Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tommy Thompson Park - Toronto

Well I have been lucky enough to spend the past two beautiful Sunday's out at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto.  What a unique location this place is.

Tommy Thompson is owned and managed by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, but is still used today by the Port Authority.  It is also known as the Lesley Street Spit, and is completely human made through being a site for disposal of not only dredged materials, but also surplus fill/old materials from other development sites around Toronto.  Much of the "beach" is made up of old rebar, brick, glass, and other concretes. Because of this, it's not advised to go swimming in this area (there's plenty of other beaches nearby) but the paths are really wonderful for walking and biking.

I really enjoyed myself going onto the beach and checking out all the old weathered rocks.  You can find some pretty cool things out there, and there is lots of weathered glass (that's not sharp anymore) to collect!

More can be found about Tommy Thompson here: http://www.tommythompsonpark.ca/

View of the Toronto Skyline
The first weekend Mike and I took a 3 hour bike ride checking out the main biking paths.  The area in general was pretty quiet for birds this day.  We saw more Eastern Kingbirds than I could count, a few yellow warblers, a white egret, song sparrow, Caspian terns, and WAY too many double-crested cormorants to be normal.

Kinda cool shot of a tern with the CN Tower
We first stopped at the location where the Toronto Bird Observatory is!  Here they set up mist nests during migration and band birds that are caught there.  I am REALLY hoping that I will be able to volunteer here this fall (fingers are crossed!).  Here we were able to see a red-tailed hawk who had just caught a mouse sitting very close to us.  It was quite the site, although she was being stubborn and staying enough out of view to get a crappy photo.

My favourite part of this ride was the baby barn swallows that I spotted still in their nests. They were SO adorable and almost falling out they were getting so big!

Baby Barn Swallows

Momma Barn Swallow

This past weekend I went again for a Sunday bike ride.  The baby barn swallows had fully fledged (meaning that they were out of the nest), so that was a little disappointing. According to the TRCA worker they had left the day before.  I saw quite a few more birds this day than the weekend before.  While out by the first lookout area I got a great view of a Song Sparrow. The two of us "chatted" for a bit until he got fed up and left me alone making bird noises, looking rather dumb.  A bit further down the trail there is a lookout towards the skyline.  Here I saw dozens of kingbirds, Caspian terns, a cedar waxwing, yellow warblers, great egret, and one of my favourites...a Belted Kingfisher.

Cedar Waxwing
Belted Kingfisher looking for a meal

It was really cute when this little girl came by and was looking out at the skyline and birds with her dad, when suddenly she let out this piercing scream!! I turned and ran a little thinking that she had seen a snake (which made me want to see it!) but no...it was a caterpillar.  She was frozen in the middle of the path so I had to go, pick up the little caterpillar, and move it out of the way so that she could move.  It was so hilarious!

Song Sparrow singing away

Further on I biked past the bird observatory and spotted the Red-tailed hawk again just above me.  Got a FANTASTIC view, although camera wise..just a silhouette. I decided to try to take another trail leading into the back.  It had some great views of the skyline as well as an amazing view of the Double-crested cormorant colony.  It was a close up view..without getting too close. It's astonishing to think that not too long ago these birds were on the brink of extinction and we were fighting to save them!  I have no idea how many birds can fit into such an area, but all i could think of was "Man, I'm glad I'm not under them right now.."
Red-tailed Hawk

Baby Kingbird
While in this same area I happened to be screamed at by a baby kingbird!  Literally!  I turned around and suddenly this little thing was flying into my face screaming, so naturally...I screamed to!  And then followed it's screaming to figure out what the heck that was!  Standing trying to ID it was eaten by fire ants.  First time EVER being bitten by them and goodness, I know why they are called fire ants!

Overall, this is such a wonderful place to visit.  Being a disturbed site, there is a lot of more "weedy" species when it comes to the vegetation, but it still provides great habitat for resident and migrating birds.  Once in a while you can spot a little black-eyed susan poking out too!  If anyone is in for just a bike ride or some birding, definitely come check this place out.  I already can tell that I'll be hitting it up quite a few more times once migration hits!!

Happy birding!

View of the Double-crested Cormorant Colony

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Slithering Saturday on Bloor West

As some of you may know, I volunteer for a wonderful organization that is called Sciensational Sssnakes!!!  Anytime they are in the GTA (at the moment) and need a hand, I try my best to be available and ready to help, after all, who wouldn't want to talk to kids and play with massive snakes all day?!

