cloudy with sunny breaks

PHOTO POST

A long stretch of warm but gloomy weather finally made room for a week of old-fashioned winter, with brisk winds, the odd sunny day, and even some ice buildup on the shoreline.

Lightshower II

Lightshower

How cold did it get? Cold enough on Saturday that there was only one person fishing at the breakwater – but not cold enough for him to keep his gloves on.

Fishing at the edge

The cold weather was a delight to some of us, providing the kinds of sights we may only see for a few days a year.

Construction

Construction II

Waterline

We knew it wouldn’t last, of course. By Sunday night a warm wind picked up from the southwest, and by Monday morning the waves had chopped much of the shore ice into slush.

Splash at sunrise

By afternoon we were treated to a typical lakeshore squall, with warm fluffy snowflakes whipped along in a biting wet wind.

What Great Teeth

The snow drifted along with the sand, moving across the beach and straight into the harbour channel.

Heritage Winter

A storm like this might put you in mind of seeking shelter in a forest. If you’re small of stature, though – an ermine, perhaps, or a rabbit – quiet pathways through the lakeshore marsh are an even better place to get in out of the wind.

Shelter among the reeds


Photo at top of post: Cloudy with sunny breaks (full-size version here)

 

going the distance

PHOTO POST

In September many migratory species head south from these shores. Not all of them have feathers.

The birds that nest here, but spend winters in warmer climates, cross paths with those which nest further north and only stop here in passing.

Autumn is sweet, with many opportunities to see and hear these beautiful friends before the quiet winter. Autumn is scary, too, with growing uncertainty whether each species will find safe travel to a winter haven, safe travel north again in the spring, and a safe place to nest and raise young next year.

Killdeer beside still waters

The elegant Yellowlegs, which often spends a few weeks around here in the fall, is one of my favourite visitors. In recent days a pair of Yellowlegs worked a mudflat favoured by Killdeers. On a single high-pitched signal they all took off in the same instant, circled around, and then landed together on a nearby mudflat. (I believe the bird pictured below is a Lesser Yellowlegs and not its larger cousin the Greater Yellowlegs.)

Dance of the Yellowlegs

A juvenile Green Heron landed beside the shorebirds but was after larger prey than insects, and it soon moved on.

Sharp left

Lurking in the shadows nearby, a furtive Swamp Sparrow briefly crossed a bare rocky patch.

Swamp Sparrow on the rocks

As the sun set a juvenile Sora cautiously stepped out from reedy cover.

Sora at sunset

On the migratory flightpaths, birds are joined by smaller and more delicate creatures.

Saddlebags

If I am correct that the above picture shows a Black Saddlebags, it is one of a dozen dragonfly species that conduct a multi-generational annual round trip from north to south and back.

The Green Darner, below, famously migrates to the southern US states, Mexico, or Caribbean islands.

Green Darner on Burning Bush

A tall clump of pink aster in our yard has been particularly attractive lately to migrating butterflies.

Pink Aster Sky

Monarch on pink aster

For weeks we have had many monarch sightings every day. All of them continued to move west, likely heading around Lake Ontario before flying south to Mexico.

On a couple of afternoons, though, the monarchs were joined by a smaller butterfly with similar colours.

American Painted Lady on pink aster, 1

This appears to be the American Painted Lady, part of a family known for migrations on and between several continents.

American Painted Lady on pink aster, 2

May all our winged relations, with or without feathers, find safe passage into a new season.

close encounters

PHOTO POST

A severe restriction can sometimes be a blessing in disguise – at least when it comes to noticing beautiful sights.

Deep Well (squash blossom)

So it was for much of this summer, as eye trouble encouraged me to focus on small things, close at hand.

Where does the bee stop and the flower begin?

With my better eye out of order (temporarily, I hope), and strict doctor’s orders to avoid physical exercise throughout recovery from retinal surgery, I tried to make the most of reduced vision.

Hanging on Pink

With my particular type of myopia, I can see well when focusing on fine detail at very close range. Thus I spent more time than usual gazing intently at flowers in our own yard – and if I stayed motionless for a while, a pollinator often landed right in front of my eye.

Heat Wave

Day Lily Reflects the Sun

Cranesbill Geranium Spire

These photos were taken in our back yard over the past two months, as cool and dewy summer mornings finally gave way to a real summer heat wave once September had arrived.

Hoverfly on Sylphium

Wasp on Porcelain Vine

Since I like flowers, and I also like to eat, I’m happy to admire a wide variety of pollinators going about their rounds.

Crystal Ball

Wet Pigment

Many insects, of course, are in precipitous decline. In this locale that certainly seems to apply to dragonflies. I was pleased to spot this Green Darner resting on the still-wet grass on a chilly morning – and especially pleased that it took to the air once the sun had warmed it and given it strength.

