First Raccoon!

Raccoon

Raccoon

I took some vacation time in late May, not to take in migration at Point Pelee as usual, but to head south to Florida for a few days! I didn’t spend a lot of time outside on the day before we left, but I did head over to the Nortel Marsh early on the morning of May 19th to try and find the Willow Flycatchers that breed there. I arrived around 6:00 am and immediately spotted a Great Egret in the wet area just north of the Corkstown Road trail….my first of the year.

In the tall grass of the equestrian park on the other side of the bike trail I heard both a Bobolink and an Eastern Meadowlark singing, both grass-loving species that are highly specific to open fields such as those by the airport. It is always something of a surprise to me that both species live here, so close to Highway 417 and only 10 minutes away from home.

Bobolink

Bobolink

I entered the marsh via the bike path through the woods, as the tree-lined path is good for birds like Gray Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos and American Redstarts. I heard a couple of Tennessee Warblers singing their three-part staccato song, but those were the only migrant warblers I heard or saw.

The usual marsh denizens were present in the swampy area at the back of the trail; I heard or saw Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, a single Marsh Wren at the very back of the marsh, and a Virginia Rail. Although I could hear both the rail and the Marsh Wren, both remained hidden in the reeds where I couldn’t see them.

I had better luck with a Black-crowned Night Heron standing in the little stream that flows beneath the gravel trail. I didn’t realize it was there until it flew out of the water and landed in a tree close by.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

A Killdeer flew over, and I saw a Brown Thrasher in the alvar beyond the marsh, but I didn’t hear any Willow Flycatchers calling. This is the only spot that I know of where they are found regularly, and I didn’t see (or hear) any empids whatsoever. An Eastern Kingbird flew back and forth over the marsh a couple of times, and that was the only flycatcher I observed until I got back to the parking area where I heard an Eastern Phoebe calling.

It was too early (and too cool) for any butterflies or odonates to be flying, so I didn’t find much to photograph in the marsh until I came across a small Swamp Sparrow singing out in the open.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

The Swamp Sparrow’s slow, musical trill consists of two or more pitches repeatedly sung essentially at the same time; often you can count each note, unlike the faster trill of a Pine Warbler or the dry, sewing machine sound of a Chipping Sparrow. Swamp Sparrows are not restricted to swamps, but are found in many different types of wetlands including freshwater and tidal marshes, bogs, and meadows where they prefer some open water, dense, low vegetation, and perches for singing.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

After leaving the Nortel trails I headed over to March Valley Road to check out the shorebird spot. I wasn’t disappointed; I found ten Least Sandpipers, four Spotted Sandpipers, a Killdeer, and three Semipalmated Plovers. I also spotted a small, pretty bird with crisp brown and white streaks foraging on the ground. For a moment I had trouble figuring out which shorebird had such a neat pattern, then when it turned its head I saw the small bill and yellow patch in front of the eye and realized it was a Savannah Sparrow.

At the large pond near Klondike I spotted four Hooded Mergansers and a single Gadwall on the water and three Common Terns hunting above. I took a walk around the pond and found a nice flock of warblers at the edge of the woods including a couple of Yellow Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler, an American Redstart, and a Common Yellowthroat. Although Common Yellowthroats are chiefly associated with marshes and wetlands, they will live in any open area that contains thick, low vegetation, including grasslands and open pine forests. During migration, they may be found in other habitats as well, such as backyards and forests.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Later that afternoon, with all my packing done and a couple of hours on my hands I headed over to the Moodie Drive quarry pond to see if anything interesting had turned up. On my way there a large mammal standing in a barren field caught my attention. I thought it was a cat at first until I saw the masked face. This was my first raccoon of the year, and I was thrilled to see it out and about during the daylight hours!

Raccoon

Raccoon

It was digging in the dirt and feeding on whatever it had found – a nest of turtle eggs? Some sort of insects? It was cool to watch, and when the raccoon finally became aware of me watching it from the side of the road it bolted and ran off into the trees at the edge of the field.

Raccoon

Raccoon

When I reached the large quarry pond I found one mallard and a couple of Ruddy Ducks swimming way out in the middle of the water; those were the only waterfowl that I saw. More interesting was the flock of swallows gliding above the pond, and a couple of Bank Swallows passed low enough overhead to see the brown band across the chest. About ten Common Terns were flying above the water with a number of gulls, and three Spotted Sandpipers kept flying from the sandy bank in front of me to the spit across from the gate. I caught a tantalizing glimpse of a flock of about 20 shorebirds when they flushed from the area behind the spit, wheeled over the water, and flew back down out of sight. They were too far away and too small to identify.

I left the quarry pond after about 20 minutes and didn’t expect to find anything else as interesting; I was thrilled when a Red Fox ran across the road in front of me, though he didn’t stop and quickly disappeared from view. After seeing a muskrat at Nortel, a White-tailed Deer in the middle of March Valley Road, and the raccoon on Richmond Road, seeing the fox made it one of my best day for mammals in a long time!

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