Author Archives: hikingthegta


May 23, 2020

White-tailed deer are quite common in the parks and ravines throughout the GTA.  Ones that want to hang around with you and pose for pictures are much less common.  Having seen pictures of the busy trails last weekend I decided that there was a better chance of seeing wildlife along a secluded section of the Etobicoke Creek Trail.  From the moment I arrived there was a great deal of bird activity and it wasn’t long before a deer appeared on the bank on the far side of the creek.  I moved slowly and quietly to get as close as possible but the deer just stood there watching me.  When I got close enough I discovered that it was a male that has a good start on his antlers for this year.


White-tailed deer antlers are the fastest growing bone material in the animal kingdom.  Over the course of four months a healthy buck can grow over 200 inches of bone on his head.  This buck soon decided that I wasn’t a threat and went back to eating the leaves on the tree in front of him.


Antlers will form as small nubs in late March and there won’t be much change throughout April.  The animals are still recovering from the stresses of the winter and food sources are not the most nutritious at this time of year.  By May the leaves are coming out and the animals have access to much better food sources.  This causes the antlers to really start their rapid growth.  The deer I was watching was thoroughly enjoying the feast that was set before it.


White-tailed deer are hosts to deer ticks which can carry Lyme disease and past experience has shown that this park has ticks in it.  It was hot and I was sweating and as I passed my hand through my hair I found what I thought was a small tree flower.  It turned out to be a tick.  Needless to say I had a shower and washed my clothes when I got home.  About this time the deer started into grooming itself for me as if it wished to be photographed looking his best.


By the end of May the second point on the rack of antlers will typically be forming.  When it was done preening itself the buck made a double turn, like a puppy, and sat down and looked at me.


If there is plenty of rain in the month of June and the forest remains lush the deer will eat well and antler growth will be at its optimum.  By the end of June the antler will be well formed and all the primary points will have begun to grow.   After watching me for a few minutes it got up slowly and stretched like a cat and slowly made its way toward the creek.


The antlers continue to grow throughout July reaching their full size by the end of the month.  In early August growth stops and the blood flow to the antlers is decreased which starts the hardening process.  My friend stopped for a drink in the creek to wash down the lunch it had been enjoying when I arrived.

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It takes about three weeks for the bone in the antlers to harden at which time the deer begin to shed the velvet coating that has supplied blood to the growing antlers.  The buck stopped to make sure I was following before it crossed the creek.  It also picked a spot where it was easy for me to cross as well.

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After the rutting season the male deer experience a period of rapid loss of testosterone levels.  This loss of hormones creates a weakness at the antler base, known as the pedicle, which causes the antlers to fall off.  This will usually happen over the winter although some deer may shed their antlers as early as December.  I sat on a log and watched while the deer explored a little bit around the area.  He didn’t go far and presently came back to check up on me again.


Most antlers will biodegrade but a few will be collected and turned into displays or are carved into a bone handle for a knife.  After spending an hour with me and posing for over 100 pictures it was time for the wildlife to go and be wild again.  Recently I had seen a couple of female deer just a few hundred meters from here and perhaps he wanted to go see what they were up to.


This deer shows how much wildlife can become adjusted to living in close proximity to humans.  Although I enjoyed the experience and getting all these pictures I’m not sure that familiarity is such a good thing.

The following picture was taken in September at Rattray Marsh and the antlers are fully grown on this buck.

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It will be interesting to see if the deer in this story stays in the same area, perhaps we’ll be able to get some update pictures.

Check out this link for our blog on the Etobicoke Creek Trail and another blog called The Auto Graveyard, both of which were photographed near here.

Google Maps Link: Etobicoke Creek Trail

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Teston – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The first person to emigrate from England and build a home in the future Teston was named Thane and for a short time the village was named Thanesville.  When the post office was opened in 1868 the name was changed to Teston.  Below is a clip from the 1877 County Atlas which shows the hamlet including the post office and wagon shop which belonged to Joseph Lund.  With the restrictions on parks and trails being lifted for the first time since the pandemic had begun two months earlier it seemed like the trails would likely be busy and the wildlife scarce.  Therefore we decided to leave the trails for a little longer and be safe.  Teston isn’t far from my work and so I was able to explore it over the course of two sunny lunch breaks this past week.

