21 February 2010

A day to go a-wandering

It was sunny, and warm—high of 5℃— as forecast, so I took me, my contact lenses, and my new attempt at a birding bag out to Tommy Thompson park to see what I could see.

The attempt at a birding bag is the Think Tank Change Up which has the considerable virtue of being deep enough for my binoculars, large enough to contain something like lunch as well as the binoculars, and not so large my tendencies toward bringing spare plumbing for the kitchen sink can get out of hand.  Oh, and it has what is essentially a book pocket, very important in a birding bag.

I'm going to redact my notes, rather than giving a species summary; I think that does a better job of conveying what the walk was like.

I saw, perched in a tree,  a juvenile red-tail before actually getting to the park.  Because juvenile red-tails have a fawn-and-black barred tail, rather than the red tail, and because it was facing dead away from me, I got quite excited that I'd managed to see an unusual raptor for a moment, and then the white scapular V registered.  It was still a good close view.

Getting to the park, I headed back out again along the eastern edge that leads into Ashbridges Bay, because I was trying to get a good enough look to tell what the substantial flock of ducks off in the distance in that direction were.
(This whole "what is that" impluse seems to get more pronounced with time.)

That turned out to be a well-distributed flock of at least 70 long tailed ducks; five bufflehead, three males displaying to two females; one surf scooter, a pair of Barrow's goldeneye (woot!), about five common goldeneye, about 20 gadwall, 12 mallards, at least 70 common merganser, and about 3 red-breasted merganser in amongst the commons.

About a km further out, there were antoher 10 red-breasted merganser, and an uncountable number of long-tailed ducks; widely distributed actively diving ducks take video equipment to get a decent count.  A certainly saw at least 20 surfaced at one time.

The first tiercel kestrel in a tree was a surprise; the second was somewhat astonishing. (Can't have been the same bird; the first flew while the second was in view, though not yet identified.)

The ice is still mostly in on the western, harbour-side tern platform cove/inlet, but not completely; there were 10 mallard and 2 bufflehead feeding in the patch of open water.

The ice is still there but not completely in front of the cormorant colony; there were 2 common goldeneye, about 35 scaup (I will claim greater scaup), 3 long-tail ducks, a dozen mallard and one possible black duck roosting on the ice, and five mallard in the water.

Cell 3—I think it's Cell 3, across the floating bridge from the cormorant colony—had more open water, and from the shape of the ice edges it's an honest-to-Tiwaz sound. (Presumably wind, rather than current, generated.)

There I observed one great black-backed gull, 9 herring gull, and a single ring-billed gull, all standing on the ice in tones of sullen disapproval; at least 30 long-tailed duck; at least 30 common golden-eye; at least 20 common merganser, at least 16 greater scaup, and at least 120 red-headed duck.

At which point I noticed that my hands were cold and that my gloves were missing, so I headed back.  It's amazing how effective walking quickly while angry with one's own stupidity is at keeping one's hands warm.

No luck with owls, despite looking (it might be too clement for owls on the spit, or it might be a bad year for bunnies, or, most probably, I might not know the first thing about finding roosting owls); I saw what I would have identified as black bear scat anywhere else, and have to suppose either a very large dog as ought not to be there (I did see one seeing-eye dog, but generally dogs are not permitted in the park) or that a coyote has been into the castor oil.

It felt far more like late March than mid-ish February; the ground isn't actually frozen and there is only remnant snow in locations the wind might have piled it two or more meters thick.  Buds are showing on pussywillow stems and willow trees generally; the beaver colony is clearly reproducing (and gnawing merrily on anything tasty); from the tracks, either there are blessed large coyotes or someone is bringing their dog into the park quite a bit and it's a big dog. (100 lb or so.)  I'd be delighted at the prospect of actual wolves in Toronto but I'm funny that way and wonder very much what even an 80 lb wild canid would be eating. (or maybe this is why there's a shortage of bunnies in the park this year...)  The water is very low; almost a metre below normal levels.  I shall have to hope the runoff from parts well north is good and the lakes pick up in the spring.

Displaying bufflehead drakes are amusing; displaying common golden-eye are comical, once one recognizes that, no, that duck is not being electrocuted. (Golden-eye have dark heads, white necks, and much fluffier heads than necks; they stretch their neck out as far as it will go backwards over their tail, and gape (and possibly quack; too far away to hear, and besides there were long-tailed ducks murpling away amongst themselves so making anything else difficult to pick out) while swinging their head forward into lunging position while bouncing up and down in the water.

While my spotting-scope continues to be much more useful with contacts than glasses, I am increasingly of the opinion that what I want is more reach. Preferably lots more reach.  The trick is remembering I'm going to have to carry any attempts at producing greater reach for distances of not less than 10 km from time to time. (Yes, I've been seriously thinking about using a Celestron C8 for terrestrial observation, but thankfully so far I've always then suffered a rush of sense to the head.)

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