Finally, a Snowy Owl

January 29 to 31st, 2016

Bronte Marina, Oakville
Late Friday afternoon found us at Bronte Marina. Walking the promenade, I observed waterfowl readying themselves for the night. While Common Mergansers headed elsewhere, Long-tailed Ducks and others headed for the safety of the marina and Canada Geese lined the shorefront of the beach. I imagine it’s a tough go. Likely unrefreshed sleep due to vigilance for predators.

Common Merganser (male)

Common Merganser (male)

Common Merganser (Male)

Common Merganser (Male)

Male Common Goldeneye leading partner to the marina for the night.

Male Common Goldeneye leading partner to the marina for the night.

Long-tailed Ducks heading to the marina for the night.

Long-tailed Ducks heading to the marina for the night.

Canada Geese arranging themselves along the shoreline for the night.

Canada Geese arranging themselves along the shoreline for the night.

Lasalle Marina, Burlington
I was still stretching and yawning as I landed at Lasalle Marina on Saturday morning. The sight of Canvasbacks perked me right up.

Canvasbacks (male on the left, female on the right)

Canvasbacks (male on the left, female on the right)

I chatted with the gentleman feeding the Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, Mallards and Trumpeter Swans.

Feeding frenzy

Feeding frenzy

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Coming in for a landing.

Coming in for a landing.

We watched these two silently “wrastling”.   No clear winner, no wounds and no hard feelings.

Food fight!

Food fight!

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope
Next stop was the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. But for the following observations, I wasn’t going to mention the trip.

These birds made a home in an engine.

These birds made a home in an engine.

High Flight

High Flight

We tarried for a couple hours. By turns we experienced pride, fascination, and humilty. We were moved and thankful.

This Avro Lancaster MK X was built in Malton, Ontario. Of the more than 7,300 Lancasters rolled of the production line, only two still fly today.

This Avro Lancaster MK X was built in Malton, Ontario. Of the more than 7,300 Lancasters rolled of the production line, only two still fly today.

Working on the plane.

Working on the plane.

North American (Canadair) F-86 Sabre MK6

North American (Canadair) F-86 Sabre MK6

Recruitment posters from the Second World War

Recruitment poster from the Second World War

Repurposed Bomb

Repurposed Bomb

WWII Recruitment Poster

WWII Recruitment Poster

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope

We made plans to head over to Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke to try for the Long-eared and Snowy Owls. As we headed to Highway 403, two horses fleeing their owner entered the roadway, galloping in our direction. They were about 50 feet ahead of us. We stopped and waved down traffic behind us as the owner and others captured and returned the horses to their corral.

Front row seat to horses on the run.

Front row seat to horses on the run.

Heading back home

Heading back home

All’s well that ends well.
Colonel Samuel Smith Park, Etobicoke
On arrival at Colonel Sam we checked for the Long-eared Owl. Turns out we weren’t the only ones looking.  Six birders/photographers were also pounding the footpaths. We were happy to learn the Snowy Owl was resting near the tip of the marina.

View of Colonel Samuel Smith Park's marina

View of Colonel Samuel Smith Park’s marina

The bridge camera afforded decent photographs.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

We tried again for the long-eared but no one had seen it. As a last ditch attempt I asked this Robin for the location of the owl.

Ask me no questions, I tell you lies!

Ask me no questions, I tell you lies!

Hendrie Valley, Burlington
On Sunday my first stop was Hendrie Valley.  Observations: Grindstone Creek was frozen. The passerines were quiet. A muskrat was looking for handouts. Two crows mobbed a Red-tailed Hawk. Convo: My off-trail buddy showed me photographs of a leucistic juvenile white-tailed deer he encountered at the park. Pretty incredible find.
Lift Bridge, Burlington
The Peregrine Falcons were hunting and vocalizing.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Pigeon was on the menu.

Waste not, want not

Waste not, want not

Canadian Centre for Inland Waters
Given the balmy weather, a walk at CCIW was in order. The path was clear and unobstructed. I didn’t linger too much here.

Female Common Mergansers looking for mates

Female Common Mergansers looking for mates

So, I didn’t nab species #200 but am glad to finally see a Snowy Owl.

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Colonel Sam’s Kentucky Warbler, etc. + Toronto Islands

Took a vacation day on Friday to spend time at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Perfect weather, great company, lovely birds.

