Wings of the Lakeshore
Curated by Ala Asadchaya
Featuring photography by Bob and Sandra C. Hawkins
Click on any photo below to see the full gallery
The Lakeshore grounds, particularly the area that is known as Colonel Samuel Smith Park, is a biodiverse ecosystem with a significant number of animal and plant species. Some of them, for instance, include the Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis), Red-necked grebe (Podiceps grisegena), and the Silver Maple tree (Acer saccharinum). Recently, the park has been officially designated as Environmentally Significant Area.
The park itself began its development in the 1970s and officially opened in 1996. The City of Toronto’s waterfront infill project, along with the mature trees and landscaped grounds of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital make the park what it is today. The South Etobicoke area, which is originally the land of First Nations’ people, offered early settlement for many European military personnel and local farmers. This farming, along with industrialization and urbanization in the 20th century, contributed to deforestation of the landscape, extinction of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), and loss of some of local creeks, which were buried completely or altered (www.lostcreeksofsouthetobicoke.blogspot.ca). Today, the park is thriving with wild and plant life. Local Aboriginal groups, Friends of Sam Smith Park (www.friendsofsamsmithpark.ca), Citizens Concerned about the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront (www.ccfew.org), and Humber’s Centre for Urban Ecology (www.humberarboretum.on.ca/urban-ecology) work to actively preserve and activate Colonel Samuel Smith Park.
Colonel Samuel Smith Park is famous as one of the most diverse locations for birdwatching in Toronto; more than 200 bird species have been spotted in this area which inspires artists and photographers to observe these colourful feathered creatures. Artists, hikers, and visitors are attracted to the close and accessible location of the park, striking colours of birds and fantastic views of Toronto from the shoreline. Many local enthusiasts organize free walks and talks for watching and appreciating the variety of birds.
These photos represent a gem of green life in the City of Toronto. Next time you take a walk in Colonel Samuel Smith Park, notice the simple natural sounds of birds singing and the reflection of the sun on Lake Ontario. Be sure to visit the park when the trees are covered in snow in the winter, or glistening with dew drops in the spring. Despite the comfort with the benefits of urban life, Torontonians are still drawn to green spaces that have great impact on people’s health. Colonel Samuel Smith Park is South Etobicoke’s space to restore our relationship to the natural world.
This online gallery features captivating images taken by Bob and Sandra Hawkins. Their attention to detail, composition, and movement celebrates the rich diversity of native and migrating birds that were seen and recorded in Colonel Samuel Smith Park.
From Sandra and Bob Hawkins
"One of our greatest joys is to visit wild places where we may be surrounded by the beauty and serenity of nature. After many years of back road travelling and camping from coast to coast in Canada, we came to the realization that the wild country was slipping away and falling victim to overuse and pollution. We hope our photographs will help to emphasize some of what may be lost if natural habitat is not respected and preserved. We do not employ practices such as baiting owls, luring wildlife with recordings, or intruding into their personal zone of comfort and safety. Instead, we use patience and a certain amount of serendipity to accomplish our goals." You can reach Sandra and Bob at email@example.com.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Nesting from the Arctic Circle south to Mexico, the little Yellow Warbler is one of North America’s most widely distributed birds. Winters are spent in the tropics of Central and South America. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins. The nasal call of the White-breasted Nuthatch is commonly heard throughout the year, and especially, in winter, around bird feeders offering black oil seed and suet. In summer, they prefer insects and spiders. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Tree Swallows typically arrive along the lakeshore in early April. They are cavity nesters and the swallow boxes found throughout Colonel Sam Smith Park are in great demand. They especially like open areas near water that provide a good supply of flying insects. Unusual among swallows, they will also eat berries. This adaptation allows them to survive a cold spell when other insect eaters may not. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Males arrive first on territory. Females build feather-lined nests for their 4-7 eggs, and, following incubation by the female alone, both parents feed a diet of insects to their nestlings. Southward migration begins as early as July. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins As with all North American aerial forgers, their numbers (although still relatively high) have dropped dramatically in recent years due to loss of habitat and the ever-increasing use of pesticides. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins This little sparrow is widely found throughout much of Canada and boasts one of the most melodious songs ever to grace a marsh. Sweet, sweet, sweet, merry, merry cheer! At Colonel Sam Smith Park, visitors will encounter many Song Sparrows especially when hiking past the willows along the shore of the marina and near the wetland lookout. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins The sighting of a Snowy Owl at Colonel Sam Smith or any of the other lakeshore parks causes great excitement even among non-birders. In years when winters are particularly harsh and lemmings, their food of choice, are scarce in their northern territory, the owls move farther south (known as an irruption) in search of other prey such as ducks. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Considered by many ornithologists to be the most numerous land bird in North America, Red-winged Blackbirds are some of the earliest migrants to return in the spring. They are sexually dimorphic—males are glossy black with vibrant red wing flashes called epaulets, while females have drab brown and cream colouration that provides superb camouflage at nesting time. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Their favourite habitat is along the shore of freshwater marshes where females alone weave bulky cup-like nests of grass and reeds. Males are polygynous, i.e. they mate with as many as 10 females and aggressively defend multiple sites at once. Their loud oh-kee-ree call serves as a warning to intruders including other birds, raccoons, and mink. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Both parents feed the nestlings (females do the bulk of the work) and youngsters leave the nest approximately 11-14 days after hatching. Depending upon local conditions, two to three clutches may be raised each year. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins The Red-tailed Hawk is a medium sized bird of prey that breeds throughout most of North America, including metro Toronto. These birds may be observed throughout the year and are easily identifiable by their brick red tails. They have broad wings and soar effortlessly on high. A variety of colourations (morphs) exist throughout North America in shades ranging from very dark to extremely light. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins The nest is a large bowl of sticks lined with softer materials such as bark, pine needles and leaves. It may be built high in a tree or, if available, on the ledge of a cliff. Both sexes participate in the construction. Red-tailed Hawks are monogamous and may return to the same nesting location for many years. