Monday, 20 December 2021

A Waterloo Region Nature Winter Outing

     It has been highly therapeutic for Miriam and me, and no doubt for the participants on our outings, to have been able to undertake a whole series of nature walks as an antidote to COVID-19 and all its malevolent variants.

19 December 2021

       On a bright sunny day, a quintessentially beautiful Ontario winter's day in fact, a group of eager naturalists gathered to enjoy a fine day of birding and friendship. When we all met as a group to head to our first destination it was minus seven degrees and minus one by mid-afternoon when we broke up, with bright sun most of the time and no wind to speak of. It really doesn't get much better.

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Lisa Den Besten, Victoria Ho, Lucas Liu, Greg Michalenko, Marcel O'Gorman, Roger Suffling, Selwyn Tomkun, Kathy Waybrant

Guests: Rapunzel Clary-Lemon, Tina Den Besten, Annie Li, Mark Waybrant
Greg, Mark, Kathy, Rog, Victoria, Lisa, Tina, Selwyn, David, Jennifer, Marcel, Rapunzel, Annie, Lucas
     It was a good-sized group and it was very encouraging to see three young people out with us. Up until almost the last moment we had seven others registered for the walk; two cancelled due to Omicron concerns, two fearing poor driving conditions, and three went to help a family member who had slipped on ice and broken an ankle.

DesJardins Canal, Dundas, ON

     This is THE place in the winter to see Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) and we were not disappointed. This beautiful little duck presented itself from the moment of our arrival.

Hooded Merganser ♂

Hooded Merganser ♀

     A few Double-crested Cormorants (Nannopterum auritum) tough out the winter at Desjardins every year, and 2021 is no exception.

Urquhart Butterfly Garden, Dundas, ON

     The garden was bedecked in winter snow, but other than for the chattering of a few House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) there was little evidence of birds.
     It's always fitting, however, to render homage to Fred Urquhart, that self-effacing Ontario biologist who was instrumental in discovering the migration route of the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), all the way to its wintering territory in Mexico.
     Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus) has a special enchantment when capped with snow.

Woodland Cemetery, Burlington, ON

     For several years, the tree on the right of the picture has been home to a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls (Megascops asio), and often one or both will sit at the lip of their hole.
     Mark reported that he had seen an owl there just a couple of days earlier, but today they were not cooperative. Maybe next time!

Grindstone Creek/Hendrie Valley Sanctuary, Burlington, ON

     We were greeted by a few elegant Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), a fitting welcome for such an august group I am sure you would agree!

     One of the great attractions of this stop on our route is the chance to have Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) feed from the hand.
     Our squad wasted no time in seizing the moment!

     Young and old, man or woman, girl or boy, all were anxious to give it a try.

     It took barely a moment for Marcel to experience the joy.

     Look at his face and Jennifer's too. A couple of award-winning smiles if ever I saw them!
     Rapunzel snuggled close to Mom.

     A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) kept a close eye on us from mere metres away. 

     It seemed to want to sally in and get its share of the sunflower seeds but couldn't quite pluck up courage. 
     A chickadee was quick to garner a snack from Lucas' outstretched hand.

     There is a whole sense of joy to be gained from this contact with a tiny wild creature, but it is never more endearing than when a young person experiences it for the first time. Rapunzel's reaction was such a joy to see.

     She was hooked from the first moment and for the rest of the day could barely wait until she could do it again.
     Ice forms winter's artwork in so many different ways.

    The Hendrie Valley Sanctuary is a place where I have had success in luring a Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) to take seed from my hand, but today they were having none of it.

     Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) is the duck we tend to overlook, but I can assure you that familiarity does not breed contempt in me. It is a stunning bird!

LaSalle Park and Marina, Burlington, ON

     Most of the waterfowl was quite far out, and Miriam did well to get this shot of Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) swimming with, and dwarfed by, Canada Geese (Branta canadensis).

     There were a few female Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) but males declined to pay us a visit.

     There were small numbers of Greater Scaup (Aythys marila)  but for the most part they too were keeping to themselves.

     The presence of many humans at LaSalle Park suits House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) very well; more people, more food. It is easy to overlook this little competitor, but it is a very handsome bird.

