Tag Archives: kestrel

The Perfect No-Shrike Day

Beloved birders!

Some days just work, even when you wake up and the weather network says -11 degrees Celsius, and you put on an extra sweater and head out anyway. On your way you notice that it’s 6:45 am and it’s light out, and for a minute you fear you’ve read the time wrong, but no. It seems that the light has snuck back, miraculously.

Before you know it you’re standing in Lasalle Marina, staring at a Wood duck, wondering how nature created such a thing. It dawns on you that you first saw a wood duck in this very place three (or was it four?) years ago. You’ve seen other wood ducks since, and they’re all marvellous, but the Lasalle Marina wood ducks hold a special place in your heart. There’s something about site fidelity — not just the birds’ but your own as well; you’re an incorrigible creature of habit. Waterfowl abounds here: canvasback, redheads, common goldeneye, red-breasted mergansers, and a lone American coot. You even see a pair of overexcited mallards engaging in some early spring canoodling. Your feet are freezing, but you know there’s a Carolina wren singing somewhere in the thickets and you won’t stop until you see it. It turns out the repeated triplets — some say it sounds like teakettle or Germany — are sung by a stunning pair of cinnamon-colored beauties with light polka dots on the wings with a gorgeous cream-colored eye-stripe. They spent their time ducking in and out of the thickets, hopping from branch to branch. Nearby, a brown creeper makes his way up a tree-trunk, and by this point you can no longer feel your feet.

You cash in your free coffee win at Tim Horton’s (you could have won a Honda civic, but you already have a car, so what would you do with two when your husband can’t even drive? A free coffee turns out to be better than a car), eat a few timbits and off you go to Hamilton/Burlington, where you catch a glimpse of an Eastern screech owl in a cemetery, and then head up the mountain where you’re rewarded with gorgeous views of an American kestrel, killdeer, a northern mockingbird and a completely unexpected northern flicker. There were other highlights of the day, including a Peregrine falcon hanging out in its usual place on the lift bridge, a white-winged scoter, a yellow-rumped warbler and a possible eastern meadowlark.

Mind you, the day wasn’t all perfect: we saw numerous leaf-birds and branch-birds and twig-birds. At one point someone mistook the meadowlark for a rough-legged hawk. The northern shrike we chased all morning had other plans today and was nowhere to be found. And yet even in its imperfection — warts and all — there’s nowhere else I would have rather been instead.

And throughout the day, the most comforting soundtrack accompanied us: the song of a red-winged blackbird. It’s my spark bird — this raspy yelp (I think it’s an anapest) that has now become synonymous with spring.

Healing Properties of November

It’s official, dearest Birders. The only way to get through November is to embrace its shortened days, dearth of light, early winter onset fully, put on those rain pants over pants over long underwear, zip up that parka over sweater over cardigan over thermal shirt over t-shirt and get thee to the nearest park, binoculars in hand. The effects are properly regenerative.

This past Saturday we headed out to Hamilton in search of the likely confused or disoriented Wilson’s Phalarope (why he is still in Ontario in mid-November is either a grave error or a colossal mystery). I’ve seen a Red phalarope before, but the Wilson’s turned out to be a lifer in spite of the less than hospitable weather. The lake was frozen over save a patch of water, and that’s exactly where we found him, swimming frenetically in what resembled a jig-like posture as if he couldn’t tell whether to dance or swim and attempted a mix of the two, next to a Pectoral Sandpiper. He put on a ten-minute show for us before disappearing behind a conglomeration of cattails. It’s rare that a target bird appears as if on cue, and I found the experience almost disorienting. Sometimes it feels more rewarding to work for the sighting, even if one misses it in the end. But I embraced the opportunity to see a Wilson’s phalarope. I never tire of these polyandric birds with reverse sexual dimorphism. Sounds racy and progressive even by bird standards!

We saw Cedar waxwings, American robins, Chickadees, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Downies, Blue jays, Golden crowned Kinglets, American goldfinches, and then, when I thought my ID skills could get no more impressive, I saw something swoop down into an open field and called out SNOW BUNTING! For some reason I had been craving a snow bunting all morning in my fierce desire to embrace winter… Well, that sure put me in my place. Birding has a way of doing that to you — just when you get overly confident, the universe corrects itself and humbles you. In the end the bird turned out to be an American kestrel (!), but lest I feel completely defeated, I was congratulated on my sighting and ability to detect the bird’s pointy white wings.

The first real winter day would have been incomplete without an owl sighting, and we happened upon a magnificent Eastern Screech owl (grey morph) taking in the midwinter sun. Here he is, terrifically peaceful. Note the fetching winter sunbathing pose. (photo by Lyle J.)


It turned out to be a spectacular day. But really, how could it not? Winter sun, binoculars, birds — beware November! I know how to thwart your depressive ways.

And in case you missed my piece about competing in my first Birdathon, here it is, sans paywall, in Maisonneuve Magazine. If you’re looking for a fantastic birdy read, I would definitely urge you to pick up Tim Birkhead’s Bird Sense. Here’s my exuberant review of the phenomenal book on the ABA website.

Onwards with November!