Sunday, 21 May 2017

Another Banding Operation at SpruceHaven

20 May 2017

     The wind was relatively calm when we arrived before 06:00 but the augury was for the velocity to increase as the morning progressed. The forecast turned out to be accurate and we were compelled to close the nets early. So we did not have an especially auspicious day in terms of numbers and variety of birds; we did, however, enjoy each other's company and benefitted from being together.
     It is rewarding to see how Heather and Daina have become part of our team and have quietly assumed more and more responsibility. Here Heather is set to process a male American Goldfinch Spinus tristis while the maestro Kevin Grundy is content to let these young people become ever more involved.

     Heather is gently blowing on the bird to determine whether there is any deposition of fat. As might be expected on a non-migratory species, there was not.

     Having completed the other measurements she is ready to install the band.

     Her dexterity and confidence grow with each bird she handles.
     Our "bird of the day" was a Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia, our first ever for SpruceHaven. It is quite incredible how much we have learned of the avian population at SpruceHaven from our banding activities and we did not even start until last fall, and even then only one day each weekend.

     Baltimore Orioles Icterus galbula are pretty common but it is still an amazing sight to see this brilliant bird up close.

     Brown-headed Cowbirds Molothrus ater are ubiquitous at times and it will be informative if we can detect the species which they are parasitizing. 

     We captured this female Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus and I think that Heather's fingers may still be bruised from the experience! It was pretty calm, however, when Kevin held it for a photograph.

     We had expected to be back at it again today, but it has rained quite heavily for most of the morning, so we had to abandon any thoughts of unfurling our nets.
     We will look forward to resuming again next weekend.

All species 20 May: Common Starling (1), American Goldfinch (2), Mourning Warbler (1), Baltimore Oriole (1), Brown-headed Cowbird (1), Red-winged Blackbird (2), Song Sparrow (1), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1).  Total: 10.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Blue Jays (Geais bleus) in our backyard

     For some reason Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata seem to be especially abundant this year and we are fortunate to regularly have three or four of this very handsome bird in our backyard.

     Even when sitting outside on the patio they display little fear and will readily come into close proximity. 
     We have a bird feeder dispensing peanuts, designed to exclude squirrels (it is not always effective) and the jays look winsomely at the food inside, unable to get to it. 

     If we are outside we can toss down food for them but in other circumstances any food available to the birds is quickly gobbled up by squirrels. These little critters appear to have become totally urbanized and they exploit every source of anthropogenic food supply available. Friends with rural properties seem not have nearly the same "problems" we have with squirrels in our suburban backyard. Sometimes five at a time are scampering around; their appetites are voracious and their ingenuity knows no bounds.

     In any event, we are very happy to have our Blue Jay companions spend time with us and look forward to many hours of pleasure derived from a close association with these intelligent birds.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Bird Banding at SpruceHaven

13 and 14 May 2017

     Due to a prior commitment to lead a walk for the Bridgeport Neighbourhood Association at Bechtel Park I was unable to make it out to the mist nets on Saturday, but Kevin, Heather and Daina were there to handle everything so all went off as planned. In fact they had a great day with a variety of species reflecting the diversity of spring migration.
     I have been trying to photograph every species that we trap in our nets so Daina remembered to photograph some of the recoveries on Saturday.


Mourning Dove

Palm Warbler ("Western" race)

As above

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)

All species banded 13 May:  Mourning Dove (1), Northern Flicker (2), Black-capped Chickadee (3), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), Grey Catbird (1), Veery (1), American Robin (2), American Goldfinch (1), Ovenbird (2), Common Yellowthroat (1), Palm Warbler (2), Baltimore Oriole (2), Brown-headed Cowbird (1), Red-winged Blackbird (6), Common Grackle (4), Song Sparrow (4).
      We all assembled a little before 06:00h on Sunday morning and were delighted to be joined by Daina's young sister, Nicole, who got out of bed early in order to visit our mist nets at SpruceHaven. Kudos to Daina for bringing her and to Nicole for coming.

Kevin, Nicole, Daina, Heather

    One of our first capture was a Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla, shown here with its band securely attached.

