Category Archives: Nature Walk Reports

The Trumpeters Shall Sound / Bluffs: November 24, 2018


Trumpeter Swan

As a former French horn player, I love the brassy sounds made by the Trumpeter Swan. The air was ringing with them this morning.

Trumpeter Swans

By 1933, fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist and extinction seemed imminent. Fortunately a few populations were found, one of which was in a remote area of British Columbia.

Trumpeter Swan

Careful reintroductions by wildlife agencies and a group called the Trumpeter Swan Society gradually restored the North American population to over 46,000 birds by 2010.

Trumpeter Swan

The Bluffers Park area is the best place in this area to see and hear the trumpeters; the heaviest living bird native to North America.

Trumpeter Swan

It was a beautiful sunrise this morning with a temperature of about 0 degrees.

Here are some early morning photos from the Bluffs:

St. Augustine’s Seminary

If you look carefully, you can still see a bit of the blue colour of Heart-leaved Aster flowers:

Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Some interesting tree fungii:

There is a rock at the Bluffs where some kind soul leaves feed every morning. This enabled me to get the following photos:

American Tree Sparrows

American Tree Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker (female)

Chickadee, Tree Sparrow and Cardinal

Blue Jay

Species list: trumpeter swan, Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, bufflehead, common goldeneye, ring-billed gull, mourning dove, rock pigeon, downy woodpecker, blue jay, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, red-winged blackbird, northern cardinal, house sparrow, dark-eyed junco, American tree sparrow.  (20 species)
Miles Hearn
                                        NATURE POETRY
Besides the Autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze.
 – Emily Dickinson (1830–86)




Great Black-backed Gull / Humber Bay: November 23, 2018


It’s times like this when I really miss my Grandfather; ornithologist Dr. J. Murray Speirs.

In his day, he was the recognized gull identification expert in Southern Ontario. If there was a group of 500 gulls standing on ice in the lake, he would carefully inspect each through the lens of his telescope. If I were with him, my job was to carry this heavy item and set it up. Then I would stand shivering for however long it took him to fully inspect the flock.

To most people all gulls look alike. Most of the gulls that we saw this morning were Ring-billed Gulls which are about 19 inches (48 cm) long. During several instances of the walk, we did see a few much larger gulls. In fact, one of them stood directly in front of us on the path enjoying what appeared to be a recently caught catfish:

Earlier, I had seen probably the same bird with the same meal on the beach:

Later it continued munching in the lake:

It is clearly a gull, but to identify it, I pulled out three different field guides which feature many photos and drawings of gulls. The photographed gull is an immature gull which are more difficult to identify than adults. They are usually darkest the first year, lighter the second, and in the larger species may not be fully adult until the third or fourth year.

So what is the large gull we saw this morning?

After looking at dozens of photos and drawings, I have come to the conclusion that it is a Great Black-back Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull

It is likely a second-cycle gull with its distinctive stout bill with a paler base, low-sloping forehead and whitish ground colour to head and underparts. Great Black-backs are 28 – 31 inches long (70 – 78 cm)

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Here are some photos from Humber Bay on this 0 degree day which started cloudy and became sunny as we walked.

There is lots of Nannyberry at Humber Bay and here is a photo of the distinctive bud:

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

Beavers are also present:

We had 22 bird species and here are some of them:

Common Goldeneye (male)

Red-necked Grebe (winter plumage)

Long-tailed Ducks (male)

Downy Woodpecker

Song Sparrow


American Wigeon (male)

Hooded Merganser (female)

Hooded Merganser (male) and Gadwall (male)

Gadwall (female)

Mute Swan

Mallard (male)

Mallard (male) “tipping” for food

and a few Great Blue Herons:

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Species list: red-necked grebe, great blue heron, mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, American wigeon, redhead, bufflehead, lesser scaup, long-tailed duck, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, red-breasted merganser, great black-backed gull, herring gull, ring-billed gull, downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, northern cardinal,  song sparrow.  (22 species)

Miles Hearn

                                              NATURE POETRY

Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips
The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd.

