• colonel samuel smith park header
    Birds,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Colonel Samuel Smith Park

    The weather prediction for Saturday June 27th was a little uncertain with thunderstorms and showers expected with various degrees of certainty, so Sara and I decided we would visit somewhere not too far away and eventually settled on Colonel Samuel Smith Park in the Etobicoke area in the west of Toronto. We have been here before, usually in the busier spring migration period, but thought we would give it a try during this relatively barren summer period.

    As we skewered our way through Toronto on the 401, we headed straight into poor weather. Fortunately, the worst of the rain cleared as we began walking from the car, but the park was still shrouded in fog from the evaporating rain. It gave a slightly eerie, isolated feeling as we looked out over the water.

    Sara is keen to see a Black-Crowned Night Heron, so we headed to a viewing platform at a marsh, but we had no luck beyond a few mallards and blackbirds. The park forms the shape of a bay for Lake Ontario, and looking out through the fog we saw lots of Red-Necked Grebes swimming, diving, and making their amusing calls to one another.

    Red-necked Grebe

    Throughout the park we saw many swallows including Bank Swallows and Tree Swallows, the latter with their white bellies and iridescent blue backs, making use of the man-made nesting boxes. We watched a juvenile delicately balancing on the top of a cat-tail while simultaneously being fed by its almost-hovering parent.

    Tree Swallows

    We also saw Yellow Warblers, Robins, Song Sparrows and Starlings. We heard both Warbling and Red-Eyed Vireos, but they are so hard to spot with so much tree cover. Double-crested Cormorants by the tens of dozens flew over the lake as you would expect (there is a huge colony of them near the Toronto Islands).

    Later we returned to the marsh viewing platform and saw a Belted Kingfisher in a tree searching for fish. Across the bank was another birding couple taking a look and, shortly, we bumped into them and had a short chat as we circled the water. Like me, they were originally from The UK. They were originally from Warwickshire and I am from just up the road in Worcestershire. We spoke of the scarcity of birds this year and shared the location of a few wanted species. We talked about how some Common Loons had been spotted east of Toronto, much further south than usual, and how repeated reports of sightings seemed to suggest that they were heading west along the shore, “instead of North” they laughed. We parted ways and continued along one of the gravel pathways when I heard a sound behind us. Turning, I saw a Striped Skunk sprint across into the safety of long grass.

    Striped Skunk

    The sun started to push through the clouds and the mist began to lift which increased some of the song activity from birds, particularly the American Goldfinch and Yellow Warblers. We also noticed a couple of Midland Painted Turtles sun lounging on a log.

    Midland Painted Turtle

    The park began to get a little busier and real-life was knocking on the door (groceries to be done!), so we made our way back to the car after our short jaunt.

    Coming Up

    A trip to Lynde Shores with a workmate and I’ll be heading further afield for somewhere on Canada Day. If anyone has any great suggestions that have good nature and, crucially, won’t be overrun with people, I am all ears! And if anyone who knows me personally that lives within the Southern Ontario region that is reading this and would be down for an outing, don’t be shy.

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  • lynde with pals header
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Lynde Shores with Pals

    On Sunday June 28th, I made plans to hit Lynde Shores Conservation Area with my workmate, Natasha. She had been to Lynde Shores before and I was blabbering on about some of the things I had recently seen there while we were chatting about the place. She had said something like “I wish I could go there with someone who knows about stuff”, so I offered to meet her there. I hoped that she wouldn’t regret it!

    My wife and I met Natasha and her daughter Meredith at 7am and, after hesitating over exactly how many layers we would need to wear for an early morning hike that was quickly turning humid, we made our way onto the trails. It had rained during the night and dew had formed on plants and leaves, enticing the birds out of hiding. There were many American Goldfinch and Black-capped Chickadees throughout the walk. Early on, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher chased a couple of other birds, paused on a branch, then disappeared again. While not a great photo, I got my first ever shot of this little fella. They’re so small and tough to capture. They remind me of the cartoon birds from Angry Birds because of that expressive black “eyebrow”.

    Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

    We talked about some of the birds we were seeing and the different calls and songs they made and the cartoon robot sounds made by a distant Bobolink. We also saw White-tailed Deer frozen and staring at us to ensure we didn’t make a move on them, despite their safe distance. Meredith enjoyed her first time hand-feeding a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and enjoyed when we came across an Eastern Cottontail eating unmown grasses and plants at the edge of the path. Natasha was unswayed by her pleas to take the bunny home.

    Eastern Cottontail

    We walked to a lookout on the west side of Cranberry Marsh and saw a number of Great Blue Herons, some mallards, the usual supply of Red-winged Blackbirds and we heard Marsh Wrens. I decided to balance on some rocks at the edge of the marsh, despite my advancing years, keen as I was to get eyes on a Virginia Rail or the Marsh Wren. A bird flushed as I advanced, which could have been the wren, but I didn’t get a good luck. Perched in a similar area was a Flycatcher of some kind (several similar species that are near-identical in appearance).

    Flycatcher

    We turned back north and continued towards The Chickadee Trail spotting more American Goldfinch, Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinal with the occasional American Red Squirrel making an appearance. The call of the Northern Cardinal, often partly written to sound like it is saying “Breaker Breaker”, is the song that Natasha was most familiar with. It is two sweeping notes sung in quick succession made possible by the unique nature of the bird’s “voicebox” (syrinx), which is fed by two separate bronchial tubes from either lung as compared to a human where the voicebox is positioned higher up in the trachea and can produce one sound at a time.

