• 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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  • luther marsh header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Dufferin,  Nature Trips,  Wellington

    Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area

    On Canada Day I paid an early morning visit to Luther Marsh. My wife and I wanted to go somewhere with recently reported good bird activity that would also not be crazy busy on a national holiday. This place is far enough from the city (about 90 minutes drive), and we also set off early – arriving at just before 7:30 am.

    We were hoping we might see some activity on the massive marsh (Sara is still looking for a Black-crowned Night Heron!), but it seemed pretty quiet. There is an observation tower near the parking lot, but the trodden-down vegetation that makes for a trail that leads to the tower was flooded – and we don’t typically bring wading boots on our trips!

    There is a single trail leading from the parking, encircling the lake. As soon as we began walking, we were hearing all kinds of bird song. Identifying by birdsong is something I am focusing on lately. I would say I can accurately identify about 20 species of bird from hearing them, and I can take a stab at around another 10-or-so. One bird I have heard a lot lately without actually seeing it, as anyone who reads my posts consistently will know, is the Red-Eyed Vireo. Finally, a Vireo decided to show themselves today!

    Red-eyed Vireo

    Before we disappeared into further woodland, we saw a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a couple of House Wrens. As you’d expect at a marsh, there were many Red-winged Blackbirds as well as Common Grackles. A male American Redstart flew up onto a telephone line.

    American Redstart

    Luther Marsh was quite active in butterfly and moth activity. There were hundreds of Crescent butterflies of multiple types and a healthy number of White Admirals, Tiger Swallowtails and Red-spotted Admirals.

    Red-spotted Admiral

    The Red-spotted Admiral is a new butterfly for me. One more butterfly photo. A Northern Pearly-Eye was relaxing in a conifer and the “eye” pattern caught my attention – this is also a new species for me. I also saw a type of Crocus Geometer Moth that had interestingly shaped wings, but I couldn’t get a clear shot of it to post here, or to help me ID it more precisely.

    Northern Pearly-Eye

    We saw females from a couple of species of bird that are good examples of strong sexual dimorphism (where the male and female look different). In this case, compared to the males, the females are very drab looking. A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak watched from a branch. She is mostly brown but has a white chest, white eye-line, and white eye-circle, as shown below. The male, who I’ve shown in previous posts, sports a higher contrast white and black colouring with a bright-red almost-heart-shaped marking on his chest.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

    A nondescript looking female Indigo Bunting also chipped at us. Compared to the dazzlingly bright-blue of the male, she could be easily overlooked.

    Indigo Bunting (female)

    This visual difference between the male and females of several species is because, generally speaking, female birds get to be selective over who they mate with. In these cases of brightly coloured or attractively patterned males, the message that is being sent to the female is “Look how flipping bright I am, and I still haven’t been eaten by a predator! Damn, I must have great genes!” and “My genes are so awesome, I wasted an awful lot of time growing this ridiculous tail-feather display while still getting on with my life”. Sometimes the show might not be visual. Some birds will mimic the songs of other birds (or just general sounds that they hear, such as car alarms). Beyond the song itself, they are also saying “I have survived long enough and spent years learning this whole array of different bird songs. My genes are great and your offspring can be survivors just like me – if you mate with me. Preferably many, many times.”

    Anyway, where was I? Ah yes…. The trail exited a coniferous woodland and entered a swamp where we heard dozens of White-throated Sparrows (their song is often written as “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”, which seemed appropriate with today being Canada Day). American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler were also quite plentiful. We also heard lots of Common Yellow-throat warblers which I’m super keen on, but they were barely showing themselves. I successfully managed to “Pish” one into view, but not for long enough to get a photo. I also saw some Swamp Sparrows. After around 5km, the trail suddenly became impassable because the swamp had overflown. We were just wearing running shoes – still no wading boots. No biggie, we turned back. We felt like the best of the birding was nearer the beginning of the trail, anyway.

    On the return leg, we began seeing very fresh signs of a coyote. We had already seen the regurgitated fur from, probably, a rabbit. Now we were seeing extremely fresh scat and the footprints of a canid. A wolf is unlikely this far south, which only really leaves coyote. The footprint below has two claws in front, with two further behind, which makes it the print of a canid. The claws are long which makes a domestic dog unlikely. I will save you the trouble of looking at photos of the scat – this particular coyote had a very upset stomach.

    Coyote footprint?

    The insects on this trail were an absolute nightmare and if we were to go back, I think we would have to go the full hardcore Ontario-countryside outfits with insect netting, including hats with netting. We had insect repellent and applied it liberally four times each. We didn’t suffer too many bites, but were constantly swarmed and flown into by mosquitoes and deer flies (whose bites, when they did come, were painful).

    Once we had gotten back to the start of the trail, we had another look at the marsh as this is where the best view was available. We saw a couple of birds on the water. In the far distance, a pair of Trumpeter Swans. Closer but still too far to get good photographs – a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. These Grebes are “lifers” for me. I’ve included a photo below as proof, but it isn’t very clear due to heat/distance! It’s been a good year. I have now seen 187 species of (non-captive) bird in my lifetime, 39 of them have been this year.