Teston 1877

Lot 27, Concession 4 was originally deeded to Kings College who sold it to John Hadwen in 1865.  On December 26th that year Joseph Lund bought 2 acres in the south west corner of the lot.  Lund’s General Store was built in 1870, as the story goes, after Joseph decided that Mr. Wilson was charging too much for coal oil at the only store in the hamlet.  For this reason the store had the nick name “Spite Store”.  The building also served as a residence with the plain door on the north end leading to the home while the more ornate door on the south led to the mercantile section.


Joseph Lund was quite the entrepreneur who also owned a wagon making shop and a blacksmiths forge.  In 1868 he announced that he had gone into the undertaking business and was able to provide a handsome hearse and black horses.  The store was built from vertical wooden planks that were later covered over with red insulbrick.  More recently the structure has been covered over with siding.  Fortunately, the beautiful store windows and door remain and are key to the listing of the property on the heritage register.


Around 1810 a group of Methodists broke away from the Wesleyan Methodist Church and founded the Primitive Methodists.  They practiced a simpler form of worship in simple churches where they kept themselves free of liturgy, thinking themselves to practice a purer form of Christianity.  Joseph Lund was a Primitive Methodist and was instrumental in the founding of Hope Primitive Methodist Church on Keele Street.  Lund would have driven his horse and carriage past the only other church in town, The Wesleyan Methodist, each week on his way to worship.


The Primitive Methodists started worship in the Teston area in 1840 and built their chapel in 1870.  By 1965 the chapel was gone and the cemetery in disarray.  The community gathered all the tomb stones together into a central display in the shape of a large cross.  Joseph Lund died in 1875 and was buried in the Hope Primitive Methodist church cemetery.

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The Wesleyan Methodists had been meeting in the community since 1811 on property supplied by Isaac Murray.  The first chapel was built on the south side of Teston Side road about half way between Jane Street and Keele Street.  It was known as Hadwen Chapel after the first pastor to serve there.  A new chapel was built in 1872 on another property belonging to Murray.  The old chapel was eventually demolished with only a single stone marking the site.  The earliest settlers lie in unmarked graves beneath this field.


When Abraham Iredell and his team surveyed Vaughan Township in the summer of 1795 there was a slight misalignment of the east-west roads which resulted in a correction at each of the north-south crossroads.  Isaac Murray owned the property on the west side of Jane where the survey correction for Teston Road was.  It was here that they built the second Wesleyan Church in the community.  The photo below shows the church with the entrance completely rebuilt without the tower, although a small part of the spire appears to have been preserved on the roof top.  This picture is undated but the photo credit goes to Barry Wallace.  The cover photo is dated 1932 and is available in the Baldwin Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.  In 2005 it was decided to expand Teston Road to five lanes and take the jog out at Jane Street.  This meant that the church would have to be moved to make way.  Attempts to save the already unstable church failed and it was demolished instead.  Today, the site lies directly below Teston Road.

Teston United Church

During the 2005 work to widen the road an old Native Peoples Ossuary was discovered.  It was later reburied by members of the First Nations where it sits beneath an unmarked stone.  There are hundreds of these old burial sites across the GTA and many of them have been disturbed by work crews.  One example is the Taber Hill Ossuary in Scarborough which was uncovered during construction for the 401.


The short main street of Teston hasn’t changed much since it the atlas was drawn.  Most of the original homes still line the east side of the street, including the home of the first resident.  Two Georgian Style homes stand at the south end of the street and one of them is a likely candidate for this original home.

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There are also several homes that were built in the gothic revival including the one at 10891 Jane Street.  While all the old church buildings have been removed, this old house as taken on the role of Bethel Apostolic Church of Vaughan.


The next building beside the church is an old barn, possibly the original wagon shop.


One of the most unique fences we’ve seen has to be this one made of old steel wagon wheels.


The county atlas shows two homes on the property of Arthur Noble.  One of them was this gothic style house that now appears to be deserted.


The house on Teston Road that was shown on the 1877 County Atlas as Mrs. Stevenson is one of several simple Georgian style homes in the community.  It sits abandoned in an encroaching woodlot on the side of Teston Road.


The Wesleyan Methodist church shown on the upper left corner of the county atlas above was on the corner of modern Weston Road and Kirby Road.  It has been converted into an interesting looking home.  I wonder why they chose to remove so many of the gothic windows with their pointed arches?


