Sunday, 11 March 2018

Waterloo Region Nature Annual Field Trip to North Shore of Lake Ontario

10 March 2018

An early conservationist's concern perhaps......

The emotions excited in the mind of a naturalist, who has long desired to see the actual thing which he has hitherto known only by description, drawing or badly-preserved external covering - especially when that thing is of surpassing rarity and beauty - require the poetic faculty fully to express them.........It seems sad on one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions......while on the other hand, should civilized man ever reach these distant lands.......we may be sure that he will so disturb the nicely-balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature so as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of those very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man.

Alfred Russel Wallace, mid 19th Century.

Leader: David Gascoigne

Club members: Miriam Bauman, Scott Beemer, James Bowman, Robert Crawford, Denise Leschak, Curtiss MacDonald, Graham Macdonald, Margaret Lewis Macdonald, Greg Michalenko, Janet Ozaruk, Peter Rasberry, Geraldine Sanderson, John Sanderson, Meg Slater, Roger Suffling, Bryan Teat, Charlotte Teat, Doug Woodley.

Guests: Shirley Bauman, Heather Fotherby

     Our first stop was at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, where I am quite sure that out of twenty visits, perhaps but one would not permit us glorious looks at Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). Today was obviously the twentieth time! Not that we didn't have many eyes to search!

     As always, there were other diversions. For one, Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) were migrating in numbers and on the water a pair of lovely Gadall (Anas strepera) claimed ownership of a stretch of water, sailing by like the avian aristocracy they are. Not for them the gaudy finery of a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa); understated elegance wins the day.

     A lone Double-crested Cormorant  (Phalacrocroax auritus) seemed to have great success fishing in the canal.

     Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) are of course ubiquitous, but I urge everyone to shed their attitude of indifferent dejà vu , and take a close look at this truly handsome bird.

     A single Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) impressed us with its grandeur and it came right up to inspect us.

     This gave me the excuse I needed to launch into an explanation of how the Trumpeter Swan was reintroduced into Ontario after more than a century of extirpation, by my ornithological hero Harry Lumsden. Everyone paid rapt attention, feigned or not, and I was grateful!

      I should mention at this juncture that Miriam had agreed to be the official photographer for the day. It is difficult for me to lead the group, find birds, answer questions AND take photographs. She does a far better job than I anyway.
      Only the second Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) of the season for us put on a fine show  and moved into the open where everyone could see it well.

     Someone remarked that it is a gorgeous little bird, and who could disagree with that assessment?
      It was time to move on to LaSalle Park and Marina, our birding hot spot for the day, and our cavalcade of cars moved off in formation like a wagon train of old.     
     Two of the stalwarts on our trip were John and Geraldine Sanderson. John and Geraldine are now in the sixty-first year of their marriage, and remain as committed and dedicated as they ever were - no, even more so. John is awaiting hip surgery but nothing deters him from a good outing, with Geraldine at his side to provide a little help when needed, and a shoulder to lean on - literally. This is a great shot of the two of them together enjoying a late winter outing as they have done so many times before.

     One of our first sightings was Bufflehead (Bucephela albeola), a species that will soon be moving north to breed, but for the time being remains here to give us pleasure.

     Miriam caught the effect on the water as this male dove and the result is quite magical.

     Many of us use Swarovski binoculars, this resembles Swarovski crystal perhaps.

      Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) are just starting to return to the Great Lakes and this individual is still in transitional plumage.

     The male Wood Duck that has been consorting all winter with a female Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) was still present, guarding the object of his ardour as closely as ever.

     When Alfred Russell Wallace mentions "a thing of rarity and beauty" in the quote above, this creature would surely qualify.
     A vanguard of Trumpeter Swans appears to have already moved north, but many still remain.

     I wonder how many casual walkers have been turned on to a partnership with nature as a result of repeated exposure to these gorgeous creatures. Ontario's debt to Harry Lumsden will never be entirely repaid.
     For anyone who has never seen a pure American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) LaSalle Park is the place to visit.

     While watching swans and ducks a couple of young Bald Eagles (3rd/4th year?) put on a show for us overhead.

     Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) at LaSalle have long become accustomed to humans bearing food, and in order to share the pleasure, they have no hesitation in landing on an outstretched hand to take a seed or two. If we all live to be a hundred the pleasure of this activity will never be diminished.

     Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) will occasionally come to hand, but this individual was a little more wary.

     I always wish that, like Dr. Doolittle, I could speak to the animals and assure these creatures that I wish them no ill will, and only strive to help them, and develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Fat chance huh? Especially when you consider man's brutal relationship with wildlife.
     The principal aim of outings like this one is, as you will understand, to foster a knowledge of birds and their habitats, but a not insignificant aspect is the bringing together of like- minded people to enjoy each other's company and in some cases to get to know each other for the first time.
     I doubt that Curtiss and Janet had met before this field trip, but they seem to have become firm friends.

     Standing waiting for a chickadee will do that for you!
     I wonder what Marg Macdonald and Roger Suffling are looking at?

     Curtiss is anxious to show her a picture or two.

     Looks like Greg Michalenko figured he had earned a break.