    Pied-billed Grebe

    We left Luther Marsh and looked at the idea of visiting somewhere else, but one of the places we passed was absolutely overflowing with people and there were signs up saying that the beach area was already over-capacity. This is one of the things that Sara and I dislike about large parts of The GTA – especially in the summer, and especially on holidays. We ended up running some errands instead, and will look forward to an early morning trip on the weekend.

    Coming Up!

    We anticipate a trip to the Hamilton/Burlington area. There is talk of Osprey activity, but we will also be happy with any birding activity we find! We are filling up a calendar with future trips – both day trips and longer.

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  • toronto parks june 2020 header
    Birds,  butterflies,  Nature Trips,  Toronto

    Toronto Area Trips June 2020

    I’ve been out and about most evenings for the past few weeks and haven’t always kept up with posting about it – so thought I would do a catch-up on some various sightings and trips.

    Hawk Attacks!

    I’ve been fortunate enough to watch a Red-tailed Hawk catch a squirrel on a couple of separate occasions in the last two weeks. If you are of a squeamish disposition, you might wish to squint past the photos and continue on to the next section!

    I’ve complained before about the scarcity of birding action during the summer months in Toronto, and while visiting Rosetta McClain Gardens one evening, this was the case again. However, just as my wife and I were about to leave, we spied a Red-tailed Hawk in a nearby tree and decided to stay and watch. It was obvious that the hawk was keeping a close eye on the various squirrels. The squirrels are relatively tame and perhaps a little unassuming in this park, often receiving handouts from humans.

    Red-tailed Hawk

    A Red-tailed Hawk can be identified by the rufous colour of its tail and by the way the speckled feathers on the breast centre into a belt across the middle, the affectionately named “belly belt”.

    Shortly after this shot, the hawk flew out of sight. We followed in the direction it flew, but moments later it came straight back again carrying a squirrel in its talons. It was shortly followed by a group of four-or-five girls in their late teens screaming and dumb-struck by witnessing the carnage. “We were just feeding that squirrel!”, they cried.

    Red-tailed Hawk with American Grey Squirrel (melanistic)
    Cranberry Marsh

    I’ve made a couple of trips to this marsh just inland from Lake Ontario. At the very least you can get to see a few ducks and swans, including some newborns. There are Virginia Rails here, too. You can hear them calling from all over the place, but they tend to stick amongst the reeds and I haven’t seen any recently.

    There has been a Common Gallinule on the marsh for a while, which is attracting some attention with birders and photographers. It was far away, so here is a small blurry photo of the moorhen/coot type bird.

    Common Gallinule

    There were Wood Duck ducklings in attendance, several Mute Swans and their cygnets, a plethora of Canada Geese and their goslings, and while we investigated, we saw small mammal prints in the mud that Sara thought were those of a Red Fox. At another point in the marsh, we watched a Great Blue Heron fly through, persued and harassed by territorial Red-winged Blackbirds.

    Red-winged Blackbirds “bombing” Great Blue Heron

    We hung around until dusk, where the sun began setting across the marsh, casting an orange hue over the water.

    Sunset over Cranberry Marsh
    Rouge National Urban Park

    I did a loop along The Orchard Trail, back down The Vista Trail twice in the last little while – once with my wife Sara, and once with my friend Gabriel and enjoyed a few nice sightings of butterflies, moths, and birds. I enjoyed seeing a small number of White Admiral butterflies around the wooded areas.

    White Admiral

    The stretch of The Vista Trail running between the visitor centre and the look-out tower is usually good for birding and I was able to see Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, lots of Tree Swallows, and a couple of other treats. I heard a call that I suspected was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. After some looking around, a male bird peaked out of a tree.

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Over the years of visiting this park, I have occasionally been greeted by a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and I was pleased to see them both times I visited recently.

    Eastern Bluebird pair

    The male Bluebird has the bolder colours on the left, with the female following him. Other non-bird species seen on these two visits include a lot of butterflies: A Crescent, a type of Comma whose wings were a little too worn to identify, Hobomok Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Red Admiral, Dreamy Duskywing, and a Little Wood Satyr butterfly. Turtles breed and are researched at Rouge and I saw Midland Painted Turtles and a Red-eared Slider and her young. This is an invasive species, usually the result of a released pet, that can out-compete native species.

    Thompson Memorial Park

    One last trip to write about was a quick walk through Thompson Memorial Park with Sara one evening, a manicured park with a small wood that connects to “The Great Trail” (a cross-Canada trail) and features a ravine. We saw a couple of Eastern Wood Pewees and a whole lot of Ebony Jewelwings – a type of damselfly commonly seen in summer alongside rivers and creeks. We also saw a Northern Flicker in a distant tree and a Baltimore Oriole. My favourite sighting was a Nessus Sphinx moth, a slightly odd-looking thing that resembles a bee from behind, with two yellow stripes across its abdomen. They’re on the small side and fast-moving, but here is what I got.

    Nessus Sphinx Moth (top/rear)
    Nessus Sphinx Moth (side)
    Coming Up!

    I’m looking at a morning out to Colonel Samuel Smith Park in the West end of Toronto, I plan on returning to Lynde Shores and Cranberry Marsh again with a friend from work who said “I wish I could go there with someone that knows what they are talking about” (hopefully she doesn’t regret saying that!) and I’m looking into where to go on Canada Day away from the city if anyone has any suggestions?

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