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.
Prints & Greeting Cards
I’ve added a few Greeting Cards with my photos on them to the BritHikesOntario Etsy Store as well as a few prints at 5×7 and 8×10. I’ll add more if sales justify it, as I’m charged to add each item.
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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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Another weekend, another early morning adventure as we set off for somewhere not-too-far from civilisation (my wife has a couple more weekends of needing to be reached by phone for work purposes). This small conservation area features meadows filled with milkweed and other plants attractive to pollinators, a large marsh, and a small woodland.
From the parking, we followed Westside Marsh Trail through the meadow and heard many Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, and American Goldfinch. The trail follows Westside Creek and enters woodland as the trail approaches the water. We saw a Belted Kingfisher on an overhanging branch. In the woods, Red Baneberry was fruiting. Into summer, the berries are bright red but begin green in colour. This is a very poisonous plant and a handful of berries could lead to death (though their foul taste makes consuming them unlikely).
I noticed a Geocache while checking out the Baneberry. Geocaching, where you search for hidden little containers usually housing a logbook and sometimes other items, is something I have done in the past, but I prefer to spend my time exploring nature these days! The cache contained the usual log book, a dice, a couple of kids playing cards and a small card explaining what geocaching is (I’m assuming my readers already know).
A short branch off the trail leads to a nice lookout over Westside Marsh. We probably spent about half-an-hour watching the activity out on the water. A family of Mute Swans with seven cygnets swam along the shore. A few Ring-billed Gulls flew by. Just in front of us, a Swamp Sparrow would call out. He was quite territorial and chased away other birds, including an American Robin that was probably 5-times larger.
Last week, Sara and I had tried to find some Osprey. Perhaps we should have come here! A pair were active on the marsh, using a platform to scour the area. They stayed for some time before flying back up the creek one after the other. One of them carried prey in its talons.
Now, I wish I could tell you I got some great photos of what happened next, but it was just way too far in the distance. I saw something black poke out of the water and move with some purpose in a straight line. After our success at seeing a beaver a week or so back, this was my first thought. It disappeared under the water and I only got a vague sense of whatever it was. My wife patiently trained binoculars in the area I described and her patience paid off. A North American River Otter surfaced and we were able to watch it frolicking around and playing with a crayfish it had caught – at one point it even began trying to antagonise the Ospreys.
We left the lookout and the trail took us through some more meadow. Milkweed plays host to a few common insect species, and they were abundant today. Common Red Soldier Beetle was the most frequently spotted. With its long antennae, a Common Milkweed Beetle gorged on a leaf and I couldn’t help but take a macro photo.
We saw a few Monarch Butterflies flitting around on the flowers of the Milkweed, but their populations will peak in around another month from now. We also saw a Red Admiral.
Just before leaving the area, we briefly stopped at the beach at Port Darlington and looked out over Lake Ontario. A large ship, CSL Tadoussac, was docked beside the nearby quarry. Constructed in Collingwood, Ontario, she was launched in 1969 and measures 730ft in length and she is most often used to carry coal and iron ore.
As we left, a female Brown-headed Cowbird hopped around in the grass looking for grubs. Traditionally, these birds would follow herds of Bison who would kick up food from the soil as they travelled. Because the birds were forever following the herd, they were unable to nest and raise their own young. They are a brood parasite species – they will lay their eggs into the nests of other birds who will unknowingly raise the offspring. Although humans have vastly depleted the population of Bison, this bird of course continues the same behaviour.
Sure enough Sara had to take a work related call, so I pulled over to the side of the road. While she finished up and before we reached the highway, I watched a pair of Eastern Kingbirds foraging for berries. An American Robin fledgeling tried but failed to scare them away.
Keeping it local for another week due to work commitments, but a trip to Rondeau Provincial Park is on the cards not too long after that?
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On Canada Day I paid an early morning visit to Luther Marsh. My wife and I wanted to go somewhere with recently reported good bird activity that would also not be crazy busy on a national holiday. This place is far enough from the city (about 90 minutes drive), and we also set off early – arriving at just before 7:30 am.
We were hoping we might see some activity on the massive marsh (Sara is still looking for a Black-crowned Night Heron!), but it seemed pretty quiet. There is an observation tower near the parking lot, but the trodden-down vegetation that makes for a trail that leads to the tower was flooded – and we don’t typically bring wading boots on our trips!
There is a single trail leading from the parking, encircling the lake. As soon as we began walking, we were hearing all kinds of bird song. Identifying by birdsong is something I am focusing on lately. I would say I can accurately identify about 20 species of bird from hearing them, and I can take a stab at around another 10-or-so. One bird I have heard a lot lately without actually seeing it, as anyone who reads my posts consistently will know, is the Red-Eyed Vireo. Finally, a Vireo decided to show themselves today!
