A Late Autumn Encounter with Hoodies and Ruddys in Humber Bay Park, Toronto

On one bright but brisk late autumn afternoon, I went for a short ramble through Humber Bay Park, East and West, in Toronto. The twin parks are located on Lake Ontario near where the now-shuttered Christie-factory water tower marks the way. Even without stopping for some Social Tea biscuits, I had a delicious afternoon. Here are some highlights.
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Female Gadwall Keeping an Eye on Me

While crossing the floating dock and enjoying the echoing booms it makes even if you tread slowly, I spotted some ducks eager to avoid me. (I also encountered several persistent Mallards who were sure I would produce bread crumbs if they pestered me long enough.) These two are a pair of Gadwall. The male was reluctant to stop feeding right at the edge of a fine skin of ice. I didn’t stay long so hopefully he went right back to whatever treat he’d found.

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Male Gadwall Gives Up Snacking to Keep with His Partner

Cresting the top of the tiny rise at the west end of the bridge, I walked down to peer into the large delta where a stream or drainage channel empties out into the lake. The usual suspects, dozens of Ring Billed Gulls, Canada Geese and Mallards, were perched uncomfortably on the thin ice or were swimming around the still open water. I went right down to the muddy shore to get a closer look at the gulls, just in case there was anything unusual hiding among them.

By so doing, I startled a pair of much smaller ducks who stopped dabbling among the Mallards and swam briskly away from me. These inconspicuous ducks were only about 1 /2 to 2 /3 the size of the Mallards.

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Female Green Winged Teal Flashes Her Patch

The first one to venture back was the female. I still hadn’t totally clued it to who she was until she decided to stretch her wings, revealing a lovely splash of emerald sateen. Teal!

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Male Green Winged Teal with his eye patch glinting green.

Eventually the male came back. He actually flew towards me in two short bursts, landing between each. With his Christmas- ornament-coloured head he left no doubt that these were a pair of Green Winged Teal. Of course he was much too nervous to let me get the sun behind me so I could get a good crisp photo. I hope you’ll accept this as proof of his existence even if it doesn’t show him to best advantage.

Photo of Green Winged Teal Male on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Male Green Winged Teal with his eye patch fading to black out of the sun.

I would have been happy enough with those two close encounters. This was to be a magnificent day, though, for when I crossed the footpath heading back to the eastern part of the park, near the washrooms, I found a small pond full of Hooded Mergansers! There were at least 16 birds in the largest group.

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Hooded Mergansers just up from a dive.

Tentatively, I began trying to follow the edge of the pond to get away from the glare of the sun. I was sure the mergansers would be too far away when I got in position, but I was lucky and they weren’t. Two gulls were harassing them each time they emerged from their dives. The gulls were very aggressive and the smaller mergansers found it distracting. They actually, as a flock, continued to move towards me even as I moved slowly towards them. (I did try to move when most of the flock was underwater.)

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A female Hooded Merganser finishes a fish before a gull spots her.

I happily took a variety of photos and watched as they dove for fish. I saw Hooded Mergansers eating fish at the surface so it appears they don’t usually swallow their prey underwater. The gulls likely knew that too.

Eventually, the birds moved away. I looked around at the shrubs I was partially sheltering behind and did a double take. A juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron was standing, fully in the open, about 10 feet from me on a pond-edge limestone block. Apparently, it had been keeping an eye on me but since I wasn’t doing anything, it had relaxed.

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A juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron warily watches me watching.

Now we stared at each other. Its eyes were more vivid than mine with their golden yellow irises. Although the light wasn’t great, I took some photos. Before I could even try to get a different viewpoint, a dog walker and then a jogger passed on the extremely nearby path. The young Heron couldn’t deal with this many creatures and it took off out over the pond to the other side.

I didn’t follow the heron, but I did prowl around the next pond taking even more photos of Hooded Mergansers.
Photo of Hooded Merganser Male Crest Down on NaturalCrooksDotCom

A male Hooded Merganser with the hood down.

Eventually, I moved on to Humber Bay East and walked along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

In the slightly sheltered arm of the lake that lies between the park and shore, was a huge raft of mostly sleeping birds. There were Redheads and Mallards and Long Tailed Ducks. There were Red Breasted Mergansers and even a Red Necked Grebe that was busy diving.

Photo of Ruddy Duck Male On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Many of the sleeping ducks seemed small. Not as small as Bufflehead but not large. And they often had their tails cocked up stiffly behind them. I wasn’t sure till I checked my guide later, but I was very hopeful that these were Ruddy Ducks. I’ve heard of them before but I’ve never knowingly seen them.

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And they were!

By now it was getting late and so I had to leave all these intriguing waterfowl behind. Still, it had been a wonderful couple of hours and Humber Bay was well worth the visit.

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