No big trips since my visit to the Windsor Area earlier this month as I prepare for an epic two-week Northern Ontario road-trip (more on that later). I’ve made a few quick trips to the Toronto and Durham areas that I thought I would touch on.
Lynde Shores & Cranberry Marsh
This is one of my top local spots to visit and there have been some fun observations this month. Sara had been keen to see a Black-crowned Night Heron and finally did so at Tommy Thompson Park, but since then, we have seen several juveniles in their grey and white spotty plumage at Cranberry Marsh. There is also an absolute abundance of Great Egrets (as well as Great Blue Herons) present in the marsh. Each time we submit our birding list to Ebird (a bird citizen science website where you enter sightings), we have to provide details about the Egrets – the site doesn’t believe there are so many!
Amongst the White-tailed Deer at Lynde Shores are a doe and her two fawns who we have affectionately named “The Twins” and we see them together on most visits. The fawns still have their spots for now.
A few bird species are beginning to move south, including our warblers. One of my all-time favourite birds is the Black-and-White Warbler, and we spotted one of these among conifers at Lynde Shores. It was dark and the bird is quick moving, so no wonderful photos, but below is a snap for the fun of it. More on warblers shortly.
Birds of prey are also heading south for greater warmth. We, and another couple we met, observed a two Bald Eagles flying over Lynde Shores towards the marsh. One was an adult with the iconic white head, the other was a juvenile. We inadvertently caught up with the juvenile a little later. Such a huge bird that really puts you in mind of their dinosaur ancestors.
The tiny bird pictured below is a Least Sandpiper pottering around feeding on the muddy parts of the marsh and it represents a new bird on my life list, taking me to 194 birds. Getting close to the 200 mark!
A quick mention for Thicksons where we saw a huge number of Cedar Waxwings catching insects on the wing over the marsh to the east of the waterfront trail. Flycatchers are migrating (or beginning to consider it!) and we saw some Great Crested Flycatchers here, including a couple perched in a tree.
Honourable mention to a Northern Cardinal that came begging for food, pik-pik’ing at us, before landing on a gate and providing a nice colour co-ordinated photograph opportunity!
We also saw a couple of American Kestrels (first I’ve seen in a while), Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, a Ruby-throated Hummingbord and some small puffed-up juvenile House Wrens.
We wanted to visit Rosetta McClain Park one evening, but it is a popular spot at the weekend. A quick look at the parking that had spilled onto the sidewalk saw us continue onwards to Guildwood Park. Not a great deal to report here – it was also so busy that bikers, wedding parties and loud walkers had scared most wildlife away. A handful of Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler – although I didn’t realise until we got home and I examined the distant blurry photo!
Look away if insects make your skin crawl. There were a handful of Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasps injecting their eggs under the bark of a tree. This family of parasitic wasps is one of the most diverse taxonomic families on the “tree of life”, but they are little studied.
We returned to Rosetta McClain the following morning before most of Toronto woke. We saw some Baltimore Orioles and a few other common birds. There are some great pollinator flowers in this garden, though I only saw Monarchs, Cabbage White and a Silver-spotted Skipper.
Tommy Thompson Park: The Warblers are Coming!
We spent a couple of hours at “The Spit” on a Saturday morning after we saw reports of warblers showing up on their southward journey. For the uninitiated, warblers are a family of colourful, mostly insect-eating, small birds that largely pass through Southern Ontario during a small migration window – which is perhaps part of their appeal to birders.
We began in an area known as “the wet woods”, but didn’t have a great deal of luck here and it was also quite wet (the clue is in the name) from the morning dew. We turned back and continued along the regular trail with the intention of checking out the area around the banding station, though this is a bit of a trek.
We saw lots of American Goldfinch – the adults time their mating so that the juveniles arrive in time for thistles to seed, which they feed upon. We saw both Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos. Approaching the turn towards the banding station, we saw several Baltimore Orioles and some Yellow Warblers.
Identifying warblers is tough but fun during spring when their plumage is in ideal condition. It is even more challenging in fall where their colours and patterns are much less vibrant due to the influx of juveniles and moulting adults. I had to seek help identifying a couple of species… foremost amongst them was a Cape May Warbler. This is considered a “notable sighting” by Ebird, which was exciting. I have only seen a Cape May Warbler once before – back in 2012.
We also saw more Yellow Warblers and lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flickers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and more. There was a warbler that I suspect was a Pine Warbler, but have been unable to confirm. The second most exciting sighting was a Blackburnian Warbler.
I’m looking forward to Spring 2021 and the northward migration of the warblers – when they look more vibrant. It was a great frustration to lose the opportunity to see them in Spring of 2020 due to the isolation requirements of Covid-19.
I’ll leave this post for now – we had a few other less exciting observations in the wetland areas. We are looking at the possibility of returning for some more warbler action, but our calendar is a little busy coming up.
Point Pelee in a week or so – hoping to catch some migration action.
Northern Ontario road-trip in September. Aiming to get as far as Cochrane and Thunder Bay.
A selection of my photos are available in the BritHikesOntario Etsy Store – as Greeting Cards and Prints.
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
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After we had both finished work, Sara and I paid a visit to Rouge Park that was quite fleeting due to the late hour and the fact that the sun is already setting almost an hour earlier than it was back in late June. We parked on Zoo Road and walked the Vista trail only as far as where the evergreen lined ridge begins shortly after the viewing platform.
After emigrating to Canada, Rouge Park was one of the first places that I ever saw Eastern Bluebirds and I have since looked out for them ever since. I was pleased to see them on this visit, with a new youngster in tow – which is the main reason I’m even posting what is otherwise a quite short blog post! The photo below shows the male from the pair. His colours are a little bolder than the female’s.
Purple Loosestrife is flowering throughout Southern Ontario now, and there is lots of it lining the meadow areas of Rouge Park. The plant has been introduced to North America and can crowd out other species, which can have a knock-on effect on waterways and the waterfowl and other creatures that live there. It is, however, popular among some pollinators. It was late in the day for butterflies, but we saw plenty of bees and other insects making use of the flowers.
We turned around to leave – it was just after 8pm and the light is already fading by this time, especially on overcast days. We must have done something to upset a nearby Gray Catbird. They are often quite shy, hiding amongst the brush making a “mewing” cat sound as their call, from which they are named. Their song is a mixture of scratchy, warbling sounds with the occasional attempt to mock the song of other birds. On this occasion, the Catbird was sticking to the mewing sound and appeared to be aiming his or her annoyance in our direction! They are grey in colour with a black cap and tail feathers. They have a tendency to excitedly flick their tail feathers, often revealing rufous or chestnut coloured under-feathers just visible in the photo below.
On our way back to the car, we had a quick look around the Visitor Centre (which remains closed, currently). Roll on the end of “these uncertain times” where talking in places and viewing “Sightings Reports” etc.. will be possible again. In the dusk light, a Groundhog emerged from under a shed in order to eat some greens.
As I write this, I have just returned from a quick trip to the Windsor-Essex region and will blog about that soon.
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Another 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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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.
There were a lot of distinctive looking flowers and plants that I had never seen before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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