    Northern Cardinal

    Entering the woods, a number of birds, as well as Eastern Chipmunks and Eastern Grey Squirrels, were interested to know what food we might have for them. Meredith got a kick out of hand feeding the chipmunks and later some mallards. I threw a couple of peanuts for Blue Jays to catch mid-air.

    Eastern Chipmunk
    Eastern Grey Squirrel

    After finishing the trail, Natasha and Meredith decided to grab a much-deserved breakfast at Tim Hortons. Sara and I decided to pay a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh. It was a busy day for photographers with perhaps a dozen people with long telephoto lenses. Many people were primed and waiting with a Great Blue Heron in their viewfinders. Naturally, I joined them.

    Great Blue Heron

    Out on the lake, we heard the call of the slightly confused Common Loons (I have noted their presence here in previous posts – normally you wouldn’t find them this far south). This time they were a little closer to land and I was just about able to get a discernible photo of one of them.

    Common Loon

    Continuing on the marsh were some of the birds I had previously written about. Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Canada Geese and their young, some juvenile Wood Ducks and a Mallard was out paddling with her ducklings.

    Mallard

    I still haven’t been able to get eyes on a Virginia Rail, which has been spotted at the marsh. We overheard other photographers pretty much begging a Swan to flush the Rail so that they could photograph it! However, I was able to finally get a look at (and a pleasing photo of) a Marsh Wren. We heard one sing and a fellow birder and photographer nearby told us he was coming out from time-to-time if we waited here.

    Marsh Wren

    This wren is a “lifer” for me. It is bird number 186 in my list of birds that I have seen in my life and it is the 38th new bird that I’ve added to that list this year.

    It was still only around 9:30 am, so Sara and I decided to visit somewhere else. I will write about our visit to Heber Down Conservation Area later this week and leave you with a photo of one of the juvenile Wood Ducks!

    Wood Duck
    Coming Up!

    I will write about a trip to Heber Down soon. An early morning beat-the-crowds trip somewhere on Canada Day (Weds July 1st) is in the works. Additionally a trip to Burlington/Hamilton to check-out some bird of prey action and plenty more trips are in the pipeline.

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  • toronto parks june 2020 header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Toronto Area Trips June 2020

    I’ve been out and about most evenings for the past few weeks and haven’t always kept up with posting about it – so thought I would do a catch-up on some various sightings and trips.

    Hawk Attacks!

    I’ve been fortunate enough to watch a Red-tailed Hawk catch a squirrel on a couple of separate occasions in the last two weeks. If you are of a squeamish disposition, you might wish to squint past the photos and continue on to the next section!

    I’ve complained before about the scarcity of birding action during the summer months in Toronto, and while visiting Rosetta McClain Gardens one evening, this was the case again. However, just as my wife and I were about to leave, we spied a Red-tailed Hawk in a nearby tree and decided to stay and watch. It was obvious that the hawk was keeping a close eye on the various squirrels. The squirrels are relatively tame and perhaps a little unassuming in this park, often receiving handouts from humans.

    Red-tailed Hawk

    A Red-tailed Hawk can be identified by the rufous colour of its tail and by the way the speckled feathers on the breast centre into a belt across the middle, the affectionately named “belly belt”.

    Shortly after this shot, the hawk flew out of sight. We followed in the direction it flew, but moments later it came straight back again carrying a squirrel in its talons. It was shortly followed by a group of four-or-five girls in their late teens screaming and dumb-struck by witnessing the carnage. “We were just feeding that squirrel!”, they cried.

    Red-tailed Hawk with American Grey Squirrel (melanistic)
    Cranberry Marsh

    I’ve made a couple of trips to this marsh just inland from Lake Ontario. At the very least you can get to see a few ducks and swans, including some newborns. There are Virginia Rails here, too. You can hear them calling from all over the place, but they tend to stick amongst the reeds and I haven’t seen any recently.

    There has been a Common Gallinule on the marsh for a while, which is attracting some attention with birders and photographers. It was far away, so here is a small blurry photo of the moorhen/coot type bird.

    Common Gallinule

    There were Wood Duck ducklings in attendance, several Mute Swans and their cygnets, a plethora of Canada Geese and their goslings, and while we investigated, we saw small mammal prints in the mud that Sara thought were those of a Red Fox. At another point in the marsh, we watched a Great Blue Heron fly through, persued and harassed by territorial Red-winged Blackbirds.

    Red-winged Blackbirds “bombing” Great Blue Heron

    We hung around until dusk, where the sun began setting across the marsh, casting an orange hue over the water.

    Sunset over Cranberry Marsh
    Rouge National Urban Park

    I did a loop along The Orchard Trail, back down The Vista Trail twice in the last little while – once with my wife Sara, and once with my friend Gabriel and enjoyed a few nice sightings of butterflies, moths, and birds. I enjoyed seeing a small number of White Admiral butterflies around the wooded areas.

