I returned to Rouge Park five days after my last visit when I had a rare free weekday morning. Once into the park, I noticed quite soon that the Eastern Bluebirds appear to have left. I walked around for about 90 minutes and didn’t see them. More often than not, I am successful at “pishing” them into view. Three separate attempts were to no avail. I believe that they have migrated south within the last four days.
Rouge was fairly quiet this morning, except for several dozen American Goldfinches that were very active. Otherwise, there was a window of about fifteen minutes where the sun first broke over the tree line at around 8am where those fleeting moments were filled with most of the observations I made.
I saw around four House Wrens scolding away – possibly at me. A pair of Baltimore Orioles watched from adjacent trees. They will also be migrating south anytime now. There were around four Field Sparrows hanging around with Song Sparrows. The Field Sparrow was heard before it was seen – the rhythm of their song is said to sound like a bouncing ping-pong ball.
A few birds flew overhead: Half-a-dozen Canada Geese, three Ring-billed Gulls, and over the valley a Great Blue Heron flew north. A group of around four Eastern Kingbirds called to each other. I heard several Gray Catbirds and a couple of Northern Cardinals. A Downy Woodpecker gently tap-tapped on a narrow tree trunk. As I walked past some shrubs, a female Common Yellowthroat began scolding me. She hopped back and forth along a branch continuously chipping at me until she got bored with my photo taking shenanigans.
A few Barn Swallows flew around the trail head. The Tree Swallows appear to have migrated in the last week or so. A dozen European Starlings chirped and chittered on a telegraph pole. The parking was beginning to fill as I left the park and joined the late-rush-hour traffic.
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I was interested in visiting a few nature spots in the Huron County area, so we ended up booking accommodation in Goderich to hit a few places that would otherwise be too far for a day-trip.
The Neowise comet has been visible in the Northwest night sky for much of July, and with Goderich positioned on the east coast of Lake Huron, I had the opportunity to try to photograph it away from the light-polluted skies of Toronto. On the evening of Friday 24th July, we drove to the beach. I hadn’t tried astrophotography before, but I did manage to get some images of the comet and it is something I’d like to attempt in the future to perhaps get a nice shot of The Milky Way. In the image below, the comet is towards the bottom-left, the only object with a tail. I have drawn in part of “The Big Dipper” constellation for reference.
Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area
The following morning we got an early start and an early Tim Hortons coffee and drove to Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area, which promised 2200 Hectares of mixed habitat, including some open water – always a little more promising during the heat of summer.
The drive out was lovely. Dew had formed during the night, but the heat was already beginning to rise – the ideal ingredients to create magical wisps of mist that played over the farm fields.
We heard plenty of birds here, but the tree canopy is high and the leaf cover is dense making them hard to spot. One bird that seems to be particularly plentiful this year is the Indigo Bunting. I have probably seen more this year than several previous years all combined. Today, we may have seen half-a-dozen of them (the females are a bit harder to spot).
Something else that is very plentiful this year: Gypsy Moths. They have a bad rap. They are an invasive species brought to North America from Europe and the larvae (caterpillars) are destructive through their vast appetites, consuming the leaves of many species of many trees. This year has been a bumper year of Gypsy Moths which can now be seen in their adult (moth) form. The females (in the photo below) do not fly and remain near where they emerged from their pupa. The males flit around rapidly, not often landing, making them harder to photograph. As adults (moths), they only live for about one week.
The mosquitoes and the sun were both out in force, so we only walked “The Blue Trail” which is listed as the most promising for birding. Before leaving, we drove to a different access point (there are several) that was nearer to a marsh. A short walk from the parking, we saw many Canada Geese, a few Killdear, many Mallards, a pair of Hooded Merganser, and several Lesser Yellowlegs. The Lesser Yellowlegs is a new addition to my life-list. I suspect I may have seen them earlier this year on a visit to Delaware, but this time I was able to confirm with certainty. I have now seen 188 species of bird. Of those, 40 were seen this year. Not a bad year!
