Monday, March 24, 2008

The Leslie Street Spit, Oldsquaw and More

The Leslie St. Spit, Lake Ontario

On Easter Saturday, The Becka and I went to Toronto to visit a good friend I have known since we were nine years old. We don't get together often, but when we do, it is as if we have had only a brief pause and the friendship continues as if we had spoken daily. The day was very enjoyable, and after we left in the late afternoon, it was possible to make a brief stop on the way home, taking advantage of our longer evenings.

The CN Tower and Toronto skyline will be less visible when the leaves emerge

The Leslie Street Spit is a man-made peninsula on the east side of the outer Toronto harbour. The Toronto skyline is just to the west and was silhouetted in the setting sun. The "spit" was originally designed to increase the size of the harbour to accommodate ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway, but a larger harbour was never needed. It then became a place to dump rubble and soil excavated from foundations for buildings built in the city during the 1960's and 70's.

Mother Nature had her way with this barren finger of land and it gradually naturalized becoming home to about 400 varieties of plants and 45 species of nesting birds. There are 290 species of migrating birds that seek shelter in the area. What a wonderful ecological success story! It is now designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Canadian Nature Federation.

The day was cold, but the sun had made the trail surface very muddy. I walked up one section of the park in the half hour before it closed and saw two new birds for my list in this time.

Male Long-tailed Duck

I saw a large group of unusual ducks just off shore enough that I could not see much detail. I took some over-digitally zoomed photos of these Long-tailed ducks, previous known as Oldsquaw.

Male and Female Long-tailed ducks

These diving ducks nest in the high Arctic and spend the winters along the coastal areas of the continent. Some do winter on the Great Lakes too and I don't know if these were winter guests or returning migrants. I like their old name but it has probably been deemed politically incorrect.

Pair of Red-breasted Mergansers

I was also happy to find a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers for the first time among the Buffleheads and Long-tailed ducks.

The ever present urban European Starling has benefited from the environment, this one claiming a nesting box that was undoubtedly erected to attract a native bird. But this was the only nuisance bird I saw. The park was even devoid of Canada Geese. (They are likely right in the city waiting to eat up the lawns!)

There are a number of accessible natural areas along the Toronto waterfront and Toronto Island waiting for me to explore when the weather is a little warmer.


  1. Those long-tailed ducks are so handsome. Congrats on the lifers- they'd be lifers for me too. It's one of my goals this year to spend more time on water birds. Minnesota is the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" but I'm weakest in id skills with shorebirds, gulls, and ducks/geese!

  2. My friend-of-the-heart died three years ago. You're right. Those childhood friendships are precious beyond measure. They are part of you.

    I've NEVER seen a long-tailed duck. I didn't know they EXISTED. Neat. I'm like Lynne. Weak on those water birds.


  4. Anonymous6:27 pm GMT-4

    This is indeed a positive story. So many varieties of plants and birds right in Toronto! That is amazing. I'm going to make a note of it for the next time I visit. I want to see it! That's a nice photo of the CN Tower and pretty pictures of the ducks. :)

  5. Anonymous9:44 pm GMT-4

    Its been years since I have visited Toronto! Great birds for sure and love your photos of the long-tailed duck! Actually, I always want to call them Oldsquaws since that's what I am use to calling them!

  6. Sounds like a great trip and so many good bird sightings too!

  7. this is a lovely post, thank you!

    I hope you don't mind, but I've tagged you to write a 6 word memoir - the details are over on my blog, if you fancy it (don't worry, though - I won't mind at all if you don't!) :-)

  8. Glad you had such a nice visit to Toronto. :) I think a lot of people from outside the city (and many people from inside, too) think of it as being very urban, but there's actually a lot of greenspace. The spit is practically my backyard, and is certainly that familiar to me. I've been volunteering and/or working at the Tommy Thompson Park (the other name of the spit) Bird Research Station for the last five years, and I'm one of the central figures there. I encourage you to come check us out, we start running again in April and will be there weekend mornings over the whole spring (we're actually there every day, but the park's only open weekends).

    The Long-tailed Ducks are winter residents and will stick around the Toronto lakeshore, often in large numbers, through the whole winter. Their numbers likely peak in late fall where you can find rafts of several thousand floating offshore. I seem to recall a number of 20,000 overwinter along the GTA lakeshore, but don't quote me on that. ;)

    The boxes that your starling was checking out were put up to attract Wood Ducks, but although we occasionally see Wood Ducks down there, as far as I know none have bred there yet. I think the forests don't have the right combination of maturity and wetness yet, but it's probably just a matter of time.

  9. Ruth,

    I love the photos. I didn't realize these long-tailed ducks wintered on the Great Lakes. You and I are lucky to have so many natural wonders within driving distance. Thanks so much for sharing.


  10. I'd like to visit Toronto one day (my husband is an ice hockey fan) and enjoy the scenery. What a fabulous place; however, I'd visit not in January, but July.

  11. That was a really fun day in Toronto. :)

  12. Lynne- There are many water birds on the Great Lakes in the winter, but I am not brave enough to withstand the winter wind and ice to see them. They may stop by locally for just a few hours while migrating. Good luck on your goal!

    Cathy- Yes, childhood friendships almost defy time. Sorry about your friend.

    Birdman- We will have to go a see them sometime.

    April- Yes, I thought is was a great ecological success story. There are others out there, but the press likes the negative stories better.

    Monarch- Toronto is a fine city and well worth visiting.

    Jayne- I have a number of little side trips mapped out in my mind for this year. I hope to see more interesting things.

    Hedgewitch- Thanks!

    the M.i.n.- Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I may feature your blog in a post. I will have to visit the Spit again soon.

    Mary in ON- We do live in a very interesting area, even if there is too much snow this year ;-)

    Mary- Toronto in July can be very hot and humid, but you are used to that I imagine. If you are by the lake, there is always a breeze though.

    Becka- We'll have to do it again.


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