Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lifer! Barred Owl / and also: Leslie Street Spit and the search for Pine Grosbeaks

Due to work, I've had little time to provide an update for last weekend but I'm happy to now report it was a great success. I finally know why so many people talk about the Leslie Street Spit, which must be one of Toronto's most unique birding locations; a large peninsula piercing Lake Ontario on the city's east end and made up of concrete, metal, and stone. The area, also known as Tommy Thompson Park is a 5 kilometer stretch that is man-made and through much effort, the land is now a safe-haven for many birds, mammals, and other wildlife. I was not disappointed with my first trip.

8:30 in the morning was our starting point as Anne Marie, a friend I met through the TOC, gave me a tour of the park, finding many of the highlights that have been reported over the last few weeks. Not long into our walk, we found an American Kestrel along the road in the center of the peninsula. Shortly after, the flashing wings of a Northern Shrike compelled us to venture into the various woodlots within the park. There we saw our first owl, a resting Great Horned that was quickly perturbed by a group of photographers (we had two birds for sure, possibly even three individuals). To me, you really haven't experienced the beauty of the Great Horned Owl until you've heard its rhythmic, mourning call at dusk, or seen it fly by on silent, richly coloured wings. We were fortunate to have one fly just over our heads; a bulky bird the size of a buteo that eventually perched high in a deciduous tree where it apparently spent the rest of the day. Owls we missed (but that have been reported this winter) included Northern Saw-whet Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Long-eared Owl.

Being a milder weekend, we were able to find some landbirds including American Tree Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, a single Northern Flicker (an unexpected surprise), Black-capped Chickadee, 2 Song Sparrows, and a small flock of Snow Buntings in the fields adjacent to the aptly named 'Cormorant Graveyard'. During the summer months, skeletons of nestling birds demonstrate the grisly reality of natural selection (larger, strong birds often push small, weak birds out of the nest). Black-feathered carcasses hang from some branches.

Along the way, we found the Barred Owl, a first for me and a great bird. Perched on a branch not 20 feet from the ground, we had good looks and were able to walk full circle around the bird to admire all of its features. The owl was well aware of our presence, its black eyes following us wherever we walked.

We also had a few Red-tailed Hawks and an assortment of common waterfowl on the lake (the highlight was that many ducks are pairing off right now so we were able to watch the mating displays of Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye while the incessant OW OWELEP! of the Long-tailed Ducks provided song).

We ended the trip around 2:00 in the afternoon fairly exhausted from the long walk through deep snow (my lack of proper winter boots is definitely a problem, but heated socks help immensely). On Sunday, I took a walk around Mt. Pleasant Cemetery hoping to find a flock of Pine Grosbeaks but to no avail. I did, however, see a few White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, a few Goldfinches, a Red-tailed Hawk, and of course, Black-capped Chickadees. On my trips to work (which sometimes requires taking transit way out to Scarborough), I've been watching the tops of trees for any large finches but haven't been lucky enough yet...and anyway, imagine the frustration of seeing a new species through the window of a speeding subway car.

1 comment:

Blake A. Mann said...

Congrats on the Barred Owl! It took me the longest time to get Barred Owl, and I don't know why. It was one of those long overdue life birds. I got it helping a friend do a Big Day on the Bruce Peninsula in May 2004.
Barred Owls are essentially extirpated from Essex and Kent, and maybe even Lambton. They are neat owls--especially their call!