    White Admiral

    The stretch of The Vista Trail running between the visitor centre and the look-out tower is usually good for birding and I was able to see Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, lots of Tree Swallows, and a couple of other treats. I heard a call that I suspected was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. After some looking around, a male bird peaked out of a tree.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Over the years of visiting this park, I have occasionally been greeted by a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and I was pleased to see them both times I visited recently.

    Eastern Bluebird pair

    The male Bluebird has the bolder colours on the left, with the female following him. Other non-bird species seen on these two visits include a lot of butterflies: A Crescent, a type of Comma whose wings were a little too worn to identify, Hobomok Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Red Admiral, Dreamy Duskywing, and a Little Wood Satyr butterfly. Turtles breed and are researched at Rouge and I saw Midland Painted Turtles and a Red-eared Slider and her young. This is an invasive species, usually the result of a released pet, that can out-compete native species.

    Thompson Memorial Park

    One last trip to write about was a quick walk through Thompson Memorial Park with Sara one evening, a manicured park with a small wood that connects to “The Great Trail” (a cross-Canada trail) and features a ravine. We saw a couple of Eastern Wood Pewees and a whole lot of Ebony Jewelwings – a type of damselfly commonly seen in summer alongside rivers and creeks. We also saw a Northern Flicker in a distant tree and a Baltimore Oriole. My favourite sighting was a Nessus Sphinx moth, a slightly odd-looking thing that resembles a bee from behind, with two yellow stripes across its abdomen. They’re on the small side and fast-moving, but here is what I got.

    Nessus Sphinx Moth (top/rear)
    Nessus Sphinx Moth (side)
    Coming Up!

    I’m looking at a morning out to Colonel Samuel Smith Park in the West end of Toronto, I plan on returning to Lynde Shores and Cranberry Marsh again with a friend from work who said “I wish I could go there with someone that knows what they are talking about” (hopefully she doesn’t regret saying that!) and I’m looking into where to go on Canada Day away from the city if anyone has any suggestions?

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  • carden alvar moose header
    Birds,  Flowers,  Kawartha Lakes,  Nature Trips

    Carden Alvar: Charged by a Moose

    Trip to Carden Alvar

    For a couple of weeks, my wife and I had been itching to get to Carden Alvar, located in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. It is a unique environment of thin soil, sparse grasses, and unique plant life which attracts birds that are less commonly seen in The GTA, some of which are threatened species. I was particularly keen to see an Eastern Meadowlark. When I first got into birding about 10-years-ago, I saw one of these birds in a hydrofield and I was struck by how different its song is. I hadn’t seen one since.

    As the sun began to peek out above the horizon, we grabbed a quick coffee and hit the highway at just before 6am ready for the hour-and-a-half drive. You are always more likely to see animal activity early in the morning.

    Initially we arrived at a small gravel parking area at an area named “Cameron Ranch” where a trail allowed you to walk through the alvar. It was a mind-meltingly hot and humid day, but we spent an hour or so walking the trail. I have seen the odd Brown Thrasher before, but never so many in one place. It seemed like there was another one squeaking and squawking every few hundred feet. Like The Northern Mockingbird and Grey Catbird, the Brown Thrasher is a mimic bird that attempts to copy the songs of other birds. It is larger than its cousins, has a brown speckled chest and bright yellow eyes.

    Brown Thrasher

    There were a lot of distinctive looking flowers and plants that I had never seen before.

    Orange Hawkweed
    Salsify
    Prarie Smoke
    Red Columbine
    Scarlet Indian-Paintbrush

    During the first stretch of the trail, we saw three different types of sparrow. The first, the Song Sparrow, I am very familiar with and it is plentiful in Toronto. It has a speckled breast with a circular spot in the centre and a very familiar song (hence the name!). I heard the song of a second species, which turned out to be a Savannah Sparrow. It has a speckled chest like the Song Sparrow, but is missing the spot and there is a yellow line above the eye. This is a new bird for me and is “Lifer” number 183.

    Savannah Sparrow

    The third sparrow species I saw wasn’t a very cooperative photo model, insisting upon perching with the sun directly behind – but my “Lifer” number 184 is the Grasshopper Sparrow which looks similar to the above but also has yellow underparts and a larger beak. Identification was helped by the fact that it buzzed excitedly with a grasshopper in its beak. We also saw, far in the distance standing high in a bare tree, an Upland Sandpiper. Too distant to photograph, but this is “Lifer” number 185 for me.

    We pushed through a wet, muddy area to avoid mosquitoes before coming to a turn in the trail. There was a bit of a ruckus among some quarrelling birds – a Blue Jay, as they often do, was causing some upset. A Brown Thrasher yelled from the top of a tree. A Red-Eyed Vireo flitted around and something else was calling and hiding in a shrub. Sara was able to get good eyes on it and she correctly identified it as an Eastern Towhee. I tried “Pishing” it (making bird sounds to draw it out) and managed to snap a photo of its head peeking out.

    Eastern Towhee

    We continued a little further, but the activity seemed to die down and it was swelteringly hot. Several Great Blue Herons flew overhead and I saw a couple of butterflies – a European Skipper (known as an Essex Skipper in The UK – it is introduced into Ontario) and a pretty Bronze Copper.

