Sunday, April 17, 2022

Waterloo Region Nature Outing to the Mill Race Trail, St. Jacobs, ON

     It was with great pleasure that I was able to lead a couple of bird walks for members and guests of Waterloo Region Nature.

13 April 2022

Leader: David M. Gascoigne
Members: Joan Astley, Miriam Bauman, Shirley Bauman, Pauline Copleston, Lisa Den Besten, Beth Hobson, Geoff Moore
Guests: David Matthews, Nancy Matthews

David M., Nancy, Pauline, David G., Beth, Geoff, Shirley, Joan
Kneeling - Lisa

     It is a sure sign of spring when the dam on the Conestogo River is completely free of ice and flowing normally.

     Common Grackles (Quisculus quiscula), those swaggering dandies of the bird world, displayed their finery for all to see.

     Some were happy to feed alongside Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) without even the hint of a squabble.

     Barely had our feet hit the trail when Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) floated into view and trilled to announce their presence.

     Food was on their mind, and willing arms were outstretched to oblige.

     Nancy's award-winning smile lets you know how happy she was to share a moment with a tiny wild creature, each in harmony with the other.

     David looked on in approval.
     American Beavers (Castor canadensis) are a force to be reckoned with along the Mill Race, and signs of their activity were everywhere.

     White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) fills me with ever greater delight each time I see it, and it is not reluctant to approach closely, having learned that at least some two-legged creatures are friendly and bring food.  

     Several people were able to entice one to the hand. Based on the clothing, I think this is Shirley enjoying the moment.

     Male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were filled with ardour, singing impassioned songs to stimulate desire in unmated females.

     This one seems to be looking at us quizzically.
     Fungi decorate dead trees in a very attractive manner.

     Will you bear with me while I show you another nuthatch?

     Song Sparrows (Melopsiza melodia) are supercharged with hormones at this time of year, and males sing lustily from exposed perches.

     Joan and Pauline couldn't resist trying their hand with the chickadees and nuthatches again.

     The Mill Race Trail is a straight line and we walk back the same way we came. At the half way point we stop for a coffee at the Eco Café in St. Jacobs, now fully open following the lifting (prematurely it seems to me) of COVID restrictions.

     The weather had taken a delightful turn for the better, and many took their coffee outside at picnic tables overlooking the Conestogo River.

     On the way back we saw both Golden-crowned (Regulus satrapa) and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), but were unable to show them to everyone, let alone get pictures, so rapidly and nervously do they flit around in pursuit of insects. The following images are from our archives, both taken in Waterloo Region.

     Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) were numerous and this individual was low enough for a photograph.

     Not many metres from our vehicles we saw this stand of lovely croci, surely nature's smile to reinforce the notion of spring.

     It had been a lovely outing, well enjoyed by all, and this burst of colour brought it to very fitting end.

16 April, 2022

Leader: David M. Gascoigne
Members: Miriam Bauman, Walter Friesen, Shannon Pennington, Andrea Smith, Sophie Wilson, Scotte Zinn, (and two other members who requested that their names not be shown)
Guests: Inge Cebek, Brigitte Gawtrey, Cheryl Graham, Julie Graham, Monica Graham, Cédric Légaré, Liliane Légaré, Trevor Lewis

Sophie, Scotte. David. Trevor, Shannon. Cédric, Julie, Cheryl, Andrea, Walter
Brigitte (kneeling), Inge, Monica, Liliane

     The river was tranquil with the Red Osier Dogwoods (Cornus sericea) making a wonderful splash of colour.

     Shannon was excited to see a Myrtle Warbler (Setophaga coronata), her first warbler of the year, but as is the way with warblers it flitted hither and thither, barely revealing itself, and this is the best picture we could get.

     Here is a better picture from our files.

     Walter had spotted a kinglet, equally elusive, but we all made a valiant attempt to see it - and a few of us even got a glimpse!

     Fungi are notoriously difficult for the non specialist; I am confident that this fungus is in the class Agaricomycetes, but that's as far as I am willing to go!

     My admiration for beavers knows no bounds. They truly are nature's engineers and in the process they transform the landscape and create habitat for so many other species.

     The familiar nasal call of White-breasted Nuthatch was heard frequently and several individuals kept us company along the trail.

     I am indebted to Scotte for this really interesting shot of an individual emerging from the gloom.

