Today’s post comes from Victoria Reimer, Bronte Creek Provincial Park Green Jobs summer student and friend to birds around the world.
If you had asked me what a Green Jobs student was before I started, I wouldn’t even have known it myself.
Now, after taking over, I can tell you that it is a wonderful opportunity to connect intimately with your park. Every day, my job challenges me, but also provides me with many opportunities to learn.
A typical day includes a lot of hiking, uploading iNaturalist data, managing invasive species, and talking to park visitors, but there is a very special type of visitor that I spend most of the day with.
These visitors are not here to camp, picnic, or meet our farm animals. You won’t find them walking the trails or fishing in the stream either!
If you look up over a field of tall grass, you might see their flying acrobatics or hear their bold song. These are Bobolinks and they have become one of my nature mentors!
Bobolinks (or “Bobs” as we affectionately call them at Bronte Creek) are beautiful birds, but they are in decline.
These birds nest on the ground. They breed in the swinging grasses of tallgrass prairies and agricultural fields. Due to a number of challenges, including a shortage of its favorite breeding habitat, this species is now listed as threatened.
Male “Bobs” sport striking black plumage trimmed with yellow on the back of the head and white along the wings and back. Females are a more subtle yellowish-brown, with a darker brown patch along the wings.
Located in the ever-expanding Greater Toronto Area, Bronte Creek protects the habitat Bobs so desperately need.
It’s up to park staff to make sure the fields they use for nesting and foraging are as welcoming as possible to them. My job is to monitor the Bobolinks to understand how many of them are using these fields and in what way.
This is incredibly important as it allows us to track the progress of the Bobolinks breeding season, so that staff do not disturb the fields before the birds are finished using them.
This is how I found myself walking through the fields of the Bobolinks every morning, observing and learning.
Singing for everyone to hear
I usually hear the males’ clear territorial calls before I even reach their fields.
Its call is dynamic and the tones have an almost digital quality. It sounds more like a ringtone than something from nature.
Their calls can be heard loudly and frequently from May to early June, when they establish territories and try to attract females.
Their boldness reminds me to be bold and enjoy the adventures that can be found in nature.
When the males are the loudest, the females are quiet and reserved.
I usually see fewer of them in the fields, and when they do appear, it’s usually only for a short flight before disappearing back into the lush, green carpet of grass. “Why are they so elusive?” I wonder.
Then I realize it’s because they have an important job to do. Each female must build a nest and lay her eggs in a well camouflaged place, so that predators do not find them. In this way, the apparent absence of the females from the field actually taught me a lesson about her world.
It reminded me to be still, be patient, and look beneath the surface to enjoy nature’s less obvious pleasures.
Sometimes, however, finding nature’s best gems comes down to pure luck.
I was lucky the day that, walking through one of the fields, I scared a female Bobolink that came out of the grass. His escape from her was so sudden that it scared me as much as it scared her!
Bobolink’s nest was a cup of intricately woven, densely woven grass on the ground, and it cradled five pale blue eggs dotted with irregular brown spots.
At the spot where I had taken off, I found something that made the whole ordeal worth it: a Bobolink nest.
Bobs are so good at hiding their nests that it’s rare to see one, so finding one so unexpectedly filled me with joy.
Finding that nest reminded me why I will always return to nature.
Sometimes being outdoors is too hot, humid, or too buggy. However, it is worth braving these conditions, because if you spend enough time in nature, you are sure to find incredible things.
You never know when you’ll find a Bobolink nest, a spectacular insect, a fun frog, or the sweetest flower you’ve ever smelled!
Bobolinks will soon reach the end of their breeding season at Bronte Creek.
They will leave the fields and I won’t be able to see them every day. It’s sad to think of them leaving, but it comforts me to know that our park has welcomed them as they raised a new generation.
I am proud to say that I helped protect the park’s Bobolinks, so that others have the opportunity to learn their own lessons from these birds and the nature that sustains them.
Ontario Parks supports the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas – a massive community science initiative that aims to study all of the province’s breeding birds.
YoIt’s a big job, so if you like birds and care about their conservation, we could use your help!