• bits and bobs header
    Birds,  Durham,  Flowers,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Bits and Bobs from August

    No big trips since my visit to the Windsor Area earlier this month as I prepare for an epic two-week Northern Ontario road-trip (more on that later). I’ve made a few quick trips to the Toronto and Durham areas that I thought I would touch on.

    Lynde Shores & Cranberry Marsh

    This is one of my top local spots to visit and there have been some fun observations this month. Sara had been keen to see a Black-crowned Night Heron and finally did so at Tommy Thompson Park, but since then, we have seen several juveniles in their grey and white spotty plumage at Cranberry Marsh. There is also an absolute abundance of Great Egrets (as well as Great Blue Herons) present in the marsh. Each time we submit our birding list to Ebird (a bird citizen science website where you enter sightings), we have to provide details about the Egrets – the site doesn’t believe there are so many!

    Great Egrets (and a Great Blue Heron)

    Amongst the White-tailed Deer at Lynde Shores are a doe and her two fawns who we have affectionately named “The Twins” and we see them together on most visits. The fawns still have their spots for now.

    A few bird species are beginning to move south, including our warblers. One of my all-time favourite birds is the Black-and-White Warbler, and we spotted one of these among conifers at Lynde Shores. It was dark and the bird is quick moving, so no wonderful photos, but below is a snap for the fun of it. More on warblers shortly.

    Black-and-White Warbler

    Birds of prey are also heading south for greater warmth. We, and another couple we met, observed a two Bald Eagles flying over Lynde Shores towards the marsh. One was an adult with the iconic white head, the other was a juvenile. We inadvertently caught up with the juvenile a little later. Such a huge bird that really puts you in mind of their dinosaur ancestors.

    Bald Eagle (juvenile)

    The tiny bird pictured below is a Least Sandpiper pottering around feeding on the muddy parts of the marsh and it represents a new bird on my life list, taking me to 194 birds. Getting close to the 200 mark!

    Least Sandpiper

    Thicksons Woods

    A quick mention for Thicksons where we saw a huge number of Cedar Waxwings catching insects on the wing over the marsh to the east of the waterfront trail. Flycatchers are migrating (or beginning to consider it!) and we saw some Great Crested Flycatchers here, including a couple perched in a tree.

    Great Crested Flycatcher

    Honourable mention to a Northern Cardinal that came begging for food, pik-pik’ing at us, before landing on a gate and providing a nice colour co-ordinated photograph opportunity!

    Northern Cardinal

    We also saw a couple of American Kestrels (first I’ve seen in a while), Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, a Ruby-throated Hummingbord and some small puffed-up juvenile House Wrens.

    Guildwood Park

    We wanted to visit Rosetta McClain Park one evening, but it is a popular spot at the weekend. A quick look at the parking that had spilled onto the sidewalk saw us continue onwards to Guildwood Park. Not a great deal to report here – it was also so busy that bikers, wedding parties and loud walkers had scared most wildlife away. A handful of Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler – although I didn’t realise until we got home and I examined the distant blurry photo!

    Look away if insects make your skin crawl. There were a handful of Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasps injecting their eggs under the bark of a tree. This family of parasitic wasps is one of the most diverse taxonomic families on the “tree of life”, but they are little studied.

    Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasp

    We returned to Rosetta McClain the following morning before most of Toronto woke. We saw some Baltimore Orioles and a few other common birds. There are some great pollinator flowers in this garden, though I only saw Monarchs, Cabbage White and a Silver-spotted Skipper.

    Geraniums

    Tommy Thompson Park: The Warblers are Coming!

    We spent a couple of hours at “The Spit” on a Saturday morning after we saw reports of warblers showing up on their southward journey. For the uninitiated, warblers are a family of colourful, mostly insect-eating, small birds that largely pass through Southern Ontario during a small migration window – which is perhaps part of their appeal to birders.

    We began in an area known as “the wet woods”, but didn’t have a great deal of luck here and it was also quite wet (the clue is in the name) from the morning dew. We turned back and continued along the regular trail with the intention of checking out the area around the banding station, though this is a bit of a trek.

    We saw lots of American Goldfinch – the adults time their mating so that the juveniles arrive in time for thistles to seed, which they feed upon. We saw both Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos. Approaching the turn towards the banding station, we saw several Baltimore Orioles and some Yellow Warblers.

    Yellow Warbler

    Identifying warblers is tough but fun during spring when their plumage is in ideal condition. It is even more challenging in fall where their colours and patterns are much less vibrant due to the influx of juveniles and moulting adults. I had to seek help identifying a couple of species… foremost amongst them was a Cape May Warbler. This is considered a “notable sighting” by Ebird, which was exciting. I have only seen a Cape May Warbler once before – back in 2012.

    Cape May Warbler

    We also saw more Yellow Warblers and lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flickers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and more. There was a warbler that I suspect was a Pine Warbler, but have been unable to confirm. The second most exciting sighting was a Blackburnian Warbler.

    Blackburnian Warbler

    I’m looking forward to Spring 2021 and the northward migration of the warblers – when they look more vibrant. It was a great frustration to lose the opportunity to see them in Spring of 2020 due to the isolation requirements of Covid-19.