     I was waxing enthusiastically earlier about Ring-billed Gulls; if you need an additional incentive to go out and admire these creatures here it is.

     Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) were infused with hormones and up to five males were pursuing one female; whether she is lucky or unfortunate depends on your point of view I suppose.

     Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), formerly quite rare, is becoming ever more common in southern Ontario, and LaSalle Park is one of the most reliable places to find it.

     It was a pleasant day for the time of year, right around 0°C and we (most of us) ate our lunch outside, sitting on benches, looking at gulls, ducks and swans. How pleasant is that?
     Suitably fortified to tackle the afternoon we reformed our cavalcade and sallied on over to Sioux Lookout Park. We did not stay there long for the rafts of ducks were far, far out; in many case too far to even identify with certainty.
     Paletta Park beckoned, with its warm, clean washrooms, guaranteed to have toilet paper, hot water, soap, paper towels, all valued by everyone on a winter excursion, but especially appreciated by the ladies. A bare derrière in a secluded gully is not something to look forward to  when the icy wind blows across Lake Ontario!
     Paletta was formerly a grand old mansion, now owned by the City of Burlington and used for weddings and all manner of other functions.

     We ambled down to the Lake.

     A walk along the woodland trail revealed a couple of male Downy Woodpeckers jousting over territory perhaps, or maybe just irritated with each other's presence.

      American Robins (Turdus migratorius) were quite common.

     It was the sharp eyes of Janet Ozaruk that spotted this cocoon of the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). Amazingly this species overwinters here and emerges as a fully formed moth during the first two warm weeks of summer.

    On the way back to the car we saw this female Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) in a creek with a pair of Mallards, an unusual location for the species, and this individual seems to have an extraordinarily long bill. It did not look emaciated so one must assume that it is able to capture fish without impediment.

     Our final stop was at Bronte Harbour in Oakville, where we had our only close encounters with Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis).



     None of us were able to identify this insect, no doubt newly emerged from its winter abode.

     The most remarkable thing at Bronte was the amazing ability of Scott Beemer to spot a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) out on the breakwater. Even when he explained to the rest of us where it was we still had great difficulty picking it out. This picture gives you an idea of the distance perspective as we searched.

    Some of us caught a glimpse of something white, thought it might be a plastic bag, a pile of snow......
     Scott was undeterred. He was convinced that he had a Snowy Owl.

         We went to the car to get a scope.

     And this is what we saw.

     How Scott ever saw that initially is beyond me, but he certainly earned the title "Birder of the Day." Fittingly a Snowy Owl was the last species of the day, exactly the way it had been last year.
     Thanks to everyone for coming on my outing and making it a very enjoyable day. See you all again next year!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, American Black Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal. Total: 45

Friday, 9 March 2018

Tuesday Rambles with David - Riverside Park, Cambridge, ON

06 March 2018

     On all of our other jaunts to this gem of a birding spot Franc and Carol were away, so this was the first time they have been able to join us at this location. Mary was ailing a little; other than that our whole crew was together.

    We are now at that time of the year when winter residents and spring migrants are present at the same time. American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) is among the most attractive species that spends the winter here. Soon they will be moving north to their arctic breeding grounds.

     A little bird seed strewed along the fence rail is guaranteed to bring them out, often accompanied by House Sparrows (Passer domesticus).

     Male House Sparrows are in full nuptial regalia now and this individual was exceptionally handsome.

     Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) are also still with us and they too will soon be leaving the area, not to be seen again until Fall.

     What would a walk through a southern Ontario woodland be without a friendly Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) to enliven the stroll?

     Of course, it is not only birds that take advantage of the handout from humans, and this American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) wasted no time in claiming his share.

     In my opinion this is one of the most attractive little squirrels in all the world.
     The Speed River was swollen and flowing rapidly so there were not many species fighting the current. This pair of Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) was the exception.
     Common Grackle (Quiculus quiscula) has returned in good numbers and this fine portrait by Miriam really captures the phenomenal iridescence of the male's plumage.

      Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is a very common resident and at Riverside Park it seems to be particularly emboldened, not hesitating to join the other species on the fence rail. This female was close by, descending from time to time to snatch a few seeds.

     White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) are similarly common and they will even feed from the hand.

     Male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are already claiming and defending territories, waiting for females to arrive. 

     There seemed to be some evidence that House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are pairing off and this couple stuck together.

     The males seem to be especially handsome this year.

     A Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) patrolled the sky, ultimately joined by a second bird, although it was unclear if this was a pair.

     A Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is surely one of the most delicately plumaged of our native species. It is not hard to understand why doves have always been considered symbols of peace, and have been used throughout history in myriad human rituals. So often they can be observed sitting quietly alongside each other, but they can be quarrelsome and aggressive when the occasion demands it.

     There were many Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) present and courtship singing by males is already well advanced.

     It was Francine who noticed how closely this snag resembled a bird and after she posted it to her Facebook page people had fun coming up with whimsical names.

     Here are just a few: Stump Grouse, Buffy-cheeked Woodbird, Dull-brown Stump Jumper, Wooded Pecker, Willow Wood Pigeon.
     Maybe you can come up with your own.

All species: Canada Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, House Sparrow, House Finch, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal 
Total: 20.