     Nicole did the round of the nets with us each time and we asked her if she would like to record one of the birds. Under careful directions from her big sister, Daina, she made her entry into the records.

          And looked pretty satisfied with herself when it was all done!

     An adult White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys  was captured, probably right around the end of this species' spring migration through southern Ontario.

     Daina took over the scribing duties for a while.

     Unlike Saturday we did not trap many birds, but a new species for the year was a Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii.

     It had been very satisfying on Saturday to capture two Ovenbirds Seiurus aurocapilla and we were happy to net another one on Sunday.

     As I post these pictures I am starting to wonder how many times Kevin's hands have appeared on the internet!
     This Common Grackle Quisculus quiscula let Kevin know it was not happy until he released it.

     The iridescence on this species imparts a beautiful quality to its plumage and when seen strutting in sunlight it is magical to watch the constant change of hues.
     Grey Catbird Dumatella carolinensis is quite common from spring through fall and no doubt breeds at SpruceHaven. We just haven't located the nest.

     Perhaps Kevin and Heather were checking the finer points of identification or aging as it relates to Grey Catbirds; in any event they were engrossed over some detail or other.

     Our final bird of the day was a Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris, a non native species which is a problem bird,  as it aggressively drives out native cavity-nesting species from suitable nest sites. It is implicated in the serious decline of some of these species.

     In keeping with its feisty nature it screamed at Kevin the whole time it was in his hand.
     We might have hoped for a little more active morning so that Nicole could have seen a wider range of species, but we had to close the nets early as the wind picked up substantially. Perhaps she will come out again.

All species 14 May: Grey Catbird (1), Common Starling (1), American Robin (1), Ovenbird (1), Wilson's Warbler (1), Song Sparrow (1), Lincoln's Sparrow (1), White-crowned Sparrow (1).

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Bobolinks (Goglu des prés) and Other Grassland Birds

     Recently Franc Gorenc mentioned that he had never seen a Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus. Around the same time a good friend who owns a Century Farm (a farm that has been in the same family for a hundred years or more) advised me that Bobolinks had returned to her pasture land, which she does not permit to be cut for hay until after grassland birds have finished nesting.
     Knowing that Franc, our consummate photographer, was anxious to take pictures, Miriam and I arranged to meet Franc at the farm so that he could ply his skill. 
     The results are quite remarkable I am sure you will agree, as you view the series of pictures Franc took of this very enigmatic bird.

     As one might imagine, these pastures are not used exclusively by Bobolinks, and other grassland birds find a safe haven here. Nest boxes have been provided for Eastern Bluebirds Sialia sialis and there is a robust population in residence.

     Eastern Meadowlarks Sturnella magna also enliven the landscape, but this is not the easiest species to capture in the camera lens.

     Now we have to make a diligent search for grassland sparrows and perhaps we could even hope for an Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda or two. Who knows what a little careful survey work might reveal?
     The old barn contains nesting Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica and we will be checking on their breeding success. Look at the door below and see the hole that has been cut into it to permit easy access for the birds.

     Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor swooped and glided over the fields in search of their aerial insect prey, but very obligingly came to rest for a portrait now and then.

     A Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula sparkled in a tree near the house.

     We are very fortunate to have as friends people who are concerned with nature and the preservation of a rural landscape where it may prosper. These enlightened citizens deserve the respect and appreciation of all who come to know them. 
     They have welcomed us at their farm since we first met them and we hope the association will continue for the rest of our lives.
     And thanks to Franc too for the use of his pictures. There is a unique enjoyment in spending time with Franc who has an unbridled passion for it all, exudes enthusiasm the whole time, and is never more delighted than when he gets a good picture, all the while putting the welfare of his subjects first. I look forward to many more experiences in the field with Franc.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Annual Visit to Thickson's Woods

09 May 2017

     It's always a treat to visit Thickson's Woods in Whitby, ON where a prime day during spring migration can deliver a birding experience that is hard to beat.
     Instead of our usual complement of eight, we were just six in our party, both Mary and Judy being otherwise occupied.  They missed a grand experience! 