I gazed at this dragonfly through my one good eye, while it gazed back with its thousands.

Dragonfly at rest, 1

Truly a sight for sore eyes.

Dragonfly at rest, 2

 

in the weeds

PHOTO POST

Most of the summer slipped by and I didn’t get out to the marsh … but at least I saw a Bittern.

Over the past two weeks I’ve made several excursions, hoping to see a few of the sandpipers that like to run along from lily pad to lily pad. Or a beaver, plying the placid waters while chewing on fresh greens. Or dragonflies, or … well, the marsh often has surprises.

Wapato flower

One of my first discoveries was the flowers of the Wapato, which I hadn’t noticed before.

The more obvious white flowers, scattered across the marsh’s surface, are lily pad flowers. In late August, the flowers and lily pads are home to countless tiny insects, which attract the bigger insects that eat them, which attract birds and fish fingerlings and frogs and turtles.

Circle Segments

Still Life with Painted Turtle

Refracted Reflection

As I’d hoped, telltale motion along the lily pads alerted me to Spotted Sandpipers darting about and gobbling insects.

Spotted Web

In addition to the adults, several juveniles – still without their spots – were out hunting on their own. (If the bird in the photo below is not a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper, I’m grateful to anyone who can let me know the correct ID; just send me a note through the Contact link.)

Spotless One

Then an odd motionless shape protruding from the lily pads caught my eye. Zooming in, I saw it was a juvenile Least Bittern.

The smallest of the heron family, the Least Bittern is zealously secretive and usually stays hidden in the reeds. I’m not positive I’ve ever seen an adult, but the juveniles seem to be less cautious and I see one every year or two.

Step by Step

I watched quietly for an hour while dear Bittern fed from floating platforms. A step here, a step there, an occasional jab, and down the gullet went a dragonfly or a minnow.

Step One

Step Two

In one moment the Least Bittern appears stout and stocky. The next moment, it is clear that most of its body is just a storage compartment for the feathered slinky that is its neck.

Zap

At Least I Saw a Bittern

It was encouraging to learn that somewhere nearby, a pair of Bitterns had nested and fledged a young one this summer.

Could there have been a better way to spend a Sunday morning than watching a Least Bittern explore the marsh?

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Heron (III)


Photo at top of page: Poised Pose (click here for full-size view)

ruffled feathers

PHOTO POST

Where have the Herons gone?

Through the month of May I wondered: isn’t the marsh looking and sounding kind of empty?

As I make my local rounds I’m often achingly aware that many bird species are in decline, across the continent and around the world. This year, there has been the added danger of avian flu reducing bird populations.

But from a limited perspective in one neighbourhood, it’s hard to know if yearly changes in activity amount to a trend.

In early May a good crowd of mergansers swam along the lakeshore each calm morning, but soon enough they departed for points north.

Triangle

A Grackle cuts a striking figure on a piece of driftwood at the water’s edge, inflating to maximum girth and belting out a one-note croak.

Crooner

From the marsh the songs of Marsh Wrens ring out from the hiding places in the reeds. In our yard we were treated to a similar huge call from a tiny House Wren.

Between the lines

A solo Trumpeter Swan made several appearances through May, though I’ve seen no sign of a mating pair recently.

Swimming into the sun

Trumpeter Swan Portrait

Looking through a local lens, that’s what matters, really. Will this Trumpeter stay healthy, find a mate, eventually raise one or two or three healthy Trumpeter cygnets?

And will the pair of Killdeer on a nearby mudflat, and another pair on a rocky stretch of beach, keep their nestlings safe through the danger season, successfully luring potential predators with their beautiful diversionary tactics?

Killdeer on mudflat

Semaphore. A Killdeer has the right colours for effective camouflage. It can also use these colours to wave a bright flag, grabbing attention and leading a predator away from a nest.

Will the Spotted Sandpiper, the Gallinule and the Sora and the Virginia Rail, the Green Heron and the Black-Crowned Night Heron, return to safe nesting sites in these marshes year after year?

Steppingstone for Spotted Sandpiper

(For many birds, of course, the “local” neighbourhood extends to the Gulf of Mexico coast, or the jungles of Central America, or Patagonia. If they don’t find safe places all the way along their annual migrations, they won’t be able to return here for another summer. And each time they do return, it’s a blessed miracle.)

Through most of May, the open waters of the marsh were home to very few ducks, and not many geese either. The minnows were jumping, though, frogs were singing, and carp were splashing.

Just when I thought the Herons had gone far away this season, a turtle offered a clue.

Looking Up

I looked up high, and to my surprise six Great Blue Herons circled far above the marsh.

