a whistling of whimbrels

PHOTO POST

It’s always fun to gaze across the water looking for our usual residents. But in springtime you never know when a beautiful stranger might drop by for a few hours or a few days.

On a warm evening in the marsh, you might spot an ancient snapping turtle looming large at the surface, ready for any meal that might come within striking distance.

Swim a little closer please

Looking through clouds of midges in the calm of early morning, you spot Cormorants and Ring-Billed Gulls looking for breakfast.

Sparkling Shadow

Splashing Gulls

Red-breasted Mergansers are usually here for just a few months. When they come close to shore they make great entertainment, disappearing for long dives, skittering around the surface in boisterous play, and then suddenly, simultaneously, rising up and away in flight.

Fish is the Point

Skitterskatter

We’re outta here

But one quiet afternoon this week I could hear that something different was going on, somewhere near the breakwater. A chorus of peeps – or was it squeaks, or tweets, or whistles?  It wasn’t a familiar sound so I set out to investigate.

What should I find but a few dozen Whimbrels (or Hudsonian Curlews, as some older references call them).

Over the ridge

They mingled with the Gulls, sang their songs, stretched their wings, and then departed in smaller groups until, shortly before sundown, they were all on their way to the far north.

A Singular Bird

Don’t Cross Me

Whimbrel Wings

Come morning, a bright sun rose on another group of visitors, the Dunlins, likewise stopping for a short rest during a long journey.

Merry Company of Adventurers

Down to the Waterline 2

Rise and Shine

Different Strokes

By mid-morning they too had departed for parts north.

But back to the title of this post – do whimbrels whistle, or is that wordplay just whimsy? You can listen and decide for yourself:

an eye on the sparrow

PHOTO POST

One morning last week two of the less-seen sparrows visited our front yard together.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

These two sparrows, plus the Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, and the Dark-Eyed Junco, often search for food in the lawn and gardens. The Savannah Sparrow and the Swamp Sparrow occasionally allow themselves to be seen in a nearby meadow and marsh.

Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to do a post just on the various sparrows in this neighbourhood?

Well, it probably was fun … for the sparrows. I frantically tried to be everywhere at once, searching all the right habitats, while of course also moving as slowly and as close to soundlessly as I could manage. All while scanning the ground and thickets with great care, and equal futility – since I never saw the tiny bundles of camouflage until the second they darted for deeper cover.

Keeping an eye on the sparrow is easier said than done.

Was the exercise a waste of time? Not at all. When you go outside and you pay attention to what’s right around you, you’re likely to see and hear things you didn’t expect.

Stairway to Heaven

A Grackle showed off its colours, and I got glimpses of a Brown-Headed Cowbird, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler. And one evening a soft squawk caused me to look a long way up, where I spotted a larger bird shape.

It was a Northern Flicker hollowing out a nest near the top of a dead tree. The nest was on the east side of the trunk and the sun was setting in the west – but at least I knew where to focus in better light.

The next morning I was back, lying on the forest floor with a convenient tree root serving as my pillow, watching a drama unfolding close to the sky.

Flicker Builds Nest (larger views – top section here; bottom section here)

Based on what happened next, I’m guessing the nest was nearly ready for eggs.

Flicker Duet for Spring

The embrace was brief, but brought on spectacular fireworks.

Northern Flash

When I returned my gaze to earthly matters I saw that a few fiddleheads were unfurling.

Soon, Ferns

In the very shallow water at the outside edges of the marsh, where it’s almost impossible for wind or waves to disturb the placid surface, I puzzled over tiny floating seedlings. This is one effect, I think, of the gentle rise and fall of the marsh as it equalizes with every slight fluctuation in the level of Lake Ontario.

Sprout

Even occasional tufts of moss had detached from land and were sinking down to become part of the rich muck –  but not before creating some beautiful ripples.

Moss Makes Waves

And just when I thought I’d see everything except sparrows, one ventured out on a rotting log along the creek bank.

Swamp Sparrow by Evening Light


Composite at top of page, clockwise from top left: Swamp Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrow. (Click here for full-screen view)

red shift

PHOTO POST

The green is on its way, but the first vivid colours of spring around here tend to the red.

Bright Curve

Tiny sedums poke out between twigs. Alongside the fence rhubarb erupts. On a path a weathered log feeds new life.

