was a Muskrat chewing away. The Snapping Turtles were particularly active (video below on compatible devices).
Before leaving, we returned to the bird feeders near the entrance and saw a few mammals that had emerged during the dusk hours. A small, cute, young raccoon hid amongst ferns and would pop out occasionally to grab pieces of hotdog meat. A Groundhog appeared briefly from under the wooden hide we were standing in. A large brown rat would also leap out from under the hide to awkwardly grab carrots that had been provided by visitors, before slinking away again. In the Carolinian region, Southern Flying Squirrels can be found. Alas, not at this particular spot at this particular time!
Before we hit the sack, we went into Windsor to look across the Detroit River to see the Detroit Skyline.
It was interesting to see tour boats leaving from the American side that were disconcertingly filled. As the night drew in and the tour boats retreated, helicopters flew up and down the river. Perhaps American agencies looking for people trying to cross the border? I’m not sure if trying to cross the river is more or less dangerous than actually making it across.
The bad weather we were afraid would affect the trip seemed to touch down a little north of us. We watched forks of lightning illuminate the sky a little off to the right of the skyline shown in the photo above.
Probably staying in The GTA for a couple of weeks following a few elaborate (pricey) trips. I anticipate a trip to Northern Ontario in the next month or two.
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After we had both finished work, Sara and I paid a visit to Rouge Park that was quite fleeting due to the late hour and the fact that the sun is already setting almost an hour earlier than it was back in late June. We parked on Zoo Road and walked the Vista trail only as far as where the evergreen lined ridge begins shortly after the viewing platform.
After emigrating to Canada, Rouge Park was one of the first places that I ever saw Eastern Bluebirds and I have since looked out for them ever since. I was pleased to see them on this visit, with a new youngster in tow – which is the main reason I’m even posting what is otherwise a quite short blog post! The photo below shows the male from the pair. His colours are a little bolder than the female’s.
Purple Loosestrife is flowering throughout Southern Ontario now, and there is lots of it lining the meadow areas of Rouge Park. The plant has been introduced to North America and can crowd out other species, which can have a knock-on effect on waterways and the waterfowl and other creatures that live there. It is, however, popular among some pollinators. It was late in the day for butterflies, but we saw plenty of bees and other insects making use of the flowers.
We turned around to leave – it was just after 8pm and the light is already fading by this time, especially on overcast days. We must have done something to upset a nearby Gray Catbird. They are often quite shy, hiding amongst the brush making a “mewing” cat sound as their call, from which they are named. Their song is a mixture of scratchy, warbling sounds with the occasional attempt to mock the song of other birds. On this occasion, the Catbird was sticking to the mewing sound and appeared to be aiming his or her annoyance in our direction! They are grey in colour with a black cap and tail feathers. They have a tendency to excitedly flick their tail feathers, often revealing rufous or chestnut coloured under-feathers just visible in the photo below.
On our way back to the car, we had a quick look around the Visitor Centre (which remains closed, currently). Roll on the end of “these uncertain times” where talking in places and viewing “Sightings Reports” etc.. will be possible again. In the dusk light, a Groundhog emerged from under a shed in order to eat some greens.
As I write this, I have just returned from a quick trip to the Windsor-Essex region and will blog about that soon.
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Another suggestion by Sara comes up trumps. We have been to Cranberry Marsh a few times, but invariably we tend to only pass through as an after-thought following a visit to Lynde Shores which is right next door. A bad night of sleep meant a later than usual start, and considering how popular this place is with photographers, it was unsurprising that when we arrived at 7:30am, there were more lenses and cameras in attendance than there were birds.
The water in the marsh remains quite low and so there were large numbers of Great Blue Herons and, despite their imperilled status in Ontario, a few Great Egrets were taking advantage of the meals on offer.
There is a sandbar running along the south of the marsh that separates it from Lake Ontario, and it is this that you walk along to view the marsh. Preening on this sandbar was a Mute Swan and two Trumpeter Swans. Mute Swans are an introduced species, but Trumpeter Swans are native to Canada. They were expatriated (made extinct in Ontario), but were reintroduced in the 1980s and many of them have yellow tags on their wings so that they can be identified by researchers from distance – without disturbing them. Amongst the researchers, many of the swans have been given first names which you can sometimes find with a little online sleuthing. The two we saw today were siblings tagged T61 and T62 and they are named “Pepper” and “Caramel”.
