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Reflecting on Birding at RBG

June 1, 2020

By Jackson Hudecki, Special Programs Coordinator and Not Just a Birding Club Leader, Royal Botanical Gardens

With spring migration coming to an end, I find myself reminiscing about time immersed in nature and seeking the winged-wonders that pass through RBG each spring. And while it doesn’t take being in the trails to witness this natural phenomenon, having spent the last 10 years on every RBG trail, my mind wanders to a world without screens, seats, or walls.

RBG nature sanctuaries host meadows, fields, forests, ravines, wetlands, and cliffsides. Exploring these natural landscapes bring not only a sense of peace and joy, but also an abundance of birds! For it is through getting to know the land, and more closely the plants, that I’ve been able to locate some amazing bird species. Birding isn’t just about finding those feathered friends, but also finding the habitat where birds could be. Where some sparrows and catbirds love the thickets and brambles, warblers and vireos love the steep hills and forest canopies. Flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs yield the waxwing and oriole families, while conifers and evergreens will land finches or nuthatches.

Orchard Oriole in blooming cherry Tree
Orchard Oriole in blooming cherry Tree

Take the infamous Cootes Paradise marsh and its surrounding landscape for example. This nature sanctuary with wetlands and lush forests is a homing beacon for migratory and nesting birds, and without a doubt a place I scour for birds. What I see as I traverse one shore or the other changes based on who I have with me, whether it’s an eager group of birding enthusiasts, an energetic group of youth, or my own little family, but there’s always something to see.

Some of my favourite sightings include the time we saw nearly 30 orioles, both Baltimore and Orchard rummaging through the newly blossomed Cherry Trees. Or the time I accidentally lifted 4 Bald Eagles from the tops of the conifer collection by the Magnolias, the parents just teaching the recently fledged eaglets how to fly. I can recall a cold spring day where it seemed not much was around in the valley before 5 Blue-headed Vireos graced us with their passing-by. Or a long hike through Grey Doe that ended with a 25 minute Merlin hangout at the Hickory Valley lookout. And that time Quite a few lifers (birds I’ve only seen for the first time) were spotted while I had my feet in RBG properties. Both Black and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Brown Thrasher and Rusty Blackbirds were unforgettable. Tennessee, Magnolia, and Blackburnian Warblers were all firsts. A rejoiced seeing a Wilson’s Warbler while on the Sassafras trail, but was quickly told to hurry up by my daughter who at the time couldn’t pronounce the word warbler let alone understand my excitement in seeing one! The time during a canoe program when 9 (NINE!) American White Pelicans landed a mere 50’ from our boats.. or when a keen observer lead me and a group from the Ontario Field Ornithologists to a rare Cattle Egret.. such immense joy can occur when you encountering a bird species for the first time, and I have the RBG habitat to thank for the moments I’ll never forget.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler

If it wasn’t for the varied terrain and the plants that inhabit them, there wouldn’t be the abundance of bird species or the need for fervent protection in places like Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary. Being surrounded by nearly million people means the pressure these spaces face grows with every hiking foot that hits the trails. But nature always finds a way, and it is through the observation of these spaces that allows a deeper sense of appreciation.