     Most of the gulls we saw were Ring-bills (Larus delawarensis)

     For the most part they were content to bask in the sun.

     It is never anything but exciting to see Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator).

     The colour of the bill on an immature is quite remarkable, almost festive at this time of the year one could say. 

     There were many Canada Geese present as might be expected, always exploring the ground for a morsel of food. Rapunzel named this one Snowflake because of the white patch on its head.

     Several American Coots (Fulica americana) delighted us as they swam around in that curious chicken-like gait, all the while adapted for the water.  

     Canvasback (Aythya valsineria) was present in quite large numbers, a true measure of winter's enchantment.

     Many were content to snooze away the day.

     I saw relatively few American Black Ducks (Anas rubipres) and I was happy that Miriam captured this one.

     A Downy Woodpecker has acrobatic capabilities and we were delighted to witness an example.

     Rapunzel had hit her stride with the chickadees and I think would have been quite happy to remain there all day to feed them.

     On this outing we had the benefit of some serious birding experience and skill, and we were able to find both Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) and Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), an impressive one/two punch on any day.

Winter Wren well hidden

Winter Wren a little more visible

Carolina Wren

      Who needs a house full of glitter and tinsel?

     We were wending our way back to our vehicles for lunch when this elegant male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) sailed into view.

     I think we will call the Trumpeter Swan below Rapunzel's Swan. We will submit a sightings report of a tagged bird on her behalf, so that she can receive a certificate of appreciation from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

     Did I mention that Rapunzel likes feeding chickadees?

     Looks like mom does too!

Paletta Park, Burlington, ON

     We were greeted by a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) which had a speck of blood on its breast feathers (visible through the scope) and looked to have a full crop.

     I suspect it was resting while digesting its meal.
     Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have little to fear from an accipiter like a Cooper's Hawk, and this individual was going about its business.

     Ice has a way of making magical formations.

     There was an abundance of waterfowl out on the water, much of it far from shore, unfortunately. Several Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) shortened the distance between us, however.

Common Goldeneye (♂)

Common Goldeneye (♀)

      The only Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) that approached anywhere close to the shore was this lone female.

     Far out on the lake, however, they were present in their thousands.

     The numbers you see above with the large tanker in the background to give some context, was four to five times longer, with birds diving repeatedly, having evidently found a rich feeding area.

     It would be interesting to have a topographical map of the lake at that point to see whether any geologic feature might explain the feeding aggregation we witnessed.
     At the left (east) end of the Long-tailed Ducks, was an impressive concentration of Common Goldeneye, taking advantage of the same rich food source, I presume.

     A quartet of Mallards, in single file, socially-distanced perhaps, cruised by, oblivious of anything but their own affairs. 

     We wandered around the creek, making our way back to our cars.

     Mark's sharp eyes picked up a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) for us, our final new species for the day.

     We had a wonderful day together, old friends and new, all enjoying the wonders of nature revealed to us with every step we took.
     Thank you everyone for coming along and making this such an enjoyable day. I hope it will not be long before we do it again together.
     Ideas for future outings are already percolating in my head. 


  1. It is wonderful that you can get out in the nature, and watch so many beautiful birds David. Beautiful red berries, and the ice formations are very pretty.
    Warm hugs, Marit

  2. wow, that´s a lot of birds for one day. The gulls looks like snowballs on that platform :)
    I have seen a treecreeper this month but it was too dark to get a shot. :( Not taht I need any really, but it is fun to capture them.

    1. There were other too that we didn't get pictures of.

  3. Oh. How very, very beautiful.
    The delight of having a wild bird trust you enough to land on your hand NEVER gets old does it. My smiles each and every time threaten to split my face.
    As we progress into the sweaty season I am loving these glimpses of your much better (in my eyes) current temperatures.
    Thank you so very much.

    1. You ate right, Sue, it never gets old. I can't imagine the number of times I have done it, and I will do it again every chance I get!

  4. So beautiful! Cardinals, of course, are my favorite. Living in California near the island chain along the ocean, Cormorants are nest in the Channel Islands.

