Friday, 30 November 2012

David Attenborough

    I have often thought that if I could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be, and the answer is always David Attenborough. I can't think of anyone more interesting, committed to the natural world and anyone with whom I could more enjoy an hour or two. 
   I have read somewhere that he is the most travelled person in the history of the world; not only that, he has gone to all the places that would beckon me, most of which I will never see.
   Here are two of my favourite Attenborough remarks:

1. I often get letters, quite frequently who say how they like the programmes a lot, but I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature. To which I reply and say, "Well, it's funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty always quote beautiful things. They always quote orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses." But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in West Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he's five years old. And I reply and say, "Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well, and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action. And therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing.

2. Three and a half million years separate the individual who left these footprints in the sands of Africa from the one who left them on the moon. A mere blink in the eye of evolution. Using his burgeoning intelligence, this most successful of all mammals has exploited the environment to produce food for an ever-increasing population. In spite of disasters when civilisations have over-reached themselves, that process has continued, indeed accelerated, even today. Now mankind is looking for food, not just on this planet but on others. Perhaps the time has now come to put that process in reverse. Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.




Sunday, 25 November 2012

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris and
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus
in Waterloo County 25 November 2012

    This afternoon my wife and I decided to take a drive through the "hinterland"of Waterloo County with the principal goal of trying to locate a flock of Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis.
    On Streicher Road in Wellesley Township we had the great good fortune to come across a substantial flock of Horned Larks feeding in a field of corn stubble and in with the Horned Larks were at least two Lapland Longspurs. We parked at the side of the road and the birds were very close indeed, at times coming onto the road to feed on grit. The light conditions were not conducive to good photography but the pictures show both species. 
    And by the way, we did get to see the Snow Buntings too. A little farther west along the road we saw a flock of around five hundred birds.

                                Dorsal view of Lapland Longspur

                                              Side view of Lapland Longspur

                                             Frontal view of Horned Lark

                                             Horned Lark feeding on corn
    All in all it was a great afternoon of birding with many other interesting species to round out the day.
Hairy Woodpecker  Picoides villosus

    This winter, for the first time that we can remember, a male Hairy Woodpecker has been visiting our feeders on a regular basis. Evidently it has found a feeder that appeals to it and the constant supply of peanuts no doubt made the decision a little easier! Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens has always been a frequent patron and at different times of the year we have been fortunate to have Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius and Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus visit our yard. I sometimes see a Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus on the nearby Benjamin Park Trail, hardly any distance at all as a bird flies, so we are always hopeful that this species will visit too. Four species of woodpecker in a suburban backyard seems pretty good to us and a fifth would be terrific. I suppose that Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus is always a possibility, but it seems to us that this is much more of a long shot. 

    In any event we continue to enjoy this male Hairy Woodpecker who has already been at the feeder several times this morning. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
19 November 2012

    While driving along Three Bridges Road in Wellesley Township my wife and I spotted the adult Red-tailed Hawk pictured here and remarked that it seemed reluctant to flush even when we stopped to take a photograph. Usually it seems to be an automatic corollary that the moment we stop the car, or even slow down, the bird flies away.
    We quickly noticed the carcass of an animal in the field at the edge of the road, no more than a few metres from the road itself. We could not then, nor have we been able to since, identify the animal. At first glance it seemed like it might have been a rabbit or a hare but it was too big for either one. The hawk in the tree steadfastly maintained its position as we examined the body and took a couple of pictures. As we moved back to the car a second adult Red-tailed Hawk flushed from the ground almost directly below where the first hawk was perched. We went to see what might be on the ground and located the large carcass now stripped down to bone and residual flesh.
    It seems very unlikely that either victim could have been taken down by a Red-tailed Hawk but we can only conjecture what may have caused these two deaths. The large animal might perhaps have been the prey of a coyote,  having been abandoned when the coyote was satiated. As for the second animal we are hard-pressed to come up with anything.
    Red-tailed Hawks are generally solitary at this time of year and we assume that the presence of such a bounty of food would have led them to tolerate each other's presence in close quarters.




    I have witnessed an adult Bald Eagle in this area also; no doubt it would not hesitate to scavenge on this feast.
    If anyone reading this post has any ideas as to what the creatures might be or even how they might have met their demise I would be very interested in hearing from you.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

House Sparrow Passer domesticus and
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
    
    I ran into a woman the other day while birding at Laurel Creek C.A. who confided to me that she loved birds, except for those nasty, nefarious House Sparrows who evict bluebirds from their boxes, and she wasn't too fond of starlings either. She said that if she had a chance to kill House Sparrows she wouldn't hesitate to do it. I was a little taken aback by the tone of her venomous torrent of vitriol the moment she got onto the topic of House Sparrows. She was transformed from a moderate, agreeable person to talk to, to a rabid destroyer of birds.
    I have heard arguments about these two species before, even from fellow birders, and I have to confess that I am always a little perturbed when people advocate their removal, impossible though it would be. We should remember that first of all we brought them here, and second of all that they represent very successful members of our avifauna. Perhaps in some ways they validate Darwin's notion of survival of the fittest.
    It always occurs to me that maybe what people don't like is that they see too much similarity with our own species. We also are aggressive, belligerent, use force to settle our differences and don't hesitate to displace anyone who gets in our way - just ask indigenous people anywhere in the world about invaders bent on death and destruction. 

                                                             House Sparrow

                              Common Starling
     It's time to stop harping on about these two species, cease calling them aliens and accept them for what they are, successful birds that have found their niche and continue to occupy it. 

Visa for Vietnam

    We will be heading off to Vietnam in February for an exciting birding adventure and we needed to obtain a visa for entry into that country.
    There is no shortage of companies on line offering to obtain visas for you for a fee as high as $150.00 per person. I am sure that these visa service companies rely on travellers having an inherent fear of "not doing it right"  and being unable to secure the documents they need.
    I telephoned the Embassy of Vietnam in Ottawa and received the friendliest of advice from a very helpful person who told me everything I needed to know in order to get our visas. I followed her instructions, mailed off the application along with the required payment and our passports were back in our hands in less than a week with the visa affixed inside.
    I cannot speak too highly of the efficiency of the embassy and I would advise people requiring a visa to do it themselves. There is absolutely no need to enlist the services of any other agency and you can save yourself a lot of money.
    Kudos to the staff of the Embassy of Vietnam for cheerful, friendly help and wonderfully fast service. Now I can't wait to visit their country!


Monday, 5 November 2012

Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis

    On 15 September 2012 we visited Holiday Beach Conservation Area on the north shore of Lake Erie for the annual Festival of the Hawks. This location is renowned for the numbers of raptors that pass through each fall, and a hawk watch has been in operation for many years. Birds are banded so that their movements may be tracked and on the day of the festival the public is treated to displays which serve to spread the conservation message and enable people who would otherwise be ignorant of, or indifferent to, birds of prey to appreciate them fully.
    This juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in prime condition was banded and an informative presentation was made by the bander, culminating in the hawk being "adopted" by someone who pays a fee for the privilege of so doing, thereby helping to fund conservation. No doubt the bird suffers a few moments of indignity but it will never know the greater purpose it served on that day.
    This series of pictures shows the features that identify this bird as a hatch-year bird (to use the term of the banding crew) or juvenile (to use the ornithological term). They are: a white area on the breast, pale yellow eyes, yellow legs and cere, several dark bands on the tail. Large buteos such as this Red-tailed Hawk will take four years to attain adult plumage so this individual will not have its characteristic red tail until then. It still has many obstacles to face before attaining adulthood; let us hope that it survives them all and returns to breed here in southern Ontario.