Tiny Marsh Hike and Black Terns

While visiting my family up in Collingwood we decided to go check out Tiny Marsh.

Tiny Marsh entranceTiny Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area

Josh wanted to try again for the Marsh Wren and they also have a breeding colony of Black terns. Both would be life birds for us.

black tern nesting location at tiny marsh
Students out in a canoe checking on nesting Black Terns

We ended up hearing the Marsh Wren and seeing about 10 Black Terns. 250 different species of birds have been reported in the Wildlife Management Area.

Black Terns and Tiny Marsh

Unfortunately Black Terns are a provincially threatened species.

That is one reason why the Important Bird Area and the conservation plan at Tiny Marsh were put into place, as well as to protect its populations of resident and migratory birds.  Birds here can be monitored, studied, and enjoyed by scientists and us.

Tiny Marsh consists of marshes, open water, bog, and upland forest, where the headwaters of the Wye River start. This is a perfect place for the terns to feed and nest.

woodland section at tiny marsh
Upland forest
Tiny Marsh Panorama
Panorama view as you enter the marsh
birding tiny marsh
Viewing the Black Terns

A threshold of 50 pairs for significant colonies has been used in a Canadian regional study and records indicate hundreds of Back Terns breeding here. This makes the breeding population at Tiny Marsh nationally significant.

Tiny Marsh panorama

In August, when the babies are big enough to fly, the terns spend several weeks at feeding sites on bays and open water of the lower Great Lakes. From early to mid August you’ll be able to see significant numbers in the western basin of Lake Erie.

Then they migrate inland, either by themselves or in small groups, through the United States to marine habitat along the coasts of Central and South America. Here they lead a pelagic (spending a significant portion of their life on the open ocean) lifestyle while wintering.

Tiny Marsh water plants

Black Terns in Trouble

Since the 1930’s the number of Black Terns in Ontario has declined.

This species breeds in cattail and bulrush marshes with good stretches of open water. They live in small colonies and usually return to the colony in which they were born in order to breed. Because these wetlands are being drained for agriculture and urban and industrial development there aren’t as many locations now to feed and nest.  Also the nest is virtually at the water’s surface, meaning that it may easily be destroyed by wind, wave action, or changing water levels (Ducks Unlimited Canada manages the water levels at Tiny Marsh ensuring that the Terns are not stressed during breeding season.) Usually only one chick is raised for each nest of two to three eggs.

Another possible factor, effecting everything in the natural world, is pesticides.  Black terns have been observed foraging for insects behind ploughs and over grain fields on sprayed agricultural land. It has been suggested that reduced hatching success may be due to agricultural contaminants.

Part 2 on the Tiny Marsh Turtles is next.

Part 3 Mushrooms at Tiny Marsh

Marsh Wren at Bull’s Point

A sighting for a marsh wren popped up at Bull’s Point in the RBG Cootes Paradise Sanctuary so Josh and I decided to try and see it.

Bull's Point Trail, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

Unfortunately it was a little late in the day and very hot so most of the birds were pretty quiet. Marsh wrens sing more often at dawn and dusk.  We did see a caspian tern, mute swan, and heard a virginia rail.  Along the walk we heard several warblers and had a lovely close sighting of an indigo bunting.

The Birds of Cootes Paradise Marsh, Hamilton

The Marsh Wren at Cootes Paradise

Marsh wrens nesting at Bull’s Point is an indicator of the marshes good health. Restoration efforts, including keeping carp out of the bay, have helped to increase the vegetation required for these birds. RBG staff also try to increase the native species by planting seedlings and fencing off certain areas to protect fragile plant life.

RBG Cootes Paradise Sanctuary, Hamilton

The boardwalk through the Marsh is an excellent spot to try to see the wrens. Because they spend the majority of their time in the cattails, being a ground forager, getting above them gives you a better chance of a sighting.

Marsh Walk, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

They have more than 50 variations to their song and some males will sing right though the night.

Birding on the Marsh Walk trail, Cootes Paradise, Hamilton

Trail system RBG Cootes Paradise Sactuary

If you would like to hear the Marsh Wren’s song and see pictures of it check out BirdNote’s page here.

 

Red Hill Trail from Mud Street

This morning was misty and wet from all of the rain the night before. Later on there’s the chance of rolling thunderstorms and … more rain.  We hoped to hike a stretch of the Red Hill Trail to the Bruce trail before we got soaked.

Red HIll Valley trail view

The mud along the Red Hill Trail is sticky and slick. Hikers should be extra careful after it’s rained. We noticed many that were out had poles to stabilize themselves.

Decent on Red Hill Valley trail

The trees looked extra moody with a slick of rain on them. This misty light made the green of the new leaves really pop.

Rain wet tree

Once we got down the first hill the terrain leveled out. The trail follows alongside the creek that Albion Falls cascades into. There are several little waterfalls along the route.

Waterfalls, Hamilton Waterfalls, Red Hill Valley Trail

Erosion along the creek bed has left the roots of the trees exposed. Its a reminder of the communication network hidden beneath the soil. Suzanne Simard does an excellent TED talk explaining how trees communicate.

tree roots along Red HIll Valley trail

mini waterfalls along creek

Birding

No trip along any of the trails is complete without a little birding. We had a perfect sighting of an indigo bunting. They are such stunning birds!

birding hamilton, along the bruce trail

It’s amazing how many of the creatures inhabiting the forest, not 10 feet from us, are completely unknown to us. The more we get to know the plants and birds and butterflies the more in awe we are.

There is so much to see if we just decide to look.

Bruce trail in King's Forest

Our intentions were to get to the Escarpment Rail Trail parking sidetrail and take the Mountain Brow side trail back. This meant a nice loop where we would get to see Buttermilk and Albion Falls. Not having a phone with data on it meant we didn’t realize we were almost there when the rain came. We turned around instead and hightailed it back to the car, making it just in time. Heavy rain poured down on us as we drove home.

red hill valley trail to bruce trail