13th International Migratory Bird Day at Toronto Zoo
Toronto Zoo held its 13th International Migratory Bird Day last Saturday, 12 May 2012. As has become something of a tradition, I joined the party by tagging along on the birding walk in the closed-off sections of the zoo.
The walk started at 8 am, and I boarded the first Red Rocket at College Station, just over 6 am, to be sure I’d be on time. I was lucky, as the train was one of the new ones. On the outside, they look like beat-up cheap cookie tins, but on the inside they are shiny, comfortable and above all, spacious.
The most spectacular part, however, is that there is no longer any separation between the cars, enabling one to walk from head to tail and back while the train is moving. Because it was so early, relatively few people had boarded the train, and I was able to take a picture of the back door, while standing with my back against the front door, and the other way.
As usual, the ride was a pleasant one. At the last stop on the Sheppard line, Don Mills station, it is necessary to transfer to the 85b bus. I had asked the bus driver if we were actually stopping at the entrance. When we were about to arrive, he told me. He did not have to do that, but he did, and it was highly appreciated by this rider.
Arriving at the Zoo entrance close to half an hour early, I was waved in by the guard who carefully explained how to get to the Conservation Connection Building. I arrived without a hitch. The weather was gorgeous, warm and very sunny, it looked like it was going to be a wonderful day.
That motivated me to say hello to the Conservation Connection Building’s close neighbour, the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). He was just enjoying his breakfast, feasting on steak sashimi. I wanted to join him, but he didn’t seem too keen on sharing.
Minutes later, organiser Elaine Christens arrived. We checked in and when everyone had arrived, we went on our way through and around the Indo-Malayan pavilion to join a path descending into the valley.
Right there on the path, the first animal someone noticed, was an American toad (Bufo americanus or Anaxyrus americanus). Ontario’s favourite flower, white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), was also present, although seemingly less than previous years. We also saw a hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). After a short excursion into a meadow, we continued on the path to join the track of the long-decommissioned monorail.
On the way, there was a butterfly that has so far not been identified, a blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) and an eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) that was repeatedly flying from one side of the Rouge river to the other side, and back.
One big advantage of following the monorail track is that it is easy to follow, impossible to get lost and that its height allows us to easily cross rough terrain that would at times be almost impossible to cross on foot. Also, while the track is sometimes at ground level, it is at tree-top level in other locations and anything in between.
We got a good view of significant erosion along the river, erosion that looks eerily similar as the renowned Scarborough Bluffs.
A second American toad did certainly not go unnoticed, followed by what was first thought to be a pine warbler, but turned out to be an American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).
Considered pests in Ontario, I couldn’t help but admire the tent of the eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum). After a second crossing of the Rouge river, the track slowly curves towards the Zoo’s Canadian domain. An American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) was noticed in the trees along the track, and while we were going around the field with American bison (Bison bison athabascae) that were being harassed by a rather brave wapiti (American elk, Cervus canadensis), a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) decided to have a closer look at us.
We passed alongside a mother American moose (Alces alces) with her baby, born Sunday, 6 May 2012. We finally arrived at the Weston Pond where a variety of wetland species can be observed. Although the pond is part of the Zoo, it is important to notice that the animals that live here, do so because they choose to live here. They are not, in the traditional sense, exhibits.
Among the species we have observed, were green frog tadpoles, painted turtle, several red-tailed hawks, a trumpeter swan, red-winged blackbirds, muskrat, several wood ducks and tree swallows.
The painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), is the only turtle species in Ontario that is not considered endangered in some way.
The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) was a nesting mother with seven eggs. From time to time, she was being harassed by a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) and attempted to bite it, without success.
There were several wood ducks (Aix sponsa), arguably Ontario’s most colourful duck. A couple of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) had taken up residence in a nesting box. One of them sat on a branch next to it, the other one was sticking her/his head out from the little entrance hole.
A rather large muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was ferrying branches to its residence. It is so big that some people mistake it for a beaver. It is not that hard to distinguish a muskrat from a beaver, however. Beavers have horizontally flat and broad tails. Muskrats, on the other hand, have much narrower tails that are flattened vertically.
Far away, so far in fact, that they were almost unidentifiable, were two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) sitting next to each other in a dead tree.
The most spectacular scene at the pond was doubtless the battle between a red-tailed hawk and a red-winged blackbird. The blackbird was harassing the hawk, but in the end, it became the hawk’s lunch, who happily carried it off.
The green frog tadpoles (Rana clamitans or Lithobates clamitans) are something one must see to believe. As tadpoles go, these things are huge. This is because they don’t develop into frogs until at least the winter after they hatch, they actually hibernate as tadpoles.
The Weston Pond provides a nice transition between the closed-off areas and the public areas of the Zoo. Make no mistake though, the Zoo does not only have “exhibits”. There is genuine wildlife to be found here.
Even though I didn’t specifically look for it, I still saw several Canada geese (Branta canadensis) with their goslings, a yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia), two young double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), several chipmunks (Tamias striatus) and an American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus).
And so, the Zoo’s 13th International Migratory Bird Day came to a close. As every year, the day was enjoyable, relaxing and interesting, this time even more so thanks to the magnificent weather, and the return home by TTC provided a nice and relaxing end to the trip.