    "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott Odell is a good book for 4th-8th grades.Being Based on a true story, makes it all the more important. Cormorants were eaten, and the feather were used to prepare a dress for when the priest returns to rescue her.

    1. Thanks for the book title, Susan. I will check to see if the local library has it.

  5. I think that cemetery is where my grandparents are buried.

  6. A walk outdoors at this time of year is indeed therapeutic!

  7. I need to see if I can feed those couple of brave chickadees that come to my feeder. It so interesting to see those photos, especially seeing Rapunzel feeding them. I didn't realize it was such an easy thing to accomplish. And you sure saw such a variety of waterfowl. All I usually see is Mallards and Canada Geese. Not that it is bad to see them, but it's great to see those other birds, including Trumpeter swans. Looks like you had some enjoyable winter walks and you did find a nice variety of birds. Now if only the screech owls knew you were coming and he popped his head out for you. Have a great week. Hugs-Erika

    1. In my experience, Erika, you are better to try away from feeders. Try it on one of your local trails.

  8. We get lots of black capped chickadees in our yard, but I never knew that they would take seed from a hand. I think I would share Rapunzel's joy! Great collection of photos, as always!

  9. This looks like a perfectly delightful excursion. Thanks for sharing all these lovely photos.

  10. Encore une belle sortie, le dernier troglodyte est très joli.
    Nourrir les mésanges c'est vraiment super!:D Peut-être que ça pourrait fonctionner chez moi, elles viennent très près. Bonne journée

  11. I couldn't agree more about the often unappreciated beauty of the more common birds. Feeding birds from the hand is something that doesn't happen in the UK, though there used to be a man in St James Park in London who used to be there every day feeding the sparrows and chaffinches. I'm sure it would encourage young people to take more interest in the natural world.

  12. Despite the colder temperatures you saw so much of interest. Hand feeding birds is a joy that few of us ever experience.

  13. Hi David - so lovely to know so many are delighted to get out and share a convivial walk with you - such fun to see everyone and read the commentary. The Guelder Rose photo is just wonderful. Excellent idea sending off the tag on the Trumpeter Swan to the Wildlife Service, so that Rapunzel (great name!) gets a certificate of appreciation, which hopefully will inspire her interest ever onwards.

    Wonderful pre Christmas walk - always enjoy your pictures - cheers Hilary

  14. Hi David.

    Great that you can still get out.
    I like the Merganser very much and the Woodpecker.
    Such a shame those big numbers on the wings of the Swans.

    Beautiful walks David.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  15. Hello,
    Wonderful outing and report. I would love feeding the chickadees, it does look like fun.
    What a great variety of ducks, it is great seeing the Trumpeter Swans. The Brown Creeper is one of my favorites. Take care, enjoy your day!

  16. I am usually extremely impressed by the variety of birds you see on your walks, David. However, this day would appear to exceed your norm spectacularly! It is good to see that you had such a good-sized appreciative group to share it with, even if you were missing seven of the booked attendees.

    How wonderful a name is Rapunzle Clary-Lemon! It did not escape my notice that she let her hair down with the chickadees (sorry!).

    My best wishes to you and Miriam for the festive season. All is good here - - - Richard

    1. Maybe this will be the spark to get her involved with nature, Richard. She is a delightful young girl.

  17. What a great day you all had and it's always good to see younger ones enjoying nature so much too. Miriam's photos are lovely!

  18. Good think you and company didn't allow the snow to stop your nature and bird outing. Beautiful birds. I too would get excited if a bird comes to feed from my hand.

  19. Looks like an amazing excursion, David.

    I enjoyed all the lovely photos.

  20. David chose a fantastic sunny day for the trip. Didn't realize we saw so many birds until going thru Miriam's professionally taken photos. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk ( Accipiter striatus) was the highlight. Though not a good looking decoration/jewelry, there must be a good reason for the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) having to wear such a big prisoner tag.

  21. I feel invigorated after joining your virtual nature excursion!

    There were so many birds to see, I didn't even notice I had lost the feeling in my toes and fingers due to the cold. My thin Florida blood just couldn't keep me warm and I forgot my coffee thermos.

