Late Autumn Birding in the Calgary Area – 2017

Black-capped Chickadee

Ahhh, autumn birding…I love it! Those who have followed my posts the past few years will know my love of autumn and the lush, saturated yellows and reds that it brings to Calgary’s parks and gardens. Not only does the city look marvelous, but so do the birds against these colourful backdrops, making for excellent autumn birding.

White-breasted Nuthatch

 When a park looks like this (Carburn Park, in east Calgary. Photo taken with my cellphone):

Calgary’s Carburn Park in full autumnal splendour

All you have to do is find the birds and you should be rewarded shots that are little more appealing than usual:

American Robin

During one visit to Carburn Park I came across a newly-fallen tree (that appeared to have been blown over during one of the very windy days we have had lately) that was something of a magnet for the local wood peckers including this Downy Woodpecker:

And a collection of Northern Flickers:

An unexpected highlight was a lone Palm Warbler mixed in amongst a flock of chickadees. If not for the incessant tail-bobbing I would have dismissed the Palm for a much more common Yellow-rumped Warbler:

I also managed to get some close looks at a Pied-billed Grebe which was constantly submerging and re-surfacing some distance away as it presumably searched underwater for food:

On another weekend excursion, this time west to the foothills of Kananaskis Country, my unsuccessful quest to find rutting bull moose was somewhat rescued by finding several Spruce Grouse hens:

along with a lone male:

 Autumn also means the tail-end of the major southerly migration of summer migrants and as such there are still a good number of gulls, thrushes and waterfowl about (a few will over-winter), such as this Bonaparte’s Gull:

Hermit Thrush:

And this pair of Wood Ducks that were serenading each other:

The results of which appeared to be satisfactory to the hen 🙂 :

Other ducks include Gadwalls:

Northern Shovellers:


and the ever-handsome Hooded Merganser:

On one particular morning I attempted to locate & photograph some 30 migrating Rusty Blackbirds that had been reported earlier in the week. However, by the time the weekend had rolled around and I could head out there were only a handful left, but one is better than none!:

And, finally, as I was looking for more ‘Rusties’, I ran across this fine lady – a female Pileated Woodpecker plucking berries from a bush:

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Project Feeder Watch Celebrates 30 Years

project feeder watch

White-breasted nuthatch by Ric Hornsby

Project FeederWatch celebrated its 30th anniversary last winter, thanks to dedicated participants who observe birds at their feeders. The information collected through this project over three decades allows scientists to measure important changes in North America’s winter bird populations over time. All are invited to join in this fun and easy activity, and help Project FeederWatch achieve even more!

Since Project FeederWatch began, more than 69,000 participants have counted more than 142 million birds and submitted over 2.5 million checklists. This wealth of information has allowed researchers at Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to track impacts of climate change on bird communities, incidence of disease in wild birds, bird population declines and expansions, and other significant topics. Nearly 30 scientific papers have been published using data from Project FeederWatch.

Project FeederWatch also provides learning opportunities and enjoyment to its community of volunteers. Catherine Swan of Brantford, ON, wrote: “I have been doing FeederWatch since it began and have enjoyed every year. My whole family is now hooked on identifying birds and counting them. Thanks for the fun!” If you have a bird feeder or yard that attracts birds, why not pursue an interest in these fascinating animals while contributing to a valuable North America-wide project?

Through an annual registration of $35, participants fund Project FeederWatch – it’s free for Bird Studies Canada members. Canadian participants receive a subscription to BSC’s magazine BirdWatch Canada, a poster of common feeder birds, a calendar, last season’s results, and access to online data tools. Bird Studies Canada and Cornell Lab of Ornithology also share expert advice to help participants identify, understand, and look after feeder birds.

To join, visit or contact the Canadian coordinator at 1-888-448-2473 or In the United States, call 1-866-989-2473.

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Thanksgiving Birding in Southern Ontario

Early fall in southern Ontario has, so far at least, been what the weather people call “variable.” One day it’s 30 degrees outside, the air conditioner is running and dinner comes from the barbecue. The day after that, it’s cool enough for a sweater, the heat’s on in the house and everyone feels more like hot soup than anything from the grill. Fall in Ontario has always meant some amount of alternating between shorts and a light jacket, but this year the pattern has seemed more up and down than usual. We see the evidence in our own back yard.