     Now I have to tell you all that the star of the day was Lili, six years old, and already a confirmed naturalist. In fact along the way she saw an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) and picked it up. Her aunt Monica took a couple of pictures and Lili was proud to show them to everyone, asking me to "get everyone together so that she could show them!"

Picture courtesy of Monica Graham
Naturally she was anxious to feed a chickadee, and went to the trouble of providing a perch for them.

     Obviously this was a good strategy.....

     It's a mere hop from a stick to a hand containing food.

Photo courtesy of Scotte Zinn

     This girl is a study in concentration.

     A Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) came to pay us a visit.

     Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) seemed to be everywhere, often times chasing each for no purpose that we could discern, and it was hard not to be persuaded that it was the joy of emerging from a long period of hibernation that elicited such exuberance.

     Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) were also plentiful, some males already excavating nests to show to prospective mates.

     Scotte has a particularly lovely shot, I think.

     Buds were popping everywhere. I am not confident in my ID of this one beyond Acer sp, but it is very beautiful.

     The familiar American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is a handsome bird indeed.

American Tree Sparrows (Spizelloides arborea) are becoming fewer and fewer as they move north to breed. We were delighted to spot this one, still to depart.

     Song Sparrow was heard frequently and seen now and then!

     Our first Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) never ventured into the open so I have selected a picture from the archives.

     Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) has great appeal, as food for wildlife and as a visual treat for humans.

     We were rarely out of earshot of Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinensis), but it was not until we had downed our coffee at the Eco Café and were on our way back that we saw a couple of them.

     At one point, overhead, we had three immature Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).....

     ..... a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

     ..... and a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

    At the same time!
    We were not far from the car when we spotted our first stand of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) of the spring - a very happy event.

Soon they will be joined by many other spring ephemerals, as the woodlands come alive with new growth. It is such a time of joy.
     We had let people know that we could take them to nesting Bald Eagles if they wished and several took us up on the offer. The pictures below show the female on the nest and the male perched nearby.

     Everywhere is looking so green and pleasant, a balm from the snows of winter.

     Let me end with another picture of Lili.

     You cannot begin to imagine how elated I feel to see a child her age being permitted, encouraged even, to splash around in the water, to look for frogs and snakes, perhaps a turtle, or shorebirds stabbing at food. I met Lili's mom and grandmother recently on another walk I led for Waterloo Public Library and I consider myself fortunate to have come to know them - and now other members of their family. To Julie and Cédric, Cheryl and Monica, keep doing what you are doing. In the synthetic world in which we live, to see an entire family committed to nature in this way makes my heart sing.
     Au plaisir de sortir ensemble encore! 
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. I wish that I would see more eagles and less "busy" beavers. They certainly are the civil engineers of nature!

  2. Hooray for Lili and her family. Loud applause from here.
    And how I wish I could come on your rambles with you...

  3. wow the birds must have known your team very well! The birds usually fly away when people get close to them. This post is a feast!

  4. Hello,
    Fantastic reports on your outings. I am envious of those hand feeding the birds.
    Great captures of both of the Kinglets. Six year old Lili seems to be having a fun time.
    Beautiful birds and photos. Have a happy day and a great new week!

  5. Moi aussi je veux un oiseau dans ma main :D
    Aujourd'hui j ai vu un couple de bouvreuils pivoine alors je suis contente.
    Beaucoup d oiseaux et de belles couleurs, les photos sont très jolies. Bonne soirée

  6. What a beautiful pictures!....I love to see the fungi on the dead tree....nature working as its best!. Wonderful to see your granddaughter enjoying the nature!!.......Abrazotes, Marcela

  7. The Kinglets are so pretty. Not to forget Chip 'n Dale! Must have been a great experience for the participants.

  8. Ahh, spring! Loving your gorgeous photos while I sit here on a wet gloomy day with winter fast approaching.
    I share in your joy in seeing a youngster so interested in the natural world around them - too many are so addicted to 'screens' these days that they are totally oblivious that a natural world even exists.

    1. She's a real little conversationalist too. At the end of the outing she and Miriam walked along together having a fine conversation with each other.

  9. That was a delightful trip! I cannot tolerate crowds, but I enjoyed that virtually!

    1. I am not wild about crowds, such as to go to a movie theatre or concert hall, but a group of less than twenty fellow naturalists is nothing but pure joy!

