Thursday, 17 January 2019

Waterloo Region Nature Outing to The Mill Race, St. Jacobs

17 January 2019

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Participants: Miriam Bauman, Shirley Bauman,  Robert Bezeau, Jim Bowman, Alice Buehrle, Roland Buehrle, Lynn Conway, Dan Daly, Justine Heinrichsberg, Peter Rasberry, Don Thomas, Henriette Thompson, Mary Ann Vanden Elzen, Mary Voisin
     (There are several others whose names I did not record; some of them people I met for the first time. Please pass on this report if you know them and have them get in touch so their names can be added).

Guests: Silke Hansen

     When we left the house it was minus 12.5°C, the sun was shining, and there was barely a breath of wind. What could be more perfect for a mid-January nature walk in southern Ontario?
     We arrived at the trail head in good time and several eager naturalists were already waiting for the walk to begin.

     This is an area where it is easy to coax Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) to feed from your hand and as you can see Mary Voisin is already trying her luck.
     While still waiting for the whole group to assemble, we were reminded that we are in Mennonite country.

     Upon entering the trail the scene that awaited us was suitably wintry.

     American Beavers (Castor canadensis) have been especially active this year and this lodge is coming right up onto the path.

     The bird life was pretty active and there was much to see. At times our group got strung out a little but I think that by regrouping as necessary most people got a chance to observe all the various species we encountered. Everyone was keenly interested and there was often a lively discussion.

     It appeared that someone had sat on this bench and strewed seed around it and beneath it, and a male and female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and a Black-capped Chickadee were feeding on the ground.

     Shirley Bauman pointed out a couple of birds flitting around in some branches on the ice, and I saw a flash of yellow and called out "White-throated Sparrow." Jim Bowman said I should look again and that the birds were Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa). And he was right! You would think I would know by now not to make such hasty calls without fully seeing the bird.

     We observed many Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens), often at close range. 

     Without doubt Black-capped Chickadee was the most common species. 

     This species has certainly come to know that friendly humans bring food, and the birds start to appear all around you as soon as you begin your walk. Many people seem to leave seed for the birds and as you can see in the picture above, this stump was well provisioned.
     Don Thomas kindly permitted me to use the following images portraying the joy of feeding a wild bird and having it alight on your hand, confident that it will come to no harm at the hands of this group of humans at least.

Lynn Conway

Henriette Thompson

     One of the attractions of a walk along the Mill Race is that the Eco Café is at the St. Jacobs end of the walk, and on a day like today, it is very pleasant to stop in for a coffee (and a muffin perhaps) and warm up and recharge before heading back along the trail to our vehicles. The chance for warm, clean, well-stocked washrooms is also a factor, especially for the ladies, for whom the need to go in the bush is decidedly unappealing at 12 degrees below zero! 

     American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) has been quite uncommon this winter so we were very happy to run into a couple of them on the way back from the café.

      In this area White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is more common than Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) so we considered ourselves fortunate to see both species.

     I am indebted to Jim Bowman for the shot of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. Jim also provided the following shot of a White-throated Sparrow.

     I doubt that you would get much argument from anyone, especially at this time of the year when many species are not present, that Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is the most handsome of the four woodpeckers you might encounter.

     This male Downy Woodpecker is handsome too, but he does not quite match the brilliant elegance of the Red-bellied male shown above.

     Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) were active throughout the woods and were attrtacted to the trail by the copious quantities of bird seed there for the taking.

     Several people had marched ahead and had left by the time we got back to the end of the trail, but this is a group shot of those who remained.

Alice Buehrle, Jim Bowman, Roland Buehrle, Mary Voisin, Dan Daily, Peter Rasberry, Don Thomas, Mary Ann Vanden Elzen, Robert Bezeau, Henriette Thompson, David Gascoigne

     It was a great walk, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, proving once again that Waterloo Region Nature is the Best Little Naturalists Club in Ontario!

All species: Mallard, Bald Eagle (probable), Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, White-throated Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal. Total: 21

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

A Productive 45 Minutes

     Miriam and I have both been busy of late with projects of one kind or another that have kept us in the house a little more than we would want, so we decided to get out for a while and check on the birds.
    One of our favourite locations (covered recently on my blog) is Three Bridges Road, always potentially productive at any time of the year. 
     I have mentioned that some kind fellow keeps a couple of suet feeders stocked and provides bird seed too, and Miriam took a picture of this spot today to show you how insignificant a location it is -  but don't tell that to the birds!

      Actually, today one of the first sightings was of a rodent, anxious to get its share of the bird seed. 

     My level of knowledge of this taxon is pretty limited, but I think it is a vole in the genus Microtus, possibly a Woodland Vole (Microtus pinetorum). 
     Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) are migratory and most of the population migrates out of Ontario during the winter, but a few always remain to tough it out.

     The same may be said of White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), and an adult bird is surely one of the most handsome of all the sparrows.