Our summer-resident robins, blackbirds, orioles, hummingbirds, grackles and most of the goldfinches cleared out long ago. But with the frequent warm spells, the autumn arrivals haven’t quite arrived, and we seem to be in a bit of a bird vacuum. Thankfully we have our year-round resident cardinals, house finches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves and house sparrows to keep us entertained.

Poofy red cardinal on a cooler morning.

House finches and chickadees enjoying lunch.

One of the little gang of sparrows who terrorize the yard.

Mourning dove sunning itself. Better watch for hawks!

Cheery downy woodpeckers seem to like safflower.

Of course there have been a few migrants passing through, and in the last week or so we’ve seen a few birds that haven’t been around for a while. A visit from a northern flicker was cause for minor celebration. It routed around in the yard for a while, giving us a great view of its beautiful colouration – including that impossibly saturated patch of nuclear red feathers on the back of its head. We see flickers fairly often at our place in PEI, but they’re more occasional visitors to our feeder in southern Ontario.

Beautiful northern flicker.

Amazing red plumage almost glows.

The blue jays have begun to arrive as well. So far the Blue Crew consists of maybe a dozen birds, the huge swarms haven’t yet shown up. But it can’t be long now. A small gang of white-throated sparrows have also begun hanging around the feeder, and have at least temporarily moved into some lilac bushes planted close by. They like to haul seeds into the bush, and of course they drop them all over the place making a heck of a mess. Thankfully the local chipmunks seem to be on the job.

Put out peanuts and look who’s here.

Mmmmm … peanuts!

One of several white-throated sparrows that recently arrived.

Chippie appreciates the handouts from clumsy birds who drop goodies, especially peanuts.

On Thanksgiving weekend we had extra reason to be thankful as we welcomed our first brown thrasher to the yard. Well, the first one that we’ve positively identified. Although they’re apparently year-round residents in our area, one which arrived to check out our shrubs and drainage swale was the first we’ve seen. Very pretty bird, I hope it comes back.

Brown thrasher – our first! What a beautiful bird.

The rest of the fall migrants should begin to arrive once the weather stabilizes into its normal, cooler pattern. I’m looking forward to it, since it’s always fun to record new visitors we haven’t seen before.

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Warbler Watching

Is there anything more exciting than a treeful of warblers?  Maybe just one thing – a treeful of warblers that you’ve positively identified.

After several weeks of being too busy to do any birding, I finally had time off on the perfect fall morning and made myself time.  So, after several days of looking forward to  warbler watching, Saturday morning finally arrived.  The weather was every bit as beautiful as forecasted – cool and clear and not too windy.  I stepped out of the car at Ken Reid Conservation Area just north of Lindsay, On. and pulled my camera out of my bag… and saw that my telephoto lens was not on it.  Right.  Of course not.  I had switched lenses for something last week, and so the telephoto lens I use for birding, that I leave on my camera always, was at home, in a box, on my desk.  Sigh.  Great.

So I put my camera away and got out the binoculars.  I’d just have to bird the old-fashioned way.

It wasn’t long before we came upon a swarm of busy warblers.  At least four different species, flitting rapidly between trees, mostly hidden among the leaves.  A tail would peek out here, a head there, or a wing.  There was no snapping photos to study later, and I got busy committing to memory as many colours and patterns as possible.  One showed itself enough for me to know it for the Black-throated Green Warbler.  Another was probably the Blackburnian.  And there was another that just wouldn’t hold still.  Its underside and tail was about all I could get: yellow breast, white belly and tail with a broad dark band at the end.  As it turns out, that was all I needed.  It was the Magnolia Warbler, whose tail pattern is diagnostic.

I love when I can identify a bird from just a brief glimpse, particularly from behind as they fly away.  Like when I’m driving, and out of the corner of my eye I’ll see a bird fly up from the fence line.  Broad bands of white outer tail feathers.  A meadowlark.

