Friday, 15 April 2016

Birding at Westmount Golf and Country Club, Kitchener, ON

14 April 2016

     It was with a great deal of pleasure that Miriam and I accepted an offer to go birding with our friends Ron and Thelma Beaubien at the Westmount Golf and Country Club in Kitchener, where they are members of long standing.

     It was a beautiful day, sunny, a little cool to start, but full of promise for an excellent stroll through the areas of intact habitat on the course.

     We pretty much had the place to ourselves and the bird life was plentiful. I am sure that a golf course in a city becomes somewhat of a haven for wildlife and from what I could see this club has done an excellent job of preserving as much native habitat as possible. As a result of recent wind storms and ice storms numerous large trees were felled, but extensive replanting is already underway.
     In this post I will go into a little more detail than I normally would about the various species of birds encountered, because I know that the manager of the club wishes to circulate it via their electronic newsletter, and many of the readers will be unfamiliar with the avifauna found at the club. In fact I think they might be surprised at the variety present - and spring migration has barely started!
     As was to be expected, Black-Capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus were seen everywhere. Much courtship behaviour is already taking place and potential nest cavities were being examined and disputes over occupancy were frequent.

     This delightful and familiar member of a cosmopolitan family is resident in our area and survives even the harshest winters. In fact its cheery chickadee-dee-dee call brightens a brisk walk in winter as no other sound can.
     It was the sharp eyes and keen spotting of Ron that drew our attention to a pair of Wood Ducks Aix sponsa perched in a tree. The male is surely one of the most handsome birds in a family renowned for stunning plumage.


     This little duck nests in cavities in trees where its eggs can be incubated in relative security. Shortly after the ducklings hatch they leap from their hole onto the ground, surviving falls from great heights, and are led to the safety of the water by their devoted mother. Young birds born like this, fully able to cope with life right out of the egg, are known as precocial. The little birds can thermoregulate and feed themselves right from the getgo.
     As might be expected in spring in Ontario, American Robins Turdus migratorius were probing the ground for worms, beetles and other sources of food, as well as feeding on berries left over from last fall. I doubt that we ever had a moment when several robins were not in view.

     The bird we know as an American Robin is in fact a thrush. When early settlers from Europe first saw this bird its red breast recalled the familiar European Robin, an entirely different species, and so it too was named a robin. The scientific name of this bird actually means "migratory thrush."
     There is a very large family of birds, exclusively found in the Americas, known as tyrant flycatchers. The first species in this aggregation to return to southern Ontario in the spring is always the hardy Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe. Our first two birds of the season were seen yesterday.

      Eastern Phoebes select an advantageous perch and simply wait for aerial insects to pass by. They sally out from their perch and snap up their snack and return to the same spot to eat it.  
      I am sure that the bane of every golf course is the ubiquitous Canada Goose Branta canadensis, familiar to everyone. Their large and prolific droppings are not exactly conducive to a clean game!

      In defence of a species that I admire, I feel compelled to point out that we have engineered our own problem with this species. Their favourite food is grass and where better to find an expanse of carefully tended grass which receives excellent attention to make sure that it grows lush and green, than a golf course? We have laid out a veritable buffet for these birds - and it's available 24/7!
     Wherever you find Canada Geese you are likely to find Mallards Anas platyrynchos. 

     This species is the ancestral strain of all our domestic ducks. It is often overlooked because it is so familiar, but the male (on the right above) is truly a handsome bird. The female needs to be more muted so that she is well camouflaged while sitting on the nest and is vulnerable to predation.
     A Killdeer Charadrius vociferus was searching for breakfast at the edge of the pond.

     This bird is a representative of a family of birds known as Plovers and Lapwings, and is a bird that is not hard to locate. It will nest on a stony or gravel path almost anywhere, even at a suburban home. It derives its name from its onomatopoeic call.
      A Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus was incredibly co-operative as it probed a rotting stump for insects, grubs, spider eggs and other tasty morsels. We watched it for several minutes and it seemed totally unconcerned that we were present and very close to it.