     The default sparrow in winter is Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) and as expected there was no shortage of them.

     You can clearly see the white outer tail feathers which are so characteristic of this species. Normally they are not quite so prominent as they appear in the picture above, except when in flight.
     White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is quite common and several individuals have come to know where the suet feeder is and certainly get their share of the food.

     One always associates woodpeckers with trees, but some species are not reluctant to feed on the ground if the opportunity arises. This male Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) remained there for several minutes, obviously finding the feeding much to his liking.

     Our biggest surprise was to see a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). This species is primarily migratory but some birds always spend the winter here. I had never before seen a Brown Creeper take advantage of a bird feeder, but this one made a beeline for the suet.

     The familiar, and always appealing Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) seemed to be everywhere, and it was not unusual to have half a dozen of them at the same time.

     Hairy Woodpecker (Leuonotopicus villosus) is basically a larger version of a Downy Woodpecker, with a longer more dagger-like bill. Both species were formerly in the genus Picoides, but molecular analysis reveals a greater degree of separation and they are now placed in different genera.

     You will also notice that the outer tail feathers of Hairy Woodpecker are pure white. This feature helps to clinch the identification. Downy Woodpecker has black markings on the outer white portion of the tail as shown below.

     Another distinguishing feature concerns the red patch on the back of the head of a male of either species. In the Hairy Woodpecker the red is discontinuous and broken up by a dividing line of black; in the Downy it is solid.

     Several Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) were perched in nearby trees, and every so often came down to feed for a couple of minutes before returning to their perch.

      Other species put in an appearance too, although we were unable to get pictures of them, but it was a very agreeable stop, and there was constant activity. We were happy that we had decided to get out of the house for a spell.
      Before heading back for home we checked out the Conestogo River but there was nothing to be seen.

     As you may observe there is a little ice on the river, but not much. Normally it would be frozen over by now but this winter has been so mild there is open water for the most part, especially where the flow is rapid.
     We'll see what our next visit to this familiar spot delivers.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Book Review - Carnivores of the World - Princeton University Press

     It is safe to say that man's relationship with animals, especially carnivorous animals, has been universally bad for them. We have destroyed their habitat, and continue to do so, persecuted them continuously and mercilessly, and continue to do so, and have driven them to extinction, and continue to do so.
     Aldo Leopold, whose ecological legacy has been lauded, yet largely ignored, captured the essence and the sadness of wild creatures in 1949 when he wrote of being present when a wolf died and watched "the fierce green fire dying in her eyes." He wrote no less poignantly of how the last Grizzly Bear in the southwest, walked into the string of a set gun, and killed itself.
     And so this book, the latest in the vaunted series of Princeton Field Guides, is both a celebration of carnivores and likely a requiem for some of them.

     It is the second edition of a guide covering the thirteen terrestrial carnivore families of the world, yet mammalian carnivores of the oceans have fared no better at the hands of man (witness the plight of Orcas, for example).
     There is a short introduction to each family at the beginning of the book to set the scene for the detailed species accounts to follow. I find the illustrations to be first class, depicting the species accurately, often in typical postures, sometimes accompanied by their young.

     What is also especially appealing is the series of sketches on many of the pages depicting typical behaviours of the species covered. These little vignettes add greatly to our appreciation of the subject.

     When one combines the excellence of the text with the detail of the pictures one really does have a sense of the animal, its appearance, habits, range and outlook for continued survival. The larger the carnivore, the more dire its plight.

     In sombre reflection on the state of the world's carnivores each species account ends with a section devoted to Status and Threats. This is all too frequently not the stuff of easy reading, for the future for many species is grim, given habitat loss, climate change, trophy hunting and the simple pleasure that some humans at least seem to derive from killing their fellow creatures.
     Another couple of sections that I find especially useful are found at the end of the book, where skull diagrams enable the reader to study an essential component of carnivore anatomy, and an examination of footprints enable the reader to track the presence of a species without actual sightings.

     If I have one little niggly complaint, it is about the range maps. They are too small! Princeton set the standard for maps in their magnificent two volume work by Brian K. Wheeler on the raptors of North America where each map occupies a full page. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect this practice to continue, but it certainly was appreciated!
    Consider for a moment the immortal and oft cited words of John Donne.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

     Substitute "animal" for "man" and you have the dilemma which exists today. Any animal's death diminishes all of us. If the bell is tolling for the Lion and the Grizzly Bear, the Tiger and the Polar Bear, the Leopard and the Cheetah, it is tolling for us too. 
     Perhaps with good will, foresight and the recognition that we are all fellow travellers on this earth, the situation can be remediated. But, my hopes are not held high. I earnestly wish to be proven wrong.

Carnivores of the World: Second Edition - Princeton University Press
Luke Hunter
Paperback - $29.95 - 9780691182957 - 256 pages - 7" x 9 1/2" - 93 colour and 425 black-and-white illustrations - 250 maps.
Publication date: 21 January 2019