  10. What a day! Snow has been replaced. Lili is a delight! Our Lily is now 17, but we took her on adventures like your girl.

  11. I am really taken with that small Ruby-crowned Kinglet - what a pretty little bird. So you now have another Lili in your lives - I too have a Lily, my eldest granddaughter and she is the apple of my eye.

    1. Yes, and we had just seen the other Lilly the day before.

  12. hi, you see a lot on your outings. A really great place for seeing different kinds of wildlife. I have never seen this kind of handfeeding in Sweden. Not even in gardens. So it seems a bit strange to me.

  13. Isn't it great to see the Earth coming back from its winter slumber? I took my feeders in a bit early this evening ((just to be sure they don't get taken down by a wandering bear), and the chickadees were not happy with me. Lily is very brave to handle a snake and to get a chickadee to feed from her hand. So many children would be afraid I think. You saw a wonderful selection of birds, and you showed a photo of my raptor I saw and asked you about. I think it was a Cooper's Hawk. I can tell by the in flight body shape. One of these days I might be able to ID them based on shape and coloring. Have a great start to your new week. hugs-Erika

    1. I don't have bears to contend with but I bring my feeders in each night to prevent the raccoons dashing them to the ground!

  14. So many wonderful birds in this post ,David, as usual. The Song Sparrows here are singing up a storm these days. Love those tiny creatures. I have never see a cardinal. It would be a real treat for sure.

    Lili is precious! Such interest in nature for one so young too.

    See you and Miriam in a few weeks.

  15. I enjoyed the reports of your outing.

    Beautiful birds and captures, David.

    Happy Monday!

  16. Your birdwalks must be very nice to participate in, David. I would love to be a part of them. I enjoy very much to see the nature in your area. I have Sanguinaria canadensis in my garden too, but they have not started to grow here yet. Lily looks like she enjoys the springtime. She is so lucky who can go out in the nature with you.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

  17. So wonderful to be part of your bird watching groups. Beautiful birds. The most fulfilling part is to have a bird land on the palm to pick up food. Wow! What an experience.

  18. Hello David, what a great walk you had with an amazing amount of birds on the way. All those birds so trusting to come eat from the hand is amazing to see and I am sure a great experiance. I do agree with you that the parents of Lily are wonderful to let their daughter participate in nature in a way she is not afraid and therefore learns all in a natural way about nature. Fantastic.
    From a warm Belgium, in full Spring.
    Regards, Roos

  19. What wonderful walks you had, so lovely to see that so many wild birds and animals still exist. And Lily is fantastc, kudos to her parents for teaching her this way, just great! Have a great day, take care, big hugs, Valerie

  20. Birding is wonderful at any time of year, but during spring it seems extra-special! I know your groups are thankful for the opportunity to observe nature's renewal.

    My imagination fancies the Chipping Sparrow you saw was feeding underneath my oak trees in central Florida only a few weeks ago.

    Through the eyes of a child we see hope for our planet's future. Kudos, David, for providing Lili a platform for teaching all of us about what is important in this life.

  21. It is very encouraging to see Lili's interest in nature at her young age. Kudos to her family!

  22. I always like to see birds sitting on people's palms. It must be a wonderful feeling to experience such a thing.

    1. It really is. I couldn't even begin to figure out how many times I have done it, and it's always a thrill.

  23. Great report and beautiful photos, a wonderful outing. Thank you for sharing.

  24. A beautiful trip. The river has a very pleasant atmosphere.

  25. You're right about Lili and the ability to be able to plunge around in puddles and ponds and actively seek out nature. It's wonderful. You had some fabulous sightings and I like the idea of the stick to lure the chickadee to the seed in the hand. I might have to try that sometime! What a fabulous walk!

  26. Hear me clapping loudly to see water flowing freely and no ice!! Such a warm weather gal. As always wonderful pictures, and what a cutie little Lili is as she feeds the bird from her hands and wades about. Nice to see young children enjoying the beauty of nature instead of being clued to phone.
    Sandy's Space

  27. David, it is nice to see many interesting people around you who love nature. I liked the photo of the blue jay and the view of the green meadow. Spring brings joy after a long snow months.