     Many people are familiar with the diminutive Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens and the Hairy is a bigger, more robust version with a longer bill. A little practice is all that is needed to differentiate the two. The individual shown above is a male, identified by its red cap which is absent on a female.
     Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata could be frequently heard and we were very pleased to see several of this very handsome bird.

      Blue Jay is a member of the family of birds known as corvids, which includes crows and ravens, among the most intelligent species in the avian world.
      Many non-birders, upon hearing the doleful sound of a Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura think that they are hearing an owl, but once the sound is recognized as that of a Mourning Dove it is easy to understand how the bird got its name.

     Pigeons and doves are found throughout the world, on all continents except Antarctica, and universally lay two eggs. Both males and females secrete a nutritionally rich substance from their crops on which the young doves, known as squabs, initially feed. This liquid is colloquially known as pigeon milk, although it is nothing of the kind, of course.
     Anyone with a bird feeder at home will recognize American Goldfinch Spinus tristis. These birds are a drab olive in non-breeding plumage, but they are now acquiring their nuptial finery. The male with his black cap is an especially handsome bird.

     The favourite natural food of this species is thistle seeds and it is quite remarkable to see several of them feeding voraciously on thistle. Collectively, they are known as a charm of goldfinches, very appropriately I am sure you will agree.
     The Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoenicus is the emblematic species of the wetland, and it is an exciting event to watch the males displaying their red epaulettes as they seek to establish territories and secure mates. A healthy, robust male will often have a harem of two or more females in his territory. A strong, melodious song, and vibrant red shoulder flashes, together indicate a very healthy male, and females will selectively strive to mate with them, in order to pass on superior genes to the next generation.

     Little needs to be said about the Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis; it seems to be a favourite of everyone, and a male singing lustily from a high perch is a sure sign of spring.

      Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis is a member of the family of birds known as New World Sparrows. This hardy species is with us from late fall through until early spring when it moves farther north to breed.

     When it flies its white outer tail feathers are highly visible and even a casual observer can quickly learn to recognize this species based on that character.
     Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor are the first of the hirundines to arrive back in our area and even though their preferred food is aerial insects they will, if necessary feed on berries. I saw the first two Waterloo Region birds at the golf club.

          Several Song Sparrows Melospiza melodia were singing from the tops of saplings and other elevated perches, establishing territories and seeking partners for the season.

     Many people think of sparrows as only the familiar House Sparrow Passer domesticus which is not native to North America. True New World Sparrows are a diverse and interesting group of birds, requiring a good deal of study and practice to identify.
     We saw a warbler, but it flew almost as soon as we spotted it, and we did not obtain satisfactory views.  Based on what we did see, it was probably a Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata, always one of the very first warblers to return in the spring.
     Just before the end of our walk we found the pellet of a Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus. Owls swallow most of their prey whole and form a bolus of the indigestible parts, which are regurgitated in the form of pellets. Someone experienced in rodent anatomy can identify the prey species of the bird based on the skulls and other bones found in the pellet. I broke apart the pellet so that everyone could see the contents.

     Even though it was a fine day, there was still an edge to the wind and we were a little cool at the end of our walk. We were lucky to be with Ron and Thelma for, as members, they were able to take us into the club where we enjoyed a hot cup of coffee.
     It was a privilege and a pleasure to be permitted to make this walk and most of all it was an enormous benefit to share the experience with Ron and Thelma.

All species seen and/or heard: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Turkey Vulture, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tree Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Warbler sp., Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal.
Total: 25 species. 


  1. Hi David, another of your entertaining blogs, super images of the Wood Ducks, the male is really striking, your Jay is a much more colourful bird than ours at home and again the wonderful Cardinal. Regards John

  2. What a great post and some superb photos. It is so interesting seeing birds that we never see here. I only recognise the geese and the ducks. Glad to see your swallows are returning. Have a good weekend Diane

  3. David I loved all the various bird pictures -- so many kinds and I'm in awe that you found them at a golf course! I must admit that I never ever thought of golf courses as GOOD places for nature... I am bowing down to ask forgiveness for thinking bad thoughts about them. (Of course, I assume that not all of them pay as much attention to preserving the natural beauty as this one obviously did.) Wonderful post, rich with bird life.

