It has been a while since I posted on this blog, for a couple of reasons. My wife and I took part in a wonderful road-trip back in September and I spent several weeks working on a multi-part documentary that took up much of my time (it’s called Journey Across Northern Ontario). And then along came the second wave of Covid-19 and I have been respecting the lockdown and stay-at-home orders.
The rules look like they might be loosening soon, but in the meantime I thought I would write a post reviewing some of the sightings enjoyed during the last year.
I was taking part in a “Virtual Walk Across Canada” where I would take the steps recorded on my Fitbit and plot them on a map of Canada, travelling east from Vancouver to Newfoundland. Unfortunately, my Fitbit has since died and has been replaced by a Garmin watch with some exciting features, but it is incompatible with the software I was using. Oh well! I might pick this up manually at some point, but it’s probably too much work. Moving on…
I want to walk the length of The Bruce Trail, but this is a gradual multi-year project. I made some progress in February when I visited the area around The Welland Canal.
As the standing snow began to thaw and the spring showers arrived in Southern Ontario, I slipped and slid my way along precarious parts of these trails. But it was fun to see birds getting more active and hearing the laughter-like calls of a bird I’m very fond of: The Red-bellied woodpecker. While climbing a steep bank, I came across these three agitated birds near several tree cavities. Some early flowering plants began making their first appearances, too.
April was a write-off while adhering to the restrictions related to the first appearance of Covid-19, and these restrictions unfortunately continued into May and the peak spring migration period. Later in the month, a trip to Presqu’ile was possible. This was my first visit to one of the top birding locations in Southern Ontario and we enjoyed a few observations including lots of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, several warbler species, a Scarlet Tanager and an Orchard Oriole (a first for me). With the sun feeling warm and the days growing longer, plenty of berries were around to fuel the courting displays Cedar Waxwings, who flirtatiously pass the fruits back-and-forth.
A non-birding revelation occurred in June. For the first time in ages, the work schedules of my wife and I finally synchronised, meaning we could make frequent weekday evening and weekend trips together. We made dozens over the coming month. It is hard to pick a single highlight from June, but here are a few.
July – August 2020
Things generally quieten down as temperatures soar in July and August, but we had a couple of cool mammal sightings.
A quick nod to a few sightings of Black-and-white Warlbers, too. They might not be spectacular looking, but they are my favourite warblers.
September – October 2020
In September I spent two weeks traveling across Northern Ontario and, as mentioned, made some videos about it. This was a trip of probably 5,000km and involved seeing quite a few new birds. Perhaps I should write about it, too?
In October I took another week staying around “cottage country” including a trip to Algonquin.
November – December 2020
Covid-19 returned and a temporary change to my work hours kept me away from the outdoors. My hours are now back to normal and hopefully Covid-19 will continue to subside….
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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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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