Although a long drive, I had heard good stories about seeing butterflies and birds at Ojibway Park in Windsor. Initially, we were planning to wake up early on Saturday, drive the five-hour journey and do what we could with what was left of the day, then hopefully have a good early morning at Ojibway Park on Sunday morning. A poor weather forecast for Sunday meant we did a last-minute scramble and also booked some cheap accommodation on the Friday evening in London, Ontario – a bit less than two-hours away from Windsor.
We stayed in a cheap hotel that had attracted a clientele that was a mixture of highly dishevelled or younger party animals – or in some cases, both. The common denominator was a complete disregard for both social distancing and the legal requirement to wear masks in common areas. However, there was a bed and we slept on it.
Before leaving London, we stopped by a cemetery that is known in the area for White-tailed Deer. I would have liked some photos of this year’s fawns but didn’t have much time to spare to try to stalk after them, so made do with a so-so shot of a young male.
This area is part of the Carolinian life-zone, offering a greater proportion of deciduous trees than the mixed or transitional forests to the North and North-east. We had a couple of species we were hoping to see. The Red-headed Woodpecker is a little more common in this area, along with the Tufted Titmouse. I was also interested in any butterflies I might see.
There is a Visitor Centre (closed) near the entrance of Ojibway Park, and a collection of bird feeders nearby. They were mostly attracting common birds like House Sparrows, Common Grackles, Cardinals, and Blue Jays when we arrived.
In a swampy stretch of water running along the perimeter of the park were several turtles: Midland Painted and Snapping but also some Blanding’s – a vulnerable species in Ontario. The turtles were all actively foraging.
A couple of Green Herons were fishing along the same stretch of water which contained a generous number of small fish.
I was a tad disappointed in the butterflies I came across. I was, perhaps, expecting a busy meadow type environment. On the brightside, most of what we saw were large swallowtails. I have mentioned before that the waters are murky surrounding the identification of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail vs the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail with location and time of year being the biggest deciding factors. I am informed that at this location and at this time, any of these yellow and black swallowtails would be the second generation (out of two or three each year) of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
We also saw Pearl Crescents, Monarchs an Appalachian Brown and, a new species for me, a few Eastern Giant Swallowtails. The one below is a little tatty with damaged wings.
Life as an insect can be pretty gory and a particularly nasty way to go is at the hands of an Ambush Bug. They are well camouflaged and lie in wait on plants. When another insect arrives, which can sometimes be much larger like this Red-spotted Admiral, the Ambush Bug will grip it in place, pierce its body with its beak, and suck out the bodily fluids.
In a slight clearing we heard a number of birds including Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird and we saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I think this has been a less productive year for hummingbirds. I saw two or three at Presqu’ile back in late spring and then none until today. We heard a bird we were unfamiliar with whose scolding call was somewhat similar to a Black-capped Chickadee…. Sara realised we were looking at two or possibly three Tufted Titmice. This is a new bird for me – they are common in Carolinian Ontario, but don’t stray further north very much. This is Lifer number 192. I didn’t get a very good shot as they were well hidden, but good enough to know what it is.
In around the same area I had another lifer. I realised we were looking at a Cuckoo quite quickly, but there are two species that look somewhat similar when they are well hidden amongst leaves….once I got a glimpse of the beak colour, I was able to ascertain that it was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. Lifer 193!
Further into the woods we saw lots of American Robins, a House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chickadees, Blue Jays and more, as well as hearing a Veery – a bird I have heard numerous times but have still never seen. There were a number of White-tailed Deer, including a couple of white-spotted fawns with their mother.
In terms of flora, we saw a couple of species that you wouldn’t typically find outside of the Carolinian life-zone including Butterfly Milkweed and Kentucky Coffee Tree. The latter has large seed pods and the seeds inside can be roasted as a substitute for coffee – but unroasted, they are toxic.
Creeping Bellflower, Showy Tick-Trefoil and Asiatic Dayflower were all present. Asiatic Dayflower is named for how it will bloom for only one day each year.
