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A great day for birds at High Park

Today’s nature walk with Miles Hearn took place at High Park, on a windy and cool morning. This is a great time to visit this Toronto treasure – before the cherry blossoms pull in crowds of people. They already have big signs up – don’t climb the trees – and they have staged dozens of port-a-potties for the occasion. As well, once the cherry blossoms get underway, all the roads in the park will be closed.

Before the cherry blossoms

We saw or heard 35 species of birds. By far the highlight was a great horned owl. This bird was way high up in a tree. To see some better photos of it, check out Miles Hearn’s site. He got some exceptional (and better focused photos).

We heard a number of red-bellied woodpeckers, and saw this one on the trail ahead of us.

There were also plenty of Downy Woodpeckers around this morning.

Male Wood Ducks seem like space alien ducks to me. They have incredible markings.

Aren’t they just fantastic?

Of course there were plenty of the usual suspects around the park, such as the friendly chickadees.

The ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were both flitting about in the trees. As usual, they were not so interested in staying still long enough to pose for me.

Across the pond we could see a couple Black-crowned Night Herons sitting on some logs, on the lookout for lunch.

As we walked along the Grenadier Pond, a Double-crested Cormorant swam along not far from shore, occasionally diving underwater for several seconds.

There were a few other ducks around, scaups, and buffleheads and of course mallards, and the ubiquitous mute swan.

There is one area of the park in which you can often see house finches and today was no exception.

There were some birds identifiable by their calls, which are hard to see in the woods. For instance we heard Black-throated Green Warblers today. They sound just like this (YouTube is very handy for bird calls!)

We also heard pine warblers in the woods. These are one of the only warblers to nest here.

And the blue-grey gnat-catcher…

Miles listed 35 species of birds identified today. Although I’m getting better at spotting and hearing different birds, I think without Miles there I would miss quite a few of these birds. I’m going to work on learning more of the calls, which seems to be key to success. Here’s the list as Miles posted on his site: double-crested cormorant, black-crowned night heron, mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, wood duck, lesser scaup. bufflehead, red-tailed hawk, ring-billed gull, mourning dove, great horned owl, belted kingfisher, northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, American robin, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue-gray gnatcatcher, pine warbler, black-throated green warbler, house sparrow, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, northern cardinal, house finch, American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, song sparrow.

I always enjoy seeing the Dawn Redwoods in High Park. They are deciduous conifers native to China.

There is a species of viburnum we see on many of our walks called a Wayfaring Tree. It is quite distinctive as you can see from my photo.

In some areas of the park, there were plenty of Russian snowdrops in bloom. Lovely!

There were still some Silver Maples in bloom…

And also some Elms…

One final highlight from today’s wonderful nature walk, were the turtles…

Next week we’ll be up at Sunnybrook Park.

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At the Spit

It has 3 names: The Outer Harbour East Headland (I’ve never heard anyone call it that), The Leslie St. Spit, or Tommy Thompson Park. The place is entirely man-made. Construction started on it in 1959. The purpose of the spit was for “port-related facilities”, but by the 70s it was no longer necessary for that use. By this time, though the landfill was becoming an urban wilderness.

It has become a great place for a walk, for birding, for cycling and other recreational uses. 316 species of birds have been recorded on the spit. How fantastic is that? It is one of the major rest-stops for birds migrating in either direction over Lake Ontario and as a result has become very popular among birders.

The spit goes way out into the lake, something like 5km. I believe there are over 18km of trails.

I drove across the city this morning and enjoyed a good walk in the park. Here’s some photos I snapped while I was there.

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Once a Day

I’m baking Easter bread this morning, and listening to April Verch’s fabulous new album, Once a day. This collection of classic Country & Western songs took me by surprise. I’ve been a fan of April Verch for years, and what I’ve come to expect is fantastic fiddle music, both in the Canadian and Appalachian old time traditions, mixed with superb step-dancing, occasional singing, and great duets with another of my fave performers, Joe Newberry – but this is something else altogether.

In the liner notes, Ms Verch writes, “From before I could even talk my parents would take us camping each year to the Lake Dore Country & Western Jamboree.” She’s clearly presenting a collection of a style of music she grew up with. The album contains a mix of tunes previously recorded by big name old school C&W performers such as Connie Smith, Webb Pierce, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Hank Snow, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose but to my delight it also has songs by the fabulous Ottawa Valley performer Mac Beattie, Lucille Starr, and Bob King, who sang with The Happy Wanderers in Ottawa.

