09 January 2018
Riverside Park is a multi-use park in Cambridge, ON which we have driven past scores of times but have never investigated as a potential location for our birding walks. Francine and Jim were in the area recently on the way to visit Jim's dad when they decided to stop in for a brief visit, and we are all glad that they did, for it is a fine spot to do some birding, with several varied habitats. It holds the promise of rewards year round, and we are determined to return often.
Franc and Carol are away until mid February in Arizona and Mary is cross country skiing for the week in the Algonquin area, so Judy, Jim, Francine, Miriam and I set out for a Tuesday adventure, happy that the brutal cold snap of late had ameliorated, and it was a pleasant winter's day. We were happy to resume our regular walk after an absence of a couple of weeks.
We started to see birds right from the very beginning of the trails, assisted in no small measure by bird seed deposited at various intervals by kind citizens anxious to give our feathered friends a helping hand during dangerously cold spells.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) was quite common and approached us fearlessly at close range.
But first place went to American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea). These delicately beautiful little birds seemed to be visible at every turn, and I don't think I have even seen so many in one place. Truly it was magical.
Groups of birds in mixed species flocks took advantage of an easy meal; Francine and Jim had brought bird seed with them, and liberally spread it around.
The park looked sombre clad in its winter dress.
Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were ubiquitous and provided a vivid burst of colour against grey and leafless branches.
The female of the species is a little more muted, but nonetheless beautiful.
Behind her you can see both American Tree Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), the latter being relatively unusual in winter.
A male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is a study in colour at any time, but in the winter it stands out most vividly.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is the species that most people view as the traditional first bird of spring and many eagerly look for the first sighting around early March as the birds move back from the south. With ever greater frequency, however, numbers of this species are choosing to spend the winter here, exploiting micro climates and taking advantage of every food source available. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that we encountered robins several times, but it is no longer to be totally unexpected.
These individuals were feeding on the berries of European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).
Does this image of a male Northern Cardinal in the northern woods not stir the heart of every naturalist? Is beauty more sublime?
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is a feature of the winter landscape, many of them are puffed out against the cold. I think any child passing by would want to cuddle this rotund little fellow.
More trails in the park beckoned us.
One of the real surprises was the presence of a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). While I have seen this species in the winter before, it has been extremely infrequently, so if there is such a thing as the bird of the day, this may have been it.
The presence of a House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding with the blackbird was less of a surprise!
I am not sure how many White-throated Sparrows were seen, but I suspect at least three. It is a handsome bird indeed, and dear to many Canadians, for its haunting song is often rendered "Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada."
As you would expect, Black-capped Chickadee (Parus atricapillus) decorated every tree, cheerful and totally fearless.
It seemed that we could not travel far along the path before another friendly Downy Woodpecker would appear, often stopping to feed.
I have little doubt that Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is present but we did not see one. Here is evidence of ancient excavations by this species.
More American Robins travelled through the trees alongside us.
We meandered along several trails, exploring the area, and making mental notes about promising areas during spring migration.
It is astounding that the tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) survives the winter here, but regularly small numbers remain in the province. It bears remembering that we have just emerged from a spell of savage weather, when overnight lows dipped to as low as minus 32 degrees.
The nasal call of the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) often betrayed its presence and it was not at all shy in visiting us at close range.
Perhaps the American Tree Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows had enjoyed seeing us as much as we had enjoyed seeing them, and had enjoyed the food we provided for them, for they came to bid us adieu.
We have already decided that we will return to Riverside Park next Tuesday, so with luck we'll see them again.
All species: Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow. Total: 19