Me and Ross
This festival was for the Bloor Street West Village Fest!  Although I actually have no idea what went on in the rest of the festival, our little set up was a huge hit with the young and old!  My morning was spent with Ross, the Everglades Rat Snake.  I made sure that during this time I stayed close to the two Black Rat Snakes, this way when I talk about Ross I can directly relate him to these cousin's of his, who are native to Canada!  The later part of the day I spent with a snake named Fertenande (or as I say Fern for short) who is a Bullsnake from the west coast of Canada.  Both, are the absolute sweetest!

A friend from school, Rob, was able to also come out and help us, which was wonderful because we had so many people to talk to and entertain.
Rob teaching a boy about Steph, the Cornsnake

My favourite thing about talking to people is telling them all these really cool facts about snakes and also listening to Jenny talk about the snakes and learning even more from her.  For example, who knew that a painted turtle can breathe through it's butt!  She is such an enthusiastic personality with so much knowledge, it's no wonder she does this for a living because it suits her so well.   I really am so lucky to have met and be able to help her out!

Jenny and her Boa, Bailey.

A lot of people are incredible cautious when first approaching us, some even scream when they first see a snake in our hands!  After talking to them for a while, explaining that unless A) you were a mouse, rat, frog, or other thing they eat or B) really threatening them, that a snake wont bite you; or that its using it's tongue to smell you not to taste you because snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell to know what is around them.  So many kids, as well as adults were really curious and asked so many questions. I really love it when people ask questions and really engage!  Even a few people were able to get over their fear for the first time and touch, sometimes even hold, one of our snakes.  It's a really exciting thing to be able to be a part of.

So!  Check out the website and see where Sciensational Sssnakes will be next and go for a visit!  There's always someone new slithering around and a never ending amount of things to learn!

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You can check out Sciensational Sssnakes at: http://www.scisnake.com/

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Long Weekend in Killbear Provincial Park

Hairy Woodpecker!
For the past long weekend, a group of my best friends (and our counterparts) decided to go camping up at Killbear Provincial Park.  This wasn't meant to be a birding or herping trip, but of course, I just couldn't help myself.

Baby American Toad
It was a pretty cold weekend for camping, which means it was also a little cold for snakes.  There were a few times where the sun peaked out for enough time to run around on some trails, but for the most part, the joys came from the views.  We went on a few hikes around the area, but unfortunately found very few snakes. The weekend consisted of finding one garter snake, one live massasauga, and a dead massasauga.  I was able to see a bunch of birds like a playful hairy woodpecker, black-throated green warbler, american redstart, blackburnian warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, and one red-eyed vireo who would not stop talking at our campsite!
Eastern Garter Snake

Although it was a slow weekend for herps and for birding, I was still able to see a few of my favourites that I had seen throughout the spring.  I was also able to drive around the park with my boyfriend (Michael Colley) and get to learn all about his Master's Project (With Laurentian & Queens University) taking place there.  As some of you may know, Killbear Provincial park has been installing underground eco-passages throughout the park for reptiles (mainly for Massasauga Rattlesnakes)

ECOPASSAGE: A series of fences leading to under-road tunnels that allow wildlife (and in this case snakes) to safely cross roadways

Dead Massasauga Rattlesnake
The purpose of his project is to assess if Massasauga Rattlesnakes (or any snake for that matter!) is actually using the passages. When the road was put in, it separated the snake population into two isolated sections on either side of the road.  In the short term, the ecopassage will hopefully help the snakes move across the road from one habitat, to another more wetland habitat. The passages are a needed component to the ecosystem to allow the snakes to populate both sides of the road without getting hit in the attempt, because similarly to humans, it's not good to have a limited gene pool.  In the longterm, the hopes are that the two snake populations will fill in the gap left from the road.

Massasauga Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snake in Ontario!  They have only three populations which can be found in the Georgian Bay (largest pop), a small area in Niagara, and a small area in Windsor.

