I didn’t intend to spend three hours at the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds on Saturday morning. However, it was one of those days where the longer I stayed, the more I saw, and the more I saw, the longer I wanted to stay! The birds were quite active, with two woodpecker species (Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker), eight Canada Geese (one group of seven and a singleton by itself), a family of Yellow Warblers, a Turkey Vulture flying over, 16 Barn Swallows perching on the roof of one of the buildings on the west side, two Belted Kingfishers, and several young Common Grackles following their parents around, begging for food. All four heron species were present, including one Great Blue Heron, one Green Heron, one Great Egret, and one juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron and two adults.
Migration is well under way, and although Hurdman Park was an excellent spot for seeing migrants last spring, it hasn’t been as active this fall. I have only been able to get out a few times so far this month, however, so I’m not sure whether there really are fewer birds around, or if the days that I go just happen to be quiet ones (sort of like my recent trips to Point Pelee!). Migration patterns ebb and flow throughout the season, with cold fronts providing the best conditions for seeing birds. September has been warm so far, which means there haven’t been any of the spectacular fall-outs that occur immediately after a cold front passes through. Yet the birds keep trickling in, so I’ve managed to see something interesting each time I visit! Usually I encounter only one flock of migrants each visit, rather than numerous birds spread throughout the park. The trick is to find that flock with only a 40-minute lunch break!
Last Saturday I came across my second sign of spring….as well as my third, fourth and fifth! The day got off to a promising start when I spotted my first Common Grackle of the year in the tree across the street, puffing himself out and emitting a song that sounded like a squeaky hinge. He didn’t linger long, but flew off when the tree filled up with starlings. An even more interesting sight was that of an American Crow in the tree in my own yard, breaking off sticks to use as nesting material. The week before while waiting at the bus stop I had seen a crow fly into a nearby spruce with nesting material, so I wondered if it was the same one.
On the Friday before the August long weekend I spent half an hour of my lunch break at Hurdman. I would have stayed longer but several dark, threatening clouds began moving in and I got caught in a brief shower. I didn’t expect to see many migrant birds yet, but at least three Eastern Kingbirds were around, and when I started pishing in the woods two American Redstarts, two Red-eyed Vireos, a Gray Catbird, and a Yellow Warbler all popped into view. All of these guys will be leaving in another month or so, though some (such as the Yellow Warbler and Eastern Kingbirds) will be leaving sooner rather than later. There weren’t many butterflies around, but I saw an Eastern Tailed Blue along the path between the bus station and the bird feeders (all of which are empty in the summer) as well as a couple of Ambush Bugs. These tiny predators sit motionlessly in flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for unsuspecting insects to land on the colourful flowers.
I returned to Hurdman later in the week to see if I could catch up with the Eastern Tailed Blues I had seen on Monday and to look for the Eastern Kingbirds. I didn’t find the kingbirds, but I did come across a few more small Eastern Tailed Blues as well as two larger Silvery Blues. In fact, I saw no new birds on my walk, but the songs of the Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Warbling Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos and Gray Catbirds were still fresh to me. I saw a Yellow Warbler land in what appeared to be a nest in the fork of a tree well off the trail, and kept my distance. It occurred to me that I haven’t seen or heard any Least Flycatchers around, either, except for the one near the entrance to the feeder path several days ago. I usually hear them calling in the open areas around the bike trails, but not this year. Perhaps they – and the kingbirds – are nesting in a different part of the park.
I took the day after returning from my trip to Nova Scotia off work to recover from the late night flight, but the weather was so gloomy that I figured it might be a great day to go see what was happening at Mud Lake. This turned out to be an awesome decision, as I saw 45 species, including 12 warblers, altogether. I met Bob Bracken and Chris Lewis on my way to the conservation area; they had their scopes pointed up into a tree on Britannia Street, so I stopped to see if maybe they had a Summer Tanager or an Orchard Oriole. It turned out they had seen a Merlin fly into the tree and were looking for a nest. We decided to meet at Britannia Point and bird the area together.
Temperatures returned to seasonal during the week after my trip to Algonquin with Deb. I stopped by Hurdman twice during the week, and picked up two new year birds: a pair of Hooded Mergansers on Monday and a single Song Sparrow on Friday. On Saturday the warm weather returned. The temperature reached an unseasonal high of almost 20°C, and the days have gotten progressively warmer ever since.
I decided to visit Sarsaparilla Trail first thing Saturday morning, despite the gray fog that blanketed the area. Several new birds had arrived, including Red-winged Blackbirds, a single Song Sparrow, three Hooded Mergansers, Canada Geese, and Common Grackles. I could only see the edge of the pond closest to the boardwalk; I couldn’t tell if any Great Blue Herons were lurking around the edges of the marsh. At one point a male Purple Finch landed on a tree overlooking the marsh and began singing. This was one of the highlights of my trip, along with two Eastern Chipmunks scurrying about in the woods.