    Bronze Copper

    Running low on water, we turned back and followed the trail back to the car. Several times on the way back (and it would continue throughout the trip), I kept hearing the song of Eastern Meadowlarks. They nest in the long grasses and so I couldn’t actually see one – until we were about halfway back to the car. There was one in the distance. Because it was distant, the rising heat in the air means it doesn’t really matter how good your camera lens is – the heatwaves makes the image blurry, but hey, I saw one! We briefly saw another later in the day, closer to us, but too brief to photograph. It quickly sang and flew away. Sara aptly commented that when the bird sings, its beak opens so wide it looks like its head will split open.

    Eastern Meadowlark

    We were unfamiliar with Carden Alvar and figured that there must be more to the area than this one trail. Much frantic Googling later, we made our way to a gravel/mud road which cuts North/South through the alvar and has several areas to stop and park. We heard many more Eastern Meadowlarks, saw a male/female pair of Eastern Bluebirds, and saw dozens of Tree Swallows that were making use of the man-made nesting boxes. Some contained chicks and the adult Swallows would frequently visit with the insects they had caught.

    Tree Swallow

    We decided to drive the length of the road, circle back to the beginning, and then drive it again but stopping off. It took a long time to drive the full-length of the road and a 4-by-4 vehicle would be better equipped. My hatchback struggled over the large potholes and, in places, deep puddles of muddy water. It was worth it, though. After about 20 minutes, I saw a large black shape at the side of the road. “F***! BEAR!”, I swore, before it quickly ran off. Since I was driving, the best shot I got was of its backside. It was the first time I’d seen one.

    American Black Bear

    Quite some time later, after circling the alvar and returning back to the beginning of the road, my car covered in mud and dust, we started over. This time we stopped off a couple of times, but didn’t see much. It was the middle of the day, the sun high, it was humid, most animals would be having a siesta. We decided to walk one of the trails without much hope. There were lots of White Admiral butterflies around and a few moths. Sara was a little ahead of me on the trail and we were contemplating turning back. Suddenly Sara shouted “Moose!”. And there it was. Just a few hundred feet away stood eating grasses in a marsh rivulet. Suddenly the crazy beast charged at us, splashing water all over itself.

    Moose

    It took several quick steps in our direction before pausing and staring at us. It was so close I didn’t even have to zoom. Perhaps Sara had surprised it. Perhaps it had a calf nearby. Fortunately for us, she thought better of attacking us. She turned and ran a short distance away. She looked over at us a couple of times, then ran into the scrub.

    Moose

    We sat in a hide for a while (in the shade, with a lovely breeze), listening to more Eastern Meadowlarks, but I was unable to get any photos while they hid in the grass. We decided to leave for the day. We stopped off at a couple of other places, explored the lakeshore east of Toronto a little (Lake Ontario), but nothing as exciting as a rampant moose to write about!

    Coming Up…

    A few local trips that I need to write up! A possible return trip to Lynde Shores with a workmate. Who knows what else? (not me!)

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  • bobolink header
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Lakeside Durham Region

    Over the weekend, my wife Sara and I visited a few spots east of the city. Starting at Lynde Shores, we continued east stopping off at a couple of spots along The Waterfront Trail before finally visiting McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve in Oshawa.

    Lynde Shores

    We had an early start, arriving shortly after 7am. Early bird gets the worm! We were rewarded with a few sightings of deer. They were too far away to get photographs, but by looking carefully, we could see there were some recently born fawns lay in the grass being fed and cared for by their doe mothers. The males, with their antlers, are less plentiful and more elusive – but a couple were spotted in the distance.

    A couple of Eastern Cottontails (rabbits) were fooling around, play fighting, perhaps practising their evasive skills. One would stand on the path, while a second would charge directly towards them. Cottontail number one would then spring into the air, selling a dummy to the second.

    Eastern Cottontails

    While walking this trail, we crossed paths with Joseph who visits the area quite often and posts his nature photos to Instagram. We have followed each other for a year or so and I recognised him from his profile photo. We walked and talked about some of our recent sightings and had some camera chat. You can see some of his photos on his Instagram.

    One of the birds the three of us spoke about was the Bobolink. A handful had made an appearance here and it is a threatened species in Ontario. It is on the decline and may become endangered if steps are not taken. The bird enjoys long grasses, but meadows are being destroyed throughout the country for buildings and cultivation. While they can and do nest in cultivated fields, their nests are destroyed when the farmers inevitably collect the crop. Destroying the nests is illegal – but the law is ignored and rarely used.

    Bobolink

    We paid a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh as there had been reports of Common Loon spotted here. As we approached, we heard their distinct call. It took a while to spot them. There were three, but pretty far out on Lake Ontario, far from my camera’s reach. Otherwise, Lynde was fairly quiet. We’re pretty much into summer which is not the best time of year for birds in Southern Ontario. We saw a few commons like American Goldfinch, Robins, Blackbirds and so on. An Osprey made a couple of passes overhead, but we continued our way east after a couple of hours here.

    Osprey

    Waterfront Trail: Whitby

    We had a quick look into Thickson Woods and saw a female American Redstart and an empidonax flycatcher (empidonax is the latin name for a genus of several flycatchers that are notoriously difficult to identify – usually they can only be discerned by their songs/calls). I think it was a Willow Flycatcher, but I’m not at a point where I can reliably identify these birds even with the sound.

    Along the Waterfront Trail we saw lots of Yellow Warblers with good looks at a male who was eating grubs and insects off the plants.