Six Herons Circling

Just a few days later Herons appeared on perches to the north in the marsh, and more often to the south along a lakeshore breakwater.

Where the marsh opens into the lake, gulls were constantly circling and diving. Finally I understood: this is a great place for a Heron to hang out just now.

Where marsh meets lake

A patient slow stride, a sudden strike into the water, a toss of the head; that meal is down the hatch.

Swallow, swallowing, swallowed

bumblebee and scilla

PHOTO POST

Which is prettier, a Wood Duck or a Bumblebee? The reddish orange of a Robin’s breast, or the orangey red of Staghorn Sumach fruit? The sunrise or the sunset?

This April there’s no need to pick answers to silly questions – there’s a different beauty around every corner.

Closest to home, at just a few meters from my office window, a Downy Woodpecker makes quick rest stops on convenient branches.

Downy Woodpecker takes a pause

The Red-Winged Blackbird is named for two simple colours flashed by the male, but on an early-spring evening the female shows a richer palette.

Blackbird Evening

Long-Tail Ducks are beginning to show some of the rich colours they will wear when they arrive in their breeding grounds far north of here.

Long-tailed Duck times two

Though only scattered hints of green are visible in the marsh, life is stirring.

Muskrat Wave Mirage

A recently-arrived Killdeer checks out a muddy island in Westside Marsh.

Killdeer on mudflat island

Across the marsh a black-and-white Ring-necked Duck catches sunlight and reflects back red and brilliant green.

Ring-necked Duck in Westside Marsh

Mute Swans are establishing territories and building nests, but not all of them have paired off.

Two-Swan Takeoff

McLaughlin Bay landing

A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers have lingered close to the lakeshore on several recent mornings. Even in monochrome backlight they cut striking profiles …

Merganser pair in monochrome

… while in another light their colours really sing.

Mergansers swimming in colour

Still, in this area no other water bird competes with the Wood Duck in the colour olympics.

Wood Duck says Wake Up

The unseasonal warmth of early April brought a few flowers into full bloom. You need to get right down to ground level to fully appreciate the beauty of Scilla.

Scilla above and below

Will any pollinators be awake to visit these early blooms? I wondered. But in the afternoon warmth a huge Bumblebee hovered near, grabbed onto a tiny blossom, rode the swing down, then quickly moved to another and another.

Bumblebee and Scilla may sparkle together again next spring.

Bumblebee swings with Scilla


Photo at top of page: Robin feeds on Staghorn Sumach (full-screen image here)

waves of spring

PHOTO POST

Spring comes with a splash, and it comes with a sigh.

The first Red-winged Blackbirds and Robins arrived several cold weeks ago. On calm mornings the air rings with the songs and screeches of many recent arrivals, but nest-building is just beginning.

Even the cold-weather stalwarts – gulls, the winter ducks, geese and swans – are picking up the pace of activity.

Searching the waves

A quick bite

Scaups, long-tails, ring-necked ducks and goldeneyes dive in the marsh, the creek and the lake.

Winter Duck Medley (Long-tailed Ducks, and Ring-necked Duck at lower left)

Stiff afternoon breezes shape sand into waves that shape the sunset.

Perpendicular Log

In sheltered, sunny spots succulents like Autumn Joy Sedum are poking through the leaf litter.

Autumn Joy in Spring

Some of that leaf litter may soon be part of a Robin or Grackle nest.

Just One Robin

Goldfinches compete at the feeder just as they did all through the winter – but now their plumage is taking on much brighter colour.

Five Finches

Still, each warm spell is followed at this time of year by another quick reminder of winter. With two days before April another fierce snow squall brought a coating of white. There are some around here who pray this will be the last snowfall for many months.

Westerly wind on beach

Goldfinch, gold grass, snow

The Snowdrops take it all in stride, having lived through several winter reruns in just the past six weeks. By an hour past dawn they are already melting off the previous night’s snowfall.

Snowdrops in March sunshine

Hooded Mergansers show their spring colours against the backdrop of the marsh.

March’s Mergansers

On this beautiful morning in this beautiful place, the music of a Song Sparrow sounds just about right.

Reaching for a high note

fragile february

PHOTO POST

A few days of very early spring, brief periods when it felt like the depths of winter – and now and then, a few days somewhere between those extremes. February, we hardly knew you.

Not many of the diving ducks which typically winter here have been hanging around Port Darlington this year. Perhaps there are just too many other options, with almost no ice anywhere on Lake Ontario and many creeks and rivers flowing freely through much of the past month.

We’ve still seen the dabbling birds, though, especially Mallards and Canada Geese, who are content to stand on shore-fast ice when they aren’t feeding in shallow waters.

At Ease in Swift Current

Flight of Five

Scaups have been scarce. But as the sun dipped low one afternoon, this female Greater Scaup swam through the rippled reflection of a dry-docked red boat, to spectacular effect.