So, here are a few diagnostic warbler tails – do you know who they belong to?

The first two belong to the same species.  The first is an adult male and the second is a first year male (though a female would be the same).  If you guessed American Redstart, you’re correct!  The dark terminal band and yellow or orange base of the tail is diagnostic.

First-year male American Redstart

The third photo shows the diagnostic yellow underparts, undertail coverts and tail of the Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler

The fourth photo shows the Palm Warbler’s diagnostic tail pattern: black base, white end and yellow undertail coverts.

Palm Warbler

Isn’t it thrilling to identify a bird for certain by just the underside of its tail?  I studied sort of the same thing in school with ducks – most ducks can be identified, sexed and aged with just their wings.  It’s knowledge that has come in handy in the field more than once and helped me to ID  a flying duck at a distance.

If you want to find out more, I highly recommend the following:

The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

Species, Age and Sex Identification of Ducks Using Wing Plumage by Samuel Carney


Until next month, wishing you lots of warblers!


Posted in Bird Identification, Wood Warblers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Notes From a N. W. Ontario Backyard – September 2017

Hello again!  Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written a post from my yard.  It’s been an exceptionally busy summer because my husband and I have been doing not just a renovation but a complete kitchen rebuild, floor to roof, new ceiling and all.  A huge undertaking, as you can well imagine!

I haven’t been doing much photography this summer, due to the reno, but I’ve had a few good sightings here and there either in my yard or nearby.

Male Purple Finch in beautiful spring plumage.

The Evening Grosbeaks disappeared for the summer. It didn’t help that I had to put all feed away due to bears. I saw a beautiful male EVGB in the yard last week so hopefully, they’ll be returning soon, now that I have some feed out there again.

This was an adorable scene, watching mama Downy feed her fluffy son back in early June.

I was so pleased to have a whole family of Red Breasted Nuthatches take over my yard for the summer!  They had 3 young who were nothing short of adorable to watch as their parents taught them the lay of the yard.

Young Red Breasted Nuthatch in my honeysuckle shrub

The local Chickadees also brought their young to the yard.  I’ve had about a dozen Chickadees flitting around the yard all summer.

Fluffy young Chickadee

I had loads of Pine Siskins move into the yard in late winter, many more than normal.  Like the Evening Grosbeaks, however, they disappeared about mid summer & I have not seen once since June.

Pine Siskin on the birdbath.

My husband and I took a break from the kitchen reno the first week of August and took a little trip to clear our heads a bit.  We went up to Moosonee, Ont. for 3 days.  We were lucky enough to have friends up there (who we only knew online until then!) who were willing to play tour guides for us so we were able to spend nearly 3 solid days on the water, seeing the area around Moosonee & Moose Factory Island.  We were even able to get to the opening waters of James Bay.  We visited a STUNNING migratory bird sanctuary …. easily one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Moosonee migratory bird sanctuary

Moosonee – Ospreys nesting on man-made nesting platforms

We were hoping to see a Beluga whale during our water travels but no such luck.  We did, however, have a wonderful encounter with a curious Bearded Seal who came around to check us out!

Bearded Seal scoping us out.

By the time we got home, we were right into late summer.  The Goldfinches returned the yard, bringing with them a couple of youngsters that I have not been quick enough to photograph.

Male American Goldfinch

Hummingbird season got off to a fairly slow start but once mid summer rolled around, activity at the flowers and feeders was constant.  Adults & juveniles, someone was in the yard nearly all the time.  I got buzzed a number of times by scrappy Hummers chasing each other around & out of the yard.  Great fun!  Sadly, their season is mostly over now although I did see a Hummingbird at my phlox flowers yesterday (Sept. 13).  I will leave my feeders out until month’s end.

Juvenile male Ruby Throated Hummingbird at Monarda blossom

Interestingly, a pair of Sandhill Cranes hung out for a little over a week, in a field at the top of my street where apartment buildings used to stand.  Judging from their size difference, I suspect the smaller one is a Lesser Sandhill Crane, the smallest type.  It has the red forehead patch of an adult (juveniles lack that red patch).  Any ornithologists out there that can confirm from this photo?

Sandhill Cranes

A couple of other juveniles showed up in the yard this August. They were a little tricky for me to i.d as they would barely sit still for a few seconds!  They sure were fun to watch though.

Juvenile Ruby Crowned?? Kinglet in my pine trees

Juvenile Blue Headed Vireo in my pine trees

The woods behind my back gate is full of Red Eyed Vireos and Ovenbirds all summer long.  I never saw a single Ovenbird this season but one day, a flock of 20+ Red Eyed Vireos came into the yard … a definite first to have more than 2!!  They went into my Mountain Ash tree, then moved on to my Ornamental Crab Apple Tree, then on to my pine trees and then away to my birch tree on my front lawn.  Great fun to watch!

Around this time, I had a great thing happen in my backyard: a Warbler fall-out!  It was between 8 and 8:30pm when I first noticed the Yellow Rumped Warblers …. well over 20 of them.  They were the first ones to come down to my level where I could see them clearly.  I grabbed the camera and then just stood on the back deck near the pine trees and waited.  Slowly, a few of the others started to come down closer to me and within camera range.  Here are the ones I was able to i.d:

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler … so freakin’ cute!!

American Redstart

Northern Parula

A stunning Magnolia Warbler

In my best season ever, I counted 9 Warbler species and 3 Vireo species in my yard during fall migration.  I’ll be watching closely as this season progresses.

I hope you’ve enjoyed catching up on my spring-summer-fall report.  Thanks for reading!!

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Return of the Warblers and Shorebirds – Late Summer Birding in Southern Alberta

Late summer in southern Alberta is a fun time as it means the return of many species, passing through on their southward migration.

First off, the shorebirds…

Usually around the August long weekend I will head east of Calgary to check large, shallow wetlands in the hopes of seeing big flocks of sandpipers and other shorebirds. So, when I come across a scene like this I get pretty excited:

While sandpipers and other shorebirds do pass through the Calgary area on their spring migration north, I only see relatively few compared to the fall, so pretty much a year has passed since my last decent opportunity to see shorebirds.

I don’t have any ‘go to’ shorebirds spots as the numbers and variety of birds seem heavily dependent upon the seasonal conditions in any given year. Some locations have been great one year, then devoid of birds the next – either because the water was too high, or conversely completely dried up. And 2017 has seen a particularly hot and dry and summer, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, I was happy to visit a couple of decent water bodies with good numbers of birds, such as:

The Greater Yellowlegs – one of the more common birds, and always happy to yap at you if you come to close: Stilt Sandpiper:

Spotted Sandpiper – most often seen flying away :):Baird’s Sandpiper:

Pectoral Sandpiper:Semi-palmated Sandpiper:

And last and ‘least’, the Least Sandpiper – the world’s smallest shorebird:

Aside from the ‘peeps’, I also came across two types of phalarope, including the Red-necked Phalarope (whose name makes sense in spring plumage, but much less so in fall plumage as seen here):And Wilson’s Phalarope (having a good stretch):

Along with the always interesting American Avocets who are starting to lose their rufous head plumage:

And the curious-looking Short-billed Dowitcher: One particular shorebird that I see more often than not west of Calgary, the Solitary Sandpiper, tends to favour ponds in wooded areas:

The other big group of southward-bound migrants are the songbirds, warblers in particular. While my sightings of warblers in 2017 were not high in volume (relative to the past 2 years), I was still very pleased as I did get some of my best-ever looks at a couple of species which had eluded me to date! I will always take quality over quantity when it come to bird photography.