The historic homes in Teston are a little drab because every one of them has been covered over with siding.  On one hand I applaud his salesmanship but I really wish he hadn’t been so successful and that we could still see the original craftsmanship and brickwork on these homes.

Also see our posts on the nearby ghost towns of Sherwood and Maple.

Google Maps Link: Teston

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York Lodge

Friday, May 8, 2020

A century ago the property that is home to Sunnybrook Hospital and Sunnybrook Park was a working farm and country estate for one of Toronto’s wealthy elite.  Joseph Kilgour was partners in the Canada Paper Company and made his fortune from flat-bottomed paper bags like the grocery bags some of us remember from our childhood.  With the COVID-19 lockdown still underway I went for another walk through the park with an eye to locating the remnants of his legacy.

Joseph purchased several parcels of land to comprise the farm and estate he intended to create.  He added to the buildings on the old Burke farm to create Sunnybrook Farm where he raised horses and cattle.  Then he went to the top of the Burke Brook ravine and built a grand country estate that he named York Lodge.  At that time there were less trees and Kilgour had a grand view across the valley and his farm.  The picture below was captured from the City of Toronto archives collection of photos, this one was taken in 1964.  I’ve marked the roadways on the old estate in green and the waterways in blue.  I entered the ravine from Bayview avenue and followed the trail along the top of the ravine on the south side of the brook and made my way toward the original gates to the property.



There were originally two sets of gates, one on Bayview directly across from the end of Blythwood Avenue.  This set led directly to Sunnybrook Farm and was removed when the hospital was built in the mid-1940s.  The second set can be found at the end of Sutherland Drive and it led directly to York Lodge.  The pair of stone gates feature ornate wrought iron lamp posts which must have looked quite spectacular to guests arriving for an afternoon fox hunt or social gathering.


The only remaining building from the York Lodge estate is the gatehouse.  It stands just inside the gates and is identified as number two on the map.  Along with the gates, it was listed on the Toronto Heritage Register in 2005.


There were four summer cottages on the estate but they have all been demolished.  The picture below is from the Toronto Archives and shows one of them.  They re marked 3-6 on the map above.

Kilgour cottage

When Alice donated the property to the city she kept ownership of York Lodge and continued to live there until 1930.  She sold it to another prominent Toronto business man named David Dunkelman.  He was the president of Tip Top Taylors.  Dunkelman only kept it for 6 years before selling it to Captain James Flanigan.  In 1943 Flanigan converted it into a military hospital in 1943 and renaming it Divadale after his daughter Diva.  In 1953 it was converted into a convalescent home for veterans but was demolished in 1960.  This archive photo is credited to John Chuckman and gives us a look at the outside of York Lodge after the name was changed.  It is marked as number 7 on our map.


Lydhurst Hospital was constructed on the property in 1978 but some of the roadways and landscaping can still be found as well as rows of mature trees planted in straight lines.


The lane way is shown as number 8 on the old photo above.  It led down the hill from York Lodge to Sunnybrook Farm and connected with the other lane way off of Bayview Avenue.  At the bottom of the hill the lane crossed Burke Brook at the point just before the brook enters into the Don River.  Burke Brook takes its name from Edward Burke who owned the 200 acre farm in 1860.

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The Burke Brook bridge is architecturally interesting because of the wings on either side of the abutments.  When the water level is just right you can see a small waterfall through the centre of the bridge.  The off-leash dog park can be seen in the background.  It seems strange no that there are no dogs playing and chasing each other in the park.  This bridge is number 9 on the map above.  Near this bridge is a circular well or pumping station that we featured in last weeks companion post Staying Close To Home.


The bridge over the Don River is more typical of one used by regular traffic.  This bridge was closed to vehicles when the farm was donated to the city as a park and is number 10 on the map.  Alice Kilgour decreed that the park should remain free of charge for the citizens to use and that no road should be allowed to pass from Bayview through to Leslie Street.


The 1964 photo above shows a building identified as number 11.  This structure no longer exists but number 12 still stands, tucked in overlooking the river and bridge.  These homes were built for the use of various farm and estate workers.


The house identified as 13 on the map was tucked in behind the horse barn and is another of the farm worker homes that were deeded to the city along with the land.


A very ornate barn with two silos is shown as number 14 on the map.  Unfortunately it was destroyed in a fire on May 21, 2018 killing 16 horses that were housed inside.  Another 13 horses were moved to another barn and were saved.  This barn was home to the Toronto Police horses for many years until they were relocated to the CNE grounds.  The picture below was taken from our Sunnybrook Park post.

