Tuesday, September 04, 2007

September 3 - High Park

Black-crowned Night-Heron - I was able to find 4 in one day, a feat that's not always easy in Essex County, but a breeze in T.O.

So I took yet another trip to High Park, Toronto with my day off (Labour Day) and had a great day of birding. A modest day in terms of numbers but diversity was up from past weeks and I had a chance to sit down and study a group of Mallards, Wood Ducks, Solitary Sandpipers, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and a Green Heron made it all worthwhile.

I also took out my new notebook and gave it a try. Very rewarding. It made me stop and think about what I was seeing, notice new details on common birds that I take for granted most days, and write down a few points that should help me remember them later on.

Weather conditions: low winds, slightly cloudy (warmed up by mid-afternoon, becoming very sunny)

Things started off pretty slow with the usual city birds: a flock of pigeons here, a group of sparrows there. But when I finally found a secluded spot in the woods away from people (there were a lot of visitors to the park seeing as it was a holiday), I got very lucky. By pishing until I started to feel my head spin, I was able to bring out a great mixed flock that included 2 Magnolia Warblers, 5 American Redstarts (4 females and 1 first-year male), 2 Wilson's Warblers, 2 Black-and-White Warblers (both female), 1 Downy Woodpecker, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, a handful of chickadees, a Warbling Vireo, some goldfinches, and an unidentified fall warbler (possibly Pine but I only got a brief glimpse before the mixed flock moved on).

On the same trail, I also saw a Red-tailed Hawk riding the thermals with a lone Ring-billed Gull and heard a few flickers, goldfinches, and another Red-breasted Nuthatch (abundant in High Park at the moment).

Once I got to the ponds in the center of the park (where there are a lot of people), I sat down and studied the tamed Mallards and Wood Ducks that no doubt get many handouts from visitors (when they see you approach the pond, they come swimming). I decided to write down as many details as I could see on the various Mallards in the pond and it was a great learning experience (seeing details I never cared to look at before, noticing variation among the groups, and actually telling juveniles apart from adult females). This moment was as satisfying as seeing all of the migrants on the trail. The Wood Ducks are also interesting and I don't remember ever paying attention to seeing juvenile Wood Ducks but I took the time to look at them and actually study them for a while and it was great.

Also at the pond while watching the common ducks, a White-breasted Nuthatch landed on a trunk about 2 meters away and sang for a brief moment before flying off to another tree. I was also able to pish a Red-breasted Nuthatch within a few feet and it actually responded in time to my pishing. When I pished faster, it gave its alarm call faster. I've never experienced this before. Meanwhile a Great-crested Flycatcher landed high in a tree above. Finally, 2 Solitary Sandpipers fed at a small mud flat at the edge of the pond.

In the adjacent pond to the one I just discussed, there were Great Blue Herons (1 adult, 1 juvenile), 1 first-summer Green Heron, and 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons. Black-crowned Night-Herons seem to be much more common in the Toronto area than in Essex County where it can be hard to find one bird let alone 3 in one sitting. While watching these, I could hear the chattering call of a nearby Kingfisher. Another neat experience was seeing a kid that I guessed to be around 8 or 9 run up to the pond excitedly reporting to his apathetic father the birds he was seeing in the pond. This kid will be a great birder someday. He excitedly pointed out that he saw shorebirds (the Solitary Sandpipers), identified the Black-crowned Night-Herons in a heartbeat and although he first called the Green Heron a Bittern, he quickly corrected himself saying, "oh wait! I'm wrong...It's a Green Heron!" I love seeing kids getting so enthusiastic about birdwatching.

Later in the day, things slowed down as the sun heated everything up and as I was leaving the park, I could hear the thundering of the air show going on at the waterfront. In Grenadier Pond on the east end of the park, I found an additional Black-crowned Night-Heron fishing off a log, a few Mute Swans with juvenile birds in tow, and a group of Ring-billed Gulls hanging around the docks at the pond where some people were fishing.

All in all a great day, but next weekend I hope to find a bit more in terms of diversity (especially migrating warblers). The plan is to wake up really early Saturday morning and head over to Center Island where the birding is supposed to be peaking right now. I'll be posting my day list when I get back.

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