Foremost amongst these was shy and skulking Ovenbird:

Fleeting glimpses of solitary, ultra-wary individuals summed up my previous experiences with Ovenbirds…up until a camping trip to Little Bow Provincial Park in mid August when I came across no less than 4 of them all in a small area…and for some reason this particular one was a lot less shy than his peers:

A couple of other personal highlights included a Canada Warbler (only my 3rd in Alberta):

And my first Chestnut-sided Warbler in Alberta:

As well as some of my best views yet of a Townsend’s Warbler:

Other warblers included the always-skittish Wilson’s Warbler:

The Yellow-rumped Warbler:

The Tennessee Warbler:

And here is a close-up of one picking off tiny insects off a leaf:

The Yellow Warbler:

And vying for the skulker gold-medal, the MacGillivray’s Warbler:

And a young Common Yellowthroat:

Some other songbirds of note were an Alder Flycatcher:

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet:

Along with two types of vireo, the Warbling Vireo:

And the Red-eyed Vireo:

A couple of other nice birds from the prairie included this female Merlin that spent a few sunrise moments surveying its territory at Kinbrook Island:And this Common Nighthawk, along with a dozen others, that wheeled and banked low in the late afternoon sky above our campground. I suspect there must have been some sort of mass flying ant hatch as they were joined by 100+ gulls in the feeding frenzy:And finally, to end this month’s post, a little story of how a birding trip led to a chance encounter with an enchanting non-avian creature:

One Aug weekend morning, I went out hoping to find some flycatchers to video, but after only a minute some agitated wrens caught my attention. As I set up to shoot the wrens, a flash of rufous caught my eye and the source of the wrens’ scolding was revealed – this gorgeous weasel!

This was my first time seeing one in their summer coat…quite a difference from the almost all-white coat of winter :). The lightning speed with which these weasels move is astonishing and my still images don’t do them justice. I was quite impressed by the weasel’s ability to get up small trees in search of nestlings…it must have been several meters up at certain times. Despite the speed of the weasel and the long grass and vegetation that largely hid it from plain sight, the entourage of scolding birds (wrens, chickadees, sparrows, robins, etc) that accompanied it allowed me to track the weasel as it went hunting and get several pleasing images.  A real little character & quite inquisitive – made for a great morning out!

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Southern Ontario’s September Migrations

Once Laura and I began getting more serious about peeping at birds, it didn’t take long to realize that September is a very special month. Here in southern Ontario, September marks the beginning of the fall migrations, and you start seeing all sorts of birds that you haven’t observed at the feeder in quite a long time. It’s also when you first realize that you haven’t seen a robin or a hummingbird in a while, or that the orioles seem to have headed south long ago. And where did those red-winged blackbirds go?

While the year-round resident cardinals, house finches, chickadees and woodpeckers seem to enjoy the less crowded conditions, it doesn’t stay that way for long. The new arrivals waste little time in finding the feed bag. And they’re not all from out of town. Although we have blue jays living around us all summer long, we hardly ever see them in the back yard. Then, once those first cool nights in September come along and the bug hunting gets tougher, they begin to show up at the feeders. Just single birds now and then to start. Then, as the month wears on, more and more of them.

Pretty female house finch.

Handsome blue jay.

Oh – there’s another!

And still another!

Oh my! Here we go!

Of course a big part of that shift in birds at the trough lies in the fact we start changing up the food mix as the nights grow longer and cooler. Once the grackles and starlings begin to thin out, the summer diet of safflower seed gives way to more appealing chipped sunflowers and peanuts – two types of feed we could never offer if those guys were around in numbers. A flock of grackles can empty even our big green tube feeder in short order. Apart from the simple expense, they take over the yard and no other birds dare to come near. But once they begin to head south, we can put out the sunflower that appeals to the chickadees, cardinals and house finches. It must be a nice change after weeks of nothing but safflower.

Mmmmm … suet cake!

Downies love shelled peanuts.

Though they do not love to share!

Everyone’s plumping up for winter.

Our resident gang of downie woodpeckers are huge peanut fans, of course, and take great delight once they re-appear for the winter. They’re joined by both white-breasted and red-breasted nut hatches and, more recently, a pair of hairy woodpeckers that have evidently moved in nearby.

Once the peanuts go out, the blue jays show up en masse. One day last September we counted something like 22 of them on the feeder and waiting their turn in the nearby trees.

Blue jays love peanuts.

It doesn’t take long for word to get out.

Of course all this bird activity attracts attention from bird watchers besides us. Concentrations of birds at the feeder inevitably result in more hawk sightings. They’re birds too, and I’m always awed by them. We mostly see Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, and they’re very tough to tell apart. Now and then one will land close by and hang out long enough to get a good look, and then the rectangular body shape and rounded tail of the Cooper’s hawk becomes more obvious (compared to the more tapered body and pointy tail of the sharp-shinned). Still, they don’t make it easy.

