27 June 2017
It has not been often that we have had all the members of our "gang of eight" together over the past several weeks and some participants have been absent far more frequently than they have been present. It may be time to reevaluate whether we continue with these outings. Miriam and I routinely set aside each Tuesday, Franc and Jim have been faithful too, but for one reason or another we are missing two or three others most weeks. Obviously if people are taking vacations away from the area or are sick, they cannot be present, but that has not always been the case. Perhaps we just have to ride out the summer and see what happens beyond then, but if we are committed to Tuesday outings that have always been both enjoyable and productive, we should all be willing to make the effort to show up. End of rant!
This week Jim, Francine and Franc rode in Jim's car, Miriam and I in our car, to begin the day at Marie Curtis Park in Mississauga.
A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus had been seen there on Sunday 25 June, and the internet was abuzz with reports and photographs. This species is very rare in Southern Ontario, but it has showed up from time to time in the past, and generally has stayed around for several days, or weeks even. Not so with this individual, it was a one-day wonder and has not been spotted again.
But missing one bird certainly does not ruin a day. We had barely set out on the trails when Miriam (whose hearing is a whole order of magnitude better than mine) picked up the almost inaudible (even for those with good hearing) buzzy song of a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea. She quickly realized that more than one individual was vocalizing and then detected a nest, classically fabricated from lichens and bound with spider webs.
A pair of birds was going back and forth to the nest, but we didn't see them carrying food, so we were at a bit of a loss to figure out what was taking place. Then we spotted a fledgling out on a branch being fed by adults.
Its dedicated parents were doing a very conscientious job of provisioning their offspring.
Clutch size for Blue-grey Gnatcatcher is 3 - 5 eggs, so it appears that most of the young from this brood did not survive since no other fledglings were seen.
Shortly after seeing the gnatcatcher, a Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus put in a brief appearance and Miriam was able to get a quick shot before it disappeared from view.
Francine was especially elated with this sighting. Ever since we banded this species earlier in the season at SpruceHaven she had been searching for it without success. It was particularly sweet for her because if I am not mistaken it was Francine who first spotted the bird. A better look would have been desirable, but she will have to save that until the next time.
As we were searching to try to relocate the cuckoo this female Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis put in an appearance.
I have been to Marie Curtis Park many, many times over the years, but in recent visits I have tended to stick to the area right at the lake, so it was great to walk some of the trails again.
The grassland shown above is a rare habitat indeed in the Greater Toronto Area and is no doubt what attracted the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to the park.
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus was common, often sallying out to catch insects right above the grass.
Far and away the most common of the neotropical warblers present locally in the summer is American Yellow Warbler Setophaga aestiva and this is quite a dramatic shot of a female.
A pair of Song Sparrows Melopsiza melodia were kept busy with the gargantuan task of satisfying the appetite of a Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater surrogate child.
In the meantime a Mallard Anas platyrynchos female with an entourage of ducklings was a portrait of domestic tranquility.
All thrushes in the genus Turdus seem to take an unusual degree of pleasure in bathing, for they immerse themselves in the water, toss it up over their back, thrash their wings vigorously - and go at it for quite a while. This juvenile American Robin Turdus migratorius has discovered this pleasure early in life.
Another American Robin was sitting tight on the nest; probably incubating a second clutch by this time of the year.
A female/juvenile Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula was apparently not on duty at all..
We had all brought lunch and were able to sit outside at a picnic table to enjoy it al fresco, following which we moved on towards Douglas Kennedy Headland at Lakefront Promenade Park. Over many years this has been a reliable breeding area for Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena and since they have lost their inherent wariness due to the constant presence of people, the photographic opportunities are really quite outstanding.
A pair of Mute Swans Cygnus olor had also made their home in the inner harbour and were tending to a single egg in the nest.
A female Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus was sitting on the pavement and at first I thought it might be injured, but it was simply resting and flew vigorously when it was ready to do so.
Perhaps it was taking advantage of a warm surface.
Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica easily adapt to human activity and three pairs occupied nests in the walkway to the washrooms, a location where noisy human presence is a constant.
Franc wanted to photograph a Common Tern Sterna hirundo, that ballerina of the skies (or swallow as its scientific name implies), and we went to St. Lawrence Park where this species patrols up and down the waterfront. Not today, however! We did see a couple but they were far out, well beyond the range of Franc's lens.
Our final destination for the day was Rattray Marsh.
Recent deluges and violent inshore winds had rendered parts of the trails impassable, but we were able to explore enough to have an enjoyable time there.
Miriam captured this Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias poking its head up above the reeds.
Franc immortalized this individual as it flew by, looking for all the world like a vision from a primordial swamp.
Several Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum were seen, generally in small numbers. This species is now well into breeding mode and no doubt many are sitting on eggs.
A Grey Catbird Dumetella carolinensis perched quietly in the foliage.
We stayed down by the lake for a while, where lots of activity was taking place. A very pleasant surprise was the presence of three Bonaparte's Gulls Larus philadelphia actively feeding.
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis, a gull for which familiarity brings contempt, proved for all who care to cast an unbiased glance, that is indeed among the most handsome of birds.
There were thousands upon thousands of Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus streaming across Lake Ontario, mostly far out, but a few came in close enough for us to see all the details of their plumage, in full breeding splendour at this time of year.
It was time to head for home after another very rewarding Tuesday Ramble with David. Who knows what next week's installment will bring?