This project involved a crap ton of surveys, which is mainly walking and biking up a variety of roads and collecting data on dead snakes that are found as well as collecting and processing live massasaugas.  "Processing" the snake involves first placing a tube around it's upper potion (so that it can't bite you).  The lower buttons of the rattle are then painted colours and they are pit-tagged (which is similar to microchipping).  The paint allows the snake to be detected as having been caught before while in the wild, while the pit-tag allows electronic readers at either end of the ecopassage to detect when a snake has used it. The reader will bring up a number associated with the tag and then researchers will be able to know which snakes (ie. sex, approx how old, etc) have been using the passage and if populations are able to mix.
Massassauga being processed
It seems like a really awesome project and I am so excited to be able to learn more about it through Mike, and sometimes even get to help out!  Massasaugas have gotten a really bad rep, since they are venomous, and are often purposely killed by people driving (for that matter, all snakes have this problem also).  Having a project like this in such a busy Provincial Park not only helps snakes move around like they were naturally supposed to, but it also helps to educate campers on these awesome creatures, who often shy away from human living secretive lives.

Mike and the Georgian Bay Sunset

It was so sad when the weekend was over.  Great food, great friends, an unbelievably beautiful sunset, and amazing little creatures.  Of course, the weekend ended with much more sun and warmer temperatures leading to the last find....helping a Blanding's Turtle cross the road!

Till next time!  Happy Outdoorsing!

Me and a Blanding's!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mind of a Raven - Bernd Heinrich

This was a really interesting read for me, although I'll admit it took forever for me to finish.  Maybe it's because I kept falling asleep on the subway, but it really was interesting! It was almost as if someone had written a novel about the background to their scientific journal articles, but instead of all the sciency stuff I usually skim over because I don't understand it, it reads like a regular book.

I hadn't before separated ravens from crows (horrible, I know), but I hadn't known that there really was a difference!  Being up North I had probably seen a bunch of ravens, although hadn't been a bird person yet I never really took notice.  In Chatham, crows are EVERYWHERE.  It's pretty much watching Alfred Hitchcock's "The Bird's"  in real life.  Walking down by the Thames River and needing to watch where you step so you don't get pooped, I never liked them that much.  After reading this book, I became to really like ravens and their unique character.

Bernd took in Ravens to study them at close proximity, raising many from when they were young and conducting a variety of studies from behavioural to raven culture.

My favourite snippit in the book was when he learnt that Ravens would often mimic just about anything:
"...in early June in Olympic National Park, he distinctly hears, 'Three, Two, One, Bcccchhhhhh', the sequence repeated at least three times.  He wrote to me saying ' It sounded so realistic that i looked around for the speaker and even called 'Who's there?'.  It turned out that speaker was a raven, perched on a nearby snag.  Park rangers had conducted avalanch control the previous week and apparently the raven had heard and been impressed."
Photo from: christophermartinphotography.com
There were so many little projects in this book that were conducted with Ravens that I found to be so, so interesting.  The ones that most intrigued me were ones that dealt with the birds social behaviour.  Ravens have an interesting way of placing dominance among themselves in a group, which allows them to be loud, reproduce, big, while others who are less dominate are quiet, heads are often low, and although they may have a partner, may not reproduce.  Once this dominate bird is removed, the other may suddenly have the same attributes the dominate one had.  If that makes sense!

The second is their ability to remember individuals.  This is both creepy and amazing!  Ravens treat individual ravens differently, almost seeming like they form an opinion on them.  Ravens not only see individuals within their own species but also within humans, carnivores, and just about anything else that moves.  So next time you go shooing one away...just remember..it knows who you are! Haha.

Anyone who's got some time on their hands, loves to learn about birds, and has an interest in reading about a guys research...this is definitely a book for you!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cliff Swallows

So I finally moved and am (slightly) organized and settled into a new place.  Which means, I can actually catch up on about 2 weeks of writing!  *yay*

This one will be short and sweet!  I went to Woodbine beach a while back to take in a little bit of sun!  I  remember before having seen Cliff Swallows nesting there, so naturally I also wanted to check up on them.  This time I brought my camera in hopes of snapping a few photos, a few of which I wanted to share with you below!

Many people started to stop where I was standing to see what I was looking at.  It was sweet chatting with a few of them who were curious about what kind of bird it was. One mother even ran to get her kids to look at the birds!  They then started to ask me questions about them, what they eat, how they make their nests, and luckily...I was actually able to answer them!

Happy Birding!
Cliff Swallow in it's nest
Taking flight
Hanging out

Cliff Swallow peering over

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Goose banding!

