Monday, 18 March 2019

Thirtieth Annual Canadian National Wildfowl Carving Championship

16 March 2019

     For the second year in a row I was invited to be a judge at the Canadian National Wildfowl Carving Championship and I was delighted to accept. It is an unbelievably enjoyable event bringing together the very best of Canadian carvers displaying their works to an admiring public; at the same time competing for honours in their various classes.
     Anne Forler deserves a huge vote of appreciation for the stellar job she did in organizing and controlling the judges on the day. Everything went smoothly and if there were any hitches she handled them so efficiently that no one else even knew. She was assisted very ably this year by my good friend, Larry Livingstone.
     None of this would be possible of course without all the effort and countless hours invested by Peter Fortune, Show Chairman, and his team. They all worked tirelessly before the weekend to ensure that everything ran seamlessly. The show literally could not have taken place without their dedication and hard work, and we owe them our deepest appreciation for a job well done.
     Here is Anne chatting with Bruce Lepper, one of Canada's most distinguished carvers, an artist whose renown has spread beyond our borders. The work that he creates is the stuff of legend.

     I arrived early and it was much quieter than it would be once the show opened to the public and many exhibits were still being set up.

     Owls are always popular subjects for carvers and certainly these enigmatic creatures of the night evoke keen interest from all who witness them - as carvings or in real life!

     After the customary group photograph was taken I was assigned to a team comprising Tim Forler (Anne's uncle) and Ken Hussey, in addition to myself. Both of these gentlemen are expert carvers, with Ken especially applying his skill primarily to contemporary antique works, a realm in which he is unquestionably a master. Tim no longer carves as much as he did formerly and was bemoaning the fact that he had sold most of his output, and now had little left for his grandchildren. His attempts to buy back some of his works gained no traction as the people who bought these works of great beauty had no intention of parting with them.

Tim Forler, Ken Hussey, David Gascoigne

     As was the case last year, my fellow judges were the very model of kindness and civility, a pleasure to work with, a joy to get to know. It goes without saying that I learned a good deal.

     The lighting in the venue is not especially conducive to photography (especially for a duffer like me) and some of my images are a little dark. The following shots do not do justice to a Least Bittern and a Green Heron.

     Much of today's artistic carving has its roots in the working decoys used by hunters in times past, and in the show there is a category featuring decoys that must be capable of self-righting, (as is this Green-winged Teal female), an homage to the past.

     As already mentioned there is a class called Contemporary Antique Decoy with a section for amateurs and another for experts.

     I know that Ken had several works entered and I was glad that we didn't have to judge that category for fear that even the most subliminal bias might creep into my decision.

     At first blush, it might seem that one has wider latitude in this category, but the requirement to closely replicate the integrity of old decoys imposes its own set of demands.
     Many categories feature songbirds and the degree of precision and the renditions of habitat are quite astounding.

     It seems pretty obvious that  the Wood Thrushes above in the novice class all took their inspiration from the same wood carving class or plan!
     Eastern Bluebirds are everyone's favourite and this male no doubt pleased many.

     If the bluebird is popular then so is the Northern Cardinal. Here are three renditions of males.

    And a pair too.

     There is a category called Interpretive Stylized where the artist has full scope to pursue his creative impulses. I thought the carver had used the natural features of the wood to great advantage in this work.

     Once again an owl was a popular choice. The African Pygmy Falcon also shown below was a subject chosen by numerous carvers in different classes this year.

     This Ruffed Grouse was one of my personal favourites of the show. The attention to detail, not only on the bird, but also on the habitat, was superlative.

     Anyone who has ever seen a bee-eater in life (and I have been fortunate to see about two-thirds of the world's species) will know just how entrancing they are and several carvings represented them in the most splendid way imaginable.

     An American Goldfinch, so familiar yet so beautiful, was portrayed to perfection.

     In the category Champagne Awards, miniatures are created, with the name referring to the size of a champagne flute which the carving must not exceed.

     Who among us has not been left gobsmacked by an encounter with a Scarlet Tanager?

      A Pine Grosbeak, set against the winter snow, always seems to me to be somehow like a northern parrot!

     I have only scratched the surface here of all that there was to see. From the rankest newcomer to the art, to the maestros of the genre, everyone who placed his work in the competition deserves our admiration and respect. It is a glorious show indeed, and I would urge all of my birding friends who have not attended this event to mark it on their calendar for next year. 
     For me, it is a distinct highlight in my ornithological year.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Book Review - Dragonflies and Damselflies, A Natural History - Princeton University Press

     I was very pleased indeed to receive a copy of this book for review. There is always a sense of anticipation with another potentially fine work from Princeton University Press, and when in addition one sees the name of Dennis Paulson as the author, the expectations are magnified.

