I went to Hurdman twice last week just before the Christmas break, and my outing on Tuesday was one where everything just seemed to perfectly fall into place. I was still looking for the Common Redpolls, which have been slowly trickling into southern Ontario, and the Bohemian Waxwings, which have already arrived; however, the buckthorn bushes at the trail entrance and the first feeder were completely empty. Although I heard a chickadee call briefly from the thickets, I couldn’t see a single bird anywhere. Just as I began to suspect there might be a predator close by, I saw a flash of movement in the woods to my left. When I turned to look, I was startled to see a fox bounding through the woods!
He was running deeper into the woods on a course parallel to the trail, so I hurried down the path to try to keep him in sight. However, a small crest and the heavy tangles of growth soon blocked my view of the fox. A few seconds later, I saw him cross the trail a good twenty feet in front of me and disappear into the woods on the other side. I was thrilled with this encounter, for although I’d seen many fox tracks in the snow, this was only the second time I’d seen the animal who made them.
I took a few steps into the woods, but saw no sign of the fox. Just as I was about to give up and return to the main trail, I heard a crow cawing at something in agitation. I proceeded deeper into the woods, and that’s when I saw a large bird take off from a branch about eight or ten feet above the ground. The crow gave chase, and I followed both of them until I saw where the larger bird landed. When I first saw it I thought it might be a hawk; then when I saw the round yellow eyes and large “ear” tufts I knew it was a Great Horned Owl! Not only was this the first time I’d ever seen an owl at Hurdman, it was also an excellent addition to my winter list.
The owl flew off again as soon as I tried to get close enough to take a photo. This time the crow was joined by several others in the chase, so I had no problem following them with all the racket they were making. I re-located the owl a second time, but he was more disturbed by my presence than by the crows mobbing him, and flew off again. This time I did not attempt to chase him.
Since I was so close to the river by that time, I decided to check the open water beneath the 417 bridge to see if I could find any American Black Ducks to add to my winter list. I found two. Then I checked the Common Goldeneyes swimming just south of the footbridge and found a male Barrow’s Goldeneye with them! I still needed this species for my winter list and was pleased to have found him at Hurdman rather than having to make a special trip to Riverrain Park on Donald Street.
Since I had found two of my target species (the black duck and the Barrow’s Goldeneye), a completely unexpected Great Horned Owl, and an equally unexpected fox so easily, I figured there was nothing else to see and headed back to the bus station. Then, while walking back through the woods, I finally caught sight of one of the White-throated Sparrows on the ground beneath the finch feeder. This was the fourth new species for my winter list and another one I had been hoping to find. Then, a few metres down the path, I noticed the Hermit Thrush perching in a shrub! When it saw me watching him, he flew down to the ground and began investigating the base of several tree trunks. I watched him for a while and finally lost him near the edge of the small ravine.
After such an amazing outing on Tuesday, I went back to Hurdman the following day. Before I even got to the woods I saw the fox again in the flat field opposite the bus station. He was heading toward the river, so I followed the bike path toward the river on a parallel course. At one point a crow dive-bombed him, providing evidence that crows dislike ALL predators, not just raptors and owls. I lost sight of him for several minutes, then found him sitting contentedly in the field near where the paved bike path goes beneath the transitway. At first he didn’t see me, even though he was looking in my direction; then, as I moved to get a clear view of him in order to take a picture, he saw me.
If I had snapped the photo a split second earlier, I would have had a nice photo of the fox sitting, facing me. Instead I got a nice photo of him running away! This is only the third fox I’ve been able to photograph, and the third one I’ve captured running in the opposite direction! He headed toward the transitway, though whether or not he actually crossed the road I don’t know.
Thrilled with the chance to finally capture the fox on film, I headed back to explore my usual area around the feeders. This time both the Hermit Thrush and Great Horned Owl were absent, or at least sitting somewhere inconspicuously; however, I saw the White-throated Sparrow again, a Brown Creeper, and this Hairy Woodpecker at the suet feeder.
On the river I saw the Barrow’s Goldeneye again swimming with about a dozen Common Goldeneyes.
The more I visit Hurdman, the more I am amazed by its diversity. For such a relatively small area of green space in the middle of the city, it supports a wonderful variety of birds, butterflies, insects and mammals; and many more species pass through during migration. I enjoy documenting them and discovering new species to add to my rough lists of birds, butterflies and mammals I’ve already found in the area; perhaps one day I’ll get around to compiling them all and posting them in my journal.