Park history

Park history

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Baltimore Oriole gathering nesting material

Baltimore Oriole gathering nesting material

Baltimore Oriole attending to nest

Baltimore Oriole attending to nest

Nest building Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Nest building Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Northern Flicker (yellow shafted)

Northern Flicker (yellow shafted)

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

Bobolink

Bobolink

Male and female Long-tailed Ducks (summer plumage)

Male and female Long-tailed Ducks (summer plumage)

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

On Saturday I enjoyed OFO’s outing to the Toronto Islands.  As most of the birds were very high in the tree canopy I developed a temporary case of warbler neck. Early during the trek we received word that a Kentucky Warbler was present at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. A few members abandoned the trip to see the warbler. Some of our group headed over at the end of our trip. I was too tired to join them. Here are a few birds I was able to see.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

House Wren singing

House Wren singing

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

American Redstart

American Redstart

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

I swore to myself that in honour of Mother’s Day I was going to stay home today. Well, that was until I read, “For those interested or who may have missed it yesterday, the Kentucky Warbler is still present and showing well this morning at Col. Sam Smith Park in Etobicoke. The bird continues to work the creek bank south of the bridge and just east of the pumphouse“.  One benefit of familiarizing yourself with a hotspot is once word of a rarity or notable species gets out, you know exactly where to see the bird. Within five minutes of arriving at the park we were observing the Kentucky Warbler. My daughter accompanied me on the trip. Had a fab time birding with her.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler singing

Kentucky Warbler singing

During our short walkabout we observed the following:

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Racoon

Racoon

Mink

Mink

Mink shake

Mink shake

Dunlin

Dunlin

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Don’t forget the spring bird festival will be held at Colonel Sam on May 23, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Hourly bird walks will start at 9:00 a.m. The whimbrel watch will also be well underway. Great outing for the entire family. Click here for more details:  If you can’t make it then, the Toronto Ornithological Club will host a bird walk the following day, May 24, 2015 from 7:30 a.m. until noon.

Spring Migrants and Snowy Owl at Colonel Samuel Smith Park

Resistance was futile. I headed to Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto on Saturday. The grounds have been nicely cleaned up. The birds were plentiful and I had so much fun.

Three birders were peering intently up a tree. I asked one of the gents (he was super handsome) what they were looking at. They were photographing a sapsucker. He showed me pictures he had taken on his phone. I helped him identify the Winter Wren. When he showed me a picture of the Fox Sparrow I told him he sucked. He laughed and told me where he saw it. I thanked him, wished them well and soon found the bird foraging on the opposite side of the dogwoods. This is a new species for me. Woo hoo!

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Happiest moment of the day was encountering a birder who had entered the park around the same time I did. When I asked if he saw anything interesting (a common greeting among birders) he told me the Snowy Owl was being harassed by gulls. I was surprised the owl was present given the boater activity at the marina. I re-found the owl and was mere feet from it. I was soon joined by an avid teenage birder and his very supportive mum. He gave his mum a go at photographing the owl.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

On the opposite shore I noticed a pair of birders were intently photographing something on the water. I let out a squeal of delight when I spotted the Common Loon they were seeing. The lad and his mum also abandoned photographing the owl in favour of the loon.

Common Loon

Common Loon

The snowy owl left us to return to the marina area then flew back to the shore below the feet of the photographer on the opposite shore. Lucky chap was in the right place at the right time. The owl landed below where he was standing.

Snowy Owl harassed by Ring-billed gulls

Snowy Owl harassed by Ring-billed gulls

Gulls harassed the owl causing it to flee to the safety of the top of a nearby building. The gulls continued their aerial assault for a few more minutes then returned their attention elsewhere. How I wished I had some Timbits to distract them.  I took this photograph some distance away with the super-zoom feature of my bridge camera.

Snowy Owl on roof

Snowy Owl on roof

Later on I exchanged greetings with two chaps effecting repairs to the swallow nest boxes. One gave me the following task, “If you see any swallows, tell them their homes are ready for occupancy!”

Readying the nestboxes

Readying the nestboxes

Here is a selection of the 45 species I observed:

Two Dark-eyed Juncos

Two Dark-eyed Juncos

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow on branch

Tree Swallow on branch

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Osprey

Osprey

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Two horned grebes

Two horned grebes

Two female Brown-headed Cowbirds

Two female Brown-headed Cowbirds

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Robin

American Robin

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Black-crowned Night-heron

Black-crowned Night-heron

Four Black-crowned Night-Herons

Four Black-crowned Night-herons

Female Common Grackle

Female Common Grackle

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Fuzzy look at Eastern Phoebe

Fuzzy look at Eastern Phoebe

Male Common Grackle

Male Common Grackle

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Red-necked grebes

Red-necked grebes

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I found this raccoon napping in a tree.

Raccoon

Raccoon

Around noon I rounded the bend along the marina only to be confronted with what I thought was an off-leash dog  heading in my direction. It was actually a coyote being pursued by an off-leash dog. The coyote passed to my right along a hedge. Too late to snap photographs once I figured out what was happening. Ultimately, the dog returned to its yelling owner.

There were a good number of birders and photographers at the park. Another set of three birders at the dogwoods were using a cell phone to call out kinglets. We all burst out laughing because the sound was akin to a sick mammal. Another photographer thoroughly enjoyed the morning photographing six horned grebes at the marina. He was positively glowing when he left. Great fun had by all.

Thank you, Colonel Samuel Smith Park!

Colonel Samuel Smith Park + High Park + Humber Bay Park East

I intentionally haven’t visited Colonel Samuel Smith Park for a while because I got fed up of the number of off-leash dogs and, even worse, there is dog feces everywhere, on and off the trails. Hard to maintain watch for birds or enjoy the walk when you’re forced to remain hypervigilant for both the dogs and their droppings. I pity the City staff charged with cleaning up the mess.  Anyway, the visit was fruitful despite the drizzle, overcast sky and dog droppings.  Male Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins have arrived and are calling from every quarter. I caught this American Robin taking a bath.

