By Lori Bosworth
The Tommy Thompson Park Spring Bird Festival takes place in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, 2015 to coincide with International Migratory Bird Day. Torontonicity was invited to a media preview of the festival, which celebrates the return of migratory birds. The festival will feature guided bird walks, nature photography workshops, birding by bike and gardening for birds workshops and, of course, the chance to see over 300 native species at the park.
Karen McDonald, Project Manager with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, led us on a beginner bird hike to familiarize us with some of the bird species that visit the park. Karen noted that spring is a great time to see birds because the trees are still bare. Due to our late spring, the ground was quite wet and muddy so if you are planning to attend the Tommy Thompson Park Spring Bird Festival this weekend, make sure to wear a good pair of boots.
We were provided with pairs of binoculars to help spot the birds. Karen advised us that the three sequential steps to birdwatching include: 1) listening for birds; 2) locating the bird with the naked eye; and 3) locating the bird via binoculars.
Karen was able to point out birds on our hike including the White-throated Sparrow, the Barn Swallow, the Palm Warbler, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Red-winged Blackbird (in abundance in the park), the Northern Cardinal and Chickadee. We also heard a Mockingbird singing.
After our one-and-a-half hour hike, we got into Karen’s van and drove over to the Bird Research Station, where Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) employees and volunteers were busy banding birds. The Bird Research Station hosts education programs for Grades 4, 6 and 7 from the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto District Catholic School Board.
To band the birds, mist nets are set up, which are monitored every 30 minutes. Once a bird is caught, a metal or plastic band is attached to a bird’s leg to identify him for migratory patterns. Approximately 7,000 birds are banded at Tommy Thompson Park per year. We saw a Swamp Sparrow, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Yellow Warbler and Northern Flicker being banded. When the Swamp Sparrow was released after being banded, he flew to the top of a tree about 20 metres away.
After watching the banding, we hopped back into the van and went to Embayment D Coastal Wetland to spot some waterfowl. Karen was able to identify Common Mergansers, Mallard Ducks, Trumpeter Swans, Canvasback Ducks and Mute Swans.
It’s fascinating when you think that this 250-hectare property is man-made, constructed from concrete, earth fill and dredged sand. In addition to birdwatching, you can also hike, cycle, rollerblade and fish at Tommy Thompson Park. Surrounded by this large natural habitat, you will probably find it hard to believe that you are just minutes from downtown Toronto.
If you would like to help raise funds for Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, consider participating in the Baillie Birdathon, a sponsored bird count organized by Bird Studies Canada. Collect sponsors who pledge a flat rate or per bird species identified, then choose one day in May to identify as many bird species as you can. Up to 90% of proceeds will go to Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station and the remainder will go to Bird Studies Canada towards bird conservation efforts. Register for the Baillie Birdathon online.
Tommy Thompson Park is open on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (April to October) and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (November to March). Because the property is an active construction site, it is not open on weekdays. There is a parking lot at the entrance to Tommy Thompson Park at Leslie Street and Unwin Avenue. You cannot take your vehicle into the park. Also, no pets are allowed.