A Walk on the Ptui, Part Two

Well, that took a while...

A little over a month ago, I posted Part One of our adventures on the Ptui a.k.a. the Leslie Street Spit (hence the nickname). I fully intended to post Part Two within a week, but life and other adventures intervened.

Part One was about the landscape of Tommy Thompson Park, located on the Ptui. Today, I'm going to talk about birds. Because there were a lot of them, many that I hadn't seen in ages or even ever before. If you're a bird fanatic, you can do no better than taking a walk in this beautiful park - it's a stopover of the Spring and Fall migration routes.

The first part of the 5K path isn't terribly exciting. It takes a while to move into the park proper, but there was plenty of vegetation on the cusp of turning green and also interesting clouds of flying insects that we walked through. Tip: it's important to keep your mouth closed during such encounters! 

Clouds of flying insects also means birds. More specifically, swallows. And I was in heaven. I don't recall seeing swallows in the last 18 years of living downtown and seeing them flit about, swooping through the clouds of insects/flying food was a joy. They move fast, though. Really hard to photograph.

The first time I saw a redwinged blackbird was just this past April, when we wandered around the Toronto islands. Our day on the Ptui was the second. Second time, that is, not second bird. There were dozens, if not hundreds of them. I love their song and they are absolutely beautiful. They were doing a lot of flying about, too, crossing the path with no regard for humans. All of a sudden, you'd see a flash of red. This was also hard to photograph, so you'll have to make do with one that's seated.

At the end of the day, I'd seen 13 different birds, many new to me. One of the new ones was this, which is apparently a brown cowbird (charming name)

I'm not quite sure what this is, but it's cute and there are birches. And you know how much I love birches.

We wandered off the beaten path and instead of taking the more well-maintained road, took a turn towards the far side of the Spit. I needed to see open water with no land in sight. This path wasn't quite so well-maintained, but also brought us to a very interesting sight.

We heard them first and let's just say that the makers of Finding Nemo were right when they had the seagull screeching "mine, mine, mine!" Because that when we heard, except not screeched by one gull, but by hundreds and hundreds of them. Because on the south side of the Spit we found a seagull colony

Photo by David

As we wandered further out onto the path, I saw a flash of orange. Yet another new bird, this one Baltimore oriole

And now for the bird that has occupied my mind and attention to various degrees since that day in the park: the Doubled-Crested Cormorant. Because it turns out that there is a cormorant colony in Tommy Thompson Park and that this park has been one of the factors that is brought back the cormorant from the edge of extinction in the Great Lakes.

Throughout our walk, we saw black birds flying overhead, sometimes together, sometimes singly, and sometimes carrying nesting material in their beaks. The cormorants.

The colony nests in trees along the northern side of the Ptui, on the more protected stretch of shore facing the city. And they are hard on those trees, using the bark and leaves for their nests. This explains why that stretch of trees are essentially dead, something I've noticed from Sugar Beach, but didn't know why.

There are lots of cormorants. Five years ago, there were 30,000 and I suspect there are more now.We heard them first and they were as noisy or as the seagulls, although their cry is very different. The path leading to their nesting area is blocked and a sign tells you that these are sensitive birds that require privacy. Thankfully, I have a good zoom on my camera

I think any bird in such quantities would have captured my imagination, but there's something a bit special about cormorants. I always thought they were a bird of the coast and therefore something I'd never see in person. And here they were, hundreds, thousands of them, all chatting up a storm. It was incredible. I have told The Boy that we need to go back to visit again. Quietly and from afar, naturally.

There's a postscript to the story of the cormorants. A few weeks after our trip to the Ptui, I spent part of a Sunday on Sugar Beach enjoying the spring sun. And there were cormorants in the skies, clouds of them, hundreds and quite likely thousands of them. Flying singly, in small groups in larger flocks, and the majority of them going west. 

It was an incredible site, right out of the movie The Birds (except that these didn't attack). I've never seen so many birds and so concentrated a time — this happened over the course of 30-40 minutes. I took shot after shot, completely mesmerized by this natural phenomenon. Also somewhat astonished by the fact that I seem to be the only one absorbed in what was happening. Everyone around me were chatting, reading or taking selfies.

All these birds flying west made me a bit nervous, though. I wondered if they were abandoning the nests, so emailed my question to the birding center at Tommy Thompson Park. I got a reply from a very nice woman who explained that they had likely gone hunting and that they do this in groups to help each other. She also said "just wait until they involve the young." I'm astonished that I have never seen this before, given how much time I spend at Sugar Beach.

We'll definitely be going back and not just for the cormorants. We have to find the waterfowl colony that we heard from the Islands.


Fascinating, Lene! I really love birds, and I've never gotten to see orioles or cowbirds or cormorants in real life, in nature. What a great day that must have been!

I hope you're able to find the colony that lives near you.
Anonymous said…
i do love red-wing blackbirds, roosting on the tall weeds at the side of the road. a sign on spring! thanks for sharing.

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