I ran into a genteel birder I met last year. He’s been birding at Colonel Sam for 20+ years.  Am so glad he has taken me into his confidence.  When he said, “Come, I’ve got something to show you”, I followed.  Folks, he led me right to the Snowy Owl!

Snowy Owl on ice at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Snowy owl

Snowy Owl resting on ice at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Snowy Owl

In addition to the above, I saw two Mink, American Black Ducks, a Red-necked Grebe, and other waterfowl.

American Mink on ice at Colonel sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

American Mink

American Black Duck at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

American Black Duck

American Black Duck preening at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

American Black Duck preening

Red-necked Grebe in March at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Red-necked Grebe

Another birder was looking for Killdeer.  I heard it flying over about an hour later but couldn’t see it due to the fog.

If it interests you, a bird walk will be held at Colonel Samuel Smith Park on Saturday, March 21, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m.  This is an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with the park. Click here for the upcoming bird walk dates and reports of recent trips.

Next stop was High Park.  After lunching at the Grenadier Cafe we headed to the bird sanctuary.  We could hear the Evening Grosbeaks before we rounded the bend.  Four grosbeaks appeared.  Always a joy to see and hear these birds.

Evening Grosbeak eating at High Park in Toronto, ON

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak eating sunflower seed at High Park in Toronto, ON

Evening Grosbeak eating sunflower seed

On our way out we saw our first chipmunk of the season.

Eastern Chipmunk at High Park in Toronto, ON

Eastern Chipmunk

We also noticed this recently posted cartoon.

Newly posted cartoon at Bird Sanctuary at Colonel sam Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Newly posted cartoon at Bird Sanctuary

Our final stop was Humber Bay Park East. This was our first trip to this park.  When we arrived early in the afternoon it was foggy and heavily overcast.

Foggy and icy Lake Ontario at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Foggy and icy Lake Ontario

Walker in the fog at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Walker in the fog

The above photographs were taken by my travelling companion.

Suddenly and without warning the fog dissipated. By then we hit a bird-rich patch near a foot bridge.  Here we had great views of a Red-Winged Blackbird, American Tree Sparrow, European Starling, and Red-Breasted Nuthatch.

Red-Winged Blackbird at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Red-Winged Blackbird

American Tree Sparrow at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

American Tree Sparrow

Red-breasted Nuthatch at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Red-breasted Nuthatch

As we pressed on westward we encountered the Air India Flight 182 Memorial.

Excerpt from Air India Flight 182 Memorial at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Excerpt from Air India Flight 182 Memorial

Air India Flight 182 Memorial at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Air India Flight 182 Memorial

Heading further west we found a lovely mix of waterfowl.  It was here we met a birder on the hunt for Green-winged Teal. We didn’t find it but we were treated to the sight of a pair of Gadwall.

Gadwall couple at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Gadwall couple

We had excellent looks at Buffleheads, Mallards, Greater Scaups and a Red-Breasted Merganser.

Female Bufflehead at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Female Bufflehead

Male Bufflehead at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ONv

Male Bufflehead

Female Mallard at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Female Mallard

Greater Scaup catches a crayfish at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Caught a crayfish

Male Greater Scaup at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Greater Scaup

Red-breasted Merganser at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ONRed-breasted Nuthatch at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser pre-dive at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Red-breasted Merganser pre-dive

Red-breasted Merganser diving at Humber Bay Park East in Toronto, ON

Red-breasted Merganser diving

All in all, we had a fab day.  Soooooo glad we didn’t allow the weather to deter us.  The walks weren’t onerous.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Humber Bay East.  We’ll definitely return to explore further.

Lastly, feel free to mark your calendars and take advantage of the bird walks offered by the Toronto Ornithological Club.  Please click here for a list of outings.

Spending time with the Hooded Mergansers et al. at Colonel Samuel Smith Park

Spent a couple glorious hours at Colonel Samuel Smith Park last Saturday until the rain sent me packing. I explored about half of the park and, for the first time, the parkettes nearby.

Lovely view:

Mix of waterfowl at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Mix of waterfowl

At the larger pond:

Juvenile black-crowned night-heron at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ONJuvenile black-crowned night-heron at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Juvenile black-crowned night-heron

Male hooded merganser at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Male hooded merganser

Male and female hooded mergansers at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Male and female hooded mergansers

Male merganser with crayfish at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Male merganser with crayfish

Female hooded mergansers at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Female hooded mergansers

At the parkettes:

Male American wigeon at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Male American wigeon

Female American wigeon at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Female American wigeon

American black duck at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

American black duck

Neighbourhood watch:

Angry cat at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Sheriff assessing me

At the marina:

Resting red-necked grebes at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Resting red-necked grebes

Male and female buffleheads n at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, ON

Male and female buffleheads

At Tim Horton’s: