Balcony and beyond – out like a lion!

posted in: Bird Canada | 0

Well, here in Ontario spring is taking its time, and March went out like a lion with a surprise snowfall on the last day of the month. Toronto got off lightly, and it all melted by the next day, but it was quite the almost-April Fool’s prank.

Despite the weather’s ups and downs, the birds are arriving! As I mentioned in my last post, the Red-winged Blackbirds had just started showing up at the end of February, and for the last few weeks we’re getting a raucous wake-up call out back every morning.

Along with the Red-wings come the other blackbirds – Common Grackles, European Starlings, and a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I do enjoy all the racket and activity after a pretty quiet winter.

Common Grackle

The pond is slowly melting, and I’ve seen a few Mallards in the open water. We’re also being honoured by a few Canada Geese who’ve decided that this is a great spot to do some courting and territorial battling. So their honking is almost constant on some days, even too much for me!

The Starlings are definitely taking over all the nesting spots in my tree out back. The House Sparrows are putting up a valiant effort, but I think it’s a losing battle. Now that the Starlings are back in numbers, there’s been a flurry of activity and housecleaning. Sorry for the quality of photos, these were shot through the glass, and branches got in the way!

The standoff
View from the top
Second entrance is a bit tricky
Last year’s House Sparrows left a mess

The holes seem to interest many of the birds that come by, even if it’s just a fleeting look. Toronto is famous for its housing shortage!

White-breasted Nuthatch

Maybe this male House Sparrow thought there would be a good nesting spot on my balcony. I think my cat would be thrilled.

Birds that have been brightening our days for a few weeks, with song and colour, are the Northern Cardinals. This one has come to this same branch a couple of times, it seems to be a good perch for belting out its song. It’s great to hear and see it up close.

Down the street, on my route to High Park, I have often seen Northern Mockingbirds, although not as often this year. One day on my walk, I was happy to see two! I like to assume they’re a mating pair, but they were squabbling and chasing each other as if fighting over territory. Two males, or a couple having a bad day? I’ll have to keep an eye and ear out – love their songs!

Activity hasn’t picked up too much yet in High Park, although the nesting Great Horned Owls have two babies. I haven’t been able to get a good look or photograph of them, as the nest is very high and the days I’ve been there have been cloudy and dim. But hopefully I’ll have some chances to see the fuzzy owlets as they begin to fledge. There were a number of Mourning Doves in the park one day. I’m always taken by their subtle beauty.

The weather in March, typically, is all over the place – rain, sun, snow, repeat! This Cooper’s Hawk had been caught in the rain without an umbrella, and was trying to dry off.

One of the highlights of the month was finally seeing a small flock of Common Redpolls at Humber Bay park. There had been reports of the odd one or two through the winter at different parks, and I searched every time I went out. This time, with a tip from friends, I tracked them down! They’re real acrobats, hanging upside down as they dig seeds out of the cones of Alder trees.

Another winter bird that I’ve been lucky to see a couple of times is a Long-eared Owl, one of several that have been spending the winter in one of my parks. Although we all want to keep the owls safe and free from harassment, once they’re sighted the secret gets out. If they are roosting in a fairly open spot, unfortunately many photographers will come too close or stay too long. This one was in a tree very near the parking lot in the park, and had a constant stream of viewers. I was one of them, I admit, but I stopped only briefly, and did stay far away, using my long lens to get an imperfect but, for me, totally fine shot. There were unfortunately people taking photos with their cell phones, which meant they had to get very close up. You can see that the bird is looking alert, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention.

I took a walk along the lakeshore earlier in March, when there was still a lot of ice in the Humber Bay West Marina. In the small open water areas, the usual winter ducks included Buffleheads, Scaup, Gadwall and loads of Mallards, of course.

Several Trumpeter Swans spend time at the western lakeshore parks. One gorgeous day there were three flying back and forth overhead, as if trying to find the best place to come down. They were ‘trumpeting’ as they flew, what a great sight and sound.

I’ve been saying goodbye to the wintering ducks that are going to be heading north, and hello to other ducks that are arriving. This one was taking a brief moment in the sun, and I was lucky to capture it without flushing it!

Common Goldeneye have been with us through the winter. They’re usually pretty far out offshore. There was a pair in the filtration pools at Humber Bay East the other day. No doubt where they get their name!

New arrivals over the last couple of weeks have been the Red-necked Grebes. They’re out in full force, pair-bonding and checking out nesting platforms. We’ll have several breeding pairs again this year, if we’re lucky and if the Double Crested Cormorants don’t take over their platforms. This pair was at Humber Bay east, definitely expressing interest. One of my favourite sounds is their whinnying calls that echo around the parks.

There were three Horned Grebes in Humber Bay as well, out in the open water. Another sign of spring, as they stop over on their way to breed in north-western Canada. Male and female have the same plumage, so in this group of three, two were in non-breeding plumage.

Not at all rare, the Song Sparrow is still one of the best sights and sounds of the spring. I love hearing their varied songs – they have a repertoire of several different songs, but generally with the same basic structure. There were loads at Humber Bay on one of the last days of the month, mostly busy feeding on the ground which was finally snow-free.

Spring isn’t spring without American Robins. Even though we see our over-wintering birds all season, it’s a big thrill the first time they start singing, joining the increasing dawn chorus that greets us now. This Robin was still enjoying the sumach berries, waiting for the snow to melt and real food, i.e. worms, to be available again.

I’ll finish with a lovely sighting on March 30. Again at Humber Bay park, I’d been watching the grebes and the ducks, and just wandering in the sun. A high pitched ‘tsee tsee’ sounded interesting, and then a flash of movement in the bushes. A first of the year Golden-crowned Kinglet that must have just arrived was fiercely feeding and flitting from branch to branch. I got many fuzzy shots, a few of empty branches, and this one, which shows the bright gold crown, glowing like a harbinger of all the other colourful birds that will soon be arriving.

So, after a very mixed variety of birds and weather, March has finally gone out and April in all it’s colourful glory stretches ahead. The anticipation of new arrivals is buzzing through the birding community. Funny how seeing birds that we’ve seen year after year can still be so exciting and satisfying. I’m not questioning this, just glad that it’s so. Thanks for reading, and good birding!

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