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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Just a really quick post about an evening spent in the Durham area on an evening last week. I’m afraid you’ll have the excuse me for the vagueness of the location due to a sensitive sighting.
Sara and I set out without much expectation on yet another stiflingly hot summer evening, just to get some fresh air as much as anything – but it turned out to be a pretty good evening, nature-wise.
In a meadow, a couple of House Wrens sang back and forth. They’re a fairly small bird, but they manage to sing quite a loud distinct song.
The usual suspects were also in attendance: Black-capped Chickadees, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and plenty of mosquitoes. This year seems to be a bumper year for American Redstarts, as I have seen many of them in various locations. I’d like to get a good photo of the male (who has bold black and orange colours). On this occasion, only a female would co-operate, peeking out from behind the leaves of a Willow tree. She is mostly grey with a yellow patch on her flank and in her tail.
We began looking out over a marshy body of water when Sara thought she had seen a Muskrat. For anyone unfamiliar with North American fauna, this is a medium-to-large sized rodent that lives in marshes and streams that can chew down trees. It not only sounds like a beaver, but it also looks like a beaver. A muskrat is smaller than a beaver, but the scale is hard to judge from a distance. A muskrat has a smaller and more pointed nose, and it has a long tail rather than the familiar paddle-like tail of a beaver. Muskrats are easily confused for beavers when seen poking out of the water – I have seen people on Instagram posting a photo of a muskrat, only to exclaim that they have seen a beaver. One time, I was walking through a park with my camera, and some guy started yelling for me to take a photo of a beaver in the creek. It was a muskrat. I took a photo to keep him happy and have been saving up the opportunity to be passive-aggressive about it until today, dear reader.
Sara and I tend to assume, when we see a reddish-brown semi-aquatic mammal, that we are almost certainly looking at a muskrat. Beavers are just not very common as far south as The GTA. But suddenly, this creature we were watching from a great distance, lifted its tail. It was paddle-shaped.
We were really delighted to watch this guy for a while. He swam around the perimeter of the marsh, occasionally taking mouthfuls of reeds. He was in no rush and seemed to be just enjoying an evening swim. We lost sight of him behind Lilypads and Cattails a few times until he finally disappeared from sight altogether. It was the first time either of us had definitively seen a beaver in the wild, despite our best attempts for several years.
We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves afterwards – nothing was going to top this! I joked that it was a shame he didn’t just come up to the edge of the marsh so I could get a closer photo. Not likely. A few moments earlier a guy was raging into his phone about his current living arrangements. Someone else walked by generously blasting their music from a loudspeaker so that they could be certain that we could share in their enjoyment. Now that bicycles are the pandemics hottest must-have item, several cyclists blurred past us trilling their bells unnecessarily. We looked for birds again. Actually, another female Redstart appeared for a less shy photo.
We were about to leave, but on a complete whim, Sara walked back a little to the edge of the marsh…. and, unbelievably, the beaver was right there. He could fully see us right next to him, but seemed quite calm about it and hung out with us for a few minutes.
As if to prove a point, a Muskrat suddenly appeared from the bank and stood right next to the beaver. My telephoto lens magnifies enough, and these guys were so close to us, that I couldn’t actually fit them both into a photo at the same time – but here is one of the muskrat.
Beavers and Muskrats live in the same habitats and will co-operate… sometimes to the extent that a Muskrat might live inside an active Beaver’s lodge – something we suspect might be the case with these Bros.
A morning spent around Cootes Paradise Sanctuary, Hamilton and a couple of other nearby and not-so-nearby places.
Just do it!
Quick Blog Update: You can now click/tap images to view larger versions of the picture – doesn’t work on older posts.
Mid-morning on Sunday 28th June, after a trip to Lynde Shores, Sara and I still had a few hours to spare. We decided to head north to Heber Down Conservation Area near where Highway 7, Highway 407, and Highway 412 intermingle in Whitby, Ontario.
It was getting hot and humid, so we arrived with low expectations for wildlife. The walk itself was quite nice and the area features five trails, plus a loop around a meadow near the parking lot. We completed this ten-minute meadow loop first, though partly out of confusion about where to begin. We saw a handful of butterflies amongst the plants and flowers. Of the plants that were flowering, we mostly saw Tufted Vetch and Clovers. As more plants turn to flower, I’d expect to see more insects. We saw an Eastern Comma butterfly and a Little Wood Satyr, as well as some skimmers (dragonflies), including this fairly common Twelve-spotted Skimmer.