We returned to Goderich and took a little look around the town, whose motto is “the prettiest town in Canada”. The Maitland River runs through the town, exiting into Lake Huron. We walked some of the Goderich to Auburn Rail trail which crosses the river via the Menesetung Bridge, offering views over the river valley.
In anticipation of the evening sun setting over the lake, we paid a visit to Goderich Lighthouse. I planned to photograph the sun setting over Lake Huron while getting the lighthouse in the foreground. Sara humoured me for a couple of hours while I set up my angles and aligned tripods and God knows what else! I think the wait was worth it to get the shot below.
Bannockburn Conservation Area
We also visited Bannockburn and walked a nice wooded trail with lots of boardwalk. The trail is a loop and there are around a dozen educational signs describing the landscape. We heard lots of Common Yellowthroats, another bird I am seeing a lot of this year. There were also a few insects around. This Striped Hairstreak is a new butterfly for me. We watched it perched on the boardwalk rubbing its wings, which released pheromones to attrack a mate.
The below Appalachian Brown is also a new sighting for me.
Finally, the funky looking moth below is called a Confused Haploa Moth.
Point Farms Provincial Park
The following day we visited this provincial park (and picked up an annual pass, as we have several more provincial parks planned). We did a quick trail that is quite good for birding and saw a number of wading birds near a lagoon (including some more Lesser Yellowlegs). I have heard so many Common Yellowthroats this year that I have become quite accustomed to their song. I heard one that was probably nesting in a shrub near a parking area and tried to “pish” the bird into view. He peeked out looking slightly confused and I took the opportunity to snap my best photo of this species so far.
I also heard the song of an Eastern Towhee and shortly spotted it high in a bare tree.
We spent a couple of hours at the beach on the shore of Lake Huron, taking some time to have a relaxing swim in a lake that’s a little more appealing than Lake Ontario (which had six times higher than acceptable levels of e-coli on this weekend). I guess I spent a little too long drying off in the sun afterwards, as my chest is a nice shade of lobster-red. I can be a little blasé about the sun. I work as a mailman and my skin is generally much darker during the summer… but I’m constantly seeking out the shade and do occasionally apply sunscreen. On this occasion, I did neither.
West Perth Wetlands
Final stop, partly on the way home. West Perth Wetlands are known on EBird (a bird spotting website) under the slightly less appealing name of Mitchell Sewage Lagoons. In any case, it consists of three bodies of water that used to be used for sewage but have since been repurposed as a wetland habitat.
We saw more Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks. There were some flowers attractive to pollinators, and so we saw a handful of Monarch butterflies and a Question Mark butterfly. Question Mark and Comma butterflies look similar and are named for a small mark on their underside (not shown) that looks like the respective punctuation marks for which they are named. They can also be discerned from the top by slight differences in the black spots.
We ran into another couple who were taking part in a local Monarch Butterfly count. Due to Covid-19, nature research has been impacted with field researchers being less able to get to sites. We talked about how the Monarch population is much smaller this year, after a slightly more promising year in 2019.
The Question Mark butterfly pictured above is perched on a thistle, and there were many more of these plants growing around the wetland. They also attract American Goldfinches who will eat the seeds.
An unusual sighting was (what appears to be) a mallard in the middle of the wetland a little far away to get a good look at. Unlike the mallards it paddled alongside, it is predominantly white in colour. There is some dark pigment in the bill and it has a dark eye-line like a mallard. The reddish colour on the chest is probably just a result of diet (swans also get a brown-reddish colour in their front as a result of an iron-rich diet). Otherwise, there is just some colour in a few feathers in the tail and wing. I’m not sure what the situation is with this duck. If anyone reading has any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. My thoughts are that it is possibly leucistic, which is a condition similar to albinism. Alternatively, it may contain some genes from a domestically bred duck such as a Welsh Harlequin, which is bred to be mostly white.
That concludes the weekend trip. I’m taking a brief break from blogging for the rest of this week, since this post is a little longer and took more work. We have a trip booked to Rondeau, which has been good to us with birds in the past. I will write about that trip next week.
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.