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Although commonly considered a bird of more northern marshes and coastal areas, the beautiful Red-necked Grebe has recently begun to nest in increasing numbers at Colonel Sam Smith Park. Several pairs of these birds aggressively vie for the nesting platforms that are found floating in the marina. Many remain for the winter when their feathers become a non-descript gray. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Their courtship display is pure ballet. Pairs may rise up above the surface of the water chest to chest with crests raised and heads swaying from side to side as they perform their mating dance. While loudly wailing, they simultaneously clasp on to a piece of vegetation as they glide over the water. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins The Red-breasted Merganser is often described as a large, long bodied, thin necked duck with a serrated (hence their nickname of “saw-bill”), long, thin, orange and slightly upturned bill. The bill adaptation provides extra grip when catching the fish that are its main food. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Cardinals have steadily extended their range northward and now southern Ontario enjoys the beauty of these birds year round. The dashing red male is complemented by a female clad primarily in tones of brown and cream with subtle red accents. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins At Colonel Sam Smith Park, look for them in brushy areas that not only offer some cover and safety, but also serve as their favourite nesting locations. Starting as early as January, when days are lengthening, the males begin to sing in order to defend their territory. Females tend to sing during the breeding season before nesting begins. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Although beautiful, elegant and a darling of the Russian ballet, the Mute Swan is not a native North American bird. They were originally imported from Europe to add an ornamental touch to public parks and the estates of the wealthy. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins This elegant duck’s summer range is circumpolar. It breeds in Arctic tundra pools and marshes and along high latitude seacoasts in North America, Europe and Russia. In Ontario, it may be found nesting on the shores of Hudson’s and James Bay. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins The House Finch is native to the southwestern United States. Because of its beautiful song, it was illegally imported to the east by pet shop owners in New York. In order to avoid prosecution, shop owners released the birds into the wild in 1940. Since then, the birds have thrived, expanded their territory and are now commonly found in southern Ontario. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins The sighting of a Horned Grebe at Colonel Sam Smith Park or anywhere else in Metropolitan Toronto is very significant, as these birds are on the federal government’s Species at Risk Public Registry. Based upon data gathered from annual surveys, their population has decreased by approximately 45% since the 1960’s. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Great Egrets are tall pure white birds with black legs and a yellow bill. Their numbers in Ontario are small at present, although mixed-species communal colonies complete with large stick nests have been established in recent years on islands in the Great Lakes. On-going studies conducted by the Government of Canada indicate that their numbers may be increasing. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins This slim, perky, long-tailed gray denizen of thick brushy areas may be identified sight unseen by its habit of mewing like a cat. It is also a master mimic and can make a surprisingly extensive variety of sounds. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins These handsome subtly-coloured ducks are mostly found on inland waters. Although their populations in eastern Canada are much less than those in the Prairie Provinces, we are fortunate to observe them regularly along the lakeshore in Toronto. Look for the black rumps of the males and for the white wing speculum (coloured wing patch) of both sexes for clues to identification. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest and most common woodpecker in eastern North America. They may be observed all year round. Although both sexes have black and white feathers, males have a bright red cap that differentiates them from the females. They are often confused with the similarly-coloured, but much larger Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus). Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of our North American birds, the black-masked, crested Cedar Waxwing takes its name from the red waxy projections found on their secondary wing feathers. The number of projections may vary with the age and sex of the bird and are suspected to be of value for attracting a mate. Older males have more of them, while females have fewer. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Although it nests farther to the north, this dapper little diving duck is quite commonly spotted along the shore of Lake Ontario and in the marina at Colonel Sam Smith Park most commonly during migration times and over the winter months. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins Searching for this tiny brown mite as it spirals vertically up the trunks of larger trees can often be a daunting task. Its colouration resembles a piece of bark and provides superb camouflage. On the way up, it seeks out insect eggs, spiders, beetles and other desirable morsels. A Brown Creeper’s short legs, sharp claws and long tail prop are more suited for upward mobility. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins These medium-sized sparrows are quite easy to identify. Look for a rusty cap, a long thin notched tail, plain gray belly with dark central breast spot and a bi-coloured bill (black upper bill and yellow lower). In colder weather they often fluff their feathers and make themselves appear plumper that usual. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Bob Hawkins Long thought to be our first bird of spring, Robins are now regularly observed throughout the winter in sheltered locations such as in the ravines of metro Toronto. Unable to find the stereotypical earthworm as food, they search for locations with berry, crabapple and cherry trees. They are probably our most recognizable and beloved birds. Click on the link for a full description.
Photograph by Sandra C. Hawkins This smallest North American falcon’s former name was “Sparrow Hawk”. The sexes are easily identified by their differences in colouration (sexual dimorphism). Males have blue wings and those of the female are brown. Both have vertical black markings on the side of their head that are often called “mustaches” or “sideburns”. Click on the link for a full description.
This work is protected under Canadian and international copyright law and may not be downloaded, reproduced, distributed or otherwise used except for personal, non-commercial purposes, without the express written consent of Bob Hawkins and/or Sandra C. Hawkins.
Bob Hawkins and Sandra C. Hawkins possess the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, publish, perform, exhibit, transmit or retransmit the work by telecommunication, create derivative works, sell, rent, offer for sale or rent, exhibit by way of trade, or distribute the work in whole or in part. It is unlawful to exercise any of the above rights or to alter or modify the Work without the prior written consent of the Artist.