In the meadow were Song Sparrows and, I’m fairly sure, Savannah Sparrows (their song is very similar). We decided to follow the 2.5 km Devil’s Den Trail, which is a central loop through the area with all other trails connecting to it. On such a hot day, we felt that 2.5 km would be enough. The trail begins through scrub and is quite exposed and then the ground becomes sandy and pine trees are more prevalent. Apparently, the locals decorate these trees at Christmas – a woman informed us as she passed, for no particular reason.
During the walk we heard a few birds, but they were mostly hiding. Among the more common birds, I heard a couple of House Wrens and an Indigo Bunting. I heard something else that sounded vaguely like someone winning on a pinball game, but I have no idea what it was! (EDIT: Listening to a few calls later at home, it turns out I had heard a Veery which I have actually never seen before… maybe I should have stuck around!)
About three-quarters of the way through the trail, we reached the oval shaped Devil’s Den Pond and I immediately recognised some bird song that I couldn’t quire remember…. a squeaky wheel sound… repeated four times…why do I know this!? Oh man! It’s one of my favourite birds… certainly my favourite warbler. I’ve only ever seen a handful, usually passing through during spring – but they must have been nesting nearby on this occasion. They are quick-moving, clinging to trees and branches, acting in a manner similar to nuthatches. I was able to get some good shots of this bird that I love so much because it was intrigued by the sound of my camera shutter clicking away. I was so happy to see this fellow.
The trail followed the pond around, apparently with a couple of different ways of continuing. We opted to climb a steep stone-strewn path, which might not have been the best option, and then we followed a ridge back to the start of the trail where we ate lunch before returning home. On one of the quieter roads nearby, I caught sight of a hawk on a log in the distance and took a photo. I’m not 100% sure of the species because it appears to be a juvenile of maybe a year old – but I believe it is a Red-tailed Hawk.
A trip to Luther Marsh to see what birding is on offer, a trip to the Burlington/Hamilton area to maybe spot some raptors and who knows what else?
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On Sunday June 28th, I made plans to hit Lynde Shores Conservation Area with my workmate, Natasha. She had been to Lynde Shores before and I was blabbering on about some of the things I had recently seen there while we were chatting about the place. She had said something like “I wish I could go there with someone who knows about stuff”, so I offered to meet her there. I hoped that she wouldn’t regret it!
My wife and I met Natasha and her daughter Meredith at 7am and, after hesitating over exactly how many layers we would need to wear for an early morning hike that was quickly turning humid, we made our way onto the trails. It had rained during the night and dew had formed on plants and leaves, enticing the birds out of hiding. There were many American Goldfinch and Black-capped Chickadees throughout the walk. Early on, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher chased a couple of other birds, paused on a branch, then disappeared again. While not a great photo, I got my first ever shot of this little fella. They’re so small and tough to capture. They remind me of the cartoon birds from Angry Birds because of that expressive black “eyebrow”.
We talked about some of the birds we were seeing and the different calls and songs they made and the cartoon robot sounds made by a distant Bobolink. We also saw White-tailed Deer frozen and staring at us to ensure we didn’t make a move on them, despite their safe distance. Meredith enjoyed her first time hand-feeding a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and enjoyed when we came across an Eastern Cottontail eating unmown grasses and plants at the edge of the path. Natasha was unswayed by her pleas to take the bunny home.
We walked to a lookout on the west side of Cranberry Marsh and saw a number of Great Blue Herons, some mallards, the usual supply of Red-winged Blackbirds and we heard Marsh Wrens. I decided to balance on some rocks at the edge of the marsh, despite my advancing years, keen as I was to get eyes on a Virginia Rail or the Marsh Wren. A bird flushed as I advanced, which could have been the wren, but I didn’t get a good luck. Perched in a similar area was a Flycatcher of some kind (several similar species that are near-identical in appearance).
