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Thursday, June 8, 2017


Three years ago, on a sunny early June morning, I set out on a pleasant solo meander along the trails in Tommy Thompson Park, AKA the Leslie Street Spit.  The morning promised much; the grass was spangled with dew and the chorus of birds filled the air around me.  Most of the spring migrating songbirds had already passed through to their breeding ranges (except for a multitude of Cedar Waxwings) but there were plenty of birds going about the business of creating the next generation.  I saw already-half-grown Killdeer chicks and Canada Goose goslings grazing in the grasses.  Black-crowned Night Herons and cormorants competed noisily for nesting territory, while Great Egrets attended mates in full courtship finery.  Tiny Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats sang loudly in thickets, fiercely fending off rivals. 

Cedar Waxwing

Great Egret


As I headed out along a dyke to check for shorebirds in one of the large ponds, I spotted a family of Trumpeter Swans away over against the far shore.  I could see they had several cygnets and got excited, but they were too far away for photos.  I decided to sit down in the sunshine on the grassy dyke to take a snack break.  When I looked again, I could see the family of swans was headed across the pond in my general direction.  I think I dropped my protein bar and quickly stretched out in the grass, for fear of frightening them away.  I knew the cygnets were not far from hatching and probably hadn’t had any encounters with scary humans yet. 

I couldn’t believe it—they were coming straight for my little spit of land.  The cygnets pulled out in front and, one by one, until FIVE downy babies waddled out of the water and started up the dyke.  The little ones were leading their much more cautious parents without hesitation, right toward me! 


I pulled myself into a cross-legged position and sat quietly.  One of the adults stood back a bit, watching with a careful gaze, absolutely towering over me.  There was no mistaking who was boss in that moment!  The five cygnets actually settled down just in front of my crossed feet, nibbling at grasses, resting and preening, completely at ease and unthreatened.  I was a little dumbfounded by this sense of implicit trust they were demonstrating. 

Trumpeter Swans

After a long while, the cygnets got up and slowly wandered back down to the shoreline, adults in tow, and off they swam serenely together.  I still didn’t move for a time, a little blown away by the gentleness of that encounter.  I knew that many Trumpeter Swans are banded, wing-tagged and tracked, and that some were fairly habituated to humans, and in fact I have even hand-fed a tagged Trumpeter Swan at LaSalle Marina since then.  But these were untagged, unbanded, and this somehow made the encounter even sweeter.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


I had seen some photos of an “aberrant” swallow that had been spotted in the park recently so, when I visited on May 31, I kept my eyes open.  The Least Bittern decided to keep a very low profile that morning and the last day of the Whimbrel Watch was quiet.  While waiting, I noticed a swallow perched on a tuft of reed with unusual colouring in the area where the bittern had been seen (pic 1).
Pic 1
There had been speculation that this female-type bird was a cross between a Barn Swallow and a Bank Swallow, a case of delayed moult, or even partial leucism

While I was photographing the bird, a male Barn Swallow flew in and perched on the same Phragmites stem and launched into his love song while slowly sidling up the stem, getting closer and closer.  This bird obviously had no issues with hybrids or moults or lack of pigment—he sang and sang.  Our unusual swallow looked spectacularly uninterested and eventually flew off (pic 2).

Pic 2
After a weigh-in by experienced birder Alvaro Jaramillo, he suggested that this was a female Barn Swallow, possibly in her first spring, with a case of delayed moult.  He wrote, “This is what they tend to look like in winter down in South America, with short tails, mainly white underparts, and variable amounts of paleness on the face”.  He thought it strange that she had not yet changed to a brighter plumage (pic 3).

Pic 3