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  29. I like the little Kinglets they are adorable and the Song Sparrows are so pretty. I wish our garden birds would come down to my hand for food but it will never happen in France, they spend their lives keeping away from being hunted. 😥😥
    I hope all is well, best wishes to you both, Diane

  30. Hi David,
    so nice to see that spring finally has arrived at your part of the world.
    I can imagine that all of you enjoy these outings - you see so many different birds all the time. This white-headed nuthatch is enchanting. Wonderful colors.
    So nice you found a second Lily very interested in nature. 😊

    Best regards, Corrie

  31. You have had wonderful sightings, as usual, on these excursions, David. It's always wonderful to see the birds that will feed on outstretched hands with birdseed. It's also nice that you have another youngster named Lili who is learning to appreciate nature at such a young age like the younger Lily we are all familiar with through your posts.

    1. Isn't it remarkable that they have the same name? One has the English rendition, Lillian, the other the French version, Liliane, but they both answer to Lily or Lili!

  32. Buenas tardes amigo, David, un precioso reportaje como no podía ser de otra manera estimado amigo.
    Este es un mes que nos muestra a raudales todo su esplendor y belleza.
    Es gratificante ver a la gente joven como se compromete con la naturaleza, amarla y respetarla son factores que debemos siempre transmitir e inculcar.
    Un gran placer este recorrido querido amigo.
    Recibe un fuerte abrazo de tu siempre compadre y amigo Juan.

  33. Dear David,
    your words about Lili and her family touch me very much. It is also a great joy for me that such young people exist - and I believe they are not as rare as we sometimes think and fear. Through such outings as you organized, you get to know these people. And you can also pass on your love of nature in the blog. Your photos are just wonderful and I'm glad you helped out with some stock photos as well so I can get a better idea of ​​the birds. Great shots and I find the photo of the Common Grackle with the Eastern Chipmunk in intimate togetherness very charming <3 <3 <3
    And nice to see all the happy faces while feeding the birds! I've had only one hand-feeding experience like this - in 2011 with wild hummingbirds at the Rockslands Birds Sanctuary (not far from Montego Bay) in Jamaica. (They let themselves be lured with sugar water from a little bottle.) That was an unforgettable, happy experience, in every single one of the photos from that time I'm beaming all over my face. Unfortunately, there are no meaningful photos of it in my blog. I had an interesting and equally delightful experience with parrots - in Sequoia National Park during our trip to the USA in 2012. Parrots there? You can read how it came about here:
    Your post today reminded me of these happy experiences - thank you very much for that. @ Beaver: Really great builders - and sad that so many people hate them. @ Lili: Do you also have a photo where she shows the Eastern Garter Snake?
    All the best,

    1. I just added a picture of Lili holding the Garter Snake.

  34. Wonderful post! Are these birds conditioned to human presence? I have not been able to get very close to birds. Well, except for geese and ducks, and geese can be less than polite!

  35. The grackle and chipmunk set a good example.

  36. I must say that you really saw a lot of different things on the trips. The picture of the Blue Jay is amazing - and the bird is even more amazing.
    And how encouraging to hear about Lili. All is not lost.
    A follow-up question: Do crocus grow naturally in Canada or are they some lost bulbs?

    1. Hi Lisbeth: The crocuses are usually the results of squirrels having transported the bulbs. I am grateful to them!

  37. Nice to see you enjoying so many signs of early spring. Including enjoying your snacks outside! Full-fledged picnics can’t be far behind!

  38. Wow David, that blue jay! What a beauty! We haven't this one in Europa.

  39. Hallo David,

    Prachtig om met zo'n grote groep natuur geinteresseerden op pad te gaan. Jullie zagen veel mooie vogelsoorten die je hier niet hebt. Ik vind vooral die witkopboomklever heel mooi. Leuk ook om te zien hoe tam sommige vogelsoorten daar zijn.


  40. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful photographs from your walks/rambles, they are always a joy to see.
    Lovely ones of Lili too, it is always so nice to see youngsters being outside and enjoying nature.

    Have a lovely week ahead.

    All the best Jan

  41. Hi David.

    What lovely walks you take with the various groups.
    And so much beauty to see.
    It's great how that young girl does that with the bird.

    Nice series David.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  42. Hello David. I did a quick double-take when I saw that photo of the male Cardinal - I thought for a moment that you'd come upon an exotic parrot!

    It's wonderful to know about Lili - it gives me hope that perhaps the planet does have a future with us humans still present. I was most impressed that she felt comfortable with the Eastern Garter Snake.

