20 December 2016
Our numbers were down a little as we set out for our regular Tuesday outing, Francine having been felled by a severe headache and Mary had a conflicting event.
It was a mostly grey day, punctuated by a few outbursts of sunshine, but the temperature was mild for the time of year, and six of us were happy to be out and about in birdland.
We started our day at Humber Bay Park in Toronto where two spits of land create discrete habitat; a location I have found very productive over many years.
The west side of the park, shown above, still contains a bit of woodland and undisturbed shore, the eastern side is far more developed, although there remain great spots for birding, with access to sheltered coves where waterfowl tend to congregate, especially during spells of inclement weather.
The number of condominiums being constructed there is quite obscene, and the view of the lake is impeded for all but the owners of the properties; but of course profit trumps everything, and if a few councillors can get their grubby hands on a little more tax revenue that speeds up the pace of development.
We were treated to a magnificent aggregation of waterfowl, with Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata swimming at close range. Their characteristic bill truly is a remarkable appendage.
When we visited Cuba Franc shot more pictures of Northern Mockingbird Mimus ployglottos than any other species and he became quite enamoured of this bird. Humber Bay Park is the best location I know of to locate Northern Mockingbird in southern Ontario. I had no sooner finished telling everyone about a previous visit when an individual landed on my car, enabling Franc to capture the following sequence.
The bird first of all landed on top of the car.
Then moved to the rear view mirror, exactly as it had done on the previous occasion.
I am starting to wonder whether Northern Mockingbird has some odd affinity for vehicles!
Before anyone points it out, I know that my car is dirty, but it's hard to keep a vehicle clean when driving through the slush of winter, and much of our birding is done on dirt roads to compound the problem.
After perching for a minute or two the bird flew off.
At the east side of the park Miriam was able to capture this delightful picture of a male Gadwall Anas strepera, a lovely species, underrated it seems to me, but its combination of delicate hues is appreciated by all with a shred of sensibility. Miriam is a quilter and has an educated eye for colours and patterns that align together. There is no better guide to complementary themes than the myriad, diverse realms of nature.
We witnessed a substantial mixed flock of waterfowl land in one of the bays, including impressive numbers of Redhead Aytha americana.
It was exciting to see so many Redheads, and it was equally appealing to spot a few American Wigeon Anas americana scattered throughout.
Hooded Mergansers Lophodytes cucullatus were present too, although none came close to shore.
It was lunch time so we went to Marie Curtis Park where we sat in our vehicles and ate, following which we moved on to Long Branch Park. Here the wind was ferocious and we did not tarry long. This flock of Buffleheads Bucephala albeola in flight gives an idea of the strength of the wind whipping up the waves on Lake Ontario.
Yet these tiny ducks thrive under whatever conditions the lake throws at them.
Moving on to Colonel Samuel Smith Park we enjoyed a suite of passerines in addition to the waterfowl bedecking the lake. A male and female Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis will never fail to elicit appreciation no matter how many times one sees them.
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea is an appealing bird that moves into our area in late fall and enlivens the winter days with its presence until it leaves again next spring.
American Robin Turdus migratorius can now reliably be found throughout the winter in southern Ontario. It exploits microclimates to find adequate food and tolerates the cold well.
One of Franc's great skills is capturing birds in flight. The combined weight of his camera body and lens is around 5 kg but he swings it skyward as though it were a feather, and with a steady hand captures amazing shots. This Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens was initially photographed on a tree but when it took off Franc was there to record its movement. What a classic shot!
Someone had made a bird feeder from an old coffee can and, I presume, is stocking it with seed. It enabled us to view several species at leisure as they returned constantly to feed. Below one may see Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus, American Goldfinch Spinus tristis and House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus.
The feeder was pretty effective and I suggested to Jim Huffman that he has a whole new business opportunity there!
Our final stop was at A.E. Crookes Headland in Mississauga, where we reviewed the range of waterfowl we had seen at our earlier stops. This Ring-billed Gull was stationary as it hovered against the wind. Franc, Miriam and I were standing side by side and it is interesting to see the photographs each of us took of the same bird, starting with mine using a 50 zoom lens.
Followed by Miriam's with a 60 zoom lens......
And finally, Franc's shots which deserve all the superlatives you can muster, taken with his superior camera body and expensive professional lenses.
It is safe to say that Franc takes the prize!
Next Tuesday, weather permitting, we will be scouring the hinterland of Waterloo and Wellington Counties searching for Snowy Owls Bubo scandiacus, Rough-legged Hawks Buteo lagopus, Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis and other winter denizens so stay tuned for that report. Alas, Franc will not be with us, so we'll have to redouble our efforts to see what pictures we can come up with ourselves!