Hawk Drama at High Park

Feature photo for Red-tailed Hawk post.

On June 13, I went to High Park in Toronto’s west end for what I thought would be a day of butterflies and dragonflies. The park is vast (161 hectares, or 400 acres) and contains a variety of habitats, including wetlands and one of the last dry-oak savannahs in the Greater Toronto Area. More than … Read more

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An Odd Duck: But a strangely beautiful hybrid

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For the second year in a row, a rare hybrid duck has decided to spend the winter at Ashbridges Bay on Toronto’s waterfront. Last year, this male duck, or drake, was still a juvenile and had a juvenile’s dull-colored plumage. This year, it has acquired its adult breeding plumage, and, as the photo above shows, … Read more

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Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part Two

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

I spent a year at the University of Toronto reading the epic poem Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The prof for that class was Laurence K. Shook, a Basilian priest who had a special interest in the riddles contained in an Old English manuscript called the Exeter Book. These riddles all take the form of … Read more

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Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part One

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

When she stops him on the Rue Royale, she’s wearing a dark veil that makes it impossible to see her face. Even so, he can tell she is “a femelle of a fine form.” She speaks to him in French because she knows it’s his native tongue. Is he the man who draws the birds … Read more

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One Woodpecker: A Photo Essay

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Most birders I know have a weakness for woodpeckers. It’s partly the drumming that seduces us: that monotone hammering woodpeckers make every spring to claim a territory and find a mate. But it’s also their shape and color. Shape because every part of a woodpecker’s anatomy—bill, skull, ribcage, tail feathers, and feet—has been adapted to … Read more

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Two Eiders: A Photo Essay

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I biked down to the Leslie Street Spit the other day to look for winter birds and brought a camera with me in case anything good turned up. “The Spit,” as it’s known in Toronto, is a former landfill in the east end of the city that juts into Lake Ontario for about five kilometers … Read more

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Two Owls: A Photo Essay

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With the approach of winter, the owls have returned to Toronto. Every year at this time, they come down from the boreal forest and northern tundra looking for food. They like to hang out in forested areas near the Toronto lakeshore, where they find a plentiful supply of rabbits, squirrels, meadow voles, field mice, and … Read more

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The Coronavirus Conundrum: You want I should hibernate in spring?

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Two weeks ago, I biked down to the allotment garden in Toronto where my wife and I have been tending a plot for the better part of twenty years. On the gate where I usually enter, I found a sign stating that the allotments were closed indefinitely, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s possible to … Read more

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Winter Birding: A photo essay from Algonquin Park

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Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the finest places in North America to see winter birds, those boreal species that rarely come down to more southerly locations. Situated in central Ontario, the park is a three-hour drive north of Toronto and about the same distance west from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I spent two days … Read more

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Cold-weather Camouflage: How do birds conceal themselves in winter?

A Purple Sandpiper on a rocky shoreline.

To put it as simply as possible: birds display two types of camouflage: color and shape. Both of these techniques help them to perform the magical act of disappearing, of blending into their surroundings, sometimes to the point of invisibility. In the spring, birds put themselves on display in hopes of finding a mate. During … Read more

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