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

    Carden Alvar: Charged by a Moose

    Trip to Carden Alvar

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

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

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

    Brown Thrasher

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

    Orange Hawkweed
    Prarie Smoke
    Red Columbine
    Scarlet Indian-Paintbrush

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

    Savannah Sparrow

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

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

    Eastern Towhee

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

    Bronze Copper

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

    Eastern Meadowlark

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

    Tree Swallow

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

    American Black Bear

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


    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!

    Coming Up…

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


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  • bobolink header
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Lakeside Durham Region

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

    Lynde Shores

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

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

    Eastern Cottontails

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

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


    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.

    Yellow Warbler

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

    McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve

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

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

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

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

    Coming Up….

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


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  • Birds,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Toronto Ravine Walks

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

    Morningside Park

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

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


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

    Little Wood Satyr

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

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

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

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

    Indigo Bunting

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

    American Robin

    Deerlick Creek

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

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

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

    Chipping Sparrow

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

    Eastern Grey Squirrel

    Coming Up….

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

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  • Whitby
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Quick Trip to Whitby

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

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

    Baltimore Oriole

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

    Sleeping Raccoon

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

    White-tailed Deer

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

    American Redstart

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

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

    Common Gallinule

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


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

    Red-winged Blackbird (F)

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

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

    Algonquin Park with Friends

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

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

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

    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

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

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

    Common Loon
    Snowshoe Hare?
    Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

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

    Spruce Grouse.

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

    Common Raven
    Silver Bordered Fritillary

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


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

    Purple Finch
    Western Pine Elfin
    Green Comma

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

    American Woodcock

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

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

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

    Morningside Park and Birkdale Ravine

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

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

    White-tailed Deer

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

    Scarlet Tanager

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

    Red Fox

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

    Belted Kingfisher

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

    Gaurotes cyanipennis

    Birkdale Ravine

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

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

    Black-billed Cuckoo

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

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

    Dame’s Rocket

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

    East Point Park & Edwards Gardens

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

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

    Spanish Bluebells

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

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

    Great Crested Flycatcher

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

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

    Northern Cardinal
    East Point Park

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

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

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

    Black Swallowtail
  • trip to presqu'ile provincial park
    Birds,  Nature Trips,  Northumberland

    Trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park

    The wife and I took a trip to Prequ’ile Provincial Park last weekend. Parks had been open for a week or so following their Covid-19 related closures and I was thirsty to try to catch some of the late-May migrating warbler activity. I’d never been to this park before, but knew it was a good spot for migrating warblers, shorebirds, and butterflies.

    We arrived around 9am and were thankful that it was fairly quiet – we had been to Darlington Provincial Park the week before, a couple of days after Provincial Parks had opened, and it was rammed. On that occasion, practically everyone had descended upon the beach which left the trails lightly travelled.

    yellow warbler
    Yellow Warbler

    Anyway, back to Presqu’ile. We made our way to the eastern tip. Being beside the lake makes this point slightly cooler which means less leaf cover for birds to hide amongst. Yellow Warblers were plentiful and in full voice.

    There were a handful of Ontario’s only hummingbird, the Ruby-throated hummingbird. Baltimore Orioles sang from the tops of trees, and there were several Song sparrows. There were also several Eastern Kingbirds arguing amongst the shrubs.

    common yellowthroat
    Common Yellowthroat

    While I did not see any new birds in this area, I did get my first photo of a Common yellowthroat. I’d seen one a few years back in Algonquin Park but didn’t have my camera that day. So although I was only able to spot a couple of different warblers after several loops around this area… I was still quite pleased to get a shot of the Yellowthroat, even if it isn’t that great!

    Cedar Waxwing

    One interesting piece of behaviour that we observed was the courting behaviour amongst an ear-full of Waxwings (for an ear-full is the collective noun!). They were perched in a Cranberry Viburnum where a bird would pluck one of the red berries and pass it to their potential mate. The potential mate would pass it back, and on it would go, back-and-forth, until one would eventually be persuaded to swallow it.

    After a snack, we explored a couple of other areas of the park. We next stopped off at Calf Pasture Cove. Here we saw some waterfowl, but much of it was beyond the reach of my camera and binoculars. Within sight were some mute swans including several cygnets. There were a few Northern leopard frogs in the shallow water and several Double-crested cormorants flew west with nesting material in their bills.

    Orchard Oriole

    After a while a man shouted for my attention to let me know he’d seen a Scarlet tanager and an Orchard oriole. After some sleuthing, I think this man may have been Rodney from The Friends of Presqu’ile. Anyway, although it isn’t rare, I happen to have not seen an Orchard Oriole before (and I only have poor photos of the Tanager). The gentleman told me where to look and so I hung around a flowering Crab apple tree for a while until I caught a glimpse of the Orchard oriole, though not the Tanager. New bird, hurrah!