    Yellow Warbler

    It was a little quiet here and a little hot and out in the open. Before we continued further east, we also spotted a handful of Baltimore Orioles, a male/female pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-tailed Hawk overhead and I saw this White-banded Toothed Carpet moth, which is pretty common throughout Canada, though usually it flies at night.

    McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve

    For our last stop, we parked behind the large General Motors building and walked into the reserve. We walked a combination of trails, stopping off at a couple of marshes and the bay itself, as well as reaching Lake Ontario and its pebble-beach.

    I’ve never had a great deal of luck nature spotting here. On a previous visit I did see deer prints and also some fairly clear footprints in the snow showing two or more coyotes hunting rabbits – with at least partial success judging by droplets of blood. Today we saw lots of swans in the bay, watched Double-crested Comorants in vast numbers flying low over the lake and we stood and watched a couple of Caspian Terns hunting fish. This is another species of concern in Ontario due to habitat destruction.

    Caspian Terns are able to completely submerge as they dive into the water to catch fish, before taking to the air again.

    Although we didn’t see a huge amount, this reserve is completely free to visit (GM sponsor and pay for much of the work), while across the bay is Darlington Provincial Park which requires an entry fee…

    Coming Up….

    My work week is a little busier, but I will aim to hit a couple of Toronto parks. Weather permitting, a trip to Carden Alvar Provincial Park is on the cards for the weekend. I’d love to see if we can find some Meadowlarks!

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  • Birds,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Toronto Ravine Walks

    In the last few days I have visited some ravine parks in Toronto. The city has a few creeks that join into rivers like The Humber and The Don and many parks and green spaces can be found near these waterways. “Habitat edges”, such as the edge of a wood or meadow, are great places to spot wildlife and these creeks and rivers often have trails running through these kinds of enviroments.

    Morningside Park

    I visited this park and walked alongside Highland Creek several times through the week, including one evening with my friend Gabriel. He and I used to work together in retail and experienced the kind of camaraderie reserved for only those who have either fought in the trenches of a World War or served a number of Christmases in a shopping mall.

    The manicured parts of the park get busy with people picnicking and barbecuing, but there is usually some creature or other lurking not too far away from the human chaos, such as this groundhog I saw eating the plants surrounding its den. Their eyesight is generally poor, relying on their hearing and sense of smell, which allowed me to get close enough for a good shot. When they become aware of a potential threat, like most rodents, they will stand upon their hind legs to survey the area.

    Groundhog

    I saw a few different moths in a grassy area off the beaten path that I sometimes check. I did this on one of the days I visited without Gabriel who was wearing shorts. I don’t advise traipsing into grassland in parks if your skin is uncovered due to the danger of ticks – particularly some of the more exotic ones migrating north due to climate change. I saw a Grayish Fanfoot, a Duskywing (probably Juvenal’s) and a moth that is fairly common but I quite like – a Little Wood Satyr.

    Little Wood Satyr

    2020 appears to be a bumper year for the Tiger Swallowtails found in Ontario. I saw a lot of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails in Algonquin and see Eastern Tiger Swallowtails almost everyday, even just walking through residential streets in Toronto. These two species are very hard to differentiate and the slight visual differences are complicated by the fact that they can hybridise. Location can be a clue, but there is much debate about these butterflies!

    What about you? Are you in Ontario and have noticed more Tiger Swallowtails this year? I’m wondering if I am, or if I am just more aware of them! Let me know in the comments.

    Eastern (?) Tiger Swallowtail on Dame’s Rocket flower

    Gabriel and I were walking and talking catching up on work and life after not getting together for almost three months due to Covid-19. I heard a bird song that I didn’t immediately recognise, so I made Gabriel stop for a moment while I listened! Until now I have only seen a handful of Indigo Buntings and I was pleased to spot this one and get a shot of it hunting for caterpillars.

    Indigo Bunting

    I saw a few other bits and pieces either on my trip alone or with Gabriel: a juvenile male White-tailed Deer just starting to grow his antlers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker which is one of my favourite birds, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Birch Angle moth, and a heavily pregnant raccoon who offered a cute pose between a couple of tree trunks (as seen at the top of this page). On our way out of the park, I commented to Gabe, as I do to anyone that will listen to me – “Most people just pass nature by without noticing it, but it is all around us if you care to look”. As I said it, I spied an American Robin sitting on its nest. If you look to the left of the nest, you can see a chicks head sticking out.

    American Robin

    Deerlick Creek

    On Wednesday I walked through the ravine in the Parkwoods area of East Toronto with my friend Jennifer. She and I also worked for the same retail organisation. She was my manager for about five years before we became peers when I fledged, flew the nest, and became the manager of my own store. She taught me well!

    We walked through the wooded ravine and parkland a couple of times over a couple of weeks – similar to Gabriel, I hadn’t seen Jennifer in a while. What can I say? Once we both get talking, we don’t easily stop, so it takes us a while to cover all of our essential topics!

    Not a great deal was seen – it was particularly hot with a storm set to arrive that evening (so I’ve lumped this walk in with the one above). I’ve seen quite a few Chipping Sparrows this year. They are another migratory bird that breeds in Ontario during the warmer months. One hopped out onto a branch to show off its red mohawk.

