Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Birding on Borrowed Time

With all the craziness of life I let the reading of this book slide a lot unfortunately. But before leaving Toronto, I finally did complete it!

Birding on Borrowed time is about the life of Pheobe Snetsinger who turned from being a stay at home mother, to hard-core extreme birder.  She saw over 8,000 of the world's 10,000 birds only beginning to count at the age of 34.  Although the book was completed after Pheobe's death, the majority of it was indeed written by her about all her various adventures.

I found the beginning of the book to be wonderful. The description of her seeing and identifying her first bird....
" the first thing I really saw through those binoculars was a fiery-orange male blackburnian warbler that nearly knocked me Over with astonishment - and quite simply hooked me forever" page 18. 
...really reminded me of the first time I got hooked onto birding. I had always liked birds, but never really understood the whole "birding thing".  I remember being out on a Breeding Bird Survey and heard this crazy and awesome sound, which my coworker ID'd as an Upland Sandpiper.  It was so cool that I then wanted to find it and see what it looked like...and well. That's the first sign of becoming hooked.

 Pheobe, like me, found questions about absolutely everything and learnt to look at life through a different set of glasses.  The following quote really struck me as I read it as I realized that many times I do view everything from a human perspective and standard and well, for somethings you just need to step back and be amazed:

" I observed those flimsy and seemingly precarious stick nests in the top of dead trees, attended by the gangly (great blue heron) adults. "How can they ever get food Ito those fuzzy chicks without stabbing them to death with their bills!?" Watching those creatures do what they had been doing successfully for millions of years, without any help from us, finally let me learn not to judge everything by human standards. Page 19" 

Unfortunately, as the book progressed I did get a little more tired of all the lists...it took a while to finish.  Many of the pages i scanned over as they were just list after list and place after place. However, her descriptions of how she lists and records, as well as her counting ethics, was fascinating and I have started a full list myself!  Once in a while she would go in greater detail about a location she was visiting and it made me really interested to go there...other times it was just a blip on the page.

There were many, many, things that I admired about this amazing woman. Not only did she push on with hope after being diagnosed multiple times with cancer, survive a rape while on a birding trip, but she was also brilliant and competitive defying many odds. She also passed on this love of the outdoors and birding to her children who went on to work in the environmental field.  There were some things that I did question however, for example, to the point that this hobby and obsession became too much of an obsession. For example she noted in the book that at one point her husband had considered divorce as she was never around or that she missed her own daughters wedding because she had already planned a birding trip somewhere.  

In her final trip she unfortunately died during a bus crash, but it was exactly how she wanted, with binoculars in hand.  Overall, I thought it was a really lovely book to read and would suggest it!   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Snowy tale...

Well! I have officially moved out of Toronto and now that I have a little more time on my hands, I can finally catch up from a few posts that I have been wanting to write!

On my second last day of work a few co-workers and I wanted to take a second stab at heading to Downsview Park in search for the Snowy Owl.  I had received an alert the night before notifying me that it had been seen again by someone on Tuesday, which means that there is a pretty large chance that it would still be in the area. We got all excited and our hopes up (again!) and set out on our lunch break.

We first arrived and walked into the wooded area.  Unfortunately we didn't spend a lot of time actually looking around for the Short-eared Owl that was also spotted there, but went straight for where the Snowy "should be".  One little bird caught my attention almost immediately and it turned out to be a very friendly Mockingbird!  I had never seen it THAT close up before but it looked almost identical to the one on the front of my Peterson ID book, so I was able to ID it almost immediately.

Northern Mockingbird
We met a lady on the paths who had been looking for the Snow Buntings but was not having any luck finding them.  She ended up tagging along behind us when we told her that we were there looking for the snowy owl.  We continued to walk towards a "hill".  The bird-alert noted that it was seen on top of a hill, but looking around, there were at least 4 hills and we only had about a half hour!

We took a shot and walked towards the largest, and BOY were we lucky!  We saw a flash of something on the top of the hill and our binos would only show something dark. The photo below shows the tiny little dark bump that we actually saw...nothing right!?   Well we kept our eyes on it and suddenly it turned around and exposed it's very white face.

Owl on top of the hill
 We ran off in a flash towards the other side of the hill to try and get a better look at it.  When we came around the corner we were slightly worried as we couldn't see it anywhere on the hill, when we looked in front of us, and there it was!!  Perched right on top of a lamp post!  What a BEAUTY.  From what little I know about age/sex of owls I would say this is a young female. But could also be a young male.

Snowy Owl on Lamp
All my coworkers got a great look at this "little" one and we were all so excited as this was a lifer for all 4 of us.  Supposedly I, in particular, turn into a giddy little 12 year old girl when I saw it for the first time!  We continued on our photo spree from a pretty good distance and eventually she took off.  Later on our walk back to the car we found it perched on top of one of the lighting displays!  We unfortunately needed to hurry off, but what a great lunch break that had been!