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This picture was taken from the space where the barn formerly stood, now a vacant field with no trace of the barn or silo.  The outer fence for the horse paddock can be seen in the photo above as well as in the distance below.  Across the way is a second barn from Sunnybrook Farms where the cows and other farm animals were kept.  Horses that were rescued from the fire were moved over to this barn, labelled as 15 above.


Kilgour erected one of the first indoor riding riding arenas in Canada which is shown as item 16.


One other building in the compound, number 17, currently houses washrooms and has an equipment shed in the one end.


Building number 18 caught my attention because it looks like an older style of farm house.  This house is not listed on the heritage register but I wonder if it may have been erected by the Burke family before Joseph Kilgour bought their homestead farm to create his dream estate.  I had planned to walk right up and get a better view but the sign on the tree gave me reason to reevaluate that plan.


On the valley floor near the Don River is a large patch of Mayapples.  The plants with two leaves are the only ones that will produce buds and that appears to be the case for most of these plants.  The bud pictured below will open into a single flower that will later produce the lone fruit on this plant.


The lane way back to Bayview is marked as 19 on the map and now leads to the rear of Sunnybrook Hospital.  To the north of the hospital are three other country estates that were built by the wealthy so they could escape the city.  The stories and pictures of these former estates can found in our previous post entitled Bayview Estates.

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Although it has been nearly a century since the property was given over to the city a surprising number of artifacts remain from the days of Joseph and Alice Kilgour.

Google Maps Link: Sunnybrook Hospital and Park

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Staying Close To Home

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In keeping with the request to limit travel I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk through the Burke Brook ravine to The Don River and back.  Years of exploring different places each weekend has left me with the impression that my local park was boring.  That certainly wasn’t true.  One section of the trail along Burke Brook in Sherwood Park is an off-leash dog area and is currently closed due to COVID-19.  This forced me to walk along Blythwood Avenue until I reached Bayview.  From just south of there I could enter the ravine near the old Bayview Transformer House.   I stopped to see the deterioration that had occurred since my last visit.  With all the windows broken, the weather has been able to get inside and the ceiling is almost gone.


White Fawn Lily are a variation of the yellow Trout Lily.  These plants are also known as Adder’s Tongue and Dog’s-tooth Violet.  Yellow Trout Lily are very common throughout the GTA but the white ones are a rare find.


Twice I thought I heard something in the leaves but couldn’t identify a source for the sound.  Moments later I crested a small rise to see a Garter Snake crossing the trail.  It stopped to say “Hello” and then was gone under the leaves.


There is a well used trail along the valley floor that follows Burke Brook and the upper trail is used mostly by cyclists.  For this reason you need to be cautious as there are places where allowing a bike to pass is tricky.  There’s also a couple of steep sections that are impassible when muddy.  The section pictured below has a knotted rope to help people get up the slope.


White Trillium are the Provincial Flower for Ontario.  Along the trail I found a small patch of three.  At this time of year I usually follow the progress of the red ones in G Ross Lord Park.  These are less common than the white ones, but there are between 3 and 5 red flowers in one spot and 2 in another.  On occasion, the white flowers may have a green stripe down the middle of each petal.  This is caused by a virus and the size of the stripe will increase until the plant is no longer able to produce proper flowers and seeds.


I returned to the trail in the valley which has a boardwalk through sections where water is weeping out of the ground.  There were a few people on the trail but when parks are only used by the locals, it is fairly easy to respect social distancing guidelines.  We’ll see how it goes when they ease the restrictions and everyone rushes out to the trails the first nice weekend.  I hope people won’t be careless and cause the parks to be closed again.


Burke Brook enters the Don River near another off-leash dog park which is currently closed.  It is possible to get to the mouth of the brook but other people were already enjoying it so I chose to go another way.


Near the mouth of Burke Brook I found the remains of of a concrete circle, possibly a well except that had been lined with wood.  I decided that it had probably been part of the landscaping for the home of Joseph and Alice Kilgour.  The donation of their 200 acre estate had allowed the creation of Sunnybrook Park and provided the land for Sunnybrook Hospital.  Later, as I did a little research, I discovered that there just might be enough interesting stuff around to tell their story.  It looks like another neighbourhood walk is in order.


