Where is nature in the city? It’s in the city parks, gardens and trees on the streets. We need more of these as for many urban residents these are the only greenspaces that they have access to. The nature on my doorsteps led me out the door, under the street trees, and into the world of birdwatching.
Birds don’t care if it’s a cemetery or a conservation area. If there are trees, the birds will visit. My birding weekend started with a walk up to my regular patch in the Necropolis Cemetery, Toronto. Two massive beech trees guard the entrance, and hidden in their branches, a flock of house sparrows twittered as I crossed into the boneyard.
This time I turned left on the footpath. A pair of crows screeched over the treetops, darting here and there. Something made them angry – it was a pair of red-tail hawks. The raptors flew in tight circles as the crows screamed and tried to cut them off. Nesting season for the crows, means egg hunting season for the hawks.
Near the gravestone of the William Peyton Hubbard – the first Black politician and a deputy mayor of Toronto in the early 1900s – about a dozen robins and grackles pecked the ground. It’s spring and there are plenty of grubs around.
Blooms abound too. From the egg-yolk yellow of the forthysia shrub, to the baby pink flowers on the massive cherry tree. Some graves snuggled in a carpet of wood squill whose blue flowers echoed the sky.
Moving along, I headed for the two old oak trees on the far side of the graveyard. A pair of cardinals whistled in the air. Their sweet song delighted me, and perhaps too, the spirits of the deep sleepers.
An hour later, I returned home feeling calm and relaxed. Nature had worked its magic – in a graveyard in the city. The next day I headed for Cootes Paradise, a conservation area in Hamilton. This trip by GO train and bicycle, is a chance to roam and explore nearby nature. I cycled along a quiet, winding road to the massive marsh in the valley.
Spring is peak bird migration season, and the wetland and streams are an oasis for birds on their way to their breeding grounds further north. The great blue heron, northern shovelers, and greater scaups were easy to spot bobbing in the water. Mallards and Canada geese waddled on the land.
Other birders also stood and stared at the variety of bird life in the marsh. They swapped tales of the ones that got away – if only you had been here yesterday! I asked the birders, instead of pulling out my birding guide, to help me identify a bird with a long orange beak and orange feet. It was a common tern.
Leaving the ponds, I drifted inland and along the boardwalk over the marsh. Blue jays, red-wing blackbirds and chickadees flitted about.
My glee was a pair of bald eagles. Once endangered, the birds are recovering, and now tens of thousands rule the sky. Bald eagles are sacred birds in Indigenous mythology. They are symbols of peace and honour, messengers between gods and humans, and the fabled Thunderbirds. I never thought I would see them so close to the city. The pair of mighty raptors rode the updrafts of air as they did easy circles high up in the sky.
Somewhere in the treetops was a nest with eaglets. Cootes Paradise was once a polluted marsh with little wildlife. Cleaning up the marsh brought back the bald eagles in 2013. For the first time in 50 years the magnificent birds had returned to Cootes Paradise.
The bald eagles on the wing gave me a gift of joy.
Jacqueline L. Scott is a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Her research is on how to make outdoor recreation, and the broader environmentalism, more accessible for Black Canadians. She is a fellow at the Safina Center. Jacqueline has written about her research for CBC, The Conversation, and the Greenbelt Foundation. She is an avid outdoor fan, and a hike and cycling leader for two outdoor clubs. You can find her on Twitter as @BlackOutdoors1, and visit her blog Black Outdoors (blackoutdoors.wordpress.com).