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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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