There were many Ostrich Ferns throughout the area, just beginning to open.  At this point of their development people often refer to them as Fiddlehead Ferns because their shape is similar to the end of a fiddle.  Later when they are fully open they resemble Ostrich plumes, from which they take their name.  It is when they are very young that people pick them to enjoy the annual delicacy of fresh fiddleheads.


Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family and is one of the earlier spring flowers.  There is a single leaf and flower that emerge on separate stems but with the leaf completely wrapping around the flower bud.  The red sap from the roots of the plant was traditionally used as a dye for clothing and baskets.  It was also used by the native peoples as an insect repellent.


You can follow the Don River northward until you come to Glendon Forest.  This section of the river is usually home to a heron and several families of cardinals.  I didn’t see any and decided not to wander too far into Glendon Forest as that is another entire adventure on its own.


The original driveway leading to the Kilgour properties still leads back up the hill toward Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.  It was here that the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was recorded.  I walked by and realized that behind these walls are hundreds of true heroes.  This blog is dedicated to everyone who works in this series of hospital buildings and all other front line workers, everywhere.


All of this was within walking distance of my home.  What is waiting near you?

Click here for our previous story on Sunnybrook Park.

Google Maps Link: Sunnybrook Park

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Butterflies of the GTA

Sunday, May 3, 2020

There are over 100 species of butterflies that are found in Ontario and as you hike throughout the GTA you have an opportunity to see many of them.  With the COVID-19 lock down still underway we thought for our fifth Corona-blog it might be interesting to take a look some of the butterflies we’ve manged to get pictures of.  We hope you enjoy the pictures while we wait for the parks and trails to open again.

There are over 550 species of Swallowtail butterflies worldwide but we see only a few of them in Ontario.  Black Swallowtail have two broods each year with the first one emerging from their over-wintering in mid-May.  A second brood emerges in mid-July and flies throughout August.

Black Swallowtail

The Spicebush Swallowtail has large blue iridescent spots on the hind wings.  This butterfly is less common in the GTA but can be seen regularly in Point Peele and at The Pinery.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of my favourite butterflies and it is fairly common in the GTA.  It also has two distinct broods per year.

EasternTiger Swallowtail

The Painted Lady is also featured on the cover photo of this post and has a complex pattern on the under wing.  It looks similar to the American Lady which is more common in Ontario.

Painted Lady

American Lady butterflies have less colour on the under wing than the Painted Lady featured above.  It has two large eye spots on the bottom of the hind wing.


Red Admiral are dark in colour with a bright orange band across the wings.  They are one of the more common butterflies in the GTA.

Red Admiral

White Admiral are deep blue to purple with a broad white band across the wings.

White Admiral

White Admiral under wings have considerably more red than the upper side of the wing.

White Admiral underwing

Great Spangled Fritillary is one of the largest fritillary butterflies in Canada. The underside of the wing will have a silver band along the edge of the wing.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Little Wood Satyr have four large eye spots on the wings, two on the front wing and two on the hind wing.

Little Wood Satyr

The Red Spotted Purple is a subspecies of the White Admiral.

Red Spotted Purple

Monarch Caterpillars become the butterflies that are perhaps the most recognizable to a lot of people.  The caterpillar can be found on milkweed which is the primary food.

Monarch caterpillar

Male Monarch butterflies have two little black dots on the hind wings that contain a scent to attract the females.

Male monarch

Female Monarch butterflies lack the black dots.

Female Monarch

The picture below shows a pair of Monarchs mating.  The mating process can last for up to 16 hours. It usually starts one afternoon and can last until the following morning.


Viceroy  butterflies look very similar to Monarchs except that they have a black band along the edge of the wing.


Mourning Cloak butterflies are one of the first ones to be seen in the spring.  They over winter among the dead leaves on the ground and emerge when the weather warms up.

Mourning Cloak

Gray Comma butterflies are interesting because the underside of the wings looks just like a dead leaf.  They can be well disguised when they want to be.

grey coma

The Question Mark  looks similar to the Gray Comma but doesn’t have the deep section between the front and rear wings.

Question Mark

Pearl Crescent butterflies have several similar species but can be distinguished by the fine black lines that cross the orange sections of the wings.  A row of black dots lines the outer edge of the rear wing.

Pearl Crecent

Silver Spotted Skipper are the largest of the native skippers.  The males can be very aggressive in defending their little territory, chasing everything else away.

Silver Spotted Skimmer

Clouded Sulphur butterflies are one of the most common yellow butterflies in Ontario.  They seldom sit with their wings open so getting a shot of the upper wing requires luck and good timing.

Clouded sulphur

The Appalachian Brown is very similar to the Eyed Brown.  The line on the under wing that separates the darker area from the lighter has gentle curves rather than being zigzagged like on the Eyed Brown

Appalatian BRown

Milbert’s Tortoishell butterflies have three broods per season and are one of the distinct species in our area as there are no similar looking ones.  The bright orange band on the wings is complemented by red spots on the front wings.

Milberts Toitose Shell

Getting pictures of butterflies can be time consuming because they don’t always sit still and wait for you to get a good shot.  Patience is the virtue that will come in most handy.

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Mink Kits

Friday, April 24, 2020

American Mink can be found along the shorelines of lakes, rivers and creeks throughout the GTA.  They generally live alone except for mating season which begins in February.  The kits are born from mid-April to June in litters that average 4.  The American Mink has a short delay between insemination and implantation which means that the female can delay the start of gestation for up to 45 days while she waits for favourable weather conditions.  With a mild winter and early spring it will tend to lead to earlier births than would be the case in years where there had been a severe and late winter.  The picture below shows a mink swimming with a kit in its mouth.

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Mink don’t hibernate and so they can be seen all winter and their tracks tend to reveal where their nests are.  One lives in my area, I won’t say exactly where because of the babies, and so I went to see if I could get a picture of it since I am now laid off on Fridays.  I was lucky enough to see it return from a foraging trip and swim back to the nest.  Then it emerged a few minutes later with something in its mouth and swam across the creek.  When it climbed up on a rock in mid-stream I got a picture which showed that it was carrying a baby.


It took the kit across the creek and into a different den among the rocks on the other side.  Mink are known to keep several dens, each with multiple exits for security.

baby mink 1

Mink babies are born blind with just a fine layer of soft grey fur.  When the kits are about 25 days old they will open their eyes for the first time. This allows them to start to learn the skills of hunting for food so that mom can wean them at about 35 days.  These little ones still have their eyes closed.

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Over the next few minutes she brought four kits to the new den.  After the third one she paused to collect a few more leaves for padding before going after the fourth.  She stopped and took one final photo op before disappearing into her nest to suckle the young ones and warm them up after their dip in the cold water.

mink 4

American Mink can often be found along the shore of Lake Ontario where they build their home in among the rip rap that is used for erosion control.  This picture was taken in Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke.


This one was photographed in the winter during our exploration of the Ghost Town of Mount Charles.


Seeing a mother mink moving her recently born kits is one of those opportunities that you only get if you happen to be in the right place, at just the right time.  We’re glad we captured this in pictures.

Google Maps link: Do not disturb!

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Birds of the GTA

Sunday, April 26, 2020

After hiking weekly for many years, and blogging about it for the past 6 years we have been shut down for over a month now due to the global pandemic.  With no current hikes to present, we are now looking to find other material for blogs.  For our fourth COVID-Blog we’ve collected some of the bird pictures we’ve taken along the way.  A few have appeared in our previous posts, some have been used on our Facebook page as cover or profile photos and a couple may not have been published before.  Savour a taste of the nature that is waiting for us when we’re able to get out and enjoy it.

The Baltimore Oriole is the state bird of Maryland and is named after the colours of the coat-of-arms for Lord Baltimore, who was the first proprietor of the Province of Maryland.


Yellow Warbler males have reddish-brown markings on their breast and can grow to be around 12 centimetres in length.

Yellow Warbler

Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker that is native to Ontario.  Both the male and female have a bright red crest that sweeps off the back of the head.  The male is distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek, as seen on the specimen below.  Their main food is the carpenter ant and they dig large square holes in trees to look for them.  The mated pair stay in their territory all year long and tend to nest in the largest tree in the area.  For this reason they are prone to being killed in lightning strikes.


Great Egret are known to breed in colonies with their nests at least 10 feet in the air and as high as 40 feet.  Their main diet is fish and frogs which they spear with their sharp bill.


Another shot of an Egret, this one standing on a tree in G. Ross Lord Park looking into the Don River.


