It was an interesting day weather-wise in the east end. Light rain, black clouds, heavy rain, hail and brilliant sunshine all occurred.
Friday was another day of spectacular autumn colours:
Deer are not uncommon by the Guild Inn and this lovely young male was about 20 metres from us and even approached more closely.
Here is my article from the Toronto Ornithological Club Newsletter, Feel free to share it in one of your posts. You get a well-deserved (if enigmatic) mention.
Bird Walking 101
It happened again this morning. The clock says
5:45 a.m. The sun is up. The usual chorus of early
birds has already started. But today something
is different. A cry more urgent. More human
than avian. I fumble for my phone, search for the
Merlin Bird ID app and tap record. Only half
awake, I need to know who is waking up the
neighbourhood with this strangled cry.
Along with the ubiquitous House Sparrow,
the Common Raven appears on my screen as a
“Best Match”. From the giant maple tree outside
my window a reedy, trilling rings. It’s haunting. I
throw on some clothes, grab my binoculars and
head outside. What’s a raven doing in
downtown Toronto? What am I doing up so
In the rush towards summer, spring passes in
haste. But this year, I’ve become a bird watcher
or birder or, as I like to call it, bird walker. I’ve
covered many kilometers, often in a flock, other
times on a solo flight, drawn to the call or sight
of urban birds. The Toronto area is a major
destination on the migratory super highways for
both the Atlantic and Mississippi routes.
Hugging Lake Ontario and carved with many
forested ravines and waterways, the city
reverberates with mating calls, squabbles, nestbuilding and demanding fledglings every spring.
But until now, I haven’t paid attention.
As an emerging bird walker, it’s best to go
with a group of experienced birders who not
only know where to look but also take great
delight in ensuring everyone sees a particular
bird before moving on. Now that COVID
restrictions have relaxed, walks with the TOC
have been particularly useful. Learning often
happens informally, kind of like birding itself. I
struggle with my binoculars until a veteran
birder suggests I simply find the bird with my
naked eyes, then bring the binoculars up to
them. A quick fix that’s helped me immensely.
I learn from a knowledgeable woman birder
that the TOC (founded in 1934) was initially a
club for men only. And members had to have
logged a significant number of birds to join.
Now everyone is welcome, and outings are
promoted as accessible and inclusive. Social
media promotes walks, talks, photography and
seasonal bird counts.
I’d never heard of a Hudsonian Curlew until
TOC members began to share daily counts from
Whimbrel Point on Facebook. These resilient,
large shorebirds with long, curved bills fly over
Toronto enroute to the Arctic from South
America every spring. They rarely stop during
this epic journey. This year’s count from May 20
to 28 was “a whopping grand total of 3,589”
exceeding last year’s rather modest sum of
“843”. I begin to welcome the daily reports and
photographs more than any news of war,
inflation or insurrection.
One Tuesday evening at dusk, my husband,
a birder by affiliation, and I join a gathering of
lawn chairs and people with binoculars next to
the Moss Park Armoury. The occasion is a talk by
a Birds Canada representative about Chimney
Swifts. “In Toronto? How could that be?”, I
mused. “Aren’t they from storybooks and
villages with chimneys?”.
Suddenly, the swifts appear like “flying cigars”
in the sky. Flapping and swooping, they circle
the Armoury chimney and disappear inside for
the night like smoke going in reverse.
Gobsmacked, we watch as lights come on in the
condos and offices towers. Silhouettes of
buildings being erected surround us. Not one
has a chimney. Which reminds me of an urban
birder’s joke: What’s Toronto’s favourite bird?
The construction crane.
Behind the Ontario Legislative building, I
meet a lunch-time group for a walk around
Queen’s Park with the aptly named Mark Peck,
head ornithologist from the Royal Ontario
Museum and TOC Programs coordinator. Our
objective is warblers as mid-May is peak season
for these colourful, flighty singers. A pre-teen
bird enthusiast asks Peck if warblers in the
mating season are “dimorphic”. I learn a new
word that’s useful in the bird-nerd world to
describe when the male and females have visual
A young woman from Mumbai asks where to
buy binoculars and how to join more birdrelated walks. Peck’s passion is infectious and an
hour of looking up rewards us with colourful
splashes of Yellow Warblers, Blackburnian
Warblers and Baltimore Orioles. He cautions us
that we may all suffer from ‘warbler neck’ that
Spring bird walking adventures take me to
over a dozen Toronto parks in all corners of the
city. Every Monday morning for nine weeks I
meet a group led by a naturalist-musicianphotographer with an exquisite ear for bird
songs and a keen eye for identifying trees by
their bark and buds, native grasses and wild
flowers. Rain or shine we walk, talk and see the
city through new eyes from the top of the Bluffs
to muddy ravine floors. White Trillium, Jack-inthe-pulpit, May-apple, Bloodroot and Trout-lily
flowers delight us.
One memorable Sunday morning I join The
Feminist Bird Club for an outing to identify
female birds along the Humber Bay. I curse the
jet skiers who don’t realize how close they come
to the floating nests of the Red-necked Grebes.
On Victoria Day, two days after violent winds
destroy buildings north of the city, a TOC walk
in North York starts at 7:30 a.m. We have to
climb over ancient willow trees now downed
and blocking our path. Our reward? Over 30
species sighted, including my first Indigo
Birds are everywhere in the city offering
more questions than answers. I puzzle at the
House Sparrow’s nest built into the awning
mechanism on my mother’s balcony. I mourn
the death of a female American Robin whose
rigid body I find on top of our air-conditioner.
Did she hit our window? Is that her nest I’ve
been watching on a neighbour’s porch?
The raven is directly above me in the tree. My
binoculars reveal it is eating something red and
sinewy. Between bites, it makes the eerie sound
that woke me up. It appears to be
communicating with a mate on a higher branch.
An internet search informs me that ravens are as
big as Red-tailed Hawks, very intelligent and
adept at mimicry.
At that moment, the raven pair takes flight
over the house to a favourite lookout for local
hawks atop a nearby church tower. Their
massive shapes on the cross are backlit by the
rising sun. Is this an omen inspired by Hitchcock
or Poe? A rare sighting in downtown? A
reminder of an Indigenous legend? A third raven
takes flight from a nearby tree. All three head
towards Lake Ontario. The city is starting to stir.
The early mating season appears to be
ending. Fledglings that survived the windstorm
or loss of parents are leaving their nests. The
trees are “leafed in”, another birding expression,
making for poor visibility. Maybe it’s time to rest
my warbler neck and binoculars. Some recently
published bird books — guides, histories and
even poetry — beckon for my summer reading.
Then I’ll be ready for the fall migratory season,
the Hawk Watch and more bird walking. I may
need a new pair of hiking boots.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky. – William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)