Tag Archives: birdspotting

Seaton Hiking Trail

My British blood means that there is a very specific range of temperatures between which I am comfortable and willing to leave the house. That range falls between one-degree with several jumpers and about room temperature with slightly less jumpers. Anything outside of this range and I would rather be hibernating like an angry bear. However, autumn is soon upon us, and so revives my hiking.

ASeaton Trail Maplthough I would like to get back to my self-imposed springtime challenge of walking the length of The Don (read about that here), over the last couple of days, I have been walking The Seaton Trail.

The trail is located north-west of Toronto. It is about 13km (8 miles) long. There is a logistical issue with this trail that will make it more difficult than The Don.  There is no public transport. I will have to park my car, walk some trail, but then walk back to my car, thus doubling the length of the trail. At the time of writing, I have walked about half of the trail in two short days.

Day One

The Northern end of the trail begins just off Highway 7, east of York Durham Line (for Brits, this is the road that splits York “county” and Durham “county”). It’s about 30 minutes drive from where I live and there is a small parking area which was about three-quarters full when I arrived around 2pm.

jewelweedAs I began making my through the dirt trail, I rounded a marshy area with a small creek which was lined with Spotted Jewelweed, a yellow./orange flower speckled with darker spots. I was thinking to myself that they reminded me somewhat of the Snapdragon plant that is familiar to me from England, when I spotted a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird drink from one of the conical flowers, as silent and elusive as a wisp. It quickly zipped away, followed by a second hummingbird.

stairsI marched onwards. The terrain is easy, but there are occasional wooden steps to navigate as the trail rises up the valley walls, carved by the West Duffins Creek and the retreat of the Glacial Lake Iroquois which formed the water systems throughout Ontario around 13,000 years ago.

whitevalewaterfallThe weather was a little damp with occasional spitting rain, and so animal life was sparse, beyond a few brave Chickadees and an obstinate Crow. The trail ended at Whitevale Road due to bridge construction, but my GPS unit, with the trail marked on my map, showed that the trail had a loop. I took the other loop back to the start of the trail and eventually came to Whitevale Pond and a waterfall. A re-visit to this area during the spring of 2016 is called for, as I have since heard that Salmon make their return journey along this waterway, attempting to jump the waterfall. I disturbed a beautiful, prehistoric looking Great Blue Heron as I made my way around the pond. He flapped lackadaisically away towards some distant perch.

whitevalepond

Day Two

I returned from where I had left off, near to Whitevale Road, about a week later. I was apprehensive at first. It was a whopping 26 degrees out, way above my usual threshold, but the day turned out to be a perfect for a walk in the woods.

I walked through the dew covered grass of Whitevale Park towards the trail, which was beautifully sun-dappled, thanks to the Maple and Fir. Each time a range of denser Fir began, the sound of scalding chickadees fluttered through the forest and the squealing, squeaking alarm of chipmunks as they would dash impulsively to the nearest tree. From their vantage point on the offside of a tree trunk, they would freeze, staring at you, almost certain that they were invisible to your threat.

fernforest

Into the denser woodland, the floor coated in pine needles and fern, a distant, gentle “queedle” of two Blue Jays, a bird now considering its southward migration before the arrival of the unrelenting snow. Off the trail, the trees mostly left to their devices, some felled birch trees, their silver bark like wallpaper for the ground. Somewhere close by, a nuthatch, his unmistakable nasal report.

Several American Red Squirrels were fighting over the right to acorns and territories, all the better to store their horde for the harsher times ahead. No time to waste. As the trees thinned out, banks coated with Bur-Marigold were enjoyed by the community of bees, a species we now love but maligned for so long. And then, on top of a ridge, a vista of the creek.

vistacreek

The trail turned towards some open fields. Lined to the right by expired maize, to the left, apple trees whose deposited fruit sweetly perfumed the air. The trickling sound of the river, like a babbling brook, its sound emanating from the shallow riverbed of stones, rounded from decades of erosion.

daisyBeside the trail, some areas overtaken by white, yellow and purple weeds, Daisy Fleabane, Aster and Goldenrod, beloved by the insects that made this their home. Cabbage White Butterflies flew excitedly around, battling gentle breezes. A pale-yellow bodied dragonfly with neon blue wings.

I turned back once I reached Whites Road. There is parking here, so I will continue on at a later date. On my way back along the trail, back up in to the open fields, a pair of Turkey Vultures soared the hillside thermals in search of, perhaps, an unlucky squealing chipmunk. Some time later, back towards my car, a flash of yellow and a streak of black. A warbler, but my binoculars were in the car. A Blackburnian Warbler, I fancied. One of my favourites.

