13 February 2018
Six of us met in Cambridge to enjoy a fine winter walk along the Linear Trail in Cambridge. The temperature was minus 13.5°C when we left home, but it was sunny with little wind. It was a fine February day in Ontario to ramble in search of birds.
As soon as we got onto the trail we observed Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) on the river, but the most joyful thing of all was to hear a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) singing - the first courtship song we have heard this year. The calendar may not say it is spring but this bird knows that it is time to pursue a mate. The joyful refrain, so familiar to us all, lifted our already high spirits and we set off along the trail to see what else we could discover. Adding to our pleasure was the sight of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) also in courtship mode.
There was quite a bit of open water on this section of the Speed River and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), a few Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) and four swans of unknown identity, since their heads were tucked under their wings, rested on the ice at the edge of the frigid stream.
There is no winter maintenance in the park, and the path is merely an area of snow beaten down by walkers. We plodded on.
The scenes all around us were classic winter postcards.
Hoar frost had accumulated on some of the trees and sparkled in the sunlight.
The waterfowl on the river looked serene, unfazed by the conditions they cope with so well.
It was easy to know it was February; the sun is higher in the sky and its rays contain more warmth. As we stood in the open its soothing heat was wonderful and at times, given that we were dressed for cold weather walking, we were almost too hot.
The unchallenged highlight of the day came in the form of about a half dozen male Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) feeding on the fruit of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina). This species is primarily migratory and I have never before seen them in February. The enchanting colours of the bluebird, the deep wine red of the fruit, and the clear blue sky all made for a wildlife experience that is hard to beat. We were all enthralled.
I only wish that I had brought a supply of meal worms to give these hardy birds a nutritious boost.
The male House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) didn't take backseat to anyone in terms of a splash of colour in a landscape predominated by white.
The ice formations on the river were impressive, and one can only hope that when the thaw comes it is gradual, or localized flooding will be a strong possibility.
Surely one of the most overlooked birds is Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) but as this adult in non-breeding plumage shows it is a very handsome species.
It was time to turn around and head back. When we got to the section of the river where we had seen the swans and geese earlier, we noted that the four birds we had observed were three adult Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and one juvenile.
The Canada Geese and Mallards still loafed in the vicinity.
In addition to the Mute Swans, however, two Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) had joined the group.
My friend, Noushka, will be happy that these birds are untagged!
Miriam was able to capture both species of swan together in the same picture.
As always it was a wonderful way to spend a Tuesday morning. Judy, Mary, Jim, Francine and Miriam are the finest of companions. Franc and Carol will be back next week to rejoin our group and we will look forward to continuing this weekly tradition for as long as we all can still walk!
All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Mallard, Common Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Starling, Eastern Bluebird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, American tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal. Total: 19.