Friday, 12 May 2017

Annual Visit to Thickson's Woods

09 May 2017

     It's always a treat to visit Thickson's Woods in Whitby, ON where a prime day during spring migration can deliver a birding experience that is hard to beat.
     Instead of our usual complement of eight, we were just six in our party, both Mary and Judy being otherwise occupied.  They missed a grand experience! 

    Even walking down the road to the entrance to the reserve the birds were prolific and we notched almost twenty species before even getting into the woods, including Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula

 Along the way we found this tree interesting. We have narrowed it down a species of Yew, but have been unable to nail down its specific identity. 

     A botanist friend of mine says that it resembles Taxus canadensis but the berries don't look quite right.
     We had not gone far along the paths before Jim Huffman spotted a bird skulking in the vegetation. Miriam was able to get this picture of a Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina, a species that one sees far less frequently than in times past as it faces threats to its habitat both in North America and on its wintering grounds in Central and South America.

     Myrtle Warbler Setophaga coronata can at times ubiquitous in spring, but it merits a close look on every occasion.

      Blue-grey Gnatcatchers Polioptila caerulea can be hard to spot as this tiny bird flits around in the trees, ever more hidden by emergent foliage, but Franc managed this shot.

     Thickson's Woods sits right on the shore of Lake Ontario and this is the view out across the lake.

     As I stood there looking across the water I started to reflect on the number of years I have been visiting this area - and it is over forty! Am I getting old? I think so!
     There were many Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator on the lake with a few Common Mergansers Mergus merganser also.

     A Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina is a common species from spring through fall; it is delicate and beautiful, always a joy to see.

     Trillium Trillium grandiflorum is Ontario's provincial emblem and the forest floor was carpeted with them. They bloom for such a short period in spring but it always fills me with contentment to see them. It somehow imports permanence and the sense of belonging to this wonderful Great Lakes Country in which we are privileged to live. 


     Marsh Marigolds Caltha paulstris bloomed prolifically in every wet spot in the forest, and in the borderlands alongside the marsh. 

     Again, it brought back memories. I used to pick these flowers for my grandmother oh so many years ago when I was just a little boy, and she would put them in an empty jam jar on the window sill. I loved them then and I love them now. Is nostalgia a feature of getting old? I suppose it is.
     We saw several Hermit Thrushes Catharus guttatus, pumping their rufous tail in characteristic fashion. It is such a delicate little thrush, one of my favourites to be sure.

     Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis is a common resident species and this handsome male was searching for a mate. How could any female resist?

     We saw but one Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheuticus ludovicianus, a member of the same family as Northern Cardinal, but it was a stunning male.

     Just as we we were leaving to go to Whitby Harbour to have lunch we spotted a small flock of Wild Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo foraging in the grass. This species had been extirpated in Ontario and was reintroduced by stocking birds from Michigan. It has done spectacularly well and is now a common sight, sometimes even showing up at bird feeders in suburban areas.

     It was a cool day and with the wind blowing across the frigid water at the harbour we decided to stay in our vehicles to eat lunch. About thirty Caspian Terns Hydroprogne caspia were ranged along the breakwater, with a couple of Common Terns Sterno hirundo, Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis and a few sub adult American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus.

     Franc managed to capture this individual as it zoomed by.

     There was not much in the way of waterfowl in the inner harbour but a few Gadwall Anas strepera were interesting to watch as we munched on our sandwiches.

     Having eaten, we returned to Thickson's Woods to see what else we could find.
     A couple of Ovenbirds Seiurus auricapillus were especially elusive and despite patient stalking and waiting we were never able to get a complete body shot.

     A Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens was eminently more cooperative.

     We saw fourteen species of warbler, but photographs were hard to come by. 
     Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca quickly became Francine's favourite and she could barely take her binoculars off it. It is really too bad she doesn't converse in fluent warblerspeak for she was constantly talking to it, extolling its beauty!

     Not as gaudy (I say that in the nicest way!) as a Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens doesn't take a back seat to anyone!

     Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum was frequently seen, pumping its tail in the manner for which it is renowned.

     American Yellow Warbler Setophaga aestiva was not as common as one might have expected but this male first attracted us with its song.

     The weather was decidedly cool for the time of year, and the light not always up to par, but we had a wonderful day of birding, as we always do. I am sure we will make a return visit next spring to renew our excitement at the spectacle of spring migration, when Ontario birding is at its very best.Take note all you world birders. May in Ontario is as good as it gets!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Wild Turkey, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Cooper's Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Sand Martin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, House Wren, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Common Starling, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler,Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch.

Total: 67 species.


  1. The warbler are very beautiful. bird. Myrtle Warbler was seen in France in 2012, first and last time. very nice bird.
    Others are all too beautiful.

  2. Great pictures by all you photographers! It was a great day at Thickson Woods. Franc and I saw few lifers.
    Thanks David, it's always an adventure.

    1. And as always, Carol, made all the more enjoyable by having you and Franc there.

  3. A great day at Thickson Woods, such fabulous photo's here, a great post.

    All the best Jan

  4. And I got so excited when I found my single Caspian Tern recently!

    Looks like a great place for birds..........

  5. Hi David

    Beautiful is it there.
    You have seen many beautiful birds and can put them on the picture.
    Beautiful photo series to watch

    Groettie from Patricia.

  6. What beautiful birds live in Ontario! Amazing photos, I love them all. Very interesting observation of Wild Turkeys! Greetings!

  7. Wow I would love to join you on a walk, the birds you see are so interesting and mostly ones that I do not know. Great photos, well done. Diane

  8. Again an extraordinary series of wonderful photos of fascinating and beautiful birds.

    Caltha palustris grows also here and I try to move some of them to create a pretty group near our home. It's a pity the flowers don't last long.

  9. Hi David. Your wonderful post, with Franc and Miriam's super images, serves as a reminder that I was, at one time, going to be experiencing May in Ontario for myself this year. Fortunately most of my fears which caused me to pull out of the visit have not come to pass, and my confidence is rising. I'll now just have to be content with sitting here and reflecting on what might have been!

    That Blackburnian Warbler is a fabulous bird!

    My love to you both - - - Richard

  10. Wonderful day of birding --- Spring migration time is a miracle -- thanks for sharing it with us (and to the other two photographers as well). Loved the flowers too (trillium is a little miracle in itself, that is for sure and I love knowing that you have such good memories of your grandmother. )

    1. Hi Sallie: My grandmother was a wonderful woman. She had barely a grade five education but was about the smartest woman I ever knew. Had she had the benefit of higher education I am sure she could have done anything she put her mind to. Sadly, she was born into a society where women's rights barely existed. The best advice she ever gave to me was this: you should learn something new on the day that you die. I hope that so far in life I have not let her down.

  11. Wonderful you all for the lens had David.

    What a beautiful bird with beautiful colors.
    Greetings Tinie

  12. Beautiful place to visit, I was surprised by the diversity and beauty of the birds that live in the forest