Monday, November 11, 2013

Ontario: Spring in Mississauga

With one thing and another, I don't always find myself at home in Mississauga, Ontario, in early May.  I often miss the first flush of spring flowering, the leafing-out of the trees and the return of migratory songbirds.  Readers of this blog might come away, as a result, thinking that there is little around my home worth reporting.  This entry, covering May 12-14, 2012, is intended therefore as something of a corrective. 

Only a short distance from our home is Erindale Park, along the wooded banks of the Credit River.  The duck in the lower picture is, of course, a male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos).

 Spotted Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum)
Our walks along the riverbank in Erindale Park turn up common flowers like this Spotted Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum)…

Smaller Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis cf laxa)
…forget-me-nots (I believe this one is the Smaller Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis laxa)…

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)
…and common birds like Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapilla).

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)
One young lady we met seemed on particularly close terms with the chickadees!

Further south, where the Credit River empties into Lake Ontario, is the Rattray Marsh Conservation Area, a popular spot among local birders (and others).

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
Here we found Ontario's provincial flower, the White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), at the peak of bloom (the white flowers turn pink as they fade).  They should not be picked - the flowers are on a very short stem, and if they are picked with the leaves the plant may die.

Gray Catbird (Dumatella carolinensis)
The return of spring filled the woods at Rattray's with newly-returned migrants, mostly insectivorous species whose food supply had vanished with the coming of winter.  This is a Gray Catbird (Dumatella carolinensis) - for my Malaysian readers, the family to which it belongs, the Mimidae (which also includes mockingbirds and thrashers) contains the closest native relatives in the Americas to starlings and mynas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea), usually a more southerly species, has become commoner in Ontario in recent decades. 

Blue-headed Vreo (Vireo solitarius)
Vireos are, despite their undramatic colours, interesting birds (my MSc supervisor, the late Jon Barlow, was a leading expert on the family).  They are of Australasian origin, and how they got to the Americas was something of a mystery until DNA studies proved that they had relatives - the White-bellied Erpornis (Erpornis zantholeuca) and the shrike-babblers (Pteruthius) - in eastern Asia.  The ancestors of the American vireos, in their turn, presumably crossed over from Asia.  This one is a Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius), a passage migrant that will breed not far to the north.

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus)
This is a Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus), a bird that, despite its name, flies to the north woods to breed.  At Rattray's it's just passing through, with a long way still to go.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
OK, birders in Asia pay attention:  This is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  Song Sparrows (indeed all native American sparrows) are not sparrows (Passeridae).  They are buntings, members of the family Emberizidae.  However, the native birds we call buntings in North America - with one exception, the Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) - are not buntings, but either cardinal-grosbeaks (Cardinalidae) or members of a newly-recognized family including snow buntings and longspurs (Calcariidae).  Got that?  Anyway, the Song Sparrow is a common and much-loved species in North America, with an instantly-recognizable song that is probably one of the first most American birders learn.

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
This is its cousin the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), which despite its name isn't particularly partial to swamps.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
The male Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) is one of the loveliest of our spring and summer visitors.  To continue our confusing-name scheme: from a Malaysian birder's point of view this is not an oriole.  "True" orioles (Oriolidae) do not occur in the Americas.  The birds we call orioles here are members of the American blackbird family (Icteridae), and their closest relatives in Asia are, again, buntings.  The black-and-orange colour scheme of the Baltimore Oriole undoubtedly reminded early European naturalists of the European Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), one of the "true" orioles.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Not every bird in the woos at Rattray's Marsh leaves for the winter.  The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), here exploring  a fallen log, is a resident.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
So is the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)...

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
…and the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals).  Seed-eaters (and birds like woodpeckers and chickadees that can find overwintering insects on trunks or limbs) can find food in the winter, and don't necessarily need to migrate (though some, like the Song Sparrow, do anyway).

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are surprisingly common around Mississauga for such a large animal  At night you can even find them wandering around the Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto.  At Rattray's they are off limits to hunters, and, like this male just starting to regrow his antlers, are quite tame.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Rattray's Marsh does, of course, contain a marsh!  Here we found a mother Mallard with her ducklings...

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
…and a male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), most colourful of or ducks, making his way upstream.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
At the foot of the  marsh, and out on the open waters of Lake Ontario, are Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator), largest of our waterfowl, a once-endangered species subject to a local reintroduction program (notice the wing tag in the lower photograph).

At the mouth of the Credit, trees silhouetted against the sky in the fading light make for attractive photography (and allow me to close this tribute to Mississauga nature with an "as-the-sun-sinks-slowly…" moment - at least until the next post, which will look at some of our early spring butterflies).

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