    Even walking down the road to the entrance to the reserve the birds were prolific and we notched almost twenty species before even getting into the woods, including Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula

 Along the way we found this tree interesting. We have narrowed it down a species of Yew, but have been unable to nail down its specific identity. 

     A botanist friend of mine says that it resembles Taxus canadensis but the berries don't look quite right.
     We had not gone far along the paths before Jim Huffman spotted a bird skulking in the vegetation. Miriam was able to get this picture of a Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina, a species that one sees far less frequently than in times past as it faces threats to its habitat both in North America and on its wintering grounds in Central and South America.

     Myrtle Warbler Setophaga coronata can at times ubiquitous in spring, but it merits a close look on every occasion.

      Blue-grey Gnatcatchers Polioptila caerulea can be hard to spot as this tiny bird flits around in the trees, ever more hidden by emergent foliage, but Franc managed this shot.

     Thickson's Woods sits right on the shore of Lake Ontario and this is the view out across the lake.

     As I stood there looking across the water I started to reflect on the number of years I have been visiting this area - and it is over forty! Am I getting old? I think so!
     There were many Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator on the lake with a few Common Mergansers Mergus merganser also.

     A Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina is a common species from spring through fall; it is delicate and beautiful, always a joy to see.

     Trillium Trillium grandiflorum is Ontario's provincial emblem and the forest floor was carpeted with them. They bloom for such a short period in spring but it always fills me with contentment to see them. It somehow imports permanence and the sense of belonging to this wonderful Great Lakes Country in which we are privileged to live. 


     Marsh Marigolds Caltha paulstris bloomed prolifically in every wet spot in the forest, and in the borderlands alongside the marsh. 

     Again, it brought back memories. I used to pick these flowers for my grandmother oh so many years ago when I was just a little boy, and she would put them in an empty jam jar on the window sill. I loved them then and I love them now. Is nostalgia a feature of getting old? I suppose it is.
     We saw several Hermit Thrushes Catharus guttatus, pumping their rufous tail in characteristic fashion. It is such a delicate little thrush, one of my favourites to be sure.

     Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis is a common resident species and this handsome male was searching for a mate. How could any female resist?

     We saw but one Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheuticus ludovicianus, a member of the same family as Northern Cardinal, but it was a stunning male.

     Just as we we were leaving to go to Whitby Harbour to have lunch we spotted a small flock of Wild Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo foraging in the grass. This species had been extirpated in Ontario and was reintroduced by stocking birds from Michigan. It has done spectacularly well and is now a common sight, sometimes even showing up at bird feeders in suburban areas.

     It was a cool day and with the wind blowing across the frigid water at the harbour we decided to stay in our vehicles to eat lunch. About thirty Caspian Terns Hydroprogne caspia were ranged along the breakwater, with a couple of Common Terns Sterno hirundo, Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis and a few sub adult American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus.

     Franc managed to capture this individual as it zoomed by.

     There was not much in the way of waterfowl in the inner harbour but a few Gadwall Anas strepera were interesting to watch as we munched on our sandwiches.

     Having eaten, we returned to Thickson's Woods to see what else we could find.
     A couple of Ovenbirds Seiurus auricapillus were especially elusive and despite patient stalking and waiting we were never able to get a complete body shot.

     A Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens was eminently more cooperative.

     We saw fourteen species of warbler, but photographs were hard to come by. 
     Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca quickly became Francine's favourite and she could barely take her binoculars off it. It is really too bad she doesn't converse in fluent warblerspeak for she was constantly talking to it, extolling its beauty!

     Not as gaudy (I say that in the nicest way!) as a Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens doesn't take a back seat to anyone!

     Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum was frequently seen, pumping its tail in the manner for which it is renowned.

     American Yellow Warbler Setophaga aestiva was not as common as one might have expected but this male first attracted us with its song.

     The weather was decidedly cool for the time of year, and the light not always up to par, but we had a wonderful day of birding, as we always do. I am sure we will make a return visit next spring to renew our excitement at the spectacle of spring migration, when Ontario birding is at its very best.Take note all you world birders. May in Ontario is as good as it gets!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Wild Turkey, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Cooper's Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Sand Martin, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, House Wren, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Common Starling, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler,Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch.

Total: 67 species.