#71 (03.11) The Spit

I had a yen to go birding, and it was a glorious day. Took me a set of English pancakes and three cups of coffee to get out the door — I’d like to blame the time shift but basically it was just sloth — but I got out and wandered around the Spit for the afternoon.

I knew it would be a winter duck festival, and there were hordes of the lovely long-tailed ducks, along with some beautiful red-chested mergansers, a few buffleheads (my spirit bird), mallards, redheads and lesser scaups.

(Long-tailed duck)

Too early for spring migrants, really, and I didn’t see any passerines for ages. But then, was in a wooded area near the cacophonous ring billed gull colony and saw a fleeting little dart of a bird, and had a pair of busy black capped chickadees.


I also saw a redpoll, which was a first for me in North America, and Finch tells me it’s a leftover winter visitor and will be heading north soon… along with a couple of killdeers and a single red-winged blackbird, the first signals of spring.

A cusp of a day in the hidden city.



My sweetie was here in TO this weekend, and we barely scrabbled our way out of the condo on Saturday — he ended up trapped in Newark by weather Friday night, a terrible thing when you come for this far for a long weekend — but we did manage to haul our arses out for a walk at the Spit Sunday afternoon.

The migrants have come and gone (though we did see a few yellow warblers and baltimore orioles), but the place was just bursting with baby birds.  This brings out the gooey broody side of me, and my voice rises about an octave.

We watched these baby swallows for a bit (the forked tails and tannish colour with the throat patch mark them as barn swallows), and I managed to capture a puzzling moment in the chaotic encounter.

It looks here like it’s the two parents coming to feed the chicks, but Finch looked closely at the pic and said that the one that is almost landing is in fact another chick that got pushed off the wire somehow and is trying to find its balance again.

It’s quite wondrous watching these things with someone who really understands the dynamics.  We found a breeding colony of Black Crowned Night Herons and Great Egrets that was just stunning.  The trees had these enormous fruits of adult and fledgling birds.

Baby great egrets just about to practice flapping.

A nest of four baby night herons.

An adult night heron watching patiently.

Deeper into the canopy, I could see the babies standing in their nests practicing flapping, and then swooping down.

Then I saw this one, in a tree fairly close to the ground,

A young night heron, sitting quietly on a branch.  But just a little close to the ground, and one of a pair.

I thought they seemed very quiet and tolerant of our presence.  But then Finch explained to me that they had landed there while trying to fly, and were now, essentially, stuck there.  That they would have to practice flapping for some time before they could be strong enough to lift themselves higher.  And their parents would feed them there, and keep an eye on them, and this could go on for days.

The vulnerability of these young birds is overwhelming.  If they fall out of the trees, Finch said, they attempt to climb back up. But I also noticed that the Spit conservation staff had put metal cladding around the trunks of the trees with nests in them, to prevent predators like squirrels and rats from disturbing the eggs.

We weren’t really supposed to be quite this close to the colony, but Finch knows how to walk softly and not disturb birds.  So I find myself under a canopy of life I had no idea existed.  The kind of thing “awe” was coined to describe.