Sharp-shinned hawk.

As the month wears on the salvia in our yard attracts all sorts of bees. You can see swarms of them all over the plants, getting what they can before winter hibernation. Then just like that, they’re gone. September begins giving way to October, and it’s time for the next wave of migrants to arrive.


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T.O. Backyard – On the Move

Wow, September is here! Summer’s days certainly are numbered now. For anyone who watches the birds and nature overall, you don’t need a calendar to tell you the season is changing.

Hawks are on the move and we are seeing Cooper’s Hawks stop in on their fall migration.

Osprey have been flying over our area, I’ve spotted 2 from the backyard.

Goldfinches have been feeding on our seeding flowers. The name of this flower always escapes me.

Woodpecker numbers are increasing at our suet feeders. It was a thrill to see this one in particular return after being away since May. A male Downy Woodpecker that is banded. He was banded in a woodlot a couple kilometres away from our home back in November of 2014, and deemed to be a 2012 hatch bird (or possibly earlier). 5 years of age (possibly older) is a pretty good lengthy life for a small Woodpecker in my opinion.

Northern Flickers are passing through, occasionally dropping in for a moment.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker also appeared in our neighbourhood.

High numbers of Blue Jays passing through. We have 3 bald ones hitting us up for peanuts the last few days.

An American Redstart stopped in our yard. A new yard species for us.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher also made an appearance. Another new yard species. Of course I only had my portrait lens on and this is the best I could capture of the bird. Still exciting to us as it’s not very often we spot a new species here.

I found a trio of young Wood Pewees in our neighbourhood August 29 which threw me off though.

Our Hummingbirds have left. We have spotted the odd passer-through still hitting up our feeders we keep out until early October. There’s a good number Common Grackles still with us as well as the occasional Red-winged Blackbird. House Sparrows have dominated our backyard this Summer. And since we are Pigeon friendly, they can bring big numbers in.

As you can see, we are still enjoying our visiting Skunks. We’ve seen up to 5 some nights. One in particular seems to have claimed our backyard as his own. I did a blog about him which you may enjoy, you can view it here.

Warblers are passing through. This Wilson’s Warbler posed nicely for a moment.

Organizations like FLAP and Toronto Wildlife Centre are quite busy during migration. It’s nice to know there’s so many caring people trying to help the birds who get into trouble. Big shout out to everyone, be it the person patrolling the streets picking up birds after a window collision, to the person who drives those in need of care up to TWC, to the staff and volunteers at TWC who care for them, to the people who then drive rehabbed birds down to the shores of Lake Ontario and west of Toronto.

Here are a few recent birds I was more than happy to send back to freedom, getting them back on their migratory journey.

Blackburnian Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Black & White Warbler

Birds are on the move as fall migration is under way. Let’s wish them all a safe journey.

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A Half-Dozen New Doves

Over the past month or so, we have had three pairs of Mourning Dove babies in our yard.  Two from the nest nestled in the oak tree.  Two from the nest most precariously perched in the tip-top of the sumac.  And two from some other nest more properly hidden nearby.

If you have ever seen one, you’ll understand when I say that Mourning Dove nests are not a structure that inspires confidence.  A loose and flimsy-looking platform of small sticks, it seems woefully inadequate for the relatively large and rather rotund dove, never mind a pair of hefty hatchlings wanting to stretch their wings.  And yet… a half dozen baby doves say otherwise.  Apparently the Mourning Dove’s nest is more reliable than it looks.

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A Visit To The Burlington Ship Canal

Located at the extreme western end of Lake Ontario, the city of Hamilton sits on a large, shallow bay which is connected to the big lake by the Burlington Ship Canal. The canal – 385 feet (118 m) wide and 4,594 feet (1.4 km) long – always has some sort of current flowing through it, whether driven by winds or simply draining the multitude creeks which feed the bay, so it’s a natural gathering point for a variety of birds. It’s protected by two long piers – one on either side – which extend for some distance into the lake.