Before we disappeared into further woodland, we saw a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a couple of House Wrens. As you’d expect at a marsh, there were many Red-winged Blackbirds as well as Common Grackles. A male American Redstart flew up onto a telephone line.
Luther Marsh was quite active in butterfly and moth activity. There were hundreds of Crescent butterflies of multiple types and a healthy number of White Admirals, Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Admirals.
The Red-spotted Admiral is a new butterfly for me. One more butterfly photo. A Northern Pearly-Eye was relaxing in a conifer and the “eye” pattern caught my attention – this is also a new species for me. I also saw a type of Crocus Geometer Moth that had interestingly shaped wings, but I couldn’t get a clear shot of it to post here, or to help me ID it more precisely.
We saw females from a couple of species of bird that are good examples of strong sexual dimorphism (where the male and female look different). In this case, compared to the males, the females are very drab looking. A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak watched from a branch. She is mostly brown but has a white chest, white eye-line, and white eye-circle, as shown below. The male, who I’ve shown in previous posts, sports a higher contrast white and black colouring with a bright-red almost-heart-shaped marking on his chest.
A nondescript looking female Indigo Bunting also chipped at us. Compared to the dazzlingly bright-blue of the male, she could be easily overlooked.
This visual difference between the male and females of several species is because, generally speaking, female birds get to be selective over who they mate with. In these cases of brightly coloured or attractively patterned males, the message that is being sent to the female is “Look how flipping bright I am, and I still haven’t been eaten by a predator! Damn, I must have great genes!” and “My genes are so awesome, I wasted an awful lot of time growing this ridiculous tail-feather display while still getting on with my life”. Sometimes the show might not be visual. Some birds will mimic the songs of other birds (or just general sounds that they hear, such as car alarms). Beyond the song itself, they are also saying “I have survived long enough and spent years learning this whole array of different bird songs. My genes are great and your offspring can be survivors just like me – if you mate with me. Preferably many, many times.”
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes…. The trail exited a coniferous woodland and entered a swamp where we heard dozens of White-throated Sparrows (their song is often written as “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”, which seemed appropriate with today being Canada Day). American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler were also quite plentiful. We also heard lots of Common Yellow-throat warblers which I’m super keen on, but they were barely showing themselves. I successfully managed to “Pish” one into view, but not for long enough to get a photo. I also saw some Swamp Sparrows. After around 5km, the trail suddenly became impassable because the swamp had overflown. We were just wearing running shoes – still no wading boots. No biggie, we turned back. We felt like the best of the birding was nearer the beginning of the trail, anyway.
On the return leg, we began seeing very fresh signs of a coyote. We had already seen the regurgitated fur from, probably, a rabbit. Now we were seeing extremely fresh scat and the footprints of a canid. A wolf is unlikely this far south, which only really leaves coyote. The footprint below has two claws in front, with two further behind, which makes it the print of a canid. The claws are long which makes a domestic dog unlikely. I will save you the trouble of looking at photos of the scat – this particular coyote had a very upset stomach.
The insects on this trail were an absolute nightmare and if we were to go back, I think we would have to go the full hardcore Ontario-countryside outfits with insect netting, including hats with netting. We had insect repellent and applied it liberally four times each. We didn’t suffer too many bites, but were constantly swarmed and flown into by mosquitoes and deer flies (whose bites, when they did come, were painful).
Once we had gotten back to the start of the trail, we had another look at the marsh as this is where the best view was available. We saw a couple of birds on the water. In the far distance, a pair of Trumpeter Swans. Closer but still too far to get good photographs – a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. These Grebes are “lifers” for me. I’ve included a photo below as proof, but it isn’t very clear due to heat/distance! It’s been a good year. I have now seen 187 species of (non-captive) bird in my lifetime, 39 of them have been this year.
We left Luther Marsh and looked at the idea of visiting somewhere else, but one of the places we passed was absolutely overflowing with people and there were signs up saying that the beach area was already over-capacity. This is one of the things that Sara and I dislike about large parts of The GTA – especially in the summer, and especially on holidays. We ended up running some errands instead, and will look forward to an early morning trip on the weekend.
We anticipate a trip to the Hamilton/Burlington area. There is talk of Osprey activity, but we will also be happy with any birding activity we find! We are filling up a calendar with future trips – both day trips and longer.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We hung around until dusk, where the sun began setting across the marsh, casting an orange hue over the water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!