The Best Worst Birding Day

Beloved Birders!

For those of you not following Toronto weather, the unimaginable happened on Saturday. The sun shone brightly all day and it was one of those perfect winter days, so bright I had to wear my sunglasses. After our endless stream of nonstop greyness, this was the day I’d been waiting for all winter. Actually, it was the day that reminded me how much I love winter when it cooperates with my one requirement: LIGHT.

I put on layers upon layers of woollens and headed out to Tommy Thompson Park. I didn’t think I’d make it very far because the main path had morphed into a skating rink, but once I got my footing and found patches of snow to walk on, I didn’t want to turn back. I searched for Snowy Owls on along the marina and didn’t find any. All the ducks I had seen a few weeks ago had migrated further down the peninsula because everything had frozen over. I walked for over an hour and saw nothing but a few gulls flying overhead. In fact, it took me an hour and a half until I saw my first Black-capped Chickadee! I wondered if this would be another one-bird day for me, but then I did see a few Common Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, Long-tail Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, White-winged Scoters, Greater Scaup — and they all positively glistened in the sun. I detected the greenish purplish hues on the Bufflehead, which one can only see in blazing sunlight. Even the Greater Scaup, which usually look dirty to me, seemed crisp. The Common Goldeneye was the showstopper yesterday, the sun hitting its dark head at such an angle that it looked like a majestic malachite. I kept eyeing the white spot on its cheek, to make sure it wasn’t elongated and that I wasn’t actually looking at a Barrow’s Goldeneye! Funny, a year ago, I wouldn’t have even thought to look. Even the common birds are now acquiring so much more nuance to me.

Let’s just say that the beauty of the day was disproportionate to the quality of birding. Apart from the 10 species of waterfowl, the chickadee and an American Tree Sparrow, I saw nothing. I know there are Northern Saw-whet Owls in the park and Common Redpolls, Northern Shrike, but none of them made an appearance for me. Every time I uttered a sigh of disappointment, I looked back out at the lake and couldn’t get enough of its blueness. This was a day unlike any we’ve had in the past, and it was also the rare occasion when my wardrobe choices were perfectly calibrated to suit the weather.

And just as I was leaving the park, thinking that in spite of the brilliant sunlight and perfect wintry landscape I probably didn’t have a blog post in me, because really, who wants to hear me wax lyrical about how much I love mid-winter light and about how I’ve been inhabiting a sad sea of greyness for the past two months, at that very second I saw a bird fly toward a lamppost in a decidedly non-pigeon kind of way. And knowing that it was exactly the size of a pigeon, I identified the American Kestrel even before I laid eyes on him. And there he sat, immersed in thought, surveying the area around him, while I got phenomenal looks at this wonder of a bird whose bright orange back with black stripes contrasts sharply with its deep blue-jeans-colored wings and black polka-dotted pale breast. How did nature come up with that one?

And suddenly the best worst birding day transformed into the best day. Period. To end the day by staring at a technicolor Kestrel is nothing short of magic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *