Another suggestion by Sara comes up trumps. We have been to Cranberry Marsh a few times, but invariably we tend to only pass through as an after-thought following a visit to Lynde Shores which is right next door. A bad night of sleep meant a later than usual start, and considering how popular this place is with photographers, it was unsurprising that when we arrived at 7:30am, there were more lenses and cameras in attendance than there were birds.
The water in the marsh remains quite low and so there were large numbers of Great Blue Herons and, despite their imperilled status in Ontario, a few Great Egrets were taking advantage of the meals on offer.
There is a sandbar running along the south of the marsh that separates it from Lake Ontario, and it is this that you walk along to view the marsh. Preening on this sandbar was a Mute Swan and two Trumpeter Swans. Mute Swans are an introduced species, but Trumpeter Swans are native to Canada. They were expatriated (made extinct in Ontario), but were reintroduced in the 1980s and many of them have yellow tags on their wings so that they can be identified by researchers from distance – without disturbing them. Amongst the researchers, many of the swans have been given first names which you can sometimes find with a little online sleuthing. The two we saw today were siblings tagged T61 and T62 and they are named “Pepper” and “Caramel”.
We weaved in and out of probably a couple-of-dozen wide-lensed photographers along the sandbar and found a quiet spot, resigned to it probably being a bad location since nobody else was around. Suddenly Sara spotted a Wilson’s Snipe with its amusingly long bill. New Lifer, number 191!
Way off in the distance, a raptor flew along the western edge of the marsh. Too far for a photo worthy of posting here, but it had a white band across the top of the tail, which marks it out as a Northern Harrier. Another bird that initially looked like a raptor flew a similar path. It was a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. The juveniles have brown and off-white pattening that somewhat resembles that of a raptor. Well, kind of. From a distance. Through haze. When you’re poor sighted. Those are my excuses.
Dotted around amongst the Lilypads were a few Lesser Yellowlegs that we’ve seen a few times on our travels to different marsh habitats in the last few weeks. These ones are used to posing for photos and getting close to them was not too much of a problem.
Regular readers will recall that I had heard reports of Virginia Rails being spotted here, but that we hadn’t enjoyed any success spotting them ourselves. We were about to leave the site when there was a commotion amongst some photographers. I was able to create a little space for myself and take a few shots of an adult Virginia Rail, with a couple of offspring in tow. I got a couple of good shots before giving the bird some space and enjoying watching the bird for a few moments. A couple of other photographers continued to blast away. I’m not sure where they find the time to go through a machine-gunned memory card full of photos of the same bird!
We were to have one last good sighting on our way out of the marsh. There were a few Red-winged Blackbirds congregating, with a couple of Cowbirds begging for food around them. Another bird close by initially looked similar, but upon inspection, it had a more appealing speckling to its breast and a neater light coloured eye-line. Another new lifer. Two in one trip and we’d only travelled just down the road! Bird number 192 is a Northern Waterthrush.
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Sara and I recently purchased a parking pass for Lynde Shores (and other Central Lakes Conservation Authority areas). It means I will likely make a number of posts about trips there, which in turn means that I have already run out of ideas for pithy blog titles pertaining to visits here!
We had a sad experience the last time we came here, which I hadn’t written about until now. We’ve been keenly looking out for newly born White-tailed Deer fawns, and have seen at least three individuals over the previous weeks. One evening, we saw a shaky individual just off the trail, still with spotted fur. We were concerned about the shaking, but an adult was a few hundred feet away, and we thought perhaps the youngster was simply scared of us – so we left it alone. However, returning the next day, the fawn was collapsed and shaking. We made some calls to animal rescue organisations, though many won’t deal with deer. An hour-or-so later, it was suggested we try to bring the deer to a sanctuary where they could try to treat it. I picked the poor thing up and began carrying it towards my car, while Sara attempted to calm it by placing a towel over it. Unfortunately, the poor thing died as we reached my car. I then placed it carefully in the undergrowth near where we found it and I covered it under the brush. The circle of life, I guess.
Things have changed a little in the last few weeks of visiting Lynde Shores. The water level in the marsh appears to have receded, which is giving the water-life less hiding space. In turn, the number of Great-blue Herons has exploded. Sara and I counted a whopping 31 herons and a Great Egret one evening. This is leading to conflict with the Caspian Terns who will occasionally dive-bomb the significantly larger herons, who will then exclaim with an angry croaking-bark sound. Many birds are also going through a moult where they will gradually lose and replace their feathers. In some species, this can make them harder to identify. It can also leave some birds looking a little scruffy, like the Black-capped Chickadee below.
In the last few weeks, a lot of Virginia Ctenucha moths have been flying around the meadows with the occasional Monarch feeding from the milkweed plants. Monarch numbers should begin to increase around August/September.