We weaved in and out of probably a couple-of-dozen wide-lensed photographers along the sandbar and found a quiet spot, resigned to it probably being a bad location since nobody else was around. Suddenly Sara spotted a Wilson’s Snipe with its amusingly long bill. New Lifer, number 191!
Way off in the distance, a raptor flew along the western edge of the marsh. Too far for a photo worthy of posting here, but it had a white band across the top of the tail, which marks it out as a Northern Harrier. Another bird that initially looked like a raptor flew a similar path. It was a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. The juveniles have brown and off-white pattening that somewhat resembles that of a raptor. Well, kind of. From a distance. Through haze. When you’re poor sighted. Those are my excuses.
Dotted around amongst the Lilypads were a few Lesser Yellowlegs that we’ve seen a few times on our travels to different marsh habitats in the last few weeks. These ones are used to posing for photos and getting close to them was not too much of a problem.
Regular readers will recall that I had heard reports of Virginia Rails being spotted here, but that we hadn’t enjoyed any success spotting them ourselves. We were about to leave the site when there was a commotion amongst some photographers. I was able to create a little space for myself and take a few shots of an adult Virginia Rail, with a couple of offspring in tow. I got a couple of good shots before giving the bird some space and enjoying watching the bird for a few moments. A couple of other photographers continued to blast away. I’m not sure where they find the time to go through a machine-gunned memory card full of photos of the same bird!
We were to have one last good sighting on our way out of the marsh. There were a few Red-winged Blackbirds congregating, with a couple of Cowbirds begging for food around them. Another bird close by initially looked similar, but upon inspection, it had a more appealing speckling to its breast and a neater light coloured eye-line. Another new lifer. Two in one trip and we’d only travelled just down the road! Bird number 192 is a Northern Waterthrush.
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My wife suggested we visit The Leslie Street Spit, a.k.a Tommy Thompson Park, which is highly productive with migrating warblers during the spring as it is the first green piece of land that birds will come across after an exhausting flight across Lake Ontario. During the summer it can sometimes throw up some less common wading bird sightings in some of the “cells” or marsh areas.
As usual for this park, Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows were frequently seen. American Goldfinch are also common here, but I would say they were a little more abundant thanks to the presence of thistle seeds. The park is also a great place for Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows. The latter have many nests built on a couple of the concrete buildings within the park. We saw Yellow Warblers and maybe 15 or 20 Eastern Kingbirds.
A little way past the eastern most harbour, there is a marshy bay that hosts a man-made floating “island” that is home to Common Terns. On this island, we could make out some eggs, and even more exciting, two fluffy little Tern chicks.
Out on the Lilypads were four Spotted Sandpipers and then something happened to put a smile on Sara’s face. Regular readers will remember that she had been eager to see a Black-crowned Night Heron. We saw something fly past of an unusual shape. Sure enough, it was Sara’s target bird. I had seen them standing before, but this was also my first time seeing one in flight.
Behind us was a copse of trees between two parts of the trail, and a Warbling Vireo….. well…. warbled… for much of the time we spent looking out over the marsh. As we left, the bird kindly presented itself for a photo.
There are three “cells” along the peninsula, man-made wetland areas. In my experience, Cell One tends to be most active. Today we saw a bird being “bombed” by other smaller birds as it came in to land on a tree stump in the wetland. It was a Green Heron. I have only previously seen these north of the city.
There were quite a few Monarch Butterflies around, a few Cabbage Whites, a couple of Clouded Sulphur and I saw what I believe to be a Least Skipper, but we didn’t see much more in terms of moths/butterflies – though we were at the park quite early before the heat.
We again visited my in-laws after this little nature trip, as we sometimes help them out with groceries and stuff during this time of Covid-19. As previously mentioned, my father-in-law has begun putting out seed at the bird feeders. A perfect excuse for me to sneak in another photo from the backyard. Below is a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a characterful bird that’s fun to see visiting.
Looking forward to visiting the Windsor area in the next couple of weeks. And hopefully Northern Ontario in the fall?
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As far as nature and wildlife are concerned, Rondeau is one of the most productive Provincial Parks in Ontario – especially when it comes to birds and butterflies. Sara and I had been once before – back in the fall of 2012 to catch sight of the warblers migrating back south for a warmer winter.
We returned over the August holiday weekend. Our expectations were not as high as the heady days of 2012, because the weather was predicted to be unkind to us and this trip was not in the middle of a busy migration period – but we were still quite excited.
