On Thursday, the latest rarity here in the Ontario birding scene became widely known. A Black-throated Gray Warbler in an urban park in the east end of Toronto! The Black-throated Gray Warbler is a wood-warbler of western oak and juniper woodlands, yet each year, a handful seem to be reported in eastern North America. I had seen two Black-throated Gray Warblers in Ontario previously, but it had been a few years and I was itching to study and photograph this one.
With my schedule free on Friday I dropped Laura off at work and then motored around the west end of Lake Ontario. My plan was to (hopefully) observe the warbler early in the morning and then fill out the rest of the day by exploring nearby Tommy Thompson Park.
It was a warm and sunny mid November morning by the time that I arrived at Woodbine Park. Perhaps this would be the last day of the year with these pleasant conditions. Fortunately, the Black-throated Gray Warbler was not too difficult to find. It was keeping close company with a Black-throated Green Warbler (a species that should be long gone by now), and both birds were chipping frequently.
As anticipated, I was not the only one enjoying the warblers. Around 15 other birders and photographers had the same idea as me. It was nice to have some (socially-distanced) chats with a few others whom I had not seen in a while such as Mark Patry and Wayne Renaud.
The Black-throated Gray Warbler busily fed, usually keeping to the mid-level branches of the various willows and Russian Olives. On a few occasions it foraged a little closer to the ground, allowing me to take a few eye-level photos. With the sun behind us at a nice angle afforded by the time of year, it was a photographer's dream. The Black-throated Green was also quite confiding.
As I mentioned earlier, the Black-throated Gray Warbler is a western species, but it is one that has a tendency to stray to the east. Ontario has 24 records that have been reviewed and accepted by the OBRC, plus a few that haven't reached the committee. According to Glenn Coady this is the 12th record for the Greater Toronto Area. Around two-thirds of the records pertain to autumn birds and at least two of these have persisted into January.
This warbler appeared to me making quick work of many small insects that it discovered. Both it and the Black-throated Green Warbler spent some time in a maple, gleaning insects from around the buds.
Near the end of my hour-long visit the Black-throated Gray Warbler landed at eye level, completely unobscured, and I managed to take a series of photos that I was very happy with. The warbler also happened to be the 300th species of bird that I have encountered in Ontario this year. This was certainly a milestone that I did not think I would achieve in 2020 after missing the first three months of the year!
The birding was surprisingly good and I noted a few White-throated Sparrows, a Swamp Sparrow, a Common Redpoll and some Cedar Waxwings (no hoped for Bohemians, however). Earlier in the morning a very late Warbling Vireo had also been photographed, but it was nowhere to be seen on my visit. But with the clock ticking, I left the warblers behind and headed over to Tommy Thompson Park, a.k.a. the Leslie Street Spit (or just "The Spit").
Tommy Thompson Park is my favourite location in Toronto to explore. Created with material from demolition projects and from dredging the Toronto Inner Harbour, the original goal was to create "port-related facilities". However, in the 1970s it became clear that a site for port-related facilities was not needed, and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority was tasked with managing the newly created Tommy Thompson Park. It has changed over the years and parts of it have been managed as wildlife habitat.
Tommy Thompson Park has a similar "vibe" to my beloved Port Weller east pier, but Tommy Thompson is much larger. It is the sort of place that is best explored by bicycle, at least if one wants to make it to the outer reaches and back. Tommy Thompson Park boasts a bird list over 300 species including some "good" ones. Common Ringed-Plover, Common Ground Dove, Tricolored Heron, WIllow Ptarmigan, Brown Pelican and Fork-tailed Flycatcher are some of the recent rarities that come to mind.
Since I did not have a bicycle with me, but I had lots of time, I set out on foot and ended up walking pretty much around the entire peninsula (around 12 km in total). My walk was quite productive and I tallied around 50 species!
At one point I ran into my friend Gray and we had some success with owls in a particular section of the park. We watched a Barred Owl as well as a Great Horned Owl. The Great Horned Owl appeared to be following the Barred around, and the Barred made a few high pitched squeals as it flew away from the other owl. I wonder if the Great Horned had dinner on its mind?
These two individual owls are both likely visitors from somewhere further north. Despite Tommy Thompson Park's size, it does not appear to have enough mature trees that would provided suitable breeding habitat for Great Horned Owls.
It has been a great autumn for owls in Ontario. Northern Saw-whet and Barred Owls are two species that appear to have had a productive breeding season. Quite a few of them have been present in southern Ontario in recent weeks.
The other main highlight of my walk was the King Eider featured earlier in this post. This long-staying female was just north of Pipit Point in a small bay, and with the light on my back I was able to snag a few decent photos.