    Caddisfly larval cases

    We spent a little under an hour walking the Jobe’s Woods Trail, but the trees were tall and the leaf coverage was dense enough that spotting birds was difficult. Dryobates-type woodpeckers (ie Downy or Hairy) were heard along with Black-capped Chickadees and a distant Northern Flicker. Portions of this trail are on a boardwalk over a swamp and in the water I noticed weird-looking creatures moving around. Initially, I thought that these were some kind of bizarre-looking aquatic caterpillars. After failing to hook one out with a stick, I reluctantly scooped one out by hand. It was a strange stubby tube made of compressed wood and plant material. I found this strange because it had clearly been moving in the still water. I figured perhaps it was the chewed up remains of some tree debris that an insect was now living inside. Later research showed that I was not too far off the mark. Caddisfly larvae create tubes from chewed-up plant matter within which they receive protection. On this trail we also saw a couple of fungii. Dryad’s Saddle and Northern Red Belt.


    We would have liked to have walked The Marsh Trail, but this was closed for repairs. Therefore, our last stop was to Owen’s Point. This looks out to a couple of important islands for migrating shorebirds. There is no access to these islands except during winter when the birds are not present, but there is a lookout. Now, shorebirds are not my area of expertise. Fortunately, there was a gentleman there ahead of us who was willing to tell me about the birds that were present. Most of note were a couple of species that are unfortunately classed as “vulnerable” in Ontario. There were many Black-bellied Plover and perhaps three-or-four Whimbrels. They were far in the distance, so excuse the poor photo. Both of these are new “lifers” for me.

    Lucia Azure

    I’m pretty new to butterflies and had hoped to possibly see something new on this trip, though it is fairly early in the year. My wife had to take a call at one point. While she did so, a tiny butterfly flitted around. There are several small blue species of butterfly in Ontario that I’d seen but never manager to photograph or ID before. This time I did and have added a Lucia Azure to my list. Before finally leaving, we ate lunch at a picnic table. A Winter Wren played around on a nearby wooden building.

    Winter Wren
  • bruce trail short hills provincial park header brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 03b Short Hills

    Muddy Spring

    I decided to get back on the trail quite quickly, two days after my last visit, so that I could get in a little more progress before impending rainstorms arrive in the area over the forthcoming days. What better welcome to Spring than potential thunder and lightning!

    I parked exactly where I left off last time, at the 35.2km mark in “Parking Lot C” at Short Hills Provincial Park and began today’s hike by heading due-south for a while. Short Hills Provincial Park is unattended and free to use (including parking). The park is occasionally closed during November/December while the First Nations people hunt deer. Birds were quite active as soon as I began. Once again, Song Sparrows were in full tune. Chickadees flitted amongst the bare trees. A pair of Robins fought territorially. Let me get the mud-moaning out of the way. The mud was terrible! My footwear is just about wrecked and it was quite hazardous in steeper areas – I was having to grab trees and shrubs just to be able to stay upright on the more challenging terrain.

    Terrace Falls

    The advantage of all this extra water run-off from melted snow and rainfall is that there is greater flow over waterfalls. Thanks to the way the land was formed in Southern Ontario, there are a great many waterfalls to be seen and The Bruce Trail offers views of some of them. Due to re-routes, I missed DeCew Falls (more on that later), but I came across Terrance Falls and was certainly not disappointed. Ideally, waterfall photography makes use of special tools including a tripod, but I can’t be lugging all that stuff around with me…. I still managed to get a pretty nice shot thanks to the overcast weather which lends a hand to these kinds of technical shots.

    The other advantage to mud is that it reveals who has passed through ahead of your arrival. Continuing through the woodland, I saw canid prints and coyote scat as well as very small deer prints – probably a fawn. Later I would see beaver prints and a couple of dams, though I don’t think the prints were recent and the dams seemed a little worse for wear. Research later showed me that beavers were active here at least last year.

    Soon the trail climbed into a meadow where there was much bird activity. Dark-eyed Juncos bickered in the trees, Robins searched for grubs in the grass, the unusual call of a Field Sparrow which increases in rapidity, and a Northern Flicker “wik-a wik-a” call could be heard as he clung to a tree in the distance. A beautiful Eastern Bluebird landed on a branch nearby just long enough for me to steal a shot.