We left Ojibway Park and had a quick picnic bench lunch in a nearby manicured park. It was getting a little hot, so there wasn’t much here to see beyond the ever-present Canada Geese. A Double-Crested Cormorant was in a nearby waterway.
The Double-Crested Cormorant is currently caught in the centre of an Ontario political drama with landowners and commercial fishing on one side and scientists and conservation groups on the other. The Ontario Government has gone forward with opening up hunting of the bird.
We returned to Ojibway Park, but didn’t really have too long before it started to get dark and rain was also rolling in. In a marshy area, we spotted some movement amongst the cattails and Sara eventually noticed that there was a Muskrat chewing away. The Snapping Turtles were particularly active (video below on compatible devices).
Before leaving, we returned to the bird feeders near the entrance and saw a few mammals that had emerged during the dusk hours. A small, cute, young raccoon hid amongst ferns and would pop out occasionally to grab pieces of hotdog meat. A Groundhog appeared briefly from under the wooden hide we were standing in. A large brown rat would also leap out from under the hide to awkwardly grab carrots that had been provided by visitors, before slinking away again. In the Carolinian region, Southern Flying Squirrels can be found. Alas, not at this particular spot at this particular time!
Before we hit the sack, we went into Windsor to look across the Detroit River to see the Detroit Skyline.
It was interesting to see tour boats leaving from the American side that were disconcertingly filled. As the night drew in and the tour boats retreated, helicopters flew up and down the river. Perhaps American agencies looking for people trying to cross the border? I’m not sure if trying to cross the river is more or less dangerous than actually making it across.
The bad weather we were afraid would affect the trip seemed to touch down a little north of us. We watched forks of lightning illuminate the sky a little off to the right of the skyline shown in the photo above.
Probably staying in The GTA for a couple of weeks following a few elaborate (pricey) trips. I anticipate a trip to Northern Ontario in the next month or two.
Prints & Greeting Cards
I’ve added a few Greeting Cards with my photos on them to the BritHikesOntario Etsy Store as well as a few prints at 5×7 and 8×10. I’ll add more if sales justify it, as I’m charged to add each item.
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Trip to Carden Alvar
For a couple of weeks, my wife and I had been itching to get to Carden Alvar, located in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. It is a unique environment of thin soil, sparse grasses, and unique plant life which attracts birds that are less commonly seen in The GTA, some of which are threatened species. I was particularly keen to see an Eastern Meadowlark. When I first got into birding about 10-years-ago, I saw one of these birds in a hydrofield and I was struck by how different its song is. I hadn’t seen one since.
As the sun began to peek out above the horizon, we grabbed a quick coffee and hit the highway at just before 6am ready for the hour-and-a-half drive. You are always more likely to see animal activity early in the morning.
Initially we arrived at a small gravel parking area at an area named “Cameron Ranch” where a trail allowed you to walk through the alvar. It was a mind-meltingly hot and humid day, but we spent an hour or so walking the trail. I have seen the odd Brown Thrasher before, but never so many in one place. It seemed like there was another one squeaking and squawking every few hundred feet. Like The Northern Mockingbird and Grey Catbird, the Brown Thrasher is a mimic bird that attempts to copy the songs of other birds. It is larger than its cousins, has a brown speckled chest and bright yellow eyes.
There were a lot of distinctive looking flowers and plants that I had never seen before.
During the first stretch of the trail, we saw three different types of sparrow. The first, the Song Sparrow, I am very familiar with and it is plentiful in Toronto. It has a speckled breast with a circular spot in the centre and a very familiar song (hence the name!). I heard the song of a second species, which turned out to be a Savannah Sparrow. It has a speckled chest like the Song Sparrow, but is missing the spot and there is a yellow line above the eye. This is a new bird for me and is “Lifer” number 183.