    Chipping Sparrow

    Jennifer suggested we sit in a clearing for a while and perhaps some creature or another might present itself to us… but it was just so hot and humid that even the squirrels were flaked out unable to take it anymore.

    Eastern Grey Squirrel

    Coming Up….

    In the next few days I plan to explore some of the lakeshore east of Toronto, including Lynde Shores Conservation Area which recently re-opened.

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  • Whitby
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Quick Trip to Whitby

    Last Sunday, Sara and I decided to spend our spare afternoon stopping at a couple of places along the lakeshore in Whitby. The isolation due to Covid-19 has stolen most of the migratory bird season this year, but we took a look at what was around. Answer: A lot of Yellow Warblers. Yellow Warblers are easily seen, being plentiful from spring onwards, staying and breeding in Southern Ontario.

    We did also see a couple of Baltimore Orioles, and in a meadow, there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds for anyone that hasn’t already seen enough of them. There were also Song Sparrows, Robins and Chickadees.

    Baltimore Oriole

    Not much was happening in the nearby marshland, either. A man walked by dressed like a seasoned birder in his khaki shorts, lightweight utility vest and sun hat. We talked for a while and he spoke of good birding at Carden Alvar Provincial Park. Sara took note and we are hoping to visit. While we talked, a Raccoon took a snooze on the branch of a nearby tree.

    Sleeping Raccoon

    A deer also tried to skirt past us through the edge of the woods, but once spotted, decided to act naturally and preen.

    White-tailed Deer

    As we were about to leave, our new birding friend man let us know that he had seen a male American Redstart – not quite as plentiful as the Yellow Warbler, but the Redstart does also breed in The GTA. I didn’t get a great shot, he was high in the trees, and the camera focused on the leaves, but here he is:

    American Redstart

    We drove back west a little and stopped off near Cranberry Marsh where we saw Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Double-crested Cormorants flying past, Wild Turkeys and a few more White-tailed Deer. Near the edge of the marsh I spotted a Common Gallinule. It is a common type of rail – mostly dark, but with a red face shield. Despite being fairly common, I hadn’t see one before, so I added it to my bird life-list! I am at 181 birds now and, despite Covid, this is my 2nd best year so far with 33 new birds. I started tracking in 2008. I’m doing well this year partly because I travelled to Delaware which is far enough south to have a few different species.

    The Common Gallinule was quite far away, but here is a small blurry photo of it!

    Common Gallinule

    Sara sat by the lake for a while – it was a little busy and people weren’t social distancing. I went on ahead to see if there were any shorebirds. I was able to get close to a pair of Killdeer for a pleasing photo.

    Killdeer

    Since it was a marsh, it is hardly surprising that there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds. I stopped to watch a female. The male is black all-over apart from the yellow and red “flashes” on his wings. The female is more of a light brown colour, with dark black streaks covering most of her body. This bird was hopping and trying to hover amongst the lilypads without falling in. When I looked through my telephoto lens, I saw that she was catching insects that were basking in the sun. Here you can see she has a small dragonfly in her beak.

    Red-winged Blackbird (F)

    And that’s it! In the following days I spent some time exploring some ravine parks over a few days with a couple of different friends, which I’ll write about soon.

  • algonquin park header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Hiking,  Nature Trips,  Nipissing

    Algonquin Park with Friends

    I drove up to Algonquin Provincial Park with the wife on Saturday. I had made plans to meet Malcolm. He and I had followed each other on Instagram for a while and had occasionally chatted. Malcolm spends much of the year living and working at the park and is really passionate about the place (check out his cleverly named Instagram profile page, Malgonquin Photography). If I was ever up his way, I should let him know. So I did!

    We talked about birds we might see, or like to see. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had been plentiful, there had recently been a nesting Northern Flicker, and a Spruce Grouse has been incubating eggs on her nest for the last three weeks. It was also “National Black Bear Day”, so we hoped perhaps we might come across one. Plus, of course, a moose would be nice. I suppose you can tell I already saw one of those from the picture at the top of the page.

    Sara, Myself, Malcolm, and Malcolm’s other half Morwen met at The East Gate and visited some lesser-known locations. Highway 60 runs through the park and by pulling off at various trailheads you only get to take in a tiny fraction of the park. Algonquin can be more fully appreciated by kayak, but that would have to wait for another day. Today’s tactic was to pull over from place-to-place, just to see what the park would throw at us.

    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

    Our first stop was to the location where a Northern Flicker had been seen nesting, but this was not fruitful. Nevermind, another pull-over a little further into the park and we practised our tactic of stopping just to see what we could see. After a few moments, I caught a flash of movement and a bird flew up onto a telephone pole. A Yellow-belied Sapsucker was disappointed that the pole was not offering much in the way of tree sap. This is a “lifer” for me, though they are ten-a-penny in Algonquin.

    We moved on towards Opeongo Lake and we were pleased to see a pair of Common Loons close by. I wasn’t able to capture a great shot, but we also saw a Hare (a Snowshoe Hare, I think?) hopping and running around a grassy area. There were also dozens of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterflies mud-dabbling. We probably saw hundreds of these through the park, particularly in the east.

