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Snow, sleet and a Black-crowned Night Heron

January 28, 2012

I’m beginning to think I like extreme weather birding. In all areas of my life, I seem to practice extreme moderation, but when it comes to birding, I love harsh weather conditions. Today was, in all honesty, a truly dismal day. A fine mixture of snow, rain and gusts of wind accompanied us on our venture out to Humber Bay Park where for a long time, we saw absolutely nothing, and marveled at our sanity for going out in such inhospitable conditions in search of (you guessed it) owls. And then, we noticed a brown mound up in one of the spruce trees that turned out to be a juvenile Black-Crowed Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)! The bird also has the best sounding Latin binomial, but that’s neither here nor there, perhaps just a good mnemonic… Here’s a photo by the venerable Tom Grey, though the bird we saw was slightly more beige in coloring and was perched up on a tree, looking totally lost and confused to still be on the shores of Lake Ontario instead of flying through warmer climes…

I hope the bird survives our winter (such as it is)! We saw a majestic Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), which looked gargantuan as it towered over the horde of Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis). And mergansers and Gadwalls (Anas strepera) and Bufflehead all bouncing about in the waves. There were other folks in the water, but my eyes were watering, the wind was ruining my hairdo and my waterfowl ID skills (such as they are) suffered on account of the natural conditions. From Humber Bay Park we drove to Kipling Spit, saw nothing apart from a lone Mockingbird, and were nearly flattened by the wind.

Weather aside, the morning couldn’t have been better. The day actually began with a trip to Toronto’s best-kept coffee secret, Birds and Beans, where I bought two pounds of Brazilian coffee beans, ate what literally tasted like a bowl of oatmeal in the shape of a cookie (YUM!), and had a fantastic cup of strong coffee. In fact, the weather conditions brought us to Birds and Beans twice this morning! Once before and after the Mockingbird sighting. The coffee shop really is spectacular, with close-up photos of birds lining the walls. I sat under a luminous Indigo Bunting and it made my day.

Overly caffeinated, we set out for our last stop, the Humber Arboretum. It’s a good thing we didn’t peter out after the Mockingbird, because things really picked up at the Centre for Urban Ecology, which not only sports a tremendous bathroom with an elaborate eco-friendly flushing system (would that all bathrooms were so environmentally savvy) but also has a fantastic bird-feeder outside!  We saw scores of chicadees, goldfinch, house finch, a glorious downy, and — the piece de resistance — a Redpoll (which I’m not 100% sure I actually saw, but I know it was there).

Alas, no owls today, but we had an unexpected find, a few great looks at birds I’ve already seen but also had a chance to forget, a couple astounding cups of coffee and a great day, all in all.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 15, 2012 11:53 am

    Hi Julia!

    Thanks for commenting on my snowy owl poem! It’s great to be in touch with you again. I LOVE your blog – gorgeous, beautifully written, informative and totally exciting (you’re really a great birder)… I’m your follower now 🙂 I’ll share your link with my mother, another avid birder, she’ll no doubt get addicted to your sightings.

    Nycticorax nycticorax (hehe) often show up at my Mom’s place, but more in the summer.

    I once handled an enormous, injured Herring Gull at Ottawa’s Wild Bird Care Centre, when I volunteered there. We had to wear heavy-duty, reinforced gloves so it wouldn’t snap off our fingers with its bill. That’s also where I got to admire a Common Loon (they’re anything but ‘common’!) very close-up, with its ruby-red eyes flashing in fear and its mezzo-soprano, distressed-diva alarm call (no other words for it)…

    So glad to meet another birder here. Are you participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend?

    Good luck on your bird outings!

    PS. I am a HUGE fan of Birds and Beans coffee!

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