A few times we have seen little rodents run across the path, only to disappear well before I can train my camera on them. On this occasion, someone had earlier dropped some bird seed. It caught the attention of a Meadow Vole so that I was able to photograph it. Good prey for various owl species – though I haven’t managed to see any owls here since 2018.
As usual, there were Song Sparrows everywhere. So many that it pretty much became an effort to bother raising binoculars or cameras to confirm the sighting. I did take a closer look (and filmed some video) of a sparrow preening on a branch. I’m glad I did because this individual was actually a Savannah Sparrow. The two species look similar. The yellow “eyebrow” is the most obvious field marking in the Savannah Sparrow that is missing in the Song Sparrow.
There are a great many Common European Ambersnails to be found in the grassland meadow and even on the footpaths in the early mornings when there is dew. As the name suggests, these snails are introduced to Canada. I’m not sure if they are harmful to the vegetation, but I have read that they commonly carry parasites which can be passed onto the birds that eat them. These parasites lay eggs in the birds gut. The eggs are passed with faeces and grow into snails and the cycle continues. What a life!
On our way out of Lynde Shores, Sara had a fun interaction with a Downy Woodpecker that was curious to see what treats we had. She flew onto Sara’s hand a couple of times and took peanuts.
Sara has one more weekend of work commitments, so we will be staying relatively local. Later, over the August 1st long weekend, we are looking at a visit to Rondeau.
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On Sunday June 28th, I made plans to hit Lynde Shores Conservation Area with my workmate, Natasha. She had been to Lynde Shores before and I was blabbering on about some of the things I had recently seen there while we were chatting about the place. She had said something like “I wish I could go there with someone who knows about stuff”, so I offered to meet her there. I hoped that she wouldn’t regret it!
My wife and I met Natasha and her daughter Meredith at 7am and, after hesitating over exactly how many layers we would need to wear for an early morning hike that was quickly turning humid, we made our way onto the trails. It had rained during the night and dew had formed on plants and leaves, enticing the birds out of hiding. There were many American Goldfinch and Black-capped Chickadees throughout the walk. Early on, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher chased a couple of other birds, paused on a branch, then disappeared again. While not a great photo, I got my first ever shot of this little fella. They’re so small and tough to capture. They remind me of the cartoon birds from Angry Birds because of that expressive black “eyebrow”.
We talked about some of the birds we were seeing and the different calls and songs they made and the cartoon robot sounds made by a distant Bobolink. We also saw White-tailed Deer frozen and staring at us to ensure we didn’t make a move on them, despite their safe distance. Meredith enjoyed her first time hand-feeding a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and enjoyed when we came across an Eastern Cottontail eating unmown grasses and plants at the edge of the path. Natasha was unswayed by her pleas to take the bunny home.
We walked to a lookout on the west side of Cranberry Marsh and saw a number of Great Blue Herons, some mallards, the usual supply of Red-winged Blackbirds and we heard Marsh Wrens. I decided to balance on some rocks at the edge of the marsh, despite my advancing years, keen as I was to get eyes on a Virginia Rail or the Marsh Wren. A bird flushed as I advanced, which could have been the wren, but I didn’t get a good luck. Perched in a similar area was a Flycatcher of some kind (several similar species that are near-identical in appearance).
We turned back north and continued towards The Chickadee Trail spotting more American Goldfinch, Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinal with the occasional American Red Squirrel making an appearance. The call of the Northern Cardinal, often partly written to sound like it is saying “Breaker Breaker”, is the song that Natasha was most familiar with. It is two sweeping notes sung in quick succession made possible by the unique nature of the bird’s “voicebox” (syrinx), which is fed by two separate bronchial tubes from either lung as compared to a human where the voicebox is positioned higher up in the trachea and can produce one sound at a time.
Entering the woods, a number of birds, as well as Eastern Chipmunks and Eastern Grey Squirrels, were interested to know what food we might have for them. Meredith got a kick out of hand feeding the chipmunks and later some mallards. I threw a couple of peanuts for Blue Jays to catch mid-air.
After finishing the trail, Natasha and Meredith decided to grab a much-deserved breakfast at Tim Hortons. Sara and I decided to pay a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh. It was a busy day for photographers with perhaps a dozen people with long telephoto lenses. Many people were primed and waiting with a Great Blue Heron in their viewfinders. Naturally, I joined them.
Out on the lake, we heard the call of the slightly confused Common Loons (I have noted their presence here in previous posts – normally you wouldn’t find them this far south). This time they were a little closer to land and I was just about able to get a discernible photo of one of them.
Continuing on the marsh were some of the birds I had previously written about. Mute Swans with cygnets, lots of Canada Geese and their young, some juvenile Wood Ducks and a Mallard was out paddling with her ducklings.