Perched on a Christmas Display.

After work I was picked up by my boyfriend. He had also been wanting to see one of these Snowy Owls everyone is reporting, so since I had seen it that day and knew it was there, we decided to go take a quick look before it was too dark.  We spotted the Snowy on a different hill then before, but it was just as astonishing seeing it a second time.  And I do believe this must be the first time a photo has ever been taken of a snowy owl on top of a juggling, dancing, purple dragon!
Snowy admiring the dragon's talent
As it got darker we made our way back to the car and saw a flash in the fields right by the parking lot, thinking (and excited) that maybe the snowy followed us so I could get a field shot of it.  I looked in my binos and spotted a smaller, brownish owl.  The area near the tips were lighter, and the underside was very light.  It was flying fast over the fields almost like a harrier, or butterfly would.  There was only one thing it could be...a Short-eared Owl!  The second one I've ever seen and one had had been reported here earlier this week.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a photo of it, but still just as exciting!


The Snowy invasion is still on throughout much of the area so hopefully will be seeing more this season!!

Hope everyone has a "Snowy" Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snowy Skunked, Kestrel Plus!

Well!  I am finally back at it!  It has been...to say the least, a VERY busy past few weeks. I have unfortunately not been able to do much birding, rather none at all.  It's been really hard to keep perky with all these reports of Snowy Owls flying around Toronto and not being able to get out to see them!

Today a few co-workers and I decided that we would take out lunch and go on a hunt. There has been one recently spotted at Downsview Park the past few weeks and we wanted to try and see it!  We got to the Park right around the lunch-hour and walked everywhere.  No sign of it.  There at least 6 Red-tailed hawks taking advantage of the high wings today and soaring around.

We then drove a little around the buildings in this urban park and still didn't spot it.  So, we had gotten skunked as our lunch-time was soon to be over.  Luckily, we did manage to spot one of my favourite birds. A male American Kestrel!  This little guy was rather skittish and flew the moment I left the car. Luckily I was able to snap two quick photos of it before he took of too far away to get to in the little time we had left!

Here's the two photos which turned out. And a double here to hoping I can get out during my last week in Toronto and spot me a Snowy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Red-tail's Buffet!

Today while at work I was putting something away in the fridge when a movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned to look out the window and noticed a Red-tailed Hawk on the ground! 

"Well....That's a strange place for a hawk to be", I thought to myself. As I looked closer I noticed a dark lump that it was standing on, and realized that I had JUST missed it catch a squirrel for dinner.  I ran to try and grab my camera, binos (which I didn't find) and our Co-op student who I figured would love to also see this!  We ran downstairs and slowly walked outside to near where the bird was. We of course hung back quite a ways (Thank goodness for zoom lens!) and just watched it.

I took a few shots that turned out to be pretty good I think and wanted to share them!  My favourite (probably the one most people would call the "shocker") is in this as well!  I was so lucky to have snapped a photo as it was taking off with squirrel in feet, amazing.  It is certainly not everyday that you get to see the food chain occurring right in front of your face and also in the middle of a city like North York (Toronto).

What can I say...it was one of the best coffee breaks I've ever had!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

TTP Last Day: Other Blogs

Well, our last day of banding did not turn out as eventful as we may have hoped...but we had a really great season ending off with over 4,700 birds being banded.  With all the high winds and slight rain there was barely a peep from anyone outside, though we did manage to catch a belted kingfisher and recaught a Downy Woodpecker.

If our day could be summarized in one photo...it would probably be this one:

Marina at TTP
I was super excited having to make my way from watching the banding, to becoming an extractor of birds, to eventually banding my first two: a mallard duck, and a Belted Kingfisher (our only new bird for the last day)!

Kingfisher...not really as happy as his smile leads on!


 Since there were very few birds, I was able to take a little walk around the paths at the banding station and took a peek at the very empty cormorant colony.  The empty cormorant nests looked pretty eerie in the distance with no birds on them.  This area is now open to the public to walk around in, and I must say that I am very tempted too!! From far away it reminds me a little of the scenes in the Lion king of the elephant graveyard, except instead of bones scattered everywhere it’s dead trees. I think it would be certainly an interesting site, and hopefully not too stinky!