    Common Loon
    Snowshoe Hare?
    Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

    We moved further West into the park and made our way through a wooded area where I photographed a number of plant species I hadn’t seen (or at least noticed) before, such as Starflower, Bunchberry, Swamp Laurel, and Fringed Polygala (Malcolm was adept at identifying these plants). Well camouflaged amongst the flora was a female Spruce Grouse who was incubating eggs. We wondered where the male was and pondered how involved he remained during the incubation and rearing of chicks, for Malcolm hadn’t seen him for some time. The Spruce Grouse was another “lifer” for me. I need to check and update my list, but I am at around 180 bird species.

    Spruce Grouse.

    We hiked the short Spruce Bog Boardwalk trail. Morwen has adopted the trail and has the thankless task of cleaning it of trash. Who drops their garbage on a hiking trail in a provincial park? Accidents happen, but to watch Morwen retrieve an empty Timbits box that had been tossed aside was just sad. I saw a Green Comma butterfly on the trail and we took photographs of a fearless Common Raven that allowed us to remain quite close. I also saw another new butterfly, a Silver Bordered Fritillary.

    Common Raven
    Silver Bordered Fritillary

    Further into the park, we stopped once again in a lay-by and walked a short distance from the road. I noticed that there were quite fresh moose prints in the mud. Sure enough, a short drive after returning to our vehicles, many people had stopped to watch and photograph a pair of moose – a female and her heavily molting yearling.

    Moose

    The day was flying by, but we made a couple more stops. This time we walked part of the Mizzy Lake trail and saw lots of Midland Painted Turtles, which are researched in this area. In a wooded stretch of trail, Malcolm spotted some kind of finch which I managed to photograph and identify as a Purple Finch. Not an uncommon bird, but one that had managed to allude me until now. This was a “lifer” for both Malcolm and I. I also saw another Green Comma butterfly and a Western Pine Elfin. These are very uncommon in Ontario (as the name suggests, they’re usually found in Western Canada). The Eastern Pine Elfin is usually found in Ontario, but Algonquin Park is home to a population of the Western species according to The ROM Butterfly Field-guide and the help of a specialist that helped me to identify it. Also seen was a Red-breasted Nuthatch, many Chalk-fronted Corporal skimmer dragonflies darting among us hunting the black fly that were bothering us, a friendly Hudsonian Whiteface dragonfly that landed on Sara’s head, a Northern Petrophora Moth, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, an unknown flycatcher, and a solitary Common Loon.

    Purple Finch
    Western Pine Elfin
    Green Comma

    A couple of other stops. Malcolm showed us a tree that had numerous claw marks where a Black Bear had climbed up to make a bear nest. He also wanted to check out a hawk’s nest. Although there was no hawk present, I flushed an extremely well camouflaged American Woodcock by almost stepping on the poor thing. It waddled away alongside the slowly trickling water running from a culvert, cleverly eluding our increasingly desperate attempts to photograph it. The Woodcock was a “lifer” for Malcolm, which he was pleased about. I had come across one before in an unusual location – the drive-through of a McDonalds where it had probably collided with a wall while migrating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in good shape. Sara and I turned it in to Toronto Wildlife Rescue and hoped for the best. It was great to see one in much better circumstances.

    American Woodcock

    Somehow eight hours had passed by. Algonquin had been kind to us today – apart from the black flies. One managed to get up my sleeve and make a mess of my wrist. But the park had shown us a few creatures and allowed me to do something I enjoy… snap photos of something I know nothing about and fall down a rabbit hole of research the next day!

    We bid farewell to Malcolm and Morwen and prepared for the drive back to Toronto. Until we return!

  • morningside park and birkdale ravine
    Birds,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Morningside Park and Birkdale Ravine

    I’ve been trying to make use of the extra hours of daylight as we move towards summer and have spent a couple of evenings at local parks. First up, on Monday, I had intended to hang around the feeder area at Morningside Park, but it appears to have been taken down. I’m not sure if this is Covid-19 related (people congregating or perhaps people breaking into the park when it was closed during the peak). I walked westwards through the park following the path of Highland Creek. The manicured areas of the park were busy, so I hastened onwards.

    Shortly before the metal bridge that crosses the creek, I saw a White-tailed Deer eating reeds that grew at the water’s edge.

    White-tailed Deer

    Several years ago I had seen a muskrat around here. A young guy was fervently gesticulating towards it, shouting “Beaver! beaver!”. I haven’t seen it since and didn’t see it today. I continued along the footpath and heard a bird call I wasn’t familiar with quite high in the tree line and began searching for movement, eventually spotting a Scarlet Tanager that had been performing its “chick burr” sound. I haven’t spotted too many of these, despite the vibrant colour, and this probably represents the best photograph I have captured of this bird.

    Scarlet Tanager

    I walked some distance further before turning back as the light faded. Without wanting to give away specific locations, at one point I saw a Red Fox timidly withdraw into cover. It happened a little quickly so unfortunately I only captured a couple of blurry shots.

    Red Fox

    I saw a few more deer, including one settling in for the night and lying in the grass. Other birds were Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, the usual suspects (Robin, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows), a type of Swallow too far away to identify down to species and a Belted Kingfisher that I often see (or hear!) at this park. On this occasion, I spotted him on a branch with a large fish in its bill.

    Belted Kingfisher

    As I was leaving the park, some kind of insect (a beetle) jumped onto my car windshield. I took a few photos with the hope of identifying it later. With some help, I found out that it was a type of Flower-longhorn Beetle that doesn’t have a common name, but the taxonomic name is Gaurotes cyanipennis.

