Bugwoman on Location: Collingwood, Ontario, Canada


Dear Readers, I have been to Canada enough times now to not feel completely at a loss. I don’t fluff up my feathers when Canadians stand on the right and the left of the escalator (unlike Londoners who are obligate ‘stand on the right, walk on the left’ -ers). I usually go to the correct side of the car when I’m a passenger. I have realised that most Canadians don’t add ‘eh’ to the end of every sentence. But, more profoundly, I am starting to recognise some of the birds and plants that I see, and it’s this, more than anything, that helps me to feel at home. However, a trip to Collingwood, a town on the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, reminded me of how much I still have to learn.

We stayed with Rosemary and Linda, my husband’s aunts, and their bird feeder attracts all kinds of interesting creatures. Take the magnificent grackle, for example. What a splendid bird, and nobody’s fool, I’m sure. We have no grackles in Europe, and so they are always a treat, especially in the spring when the males are at their most iridescent.

Two grackles….

The bird feeder attracts American goldfinches as well: the black and white patterns on the wings are reminiscent of the European goldfinch, but the citrus-yellow plumage and black crest of the male are very different.

Male American Goldfinch…

…and female American goldfinch

And we have no equivalent of a cardinal in the UK. I am always surprised at how large they are: I am expecting a finch-sized bird, but they are larger, and showier, and altogether more splendid. The male and the female always arrived together, and I loved their soft, whistling calls to one another.

Female cardinal….

…and male cardinal

And then a mourning dove popped in to see if there was anything on offer. What tiny doves these are, much smaller than the collared doves at home.

Mourning Dove

I was surprised to see large flocks of blue jays as well: I’d assumed that these were more solitary birds, but during a walk along the lake shore later in the day we spotted a flock of at least thirty birds.

Blue jay

In the UK, we have only two sparrow species, but North America is much more richly endowed with these ‘little brown jobs’, and very pretty they are too.

Song sparrow ( I hope)

And some creatures are rather more familiar. There are European house sparrows…

and the grey squirrels take great pleasure in shaking their tails at Linda and Rosemary’s dog Charlie. Charlie can contain himself for a while, but his patience is not never-ending and eventually he has to bark at them. Not that they seem to care much. They can tuck away a good inch of the sunflower seeds in the feeder at one sitting.

A squirrel telling Charlie who’s boss…

A squirrel tucking into sunflower seeds. He seems to be easing out of his thick winter coat.

Charlie facing off with the squirrel (on the rock)

But the wildlife in Collingwood isn’t just about the bird feeder. We took Charlie for several walks along the shore. Georgian Bay is a magnet for wildlife – there is the lake itself, the reed beds, the woods and the shoreline to provide food and shelter for all manner of creatures. We spotted a muskrat and a passing osprey (and on neither occasion was I fast enough with the camera) but here are some of the things that we did spot.

Male Red-winged blackbird

You cannot move for red-winged blackbirds, calling and displaying and clowning around. They are not closely related to European blackbirds, which are thrushes: they are Icterids (the name means ‘jaundiced ones’), and the group includes the new world orioles, the grackles and the bobolink. I saw a female red-winged blackbird, and didn’t even recognise what she was, so different is she from the male.

Female red-winged blackbird

The lake shore is full of dogwood and rushes, which makes it an ideal spot for displaying males.

And the male grackles look splendid in the sunshine too, more like birds of paradise than ‘jaundiced ones’…

The woods at the lake edge are full of sweet violets, and the smell reminds me of those chalky parma violet sweets that you used to be able to buy. The scent is both delicious and cloying, with an undertone of decay – Linda said that it reminded her a little of manure, and she’s right. A little of the smell goes a long way.

Banks of sweet violet

We had hoped to see a turtle of some description: there are snapping turtles and spotted turtles, and possibly painted turtles, but not a turtle did we see apart from this one.

The area where this chap has been ‘planted’ apparently used to be a popular spot for the living turtles to lay their eggs, but I guess they won’t be doing that here anymore. The irony does not escape me, nor many of the Collingwood residents.

However, we did see this magnificent chap or chappess, so all is not lost for the herpetological residents of the lake. I do believe that s/he might be a Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) but feel free to correct me.

And then, on our last afternoon before heading to the skyscrapers of Toronto, we visited John and Jo’s house. They have a stream running through their back garden, and it is the most serene spot, perfect before a return to the hubbub.


The grass is studded with coltsfoot (which I had never thought of as being a woodland plant, but which is thriving here).

A fallen log is crumbling away and is ‘mother’ to all manner of plants and mosses, some planted deliberately, some just welcome visitors.

There are toad lilies and bloodroot (which reminded me of our wood anemones) and the trillium is just about to bloom.

Toad lilies



And while we were eating some very fine scones on the deck at the back of the house, a hairy woodpecker flew onto the tree opposite and started working away on the bark. I’ve mentioned before that the black and white barring and red cap of the European greater spotted woodpecker reminds me of a painting by Mondrian, and this is just as true of this Ontario native. There is something special about a woodpecker, and seeing it in good company, on a warm, sunny day, makes it even better.

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13 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location: Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

  1. Laurin Lindsey

    I love the first picture of the bird giving you a intense look. Here in Houston we have all these same birds and some more as we are on the migration super highway from Mexico, Central and South America. Most folks don’t like the Grackles but I love their tails and iridescent black feathers. I have two Male Cardinals and one female and there is a nest in our shrubs. Enjoy the rest of your visit!

  2. Patty/NS

    I was surprised to read Collingwood, Canada. Had to read it 2x before I caught on you were here in Canada. Hope you enjoyed your visit to our rather blustery Canadian Spring. Lovely pictures.

  3. Veronica Cooke

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tour around the Canadian flora and fauna.

    The grackles are beautiful as is the woodpecker.

    I remember seeing the cardinals on my previous visits ( in 2000) but at the time I didn’t take much notice of the flora and fauna. I do now!

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  5. Toffeeapple

    I really enjoyed this post, it is so good to see creatures from another country. I have been away and am only now catching up.

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