We began by hiking the short “Tulip Tree Trail” beginning near to the Visitor’s Centre, which was closed due to Covid-19. I can’t wait until I don’t have to mention that virus in my blog posts anymore! The birding was most active towards where the trail loops back, near to the beach. Prior to this, I looked out for insects and plants of interest. A large variety of fungi grew throughout the forest. I’m not particularly learned when it comes to fungi, but am aware that successful identification often lies in examining the gills on the underside. One of the more vibrant and interesting specimens was Candy Apple Waxy Cap.
In marshy areas, we saw many Northern Leopard Frogs, Green Frogs and American Bullfrogs. As with our trip to Goderich last week, there were many male Gypsy Moths flitting around wooded areas. Appalachian Brown butterflies were also quite plentiful. If you are not a fan of arachnids, the following spider might be slightly terrifying. Initially, I thought the spider had caught some oversized prey that was half-eaten. Turns out that the spiky portion in the photograph below is actually the rear end of the spider. Delightful! It is within the family of Micrathena spiders, or “Spiny Orbweavers”. According to the website Bugguide.net, the only genus of this family seen in Ontario is Micrathena Sagittata, “Arrow-shaped Spiny Orbweaver”.
Okay, let’s talk birds. As the trail looped back on itself, birds were quite active. We saw several Cedar Waxwings including an awkward-looking juvenile. There was also a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak accompanied by its parents.
The usual common birds were around: Grey Catbirds, Robins, Mourning Doves and Yellow Warblers. There was also a Northern Flicker.
We had a little wander around one of the beaches and a short boardwalk. A few large Swallowtail Butterflies would pass by without landing and with a rather urgent flight pattern that made photographing them unfeasible. That was unfortunate because I suspect they were Giant Swallowtails which I otherwise haven’t seen before. I did, however, see a Spicebush Swallowtail in the parking lot, which I pursued until it finally landed near a puddle.
After we ate lunch (and I ate too much icecream – what else is new?), we walked the first few hundred feet of The Marsh Trail, as most of it was closed for renovation. There were many Monarch Butterflies, but among them, was a Viceroy Butterfly.
The Monarch’s main defence against predators like birds is that it tastes awful enough to cause vomiting. The Viceroy does not have this defence and so instead mimics the appearance of The Monarch to dissuade predators. This is a prime example of Batesian Mimicry. There are a couple of differences in appearance betweem the species. The Viceroy is usually quite a bit smaller. The Viceroy also has a “U” shaped vein across the lower portion of the hindwings, as shown above.
That was it for day one. Storm clouds rolled in and so, other than getting dinner, we spent time at our Bed & Breakfast. We spent a couple of hours on the balcony during a gap in the rain and saw fireflies lighting up near some trees in the backyard. An Opossum skirted the edge of the grounds and a bat flitted past us a couple of times as it hunted gnats, many of which were also attracted to the light on our balcony.
Keith Mclean Conservation Area
The rain pelted down through the night like marbles on a tin roof and it was forecast to continue for much of the weekend. Keith Mclean Conservation Area was across the street, so we took a look during a break in the rain.
We weren’t able to use the hiking trail due to the amount of mud, but even the grassy area near the entrance provided a few species. There were many Barn Swallows, a pair of Killdeer, several Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, a Common Gallinule and the usual common “backyard birds”. Turkey Vultures flew overhead and another raptor flew by. I suspect it was a Northern Goshawk. That would be a lifer as I haven’t seen one before, but I’m not able to count it as I’m not 100% sure what it was.
A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was running around the edge of one of several ponds at the Conservation Area.
Back to Rondeau
The rain seemed to hold off, so we ventured back into Rondeau, but just briefly. I wanted to try to spot a Fowler’s Toad, which is “Imperilled” throughout Canada and Rondeau is one of the last places it is holding on. No such luck finding one, but we returned to the beach to look for gulls. I’m not a huge fan of differentiating gulls that are all so similar! However, I’d never seen a Bonaparte’s Gull and they are common enough here. After a little difficulty photographing them as they swiftly flew past at distance, I finally got a couple of shots.
The above photo shows an adult breeding Bonaparte’s Gull and the image below shows a Bonaparte’s Gull in it’s “first winter” plumage – no longer a juvenile. The juvenile looks a little different again, and this is why I try to steer away from gulls! This is a new lifer and takes me to 189 species of bird. If I am to get to the 200 mark I will either need to head to somewhere exotic or start learning those gulls!