    At the 40.5km mark, I came across Swayze Falls, the largest of the waterfalls in Short Hills Provincial Park. Access to get a good photograph would have been challenging and time-consuming, so I snapped one from a viewing platform and continued on my way until I came upon a bridge where I paused to eat a sandwich and a snack of some nuts. I would like to have finished Map 03 today, but I couldn’t financially justify another Uber and I didn’t want to hike back through all that mud. I was getting tired from the exertion. Checking a couple of different maps, I realised that I had a couple of options. I could stop right here and turn back. I wasn’t too far from some parking off on a side-trail so that I could pick up the trail again next time. The other option was to continue a little further until I came upon Effingham Street. A little way up the street, my progress on The Bruce would be done for the day, but a turning would take me back towards my car performing a kind-of loop around the park, skipping most of the mud.

    I decided to continue and climbed a ridge where I enjoyed watching three Red-bellied Woodpeckers quarrelling over the ownership of an attractive tree cavity. Agreement between the birds seemed increasingly unlikely, so I made my way onwards past a couple of culverts channelling water into creeks that disappeared into the body of the park. I eventually came upon the street. I turned right and after a short distance, I came to a bend in the road. The trail continued to the left. This is where I was finished for the day, at 41.9km, as my car lay some distance to the right first along a stretch of backroads and then back into the park for a while. Today I completed 6.7km. I am 4.68% of the way through the whole trail.

    Addendum: DeCew Falls

    In my previous visit to The Bruce Trail, I noticed that I came close to DeCew Falls without ever actually passing them. Since I was nearby again, I decided to drive there on the way home. There is a picturesque mill and a lovely waterfall. Unfortunately, there is never a particularly good view of the falls. There is a wire fence for safety, but it is ugly and blocks the chance to get a photograph. It is possible but pretty dangerous (and not permitted), especially in the muddy conditions present, to get down to the bottom of the falls, a little further away along a trail – there is even a rope that someone has placed which you would be able to use to essentially rappel down the steep drop. I considered it, but time was getting on and I didn’t fancy an injury. I took an inadequate photo from atop the ridge instead.

    Next Time

    I left off where there is no parking, so on my next visit, I will need to figure that out – either parking further along the trail and walking backwards, or parking further back along the trail and repeating some. I will certainly have to finish Map 03. It will involve hiking through a couple of conservation areas. Until then, there is a patch of bad weather to get through as we get closer to some nice weather, wildflowers, birds and all the good stuff!

    The blue line is where I continued after eating lunch!

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  • The Bruce Trail End to End Map 03 A Thorold brithikesontario
    Bruce Trail,  Hiking

    Bruce Trail 03a – Thorold

    Better Progress

    I woke up early on one of those grey overcast days where you’re not quite sure whether to prepare for a wet and cold day or for the sun to burst through, such is the weather in the approach to an Ontario spring. I have to admit that I have underestimated this challenge so far – in particular, the need to hike back to my car each time I progress, doubling the distance I have to walk. So today I decided that I would push myself much further than I had been, and then take an Uber back to my car! This was a big help psychologically and I managed to complete as much today as I had in the three previous hikes combined.

    I parked near the Welland Canal at kilometre 18.2 on the edge of Map 02 of The Bruce Trail and crossed the bridge before turning south following the west side of the canal. It is not active at this time of the year and I wouldn’t mind coming back here sometime to see a ship make its way through this channel and under this raising bridge that allows vehicle and pedestrian traffic to cross. American Robins were plentiful, Song Sparrow melody filled the air. A nearby House Finch sang. He sounds similar to the Gold Finch, but the pitch of his note puts me in mind of the tone of someone asking questions. Anyone old enough and British enough to remember The Clangers and how their whistling communication sounded like questions might vaguely perceive that which I somehow floridly yet spectacularly fail to describe.

    Near Welland Canal Lock Number 4, I walked under Canadian National Railway Tracks, hung a right into some brush and crossed over a spur line. More brush continued and the ground became muddy. In fact, throughout the day, the trail was exceedingly muddy in parts. This isn’t a criticism of the trail. It’s a criticism of (near) Spring in this part of the world. The snow and ice has all melted, there’s a little rain… there were times when my footwear was almost completely sucked from off my feet.

    Around the back of some houses, the trail exited onto Merritt Street in the community of Merritton, named after William Hamilton Merritt who founded The Welland Canal Company. I crossed to Ball Avenue West, over a small concrete bridge, past half-a-dozen large residential lots until entering Mountain Locks Park. A steel bridge conveyed me over a stretch of the abandoned Second Welland Canal near to an old lock.

    On The Road

    Curving around the edge of the park, I met the busy Glendale Avenue. A main road through Merritton, a suburb of St. Catharines, lined with typical restaurants and businesses. Today, Ontario declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 virus and, though there was vehicular traffic, there were no pedestrians and parking lots were mostly empty. I was keen to get through this noisy urban stretch as I made my way under the bridge of Highway-406, a short 26km highway running north/south across the Niagara Peninsular.