Parts 3 and 4? to follow.

Day One GPS Tracks: http://alltrails.com/tracks/sun-13-sep-2015-13-18
Day Two GPS Tracks: http://alltrails.com/tracks/fri-18-sep-2015-15-37

Bluffer’s Park

Bluffer’s Park is on the coastline of Lake Ontario. The Scarborough Bluffs (cliffs – kinda) are named after those in Scarborough, Yorkshire by Elizabeth Simcoe.Bluffer's park

I took a quick walk along the trail that heads east from the main ‘beach’ parking lot/car park, onto the beach. The trail continues west from the same parking area, but I was performing a flying visit to try out my new GPS unit I recently splurged on. You can see a 3D video of my walk using the data from my GPS unit.

I’ve been to Bluffer’s Park dozens of times, as it’s just down the road from where I live, and the erosion is pretty startling. I’m sure in the 7 years I have lived here, there is a visible difference. The houses built on top appear increasingly precarious. Some of the erosion is from rainwater, running down towards the lake (and causing a few muddy areas).

April is fairly early in the year, so the park was quiet when I visited. There were a few of the usual boy-racers who seem to think that this is an appropriate place to share their music with the people least interested in hearing it (which is the point and source of their pleasure – that and the in-car sex that happens in the evenings). I imagine that coming here earlier in the day avoids these people who are unable to prise themselves out of bed.

In grassy areas at this time of year, you’ll see dozens of robins. Near the parking area, the bluffs are covered in little pock-marks, but on closer inspection, these are actually the nests of a migrating colony of cliff swallows that can be seen closer to summer. The beach is usually covered in ring-billed gulls, and you can sometimes see ducks like mallards, buffleheads etc… and double-crested Cormorant regularly pass The Bluffs on their way to a huge colony, nearby. Other backyard/garden birds are common. From late spring to early fall, warblers can be seen. Also, many raptors pass by. Especially during migration.

My walk was soured slightly by an incident with a middle-aged pair of women who could not control their dogs. Dogs are not allowed off-leash (off the lead? off-collar?) on city property, except in designated areas, and it is exactly because of people like this that everyone else has to leash/collar their dogs. I was walking along the beach near to the cliffs, when I heard rustling. I thought it was running water, but then I saw movement coming from overgrown bushes with a gap under them that looked like some kind of den. A dog came running out and for a second, I honestly thought it was a coyote (jackal-like), until another fat black dog came trundling from behind. The dogs bothered a few people while their owners yelled at the unconvincingly. At one point, they bounded up to me. The smaller coyote looking dog bit me on the back of the leg. The owners were too far away, too disengaged. There’s no point complaining. The dogs will be put down instead of the owners 😉

Couple of older pictures from Bluffer’s Park:

Marina 2008

Bluffer’s Park marina, 2008

White-tailed Deer 2012

White-tailed Deer 2012

I Got 75 Birds and a Finch Ain’t One (Part 2/4)

Let’s continue blasting through the birds I have seen this year. Part One is: here

House Finch16) House Finch

To contradict the name of this series of articles, here is the second finch so far. There are probably half a dozen House Finch that visit my birdfeeder. They have a nice song, and are quite common. I often see them on the way to work.

 

Canada Goose17) Canada Goose

As if there aren’t enough of these! But it’s fun to see goslings in spring. Near where I live, they march across the road, indifferent to the traffic chaos they cause. I enjoy seeing drivers chewing their steering wheels in rage. Many are now non-migratory (due to human feeding), but some still fly south for winter in V-formations.

Mallard18) Mallard

Very common, although I did enjoy the occasion where a male and female mallard decided to start nonchalantly sunbathing in the backyard beside the garden pond. Also saw some duckings earlier in the year, chillaxing in a large puddle, trying to keep cool.

 

Common Tern19) Common Tern

Looking like a gull at first glance, they have an amusing call. They sound a bit like Killdeer (coming up). You can see a lot of these down on the Leslie Street Spit. I also see a small number of Common Terns flapping around, calling like their excited about something, around where I live.

Killdeer20) Killdeer

Amusing bird named after the sound of its call. Couple of these were nesting near to where I live, and had a couple of chicks in early June. When a Killdeer’s nest is threatened, the bird pretends to fall and flaps as if its wing is broken so that you might be distracted.

Northern Cardinal21) Northern Cardinal

Shy at first, I now get a pair of these birds regularly visiting my feeder in the backyard. A male, which is bright red, and a brown female. I’m fairly sure that they have had at least one chick because I’m now seeing another that is either a young male or a female. Cardinals have a very distinct 2 or 3 tone call and they stick around the area all year.