    I’ll leave this post for now – we had a few other less exciting observations in the wetland areas. We are looking at the possibility of returning for some more warbler action, but our calendar is a little busy coming up.

    Coming Up

    Point Pelee in a week or so – hoping to catch some migration action.
    Northern Ontario road-trip in September. Aiming to get as far as Cochrane and Thunder Bay.

    A selection of my photos are available in the BritHikesOntario Etsy Store – as Greeting Cards and Prints.

  • rondeau provincial park header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Chatham-Kent,  Nature Trips

    Rondeau Provincial Park

    As far as nature and wildlife are concerned, Rondeau is one of the most productive Provincial Parks in Ontario – especially when it comes to birds and butterflies. Sara and I had been once before – back in the fall of 2012 to catch sight of the warblers migrating back south for a warmer winter.

    We returned over the August holiday weekend. Our expectations were not as high as the heady days of 2012, because the weather was predicted to be unkind to us and this trip was not in the middle of a busy migration period – but we were still quite excited.

    We began by hiking the short “Tulip Tree Trail” beginning near to the Visitor’s Centre, which was closed due to Covid-19. I can’t wait until I don’t have to mention that virus in my blog posts anymore! The birding was most active towards where the trail loops back, near to the beach. Prior to this, I looked out for insects and plants of interest. A large variety of fungi grew throughout the forest. I’m not particularly learned when it comes to fungi, but am aware that successful identification often lies in examining the gills on the underside. One of the more vibrant and interesting specimens was Candy Apple Waxy Cap.

    Candy Apple Waxy Cap

    In marshy areas, we saw many Northern Leopard Frogs, Green Frogs and American Bullfrogs. As with our trip to Goderich last week, there were many male Gypsy Moths flitting around wooded areas. Appalachian Brown butterflies were also quite plentiful. If you are not a fan of arachnids, the following spider might be slightly terrifying. Initially, I thought the spider had caught some oversized prey that was half-eaten. Turns out that the spiky portion in the photograph below is actually the rear end of the spider. Delightful! It is within the family of Micrathena spiders, or “Spiny Orbweavers”. According to the website Bugguide.net, the only genus of this family seen in Ontario is Micrathena Sagittata, “Arrow-shaped Spiny Orbweaver”.

    Spiny Orbweaver

    Okay, let’s talk birds. As the trail looped back on itself, birds were quite active. We saw several Cedar Waxwings including an awkward-looking juvenile. There was also a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak accompanied by its parents.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

    The usual common birds were around: Grey Catbirds, Robins, Mourning Doves and Yellow Warblers. There was also a Northern Flicker.

    Yellow Warbler
    Northern Flicker

    We had a little wander around one of the beaches and a short boardwalk. A few large Swallowtail Butterflies would pass by without landing and with a rather urgent flight pattern that made photographing them unfeasible. That was unfortunate because I suspect they were Giant Swallowtails which I otherwise haven’t seen before. I did, however, see a Spicebush Swallowtail in the parking lot, which I pursued until it finally landed near a puddle.

    Spicebush Swallowtail

    After we ate lunch (and I ate too much icecream – what else is new?), we walked the first few hundred feet of The Marsh Trail, as most of it was closed for renovation. There were many Monarch Butterflies, but among them, was a Viceroy Butterfly.

    Viceroy Butterfly

    The Monarch’s main defence against predators like birds is that it tastes awful enough to cause vomiting. The Viceroy does not have this defence and so instead mimics the appearance of The Monarch to dissuade predators. This is a prime example of Batesian Mimicry. There are a couple of differences in appearance betweem the species. The Viceroy is usually quite a bit smaller. The Viceroy also has a “U” shaped vein across the lower portion of the hindwings, as shown above.

    That was it for day one. Storm clouds rolled in and so, other than getting dinner, we spent time at our Bed & Breakfast. We spent a couple of hours on the balcony during a gap in the rain and saw fireflies lighting up near some trees in the backyard. An Opossum skirted the edge of the grounds and a bat flitted past us a couple of times as it hunted gnats, many of which were also attracted to the light on our balcony.

    Keith Mclean Conservation Area

    The rain pelted down through the night like marbles on a tin roof and it was forecast to continue for much of the weekend. Keith Mclean Conservation Area was across the street, so we took a look during a break in the rain.

    We weren’t able to use the hiking trail due to the amount of mud, but even the grassy area near the entrance provided a few species. There were many Barn Swallows, a pair of Killdeer, several Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, a Common Gallinule and the usual common “backyard birds”. Turkey Vultures flew overhead and another raptor flew by. I suspect it was a Northern Goshawk. That would be a lifer as I haven’t seen one before, but I’m not able to count it as I’m not 100% sure what it was.

    Great Egret

    A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was running around the edge of one of several ponds at the Conservation Area.