    Your group now has a very rich experience which they can reflect upon as we approach a new year.

    Very nicely done!

    Gini and I send you and Miriam our very best wishes for a peaceful and joyful holiday season!

  22. Lovely to read your comment on my blog - thanks. Lovely too to see these wonderful photos of birds, with so many species that we don't see here in the UK. Like Rapunzel, I think I'd be thrilled if a chickadee landed on my hand!

  23. Glad you could get out for another lovely bird walk. My fave photos today are the wonderful ice formations, so beautiful. And I'm glad Rapunzel is now hooked, she will surely want to go with you again and again. The birds here are always hungry. Have a great day, take care, hugs, Valerie

  24. Getting out in nature is the best remedy for Covid blahs!

  25. Enjoyed your travels out in nature where the beauty is. Looks cold but everyone is dressed in warm clothing, ready to go and explore. Thanks, David.

  26. What a fabulous day and wonderful outing.
    I enjoyed coming along with you through all of your photographs.
    Thank you.

    All the best Jan

  27. Lovely account of your walk David. Miriam's photos are great. Fantastic shot of the Carolina Wren.

  28. You are so right, winter has its magical formations. It is a landscape so different from my country and the Guelder-Rose with snow is my favourite. It just speaks of Christmas. The hooded mergansers are natures's "mohicans," only so much cuter! I can see that everyone is padded up so well, TQ for the photos. It is surprising for me that bird watching can go on during the winter!

  29. Hooded Merganser - now that’s a cutie !

  30. You are so right David - getting out in nature during this Pandemic has been a life saver for so many of us. There is nothing better than seeing the bare trees turn green, then golden as they follow the seasons. Watching the animal and birdlife and seeing all of the different wild flowers. You and Miriam have benefited but so too have all your various groups, not forgetting dear little lily too. I do hope that she will still be able to join you both from time to time during 2022.

    1. I hope so too, Rosemary, but with Heather going back to work it's doubtful that it will be as frequently. We'll be seeing Heather and Lily tomorrow so perhaps we'll find out more then.

  31. Beautiful walks and what a great thing to be able to feed the birds in your hand, I have never been able to achieve it although it is surely a matter of patience.
    I wish you and your whole family a MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY YEAR 2022!!

  32. Gran reportaje amigo mío, seguro que quedaron todos la mar de contentos con tantas buenas observaciones y esos pequeños carboneros comiendo de la mano. La gran y bonita salida tan imprescindible para olvidar esta maldita pandemia que nos acecha.
    Queridos amigos, en estos entrañables días navideños os deseo toda la felicidad del mundo en compañía de vuestros seres más queridos. Que el próximo año Dios mediante ojalá, dejemos de lado esta maldita pesadilla de COVID19. Por un mundo mejor más humano, paz, amor, felicidad...
    Un gran abrazo con todo nuestro cariño de estos vuestros amigos españoles Carmen y Juan.

  33. A great walk into the nature enjoying the view of beautiful and (most of them) friendly animals.
    Too nice to feed the birds by the hand.
    Urquhart Garden: I remember I visited the Urquhart Castle in Scotland by the Lake of Lochness, but unfortunately I didn't succeed in seeing Nessie. It is a magic place, one moment we are under the sun and one moment later we are immersed into the snow and among the shadows in the snow someone could see .... Nessie!!!!

  34. What is a Carolina wren doing way up in Canada? I didn’t know they did that. What a nice treat for both the humans and the chickadees. The chickadees get lunch and a nice warm perch to land on and the humans get the thrill of a sweet little bird so close.

    1. In recent years they have become fairly common here, Cynthia, and they tough out the winter too.

  35. I love your header. Happy Holidays!

  36. These series of outings were enjoyable to see, David, especially the fun that the young girl, Rapunzel (such a unique name) was experiencing in hand feeding the chickadees. And I too would be amazed and excited. While I know that you and Miriam will be sending Christmas Day like any other day, I hope you have an enjoyable and peaceful one and wish you a better new year.

