A Shadow at Last

Shadow Darner

The Equinox fell on Thursday, and by then the winds were blowing down from the north, putting an abrupt end to summer. Although I quite love the crisp, cool days of fall, I hate the cold early mornings which require hats and gloves to stay warm. On Saturday I headed out to Jack Pine Trail, leaving at 8:15 – the sun is visibly lower in the sky now – and I wished I had brought gloves as my hands were so cold. A Blue Jay and some chickadees were feeding on seeds left on the ground in the parking lot, and it seemed strange not to hear any Red-eyed Vireos or Eastern Wood-pewees singing.

I had my first good bird just beyond the bird feeders (which were still not up yet) when I heard the song of a Blue-headed Vireo. I stopped to scan the trees overhead, but wasn’t able to spot it. While I was standing there I heard the scolding notes of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and found two of them foraging in the shrubs. They are active little birds, moving quickly and erratically through the branches, rarely stopping to take a break. They flew across the path and began ascending into the tree branches, and that is when I heard one of them start to sing. He was hesitant at first, as though he couldn’t quite remember the tune, but by the time I left he had found almost all the notes of his cheery spring song.

I heard a few White-throated Sparrows calling in the woods, but didn’t find much else of interest until I reached the back of the trail. There I found a large flock of robins, a couple of Northern Flickers, a Gray Catbird, a young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing quietly to himself, an Ovenbird foraging high up in the open, another Blue-headed Vireo, a thrush, and a few more Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A little further along I heard the calls of a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets.

I decided to take the outermost (fourth) loop of the trail, and was happy to see that the stream at the back was flowing with water again – the drought is over, but I suspect many species were affected when the stream dried up earlier this year. A little further along I found a flock of sparrows and what might have been a Blackpoll Warbler in an open alvar-like area. An Eastern Phoebe at the fence separating the conservation area from Highway 416 was the only species of note until I reached the other open alvar-like clearing where I usually look for Field Sparrows in the spring. I was surprised to see one there on Saturday, along with several Song and White-throated Sparrows. I was also surprised to hear the “to-wheeee” of an Eastern Towhee nearby. At first I thought it was a Hermit Thrush calling, so I tried to get closer. I found the bird foraging In a clump of trees and shrubs at about mid-level and got a decent look at him before he flew off. He resumed calling from another clump of trees, and then I heard a second bird responding! I assume these were the same birds I had seen back in August; I had forgotten about them.

I also found a Swainson’s Thrush in the clearing; it responded to my pushing by perching on a relatively open branch and pausing long enough for me to take a few photos.

Swainson’s Thrush

There weren’t too many insects flying; I found a White-faced Meadowhawk, an Autumn Meadowhawk, and a single Darner. The Darner zoomed past me and landed in a shrub, and I was happy to identify it as a Shadow Darner – my first of the year. I’ve been looking for this species for a while now, particularly at Mud Lake, Shirley’s Bay, and Andrew Haydon Park as I nearly always find them close to the river. It was a bit of a surprise to find one here at Jack Pine Trail!

Shadow Darner

I finished my walk with only one warbler on my list, the Ovenbird; this was strange to me as there are lots of good edge habitats which should have been dominated by Yellow-rumps, if nothing else.

By the time I left it was 11:00 am and the parking lot was full – I thought that was strange for such a cold morning, but it seems the trails are busier in September and October than the summer. It was warming up, but the wind was still cold, and as I wasn’t ready to go home yet I drove over to the Moodie Drive quarry to look for waterfowl. There I found three grebes swimming together opposite the gate, and three Snow Geese among all the Canada Geese much further out. The only other waterfowl I observed were a single Gadwall, several mallards, and several Ring-necked Ducks. I was hoping for more variety, but had to make do with a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets and a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the tree next to the gate.

From there I headed over to the Richmond Lagoons and was disappointed once again to see no water in any of the cells. Sparrows were very much in evidence as I walked toward the Jock River at the back of the conservation area – I found one adult and one juvenile White-crowned Sparrow, one White-throated Sparrow, three Song Sparrows, and one Swamp Sparrow. In the woods I was surprised to hear a Brown Creeper singing; this is not a species that I usually hear singing in the fall, unlike the Ruby-crowned Kinglets and White-throated and Song Sparrows.

A few odes were still flying, including a White-faced Meadowhawk and this Spotted Spreadwing. The Spotted Spreadwing is one of our latest flying damselflies, and can sometimes be found flying in October.

Spotted Spreadwing

There was more bird activity along the river. A Rusty Blackbird landed in a tree overlooking the water and called a few times before flying off; a couple of chickadees were foraging close to the water’s edge, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler was walking along the rocks in the river. A few other small birds were flitting about as well, but I didn’t get a good look at them.

This Solitary Sandpiper was much more obliging, hunting for food among the rocks in the river.

Solitary Sandpiper

This was the only water bird that I saw there, which isn’t surprising given the habitat. Unlike other shorebirds, the Solitary Sandpiper prefers shaded streams and ponds, riverbanks, wooded swamps, and narrow channels in marshes to open beaches or mudflats. If you see a shorebird along a wooded stream or in a swamp with a lot of standing or downed trees, check for the greenish legs, spotted back, and white eye-ring of a Solitary Sandpiper. While they are not always found alone, as their name implies, they never form large flocks the way other shorebirds do.

Solitary Sandpiper

I ended my walk at the lagoons with a total of 15 species – probably the lowest total I’ve ever had there for a day in late September. This was the same number of species I’d seen at the Moodie Drive Quarry; I’d had better luck at Jack Pine Trail with 27 species. Still, I ended up with a total of 41 species for the day, and had some great finds such as the Shadow Darner, the Blue-headed Vireo, the Eastern Towhees, the Snow Geese, and the Rusty Blackbird. That’s the great thing about the month of September – the dynamic of migration changes throughout the month, making every outing different. The best way to see a good variety of birds is to visit a variety of good quality habitats. Thankfully there are a lot of great places close to home, so even if one spot isn’t terribly productive, there are other options nearby.


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