Male Cardinals are at their brightest red in the spring when mating season is underway.  Their courtship includes feeding the female seeds that he collects.  This is captured in the cover photo for this collection.  After the eggs are laid the male will use his bright colours to capture the attention of potential threats.  He will then proceed to lead them away from the nest, at his own expense if need be.


Female Cardinals are paler in colour and therefore can hide themselves easier than the males.  They will sit on the eggs for 11-13 days until they hatch.  During this time the male will bring them their food.  Cardinals remain in pairs year round and the two are seldom far apart.  They have different calls which allows you to hear them as they sing to each other.

female cardinal

Like the Cardinal, the American Goldfinch is sexually dimorphic, meaning that the male and female look different in more ways than just their reproductive organs.  The male also undergoes a complete molt in which its olive coloured feathers are changed for bright yellow for mating season.



Downey Woodpeckers are the smallest of the common woodpeckers in Ontario.  Except for size, they look almost identical to the larger, and unrelated, Hairy Woodpecker.  The male has a red crest on his head that the female lacks.


In recent years there have been an increasing number of Swans who choose to spend the winter along the shores of Lake Ontario.  This one was sitting on the fresh snow and was comical as it struggled to take flight.


Canada Geese may grace our $100 dollar bill but in general they are pretty dirty birds that some people rather dislike.  However, who could dislike their cute little goslings when they are a few days old.


Great Blue Heron are one of the more common of the large fishing birds.  We see them all summer long.  This picture became the background for the Hiking the GTA business card.

Heron 1

Herons have been known to gather sticks for nesting purposes but this one was just picking them up and throwing them off the grass.


This Red-Tailed Hawk was seen at Downsview Park where it is common to see several hawks in a single visit.  For some reason this one didn’t seem alarmed that I was slowly approaching and taking pictures.  It let me get quite close before taking to flight.

hawk 1

This Red-Tailed Hawk went into the trees near me and snatched a black squirrel off a branch.  It killed the squirrel quickly so that it couldn’t struggle and escape but this was also merciful.  It then spent several minutes making sure it wasn’t going to be challenged for dinner.

hawk and squirrel

Snowy Owls spend their summers north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings.  Each bird can consume up to 1600 lemmings per year.  It is normal for a few Snowy Owls to be seen in Southern Ontario each winter.  This one was seen near the Adamson Estate.

Snowy Owl

Belted Kingfishers dive at speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour and can catch fish that are two feet under water.  They can often be heard before they are seen and have a very distinctive chatter.


Juvenile Green Heron will usually hunt from shore rather than wading like most members of the heron family.


Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron are brown in colour with spots on their wings and backs.  They will change colour as they mature to have the distinctive black crown and back with the rest of the body being white.


Common Merganser feed on a diet that is primarily made up of fish.  They have serrated edges to their bills which give rise to their other name which is “Sawbills”.


The Wood Duck is one of the most remarkably coloured members of the duck family.  The male has ornate feathers on almost all of their upper body.  Only the chest lacks a pattern.  They are found primarily in wooded ponds where they nest in hollow trees.  Their feet have little claws which makes them the only duck that can cling to bark and branches.

wood duck

Just like the juvenile Canada Geese we looked at earlier, Mallard Ducklings are also very cute.  Mom jumped of the dock into Lake Aquitaine and one by one the little ones followed her.  While she was quite graceful, they each plopped into the water.

mallard ducklings

One of the most common waterfront birds is the “seagull” which is a term loosely applied to several different Gull species and often includes Terns as well.  In general these birds are unremarkable, but sometimes you just catch them at the right moment.


Killdeer have a diet of worms and insects and migrate as far south as Mexico.  They get their name from the sound of their call rather than the number of deer that they kill.  Which is none.


Hummingbirds are the smallest bird that migrates and the only bird that can fly backwards.  Even though they live off of the nectar from flowers they have no sense of smell.  With a weight under two grams they have the ability to dive at speeds approaching 80 km/hr.


American Robins don’t fly south to escape the cold, they move around to seek food.  Most of them will stay in the area where the temperature is warm enough that they can still get bugs and worms.  The ones who stay behind switch their diet to berries and seeds.  This picture shows a robin with a berry in its mouth.

Robin eating

Leucism causes an animal to lose part of its pigmentation.  This Leucistic Robin was seen two years in a row in the same area.


Obviously, the trail and parks are full of birds and avid birdwatchers will collect dozens of species on their “Life-List” of sightings.  We hope to be able to add to ours soon.

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