Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Toronto Islands

Me on the Island!

What a cool place this Island was!  For years I've had people tell me that I need to visit the Toronto Islands, but I've never fully understood why until now (and probably too for a completely different reason!)  This was the first Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) bird hike that I've ever been on, I'd suggest that everyone goes at some point.  Many of these guys..are awesome and know their stuff!  About 20ish people showed up, a lot less from last year as the weather forecast had looked pretty grim.  I didn't mind, smaller group number to me means more birds!

We took the Ferry first to Ward's Island and wandered our way around the Island.  We saw so many cool birds here!  Long-tailed ducks were hanging around the harbour along with Barn Swallows sweeping up bugs in the sky.   We then wandered around the Island and saw so many birds!

Tree Swallow peeking out of its nest
 To name a few:

  •  Horned Grebe, 
  • Chimney Swifts, 
  • Northern Flicker, 
  • Least Flycatcher, 
  • Warbling Vireo, 
  • Carolina Wren, 
  • Hermit Thrush, 
  • Gray Catbird, 
  • Yellow warblers, 
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (Absolutely beautiful
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler, 
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler,
  •  Blackburnian Warbler, 
  • Black-and-White Warbler, 
  • American Redstart, 
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
    American Redstart
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Northern Parula (Also super beautiful!)
  • Gadwall
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher (on their nests!)
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Buffleheads
  • Caspian Tern
  • Palm Warbler
  • Rough-winged Swallow
  • Swainson's Thrush
We then walked around Algonquin Island where I got to see my first Eastern Towhee!  What a cute little bird!  And also saw my first view of the Toronto skyline.  I must admite, for not being a huge city kinda was stunning.  And especially stunning that this little gem could be so close!  

We then went to Center Island, which is the is the main island. It has an amusement park, farm, airport, and a bunch of other little things on it.  It's kinda cool!  We saw a few new birds that we hadn't seen on the previous islands and even a few reptiles!  At one point on the trip my friend Brenan who came found a little Garter snake!  What a cutie it was, the way he was so calm made me wonder how anyone could be scared of something so tame and sweet.  We also found a few turtles including a map turtle, and then later near the airport an American Toad.  Here's a few of the other "New" birds we saw on Centre Island:
Map Turtle
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Cape May Warbler (Super pretty!)
  • Field Sparrow
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Bobolink
  • Purple martin
  • Scarlet Tanager
A beautiful male Scarlet Tanager

Bobolink over by the airport!
The day turned out to be so beautiful, the Islands were beautiful. It's the perfect place to just spend a day and relax.  In total we saw about 80 species of birds, including 14 different types of just warblers.  Amazing!  Going out with people who know their birds by sight and sound helps you to really learn, especially if you ask a lot of questions like I do.  If ever you are bored on a weekend, going on a guided tour is a great way to spend a day.  You learn a lot about birds and you also meet some great people and make contacts!

Maybe see ya around on the Island one day!

Brenan scouting the lake

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Kirtland's Warbler: A story of a bird's fight against extinction and the people who saved it. By William Rapai

Well, this is my second book on my summer reading list that I have managed to finish! And boy was it ever interesting!   I don't think that many people will be willing to sit through and read this novel, but those of you who are really interested in biology/ecology/history, I think would love it.  Parts read like a regular novel but then others were as if you were reading out of an interesting chapter of a textbook (for me...I actually loved reading textbooks in school. I'm a nerd, I know).

The first description of a Kirtland's Warbler I came across just sent my imagination on fire.  I had never seen a picture of this bird, nor really knew much about it.  But after reading this, the picture of this bird, perched high singing...was quite the sight!
" The bird perches on a limb, every muscle in its body tense, points his head towards the sky and lets out a burst of clear, bubbly song, easily audible at a distance of a quarter mile. In singing, so much effort and vigor are put forth that the tension of the jugulum and throat is very noticeable and it seems as though the singer's throat will burst from the sheer forse of the song" p.20
Later in the book, a researcher working with the Kirtland's Warbler had this to say:
" other animal had captured her imagination like the Kirtland's. "First of all the species is an amazing species. They let you into their lives, so it's easy to get attached right away...I mean intimately in terms of being in the woods, being on the territory, watching them mate, watching them feeding the babies, raising their families. I mean, seriously, letting me into their family rearing - their lives. It's pretty awesome!" p115-116
 I could only imagine being that attached to a single species like she did and especially having that close of contact!  I like way too many things to be close to choosing a particular species that I would like to focus on, but hopefully one day I will get to that point!

There were a few things that shocked me in the book.  The novel started off by explaining the way science had been carried out in the early 1900s which included things such as shooting a species to bring it back and ID it.  When the first person saw the Kirtland's Warbler, that's exactly what he did because he had no idea what it was and had never seen one before.  Once they ID'd it, all the other scientists and collectors wanted to have one too, so even though this was a species no one had seen and assumed was rare...they all shot as many as they could for their collections.  What a way science worked!  Finally, as science progressed, a quote also reminded me of my time in Environment and Resource Studies where the key to being successful was having a systems thinking approach.  Understanding that everything is tired know...what Mufasa taught us in Lion King!
"Biologists and foresters were no longer making decisions based exclusively on the endangered warbler.  Now they were managing the ecosystem based on the knowledge of all plants and animals and soil it contained...When skeptical taxpayers asked why the government was spending so much money and effort on one bird, habitat managers could say that they weren't spending money on just one bird; they were spending it on an entire ecosystem." Page75
Not everything in the book was glorious and I like how it didn't portray the government workers as all being miracle workers, but regular people going a job that they loved.  Some making mistakes...sometimes huge mistakes...but in the end realizing that they need to have a connection with the communities if they were going to succeed in helping this creature.  Many times it was their swift decisions and lack of bureaucratic bullshit that saved this species while it was on the brink.  I think that's something that we've lost a lot of today.  Even working within the government, it feels so disconnected with the public and every decision just takes ages to make.  It's no wonder so many species and other things suffer at the hands of "needing to get the paper work done" instead of just doing.  The government in this book decided just that once they realized how upset the communities around them were, for many reasons.  The Kirtland's Warbler no longer had a name, and instead it was called "That damn bird!".  They decided to hold a festival for the community to celebrate the species and environment. People from all over the country came to partake and it helped the Kirtland's to once again be a source of pride, help the community realize the significance of the species, and gain a closer relationship between government and public.
"83% of respondants said that attitudes had become more positive specifically as a result of the festival..."it was helpful for members of the community to see us as real people and not just as bureaucrats" p. 91
This is the last of my little ramble for now...I'll end with what the book ended with.  As soon as I read this little bit, everything just stalled.  It was one of those moments where finally, someone else spoke the words you've been trying to say but just can't articulate.   For years I've been trying to explain my fascination with nature and my drive to pursue not only a career in it, but a life in it.  Somehow, I've just never really been able to articulate it.  Sure, perhaps to some people who think nature and birds are stupid (even though without'd be SOL) wont understand this quote either. To rang a sense of sureness to me,  a sense that yes, this is what I want to do with my life and I know this because these real people have lived it and are saying the exact things that run through my mind everytime I see the slightest amount of joy in a passing bird, or a budding woodland flower.  It's just good to get that reassurance sometimes ya know?
"...people get high off of seeing such a wonder of creation. It's a work of art that can never be replaced if it ever disappears. And it's a fascinating machine. Could we ever invent something that weighs five ounces and flies back and forth to the Bahamas and sustains itself? "
"But you have to have a drive and a burn.  It's a love affair with that bird and the habitat. If you love something bad enough, you are going to work for it."
My that all of you find that drive and that burn for something in your life. It's an amazing fire.

Up next:  Mind of a Raven by: Bernd Heinrich

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Finally Birding again!

I finally got to head out and bird once again, three times actually!

On Sunday, Mike and I wandered out to Bailey Ecological Park in Newmarket to go looking out for Woodcocks!  Woodcocks are these hilarious looking birds, with a long and waxy beak and kinda plump figure.  In the spring around dawn or dusk, male Woodcocks will utter some short, buzzy sounding "PEENT" and then take flight up to 50-100 yards straight up into the air.  Decending back to the ground, he will fall zigzagging while a lough whistle heard from the wind through his feathers.  Female woodcocks will then be attracted to the males, and when near, the landed male will then outstretch his feathers and beging a series of bobs and bows until confirming that he has a mate.  Now who wouldn't want to see something like that!  Unfortunately, we didn't have any luck seeing or hearing any, but hopefully another time we will have more!  On the plus side we were able to see Barn Swallows out and about, as well as a really large beaver!

Mud Flats in the G. Ross Lords Park.
The past two days I've tried to take advantage of the amazing weather and head out on lunchbreaks to the Park nearby, G. Ross Lord Park.  On Monday Lauren, our SAR summer student and friend from school, and myself headed out on our own to try and ID some things.  It ended up being so much fun that I had to stay late at work to make up an extra half hour we were out!  We noted a few new species for the year: Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Killdeer, and a Black-and-White Warbler!  Of course I forgot my camera to take photos of any of them.  There was one bird of particular hardship for me while I was trying to ID it.  I automatically new it was a flycatcher...but choosing which, oh boy.  In the end, I figured they were Least Flycatchers due to their size and also their behaviour!  I noticed them catching insects in a jump from their tree then landing back to eat it.  In my reading, it's one of their characteristics!

Red Trillium
American Toad

Then today, the two of us went out again but this time with Burke (who unlike me it's actually his first name), who is an avid and really intelligent birder.  So we decided to pick his brain and teach us some stuff!  For what was a lousy day of birding we still got about 24 species as well as some I hadn't seen/heard before like Spotted Sandpiper and a Nashville Warbler!   We even saw an American Toad! The forest floor was also in full sprout with some of the red trilliums and other small lily's blooming. It was beautiful!
Trying to capture the three of us, plus a Red Trillium in a photo!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ghost Rider - Neil Peart

I haven't had much time to go birding or herping yet since I've moved to Toronto, but one thing I've done a lot read!  Since my commute is about 1 hour (both ways), i've had plenty of time!
I finally managed to finish the book "Ghost Rider" written by Neil Peart.  And all I can say about this autobiography was...WOW.

