Sunday, 29 December 2013

Second Snowy Owl in Four Days

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus
Boomer Line
Waterloo County, ON
29 December 2013

    At 16:20 this afternoon, Miriam and I spotted a Snowy Owl flying near the intersection of Boomer Line and Moser-Young Road. It perched atop a utility pole, but only briefly and flew off across a field. We followed the bird as best we could and turned the car around to drive in the direction of its flight. 
   We were elated to see the bird perched on another utility pole and we slowed the car to a crawl and moved forward ever so slowly, stopping every three or four metres to take photographs. Fortunately, the bird stayed put and we were able to get some decent pictures. We watched it in total for about twenty minutes, during which time it flew from the pole only to return again in minutes. Perhaps it had captured a microtus vole or other rodent, and returned to its perch having swallowed its meal whole.
   Based on Owls of the World, Klaus König and Friedhelm Weick, we concluded that this individual is a juvenile female; see Plate 28 on Page 118.
   I have to freely confess that no matter how many times I see this truly magnificent creature I am left awestruck. It is an immense privilege to be part of its world, if only for the briefest time.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Waterloo County, ON
28 December 2013

    The annual Linwood Christmas Bird Count is usually the highest, or close to the highest, for raptor concentrations on the continent. Among the species located in this area are Rough-legged Hawks, visiting from their high arctic nesting areas, to spend the winter here, in what must seem to them benign conditions, with abundant rodent prey.
    This is a difficult species to photograph. It is very wary of humans, and flies at the slightest interaction with birders it perceives as being too close.
    While the following pictures are hardly of superior quality, they do show a magnificent dark morph bird we located in a field. Dark morph plumage is very much in the minority of birds found here. You can clearly see the feathered tarsus, so common on birds from the far north.
    The concentration of Rough-legged Hawks is one of the very special benefits of living in this area.
    I might point out that this year there has been a heavy influx of Snowy Owls Bubo scandiaca also, and we (Fraser Gibson, Ken Quantz and I) started our day's count with nine Eastern Screech Owls Megascops asio.  


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Redheads on Lake Ontario

Redheads on Lake Ontario
26 December 2013

    Among the great variety of ducks to be found on Lake Ontario at this time of the year the Redhead Aytha americana can often be found in relatively small numbers amid the other Aytha species inhabiting the lake. It is always a great pleasure to see this colourful member of its family. Here they are keeping company with American Coots Fulica americana.

Common Mergansers on Lake Ontario

Common Mergansers Mergus merganser
on Lake Ontario
26 December 2013

    All of the Merganser species seem to me to always have a particularly elegant air about them and I very much enjoy seeing them. Three species are found here and in varying numbers all spend even the coldest part of the winter on Lake Ontario. There is abundant food and they thrive in even the most inclement conditions. These pictures are of Common Merganser (Goosander in Europe) just offshore in Oakville, ON.



Pair with male Greater Scaup


Friday, 27 December 2013

American Herring Gull

American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus
26 December 2013

    When one examines the historical statistics of gulls in this area during the winter, it is apparent that American Herring Gulls outnumbered Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis by a fairly wide margin, in contrast with spring, summer and fall populations where Ring-bills clearly dominated. 
    For the past couple of years I have felt, based purely on my own observations, that this was no longer the case. While birding along the north shore of Lake Ontario, we saw but two Herring Gulls in the entire day, as opposed to many hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls - and we paid very careful attention.
    This second cycle(?) American Gull was observed at Humber Bay Park in Toronto.

    A non-breeding plumaged adult was feeding on a fish in Bronte Harbour in Oakville.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Toronto, ON
26 December 2013

    The Northern Mockingbird is perhaps best known for its astonishing vocal repertoire. Many a birder has been fooled into searching for a species he has heard, only to discover he has been duped by the mimicry of the mockingbird.
    Since about the mid 1980s the Northern Mockingbird has extended its range in southern Ontario and has progressed from being an extreme rarity to quite common in some locations, and it is known to breed in several areas throughout the province, with its stronghold being the Niagara Peninsula. It appears to be non-migratory and tolerates our harsh winters without apparent difficulty.
    This individual was photographed today at Humber Bay Park West in Toronto.

Snowy Owl at Bronte Harbour

Snowy Owl Bubo Scandiacus
Bronte Harbour
Oakville, ON
26 December 2013

    We had to go into Toronto this morning, so as soon as we had finished what we needed to do we started to bird along the north shore of Lake Ontario, heading westwards in the direction of Waterloo.
    Our first stop was at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, a location where we have located Snowy Owl in the past, but today, other than for a few gulls, we literally could not locate a bird! We left after a relatively short stay and meandered along the lake stopping at various spots we thought might be productive. Nothing, however, surpassed our time spent at Bronte Harbour. Within minutes of starting our walk Miriam spotted a Snowy Owl on one of the docks where boats would be berthed in season. 

