Things I am Thinking About Right Now...

  • 1. Finally Updated; A busy ( and not-so-birdy fall ) fall
  • 2. A smew in Ontario ??? And I got to see it !
  • 3. Thinking about summer vacation...
  • 4. And Sping trips too !
  • 5. Quite a few Winter rarities around. May try to add a few more to the list
  • 6. Still no snow on the ground...
  • 7. Project FeederWatch is going strong. Two eports submitted...
  • 8. I think I have convinced my wife to visit Cape May next summer !
  • 9. The Elephant Pepper Development Trust ( Check out their site ! )
  • 10. Tying to decide how to spend my remaining gift certificates !

Monday, 11 April 2011

A Guide to Birding Halls Road

Halls Road is one of the more interesting birding sites in the Eastern GTA. It is a short road that intersects with Victoria Rd. just east of Lake Ridge Road. It is not the most scenic drive; basically, the road bisects a couple of fields, before ending just before Lake Ontario. However, it provides the opportunity to see a diverse number of species, yet is also accessible and most importantly for me, kid-friendly. Kid-friendly in the sense of relatively short trails and the opportunities to get close encounters with some of the wildlife. In essence makes for a perfect one-two hour excursion with the little ones in tow.
This guide provides some information so that you can get the most out of your time when visiting Halls Road. However, it is by no means the definitive guide. If anyone wants to add information, please feel free as it will give other readers, including myself even more information. Likewise, the birds listed are birds that I have seen or birds that were reported through local birding web-sites. Please feel free to add any other notable sightings. Thank You.

The Drive

For Birders: The fields and open area along the road provide many birding opportunities. Geese and ducks use these fields heavily during spring and fall migration. Most of these are CANADA GEESE or MALLARDS but every so often you may find a CACKLING GOOSE, SNOW GOOSE or NORTHERN PINTAIL. Raptors can be seen soaring around these fields any time of year. NORTHERN HARRIERS are the most common bird of prey, usually year-round residents of the area. RED-TAILED HAWKS are common during migration in fall and spring. SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS, COOPER'S HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTREL are also good bets during migration but this area is a raptor migration hotspot ( more on that to come...). ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK ( in winter ), BROAD-WINGED HAWK, PEREGRINE FALCON, MERLIN, NORTHERN SHRIKE ( in winter ) and SHORT-EARED OWL ( in fall, although good luck because I haven't had much  with this one ). SANDHILL CRANES stop over in these fields, although they are not very common. HORNED LARKS ( common in winter ), SNOW BUNTINGS ( not so much ) and sparrows ( many types although SONG, FIELD and wintering  AMERICAN TREE ) are often seen feeding along the roadside.

 During the spring/summer AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, SONG SPARROWS and NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS are a safe bet.

My best sightings

RED-HEADED WOODPECKER - A bird that was flying between the large trees at the beginning of the road
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK - Wonderful views of two birds that were hanging around a few years ago

For the Kids

The chance to see birds of prey are pretty good and sometimes they can be seen at close range. Perfect for a winter drive, when you feel the need to get out and go somewhere. Even if you don't end up going outside, you still have the chance to see something interesting

The North Viewing Platform

For Birders:A small parking area provides the beginning of the first trail off of Halls Road. This trail leads mix of habitat, ranging from grassy to shrubby to forest before ending at the viewing platform. The platform looks out onto the open, north end of Cranberry Marsh.

The birding along this short trail begins with several feeders around the parking area. Local Hint: On particularly cold, winter days, my family and I will drive Halls Road and then park here to do a little feeder-watching ( usually with coffee and donuts/bagels on hand ). These feeders attract a number of "usuals" including BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, WHITE-BREASTED and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, DARK-EYED JUNCOS, NORTHERN CARDINAL, DOWNY WOODPECKER, HAIRY WOODPECKER, AMERICAN TREE SPARROW and a resident flock of WILD TURKEYS.
The trail and parking area provide potential owl sightings. BARRED OWL is consistently most winters. Other species depend on irruption cycles but during good owl years GREAT GRAY OWL, LONG-EARED OWLS and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS are possible during the winter.
The path continues, passing through a patch of trees.
This area can be productive during the spring or fall. Migrant birds like YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, WILSON'S WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, EASTERN PHOEBE and empidomonax FLYCATCHERS are birds that I have seen. Jewelweed grows in this area in large quantities. It blooms in the fall, attracting good numbers of RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS.

The trail terminates at the viewing platform, overlooking the northern half of Cranberry marsh.

 Local Hint: Although, this platforms serves as an overlook for the marsh, turn around and scan the trees from here; trust me, it will save you a bit of "warbler neck".

This part of the marsh is fairly open, especially in spring when the cattails have not grown to their full height. A scope is highly recommended as this area of the marsh is quite expansive. Waders like AMERICAN BITTERN ( best seen in spring although it breeds here ), GREAT BLUE HERON and GREAT EGRET are possible. This area is also great for ducks in the spring time ( In fall, the vegetation obscures some of the best sightlines ). NORTHERN SHOVELLER, RING-NECKED DUCK, both SCAUP species, GADWALL, RUDDY DUCK, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, AMERICAN COOT, TRUMPETER SWAN, HORNED GREBE, RED-NECKED GREBE and PIED-BILLED GREBE are good possibilities.

Best Sightings

EURASIAN WIGEON- a single individual a few years ago

The sight of 10 + GREAT EGRETS and 30+ GREAT BLUE HERONS wading around the marsh during fall migration in 2008

For the Kids

The chance for a close-range Barred owl is great for both adults and kids.