    1. I don't feel we had a bad year this year, Beatrice, except that COVID certainly made its impact felt. Still, we managed to get away for a couple of weeks when it seemed to be in retreat. Now it's one variant after another and the lockdowns and restrictions just keep piling on. Even with all of that, as retired people we are affected far less than people who have to work, arrange day care, or work from home AND look after children. And there's always a bird or two out there to make us happy!

  37. Hi David, sorry I am not doing very well with blogging at present!! Lovely blog and I am glad that you are managing to get out in groups still.
    I wish you both all the very best for the holidays and the coming New Year, may things get back to some sort of normal living very soon though you seem to be doing quite well. Cheers Diane

  38. As much as I love your winter shots here and the other post,I'll take my walk with Team David on a warmer day! Still, you can't beat your terrific sightings!

    1. Come up in May, Jeanie, and we'll officially declare you the guest of honour and show you warblers, thrushes and flycatchers - in tee shirts - us not the birds!

  39. Granted, it's not a bird, but I was interested in the ship. Do you happen to know what its cargo would have been? It looks quite different from the ships I see in the Houston Ship Channel or the Intracoastal Waterway. Very interesting. Once I'd finished looking at it, of course, I spent my usual time oohing and aahing over the Chickadee hand-feeding. It still amazes me -- although I do have a Fox Squirrel now that will take shelled pecans from my hand.

    1. I am pretty sure it a liquid bulk carrier of some kind. Let me do a little research and I'll see if I can determine the normal cargoes at this time of the year. Congratulations for making such good friends with the Fox Squirrel, a very attractive creature.

  40. I can tell you had a very pleasant day.

  41. Awesome! I admire your group for braving the cold. I hope you have a nice holiday and stay well.

  42. I wish I could join you.
    I have never seen a yellow mark on the swan. Do you always use that or is it a special scientific project? We use a ring around a leg. A bit more discrete I think.
    Merry Christmas or just some happy holidays from Lisbeth in DK

    1. The large yellow wing tags are used so that the birds can be identified in flight and from a distance. All the very best to you too, Lisbeth.

  43. Another succesful outing David. Winter has come to Ontario, quite different from what we see here in the Netherlands. Plenty of birds during this walk, I think everybody was very satisfied.
    I wish you a Merry Christmas and a pleasant changing of the year.
    Greetings, Kees

  44. David - so gratifying to see young people on your outing, and that they took such pleasure in feeding the chickadees. An effective way to get them hooked on birding! Love the photos of the wrens and the creeper. Hoping that you and Miriam have a lovely Christmas!

  45. Hello David, Wow what a great series of birds you were able to show the people on your walk. Fantastic.
    Great photos as well.
    Warm regards,

  46. Se me había pasado está entrada, me ha encantado verla, me gustaría dar de comer a los pájaros. Abrazos.

  47. Hola David es un placer ver como disfrutáis juntos de tan precioso paseo. Las aves son todas preciosas y es maravilloso ver tantos patos y cisnes juntos y como no lo mejor ver a los a los jóvenes disfrutar, sin ellos no hay futuro. Las fotos son espectaculares. Un fuerte abrazo para todos/as.

  48. What a great outing! I'm glad you're allowed to have these group walks again. But I shivered when you mentioned the temperature. Although my body seems to have normalized to the cooler weather here in Connecticut, US, so much so that mid 40s F (~7.2 C) seems somewhat "warm" to me.

    You got a great assortment of photos. Oh, to have even a Woodpecker land in one's hand, to eat seed!! (Maybe next time you're there.) But it's thrilling enough that the Chickadees do it there. And seeing those stunning male Hooded Mergansers makes me want to head out to the shoreline, to see if I can photograph any of them here.

  49. What a beautiful diversity of birds can be seen despite the snowy environment, and how nice to see people going out to observe birds with such conditions, I personally would like to do a winter outing of that type, I really like winter although here it is much more soft, and I would rather go back to a cooler time when one is spending a day over 38C and with some humidity, it is suffocating here.
    A big hug

    PD: incredible how meek are those little birds that eat from the hand!!!

  50. Finally got to downloading and editing some of my many photos from this fun outing! Thanks for a great and educational outing. I look forward to more :)