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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Please excuse my post-isolation haircut in the above picture. That’s a whole other blog entry for a different type of website.
On Sunday, July 5th Sara and I visited a few different spots around Burlington Bay on the western edge of Lake Ontario. We planned to visit some trails around the Royal Botanical Gardens, but since they didn’t open the gates until 10 am (and we are early starters), we began our day at Princess Point at around 6:45 am.
As soon as we stepped out of the car, the birdsong was quite plentiful and separating the various songs and calls was giving me sensory overload! The trail entered a meadow that was teeming with Yellow Warblers, Tree Swallows, and both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. The Orioles appeared to be having a bumper year here – we saw several juveniles that were yet to fully grow their field markings. I’m not sure which species of Oriole this is and nobody else I’ve asked is too sure, either. Send your answers on a postcard (if you’ll excuse the British idiom).
After a loop around the meadow, the trail entered woodland where many birds were heard, but not too many seen due to the high canopy. There were many Warbling and Red-Eyed Vireos, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Cardinals and Common Grackles. One of the most exciting birds that we heard but were unable to see was a Chestnut-sided Warbler. A Pine Warbler was also heard. We looked out over the bay where there were gaps in the foliage and we saw around half-a-dozen Caspian Terns, lots of Ring-billed Gulls, and lots of Double-crested Cormorants – the latter two species being very common around Lake Ontario. Throughout the hike, we seemed to be followed by a Northern Flicker that we heard making its “laughing” call several times.
Royal Botanical Gardens
The trail continued around the whole bay, including to the Botanical Gardens we were aiming for originally. However, because it was getting close to opening time over there, we decided to drive over – in case it became busy. We parked at a large Arboretum with a wide variety of trees that were all labelled with their Common Name, Taxonomic Name, and the name traditionally used by Indigenous peoples. There were educational signs throughout the trails that gave examples of some of the plants that were growing there, and how they were traditionally used by the Anishinaabe people.
Once again, it was beginning to get frightfully hot. There were a ton of Eastern Chipmunks around that would suddenly squeak and tear across the trail ahead of us, but not much else – except out on the water. There were Mute Swans and an awful lot of Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants that seem to have claimed the small “Hickory Island” for use as a colony. Their scat is acidic and damages trees, so it can be problematic when they gather in large numbers, as you can see from the bare branches in the photo.
Maybe it was the heat, but we saw areas along the trail that should have been attractive to wildlife but seemed to be missing examples of indicator species (animals such as some amphibians that indicate a healthy environment). We did come across one swampy area where we saw Northern Leopard Frogs and a couple of smaller/young Midland Painted Turtles.
In the same area, I snapped a photograph of some kind of dragonfly that was basking on a log. I know next to nothing about dragonflies but decided to take the photograph because it looked a little different from others I had seen, and I thought I could look into it sometime in the future. It turns out that it is a Unicorn Clubtail whose conservation status is “imperilled” in Canada and in several US states. For reference, the next stage is “critically imperilled” followed by “possibly extinct”. I was recently invited to join a citizen science project for rare sightings where I submit things like this to the Natural Heritage Information Centre department of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. They use the data to argue for the conservation of important habitats.
We reached as far as a boardwalk on The Marsh Walk Trail. There is a lookout point where we sat for a while and watched for activity in the water. A Marsh Wren would call out, occasionally flitting out to have a look around before returning to the safety of the Cattails. A raft of Mallard Ducklings preened while sat on a floating piece of wood. A Belted Kingfisher flew by. We looked for some of the species we are keen to see: Sora, Virginia Rail, Least or American Bitterns. No luck there, but we were fortunate enough that an adult Bald Eagle flew over the marsh a couple of times.
Not too long after this fly-by, a younger Bald Eagle flew overhead, this time a little closer. Bald Eagles take around five years to grow their distinctive white tail and head feathers.
Although it had been quite a good day, I had hoped that we might get to see an Osprey up close – and if I was super lucky, maybe get to watch one hunt. However we didn’t see one, so we decided to check out a stretch of The Grand River in-and-around the Cambridge area.
Incidentally, Sara and I both loved the look of Cambridge and have previously spent some time in nearby Dundas and loved it there, too. We are growing quite tired of the city, the crowding, the concrete, so many people on edge. Seeing some of the scenes at places like The Beaches, Bellwoods, and The Bluffs this summer makes you question how sustainable an ever-growing population with limited outdoor recreation can really be. It has really been put into focus during the pandemic where everyone has been vying for outdoor space without restaurants and shopping malls to splurge their time and money.
Anyway, back to nature. We walked along The Grand River and saw Mallards, a flotilla of Ring-billed Gulls, and amongst them, two Herring Gulls (new bird for Sara). The Herring Gull is slightly larger, has pink instead of yellow legs, and the adult has a red mark on the bill instead of a black one.
It was early afternoon and the heat was almost unbearable. We saw an adult Osprey in a nest built on top of a man-made nesting platform. The temperature was causing heatwaves that have made the following photograph blurry but I’ve included it because you can see a fledgeling Osprey on the right of the platform.
Unable to stand the heat, and realising that conditions meant the Osprey would be less active, we drove up-river a short distance to sit in the shade in a picnic area. I got a call from my Mum in The UK while we were looking around and I inadvertently hung-up on her to take a photo when an Osprey flew over us!
No National Geographic shot of it plucking a fish from the river, but at least we got to see one.
We did visit a couple of other places, but not much productive to report. We swung into Dundas Conservation Area. It looks like a nice place, but there were too many irresponsible dog owners allowing their dogs off-leash in a conservation area. And did I mention the heat?
We had planned to make a full-day of things and maybe get some sunset photos in the evening. The sun is currently setting in a north-west-west direction, so to get shots over Lake Ontario, it would mean travelling to somewhere between Port Dalhousie and Niagara along the southern shore. The less said about this waste of gasoline, the better! We tried a couple of places and, reminiscent of the hot-spots I mentioned in Toronto earlier, they were absolutely crawling with people. With the current pandemic situation, it was genuinely scary to see. Instead, we headed home, dreaming of the fall season, when the outdoors is generally quieter.
Not wanting to end on this slightly sour note, while we were in the picnic area back in Cambridge, we saw a couple of House Finches. They’re seen very commonly even at bird feeders, but I hadn’t seen one in the wild for quite a few months. The male has red colouring, the female is brown.
Poor weather is scheduled and my wife is fulfilling the last couple of weekends of some on-call commitments before she gains some extra freedom. We will be heading somewhere that fulfils the Goldilocks criteria of being not-too-far-away (for phone service), but far enough to be quiet! Perhaps the Bowmanville area. We also recently purchased a parking pass for Lynde Shores so will likely be visiting there a lot more often.
Crack on 🙂
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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