Sunday, 29 December 2013

Birding On Ice

On December 21st, Ontario had mild temperatures that dropped and led to freezing rain.  The end result was a branch-shattering ice storm.  I have survived the legendary ice storm of 2013 with minimal damage.  The effects of the ice storm are still lingering, with thousands of people in the Greater Toronto Area still without power.

On the 23rd, I decided to go for a little walk around the neighbourhood where Janean's family lives.  I knew it would be icy but I figured I was pretty good on my feet and should be able to get around just fine.  I walked along the road and made it to little path that runs between two roads and promptly ended up horizontal.  I got up rather sheepishly and kept moving and a few steps later I was flat on my back again.  I had my camera with me and luckily protected it both times and wasn't hurt in the process.  At that point, I realized I was still trying to maintain a pace that is more in line with Victorian roads.  I had to tell myself to calm down and basically shuffle rather than take full steps.  This worked fine until I encountered my first slope.  I was still in my careful-stepping mode but I was getting a little too confident walking in a recent track of a snowmobile that broke the icy crust.  A small section must have been a little tougher and did not get broken.  I hit that stretch and had a rather dramatic tumble and put one hand down to slow my slide and nearly sliced it on the ice.  I triple-checked my hand to make sure it wasn't split open and spurting blood.  I think I'll just stay in the next time there is an ice storm!

Regardless of all those tumbles, I am a sucker for punishment and continued on my walk.  I also got my camera going to document some of the plants, all of which were coated in ice.  I unfortunately don't have any photos to show you some of the aftermath of the ice storm.  Driving into Whitby on the morning of the 22nd, Janean and I a tree that fell onto a powerline, a branch that narrowly missed a parked car, and many of the intersections reverted back to four-way stops because the traffic lights were out.  Despite the rather destructive nature of an ice storm, it certainly adds a certain beauty to the landscape.

Goldenrod coated in ice

Knapweed heads and stems encased in ice

I can see how an ice storm would be hard on birds that eat berries, but luckily some of these are not iced over!

A Staghorn Sumac inflorescence fringed with ice

The intricate needle pattern of a cedar traced in ice

Narrowleaf Cattail flowerhead partially covered in ice

My favourite sight was this backlit patch of cattails - you really can't do it justice with a photo!

I did see some birds along the way.  First, I heard some chickadees and their calls led me to discover a Cooper's Hawk up in a fir tree.  Or perhaps I spotted it while I was on my back... details are sketchy.

This Cooper's Hawk is likely a male based on its rather small size, and it even had me thinking Sharp-shinned at first.

Not the greatest photo, but the Cooper's took off and I reeled around just in time to snap this off.

I walked around in a little park that I checked out last year and I managed to find a little flock that included some Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows, and Black-capped Chickadees.  They were a little too active, but I managed to snap off a photo of each species.

American Tree Sparrow on some icy branches 

Not a good photo, but just wanted to show a Black-capped Chickadee in the icy mayhem

Northern Cardinals never cease to brighten a dull winter day... not that it was dull on this particular day!

I finished off my day by walking over to a feeder that I recalled from last year.  It had a fair bit of activity, but unfortunately all the birds were too far away to photograph.  As a result, you'll just have to take my word for it that I also saw Mourning Doves, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a couple House Finches.  I hope you all enjoyed the ice storm imagery - it has now melted away, but some unfortunate folks in Toronto are still waiting for power to come back on so they can stock their fridges back up and thaw out.

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