Ramble Through the Rattray: Will Spring Come to South Mississauga?

Early this April I took a nature walk in South Mississauga through the Rattray Marsh looking for signs of spring. Since it had been snowing a bit earlier that morning I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Certainly it was nothing like spring 2012 when the butterflies were back and the trees were in full bloom. I found a few signs though.

The Sounds of Spring Reach the Rattray

The first sign was a sound. Or rather 5 sounds, all similar coming from different directions. It was a rapid rolling drumbeat, or rather bill beat. Woodpeckers were announcing their presence. I later read on AllAboutBirds, the Cornell University website, that this drumming can mark territory, but it can also just be for communication between a pair, and an invitation to a single. So this doesn’t mean there are 5 territories set up, although there soon should be several.

Photo of Hairy Woodpecker Female Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom

A few metres farther down the path, I found a female Hairy Woodpecker who was studiously ignoring all the racket around her. Instead she was poking and prying at bits of bark and foraging underneath.

The second sign was another familiar sound. The chirk-a-ree of the male Red Winged Blackbirds. They were everywhere: on bullrushes; on bushes; on tree tops. And each one was puffing up its epaulettes, half lifting its shoulders and ripping out its call. Having grown up near a large marsh, I always hear their sound as a sure sign of spring.

Photo of Song Sparrow Rattray Marsh April NaturalCrooksDotCom

The third sound of spring was the persistent happy “weasel weasel fine weather” of a Song Sparrow. Again, a quick check of the taller branches of trees near the Sheridan Creek found it. While not a dramatically coloured bird, Song Sparrows do add a lot to an environment with their sheer exuberance.

Punctuated by Colour

Speaking of exuberant colour, a male goldfinch positively glowed as he perched in the full sun while his flock flitted through the tulgy underneath. I don’t know if he knew how attractive he looked or not, but he sure made a vivid patch in the dormant grey branches.

Similarly, two male cardinals made appearances at different places along the path. Their tattered winter-dull feathers have been renewed with vivid scarlet and shiny black. They are actively pairing up, feeding their females little treats and calling for their dogs.

Photo of Icy Stick Sheridan Creek on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Flower-wise there was nothing to be found. No dog toothed violet leaves, no marsh marigolds, even the coltsfoot wasn’t blooming yet. In fact there was still ice forming on every twig that hung over the creek to get splashed. Last year, which was an unnaturally warm one, there were geraniums (cranesbills) in bloom everywhere.

Flicking Tail Finds Out a Phoebe

Near the shore of Lake Ontario I spotted a small long-tailed bird flicking its tail while perched on a dogwood. I hoped it might be a phoebe and sure enough it was. I followed it down to the shingle beach of Lake Ontario. Here, it alternated perching on low tree branches and swooping down over the pobble rocks to pick up some prey. See if you can find it in this photo. Then click on the photo to see it more closely.

Photo of Phoebe Hunting Rattray Marsh on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Birds of Winter Shades of Summer

Throughout the walk, I found flocks of Chickadees. They stay here all winter, but they have brightened up their feathers for summer. Pairs of Mallards patrolled almost every section of the creek and lagoon. The males’ heads are an amazing shade of green in the bright spring sun. They attracted no interest from a pair of Mute Swans, though, who just kept plunging face first into the icy water to feed. Robins and starlings who also winter here went about their business poking and feeding among the still dormant grasses.

Overall it was a pleasant spring ramble. While I didn’t see anything amazing on this nature walk through Mississauga I did see lots of welcome old friends.

Photo of Chickadee in Flight Rattray Marsh April on NaturalCrooksDotCom

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Do you have some favourite places for a spring nature walk? Is there one sound or sight that symbolizes the start of spring for you? Please share your experiences with a comment.

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