The third sparrow species I saw wasn’t a very cooperative photo model, insisting upon perching with the sun directly behind – but my “Lifer” number 184 is the Grasshopper Sparrow which looks similar to the above but also has yellow underparts and a larger beak. Identification was helped by the fact that it buzzed excitedly with a grasshopper in its beak. We also saw, far in the distance standing high in a bare tree, an Upland Sandpiper. Too distant to photograph, but this is “Lifer” number 185 for me.
We pushed through a wet, muddy area to avoid mosquitoes before coming to a turn in the trail. There was a bit of a ruckus among some quarrelling birds – a Blue Jay, as they often do, was causing some upset. A Brown Thrasher yelled from the top of a tree. A Red-Eyed Vireo flitted around and something else was calling and hiding in a shrub. Sara was able to get good eyes on it and she correctly identified it as an Eastern Towhee. I tried “Pishing” it (making bird sounds to draw it out) and managed to snap a photo of its head peeking out.
We continued a little further, but the activity seemed to die down and it was swelteringly hot. Several Great Blue Herons flew overhead and I saw a couple of butterflies – a European Skipper (known as an Essex Skipper in The UK – it is introduced into Ontario) and a pretty Bronze Copper.
Running low on water, we turned back and followed the trail back to the car. Several times on the way back (and it would continue throughout the trip), I kept hearing the song of Eastern Meadowlarks. They nest in the long grasses and so I couldn’t actually see one – until we were about halfway back to the car. There was one in the distance. Because it was distant, the rising heat in the air means it doesn’t really matter how good your camera lens is – the heatwaves makes the image blurry, but hey, I saw one! We briefly saw another later in the day, closer to us, but too brief to photograph. It quickly sang and flew away. Sara aptly commented that when the bird sings, its beak opens so wide it looks like its head will split open.
We were unfamiliar with Carden Alvar and figured that there must be more to the area than this one trail. Much frantic Googling later, we made our way to a gravel/mud road which cuts North/South through the alvar and has several areas to stop and park. We heard many more Eastern Meadowlarks, saw a male/female pair of Eastern Bluebirds, and saw dozens of Tree Swallows that were making use of the man-made nesting boxes. Some contained chicks and the adult Swallows would frequently visit with the insects they had caught.
We decided to drive the length of the road, circle back to the beginning, and then drive it again but stopping off. It took a long time to drive the full-length of the road and a 4-by-4 vehicle would be better equipped. My hatchback struggled over the large potholes and, in places, deep puddles of muddy water. It was worth it, though. After about 20 minutes, I saw a large black shape at the side of the road. “F***! BEAR!”, I swore, before it quickly ran off. Since I was driving, the best shot I got was of its backside. It was the first time I’d seen one.
Quite some time later, after circling the alvar and returning back to the beginning of the road, my car covered in mud and dust, we started over. This time we stopped off a couple of times, but didn’t see much. It was the middle of the day, the sun high, it was humid, most animals would be having a siesta. We decided to walk one of the trails without much hope. There were lots of White Admiral butterflies around and a few moths. Sara was a little ahead of me on the trail and we were contemplating turning back. Suddenly Sara shouted “Moose!”. And there it was. Just a few hundred feet away stood eating grasses in a marsh rivulet. Suddenly the crazy beast charged at us, splashing water all over itself.
It took several quick steps in our direction before pausing and staring at us. It was so close I didn’t even have to zoom. Perhaps Sara had surprised it. Perhaps it had a calf nearby. Fortunately for us, she thought better of attacking us. She turned and ran a short distance away. She looked over at us a couple of times, then ran into the scrub.
We sat in a hide for a while (in the shade, with a lovely breeze), listening to more Eastern Meadowlarks, but I was unable to get any photos while they hid in the grass. We decided to leave for the day. We stopped off at a couple of other places, explored the lakeshore east of Toronto a little (Lake Ontario), but nothing as exciting as a rampant moose to write about!
A few local trips that I need to write up! A possible return trip to Lynde Shores with a workmate. Who knows what else? (not me!)
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