Thursday, 21 September 2017

Bird Banding and a Visit by Waterloo Region Nature

16 & 17 September 2017

16 September

     In addition to our normal banding operations at SpruceHaven this past weekend, we were delighted to welcome about twenty-five members of Waterloo Region Nature and several other interested members of the community. The weather cooperated and the visit was a great success.
     A few eager participants arrived early and got to witness the banding of the first birds from our nets. Any time a child can release a bird is a cause for great delight.

     I am inclined to believe that based on the sheer expression of pleasure on this young girl's face we are stimulating a love for nature that will last her a lifetime.
     Heather demonstrated her banding proficiency and impressed everyone with her skill, knowledge and dexterity.

     The small contingent of early arrivals looked happy enough to wait for the main onslaught to arrive.

     And they didn't have to wait long as more and more people started to arrive, anxious to enjoy their morning at SpruceHaven.

     The bird banding component of the tour is one of the most popular aspects, enabling people to see birds up close, often representing species hitherto unknown to them. We are always happy to have so many questions to answer, and  to help people understand a little more of avian populations and their movements.

     Sometimes there is a detailed discussion of some of the finer points of a species and we are able to talk about plumage, moult, age and sex, in addition to remarks about the bird's general distribution and relationship to other species.

     This Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) was the first representative of this species we had ever caught in our nets and was in fact an addition to our species list for SpruceHaven, now standing at 120 by the way.

     Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) is not uncommon at this time of the year as it moves through in migration, but the capture of this individual provided a great opportunity to engage in a little discourse on Catharus thrushes.

     Children of all ages were engaged!

     Heather, as always, was magnificent with the young children, and derived a good deal of pleasure helping them to experience a brief moment of intimate contact with a wild creature.

     I began the tour by giving everyone an overview of our Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) operation, and there was no shortage of interested observers inside and out.

     Once that was completed we set out to regather at the Motus tracking tower.

     It was an attentive group that assembled to hear how we came to get the tower installed at Sprucehaven and to learn of the valuable information we hope to gather by radio tracking Barn Swallows, a member of the guild of birds collectively known as aerial insectivores, all of which are in serious jeopardy.

     Miriam discovered this caterpillar feeding on Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) and we learned that it morphs into an aptly named moth, Carrot Seed Moth (Sitochroa palealis), an invasive species from Europe. Given the proliferation of the plant, itself a well-established invasive, one might well expect this moth to become very common indeed.

     We were not as successful in identifying this bug, so if anyone can help please leave a comment below.

     Our next stop was at the woodlot.

     Here we have developed a very successful salamander monitoring operation, and have now turned over the entire project to the ecology lab at the University of Waterloo. The boards are monitored weekly at the appropriate time of the year, and all data is contributed to the ongoing herpetology atlas under the auspices of Ontario Nature. The activity also provides a valuable opportunity for the students to hone their field study skills.

     The interested observers above were treated to a show of three Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) when we turned over one of the boards.

     For some this was their first experience with this taxon. Their interest was admirable!

     Along the way back from the woodlot, Miriam espied a Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). I was far ahead leading the group to the next stop and unfortunately I missed seeing it. This is a species one hears in the spring in a deafening chorus as thousands of frogs vocalize in courtship frenzy. I have never, however, seen one of these diminutive frogs.

     Here we are, strung out along the perimeter of the field, currently with a crop of alfalfa - but we have other plans for this habitat!

     Our final stop was near several of our nest boxes where we had an excellent breeding season, attracting both Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) and Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor); both are species that need help from their human friends.

     A Seven-spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septapunctata) was a pleasant surprise.

     The formal part of our tour was at an end and we headed across the alfalfa field back to the house.

     As always, in their kind and gracious fashion, Dave, Sandy and Jamie welcomed us all into their lovely home to enjoy coffee and refreshments. It was an opportunity for everyone to chat about nature and enjoy the spirited company of like-minded people.

All species banded 16 September: Swainson's Thrush (1), Nashville Warbler (7), American Redstart (1), Cape May Warbler (1), Magnolia Warbler (2), Blackpoll Warbler (5), Song Sparrow (2), American Goldfinch (1).  Total: 20 birds representing 8 species.

17 September 

     After the hubbub of yesterday, Sunday was a quiet day, with just our regular crew busily banding birds.
     I have featured a Black-and white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) before, but it never hurts to look at another picture of this gorgeous little bird.

     Daina was taking her turn banding this morning and here she carefully attends to a Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla), one of six we trapped in our nets.

     A Lincoln's Sparrow (Melopsiza lincolnii), a very delicately marked little sparrow, was our first indication that fall migration was underway for this species.

     Many of you will have read Miriam's excellent post about the Monarchs ( Danaus plexippus) and we were very interested to find the chrysalis of this species hanging from the outside of the barn. 

     Perhaps by the time we all get together again on Saturday the butterfly will have hatched and embarked on its long journey to Mexico.