We turned back north and continued towards The Chickadee Trail spotting more American Goldfinch, Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinal with the occasional American Red Squirrel making an appearance. The call of the Northern Cardinal, often partly written to sound like it is saying “Breaker Breaker”, is the song that Natasha was most familiar with. It is two sweeping notes sung in quick succession made possible by the unique nature of the bird’s “voicebox” (syrinx), which is fed by two separate bronchial tubes from either lung as compared to a human where the voicebox is positioned higher up in the trachea and can produce one sound at a time.
Entering the woods, a number of birds, as well as Eastern Chipmunks and Eastern Grey Squirrels, were interested to know what food we might have for them. Meredith got a kick out of hand feeding the chipmunks and later some mallards. I threw a couple of peanuts for Blue Jays to catch mid-air.
After finishing the trail, Natasha and Meredith decided to grab a much-deserved breakfast at Tim Hortons. Sara and I decided to pay a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh. It was a busy day for photographers with perhaps a dozen people with long telephoto lenses. Many people were primed and waiting with a Great Blue Heron in their viewfinders. Naturally, I joined them.
Out on the lake, we heard the call of the slightly confused Common Loons (I have noted their presence here in previous posts – normally you wouldn’t find them this far south). This time they were a little closer to land and I was just about able to get a discernible photo of one of them.
Continuing on the marsh were some of the birds I had previously written about. Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Canada Geese and their young, some juvenile Wood Ducks and a Mallard was out paddling with her ducklings.
I still haven’t been able to get eyes on a Virginia Rail, which has been spotted at the marsh. We overheard other photographers pretty much begging a Swan to flush the Rail so that they could photograph it! However, I was able to finally get a look at (and a pleasing photo of) a Marsh Wren. We heard one sing and a fellow birder and photographer nearby told us he was coming out from time-to-time if we waited here.
This wren is a “lifer” for me. It is bird number 186 in my list of birds that I have seen in my life and it is the 38th new bird that I’ve added to that list this year.
It was still only around 9:30 am, so Sara and I decided to visit somewhere else. I will write about our visit to Heber Down Conservation Area later this week and leave you with a photo of one of the juvenile Wood Ducks!
I will write about a trip to Heber Down soon. An early morning beat-the-crowds trip somewhere on Canada Day (Weds July 1st) is in the works. Additionally a trip to Burlington/Hamilton to check-out some bird of prey action and plenty more trips are in the pipeline.
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Over the weekend, my wife Sara and I visited a few spots east of the city. Starting at Lynde Shores, we continued east stopping off at a couple of spots along The Waterfront Trail before finally visiting McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve in Oshawa.
We had an early start, arriving shortly after 7am. Early bird gets the worm! We were rewarded with a few sightings of deer. They were too far away to get photographs, but by looking carefully, we could see there were some recently born fawns lay in the grass being fed and cared for by their doe mothers. The males, with their antlers, are less plentiful and more elusive – but a couple were spotted in the distance.
A couple of Eastern Cottontails (rabbits) were fooling around, play fighting, perhaps practising their evasive skills. One would stand on the path, while a second would charge directly towards them. Cottontail number one would then spring into the air, selling a dummy to the second.
While walking this trail, we crossed paths with Joseph who visits the area quite often and posts his nature photos to Instagram. We have followed each other for a year or so and I recognised him from his profile photo. We walked and talked about some of our recent sightings and had some camera chat. You can see some of his photos on his Instagram.
One of the birds the three of us spoke about was the Bobolink. A handful had made an appearance here and it is a threatened species in Ontario. It is on the decline and may become endangered if steps are not taken. The bird enjoys long grasses, but meadows are being destroyed throughout the country for buildings and cultivation. While they can and do nest in cultivated fields, their nests are destroyed when the farmers inevitably collect the crop. Destroying the nests is illegal – but the law is ignored and rarely used.
We paid a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh as there had been reports of Common Loon spotted here. As we approached, we heard their distinct call. It took a while to spot them. There were three, but pretty far out on Lake Ontario, far from my camera’s reach. Otherwise, Lynde was fairly quiet. We’re pretty much into summer which is not the best time of year for birds in Southern Ontario. We saw a few commons like American Goldfinch, Robins, Blackbirds and so on. An Osprey made a couple of passes overhead, but we continued our way east after a couple of hours here.