Originally I picked this book up because it was written by Neil Peart, the drummer of the band RUSH.  For years I have been a huge Rush fan, especially being a drummer, Neil was basically my Idol.  After reading his previous biography "Masked Rider" about his biking adventures across Africa, I decided that I would try another one of his biking books, though this one took place within North America.  This book was just a bucket of emotions for me and my admiration for Neil has increased from being an awesome drummer, to an amazing and strong human being.  The book starts off during a dark time, where in a matter 10 months both his daughter and wife died.  Not knowing what to do, he got on his motorcycle and started to ride West.

Although already captivated, this book suddenly drew me in once his appreciation for the natural world began to unfold.  Never could I have guessed that one of the best drummers of all time was also a birder! When I first read this little clip: 
A little bird called a dipper, or water ouzel, retreated ahead of me upstream, easily identifiable by its habit of ducking under the water, or "dipping" to hunt its food of insects and small crustations. Seeing a new species like that was always a mild thrill for a longtime bird lover, and that afternoon I rended a small motorboat for a tour of the lake I saw a bald eagle soaring against the dark forest, and another first sighting, an Arctic Loon, sleeker and lighter-coloured than the common loons that lived on my lake back home."p.38

I was more than hooked.  And the way it was written just captured my imagination and I felt almost as if  I was on the road with him travelling through the mountains of BC, through the various environments of the U.S.A., through the cultural Mexico, down into South America, and then later through the east coast.  The way he described the scenery makes me want to almost pack up right now and just hit the road.  Being particularly fond of of my favourite moments in the book was when he was talking about an experience he had with an owl:

Suddenly awake, I heard it again and felt a tense shiver that was more than the cold night air.  Once again, Rhee!!!, like the scream of a gull. It seemed to be coming from outside, very close by. I had seen ring-billed gulls soaring around the lake that day, but why would a gull be outside my room under the high gables of the hotel at 1am?  My fingers wandered over the bedside lamp until I found the switch, and when I turned it the light shone through the screen and illuminated a large, pale owl sitting upright, the way owls do, right outside my window. (Later, I looked it up in my field guide, and identified it as a short-eared owl.) p.99
I'd always had respect for Neil as a dummer, but through reading this, and reading his philosophies on life, struggles and trying to get back to finding himself...made me actually really appreciate him as a human being.  One who knows the value of work, about needing to nurture and take care of one's self ahead of others sometimes, and to also do good and teach good.  Here's a few of the quotes that stuck with me while reading. The first was something that surprised me as I've often thought this for myself too:
I was reading somewhere lately that the chickadee might be considered the quintessential Canadian bird, for even on the bitterest of winter days they're cheerful and chirpy and active.  Chickadees are winter souls too.  However, they too must follow the seasons - adapt- and that's the name of my game these days. Adapt or perish. So I shall carefully guide my little chickadee-soul into the grave new world of spring. p.279.
Next valuing being outside in nature 100%:
However, the unfortunate thing was that you could also drive there, which of course most good Americans did, and they could simply park, walk (or waddle) 100 yards, look around, and drive away again.  I have to believe that they don't share the same experience of that view, not being tired, sweaty, and footsore, but satisfied in having earned all that beauty, you know?  And does your lunch every taste good. p.349
Lastly, this one made me truly happy for supporting his music.  Knowing that he was a good person, who also did good with what he was given, and tried to passed this goodness onto his little girl.
Lately I had noticed another sure sign of the growth of my little baby soul - a renewed concern about the natural world I was travelling through. It will be apparent by now that I had maintained my love for nature, but that's not the same as caring about it.  After life's betrayals had so completely undercut my faith and my ideals, for a long time i hadn't felt any responsibility for the world around me.  However, for many years before that, such environmental and philanthropic interests had been a big part of my life....I would go over the previous year's contributions with Selena, showing her what causes we were contributing to, and how much, and explaining why.  Children's diseases, environmental watchdogs, rainforest salvation, women's shelters, clean water for Africa, AIDS, community programs, that sort of thing. I wanted her to know and understand my "if you do well, do good" philosophy. p.442
Along with every chapter also came lyrics from a variety of RUSH songs that Neil had written. It was so intriguing seeing the life experiences that he had and the lyrics that related to them all.  So needless to say This is an amazing autobiography that I would suggest to anyone to read! Now do I not only have a crap ton of places to visit...but having him mention books that were his favourites has created an entire booklist for me as well!  Oie Vay!

Lastly... as his mother always use to say

Now get outside! It'll take the stink off ya!

Up next:  The Kirtland's Warbler: The story of a bird's fight against extinction and the people who saved it.