 

Gray Catbird22) Gray Catbird

I learn more about birds all the time… and this was one bird that I encountered before I knew about it. It is named after its call (it sounds like a mewing cat) but I actually thought I had heard a child crying, the first time I heard it. It is a mimic (and is a kind of mockingbird) and, although common, they are good at hiding. There’s one living nearby, but he hasn’t used my feeders.

Song Sparrow23) Song Sparrow

There are many different species of sparrow. This one drove me bloody nuts for weeks because I kept hearing its consistent song in the backyard, on the way to work and generally walking around, but I could never see it. Listened to loads of recordings, but eventually saw one singing at the Leslie Street Spit.

White-crowned Sparrow24) White-crowned Sparrow

These sparrows are tough to identify, so luckily, I had some help from a seasoned birder at the Leslie Street Spit. It is made difficult because they are really similar to the next bird. It takes some patience, and they have to be “showing” quite well, to be sure.

 

White-throated Sparrow25) White-throated Sparrow

Another sparrow, this one is identified by the yellow “eyebrow” and the striped head (similar to the above sparrow). Saw a few of these at Pine Hills Cemetery and a field full of them near to the Leslie Street Spit.

 

Blue Jay26) Blue Jay

Quite keen on these birds! There’s a huge male (I assume) who visits the backyard, but only rarely. I’ve only managed to photograph him twice. Last year, I had a nice encounter with one at Warden Woods where he had found an ants nest and was feasting on them. I made a quick post last year about it.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak27) Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I don’t know whether I adore or detest these birds. The very first day I put out bird food in the backyard, three of these birds arrived! But I haven’t seen a single one since then. Around the same time, I saw two at Pine Hills Cemetery… but again, I haven’t seen one there since then.

Downy Woodpecker28) Downy Woodpecker

I like these. They are small, an occasionally a bit silly. I’ve seen them trying to peck holes into telegraph poles in the street. There is a female who visits my feeder, on-and-off. She has had at least one chick, as I have seen her take peanuts from the feeder into a tree where she has fed the young bird.

 

Northern Mockingbird29) Northern Mockingbird

There’s a family of mockingbirds (Male, female, juvenile) near where I live on some scrub land. I see them regularly. There’s also an impressive mockingbird near the entrance to The Spit. He’s an excellent mimic. He is able to copy the sound of gulls, robins and electronic car alarm sounds.

 

Red-eyed Vireo30) Red-eyed Vireo

I’ve only seen one of these, by chance, in a tree-line while walking the dog. Couldn’t figure out what it was while it had its back to me, but once it turned around, I saw the tell-tale red eye that it is named for.

 

Brown-headed Cowbird31) Brown-headed Cowbird

During spring, I had a couple of these feeding in the backyard. They seem to have moved on along with the grackles I used to get. They are normally ground feeders and they are “brood parasitic” – they will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, like cuckoos do.

Turkey Vulture32) Turkey Vulture

Ugly! Once you get out the city, these can often be seen flying beside the highway looking for eats. I’ve seen them driving beside lakeside roads just outside of the city, too.They will sometimes roost on top of man made posts or telegraph poles.

 

American Kestrel33) American Kestrel

Seen one of these. I was initially puzzled as to what it was. I thought, at first, that it was a Peregrine Falcon, but a fellow-bird (and nature) lover on facebook told me it was an American Kestrel. The one I saw was a juvenile and was at rest near some train tracks near to where I live.

 

Double-crested Cormorant34) Double-crested Cormorant

Living near Lake Ontario means seeing quite a few of these sea birds. There is a colony living at The Spit and there are plenty to see near the Scarborough Bluffs. They are named after the white “crests” that they display during breeding season.

 

Rock Pigeon35) Rock Pigeon

Well, it’s just a pigeon, isn’t it? Sometimes known as a Rock Dove, I’ve counted this. They can be both wild and domesticated. You’d have to be blind not to have seen one of these. Anyway… next bird, please!

 

Mourning Dove36) Mourning Dove

These are all over the place, too. I’ve started getting them on my biggest feeder in the backyard. They’re a pain, because they eat too much. I started off getting one bird. Then another came along. Now I get about five of the damn things. My usual tactic is to spray them with the water hose.

 

Chimney Swift37) Chimney Swift

Another quite common bird, often spotted at a medium-altitude chippering away with each other as they eat while flying, feeding on flying insects. They migrate a long distance and are mostly around Ontario during the summer.