– Alice Cary (1820–71)




An All-European Forest / Col Sam Smith Park: November 22, 2018


If a 15th-century First Nations person were to enter the small forest just east of the skating rink today at Col Sam Smith Park, they would be unfamiliar with the four dominant tree species which now comprise this area.

It would be clear that they are seeing an elm, a maple, a basswood and a spruce but each tree in the forest differs significantly from native tree species.

That is because they would be seeing Wych Elm, Norway Maple, European Linden and Norway Spruce. All of these species were planted by the early Europeans who settled in this area and all have become naturalized.

Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra)

Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra)

European Linden (Tila cordata)

European Linden (Tila cordata)

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

Here are some scenes in and near the forest on this -10, sunny morning. It was the coldest November 22 morning on record.

A former Baltimore Oriole nest:

Baltimore Oriole nest

I had company while taking the forest photos:

Mourning Dove

We were fortunate to see a small flock of elusive American Pipits along the shoreline:

American Pipit

American Pipit

Other birds that I was able to photograph:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Mute Swan

Red-breasted Mergansers


Common Goldeneye (female)

American Robin

Species list: red-necked grebe, mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, gadwall, bufflehead, greater scaup, long-tailed duck, red-breasted merganser, greater black-backed gull, ring-billed gull, mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, American robin, ruby-crowned kinglet, American pipit, house sparrow, northern cardinal, American goldfinch.  (20 species)
Miles Hearn
                                           NATURE POETRY
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.
  – Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)



Big and Small / Ashbridge’s Bay: November 21, 2018


If you look at tree buds of an older tree, a younger tree, the top of the tree or the bottom of the tree, they are all about the same size. Here are some buds from a Sugar Maple:

Sugar Maple (Acer Saccharum)

One tree species commonly found along sandy stretches of Lake Ontario differs greatly by having a large variety of bud sizes:

These are the buds of the Eastern Cottonwood.

The buds are somewhat three-sided:

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

They are slender and long-pointed:

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

yellowish-brown and very resinous:

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

Here are some scenes from Ashbridge’s Bay on this somewhat sunny day, with very high winds and a temperature of 0 degrees.

The snow in the ground was very granular:

As usual at this location, the chickadees were delighted to see us:

Black-capped Chickadee

We also had good looks at these birds:

Brown Creeper

Long-tailed Duck

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Species list:  mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, bufflehead, long-tailed duck, common merganser, lesser scaup, ring-billed gull, black-capped chickadee, brown creeper, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern cardinal.  (13 species)

Miles Hearn


The geese honked overhead
I ran to catch the skein
To watch them as they fled
In a long wavering line.

– May Sarton (1912–95)






A Honeysuckle Mystery / Marie Curtis Park: November 20, 2018


For the past few years I’ve noticed a very tall Honeysuckle shrub at Marie Curtis Park which is still loaded with fruit even as the snow sets in:

I assumed that it was one of our common Tartarian Honeysuckles which, for some reason, held its fruit for a long time.

In October, I noticed the same species loaded with fruit at Rouge Hills.

Here is what Honeysuckle berries normally look like in late fall:

Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

And here are the egg-shaped leaves of Tartarian Honeysuckle:

Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

This morning I went and had a good look at the unusual Honeysuckle at Marie Curtis Park. The leaves have sharp points and are obviously of a different species:

Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)

A little research (thank-you Google Images) tells me that this species is called Amur Honeysuckle.

The berries are numerous, more crowed than on Tartarian Honeysuckle and persist well into the fall.

Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)

Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)

Amur Honeysuckle is an Asian species, cultivated for the attraction its red berries have for birds. Due to ready avian distribution, it is becoming more common in our area.

Mystery solved!

