Category Archives: Birds

Birdwalk

An organization in Toronto called Citizens Concerned about the future of the Etobicoke Waterfront, or CCFEW for short(er), organizes regular birdwalks at Sam Smith Park and at Humber Bay.  There was one scheduled for this morning, so we trundled out in the rain to enjoy it.

wet bird walk
wet bird walk
Intrepid but hopeless birdwaters
Intrepid but hopeless birdwatchers

The rain kept some of the birds down, but still I think we saw 19 species:

American Goldfinch (lots of them, flying around and singing)
Magnolia Warbler (one, which could just be seen hiding in some bushes)
Song Sparrow (a few)
Cliff Swallow (they nest at the water filtration plant….these, like other swallows, have been in decline)
Eastern Kingbird
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Hooded Merganser
Mallards (lots of them)
American Black Duck (hanging out with the mallards)
Mute Swans (the bullies of the waterfront)
Black Crowned Night Heron
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-necked Grebes
Muscovy (likely an escapee from a farm)

Muscovy Duck
Muscovy Duck
Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Grebe

Sam Smith Park is a significant breeding area for Red-necked Grebes. We saw the female in the picture sitting on its nest while the male dove nearby for food (the male isn’t visible in the picture….the other bird in the picture behind the grebe is a cormorant). This is late for the birds to be on the nest. It could be the first attempt failed and this was a second try at raising a family. On another nest, we saw a mother grebe with two young ones. The babies have stripes on their heads.

In spite of unrelenting rain, we had fun on the bird walk. I’d like to go on the next one as well, in early October.

Bird-brained

For years we lived in a neighbourhood with few birds. This sure changed when we moved down to Long Branch a few years ago. Sam Smith Park, just down the street, is well known as a migration trap, a respite for migrating birds coming north in the spring. It attracts birders from all over everywhere. You can see them gathered, often in packs. Birders are easy to identify by their markings (they can often be seen carrying cameras with very long lenses).

You might think with all the exposure I have to bird-life around our home that I might have more than a passing knowledge of bird identification but sadly it isn’t so. Sure, I have identified some of the birds I’ve seen in the neighbourhood, but mostly just the most common of them.

Here’s a list of the ones I can think of….

Pigeons. OK, anybody who lives in a city has pigeons.

Mute Swans. There are loads of these to be seen in the lake all around our area. I understand these lovely birds are very territorial.

Canada Geese. ‘Nuff said.

Red-tailed hawk. Saw one down by the marina earlier this year.

Cooper’s hawk. When I saw it, this bird was perched on the water treatment plant and then flew off. I remembered all the detail I could and then tried to ID it online. I also heard an independent report of a Cooper’s hawk at around the same time over in Sam Smith Park. I’m not positive on this ID but comfortable enough to include it.

American Goldfinch. I’ve see quite a few of these.

Baltimore Oriole. Fairly common around here.

Northern Cardinal. Lots of these around the house. They love the sunflower seeds I leave in the teacup bird feeder.

American robin. Among the most common birds around here.

House sparrow. I believe it was house sparrows that took up residence in the birdhouse in the backyard this year. Then again, if they were a different variety of sparrows, would I know the difference? I think not.

Red-winged blackbird. Plenty of them. I’ve seen these birds swoop at our cats in the back yard.

European starling. Again, plenty of them.

Common grackle. Lots of these too.

Mourning doves.

Northern flicker. OK, Tuffy P says she sees them. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’d know a northern flicker from a southern one.

Black-capped chickadee

White-breasted nuthatch

Whimbrels. We saw a flock of these migrating. ID confirmed as we were on a bird walk at the time.

Great Blue Heron. I saw one flying over the Arsenal Lands the other day.

Turkey vulture

Killdeer. At least I’ve heard them. Are they the birds that pretend they’re injured on the ground to protect their nests?

Pileated woodpecker

Downey Woodpecker

Purple martins

Cliff swallows. Nesting on the water treatment plant. I know there are other varieties of swallows around, but I can’t yet identify them.

Herring gulls. For sure there are a variety of gulls and terns around, but again, I’m not there yet.

Red-necked grebes. Well known in Sam Smith Park

Yellow warbler.

Cormorants. We have some black ones in the harbour but I don’t know which variety.

Owls. Tuffy P and I have each independently seen an owl. The one I saw was a quick fly-by at dusk. I couldn’t identify based on that.

Ducks. Um, I can ID a mallard, but the rest are just ducks.

I know there are plenty of species I’ve seen that I just can’t identify or that I haven’t observed closely enough to identify. On the weekend, I bought a field guide – Stokes Field Guide to Birds – Eastern Region, by Donald and Lillian Stokes. The woman running the bird store in Port Dover suggested this one.

So now I have a new plan – when I see a bird I don’t know, I’m going to try to figure out what I’m looking at, and add it to the list.

The new and improved teacup bird-feeders

New and improved teacup birdfeeders
New and improved teacup birdfeeders

I posted pictures of the teacup bird-feeders the other day. There was a wee technical challenge. The 1/4 inch threaded rod just didn’t have enough stability. It looked great, but any weight at all (like a bird landing on one for a bite of lunch) and it bent right over. The squirrels quickly discovered the could simply run up the rod and it would bend over as they climbed. What was needed was something to stabilize the teacups. I opted for copper plumbing pipe that slides right over the threaded rod. It looks good, it stays vertical and it seems to be squirrel proof, at least for now. I have both cups in the canoe garden, stocked with black sunflower seeds. As I type this, I’m watching a female cardinal fuel up. There are loads of cardinals around here and they seem very happy to eat our seeds.

Wildlife

The first 6 deer I saw on my recent road-trip were carcasses at the side of the I-75 on the lower Michigan penninsula (not to mention an assortment of dead raccoons, possum, skunks, porcupines and various unidentified animals). Later I would see a couple dozen live ones at various times and places in forests and by the roadside. There are a lot of deer on the Upper Peninsula. In fact, I found not seeing deer to be unusual.

I saw an assortment of birds of prey, as well as crows, robins, swallows, finches, grouse, quail, not to mention birds I heard but never saw, such as the whip-poor-will who serenaded me to sleep nightly. And then there were the turkeys.

Turkeys

DSC03137DSC03122 DSC03121

I skidded to a stop to take the last two shots. What I missed in the photo were a several babies walking along with mama turkey. They were tiny and I could barely see them through the brush. If I were a little quicker, I might have caught then a couple feet back where there was a little bit of a clearing, but unfortunately, by the time I fumbled for my camera and snapped a couple shots, they had disappeared into the longer grasses.

Hawk

I was just out with the dogs for a walk over by the water filtration plant. As we came down the hill and turned south a hawk swooped down from above the roof of the building and soared low across the pavement and the grass, flying towards the lake and then turning west and flying out of sight. It was a large bird with a distinctly reddish tail, leading me to suspect (hey I’m no birder) it was none other than a red-tailed hawk.

We turned west and watched the bird fly back toward us, then across the harbour, landing on a tree out on the spit. Moments later it flew back toward us again, soaring low and fast and then swooped gently up to a perch in a tree perhaps 100 yards behind us.

The filtration plant and Sam Smith park beside it are amazing places for birdlife. Usually the first indicator that some special bird or another is around is the flock of birders with their long expensive camera lenses and their tripods. Tonight though, there was nobody out there but me and the dogs, our new bird friend and whatever it was hunting.