 

Thus ends part two of this series. Part three will be an awfully exciting “British Special”, covering the birds I saw while in England at the end of June.

I Got 75 Birds and a Finch Ain’t One (Part 1/4)

During the depressing winter months, I set myself a task. A task that would help me to make the most of spring, when it eventually arrived. My mission would be to spot 75 different bird species. With a trip to England taken into account, I felt as though it was a sufficiently challenging target, but achievable.

The only rules are:
*It has to be wild. Domestic birds, like chickens, don’t count. Nor do confined birds, like those at a zoo or sanctuary.
*I have to be 100% sure of which bird it is (or someone with me that I trust has to be sure).

Incidentally, despite the title of this blog, I have seen several finches 🙂

Black-capped Chickadee

1) Black-capped Chickadee

I’m very fond of these birds. They are backyard visitors, but more during fall and winter. I’ve seen and heard them during walks at one of my favourite local spots. They are easy to “phish” (attract by making bird sounds). They’re related to the Tits found in Europe.

 

American Robin 2) American Robin

Very common throughout North America, these thrush related birds can be spotted singing from trees and posts, fighting other Robins or Starlings and munching down on nice fat worms. They’re named after, but unrelated to, the European/British Robin

 

American Goldfinch3) American Goldfinch

These small birds are bright yellow in Spring & Summer, but then fade. Their “per-tee-tee-tee” call sounds like giggling (to me, anyway). There are lots of them where I live, but they can be too shy to use my feeder with so many sparrows around.

 

Ring Billed Gull

4) Ring-billed Gull

Very common gull in the area. Named after the obvious black ring around the yellow bill. See dozens of these every day, either flying over the house or out-and-about terrorising people for food.

 

Great Blue Heron

5) Great Blue Heron

Since I live near Lake Ontario, these large birds occasionally fly over the house. Seeing them fly past makes me do a double take. They are prehistoric looking. Is it a heron or a pterodactyl?!

 

European Starling6) European Starling

Introduced to North America, this common bird is all over Toronto. And pretty much everywhere else in the world. Don’t see them in the garden too much, as they tend to feed from the ground competing against American Robins.

 

Red Tailed Hawk

7) Red Tailed Hawk

These birds of prey are similar to Buzzards in The UK. They can often be seen circling in the sky, and have adapted fairly well to urban living. Many nest in parks, but some are at home on high-rise buildings.

 

Black-and-white Warbler8) Black-and-white Warbler

This is one of my favourite birds, certainly my favourite warbler. I love the pattern. They are migratory. I’ve only seen one this year, around May at The Leslie Street Spit birding spot. I had some help from a birder, in spotting this elusive bird.

Yellow Rumped Warbler9) Yellow Rumped Warbler

Another warbler, but this one is a little more common. Spotted this one, again with help. Warblers migrate north during spring and, after crossing Lake Ontario, will often feed and rest at The Leslie Street Spit.

 

Yellow Warbler

10) Yellow Warbler

Seen in May and needed help identifying them, initially. But since then, I’ve seen a fair few of them. They remain in wooded areas of the Toronto area during summer, to breed, before heading south to the southern USA.

Cape May Warbler11) Cape May Warbler

Yet another warbler, mainly because I went on a birding walk during their migratory period. The guy that was leading the walk LOVED this bird. The bird that got him into birding. He got very nostalgic. Almost teary-eyed! Tough to spot, as it only passes through the area, so I’m lucky.

Palm Warbler12) Palm Warbler

Last warbler, I promise! Can be tough to identify, until you spot the cap on his head. Not as common as the Yellow Warbler, but I saw a few of these passing through on their northerly migration.

 

 

Grackle13) Common Grackle

Here for most of the year, but particularly during early summer. Bit of a pain in the backside. They are aggressive and were overwhelming my feeders for a while. Got to the point where I had to provide safflower seed (which they avoid) and scare them away. Easy to spot by their long tail, bright yellow-green eyes and their robotic sounding call.

 

Red-winged Blackbird14) Red-winged Blackbird

Very common during spring, into summer. Males migrate and claim territory in order to woo the female as she arrives later. Very territorial. Will even dive-bomb humans in some more rural spots. Had three separate males using my feeder during spring. Have a shrill gurgling kind-of call.

 

Baltimore Oriole15) Baltimore Oriole

This bird sums up the success (and luck) I’ve had this year. Originally, I had hoped to see at least one Oriole in 2012… But I’ve seen about two dozen of them. Saw 3 at Leslie St. Spit and there are lots of them at Warden Woods Park.

 

Part two to follow…