One of my best friends, Emma, was able to come out with me on the last day and experience banding.  I did feel really bad that we didn’t get more birds for her, and instead she mainly helped us out with the take down. I must say…she’s a natural at getting rebar out of the ground!!  We were able to see some pretty awesome birds throughout the day still. The family of Trumpeter Swans are still out and about, the babies still being harassed by the Mutes (will be a later post!).  Quite a few ducks were also in the area last weekend (and probably still this weekend!)  Buffleheads, long-tailed ducks, hooded mergansers, gadwall, American widgeon, and shovelers were all in fairly large numbers, while Pintail, wood ducks, green-winged teal and a few coots (not waterfowl tho) were in smaller numbers.  We were also incredibly excited to have seen a few long-eared owls flying around the park in the wee early hours of the morning!!

Emma excited about some hard labour!
Despite the less than flattering weather we had gotten this weekend, the company..as always..was wonderful.  The group of people who run the banding station have such a great chemistry that you never feel like the "newby" in the group, which is what I was.  I have to thank them SO much for letting me come out with them every weekend and for everyone of them teaching me so much about these wonderful creatures and sharing their passions (or as come call it obsessions) with me.  I encourage everyone to check out the station once the springtime comes around as they will be back up and running with beautiful birds in full breeding plumage!  

There are two fantastic people who were at the station (one working and one a regular visitor) who have amazing blogs that I would like to share!

The first is from Debbie, a mom, writes about how to enjoy nature in an urban setting that is Toronto.  It is a great blog with tons of ideas of how you can enjoy nature either by yourself, or with your family!  To read, please visit: Wild City

The second is a blog by Jay, a regular visitor to our station and the Park.  This is a great place to keep up to date on what critters are visiting Tommy Thompson Park throughout the weeks the station is closed.  To read his blog visit: Northershrike

Happy Naturing!!

Me and the awesome Kingfisher

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Last Days at TTP!

It's the last weekend that the Banding Station is open at Tommy Thompson Park, after the day tomorrow we will be closing up all the nets until Springtime comes around!  Tomorrow will be your last chance to not only drop by the station to see what we catch during the day, but it is also the last day for the Sunday morning bird tours.  The bird yours meet at 8am by the front gates of the park and end around the banding station!
Toronto Skyline
The past two weekends have been a little slow when it comes to numbers, but wonderful when it comes to variety!  Owl banding has still been happening full swing and we have almost hit 30!  The only owls we have banded have still been only Saw-whets, but really you can never get enough of these little guys!  I posted a few of my most favourite photos from the past two weeks!  One of the Saw-whet Owls is in a little different of a position..this feisty gal decided to show us her angry side and give us a few looks!  

Second on my favourites list was a surprising flock of Eastern Bluebirds!  These beauties showed up and treated us to a new bird at the station as well an amazing sight to the banders and the lucky visitors who were there to see them up close and personal!  The first time I had the pleasure of seeing these stunning birds was surprisingly at the Cambridge, ONT Christmas Bird Count. The second time was in a much more usual place for them, the Carden Plain.  These are grassland birds, meaning that they are usually found in grassland habitats, such as meadows, pasture, prairie, etc.

Eastern Bluebird Group Shot

Today, we were able to get a really pretty bird that I had yet to "officially" see, a Snow Bunting!  I know that I have probably seen them before while birding, but I had never been able to ID them and say "hey!  over there is a snow bunting!" These little guys are starting now to migrate into the area where you will be able to see them all winter!  The lower Great Lakes is about as far as they go as they normally are in the very high arctic regions!

Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting

Lastly, we had a surprise visitor today from the nearby pond...a Mallard! This guy was a happy surprise puddling around in one of our water nets!  Cat carriers were used to bring them back to the banding station where I was very excited to have gotten my first banding tick! (Minus the Canada Geese I've done!).  This lovely bird was certainly very full of energy and didn't forget to give me a slap across the face with it's wing when it took of!

Hopefully we will be able to get some great birds (in great numbers too!) tomorrow!!  So if you have some moments make sure to stop by the Park and see what you can see! 

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hoo Hoo's around Tommy Thompson

There's been quite the few species around Tommy Thompson the past two weeks!

The weekend before Thanksgiving was I believe when I last updated a little bit!  We have had some species that I found particularly exciting!  Some were birds that I have seen quite often flying around but have never had the opportunity to see close up, while others were birds I had never even seen (or sometimes heard of!) before.

The first photo that is on the list is of this Herring Gull!  This gull is usually seen flying around with Ring-billed gulls. These guys are best to be ID'd by their size and shape as often their colouring (even their bills) can be the exact same as their counter part the Ring-billed!  Although gulls are usually thought of as being more "trash birds" due to the ones flying around parking lots trying to eat anything they can get thrown to them...they are super beautiful up close!  There are many different kinds of gulls which are amazing to look at, I hope that we get to see a few more before the station closes for the winter!