  4. Que cantidad de aves se pueden ver en ese campo de golf, es increíble. Las fotos son fantásticas. Un fuerte abrazo desde España.

  5. What a beautiful series of photos you you could get at the golf club, some of them very nice species like cardinal, jay, robin, Canada geese and duck wood.
    A bird that I knew as a child is the Canada goose as an uncle of mine gave me a decoration I still possess and is a goose in flight, it' s a bird that I like to know personally someday

    1. Cone and visit Hernán. We will help you to see lots of birds here.

  6. Dearest David,
    You and Miriam were so lucky for being birding on such a sunny day as that yields the best photos too with such perfect light. You show us quite an interesting variety here.
    Thanks for sharing and wishing you a happy weekend.
    We have rain and rather cool weather...

  7. Thank You so much about very interesting blog post (again), I got much new information about birds in Canada. The Wood Duck male is very handsome :)! May I ask what camera You use?

  8. Hello. Amazing photos. I like it a lot.

  9. Great set of pictures - patches of 'green' like this are becoming increasingly important as sanctuary areas I think. Although I assume the birds prefer the 'rough' to the 'fairway'!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  10. Hi David.

    Beautiful surroundings and many beautiful birds.
    The Wood Ducks Aix sponsa is really super nice.

    Groettie from Patricia.

  11. Amazing all these birds you encountered at the golf course David. And so nice your findings will be mentioned in the newsletter to the members of the club. They will be surprised I am sure. Your previous blog was very interesting to read. Great to have so manny friends with the same interest in birding.
    Take care,

  12. What a great variety of birds. Beautiful pictures!
    Nice to see the Wood Duck among all those species.
    Gr Jan W

  13. Interesting read.
    Beautiful birds and what a great place to go and photograph them.

  14. Looks like a pretty wide range of species for a golf course...........

  15. Superb Post David,wonderful Birds,outstanding captures,very impressed.
    Love the Wood Duck,but Red- winged Blackbird stole the show,wow,what a superb shot.

  16. Forto splendor of these beautiful species.
    Beautiful colorful birds have photographed David.
    Greetings Tinie

  17. I love this post, David. Great descriptions and wonderful images - that make me wonder if it's possible to get temporary membership for, say, May, 2017!!!???

    Our best wishes to you both - - - Richard

    1. Better send a sample of your DNA now, Richard, and I'll see what I can do!

  18. Beautiful birds all of them. Sounds like you had a great day.

  19. Hi David,
    Sorry I have not come here more sooner, but I have sold my property and searching for a house to buy or rent before end of june...
    I won't tell how busy I am and also somewhat depressed.
    Wish all this could be behind me and that I could hop on a plane and come to Canada or to the tropics and spend some time with you and Miriam again!!! I need the laughs :)
    This golf course is amazing, the number of species you saw is impressive.
    Beautiful pictures and close ups.
    The Kildeer photo is gorgeous, the bird stands in lovely surroundings.
    Much love to share with Miriam :)

  20. A beautiful day at the Golf court, a lovely time for lots of wild birds.

  21. Terrific shots David! I haven't seen a Kildare in years.

  22. As you say David, golf course can be a great resource for birders. They are often on the list for foreign bird trips. It's just a shame that flying golf balls are a danger, not to mention irate golfers who don't like birders wandering their preserves.

    You showed us a great selection of ealry spring birds and as usual set my taste buds tingling in thinking of all the goodies yet to arrive.

    You showed my favourite of course - the Red-winged Blackbird - that strident song, the wing flashing etc. Now I must go and find one on You Tube.

  23. Oh David, quelle chance d'avoir de si beaux oiseaux. Ils sont superbes.

  24. This is great to be with.
    You saw a lot of birds and was able to photograph many birds. I see really beautiful pictures in your post and they are so beautiful color and bright. My compliments and thank you for this wonderful beautiful plates.

  25. Beautiful photos, American Black Squirrel was a new acquaintance to me.