    After a gas station, I turned left onto Tremont Drive passing apartment buildings and houses before the road climbed a quite steep bank. I heard a bird call I didn’t immediately recognise, followed by the same call in reply some distance away. It sounded like a woodpecker, of which there are several species in this area, and after listening to a few more moments of their back-and-forth, and doing a little on-the-fly research, I realised it was a Red-bellied Woodpecker of which I am quite fond. I would hear these several more times throughout the day. At the end of the street, the trail entered and weaved through a fairly mature wood. Near here, I was surprised to see a very small number of violets growing as it is early in the season. Small violets are tough to identify, but these were likely Viola odorata (Eurasian Sweet Violet amongst many other common names).

    The trail briefly travels through Glenridge Quarry Naturalization Site, a recreation site that started life as a quarry, became a landfill, before being rejuvenated in 2004. On the one hand, I had considered stopping here when I planned my route. Maybe spending some time exploring what was on offer, since the trail only skirts the edge of the site. On the other hand, my optimistic goal was to make it as far as Short Hills Provincial Park. I pushed on. I could always come back here another time.

    I climbed Sanatorium Hill and then found myself on the campus of Brock University. I was around 25.3km along The Bruce Trail in total, having walked 7km so far today. I was back high up on the escarpment for a while before being met with a long slow stretch, due to deep mud, which continued alongside a hydro-electric canal that is fed by the man-made Lakes Moodie and Gibson. These lakes are fed by Lake Erie via The Welland Canal. The trail teased me, getting tantalisingly close to a view of the lake, before turning away a couple of times, until eventually crossing the edge of it via a short boardwalk. Shortly I would cross a channel via DeCew Road where a couple of Mute Swans swam idyllically by.

    I was feeling good about my progress but was beginning to tire by this point. There was an opportunity to stop here as the trail passed through DeCew House Heritage Park at the 29.8km mark, where there is also a First Nations Friendship Monument. I really wanted to push on and get to Short Hills Provincial Park, though. In retrospect, I should have stopped. I was tracking my progress with GPS and know for sure that I never lost track of the white blazes, but when I examine the map of the route I took (shown at the end of this post), it varies quite widely and is a fair bit longer than the map in my Official Bruce Guide (and there are no re-routes listed on their website). Still, on I went, climbing the incline of a gravel pathway that traced the edge of the lake that many gulls seemed to be enjoying.


    Reaching a hydro-electric dam, I turned and followed the edge of the escarpment that provided good views over farmland and houses between the breaks in trees, as well as a potentially dangerous fall for anyone straying too close to the edge! My progress at this point diverged quite a bit during this stretch of trail, adding some distance and not-at-all following the description provided in my guide, but I eventually exited woodland onto 1st Louth Street, which I crossed into a field and then coniferous woodland with tall pines.

    My journey diverged a little more, but again, I was following the white markings of the trail. Despite this, I was treated to the sight and sound of a screaming Red-tailed hawk overheard carrying what appeared to be a large snake in its talons. Up a bank, I discovered a large fossil on the path with long root-like impressions. This is an example of a “trace fossil” which shows indirect evidence of an organism. Bioturbation is a process by which an organism disturbs the earth, for example by burrowing, and this disturbance is then fossilised. Pretty cool.

    Since it is still mid-march and a couple of days until we are still officially in Spring, the fauna is still mostly bare and the environment has quite the beigeness about it. Interestingly, this stretch of trail, much more than the rest of the ground I had covered today, was much greener. A great deal of different mosses growing on rocks, grass-like reeds and fronds of different ferns just beginning to show. In just a few more weeks, Ontario will welcome back the return of migrating birds including the multi-colours of warblers that the keenest birders travel to our province to catch a glimpse of.

    And so, at 35.2km, I reached a parking area on the edge of Short Hills Provincial Park and concluded today’s hike. I completed 17km according to The Bruce Trail Guide maps, though 18.9km according to my GPS tracking (which includes wandering off a bit to look at views and stuff). I was pleased with my progress but should likely have brought more snacks with me, as I wasn’t feeling so great with a migraine. I called an Uber, the driver somewhat bewildered with me for the pick-up location, the drop off location next to my car, the purpose of my day, and the fact that I took my very, very muddy shoes off to avoid dirtying his car. For this, he was very grateful.

    Next time I will hike through Short Hills Provincial Park – the first Provincial Park of several I will traverse, along with many other conservation areas. The aim will be to complete Map 03 of The Bruce Trail. There are 42 maps in total. The Niagara Section ends and the Iroquia Section begins part-way through Map 05. I’m just under halfway through The Niagara Section and 3.9% of the way through the entire trail at time of writing. Phew!

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