A mid-July errand took me fairly close by the canal, so I decided to stop in for a look. As with every visit, this one was thoroughly rewarding.

Burlington Ship Canal – ships, boats and even jumping fish!

The picture pretty much sums up the canal – big ships, pleasure boats (this one obviously ignoring the 10 mph speed limit) and the occasional jumping fish.

As luck had it, my arrival coincided with that of a large lake freighter, the M/V Kaministiqua. This was good news, since the huge ship passing through the canal would attract a lot of birds. Big freighters might extend 25 feet or more into the water, and the canal is barely 30 feet deep. As they pass through they tend to stir things up, ringing the dinner bell for the birds and large fish that tend to follow them around.

As the ship approached, the locals began to stir. At this time of year the canal is mostly occupied by herring gulls, common terns and double-crested cormorants. Swarms of them follow the freighters, and as the ship drew closer, more and more birds took to the air.

Double-crested cormorant waking up with the ship’s arrival.

Adult and juvenile herring gulls.

As the ship approaches, they take to the air …

… ready to feast on the fish it stirs up.

Common terns appear out of nowhere, closely following the ship.

They’re fast and crazy agile, and tough to photograph.

Cormorants get in on the action.

Today’s lunch – an invasive round goby. Good job!

Gulls and terns follow the ship into the harbour

Mmmmmm …. fish!

Lake Ontario has more than its share of cormorants. Thanks to much improved water quality, their numbers have rebounded sharply in the past 20 years after declining steadily through much of the 20th Century. I was quite happy to watch one take advantage of the passing freighter, fly into the canal, and promptly catch itself a round goby – an invasive species of fish that came to the Great Lakes from Europe several years ago, ironically enough by hitching rides across the Atlantic in the ballast water of freighters. Gulls and terns picked stunned fish from the water surface all around me, closely following the big ship.

Birds now all in the water, the pier surface gives an idea of just how many there are.

With the excitement of the passing freighter over, I turned my attention from the canal to the lake, where a number of ducks and geese were loafing along the shoreline. The ducks were all mallards, including some fairly scruffy looking males not quite finished replacing their beautiful breeding plumage with drabber summer feathers. All around me ducks were alternately bathing in the shallow water or enjoying the fresh vegetation. A woman with two small children was watching them tip up to feed, her boys clearly delighted with being repeatedly mooned by the feeding ducks, giggling and pointing out “Look at his bum!” over and over. It was quite cute, really.

Mallards tipping up to feed in the shallow water seemed to delight some small children nearby.

Drake mallards look fairly drab in their duller summer plumage.

A few still looked a bit scruffy, having not yet completed molting.

It must feel good to get rid of the old feathers.

At one point I was followed by an inquisitive Canada goose.

There were more ducks and geese feeding along the harbour end of the canal, along with several swans, including introduced mute swans and the native Trumpeter swans. Most of the birds were clearly banded, as part of an ongoing effort to monitor their population and breeding success. Like the cormorants, swans on the Great Lakes have also been experiencing a resurgence thanks to ongoing water quality initiatives. Hamilton Harbour was once among the most seriously polluted spots on the Great Lakes and, although much work remains to be done, the changes today are unmistakable. The appearance of swans, terns and literally thousands of cormorants in a highly commercialized area speaks to the success of these habitat improvement programs.

Mute swan.

Native Trumpeter swans.

The harbour is still an active shipping port, but the success of habitat restoration efforts clearly evident.

Walking back to the truck I found myself accosted by two other locals – friendly grey squirrels and some house sparrows that are known to hang out along the path in the hope of getting treats. Although they put on a good show, I had nothing for them. That’s when it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any pigeons yet. In the past there were clouds of them. Now, not a one. Evidently, the appearance of a peregrine falcon nest on one of the canal bridges has made an impact.

No rewards for this cute beggar …

… or this one either. My failure to dispense peanuts made me instantly unpopular with the locals.

All in all my side trip to the Burlington Ship Canal was, as always, an enjoyable little diversion. I’m looking forward to returning in the fall, when it attracts large numbers of migrating waterfowl.



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