I have so much to catch up on from the last little bit!  I apologize that work and applying to jobs/house hunting/exploring Toronto has pretty much taken the best of me!

I was able to go out into the field again the other week with my coworker Lauren to go Goose Banding!!  I had done goose banding before but never got to go right into the pen, boy was it intense!

All waiting to be banded!
 For those who don't know, Canada geese are yearly banded by the Canadian Wildlife Service. This entails rounding the geese up who are flightless (geese shed their flight feathers and are unable to fly for a period of time) and then place a metal band (almost like a bracelet) around their leg.  The number on their bracelet becomes their identifier.

Newly banded gosling running for freedom!
This number help biologists learn many things such as:
- when geese breed do they stay near where they were born or do they move to another location?
-do these geese migrate or stick around in the winter and summer ( are they permanent residents or just passing through)
- where were these geese killed when shot by hunter ( hunters call in tags when shooting a banded goose or duck). 
- how old are geese living to

We went out with two of the Waterfowl biologists at CWS and surveyed a large area of central-eastern Ontario. The day began driving around until you spot geese, rounding them up while another sets up the holding pen, keeping them as calm as possible, and one by one banding the adults and babies (or collecting data on those who are already banded). 

Got poop?
After two ears from bandin last, I forgot how feisty they are!! Trying to pick then up,find their gender, and put a band on them was quite the task. I'll admit that each and everyone I got a wonderful shirt full of goose poop, one which thankfully missed my face by inches...who knew geese can projectile poop! 

Many times local people would notice is and come by to watch and ask questions.  One of my favorite things about the work I do is talking to people about it and teaching them, breaking down both barriers to the natural world and stereotypes. There were two big stereotypes that I learnt about on this trip.  The first being the two very different groups of people who decided to watch us as we banded.  The first group were very interested and curious, coming right up close. While this is awesome, they don't realize that these are 'wild' animals and get really frightened at sudden movements!  When asked to stand back, they did and continued to ask a bunch of questions and really educated themselves which was really awesome!  One of them even showed us this massive bee colony she has on her tree (and of course how she could get rid of it without killing them!).  A few others got really excited thinking that we were going to transport them away! (Which, since they can fly...is just a bandaid solution unfortunately!) The second group, which were few, were those who were skeptical and worried about the geese as they can get really stressed and sometimes walk over one another.  Explaining to them why we band, how we do it, and even to the way we stand and move to make sure they are as spread out as possible, and watching how fast we move to get them banded quickly, all helped ease the worry...which then always turned to curiosity!
Me holding a goose ready to band
Lauren and Courtney banding a goose

My favourite topic is when people get VERY excited at the Mute Swans.  Yes, they are beautiful.  No, they are not native. And no...they are most certainly not nice, in fact, they are HUGE bullies.  Mute swans are those massive white birds with a brightly coloured orange bill.  They were introduced as a gift from England.   There are 2 swans that are indeed native to Canada, the Trumpeter and Tundra, but these two instead have a black bill and are found more north during summer. If you've ever looked onto a lake where there are Mute Swans, you may (or may not) have noticed that there is a very large distance between them and the next bird that is on the water surface.  This is because they are very territorial birds, often attacking and killing others that come near it.   They also are very destructive to the environment digging up the bottom surface throughout most of their territory, meaning a variety of plants aren't able to grow. Different agencies have permits to oil eggs (applying a thin layer of oil to an egg will not allow oxygen into the shell, thus the embyro wont develop) to try and help keep the numbers down.  This will allow for a greater diversity of waterfowl and other birds to nest and live in these areas.  It's quite the hot topic as for many people they are quite majestic and beautiful.  Hopefully understanding the large impact that they are having will make a few more understanding people.

I am SO SO happy that I was able to head out on this trip.  I learnt so much, not only about geese and banding, but a little more about myself and what I wanted to do "when I grow up". The guys (and gal) we went out with were great to talk to and I really hope that I will be able to head out there again next season!

Example of the birdhouses
 On the drive back we stopped at my favourite spot in Picton, ON called Birdhouse City! It is this amazing area within a conservation area that is just covered with these amazing bird houses!  Most are sponsored by a group around town so you'll see a McDonald's house, hotels, salvation arm, airplane, historic buildings, etc.  It's quite the awesome place to hang around and see!!

Lauren and I out at Birdhouse City!