     The book does not disappoint. It encompasses everything that I already have on my shelf, and more, and presents the information in a highly readable yet technically impeccable way. Books of this nature are generally not the stuff of bedtime reading, yet this is exactly what it became for me. I started into it and was so taken with the ease with which the information can be digested, I continued to read it in bed!
     Let me present the chapters to you:

Chapter 1 - What is a Dragonfly?
Chapter 2 - Capturing Prey and Avoiding Predators
Chapter 3 - Reproduction
Chapter 4 - The Life Cycle
Chapter 5 - Dragonflies and People
Chapter 6 - Odonate Diversity Around the World

     Each chapter is broken down into subsets of information, beautifully descriptive and informative. Permit me to give a few examples from Chapter 2:

Superlative Flight
High-quality Vision
Foraging Behaviour
Diet and Adaptation for Predation
Predators and Anti-predator Adaptations

     And so it continues. 
     Of course, wonderful photographs accompany the text.

     It speaks to the careful selection of images that a bee-eater was chosen to represent predation by birds.
     Another artifice that I found especially attractive and useful was the inclusion of species profiles at the end of each chapter to flesh out the information gleaned in the preceding sections. Furthermore, additional particulars were given, adding to the already copious knowledge presented earlier 


     Throughout the range of images every facet of dragonfly life is illustrated and the pictures are of high quality and vividly illustrate different aspects of the odonate life cycle.

     Towards the end of the book a section is devoted to "The Families of Odonates" where a complete synopsis is given of all the families throughout the world with the number of species, the number of genera, and the geographical distribution of each of them.

     This is followed by a comprehensive glossary defining all the technical terms that are unique to odonates - a very helpful tool.
     The book concludes with a guide to further resources, including internet websites frequently consulted.
     As a single source reference on dragonflies and damselflies it is as good as I have seen, presenting a first rate account of the natural history of these organisms, and in addition many details normally found in a field guide. For novice and veteran odonatologist alike this is a work to be consulted for many years to come.

Dragonflies and Damselflies: A Natural History
Dennis Paulson
Hardcover - $29.95 - 9780691180366 - 224 pages - 8 1/4" x 9 1/4" - 150 colour illustrations.
Publication date:  26 March 2019

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Red-tails in Love

12 March 2019

     My daughter, Caroline, just visited with us for a few days, and as usual, had a few birds in mind that she would like to see. Principally among these was the Barred Owl (Strix varia) we had been observing with regularity, and a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at the Conestogo River where, for several years, a pair has successfully raised young. We were able to deliver on both of these wishes but our subsequent encounter with a pair of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) was a bonus for her. And for us for that matter.
     Our regular Tuesday Ramble with David saw us visit Hillside Park in Waterloo where we had observed a pair of Red-tails a few weeks earlier. We saw them again, (presumably the same pair), and it was quite a show they put on for us. Caroline could have majored in Avian Sex 101, maybe even 202!

     A good deal is written in the literature about the spectacular courtship displays of Red-tailed Hawks, with their aerial gymnastics and food exchanges, but little about the act of copulation or its frequency. It seems that a food exchange is sometimes involved before committing the deed, but no such transfer was observed on this occasion.

     We had first observed the female alone perched on a Spruce tree (Picea, sp.) when the male came in and without hesitation, appeasement or ceremony immediately mounted the female. Copulation was quite vigorous and lasted for around a minute or so, the male using his wings to balance on the female's back.
     As soon as the act was over the male dismounted and moved away from the female, sometimes at quite a distance into the shelter of the foliage along the branch close to the trunk. They did not maintain eye contact post-copulation.

     In the picture above you can readily observe the size dimorphism between male and female, the smaller male being at the right.
     As the male sidled along the branch away from his partner the female maintained her position the entire time.

     After an interval of only a few minutes, the entire intense sequence was repeated.

     When we left the two birds were perched fairly close together, still not making eye contact, however.

     Whether more sequences would have ensued I don't know but we felt that our voyeuristic impulses had been satisfied and we moved on! 
      It was a fascinating encounter and I am hoping that we may be fortunate enough to find their nest and perhaps see young birds fledge from it. I am sure that we will all feel like proud parents watching our grandchildren go out to meet life with all its challenges!
     As usual I am very grateful to Miriam for dedicating herself to the task of recording the event and coming up with a superb series of images. The encounter would be much the poorer without her contribution.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Waterloo Region Nature Annual Field Trip to North Shore of Lake Ontario 2019

09 March 2019

Leader: David M. Gascoigne

Members: Miriam Bauman, Scott Beemer, Kitty Corbett, Fraser Gibson,  Victoria Ho, Denise Leschak, Geraldine Sanderson, John Sanderson, Roger Suffling, Selwyn Tomkun.

Guests: Sal Aziz and son, Logan (8 years old and keen!), Tyler Hampton, Debbie Hernandez, Brigitte Huber,Carole Martin.