Erieau and McGeachy Pond Conservation Area
We drove to nearby Erieau where we would later have dinner on a socially distanced patio. Before that I parked the car and we walked in the light drizzle along a path beside Lake Erie where the waves smashed against rocks. I’m not sure why I enjoyed it, I suppose there was something elementally raw about it. Or at least there was until I got too close and a much larger wave splooshed over the rocks and soaked me from head-to-toe. Sara even took a video of it happening, which I will NOT be sharing!
We moved on to McGeachy Pond Conservation Area, where a trail navigates you between a marsh on one side and the lake on the other. I managed to dry out because I was wearing dry wick clothing and blasted my car seat butt-warmer.
We saw lots of Song Sparrows, a Downy Woodpecker and some ducks in the marsh that were tough to identify from distance, but were probably Wood Ducks. We had a couple of odd sightings. The was a Herring Gull wading around in an algae-filled pond. It looked particularly grumpy, though they often do, and gave the impression that it might be unable to unwilling to fly. I’m not sure this is typical habitat for them, but the right wing looks like it might be in bad shape.
An adult Song Sparrow fed insects to one of its offspring before flying away for more. Another landed on a stump and I was able to get a quite pleasing shot.
John E. Pearce Provincial Park
We were in no rush on our way back to Toronto, and so we took a bit of a scenic route, stopping in Elgin County for a much-needed coffee and a walk around John E. Pearce Provincial Park. We skirted around a meadow and small marsh. There is also a forested area that currently consists of only White Cedars as part of a long term rejuvenation effort. Their shade will eventually create a habitat more suitable to hardwood trees. Eventually, some White Cedars will be removed to add a better variety to the area.
There were a lot of butterflies around including more Viceroys, Monarchs, Cabbage Whites, Spicebush Swallowtails and, below, a Clouded Sulphur feeding on a clover flower.
There were a couple of House Wrens and, hiding in the reeds as they like to do, I spotted a Marsh Wren. On the north side of the marsh, there were Purple Martins. Like swallows, they hunt insects on the wing, are fast and agile, and… hard to photograph. I didn’t get any good shots, but this is also a new bird for me. Lifer number 190.
Look away again if you don’t like insects, but I spotted an absolutely huge monster of a wasp and had to do some digging to find out what it was.
The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp, as the name suggests, hunts for Cicadas. For my European readers, Cicadas are insects that live on trees and make an annoying buzzing sound throughout much of summer – though this seems to be a quieter year for them. The wasp lives underground and drags the Cicada into her burrow. She lays her eggs onto it and the resulting grubs feed on the Cicada. Despite how terrifying it looks, it is extremely reluctant to sting unless harmed, and like most wasps, only the female can sting. This was a very fortunate sighting. The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp is “Critically Imperilled” throughout Canada.
There were, once again, a lot of Gypsy Moths around. I’d like to share a photo of one of the males who managed to find himself splashed out on someone’s windshield, mainly because I’d like to share how funky his “eyebrows” (antennae) look.
And that was that! We continued back to Toronto and had to stop by my in-laws on the way home. We used to live with them when I first came to Canada and I cultivated an elaborate array of bird feeders. My father-in-law has started to maintain a couple of the feeders in the last couple of weeks and he has started to get a steady stream of customers – Cardinals, Robins on the ground, a Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker have been by. I stopped to watch for a while and a pair of Cardinals came for a snack before the heavens opened one last time.
Nothing planned for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be swinging by some local spots for a change. I’ve heard reports of some good butterfly action out towards Windsor and I am crazy enough to drive that far. Maybe in a couple of weeks!
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I was interested in visiting a few nature spots in the Huron County area, so we ended up booking accommodation in Goderich to hit a few places that would otherwise be too far for a day-trip.
The Neowise comet has been visible in the Northwest night sky for much of July, and with Goderich positioned on the east coast of Lake Huron, I had the opportunity to try to photograph it away from the light-polluted skies of Toronto. On the evening of Friday 24th July, we drove to the beach. I hadn’t tried astrophotography before, but I did manage to get some images of the comet and it is something I’d like to attempt in the future to perhaps get a nice shot of The Milky Way. In the image below, the comet is towards the bottom-left, the only object with a tail. I have drawn in part of “The Big Dipper” constellation for reference.
Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area
The following morning we got an early start and an early Tim Hortons coffee and drove to Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area, which promised 2200 Hectares of mixed habitat, including some open water – always a little more promising during the heat of summer.
