Monday, 19 May 2014

Birding on the other side of the pond - Ontario, Canada (Part 1) - May 2014

I am very fortunate in having some relatives living in Ontario, Canada which over the years has meant several trips out to visit them at various times of the year. Of course any trip has to involve a spot of birding, and usually includes a few days away to some of the top birding destinations. For this trip our base is their home in Oakville, near Toronto, which is within easy reach of places such as Point Pelee, Rondeau and Carden Plain, which are the sites I hope to visit whilst here. I will hopefully have the time, and internet access, to update things as I go, but that will obviously depend on how much time I spend out in the field.

Oakville Area Tails
We arrived on Friday 16th May, late in the afternoon so there was no time for birding other than bits and pieces in the garden, which included American Goldfinch, Common Grackle, American Robin, House Finch and Mourning Dove.

Male American Robin - this bird was clearly already feeding chicks

Female Americam Robin - Listening for worms

There are numerous trails in the local area that meander through the various housing estates and these provided the ideal location to re-acquaint myself with some of the commoner species and their calls. Early in the morning the network of paths are little used, except by the odd jogger or dog walker that is, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the birds at that time of the day. I don’t remember seeing Chipping Sparrows during my first few visits, but they appear to have become a fairly common species now. Although it maybe that I have just become more familiar with their call, which is a continuous and distinctive chipping. 

Chipping Sparrow - a common garden species here

In eastern Canada the winter has been long and hard which is really evident in the vegetation. Most of the trees are still not in leaf and the ground consists mainly of bare mud, that is except for the trout lilies and Trilliums. Trilliums are the Canadian equivalent of the British bluebell in some ways, since they are an early spring flower that illuminates the woodland floor. Their flowers start white but gradually turn pink with age, as in the picture below. 

White Trilliums - the petals turn pink as the flower ages

Birding the trails can be quite slow at times with Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and American Robins the most vocal, and numerous. However as the sun got up on the morning of 18th May I started to pick out a few more bits including, more Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and an Indigo Bunting. The latter being a first year male, so not the bright blue plumage of a adult, but with some brown juvenile feathers still present.

Male Indigo Bunting - the grey and brown feathers age
this as a second calendar year bird

My first Warbler of the trip was a male Tennessee, which was feeding and singing in a flowering Maple tree. It was showing very well but its energetic feeding style combined with the leaf cover made it difficult to photograph. Whilst watching the Tennessee Warbler I picked up Hairy Woodpecker, Norther Flicker, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, which highlights the value of just standing in one place periodically.

Male Tennessee Warbler - this species lacks the bright colours of other warbler species

Male Tennessee Warbler 

The next warbler was somewhat brighter than the Tennessee, a Blackburnian, and a nice male at that. I spent a while enjoying this bird before my attention was drawn to a tiny bird at the top of a small tree enjoying the morning sun - a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. There were two birds, which occasionally engaged in aggressive aerial combats, before returning to their favoured perches. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The other species seen included Black-capped Chickadee, Barn Swallow, American Crow, Brown-headed Cowbird and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Balls Falls Conservation Area
Balls Falls Conservation Area is located along the Niagara Escarpment and only about an hours drive from Oakville, that is when the traffic is good. It took considerably longer for us, but then what do you expect on a holiday weekend. There are a few trails and cycle paths and a small waterfall, that is probably about one tenth of the size of Niagara. There wasn’t much time for birding, but in what time I had I picked up Gray Catbirds, Song Sparrows, more American Robins, some Bank Swallows, (Sand Martins in the UK) and a cracking Eastern Phoebe.

Gray Catbird 

Eastern Phoebe

Whilst looking at the falls, several Turkey Vultures appeared overhead. The were using the air currents caused by the waterfall to circle, and seek out somewhere to to roost. There were at least 10 birds that put on an excellent aerial display, before dropping into the trees.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture

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