     When we left home it was a crisp minus fourteen degrees but the forecast was for a pleasant day with the temperature climbing to around zero before the day was out. We met at our normal spot, car-pooled to the extent possible and set off for a fine day of birding.  Old friends and new arrived, club stalwarts and welcome guests, all with the goal of enjoying a fine day with many birds to keep us company.
     As has become customary on this outing, our first point of call was at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, where the signature bird at this time of the year is Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). We were not disappointed.

     For some this was a lifer and they were exceptionally happy to see this handsome duck.
     A couple of Redheads (Aythya americana) were also seen swimming among the ubiquitous Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

     There was also a good number of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) on the canal, open water of course being a major draw for waterfowl in winter.

     In fact, given the succession of cold nights we have experienced recently, I was afraid that finding open water might be a problem, but the flow in the canal is obviously sufficient to prevent ice from forming.
     This was not to be the case at LaSalle Park and Marina and we were greeted by ice across Burlington Bay, with barely a single patch of open water.

     Obviously this had an effect on the number of species present.
    Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) had no hesitation about venturing out onto the ice, but certainly there was nowhere for them to feed, and supplements of corn are provided under such dire conditions.

     Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), resourceful as ever, find ways to make a living, and are resplendent, beautiful and unappreciated by many.

     In a tiny ribbon of water at the very edge of the lake, ducks and geese congregated together, with a few diving ducks mixed in with the dabbling ducks, including this female Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula).

     One of the greatest pleasures for a naturalist, young or old, is to feed a wild creature, whose confidence in you is rewarded with a zen moment of interconnectedness with other life forms on this wonderful planet we are slowly destroying. So it was for Logan.

     This youngster already has a firm connection to nature and I commend both him and his father, Sal, who spares no effort to nurture and encourage his interest.
     I am not quite sure which person is at the other end of this outstretched hand, but it was a matter of little concern for the Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) coming in for food. Human and bird in harmony - now there is an image for the ages.

     Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is a resident species and is familiar to all.

     Ice and snow are no deterrent to a hardy woodpecker, nor to swans, ducks and geese it seems.

     The contrast between the native Trumpeter Swan and the introduced Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is shown in the following two images.

     Actually the Trumpeter Swans seemed to be engaged in a ritualized display, possibly portending courtship, for there was no aggression at all, and several birds took part in the ceremony.

     No doubt this handsome male Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) had affairs of the heart on his mind too.

     Common Goldeneyes were well charged up with hormonal urges and both males and females were engaged in courtship displays.

     This fine male would no doubt have great genes to pass on to the next generation.

     We left LaSalle and moved onto to Paletta Park where warm, clean washrooms awaited the ladies, who especially appreciate such comforts in winter. After a quick lunch eaten mainly in our vehicles we strolled down to the water.

     Ring-billed Gulls were resting on the ice, a behaviour which nearly always elicits a question from someone about how they stay warm.

     Mallard was far and away the most common species, ever handsome, ever hardy, ever resilient and pleasure-giving, but seldom appreciated due to its familiarity.

     At Paletta Park we saw a couple of Hairy Woodpeckers (Dryobates villosus), the only location where we encountered this species.

     Our final stop for the day was at Bronte Harbour in Oakville and this proved to be the jewel in an already lustrous crown. Ice covered most of the harbour, save for a few very small areas of open water in the corners against the walls, and ducks were concentrated there, so close one could almost have reached over and touched them.

     Fraser Gibson, an eminence grise of Waterloo Region Nature to be sure, remarked that he had previously seen Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) only at a distance and was captivated to see them so close; one could actually see them swimming under water and emerging from under the ice.

     Greater Scaup was very common.

     Again it was possible to see both males and females at very close quarters and reinforce one's identification skills. The birds came to the surface after a dive, with mussels in their bill enabling everyone to see how they process their food.
    Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) was not quite as numerous as other species, at least not close in, but some could be seen off in the distance riding the not insignificant swell of Lake Ontario.

     There were little flotillas of Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) sometimes as many as twenty birds together swimming in a straight line one behind the other.

Common Merganser ♂

Common Merganser ♀
     Several White-winged Scoters (Melanitta deglandi) were seen but we were able to photograph the female only.

     In addition to occupying the sparse patches of open water in the harbour many ducks were on the lake side of the breakwater riding the roiling waves of a windy day on Lake Ontario. The picture below gives the impression of calm water but the swell was actually quite pronounced.

     It was with great pleasure that we saw many Redheads.

     This female Common Merganser was resting on an ice floe.

     On the way back along the breakwater we saw Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) surprisingly enough the only one on the day as I recall.

     Many people lingered for a while to observe the ducks at close range and really get the chance to appreciate their various behaviours and survival skills. It was really quite remarkable.
     We parted company having very much enjoyed each other's company and knowing that an enriching day had been had by all. Same time next year folks!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Mallard, American Black Duck, Redhead, Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.  Total: 26