I still haven’t been able to get eyes on a Virginia Rail, which has been spotted at the marsh. We overheard other photographers pretty much begging a Swan to flush the Rail so that they could photograph it! However, I was able to finally get a look at (and a pleasing photo of) a Marsh Wren. We heard one sing and a fellow birder and photographer nearby told us he was coming out from time-to-time if we waited here.
This wren is a “lifer” for me. It is bird number 186 in my list of birds that I have seen in my life and it is the 38th new bird that I’ve added to that list this year.
It was still only around 9:30 am, so Sara and I decided to visit somewhere else. I will write about our visit to Heber Down Conservation Area later this week and leave you with a photo of one of the juvenile Wood Ducks!
I will write about a trip to Heber Down soon. An early morning beat-the-crowds trip somewhere on Canada Day (Weds July 1st) is in the works. Additionally a trip to Burlington/Hamilton to check-out some bird of prey action and plenty more trips are in the pipeline.
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Over the weekend, my wife Sara and I visited a few spots east of the city. Starting at Lynde Shores, we continued east stopping off at a couple of spots along The Waterfront Trail before finally visiting McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve in Oshawa.
We had an early start, arriving shortly after 7am. Early bird gets the worm! We were rewarded with a few sightings of deer. They were too far away to get photographs, but by looking carefully, we could see there were some recently born fawns lay in the grass being fed and cared for by their doe mothers. The males, with their antlers, are less plentiful and more elusive – but a couple were spotted in the distance.
A couple of Eastern Cottontails (rabbits) were fooling around, play fighting, perhaps practising their evasive skills. One would stand on the path, while a second would charge directly towards them. Cottontail number one would then spring into the air, selling a dummy to the second.
While walking this trail, we crossed paths with Joseph who visits the area quite often and posts his nature photos to Instagram. We have followed each other for a year or so and I recognised him from his profile photo. We walked and talked about some of our recent sightings and had some camera chat. You can see some of his photos on his Instagram.
One of the birds the three of us spoke about was the Bobolink. A handful had made an appearance here and it is a threatened species in Ontario. It is on the decline and may become endangered if steps are not taken. The bird enjoys long grasses, but meadows are being destroyed throughout the country for buildings and cultivation. While they can and do nest in cultivated fields, their nests are destroyed when the farmers inevitably collect the crop. Destroying the nests is illegal – but the law is ignored and rarely used.
We paid a visit to the other side of Cranberry Marsh as there had been reports of Common Loon spotted here. As we approached, we heard their distinct call. It took a while to spot them. There were three, but pretty far out on Lake Ontario, far from my camera’s reach. Otherwise, Lynde was fairly quiet. We’re pretty much into summer which is not the best time of year for birds in Southern Ontario. We saw a few commons like American Goldfinch, Robins, Blackbirds and so on. An Osprey made a couple of passes overhead, but we continued our way east after a couple of hours here.
Waterfront Trail: Whitby
We had a quick look into Thickson Woods and saw a female American Redstart and an empidonax flycatcher (empidonax is the latin name for a genus of several flycatchers that are notoriously difficult to identify – usually they can only be discerned by their songs/calls). I think it was a Willow Flycatcher, but I’m not at a point where I can reliably identify these birds even with the sound.
Along the Waterfront Trail we saw lots of Yellow Warblers with good looks at a male who was eating grubs and insects off the plants.
It was a little quiet here and a little hot and out in the open. Before we continued further east, we also spotted a handful of Baltimore Orioles, a male/female pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-tailed Hawk overhead and I saw this White-banded Toothed Carpet moth, which is pretty common throughout Canada, though usually it flies at night.
McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve
For our last stop, we parked behind the large General Motors building and walked into the reserve. We walked a combination of trails, stopping off at a couple of marshes and the bay itself, as well as reaching Lake Ontario and its pebble-beach.
I’ve never had a great deal of luck nature spotting here. On a previous visit I did see deer prints and also some fairly clear footprints in the snow showing two or more coyotes hunting rabbits – with at least partial success judging by droplets of blood. Today we saw lots of swans in the bay, watched Double-crested Comorants in vast numbers flying low over the lake and we stood and watched a couple of Caspian Terns hunting fish. This is another species of concern in Ontario due to habitat destruction.
Caspian Terns are able to completely submerge as they dive into the water to catch fish, before taking to the air again.
Although we didn’t see a huge amount, this reserve is completely free to visit (GM sponsor and pay for much of the work), while across the bay is Darlington Provincial Park which requires an entry fee…
My work week is a little busier, but I will aim to hit a couple of Toronto parks. Weather permitting, a trip to Carden Alvar Provincial Park is on the cards for the weekend. I’d love to see if we can find some Meadowlarks!
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