Herring Gull

Next on the list is the wonderful Fox Sparrow!  I had never been a huge fan of sparrows as everywhere in the city you go, the House Sparrow follows...the very, very common House Sparrow.  Which I had learnt is not even in the true sparrow family at all, it is an old world bird as it was introduced into the States in 1851 spreading up northwards to Canada!   The Fox Sparrow is part of the sparrow family that is native to North America. These guys nest in the very north of Ontario in hardwood forests and are on their way to their Wintering grounds in the States.   I couldn't get over how beautiful and BIG it was!  When I first saw it my first thought was that it was a wood thrush...but alas!  It wasn't!

Fox Sparrow

Staring Contest!
Next up is another bird that as we, living in Ontario, often find either incredibly annoying in the early mornings or beautiful yet common so we over-look it.  Cardinals are known by many as that red bird who is constantly smacking themselves against windows and car mirrors...well, this is because they are incredibly territorial, in fact they are obsessed with defending it and believe that their reflection is another bird.  This boy was absolutely beautiful close up and I couldn't believe the depth of colour that the red was...and boy did he ever know how to bite!  Or should I saw...pinch! I learnt while holding this guy that cardinals have AMAZING clamping powers with their beaks and pinch so tight they can almost give you a blister!  Sheesh!

Northern Cardinal
Next up is another really neat bird that I just learnt about while volunteering here. It is called an American Pipit!  These guys are not really much to look at...no bright colours, no fun patterns (minus on their tail which I LOVE), but they are really determined little guys!  We only see them in this part of Ontario during migration as they breed way up in the arctic tundra and fly south for the winter to their sites in Mexico/almost Costa Rica.  They fly overhead in very large flocks (we saw up to 200!) and  make a very distinct "peep"s!
American Pipit
American Pipit Tail
The next...was my most exciting sight of the week. Those who know me know that I can be slightly obsessed with Owls...so when we caught this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet Owl, I just about died! This adorable little guy was caught close to 11pm and certainly made us know he was not pleased with the little clicking sounds (that were just so cute).  These guys are caught using a "too-too-too" call that lures them towards the mist nets we set up. After that they are caught and extracted like every other bird! It's something about their huge eyes that are just captivating, and I can't wait to see more!

If you plan to visit Tommy Thompson Park in search of Owls...make sure that you read their "Owl Guidelines" before going to view.  Many people also see the wonder of these creatures and want the best shot, which often times comes at the expense of the bird. So please come and see how wonderful and beautiful they are...but also respect them, even if it means not getting a great photo.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall has fallen on G Ross

Apple Orchard
Fall has certainly landed in North York! The beautiful fall colours are everywhere to be seen. I took a walk a week or so ago through G Ross Lords park again on my lunchtime and was delighted that there were quite a few critters about!

When first coming from the office I walk through this little apple orchard.  I don't believe the Orchard is crab apples, but instead apples that haven't been treated for quite some time with pesticides and if you find a good one...they are quite yummy!!

I noticed quite a few little guys fluttering around the area. Squirrels were running around eating anything they could find.  I first noticed a little Downy Woodpecker (female since it has no red mark on its head) pecking away at a variety of trees.  I followed this little gal around for quite a while trying to get a good photo, must have looked quite hilarious to the few people eating their lunches.

Downy Tree Climbing
Female Downy Woodpecker

While following the Downy I saw another little flutter in the apple trees.  As usual for many fall songbirds, it was a little yellow blob. I (stupidly) had no binoculars with me so the only way that I was able to get a good look was through my camera and was hoping to at least snap a good enough photo that I would be able to ID it later.  Luckily for me...I FINALLY snapped a good enough one!  From what I was able to see from it, I was able to ID it as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.   If anyone has better suggestions though, please send them to me!

My little yellow blob

I didn't get to walk too much further into the park, but was able to see some really beautiful colours.  Instead of walking along the road seen in the photo below, I walked towards the forest to see what was hiding in some of the shrubs and pine trees.
Fall Colours
There were not too much in terms of species variety, but Black-capped Chickadees were having a blast with pine cone seeds, bugs, and anything else that they can find!  I also was able to spot a little Red-breasted Nuthatch trying to find a snack along the trees.  There was one other species of Warbler I was able to see amongst some of the shrubbery but unfortunately in the light...it was a silhouette jumping around not once staying still.  If only they would!
Red-breasted Nuthatch

On my way out I was able to spot this last little guy taking a little nap.  He moved around quite a few times and decided that this would be the most comfortable position!

Raccoon taking a nap!

I hope that everyone is able to get out and enjoy some of the fall while we still have it!  With this week getting cooler temperatures I have a feeling that leaves will soon be disappearing even faster.  Hopefully I will be able to catch up on a few more posts this week from banding...we've been seeing some amazing things!

Happy Outdooring!

Fall time!