Here are some views of the park on this 0 degree, sun / cloud mix morning:

By the conclusion of the walk, the sky was very blue:

There were few birds in the forest and fields but here are a few from the Etobicoke Creek:

Hooded Merganser (male)

American Black Duck with a few white head feathers

Buffleheads (male)

Common Goldeneye (female)

This female Goldeneye appears to have formed a bond with the male Hooded Merganser and I see them together each time I have been here lately.

Here are some geese who were high in the sky:

Canada Geese

Species list: Canada goose, mallard, American black duck, bufflehead, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, red-breasted merganser, ring-billed gull, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, northern cardinal, American goldfinch, song sparrow.  (17 species)
Miles Hearn
                                              NATURE POETRY
The soft November days are here,
The aftermath of blossom’s year.
 – Sara Louisa (Vickers) Oberholtzer (1841–1930)



A Different Rose / Bluffs: November 19, 2018


Last week in “Hips”, I featured the Sweetbrier plant. This morning, I went early to take photos of another large rose shrub called Multiflora Rose.

The hips are small and roundish rather than the larger and more pronounced football-shape of Sweetbrier:

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

A native of eastern Asia, Multiflora Rose was long unwisely recommended for “living fences” and is now an aggressive weed in some parts of North America.

The new growth is an attractive bright green:

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

There are fewer and smaller thorns than with Sweetbrier:

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Here are some leaves which were still hanging on:

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Here is a picture of the flowers from last spring:

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

Some images of the Bluffs area as it looked on this 3 degree, sunny morning:

Most of the birds we saw were congregated around the duck pond area:

female Mallard with American Black Duck

Mallard sleeping with one eye open

Trumpeter Swan and Ring-billed Gull

or in the area where feed is put on a rock daily near the parking lot:

Dark-eyed Junco

House Sparrows

White-throated Sparrow

Red Squirrels are often in this area as well:

Red Squirrel

We did spot a Mourning Dove in the upper Bluffs area:

Mourning Dove

Miles Hearn

                                             NATURE POETRY

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins  1844 – 1889






Three Little Ducks / Humber Bay: November 17, 2018

During the cold weather months, you can regularly see the three smallest duck species in North America at Humber Bay East.

The Ruddy Duck; 15 inches long, 18.5 inch wingspan and a weight of 1.2 pounds.

Ruddy Duck (sleeping)

Ruddy Ducks with Lesser Scaup

The Bufflehead; 13.5 inches long, wingspan 21 inches and a weight of 16 ounces

Bufflehead (male)

The Hooded Merganser; 18 inches long, wingspan 24 inches and a weight of 1.4 pounds

Hooded Mergansers (with female Gadwall)

Long-tailed Ducks have returned to this area as well:

Long-tailed Duck (female)

This female mallard races towards us during every visit to the pond area and comes extremely close in hopes that we bring food:

Mallard (female)

Cardinals are is easy to spot:

Northern Cardinal (male)

Here is a late-in-the-season juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron:

Black-crowned Night Heron (juvenile)

Black-crowned Night Heron (juvenile)

We also encountered a flock of about 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers on several occasions:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Yellow-rumped Warbler (photo: Ken Sproule)

and were fortunate to observe a perched Peregrine Falcon:

Peregrine Falcon

Species list:  great blue heron, black-crowned night heron, mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, northern shoveler,  ruddy duck, common goldeneye, bufflehead, long-tailed duck, hooded merganser, red-breasted merganser, peregrine falcon,greater black-backed gull, ring-billed gull, belted kingfisher, black-capped chickadee, American robin, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler, house sparrow, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, American goldfinch.  (25 species)

A Muskrat was out in the pond:


and some Velvet-leaf was also spotted:

Velvet-leaf (Abutilon theophrasti)

Here are some scenes from the park on this overcast, 2 degree morning:

Miles Hearn

                                             NATURE POETRY

Dry leaves upon the wall,
Which flap like rustling wings, and seek escape;
A single frosted cluster on the grape
Still hangs—and that is all.

– Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (1835–1905)