The South Viewing Platform

For Birders:
The southern half of Cranberry Marsh is a busy destination for birding and nature-lovers, usually far busier than the north. A viewing platforms provides good looks onto the marsh. The platform is accessed by parking on the east side of Halls Road and then following the trail, being sure to stay to the left when the trail forks.
The birding opportunities are diverse and change with the season
This area is best known as the site of the Cranberry Marsh HawkWatch, which monitors migrating raptors during fall migration. Counting begins in mid-August and wraps up in early November. The designated counters use the Southern Viewing platform as a base to track passing birds and any interested observers can join in the fun. The number of hawks and their visibility depend on a number of factors but northwest or north winds are ideal. Some of the hawks fly in low and I will vouch that nothing is cooler than watching a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK buzz low through your own binoculars. The most spectacular species in terms of numbers is the BROAD-WINGED HAWK which can move through in the thousands during ideal days in late September. Even late in the season, raptors will still be on the move in decent numbers with rarer birds like NORTHERN GOSHAWK and GOLDEN EAGLE becoming possibilities. Every so often, the HawkWatch will find other interesting birds like the AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN that flew by in 2009. BLUE JAY migration coincides with the HawkWatch season and the South Viewing Platform is ideal for watching thousands of Blue Jays stream to the west, hugging the Lake Ontario shoreline. Mid-to-late September provides the best time to view this migration but, again, watch for ideal weather conditions.
When winter moves in, most of the birding action revolves around the feeders at the South Viewing Platform. You are bound to see many of the usual feeder birds and many of them are quite tame. In addition WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, COMMON REDPOLLS, EVENING GROSBEAKS, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, PINE SISKIN, over-wintering RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and RUSTY BLACKBIRDS ( look for them Dec.-Jan. ) are possibilities depending on which species are irrupting. Look among the evergreens along the trail for owls, especially NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL or LONG-EARED OWL.

This portion of Cranberry Marsh provides more cover but Ducks, Geese and Swans are still fairly easy to see B.C. ( Before Cattails ). The birds will also be closer. A scope, while still useful, is not a necessity. Other marsh species like VIRGINIA RAIL, COMMON MOORHEN, AMERICAN COOT, PIED-BILLED GREBES, GREEN HERON and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON can be seen with a little more patience. Waders will also stop over here. Look for both YELLOWLEGS species and sandpipers (LEAST, SOLITARY and PECTORAL). Rarities like LEAST BITTERN and YELLOW RAIL or vagrants like LITTLE BLUE HERON will sometimes surprise birders here.

Best Sighting

Patience paying off with my life Virginia Rail in 2009.

Watching thousands of Blue Jays migrate along the lake shore on a particularly ideal late September day in 2010.

For the Kids

The HawkWatch in fall can be great but there are a number of conditions that determine if the kids will enjoy it or not. Staring at dots in the sky will only entertain for so long. But birds that will come to your hand to we're talking !!! The chickadees can be border-line aggressive ( not kidding ) and there is also the chance that a nuthatch, woodpecker or blue jay will pay little hands a visit.

The Lake

For Birders:So following the trail to the left leads to viewing platform and marsh; what about following the trail to the right ?
 That leads you to the shore of Lake Ontario. At first, the trail will be surrounded by scrub ( mostly dogwoods ) interspersed with apple and evergreen trees. Sparrows, juncos and chickadees are the most common bird. After 25 m, the dogwoods give way to a small grove of trees that can be ideal habitat for warblers, nuthatches, vireos, flycatchers and other forest species. Another 25 m and you reach the shore of Lake Ontario.

The "beach" is a mix of rock, sand, decomposing algae and typical beach debris. It is not a particularly wildlife-friendly habitat. Most of the action will be offshore. The first species you glimpse will probably be CANADA GEESE, MALLARDS, MUTE SWANS, BUFFLEHEADS, RED-BREASTED and COMMON MERGANSERS, COMMON GOLDENEYE ( in winter ), DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS( now nesting in some of the shoreline trees ) and gulls( HERRING or RING-BILLED usually ). COMMON and CASPIAN TERNS fly back and forth along the shoreline.

With a scope, you can start to pick out other species including COMMON LOON, RED-NECKED and HORNED GREBES, LONG-TAILED DUCKS ( winter ), both species of SCAUP ( in winter ) and some of the less common gulls like GREATER BLACK-BACKED GULL, BONAPARTE'S and LITTLE GULLS ( although the odds of seeing these species is far higher farther east on the Lake Ontario shoreline at Second Marsh ). There have been reports of rarer species, like phalaropes in the past and honestly, anything could potentially show up in the offshore flocks. A scope is recommended !

A short walk along the beach to the east will bring you to the southern end of Cranberry Marsh. This view provides one with a slightly different angle and may reveal a few species not visible from the viewing platform ( especially once the cat-tails have grown in ).

 Look in the willows along the shoreline too. During spring and fall, you may catch a flock of migrants foraging.

Best Sightings

A flock of thousands of Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers on an otherwise dreary November day was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen.

Canada Geese can also congregate in  winter flocks that stretch for kilometers and number in the thousands along the shoreline.

For the Kids

It's a lake. There are rocks. There is some sand. There are old weather-beaten trees, perfect for climbing and play. The kids will make their fun here although the chance to see geese, ducks and swans in the water will provide some close-up time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Thanks for this great post, I will plan on coming to your area to do some birding. I live in Toronto, and this past Sunday, my wife, Jean, and I came upon a Barred Owl in Rouge National Park, near Markham, Ontario. This was the second time in six weeks that we have come upon, and filmed, an owl out in the wilds. The first was a Saw-Whet Owl. Prior to these two sightings, we had never seen an owl in its natural habitat. Needless to say, it has been an exciting six weeks. Our pictures and video of the Barred Owl sighting are posted on our blog at:

    Our pictures and video of the Saw-Whet Owl sighting are at:


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