    My very best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

    1. I just added a picture of her with the snake, so you can see for yourself, Richard.

  43. A beautiful trip with your nature friends. I can't imagine wild bird are sitting on your hand. Beautiful birds in Canada. Thank you for visiting my blog.

  44. I am pleased to see that I recognize so many of these as my neighbors. I do not think I have the patience to train them to eat out of my hand, though.

  45. Bonjour David,
    Il ne faut pas rester sous un arbre quand le castor est en pleine activité ! Ouh làlà....
    Bien vu le petit baton devant la main !
    La sittelle est vraiment jolie chez vous.
    Bisous David et merci pour toutes ces belles espèces.

    1. Nous avons deux sitelles ici, Nathalie, et l'autre est même plus jolie.

  46. Hi David - how brilliant to see all the species ... and to see how your Canadian organism kingdoms' gardens grow with new life and growth, and to read your enlivening, informative comments and descriptions. Is Lili really 6 - that's amazing ... the years really are passing by!! But fantastic how she's becoming a natural naturalist - lovely - cheers Hilary

    1. We are dealing with two different children, Hilary. "Our" Lily will be two years old in June. This Lili, the six-year old, is the daughter of a family that recently came on a couple of my walks. Both of them are delightful.

  47. hello David
    great excursions and nice how the young people have so much love for nature
    Greetings Frank

  48. what lovely walks and how fun that the birds come to perch on your hand. That has happened to me only once. I was in Colorado visiting a friend at a low point in my life and we went cross country skiing so we were in the backwoods when we stopped to rest. I saw a small bird in a tree, don't know what kind as this was long before I became interested in identifying them, help out my finger to it and to my unending delight, it flew down and lit on me finger. This little act has been one of the highlights of my life.

    1. Based on your description, Ellen, that bird was almost certainly a chickadee.

  49. David - a great idea to augment the fine photography in your post with some photos from your archives! I especially enjoyed the photos of the kinglets. I am in the UK, and as Spring is much advanced compared to Montana, it has been a joy to spot many birds on our walks. It might disappoint you to know that I don't have a proper camera for bird photos, but I have good "shots" logged in my brain and I can pull from other sources for a future post.

    Your post has given me a sense of what I will see in our woods/along the stream when we return home in a little more than a week. The song sparrows were already singing loudly before we departed.

    I too am thrilled to see a young person so engaged in nature!

  50. Many of these birds are regulars at my feeders, and I am so happy to be reunited with them now that I'm back in NJ. The bald eagles, however, are not often seen in these parts (and never in my backyard!), but would be a thrill to see. I haven't attempted to hold my hand out to the chickadees, but perhaps that should be on my to-do list this summer. Little Lili is a delight! Pictures of her always make me smile.

  51. What a beautiful outings, with a good diversity of birds, all very pretty and colorful. It is clear that the group had a great time in your company. What caught my attention the most is that wild birds eat from the hand, here that is impossible, perhaps. The other was to see a girl so enthusiastic about enjoying nature, something increasingly rare in a society that is moving away from nature, increasingly urbanized, preoccupied with technology and virtuality. Another thing that catches my attention (or shouldn't) is to see everything as if it were one of our winters, it gives me that feeling because of the leafless trees and the absence of snow, plus the warm clothes you wear.
    Un gran abrazo amigo y a seguir disfrutando de las aves

  52. Amazing photos, wonderful birds and beautiful Sanguinaria canadensis. Thank you very much for seeing it all on your blog!
    Hugs and greetings.

  53. I share your pleasure at seeing any child so delighted by nature. I happened to be in Galveston this afternoon, and one of the things we noticed was the presence of so many families on the beach: skirting the waves, picking up shells, and examining the detritus along the tideline. Some of the children clearly were delighted by the shorebirds, and while they may not yet know their names or their habits, the delight is a precursor to learning.

    Every mention of beavers gets my attention. They're such interesting creatures. I'd love to encounter one, which is entirely possible if I spend more time in the east Texas woods.

  54. I am amazed how tame the birds are to come down and take food from the hand. A truly joyful experience.

  55. Otra de tus entradas que se me había escapado ( no me llegan tus entradas ) El reportaje me ha parecido precioso, Lili me parece una niña encantadora y tan naturalista. Un abrazo fuerte.


Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.