The drive out was lovely. Dew had formed during the night, but the heat was already beginning to rise – the ideal ingredients to create magical wisps of mist that played over the farm fields.
We heard plenty of birds here, but the tree canopy is high and the leaf cover is dense making them hard to spot. One bird that seems to be particularly plentiful this year is the Indigo Bunting. I have probably seen more this year than several previous years all combined. Today, we may have seen half-a-dozen of them (the females are a bit harder to spot).
Something else that is very plentiful this year: Gypsy Moths. They have a bad rap. They are an invasive species brought to North America from Europe and the larvae (caterpillars) are destructive through their vast appetites, consuming the leaves of many species of many trees. This year has been a bumper year of Gypsy Moths which can now be seen in their adult (moth) form. The females (in the photo below) do not fly and remain near where they emerged from their pupa. The males flit around rapidly, not often landing, making them harder to photograph. As adults (moths), they only live for about one week.
The mosquitoes and the sun were both out in force, so we only walked “The Blue Trail” which is listed as the most promising for birding. Before leaving, we drove to a different access point (there are several) that was nearer to a marsh. A short walk from the parking, we saw many Canada Geese, a few Killdear, many Mallards, a pair of Hooded Merganser, and several Lesser Yellowlegs. The Lesser Yellowlegs is a new addition to my life-list. I suspect I may have seen them earlier this year on a visit to Delaware, but this time I was able to confirm with certainty. I have now seen 188 species of bird. Of those, 40 were seen this year. Not a bad year!
We returned to Goderich and took a little look around the town, whose motto is “the prettiest town in Canada”. The Maitland River runs through the town, exiting into Lake Huron. We walked some of the Goderich to Auburn Rail trail which crosses the river via the Menesetung Bridge, offering views over the river valley.
In anticipation of the evening sun setting over the lake, we paid a visit to Goderich Lighthouse. I planned to photograph the sun setting over Lake Huron while getting the lighthouse in the foreground. Sara humoured me for a couple of hours while I set up my angles and aligned tripods and God knows what else! I think the wait was worth it to get the shot below.
Bannockburn Conservation Area
We also visited Bannockburn and walked a nice wooded trail with lots of boardwalk. The trail is a loop and there are around a dozen educational signs describing the landscape. We heard lots of Common Yellowthroats, another bird I am seeing a lot of this year. There were also a few insects around. This Striped Hairstreak is a new butterfly for me. We watched it perched on the boardwalk rubbing its wings, which released pheromones to attrack a mate.
The below Appalachian Brown is also a new sighting for me.
Finally, the funky looking moth below is called a Confused Haploa Moth.
Point Farms Provincial Park
The following day we visited this provincial park (and picked up an annual pass, as we have several more provincial parks planned). We did a quick trail that is quite good for birding and saw a number of wading birds near a lagoon (including some more Lesser Yellowlegs). I have heard so many Common Yellowthroats this year that I have become quite accustomed to their song. I heard one that was probably nesting in a shrub near a parking area and tried to “pish” the bird into view. He peeked out looking slightly confused and I took the opportunity to snap my best photo of this species so far.
I also heard the song of an Eastern Towhee and shortly spotted it high in a bare tree.
We spent a couple of hours at the beach on the shore of Lake Huron, taking some time to have a relaxing swim in a lake that’s a little more appealing than Lake Ontario (which had six times higher than acceptable levels of e-coli on this weekend). I guess I spent a little too long drying off in the sun afterwards, as my chest is a nice shade of lobster-red. I can be a little blasé about the sun. I work as a mailman and my skin is generally much darker during the summer… but I’m constantly seeking out the shade and do occasionally apply sunscreen. On this occasion, I did neither.
West Perth Wetlands
Final stop, partly on the way home. West Perth Wetlands are known on EBird (a bird spotting website) under the slightly less appealing name of Mitchell Sewage Lagoons. In any case, it consists of three bodies of water that used to be used for sewage but have since been repurposed as a wetland habitat.
We saw more Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks. There were some flowers attractive to pollinators, and so we saw a handful of Monarch butterflies and a Question Mark butterfly. Question Mark and Comma butterflies look similar and are named for a small mark on their underside (not shown) that looks like the respective punctuation marks for which they are named. They can also be discerned from the top by slight differences in the black spots.
