2018 12 26 - Boxing Day
Colonel Sam Smith
Temperature: -1 degree C, cloudy, cold and windy
As a father to a new born, as well as a terrible two toddler I rarely get the opportunity to spend a morning, let alone a full day engaged with nature, and wildlife photography. By some miracle, my wife afforded me this privilege on the condition that I travel with my pooch the day after Christmas. After conducting a little bit of research on eBird (a great resource for searching bird locations) I decided to venture to a few familiar locations that I have not had the chance to visit in quite some time.
For any of your who have visited Colonel Sam Smith, it is a beautiful peninsula park located on the east end of lake Ontario with a wide variety of habitat - from the beaches to shrub land to a small pocket of mature forest. What drew my attention on this cold and windy morning was the sighting of a number of warblers. Common across many southern states, but rare to winter this far north particularly as the Canadian winter tends to be unbearably harsh for passerines, with only a few Kinglets and the odd Yellow Rumped Warbler able to withstand the constant sub zero temperatures and significant snow fall blanketing the insects that can be found beneath the leaf litter. This is why it is surprising that was still an Orange Crowned Warbler, as well as Palm and Nashville Warbler in the park.
Looking for a group of migrating warblers is a challenge to begin with, let alone trying to spot a single shy individual in a large park. The task requires a significant amount of patience. It is only with luck that I noticed the high pitched call of a number of Golden Crowned Kinglets foraging in the pines near the edge of the path. One thing I have learned from my time birding to date, is that Kinglets, as challenging as they are to photograph themselves are often an indicator species. Just as I narrowed my focus and turned my camera I caught the glimpse of the bird I came here to see. I credit the impressive speed of the D500 paired with the Sigma 500 F4 Sports for locking onto the Orange Crowned Warbler like a heat seeking missile. Even at 1/250 I was able to get a semi sharp shot, even though, as a result, the bird spotted my sudden movement and turned it's head allowing me to only get the back of the bird in sharp focus. Nevertheless I was lucky to get a snap of a lifer! I just hope this little bird starts the trek south soon, it seemed well fed, benefiting from a relatively warm winter to date. As I managed to find my lifer I packed up and headed across town to my next location: Riverwood Conservancy. Also the lesson from this adventure - always follow the Kinglet call.
The Riverwood Conservancy is a beautiful park that hugs the snaking Credit River. It's habitats include mature forests as well as shrub land and has a series of well kept bird feeders that attract a number of fairly common species, from white breasted nuthatches, to endless numbers of chickadees as well as the more elusive and skittish Red Bellied Woodpecker. It was for an excellent shot of this Woodpecker that I came to this conservancy even though I don't usually setup perches for birds. As my adventures include a 130 pound Bernese Mountain Dog although docile and friendly also has the unfortunate side effect of deterring interested feeder birds, and frankly I simply prefer a more natural but difficult setting. But armed with a set of peanuts, I decided to try something slightly different this time around. To my luck, the location I selected was fairly primed and once I spotted an adequate perch I soon heard the call of an inpatient hungry woodpecker. As if preordained, the clouds briefly parted and allowed the golden rays of the sun to break through which gave me the best shot I've ever taken of a Red Bellied woodpecker. It was a moment of sheer luck that everything aligned at the right moment.
If I wasn't lucky enough as I began to pack up I heard the call of a wren across the path. As I followed the noise it turned out to be a pair of Carolina Wrens dueling with a single winter wren for territory. I was surprised at how brave all the parties were during the exchange as well as the length of the challenge between the birds. Even though the earlier light had disappeared, I still managed to snap a number of shots of these stunning birds. Also note to self never %^$ with a Winter Wren, although small, this little guy was absolutely ferocious, and made the pair of larger Carolina Wrens retreat over territory to the other side of the path. Impressive mighty little bird.
With these shots and the fact that my wife was on duty for a number of hours I decided to call it a successful day. It's rare to get one 5 star shot of a bird or animal, let alone 3. A lucky day for sure!