• 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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  • bobolink header
    Birds,  Durham,  Nature Trips

    Lakeside Durham Region

    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.

    Lynde Shores

    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.

    Eastern Cottontails

    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.

    Bobolink

    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.

    Osprey

    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.

    Yellow Warbler

    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…

    Coming Up….

    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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