    Gaurotes cyanipennis

    Birkdale Ravine

    There is a short footpath just over 1km in length that runs from Ellesmere Road west of Brimley Rd along the west branch of Highland Creek before joining Thompson Memorial Park. I decided I’d visit on Tuesday and left a little later, taking the wife after she’d finished work. I wasn’t expecting much, it isn’t one of Toronto’s most impressive ravines.

    I mostly saw common birds on this quick outing, plus an Eastern Cottontail (rabbit) and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail that would not co-operate by landing for a photograph. There was some type of Flycatcher of Pewee high, high up in the top of a tree… much too distant to get any kind of better ID. As I say, I wasn’t expecting too much, but near the end of the trail high up in a Willow tree I saw a slightly larger bird hopping about. It was tough to get a good look at it, but I was gradually discounting suspects… Mockingbird? Nope… There’s no way it is a Northern Shrike at this time of year…. is it, could it be…? I suspected it might be one of the two species of cuckoo. I checked a couple of electronic bird guides on my phone and confirmed it was a Black-billed Cuckoo. This is a new bird for me on the old life-list!

    Black-billed Cuckoo

    I need to go through my list, but I am at approximately 170 birds on my life-list. I’d like to join the “200 club” but to do so, you kinda have to get to know your shorebirds!

    On the way back we played around trying to identify a few trees (my wife had my little National Geographic tree pocket guide with her). I’m getting gradually better at this, but am still pretty much a beginner. Hence how we stood around a pine tree for a good 10 minutes before deciding it was simply a White Pine. There was a small caterpillar on the tree. A little too underdeveloped to be able to ID it except to say that it was likely some kind of Tiger Moth. All the ravines around here are full to bursting with Forget-me-Nots and Dame’s Rocket at the moment.

    Dame’s Rocket

  • east point park and edwards gardens
    Birds,  butterflies,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    East Point Park & Edwards Gardens

    Over the course of the weekend, I took a couple of nearby trips to Toronto parks here in the east-end. I am looking forward to getting up to Algonquin to hang-out with an Instagram-friend of mine named Malcolm who works at the park. It wasn’t to be this weekend, as the weather north of Toronto was poor. Next weekend is pencilled in and I’m excited to see what the park might throw at me, especially in the hands of an expert. No pressure on Malcolm!

    On Saturday, Sara and I went to Edwards Gardens. It is still early for butterflies but it is always interesting to check out the flora that they have growing there. It doesn’t count towards my life-list since they are cultivated and not wild plants, but it is still enjoyable to see. There is a tree that grows near the edge of the parking lot called a Cucumber Tree. The first time I saw it, I noticed the strange pink fruit growing on it and it began my beginner interest in plants – as if birds and butterflies weren’t enough to be getting on with. We continued from Edwards Gardens along Wilket Creek Park, but it was quite busy and the cyclists in particular were not respectful of social distancing.

    Spanish Bluebells

    Some of the wildflowers growing near Wilket Creek were Carpet Bugle and Spanish Bluebells. They are similar to English Bluebells that are an icon of the shade dappled woodlands of my home country, but the Spanish variety is a little hardier and I imagine it does better in the Southern Ontario climate. I also saw bright stalks of Crimson Clover.

    In a marsh, we saw the obligatory Red-winged Blackbirds, including a couple of nests amongst the Cattails. In the shallow water were several frogs. Mostly Northern Leopards, but a couple of pretty large Green Frogs. We turned back not much further along the trail as rain began to threaten.

    Great Crested Flycatcher

    A little out of nowhere, just as we were reentering Edwards Gardens, I saw a bird I didn’t immediately recognise in the top of a tree. It turned out to be a new “lifer” for me, a Great Crested Flycatcher. As the name suggests, it has a slight mohawk. It is not too difficult to identify, compared to some other flycatchers: Yellow-bellied, Least, Alder, Willow, and Acadian are notoriously difficult and usually their song has to be heard to differentiate the species.

    Before leaving Edwards Gardens, a Northern Cardinal posted nicely amongst some blossom.

    Northern Cardinal
    East Point Park

    On Sunday we drove to East Point Park. Like most places I have visited since the initial Covid-19 isolation ended, it was much busier than usual. Again, most people were drawn to the lake front or The Martin Goodman Trail rather than the trails through the park itself. I didn’t see any particularly exotic birds. Lots of Barn Swallows were catching the midges that were out in-force. Plenty of American Goldfinches and Yellow Warblers could be heard.

    I was hoping to see some butterflies here, as there are some meadow areas and lots of woodland edges. Later in the year there are butterfly friendly plants including milkweed. I did get a couple of new butterflies for my “life list”, although it is not a very big list right now. I saw small blue butterflies which I assumed were Lucia Azures that I had already seen last week at Presqu’ile, but on closer inspection, they were Silvery Blues. The dorsal (top) of the Silvery Blue wings are much nicer, but I was only able to get the ventral (bottom) pattern.

    I also saw a moth that I suspect is a Clover Looper Moth and, most pleasing of all, was a great Black Swallowtail (pictured at the end). I may see if I can hit some more Toronto parks depending on my work week and then I should be off to Algonquin on the weekend. Stay tuned!

    Black Swallowtail