This has been an unusually warm and sunny October so far, and I decided to take full advantage of it by heading to High Park with my camera. My goal was to spot some snapping turtles, their young having somewhat recently hatched.
Upon arriving at the park, however, I soon found myself snapping things other than turtles. Autumn is a busy time of year for many animals, and there were no shortage of subjects.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel, and its melanistic counterpart, the Black Squirrel, were found all over the park, scurrying through bushes, up trees and across the grasslands. They bury surplus food to tide them over through the winter, when food is scarce. These two approached me, and finding I had no handouts, quickly vanished. I headed to the pond in search of my elusive snappers, but along the way some charming subjects lured me away.
The ladies were quite beautiful, with white rings around the eyes, and a band of bold blue/violet across their wings. Wood ducks are typically found in small groups, away from other types of ducks. In fact there were about 5 in this group, 2 of them sitting on a very low tree branch which hung over the water. The real stunner, as per usual, was the male.
He is so brilliantly coloured, with such precise markings, that he almost looks like a carved wooden decoy. He continuously made low peeping noises, while the females had a louder, intermittent quack that lifted upward at the end.
Further down, I spotted a mixed group of waterfowl. These birds were less picky about whose company they keep.
The Mute Swan is so named because it’s so much less vocal than other swans, such as the Trumpeter Swan. True to its name, it didn’t make a peep other than to hiss at the ducks that came too close.
This log was a popular spot, as many came and went, the others quacking and squawking each time a new duck joined them. After awhile, another bird crashed the party.
The double-breasted cormorant bumped a few ducks off the end of the log and stretched its wings for several minutes to dry them off, as the feathers of this bird are not waterproof. In the late sixties, cormorants and other birds, such as the Peregrine Falcons had their numbers drastically reduced by the use of DDT.
DDT caused the eggshells to thin to the point of breaking before the incubation period could end. Thankfully, cormorant populations are now increasing.
I slipped into the dense tall reeds, and climbed over some dead logs near the water’s edge to examine a tree that had been felled by a beaver. I suddenly realized I was not alone.
This Great Blue Heron was surprisingly tolerant of my presence. My previous attempts at photographing herons in Algonquin Park led to frustrating silent canoe chases that always ended with the birds flying 30 meters away, over and over again. Clearly this city park-dwelling heron is more accustomed to the sight and smell of humans. I watched him intently scan the shallow water around him, looking for an unlucky fish or frog to spear.
Eventually, he became weary of my constant changing of positions, and camera clicking that he decided to leave.
After the blue heron departed, I finally did spot one snapping turtle. It was swimming about 25 feet from shore, only the sharp tip of its head and a slice of the shell could be seen, but it was unmistakably my beloved snapper!! It was not very large, and returned to the bottom after only a minute, but I’m glad I got to see at least one.
I’ve learned to take what nature gives you. And when she offers you the beauty of mallards, wood ducks, swans and herons…well…snapping turtles are kind of ugly anyway.