We ran into another couple who were taking part in a local Monarch Butterfly count. Due to Covid-19, nature research has been impacted with field researchers being less able to get to sites. We talked about how the Monarch population is much smaller this year, after a slightly more promising year in 2019.
The Question Mark butterfly pictured above is perched on a thistle, and there were many more of these plants growing around the wetland. They also attract American Goldfinches who will eat the seeds.
An unusual sighting was (what appears to be) a mallard in the middle of the wetland a little far away to get a good look at. Unlike the mallards it paddled alongside, it is predominantly white in colour. There is some dark pigment in the bill and it has a dark eye-line like a mallard. The reddish colour on the chest is probably just a result of diet (swans also get a brown-reddish colour in their front as a result of an iron-rich diet). Otherwise, there is just some colour in a few feathers in the tail and wing. I’m not sure what the situation is with this duck. If anyone reading has any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. My thoughts are that it is possibly leucistic, which is a condition similar to albinism. Alternatively, it may contain some genes from a domestically bred duck such as a Welsh Harlequin, which is bred to be mostly white.
That concludes the weekend trip. I’m taking a brief break from blogging for the rest of this week, since this post is a little longer and took more work. We have a trip booked to Rondeau, which has been good to us with birds in the past. I will write about that trip next week.
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Sara and I recently purchased a parking pass for Lynde Shores (and other Central Lakes Conservation Authority areas). It means I will likely make a number of posts about trips there, which in turn means that I have already run out of ideas for pithy blog titles pertaining to visits here!
We had a sad experience the last time we came here, which I hadn’t written about until now. We’ve been keenly looking out for newly born White-tailed Deer fawns, and have seen at least three individuals over the previous weeks. One evening, we saw a shaky individual just off the trail, still with spotted fur. We were concerned about the shaking, but an adult was a few hundred feet away, and we thought perhaps the youngster was simply scared of us – so we left it alone. However, returning the next day, the fawn was collapsed and shaking. We made some calls to animal rescue organisations, though many won’t deal with deer. An hour-or-so later, it was suggested we try to bring the deer to a sanctuary where they could try to treat it. I picked the poor thing up and began carrying it towards my car, while Sara attempted to calm it by placing a towel over it. Unfortunately, the poor thing died as we reached my car. I then placed it carefully in the undergrowth near where we found it and I covered it under the brush. The circle of life, I guess.
Things have changed a little in the last few weeks of visiting Lynde Shores. The water level in the marsh appears to have receded, which is giving the water-life less hiding space. In turn, the number of Great-blue Herons has exploded. Sara and I counted a whopping 31 herons and a Great Egret one evening. This is leading to conflict with the Caspian Terns who will occasionally dive-bomb the significantly larger herons, who will then exclaim with an angry croaking-bark sound. Many birds are also going through a moult where they will gradually lose and replace their feathers. In some species, this can make them harder to identify. It can also leave some birds looking a little scruffy, like the Black-capped Chickadee below.
In the last few weeks, a lot of Virginia Ctenucha moths have been flying around the meadows with the occasional Monarch feeding from the milkweed plants. Monarch numbers should begin to increase around August/September.
A few times we have seen little rodents run across the path, only to disappear well before I can train my camera on them. On this occasion, someone had earlier dropped some bird seed. It caught the attention of a Meadow Vole so that I was able to photograph it. Good prey for various owl species – though I haven’t managed to see any owls here since 2018.
As usual, there were Song Sparrows everywhere. So many that it pretty much became an effort to bother raising binoculars or cameras to confirm the sighting. I did take a closer look (and filmed some video) of a sparrow preening on a branch. I’m glad I did because this individual was actually a Savannah Sparrow. The two species look similar. The yellow “eyebrow” is the most obvious field marking in the Savannah Sparrow that is missing in the Song Sparrow.
There are a great many Common European Ambersnails to be found in the grassland meadow and even on the footpaths in the early mornings when there is dew. As the name suggests, these snails are introduced to Canada. I’m not sure if they are harmful to the vegetation, but I have read that they commonly carry parasites which can be passed onto the birds that eat them. These parasites lay eggs in the birds gut. The eggs are passed with faeces and grow into snails and the cycle continues. What a life!
On our way out of Lynde Shores, Sara had a fun interaction with a Downy Woodpecker that was curious to see what treats we had. She flew onto Sara’s hand a couple of times and took peanuts.
Sara has one more weekend of work commitments, so we will be staying relatively local. Later, over the August 1st long weekend, we are looking at a visit to Rondeau.
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