    Spotted Sandpiper (Juvenile)

    Back to Rondeau

    The rain seemed to hold off, so we ventured back into Rondeau, but just briefly. I wanted to try to spot a Fowler’s Toad, which is “Imperilled” throughout Canada and Rondeau is one of the last places it is holding on. No such luck finding one, but we returned to the beach to look for gulls. I’m not a huge fan of differentiating gulls that are all so similar! However, I’d never seen a Bonaparte’s Gull and they are common enough here. After a little difficulty photographing them as they swiftly flew past at distance, I finally got a couple of shots.

    Bonaparte’s Gull (Breeding Adult)

    The above photo shows an adult breeding Bonaparte’s Gull and the image below shows a Bonaparte’s Gull in it’s “first winter” plumage – no longer a juvenile. The juvenile looks a little different again, and this is why I try to steer away from gulls! This is a new lifer and takes me to 189 species of bird. If I am to get to the 200 mark I will either need to head to somewhere exotic or start learning those gulls!

    Bonaparte’s Gull (first winter)

    Erieau and McGeachy Pond Conservation Area

    We drove to nearby Erieau where we would later have dinner on a socially distanced patio. Before that I parked the car and we walked in the light drizzle along a path beside Lake Erie where the waves smashed against rocks. I’m not sure why I enjoyed it, I suppose there was something elementally raw about it. Or at least there was until I got too close and a much larger wave splooshed over the rocks and soaked me from head-to-toe. Sara even took a video of it happening, which I will NOT be sharing!

    We moved on to McGeachy Pond Conservation Area, where a trail navigates you between a marsh on one side and the lake on the other. I managed to dry out because I was wearing dry wick clothing and blasted my car seat butt-warmer.

    We saw lots of Song Sparrows, a Downy Woodpecker and some ducks in the marsh that were tough to identify from distance, but were probably Wood Ducks. We had a couple of odd sightings. The was a Herring Gull wading around in an algae-filled pond. It looked particularly grumpy, though they often do, and gave the impression that it might be unable to unwilling to fly. I’m not sure this is typical habitat for them, but the right wing looks like it might be in bad shape.

    Herring Gull

    An adult Song Sparrow fed insects to one of its offspring before flying away for more. Another landed on a stump and I was able to get a quite pleasing shot.

    Song Sparrow

    John E. Pearce Provincial Park

    We were in no rush on our way back to Toronto, and so we took a bit of a scenic route, stopping in Elgin County for a much-needed coffee and a walk around John E. Pearce Provincial Park. We skirted around a meadow and small marsh. There is also a forested area that currently consists of only White Cedars as part of a long term rejuvenation effort. Their shade will eventually create a habitat more suitable to hardwood trees. Eventually, some White Cedars will be removed to add a better variety to the area.

    There were a lot of butterflies around including more Viceroys, Monarchs, Cabbage Whites, Spicebush Swallowtails and, below, a Clouded Sulphur feeding on a clover flower.

    Clouded Sulphur

    There were a couple of House Wrens and, hiding in the reeds as they like to do, I spotted a Marsh Wren. On the north side of the marsh, there were Purple Martins. Like swallows, they hunt insects on the wing, are fast and agile, and… hard to photograph. I didn’t get any good shots, but this is also a new bird for me. Lifer number 190.

    Look away again if you don’t like insects, but I spotted an absolutely huge monster of a wasp and had to do some digging to find out what it was.

    Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp

    The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp, as the name suggests, hunts for Cicadas. For my European readers, Cicadas are insects that live on trees and make an annoying buzzing sound throughout much of summer – though this seems to be a quieter year for them. The wasp lives underground and drags the Cicada into her burrow. She lays her eggs onto it and the resulting grubs feed on the Cicada. Despite how terrifying it looks, it is extremely reluctant to sting unless harmed, and like most wasps, only the female can sting. This was a very fortunate sighting. The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp is “Critically Imperilled” throughout Canada.

    There were, once again, a lot of Gypsy Moths around. I’d like to share a photo of one of the males who managed to find himself splashed out on someone’s windshield, mainly because I’d like to share how funky his “eyebrows” (antennae) look.

    Gypsy Moth (male)

    And that was that! We continued back to Toronto and had to stop by my in-laws on the way home. We used to live with them when I first came to Canada and I cultivated an elaborate array of bird feeders. My father-in-law has started to maintain a couple of the feeders in the last couple of weeks and he has started to get a steady stream of customers – Cardinals, Robins on the ground, a Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker have been by. I stopped to watch for a while and a pair of Cardinals came for a snack before the heavens opened one last time.

    Northern Cardinal

    Coming Up!

    Nothing planned for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be swinging by some local spots for a change. I’ve heard reports of some good butterfly action out towards Windsor and I am crazy enough to drive that far. Maybe in a couple of weeks!

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  • lynde with pals header
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Lynde Shores with Pals

    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”.

    Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

    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.

    Eastern Cottontail

    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).

    Flycatcher

    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.

    Northern Cardinal

    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.

    Eastern Chipmunk
    Eastern Grey Squirrel

    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.

    Great Blue Heron

    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.

    Common Loon

    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.

    Mallard

    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.

    Marsh Wren

    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!

    Wood Duck
    Coming Up!

    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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  • 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