It’s March and in honor of almost-Spring — let’s call it pre-Vernal excitement — I took the plunge and went on an outing with a different bird group. I haven’t abandoned my wondrous birders, but they were traveling to Algonquin yesterday and my social calendar didn’t permit such an indulgence (14 hour birding day). So I joined the CCFEW bird walk in Humber Bay Park (East) yesterday morning. And you know what? It was fantastic. Not as intimate as my usual bird outings (where we number anywhere from 2-8), since there were 28 of us (!!!), but it was still absolutely engrossing and I didn’t mind standing in front of Lake Ontario staring at water fowl until my feet froze.
I began my day with a requisite stop to Birds and Beans, Toronto’s best kept coffee secret, where I enjoyed a phenomenally dark-roasted coffee and had another taste of that hearty muffin in the shape of a cookie.
My faithful readers will remember that I have been to Humber Bay Park before — about a month ago, in fact — and saw next to nothing save a Mockingbird and a Juvenile Night Heron (the ice and wind were dismal and the birds clearly at better places to be). I’m happy to report that both were still there yesterday morning! In fact, we saw 3 Night Herons (possibly four, but they all looked quite alike and it turns out I’m not so good at counting identical looking birds), two of which were perched and one flying above. I’m glad the lone bird we saw a month ago is clearly alive and thriving!
The piece-de-resistance of the day was a Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), which I finally managed to ID and remember. Its tail is properly exquisite and I saw at least a dozen of them (image from Wikipedia).
It was a splendid Waterfowl day. The Long Tailed Ducks hung out with Gadwalls, Bufflehead (formerly my favorite duck because it was the only one I could recognize, apart from a Mallard!), Greater Scaup (or lesser scaup — I can’t tell the difference), and some sort of hybrid Mallard (I was too busy staring at the Long-Tailed Duck to follow the conversation about the hybrids, so I’m not quite sure who mated with whom to produce a duck that looked pretty much like every other Mallard, save one defining trait that I missed entirely).
Our illustrious guide, Don Burton, and other gracious & very knowledgeable birders with scopes showed us two plump, sleeping Northern Pintail Ducks on a log. I missed the Widgeon, and there was a whole series of brown ducks that I couldn’t tell apart (by this point my feet were numb and I could barely feel my fingers). There were also mute swans, Canada geese and Wild geese flying overhead, a Teal of one persuasion or another, a White Winged Scoter, three Red Breasted Mergansers doing their flirtation dance for a female, who swam among them but remained visibly unimpressed.
Since I’m deeply marked by Bird Coiffures, you’ll understand why I stood before this Red-breasted Merganser even as my poor extremities threatened to turn to ice (photo by Erik Nielson).
And then, at the end of the morning, I saw a rare duck! It had an extraordinarily long bill, its plumage was variegated, it stood remarkably still and when I called another more experienced birder, he looked through his binoculars and said, “Oh, it’s a log!”
To round out the day, we also had Cardinals, Grackles, Starling, a couple chickadees, Robins and Redwinged Blackbirds! I’m going to leave you with a great video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology about a very different kind of March Madness that has — predictably– nothing to do with basketball. It’s not too late to cast your vote for what might turn out to be the winning bird of 2012!