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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We hung around until dusk, where the sun began setting across the marsh, casting an orange hue over the water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Trip to Carden Alvar
For a couple of weeks, my wife and I had been itching to get to Carden Alvar, located in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. It is a unique environment of thin soil, sparse grasses, and unique plant life which attracts birds that are less commonly seen in The GTA, some of which are threatened species. I was particularly keen to see an Eastern Meadowlark. When I first got into birding about 10-years-ago, I saw one of these birds in a hydrofield and I was struck by how different its song is. I hadn’t seen one since.
As the sun began to peek out above the horizon, we grabbed a quick coffee and hit the highway at just before 6am ready for the hour-and-a-half drive. You are always more likely to see animal activity early in the morning.
Initially we arrived at a small gravel parking area at an area named “Cameron Ranch” where a trail allowed you to walk through the alvar. It was a mind-meltingly hot and humid day, but we spent an hour or so walking the trail. I have seen the odd Brown Thrasher before, but never so many in one place. It seemed like there was another one squeaking and squawking every few hundred feet. Like The Northern Mockingbird and Grey Catbird, the Brown Thrasher is a mimic bird that attempts to copy the songs of other birds. It is larger than its cousins, has a brown speckled chest and bright yellow eyes.
There were a lot of distinctive looking flowers and plants that I had never seen before.
During the first stretch of the trail, we saw three different types of sparrow. The first, the Song Sparrow, I am very familiar with and it is plentiful in Toronto. It has a speckled breast with a circular spot in the centre and a very familiar song (hence the name!). I heard the song of a second species, which turned out to be a Savannah Sparrow. It has a speckled chest like the Song Sparrow, but is missing the spot and there is a yellow line above the eye. This is a new bird for me and is “Lifer” number 183.
The third sparrow species I saw wasn’t a very cooperative photo model, insisting upon perching with the sun directly behind – but my “Lifer” number 184 is the Grasshopper Sparrow which looks similar to the above but also has yellow underparts and a larger beak. Identification was helped by the fact that it buzzed excitedly with a grasshopper in its beak. We also saw, far in the distance standing high in a bare tree, an Upland Sandpiper. Too distant to photograph, but this is “Lifer” number 185 for me.
We pushed through a wet, muddy area to avoid mosquitoes before coming to a turn in the trail. There was a bit of a ruckus among some quarrelling birds – a Blue Jay, as they often do, was causing some upset. A Brown Thrasher yelled from the top of a tree. A Red-Eyed Vireo flitted around and something else was calling and hiding in a shrub. Sara was able to get good eyes on it and she correctly identified it as an Eastern Towhee. I tried “Pishing” it (making bird sounds to draw it out) and managed to snap a photo of its head peeking out.
We continued a little further, but the activity seemed to die down and it was swelteringly hot. Several Great Blue Herons flew overhead and I saw a couple of butterflies – a European Skipper (known as an Essex Skipper in The UK – it is introduced into Ontario) and a pretty Bronze Copper.
Running low on water, we turned back and followed the trail back to the car. Several times on the way back (and it would continue throughout the trip), I kept hearing the song of Eastern Meadowlarks. They nest in the long grasses and so I couldn’t actually see one – until we were about halfway back to the car. There was one in the distance. Because it was distant, the rising heat in the air means it doesn’t really matter how good your camera lens is – the heatwaves makes the image blurry, but hey, I saw one! We briefly saw another later in the day, closer to us, but too brief to photograph. It quickly sang and flew away. Sara aptly commented that when the bird sings, its beak opens so wide it looks like its head will split open.
We were unfamiliar with Carden Alvar and figured that there must be more to the area than this one trail. Much frantic Googling later, we made our way to a gravel/mud road which cuts North/South through the alvar and has several areas to stop and park. We heard many more Eastern Meadowlarks, saw a male/female pair of Eastern Bluebirds, and saw dozens of Tree Swallows that were making use of the man-made nesting boxes. Some contained chicks and the adult Swallows would frequently visit with the insects they had caught.
We decided to drive the length of the road, circle back to the beginning, and then drive it again but stopping off. It took a long time to drive the full-length of the road and a 4-by-4 vehicle would be better equipped. My hatchback struggled over the large potholes and, in places, deep puddles of muddy water. It was worth it, though. After about 20 minutes, I saw a large black shape at the side of the road. “F***! BEAR!”, I swore, before it quickly ran off. Since I was driving, the best shot I got was of its backside. It was the first time I’d seen one.
Quite some time later, after circling the alvar and returning back to the beginning of the road, my car covered in mud and dust, we started over. This time we stopped off a couple of times, but didn’t see much. It was the middle of the day, the sun high, it was humid, most animals would be having a siesta. We decided to walk one of the trails without much hope. There were lots of White Admiral butterflies around and a few moths. Sara was a little ahead of me on the trail and we were contemplating turning back. Suddenly Sara shouted “Moose!”. And there it was. Just a few hundred feet away stood eating grasses in a marsh rivulet. Suddenly the crazy beast charged at us, splashing water all over itself.
It took several quick steps in our direction before pausing and staring at us. It was so close I didn’t even have to zoom. Perhaps Sara had surprised it. Perhaps it had a calf nearby. Fortunately for us, she thought better of attacking us. She turned and ran a short distance away. She looked over at us a couple of times, then ran into the scrub.
We sat in a hide for a while (in the shade, with a lovely breeze), listening to more Eastern Meadowlarks, but I was unable to get any photos while they hid in the grass. We decided to leave for the day. We stopped off at a couple of other places, explored the lakeshore east of Toronto a little (Lake Ontario), but nothing as exciting as a rampant moose to write about!
A few local trips that I need to write up! A possible return trip to Lynde Shores with a workmate. Who knows what else? (not me!)
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