A Great Blue Experience

This morning I went for a walk at Sarsaparilla Trail even though it was quite windy and huge dark clouds were blowing across the sky. It was only 12°C when I left, and I took my winter jacket because I intended to visit Andrew Haydon Park when I finished my walk at Sarsaparilla and knew that the wind can be quite cold blowing off the river. The sun was shining through gaps in the clouds, however, and it was nice walking through the woods.

I heard a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets in the parking lot when I got out of the car. A Common Raven flew by, croaking as he went, and a few robins were still eating the Buckthorn berries just inside the entrance. I was hoping to find a Fox Sparrow, but the woods were quiet as I made my way to the boardwalk at the back of the trail. I heard more kinglets and a couple of chickadees, and that was it.

It had rained a lot during the past week, and I noticed a few mushrooms poking out of the ground. I’m not sure what kind this is, but it was growing in the middle of the trail and was quite small:

Fungi are living organisms that are more closely related to animals than to plants. Like animals, fungi do not have chlorophyll and thus cannot produce their own food. Instead, they digest food outside their bodies by releasing enzymes into the surrounding environment and breaking down organic matter into a form the fungus can absorb. As such, fungi provide the important function of recycling dead organic matter into useful nutrients.

The largest part of a fungus is often invisible: soft, thread-like hyphae spread throughout the host organism, such as rotting wood, or in the ground, making up the structure known as the mycelium. The mycelium produces a carpophore, also called a fruiting body, which emerges into the air to release spores. It is the fruiting body that is most readily seen, and different species produce different types: from the shelf fungi which grows on trees to the familiar mushroom growing in a quiet wood, to puffballs and jelly-like substances growing on rotting logs. I noticed these carpophores growing along a log when I stopped to look for a Spring Peeper calling from just beyond the trail.

I didn’t find the frog, but the chickadees found me and so I spent a few minutes feeding them. Then suddenly the chickadees all scattered and I saw a hawk flying by overhead! I couldn’t tell which species as he was flying in front of the sun, so I rushed out onto the boardwalk to see if I could get a better look. He landed in a tree across the pond, too far away by that time to identify him.

At the pond I found about 20 mallards, 2 Northern Shovelers (a male and a female), a Ring-necked Duck swimming with a pair of American Wigeon, and a Great Blue Heron at the back of the pond close to where the hawk had landed. A Turkey Vulture also soared over the water, not a very common sight at this trail!

It was very windy on the boardwalk so I left after counting the ducks. In the woods I heard a couple of sparrow-like chip notes issuing from tangles of downed trees beside the path and went to look for them. I found one White-throated Sparrow and one Fox Sparrow – my first of the fall! – but wasn’t able to photograph them. I also noticed this beautiful turquoise fungi growing along a fallen tree.

Blue Stain Fungus

This is the fruiting body of Blue Stain fungus, which only appears after long periods of rain. Normally when I see this fungus it appears as a blue stain on an exposed piece of wood, as if someone had taken a marker and coloured it.

Juncos now carpeted the area near the trail entrance, and I caught a glimpse of another Fox Sparrow. Feeling pleased with the morning’s outing thus far, I headed north to Dick Bell Park hoping to spot some diving birds on Lac Deschenes. I spotted three – a Common Merganser in the bay, and a grebe and a Common Loon in the lake between Dick Bell Park and the Britannia Pier. I had no better luck finding any diving birds from Andrew Hayden Park, but a juvenile Great Blue Heron fishing near the bandshell was a pleasant surprise.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron

He paid no attention to me as I crept closer and closer to him, too intent on stalking the fish swimming in the pond. I watched as he caught two tiny fish in quick succession and gulped them both down.

Great Blue Heron

He then spent some time preening, although the winds quickly mussed up his feathers!

Preening

Windblown

Only when a dogwalker come along did the heron become alert, turning to face the dog and stretching his neck to its full length. The dog was on a leash, however, and the heron just watched as he walked by. Reluctantly I left as well, as the sky was darkening and rain appeared imminent. Although I was disappointed not to find any scoters or Red-breasted Mergansers on the river, watching the Great Blue Heron was a wonderful experience…..and all the more precious knowing that they will be gone once the water freezes up.

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