Embracing the Unexpected

The Toronto area offers surprisingly rewarding birding opportunities. Last week, we ventured out in search of shore birds and visited the usually enormously productive marshes in Whitby and Oshawa (45 minutes east of Toronto in ideal, traffic-less conditions). Sadly, when we reached Cranberry Marsh, the water was much more abundant than usual and shorebird species were limited to Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer (whose name continues to baffle me), a Spotted Sandpiper and a few enormous Mute and Trumpeter swans. How gargantuan the swans seemed next to lone Spotted sandpiper! I marveled at the polka-dot pattern on the sandpiper and his somewhat indecisive forward-tilting gait. His bright orange bill gleamed against the blue water. But the piece-de-resistance of the morning featured the dozen or so intrepid Wild Turkeys who greeted us as we approached the marsh. So engrossed in their conversation, they paid absolutely no attention to our car. Instead, they strutted about gallantly, fanning their feathers as if they owned the place.

Wild Turkeys. But imagine twelve of these. Photo from here.

Wild Turkeys. But imagine twelve of these. Too busy to see us. Just hanging out. Photo from here.

From there we tried our luck at Second Marsh in Oshawa, where high water levels once again prevented us from seeing the shore bird bonanza we had been hoping for. Instead, we happened upon a congregation of close to a gazillion Double Crested Cormorants in their prehistoric-looking all-black attire. The sight became frankly irksome after a while, and was punctuated only by a few Great Blue Herons and a solitary juvenile Bald Eagle, which I would have misidentified as a Golden Eagle had I been on my own, so dark brown were its feathers and head, with a touch of gold on its back. I’m still entirely stymied by juvenile birds (not to mention molting – that’s a rant for another day!). As soon as I feel I know a bird, I encounter a juvenile and realize that I don’t know the bird at all! Perhaps a healthy reminder that birding is a perpetual learning process!

Thankfully I didn’t have time to get too depressed about my inability to identify a Bald Eagle, because I immediately correctly labeled the Caspian Terns overhead. Then I went on to impress my group by finding the lone Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher in an overgrown tree. Next, I spotted what was either an Alder or a Willow Flycatcher (we will never know for sure because it refused to sing for us). And we also had our first fall warbler of the season: the gorgeous Magnolia warbler whose yellow underbelly glistened beautifully, even in its more subdued plumage.

The funny and amazing thing about birding is that you never find what you expect. I had gone out in search of shorebirds, and ended up meeting a Bald Eagle, communing with a Gnatcatcher, and interrupting a town-hall meeting of Wild Turkeys. Oh to know what might have been on their minds!

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