On Lake Dore Waltz, April Verch sings with her dad (!!!), and channels the spirit of the late great Mac Beattie and his Ottawa Valley Melodiers. What a wonderful performance! And it’s no wonder, given the musicians assembled on this recording, including Al Perkins on pedal steel, Redd Volkaert on guitar, and Kenny Sears joining April Verch on fiddle.

Another suprise on this recording is a tune I know well, Durham’s Bull, by Buddy Durham. I learned this tune on banjo a couple years ago at Midwest Banjo Camp, taught by Cathy Barton Para (who sadly passed away just the other evening). It’s a great tune, and lots of fun to try to do on banjo, especially up to speed.

Growing up, I developed a fondness for this kind of classic Country & Western music. When I was a young boy, my dad bought me an old record player, the kind that needed a penny or two balanced on the needle to stop the record from skipping. The same day he gave me my first record, which was Walkin’ the Floor over you by Ernest Tubb. Dad used to tell me, “Son, there are 2 Hanks, Snow and Williams, and Snow is the best one”. April Verch’s Once A Day recording transports me right back to those days.

This album gets the 27th Street stamp of approval. Highly recommended.

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Two Owls

Long-eared Owl

We’ve just completed two new owl mosaics, a long-eared owl and a saw-whet owl.

Saw-whet owl

We are donated these mosaics for an upcoming fundraiser supporting the Pelee Island Bird Observatory.

You can see many of our mosaics at the Long Branch Mosaics page. We make all kinds of custom mosaic for home & garden.

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Cathy Barton Para RIP

I heard this morning that Cathy Barton Para has died. Cathy was without doubt my fave banjo player. I met her at Midwest Banjo Camp, and I can’t tell you how excited I was to have the opportunity to learn from her. Over 3 banjo camps, I attended as many of Cathy’s workshops and demos as I could get to. She was tremendously encouraging to me and I learned so many great tunes from her. I’m so sad to hear of her passing.

If you haven’t heard Cathy and Dave play, take some time and check out these videos and the others waiting for you on YouTube.

Filed under: RIP
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Spring asserting itself – Lambton Woods


What a lovely day for a nature walk. My cousin Wanda and I met up with Miles Hearn and our group at the James Gardens parking lot for a walk along the Humber River and in Lambton Woods.

As we crossed the bridge over the creek, I recalled bicycling here as a kid, stashing my bike in the bushes and spending hours looking for crayfish under the rocks.

As spring progresses, a week makes a huge difference. Today we found many more plants coming to life than last week at Humber Bay. The blooms on most of the silver maples were already spent, with these trees going into key production. There was one of these trees still in full bloom.

silver maple blooms

Coltsfoot was blooming. Later in the season we identify this plant by its distinctive leaves, but early on, the blooms begin before the leaves develop. Here’s Miles getting down to business photographing some coltsfoot blooms.

Bloodroot is another early bloomer…

Cattails were up…

As was Dame’s Rocket…

Lambton Woods hosts a great deal of skunk cabbage. You can see it growing almost anywhere there is water in the woods.

It’s also a great spot for trout lilies. They’re up but still very small….

We saw Winter Creeper, a variety of euonymus.

Virginia Waterleaf was up too. We’ll see this plant through most of the good weather.

This time of year, before the trees leaf out, one way to identify them is by their buds. Here is Manitoba Maple. This so-called “weed tree” often grows at strange angles.

Some of the trees can easily be identified by their bark, and bit by bit I’m learning to do this. One of these is Hop Hornbeam, sometimes called Ironwood. The bark appears to be made up of many rectangles, and it tends to peel off easily.

Hawthorns are also easy to identify early in season.

Also distinctive is the Large Tooth Aspen…

There were quite a few birds around today, mostly the usual suspects. This spot has quite a few Downy Woodpeckers. They Downys are easy to identiy by their small size. We also heard a Red-belly Woodpecker several times but only caught a glimpse of one and heard a Hairy Woodpecker and flickers as well.

Downy Woodpecker
Male Red-winged blackbird
Song Sparrow

A Baltimore Oriole nest from last year
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401 Diner

Yesterday I found myself having breafast with a couple palookas old friends at a diner hidden away in an industrial area near highway 401 somewhere in Etobicoke.

It turned out to be a really good old-school diner with formica tables and comfy booths and a good sausage and egg breakfast. I quite liked the place in spite of the strange locataion. Good company too.