Waterfront Trail: Whitby
We had a quick look into Thickson Woods and saw a female American Redstart and an empidonax flycatcher (empidonax is the latin name for a genus of several flycatchers that are notoriously difficult to identify – usually they can only be discerned by their songs/calls). I think it was a Willow Flycatcher, but I’m not at a point where I can reliably identify these birds even with the sound.
Along the Waterfront Trail we saw lots of Yellow Warblers with good looks at a male who was eating grubs and insects off the plants.
It was a little quiet here and a little hot and out in the open. Before we continued further east, we also spotted a handful of Baltimore Orioles, a male/female pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-tailed Hawk overhead and I saw this White-banded Toothed Carpet moth, which is pretty common throughout Canada, though usually it flies at night.
McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve
For our last stop, we parked behind the large General Motors building and walked into the reserve. We walked a combination of trails, stopping off at a couple of marshes and the bay itself, as well as reaching Lake Ontario and its pebble-beach.
I’ve never had a great deal of luck nature spotting here. On a previous visit I did see deer prints and also some fairly clear footprints in the snow showing two or more coyotes hunting rabbits – with at least partial success judging by droplets of blood. Today we saw lots of swans in the bay, watched Double-crested Comorants in vast numbers flying low over the lake and we stood and watched a couple of Caspian Terns hunting fish. This is another species of concern in Ontario due to habitat destruction.
Caspian Terns are able to completely submerge as they dive into the water to catch fish, before taking to the air again.
Although we didn’t see a huge amount, this reserve is completely free to visit (GM sponsor and pay for much of the work), while across the bay is Darlington Provincial Park which requires an entry fee…
My work week is a little busier, but I will aim to hit a couple of Toronto parks. Weather permitting, a trip to Carden Alvar Provincial Park is on the cards for the weekend. I’d love to see if we can find some Meadowlarks!
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Last Sunday, Sara and I decided to spend our spare afternoon stopping at a couple of places along the lakeshore in Whitby. The isolation due to Covid-19 has stolen most of the migratory bird season this year, but we took a look at what was around. Answer: A lot of Yellow Warblers. Yellow Warblers are easily seen, being plentiful from spring onwards, staying and breeding in Southern Ontario.
We did also see a couple of Baltimore Orioles, and in a meadow, there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds for anyone that hasn’t already seen enough of them. There were also Song Sparrows, Robins and Chickadees.
Not much was happening in the nearby marshland, either. A man walked by dressed like a seasoned birder in his khaki shorts, lightweight utility vest and sun hat. We talked for a while and he spoke of good birding at Carden Alvar Provincial Park. Sara took note and we are hoping to visit. While we talked, a Raccoon took a snooze on the branch of a nearby tree.
A deer also tried to skirt past us through the edge of the woods, but once spotted, decided to act naturally and preen.
As we were about to leave, our new birding friend man let us know that he had seen a male American Redstart – not quite as plentiful as the Yellow Warbler, but the Redstart does also breed in The GTA. I didn’t get a great shot, he was high in the trees, and the camera focused on the leaves, but here he is:
We drove back west a little and stopped off near Cranberry Marsh where we saw Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Double-crested Cormorants flying past, Wild Turkeys and a few more White-tailed Deer. Near the edge of the marsh I spotted a Common Gallinule. It is a common type of rail – mostly dark, but with a red face shield. Despite being fairly common, I hadn’t see one before, so I added it to my bird life-list! I am at 181 birds now and, despite Covid, this is my 2nd best year so far with 33 new birds. I started tracking in 2008. I’m doing well this year partly because I travelled to Delaware which is far enough south to have a few different species.
The Common Gallinule was quite far away, but here is a small blurry photo of it!
Sara sat by the lake for a while – it was a little busy and people weren’t social distancing. I went on ahead to see if there were any shorebirds. I was able to get close to a pair of Killdeer for a pleasing photo.
Since it was a marsh, it is hardly surprising that there were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds. I stopped to watch a female. The male is black all-over apart from the yellow and red “flashes” on his wings. The female is more of a light brown colour, with dark black streaks covering most of her body. This bird was hopping and trying to hover amongst the lilypads without falling in. When I looked through my telephoto lens, I saw that she was catching insects that were basking in the sun. Here you can see she has a small dragonfly in her beak.
And that’s it! In the following days I spent some time exploring some ravine parks over a few days with a couple of different friends, which I’ll write about soon.