Onset of Rhubarb

Cracked Wood

Venturing beyond the yard, I find a few birds that I don’t see every day.

Wet Spark

Red-breasted Mergansers like to fish on the open lake at this time of year, but it’s a treat to spot one close by in the creek.

I think I’ll try the fish

Herring Gulls are not exactly rare, though nowhere near as numerous here as Ring-Billed Gulls. This one was preoccupied with the discovery of a large fish on the creek bank, and paid little attention to me as I drifted closer.

Herring Gull

Just a few minutes later the cascade of late-afternoon sun was turning to shadow – time for a beaver to begin the night’s work.

Twilight Falls 2

Twilight Falls 1

When daylight returns I lie on the beach to admire new growth of dune grasses, making the most of precious moisture and, if we give them a chance, doing their best to anchor the sands against the storms.

Red Shift

 

Wave Grass 2

Wave Grass 1


Photo at top of page: Snowdrops in Ivy (full-screen image here)

 

sweet water songs

PHOTO POST

It was a brisk Saturday morning as I made my way to the lakeshore.

Getting from here to there

I wasn’t after fish, but those who I sought would be fishing, or so I thought. I was on the trail of Long-Tailed Ducks, hoping to capture not only pictures but sound.

Writing in 1925, Edward Howe Forbush called these birds “perhaps our most loquacious ducks,” adding that “their resounding cries have been likened to the music of a pack of hounds.”

The trick was to get close to their deep-water haunts, without slipping into the deep myself. I failed that morning, but when I returned late in the afternoon the Long-Tails went about their business with little notice of my presence. I was pleased to note there was little wind, giving me an excellent chance to hear and perhaps even record their song.

Chapter thirteen

Long waves

Four’s Company

In the video below you may also note the odd Scaup and Goldeneye. (You may need to turn up the speakers to hear the Long-Tails’ calls, about 20 seconds in.)

Sun was setting over a frozen harbour channel as I made my way home.

Mouth of the Channel

The glassy water gave no hint of a coming storm.

Night Flight

Yet the bay was transformed by sunrise. A stiff south wind had picked up overnight, collecting thin sheets of ice from across the lake and depositing them, in a million pieces, on our shoreline.

Dawn breaks on Sunday

Waves were rolling up against the ice edge, so far from land that the scrunch of ice against ice was barely audible.

Blue Silence

Zig-zag-sun

But waves are nothing if not patient. On Sunday night a rhythmic smashing of ice had grown louder than the wind. By Monday morning the ice sloshed back and forth against the shoreline, shards splintering. By Tuesday morning the ice had returned to water.

(The video below is best viewed full screen, ideally on a screen approximately the size of Lake Ontario.)

lakeshore medley

PHOTO POST

When you’re looking for fresh new scenery on a daily basis, the January lakeshore obliges – especially when the temperature plunges, heavy snow falls, and waves rearrange the ice, water and steam ceaselessly.

Breakwater Boulder (click image for full-screen view)

As dawn breaks frost is forming on icicles at the waterline.

Mouth of a Cave

The delicate filaments of frost are gone by the end of the day … but they’ll be back soon enough.

Sunset Arch

Gentle waves roll over pebbles at sunset, carving a path under a coating of ice.

Sunset Flow

It takes much bigger waves to topple the more massive ice formations.

Snaggletooth & Friends

Right along the coast is not always the best place to go looking for fauna, as most species of waterfowl stay well away from shore. But just a short drive to the west at Lynd Shores Conservation Area, it’s not hard to spot lots of wildlife.

White-Tailed Deer

Mourning Dove at Evening

Barred Owl

When you love ice and snow the lakeshore is a special place, not least because the sounds are just as beautiful as the sights. Here’s a short suite from the shoreline over the past week:


Photo at top of post: Branching Out (click here for full-screen view)

 

 

back yard blizzard

PHOTO POST

When a blizzard blew over a few days ago the wintering birds knew what to do: gather round the feeders and feast.

Like most blizzards in Ontario’s deep south, this one was mild in temperature. But perhaps the birds sensed that much colder weather was on the way. They were so intent on taking their turns at the feeders they paid little attention to pesky paparazzi.

Finch and Junco (click images for full-screen views)

American Goldfinches (above right) worked at the nyjer thistle seed all day. Dark-eyed Juncos (above left) gave it a try too, though their fatter beaks aren’t a good fit for the narrow holes in the finch feeder.

Woodpecker Candy

The Downy Woodpecker (above), as well as its larger lookalike the Hairy Woodpecker, hammered away at their high-calorie treat – seeds frozen in a suet block.

Inspector Starling

The Starlings gave it a try too but had a harder time of it.

American Tree Sparrows found their picnics at ground level.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 1

Their name is a misnomer, since they nest and forage on the ground. Grass seed is a favoured food, and a deep drift of snow put the seed heads on tall stalks within a short hop.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 2

By the time the sun rose the next morning the wind had calmed, the snow was no longer drifting, and the skies were clear. There is no better time to stroll the beach, watching the light show play out where sand and stones meet ice, waves and the first rays of sunrise.

Sedimentary Colours 1

Sedimentary Colours, 2

Sedimentary Colours 3

Sedimentary Colours 4

The rest of the beach is equally beautiful with bright cottage colours set off against new snow.

Cottages at Port Darlington

When I return home the birds are again busy in the back yard and this Junco waits for a turn at the feeder.

Junco on White


Photo at top of page: Snowy Morning Doves (full-screen version here)

walking into winter

PHOTO POST

Gliding through the harbour one morning just before freeze-up I spotted a mink.

Though I’ve looked many times since, it proved an elusive sight. No more mink so far, but instead …

On the beach a crayfish rested its final rest, still but still intact, having escaped the mink and the pike and the herons.

Mine eyes have seen the glory

At the edge of the woods just after sunrise, maple keys grabbed the light.

Key

What work of abstract expressionist art did the sunshine reveal? Is it an alien crop circle, seen from a spaceship? 

Tooth Trail (1)

No, just the hard work of beavers who have been chewing through twigs and trees.

Tooth Trail (2)

As mornings got colder the starlings sought warmth – even if that warmth had to be created by fluffing their feathers and being as round as possible.

Points of Light (2)

The miraculous chickadees survive the coldest mornings in spite of their tiny size. But they certainly appreciate a bowl of unfrozen water to drink from.

At the watering hole

The big lake remains open though wind and waves scatter icy spray across the shoreline.

Winter Wave

When the harbour channel remains thawed it’s a great place to watch waterfowl in the warmth of afternoon.

Shimmering down the creek

But when both winds and temperature drop, the channel and the marsh begin to freeze.

Perpendicular Ice

Gulls gather one day at the lakeshore, another day in the centre of the marsh. For a few days, at least, the Ring-billed Gulls were joined by a less common visitor – a Great Black-backed Gull who stood still and did its best to act inconspicuous.

A giant among us

And then one morning dawns very cold and even the harbour channel is mostly solid. Canada Geese huddle on the ice in small groups awaiting the sunrise.

Minus Twenty-Two Morning

Will the cold last? Not likely, but we do our best to enjoy while we can. And if some day very soon the sun shines on an open harbour again, I’ll be looking for that mink.

Beautiful Niche (2)


Photo at top of page: Beautiful Niche (1)click here for full-screen view

november, by grace

PHOTO POST

So we’ve made it this far … and what’s not to love about this November in this place?

When dawn comes cold, the frost shines so brightly that winter feels near. But by afternoon, in a sunny spot out of the wind, summer feels close too.

With most of the south-migrating birds long gone, those who remain – whether for a few more weeks or for the whole winter – are even more precious to watch.

Drama Swans

And warm afternoons, just before sunset, are a great hour for bird-watching.

Neon Cormorant

The Catch

To The Nines

The Speed of Setting Sun

Merganser, She Appears

In the right time and place, it matters little if no birds appear; the play of light with sky and water is enough.

Clearly, perpendicular

The light of sunrise is different – cold, you might say, perhaps even harsh.

Blue Spirits of Dawn

But minute by minute the frost turns to soft dew and the colours get warm.

Just Chill

Under Tension, 1

Under Tension, 2

Deep in the forest the day is brief – until a momentary breakthrough of sun, just before it dips behind a hill, illuminates the understory.

