Bob and I decided to go for a hike at the Milne Dam Conservation Park in Markham, Ontario. A Northern Saw-whet Owl nested there a couple of years ago, so we wanted to see if it still frequented the forest. With birds in active migration, we figured we would see other interesting species, too.
Not long after, the same Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) took me by surprise when its silhouette drew my eye to where it was hunched in a tree. Even though Great Blue Herons are the largest heron in Canada, this specimen was no easy thing to pick out, so nicely tucked away in a thicket of branches that were the same color as his body. It was unusual, at this time of year, to see him here in the Conservation wetlands as most Great Blue Herons have already migrated south, to winter in the southeastern United States.
In another part of Milne Park, dangling from a high tree branch, was a Baltimore Oriole’s nest, now abandoned for the season. It reminded me of similar bird nests that we had seen in South Africa.
The Baltimore Oriole’s nest at Milne Dam Conservation Park was similar in structure to this nest constructed by a Masked Weaver Bird. I took this picture in Kruger National Park, South Africa. There, one tree might have a dozen Masked Weaver birds working on their individual nests at the same time.
On this chilly November day, a brave White-breasted Nuthatch went about its business searching for food. It was no easy trick to take a picture of this bird! One second, it was going right, then darting left, over then under the tree limb.
The Nuthatch’s hard work paid off though, and he didn’t come up empty-handed. An insect made a tasty morsel for his insatiable appetite.
Milne Dam Conservation Park is set along the Rouge River, which flows through Markham, Ontario towards Lake Ontario.
When we visited the park, dozens of Mallard Ducks were enjoying the peaceful backwaters, sheltered from the wind by the bulrushes.
The vast wetlands of Milne Park serve as a natural stopover for thousands of birds heading south for the winter. Among those taking a break was this Mallard Duck.
At one point, as we crept close to another Great Blue Heron perched in a tall tree, we realized that it had just put off this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), which took flight and landed above me. I have read that stalking a hawk is no easy task, that you have to sneak up on them when they are looking the other way. Well, this Hawk was only looking one way when it landed, and that was right at me!
Red-tailed Hawks are birds of prey, and as such, they like to land on a high tree or telephone pole from which they can keep an eye out for possible prey moving below. They like to eat mice, birds, large insects, and rabbits such as the one we saw in the forest next to the swamp.
The Red-tailed Hawk is so named because of its striking rust-colored or chestnut red tail feathers.
Most hawks used for falconry in North America are Red-tailed Hawks because they are easy to train and also great hunters. As I moved about and took several pictures, this hawk kept his eye trained on me.
In this video, the Red-tailed Hawk, having sighted prey, swoops away and then spooks the same Great Blue Heron that forced the hawk from its original perch in the nearby tree. The heron’s eerie prehistoric complaint says it all!
Red-tailed Hawks are protected in North America and Mexico by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Checkout some of our other sightings:
Coopers Hawk in Toronto, Ontario
Barred Owl near Markham, Ontario
Wild Turkeys near Dorset, Ontario
Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean