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Baltimore Oriole Sighting
May 10, 2018 by Andrew Yee

Every spring the cherry blossoms in High Park are a must-see event in the city. Torontonians and visitors from afar have adopted the Japanese custom of sakura hanami; folks flock to the park to enjoy the beautiful blossoms, celebrate the arrival of spring, and explore the natural environment. Through the High Park Nature Centre website I learned about the history and species of cherry trees planted in the park, and the value of these trees within their ecosystem. I also learned that the blossoms attract the Baltimore orioles: the bird, not the baseball team!

The (ornithological) Baltimore oriole, attracted to the sakura blooms!

I have heard orioles singing many times in my own backyard and in High Park, but rarely do I manage to see the birds. On May 8 I made my first cherry blossom walk of the year. As I reached the bottom of Cherry Blossom Hill, two orioles darted through my field of view. I stopped to look for the birds. Shortly afterward, I heard their lovely song and traced the sound to near the dawn redwood tree by Grenadier Pond. There it was: high up on the tree an oriole was feeding on the nectar of the cherry blossom flowers. The dense blooms and branches presented a challenge to get a clear view and photograph the bird.

I walked around the tree and finally found a spot where I had a relatively good view.

The oriole hopped around on the branches so I had to relocate repeatedly to find another gap among the blooms.​

It was difficult to snap a good photo of the bird, particularly when I had to point the camera almost straight up and at times took the pictures in backlighting.

Interestingly, when the oriole finished consuming the nectar in a blossom, the bird broke off the flower and flicked it away as if to discard an empty flower pod. What a clever idea to keep track of which flower pod is depleted of nectar!

The oriole holds on to a cherry blossom in its beak and is ready to dispose of it.

I gave up taking pictures eight minutes later as I started to get dizzy tilting my head up for a long time!  But I was thrilled that I finally saw and captured images of an oriole in action feeding on cherry blossom nectar.

There is another blossom that attracts Baltimore orioles too. In May 2016 I went by the Nature Centre to see the crabapple blossoms. The situation was similar. I heard and followed the melodic tune of an oriole, then found it feeding happily on one of the crabapple trees. What a treat to see the striking yellow-orange bird among the sea of crabapple blossoms!

A Baltimore oriole shot from May 2016: the oriole peeks through some crabapple blossoms near the High Park Nature Centre.

The next time you enjoy sakura and crabapple blossoms, keep your ears and eyes open and look for the beautiful Baltimore orioles!

Andrew Yee - An astronomer who has turned his eyes from celestial gazing to observe terrestrial objects in High Park, and explore the natural environment.

Sources are listed below and also linked throughout the blog post. All photos are credited to Andrew Yee.

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