Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Canada Trip part 3; 22-24 August. BEARS!!

22 Aug
we left Mt Owl's Head mid-morning, heading out of Quebec and into Ontario. Before we left I mustered up two Blue jays, an American Robin and one last look at one of those gorgeous Hummingbirds. The Drive back to Toronto was fairly uneventful. One possible trip tick went over the car, a group of three ducks I tentatively ID'd as Common Mergansers (or Goosander to brits). seeing as we were near plenty of lakes it was a possibility, and they looked the part of sawbills, but I wouldn't like to say they were without a doubt.

However, an easier to ID bird was seen as we reached the urban sprawl of Toronto. From about 17:00 strange, bat-like birds were out in force, I counted 30 or more on the drive. They had a primeval style of flight, looking halfway between a Tern and a Swift. They were Common Nighthawks, and in Toronto they really are like Swifts over a British city. A far-cry from the tales I've heard of twitching a half-dead specimen of this fine bird in a field on the Scillies! Despite my relatively blissful ignorance of most birding culture, I've been accustomed to Nighthawks being practically mythical in Britain, so this was a bit of a culture shock!

After my happy Toronto greeting by the birds, we got an even warmer reception from our hosts for the next week and a half, Dave and Katie Beadle and their son James. My dad first met Dave and Katie in the mid 80's, volunteering at Long Point Bird Observatory (more on that later). If his name rings a bell, take a look at some of your bird guides, he's probably illustrated a few, and the New World Warblers book he illustrated was also written by my Dad! But enough of family history, the present is far more interesting. (to me at least!) We were staying in Toronto with them for the next day, and heading North into Ontario's Shield Country the following day, staying til the 28th, when we would head back to Toronto.

So we spent 23 Aug as tourists, not birders. Of course, Dad and I are useless at keeping up these pretences. No lifers were seen, but I did see some Double-crested Cormorants, on the shore of lake Ontario. I did also manage a trip tick, a fly-over Peregrine, but the highlight was two Common Grackles in the city centre, the only time I saw these birds well enough to appreciate them, with their soulful but sharp blue eyes, slightly scowling expression and the ultramarine sheen of their plumage. Grey Squirrels were everywhere, but outnumbered by their Black cousins, (or maybe the same species, squirrel biology is well beyond me!)

24 Aug 2010
This day was spent driving. and stopping. and driving again. and stopping again at about 5pm, having a bonfire and staying up til about 11 pm!

We were driving from Toronto to Dwight, a small village about 350km North of Toronto. We were staying here overnight, before moving onto our final destination for the next thee days. We were also joined just now by Katie's brother-in-law John and his two kids. None of them were remotely interested in birds, but they managed to put up with us, and kept me from being totally obsessed with the birds over the following days. This was a good thing indeed, as it meant I could apprciate the breathtaking Canadian scenery, refreshing Canadian lakes, and the expert Canadian craftsmanship put into the Kayaks.

But before I get totally carried away reminiscing, I'll have to, err ... reminisce about the 350 km drive up to Dwight. It was broken up by a few Turkey Vultures, but these got decidedly scarce as we got further north. A few swanky Common Loons in their pyjama plumage made up for it though. The stop at a rubbish dump 2/3 of the way was worth it too. The great photo opportunities of Ring-billed and American Herring Gulls on humungous piles of human waste were pretty special. But, if I am absolutely forced to admit the truth, the four BLACK BEARS we saw kinda stole the show a bit. I'll reveal more in a minute.

Staying at Dwight Motel, we saw quite literally nothing of interest, despite what looked like decent habitat for birds. But come nightfall, I was treated to one of the undoubted highlights of the trip. It started with an innocent little 'chip' coming out of the sky at about 9pm. It was enough to set the three birders up out of our comfortable bonfire seats. And over the next two hours, without trying, I heard several hundred of these little squeaks, serenading the sky. Some dropped down and started calling from the trees nearby. And each and every one of them was a migrating warbler or thrush. Think Redwing migration in Britain, but on a much bigger scale, and going on from August to Early November.

All very good, I hear you cry, but what about these damn bears? Well, that is a great story.

We arrived at Kenniskis rubbish dump, all of us hopeful, even those who are(or claim to be) totally disintested by wildlife. We had a scan, and saw Gulls. heaploads of stinking Gulls. There were Blue Jays in all the trees, and Ravens calling out of sight. Add in Turkey Vultures circling overhead, the primeval cacophony of the crows, and gulls fighting beak-and-wing for any last morsel of food, and you have a pretty good metaphor for hell-on-earth.

And, of course, after a few minutes, Satan himself appeared. Dressed in black, he swaggered through this hellhole, king of it all, scattering gulls as he went. The Blue jays upped the ante as he strutted out from the trees. And Dave, the one who actually knows Canadian Wildlife, kindly pointed out that this was a female. Cos She had Cubs.

This wasn't Satan. This was Satan's moody, maternal, mistreated spouse.

And then there were the cubs, all cute and innocent, cowering behind the trees, reminding me of Bambi. If Bambi was a secret arsonist/heroin taker. These cubs looked cute, but, like a puppy, they would grow up. Into a vicious, man-eating puppy.

OK, I might be taking it a little too far. I did really enjoy seeing the malignant little terrors. And the mother wan't so much nasty as narcoleptic. But what happened next was slightly scary.

There was one humungous pile of waste, with loads of gulls on it. Dave and I, the two with good cameras, were trying to photograph them. For about five minutes we kept a fairly respectable range. Then Dave wanted to go round the other side of the pile, probably to see if the light was better or something. We should have realised that all the gulls had just flown up. Thankfully the others did, as within a minute a whopping huge male Black Bear swaggered along. Luckily we wouldn't have been in his path, but I was still about 20 metres from a bear which could probably run me down if it felt like it. And what was I doing? Taking bl00dy pictures of it.

Thankfully, the Bear never did much harm. Satan just swaggered past, and in this bear the muscles in its shoulder really were rippling with every stride. However, When he got to close to the female, I noticed he wasn't that big a specimen. He was a young male, quite small compared to her. And she wasn't happy that this stroppy teenager was getting anywhere near her cubs (the bear, not me!) After watcing him chased to a respectae distance, we did the same, heading off to Dwight, and listening to the warblers at night, and then, on the 25th, enjoying four more days in the Shield Country.

As you'll find out in the next part...

Swaggering Satanically.


  1. Hi Liam , another great post , those bears sound scary !! oh by the way i know Dave Beadle from when he used to live in kent , top birder even in those days ( showing my age now ), smashing guy too ! atb Rob

  2. cool, he's coming over and will be in Kent around Christmas-time so you might bump into him. :)


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