Fall Forest Flash


At top of page: Three November Lights

the otters and the others

PHOTO POST

This post is mostly about “the others” – meaning those other herons who aren’t so well known as the Great Blue Herons. But some other others also have a way of popping into the photo opp when you least expect them.

And even the Great Blues, which you see almost every time you gaze across the marsh, can still surprise with new poses.

Meerkat Impressions, First Prize (click images for full-screen views)

This bird gave me a double-take, because I didn’t recall ever seeing a Great Blue stand so perfectly erect. Just a moment later the same bird looked a lot stouter.

Space Needle

What I really love about this time of year, though, is that the small herons make themselves visible too. The Green Heron and the Black-Crowned Night Heron both stay hidden most of the time in early summer, but now that their young ones have left the nest both adults and juveniles are out and about, particularly as the sun sets.

Whether you see much green in its feathers or not, the Green Heron is, in my considered opinion, one of the snappiest dressers in the neighbourhood.

Focus Right

But both the Green Heron, at left below, and the juvenile Night Heron, at right below, have beautiful and striking patterns that nevertheless can serve as great camouflage in many marsh settings.

Different Strokes

Young Night Heron at Dusk

Other than the distinctive red eye, the juvenile Night Heron looks only slightly like its dowdy parent, below. The elder sports a nifty long white plume, but otherwise keeps the design simple.

Night Heron, Plumage

The small herons keep their eyes open for small fish and frogs – and grab insects when they are close at hand. (Or close at foot; an insect landed on a Green Heron’s foot, below, and was snapped up in a flash.)

Very Light Supper

Whether in full light of day, the glow of sunset, or by the light of a full moon, there are few birds more striking than the Green Heron.

Listening Post

That being said, while you’re out looking for herons you never know who else might light up the evening. On one recent evening, a Wood Duck turned on the wattage before slipping back into the shadows.

Wood Duck Glow

And just as darkness falls, a couple times a year if you’re lucky, the Otters might suddenly join the party, splashing and diving and swimming circles around each other.

Surfacing

While you watch them they periodically perform an “up periscope” routine to get a closer look at you. And then after a few breathy barks, they suddenly disappear among the lily pads and the waters are still.

Pop Goes the Otter

altered landscapes

Also published on Resilience

My home sits beside one of the world’s great bodies of fresh water, Lake Ontario, and beside one of the precious shoreline marshes that even today offer refuge to more species of wildlife than most of us will ever see.

Yet large-scale industrial transformations are visible in nearly all directions. This post pictures some of these alterations.

Twilight Telegram (click image for full-screen view)

Though their influences have been profound since the day they were built, the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific rail corridors draw relatively subtle lines through local geography. Unless you get stuck waiting for a long train at a level crossing, or have your ears blown out by a nearby diesel horn blast, it’s easy not to notice the railroads.

Angular Momentum

The St. Marys limestone quarry and cement plant makes a more dramatic imposition, with its tall silos, its kiln, its smokestack, and its pier reaching into Lake Ontario.

Auto expressways are virtually inconceivable without vast quantities of concrete, and no single piece of infrastructure changes the landscape here quite so pervasively as route 401, Canada’s busiest highway.

Though There Be No River, Yet Shall Thy Crossings Thereof Be Great

In contrast to the railroad’s slender ribbon, the 401 gobbles vast tracts of land. The tangle of ramps and bridges above constitutes just one T-junction, allowing drivers to connect at full speed to a short new north-south spur (Highway 418).

Another neighbouring industry, the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, is nearly invisible to people passing on land. But skeins of high-voltage transmission lines, with steel towers jutting into sky, run north, east, and west from the station.

Network Effects

Force Field

Radio Free Moon

The altered landscape continues into Lake Ontario, with the St. Marys pier protruding 650 meters out from shore. The pier allows freighters to dock, carrying away cargos of cement clinker and bringing shipload after shipload of coal and petcoke – some of the carbon-intensive fuels that make our current way of life possible, and which may make life impossible for our descendants.

Plastic Coating

On the direction we are traveling, the concrete and steel of our highways and towers may soon crumble, rust and collapse. The much larger-scale but invisible transformation of our world – elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – will outlast us and will wreak climate havoc for millennia.

Empire of Coal