All species banded 17 September: Blue-headed Vireo (1), House Wren (2), Swainson's Thrush (1), American Goldfinch (1), Black-and-white Warbler (1), Tennessee Warbler (3), Nashville Warbler (6), Magnolia Warbler (2), Blackpoll Warbler (2), Wilson's Warbler (2), Song Sparrow (5), Lincoln's Sparrow (1).  Total: 27 birds representing 12 species.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tuesday Rambles with David - Dundas and Burlington

12 September 2017

     There were just four of us for our regular Tuesday ramble. Mary was away in Newfoundland, Carol is working this month and Jim and Francine had other plans - so Franc, Judy, Miriam and I decided on a day out in the Hamilton/Burlington area. And a tremendous day it turned out to be.
     Since it was not out of our way we made a brief stop at Hespeler Mill Pond. Here we saw our first Green-winged Teal ( Anas crecca) of the season, albeit only two females.

     There was a nice mix of shorebirds present, but nothing unusual. Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was probably the most common sandpiper, feeding vigorously on the rich choice of food in this area.

     Our next stop was at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas where there is always a good chance to see Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) in September.

     We were not disappointed. Several adults and juveniles were present, easily seen and perfectly positioned for photography.

     Many Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) were fishing very successfully, a testament to the rich feeding ground the canal has become. Individuals were seen in every gradation of plumage imaginable.

     Numerous Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) also took advantage of the bounty and we watched this individual fly over, brake suddenly, turn and dive into the water. The sequence of its successful dive is captured below.

     The loud rattle of Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) was frequently heard. Sometimes they perched quietly.....

     But they too dined on fish du jour.

     It was quite a mouthful and the fish was smacked around for a while on the branch before this female attempted to swallow it.
     There was a dead Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in the water and we could not figure out how it could have died in this position. It was only when Franc examined his photographs that it became apparent that the unfortunate bird had become entangled in fishing line. It must have been a very slow and agonizing death.

       I am sure that there are responsible fishers but one would think that all the publicity in recent years would prevent this kind of thing from happening. It is not only errant line that is an issue, but lead sinkers are still a problem, causing lead poisoning in dabbling ducks, geese and swans when ingested. In areas where we know people fish regularly garbage is always a problem too. There seems to be no end to the junk left behind, including styrofoam containers for worms, which blow into the water and all over the landscape. The world will end before this stuff degrades.
     One can only hope that people who fish and have a conscience will try to impress on others that they should pursue their pastime in a fashion that takes into account their duty as citizens. Fishing line is lethal to wildlife and should NEVER be left behind. Perhaps organizations like the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters can impress the concept of social responsibility on their members.
     A couple of Great Egrets (Ardea alba) worked the canal and this individual presented an image of grace and symmetry as it flew by.

     This Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is either a juvenile male, or an adult male transitioning from eclipse plumage back into definitive plumage.

     Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) are frequently encoutered at DesJardins from late fall through winter, but it was unusual to see this subadult in September.

     Our next stop was at LaSalle Park and Marina in Burlington, usually a veritable hot spot for birds, but a little subdued today. It was great to see a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), however.

     Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are very accustomed to humans bearing food and it was rare that we did not have two or three of these delightful little creatures around our feet.

     Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is the most abundant passerine along the woodland trail at any time of year. The chestnut flanks of this individual contrast wonderfully with the dead leaf to which it is clinging.

     A spider hanging on a thread of silk is not to missed.

     Our final destination was Paletta Park in Burlington, where we were rewarded with close encounters with migrant wood warblers and other species. It was a fascinating and very agreeable end to our day.
     A Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) feeding on Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is not a bad way to start a walk.

     American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) was the warbler most commonly seen; all were females.

     Several Magnolia Warblers (Setophaga magnolia) were also seen as they flitted around incessantly, gleaning every caterpillar and bug that crossed their path.

     As far as I recall this was the only Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) that I saw in the mixed foraging flock.

     Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) is a tiny, nervous little bird, and it was Miriam's sharp eyes that first detected it.

     In this quite remarkable photograph Franc captures the bird zooming after an insect.

     We saw both Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) and (even better) Grey-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), with the Grey-cheeked remaining immobile for a few minutes permitting us to get a series of decent pictures.

     Vireos were travelling with the warblers and this Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) was vying for its share of the available food.

     Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) was the most common woodpecker seen.

     A Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) was curiously sticking close to a group of Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) resting on the shore. At times it was right in the centre of them; fortunately it came out for this photograph.

     Just before leaving we observed our last warbler of the day, a Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), behaving very much like a nuthatch.

     This had been a stellar day of birding, with opportunities to study many species at close range, to note the contrasts in different phases of plumage, to focus on foraging techniques, to examine the relationship between vegetation and birds - and simply to enjoy a wide range of different species.
     It goes without saying that it is always a joy to have Miriam at my side and to benefit from her acute hearing and to see birds that she focuses on more quickly than most; to be with Judy who delights in everything avian and is especially enraptured by warblers; and to have the irrepressible Franc, bon vivant, master photographer and plain good guy to make every day special.

All species at Hespeler Mill Pond:  Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ring-billed Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Blue Jay.  Total: 13

All species at DesJardins Canal: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Ring-billed Gull, Belted Kingfisher, American Crow, American Goldfinch.  Total: 14

All species at LaSalle Park: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Accipiter sp., Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Cape May Warbler, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow Total:  18

All species at Paletta Park: Canada Goose, Mallard, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Grey Catbird, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch. Total: 20