Greater Psychedelic Scaup

One place birds were not scarce was around our backyard feeders. As many as two dozen goldfinches, mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, nuthatches and chickadees gathered for hours each day. When there wasn’t room on the feeders or on the ground beneath, they waited their turns from the trees.

Blue Sky with Gold Finch

American Tree Sparrows (foreground below) and Dark-Eyed Juncos (background) were just as happy feeding directly from the finch feeder as from the ground.

Sparrow one and Sparrow too

On snowy, blowy days appetites seemed to be sharpened and the feeders were seldom unattended.

Sheltered Finch

Snowy Squirrel

Cardinal on Vine

Junco with Winter Grasses

The swift swings in weather reshaped the shoreline almost every day. Strong waves piled up banks of stones and freezing spray locked the stones into place. No matter. The next day’s warmer waves carved the formations from underneath while sunshine loosened the icy cement from above.

Just This Minute 2

Just This Minute 3

If you were lucky you could see colorful stones illuminated by sunrise – and remnant ice-shells illuminated by sunset.

Just This Minute 4

Just This Minute 5


Photo at top of page: Just This Minute 1 (click here for full-screen image)

 

the north side of a storm

PHOTO POST

On this edge of Lake Ontario the wind did blow, but for the most part the snow did not fall.

Beach Breeze

The great Christmas storm of 2022 brought us gale-force winds for thirty-six hours but very little snow. At the height of the storm there was almost as much sand as snow blowing across Port Darlington beach.

But the waves crashed and plumes of spray blasted the breakwater through the cold night.

Night Waves

By the light of day it was clear the bay had churned over until each breaking wave was heavy with sand.

Standing Still, Three

Standing Still, Two

Standing Still, One

To some residents the aftermath of the storm brought good cheer. Flocks of gulls found lots to eat amidst the undulating slush and kept watch for the best spots.

Gull Wing

Close Quarters

Even small floes, just big enough to stand on amidst in the ceaseless motion, were prized real estate.

Maintaining Focus, Two

Slush Surfing

As gulls fluttered, grabbed, dodged and shrieked, partially congealed waves whispered to the setting sun.

Frequency Modulation


Photo at top of post: Maintaining Focus, One (click here for full-screen image)

 

three gulls before sunrise

PHOTO POST

It might be daybreak or it might be day’s end, when sunshine suddenly streaks across the autumn landscape.

Even on a cloudless afternoon, a low-angled sun heats up the remaining flowers for just a few hours.

But rain or shine, on the wide expanse of mudflat in the marsh clusters of dabbling ducks are feeding. The smallest of the lot, the Green-Winged Teal, came within camera range late one afternoon, minutes before sunset.

Green-Winged Teal on mudflat

Green flash on mudflat

Green-Winged Teal feeds on mudflat

Slurping primordial soup

A lone White-Throated Sparrow preferred the mid-morning hours for forays beyond the thickets and onto the mudflat.

White-Throated Sparrow on mudflat

White-Throated Sparrow on mudflat

At the marsh edge a forest of inky cap mushrooms sprang up, spreading their rich stain on anyone who reached out to touch, before withering back to earth a day later.

Inky Cap mushrooms

Inky Caps at marsh edge

On the marsh edge, too, I found another treasure: a cracked, fragile, translucent clam shell. When washed by ripples at the lakeshore the shell channeled many colours of sunlight.

Standing shell

When a wavelet toppled the shell into sandy water it appeared a whole new creature, ready to swim away.

Swimming shell

For a few days in the last week of October, the bright air warmed enough in early afternoon to activate bees and hover flies.

Green Metallic Sweat Bee on Rudbeckia

Green Metallic Sweat Bee on Rudbeckia

Hoverfly on Calendula

Hoverfly on Calendula

Back in the marsh a Mute Swan found a patch of water deep enough to float in.

Mute Swan on marsh

Stretch, swan

A small flock of wading birds – I believe these are Pectoral Sandpipers – preferred to feed in very shallow water at the far edge of the mudflat.

Pectoral Sandpipers at Bowmanville Marsh

Pectoral Sandpipers

Like many other pipers who stopped here this fall, they seem now to have departed for points south.

Pectoral Sandpipers in flight

Pointing this way

The gulls, though, will stick around for the winter, sometimes all together on the marsh, sometimes in congregations on the waters of the lake, sometimes strolling quietly in early morning along the shoreline.

Ring-Billed Gulls at sunrise on Lake Ontario shoreline

Three gulls before sunrise

At last, suddenly, the bright light rises out of the lake.

Sunrise at Port Darlington breakwater, Lake Ontario

Sunrise at Port Darlington breakwater, Lake Ontario