The docks at Bronte Harbour
    It has been our experience that Snowy Owls often favour this kind of habitat. It is quiet, pretty much undisturbed, and its flatness possibly bears some resemblance to the regular tundra habitat of this species. The normal diet of Snowy Owls comprises rodents almost exclusively but I assume that rodents would be a scarce commodity in these surroundings. There is an abundance of waterfowl, and perhaps a switch in diet occurs at this time of year, for an injured duck would be easy prey for a hunting Snowy Owl.
    In any event, we were quite thrilled to see this bird - probably a female judging from its size, but possibly a juvenile. Any sighting of this magnificent hunter from the far north is always a very special event.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to everyone in this entire world
regardless of nationality, colour, creed, religion, social status, gender or sexual preference.
Love for All, Hatred for None.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Words to live by from Jack Layton, Leader of the Federal NDP as he lay dying.
He inspired a nation and would certainly have been our next Prime Minister.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Ice Man Cometh

Ice Storm
Overnight 21-22 December 2013

    The ice storm predicted by the meteorologists to arrive overnight did so with the full ferocity anticipated. In fact, in the immediate area of our home we escaped relatively unscathed; other areas were hit far worse. The City of Toronto, for example, now has around 250,000 people without power, some of whom may not be restored before Christmas. There is devastation all around us so we consider ourselves very fortunate to be warm at home with minor inconvenience at worst.
    Pictures below of our bird feeders illustrate very well the extent of the ice build up.

      Despite the severe impact of the storm, the branches, coated in their crystal glitter look quite beautiful, even with a broken branch in the second picture below.

    We were concerned for the welfare of the birds who had to endure such conditions in darkness, especially the small passerines, so we were very happy indeed to see them patronizing our feeders soon after first light. American Goldfinches Carduelis tristis, especially seemed undeterred by the ice and were constant visitors to feed on high energy shelled sunflower seeds.

    All in all, as is so true of many things in life, it could have been worse. 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Wild Turkeys Wandering in Waterloo (Who could resist that alliteration?)

Wild Turkeys Meleagris gollopavo
21 December 2013

    The pristine snow is being sullied by a steady and increasing rain. The temperature is hovering right above freezing and we are getting prepared for an ice storm which is being predicted by Environment Canada. As the temperature drops a little this rain is expected to turn to freezing rain with a substantial build up, sufficient to potentially break tree limbs and cause power lines to collapse.
    We may just be holed up tomorrow so we ventured forth this afternoon to get in a little birding before the weather debacle begins. 
    Three Wild Turkeys were spotted gleaning corn in a field of stubble. The photographs are hardly the best, but they were taken in very grey conditions with steady rain falling. We hope to do better in brighter conditions another day. As can be seen in the pictures these are large, heavy-bodied birds and they sink into the waterlogged snow. They certainly earn the meagre pickings they are able to glean from the remnant corn beneath the snow cover.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ice as a Resting Place for Birds

Ice as a Resting Place for Birds
Lake Ontario
19 December 2013

    Winter has come early to Ontario this year; we are still two days away from the solstice when winter will officially begin, but the temperature has remained well below normal for an extended period and there is already a substantial build-up of ice at the shoreline of Lake Ontario.
    Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis and Mallards Anas platyrynchos find these conditions ideal as a loafing spot, and if one is really fortunate Snowy Owls Bubo scandiacus can be located at such places also.

    Prolonged periods of cold temperatures cause the formation of ice floes in the lake and this female Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula was quite content to use one as a floating resting place.

Hooded Mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks

Hooded Mergansers and 
Long-tailed Ducks
Lake Ontario
19 December 2013

    The brilliantly clear weather we have been experiencing of late yielded to dull, overcast conditions, with a mildly morose feel to the day. What better way to enliven it than a visit to the Lake.
    It always seems to me that the plumages of waterfowl the world over are nothing less than stunning, with the most marvelous array of colours, tints, hues and shades one could ever imagine. I have never been in a position where I have had to seriously match colours and I suspect that my wife might tell you that I would fall woefully short. If I simply had no choice I would turn to birds and replicate their plumage. How could I do better than that?
    People sometimes ask me to name my favourite bird and I am always at a loss to do so, for I simply don't have one. It depends on my mood, location, even the weather and the time of day. But high on a list of special birds would be two ducks commonly found on Lake Ontario at this time of year. I am speaking of Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus and Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis. Both are truly spectacular. Long-tailed Ducks always seem to me to have been coloured by a young child with a box of crayons!
    Any concentration of more than a dozen or so fills the air with the most enchanting chatter you could ever hear. This gave rise to their previous name on this side of the Atlantic, Old Squaw. I have no difficulty understanding the pejorative context of this designation and supported the transition to the descriptive Long-tailed Duck.
    I believe that the term squaw was in origin a term of great respect as it relates to an Indian woman, but like so much of what pertains to our First Nations People, it was used for derogatory purposes by white invaders. I understand that a team of distinguished aboriginal women are trying to restore the honourable connotation  of the word, and somewhere deep inside I hope that Old Squaw could be reinstated without negative implications. It was such an evocative name.

Female Hooded Merganser with male Greater Scaup

Male Hooded Merganser

Male Hooded Merganser

Male and Female Hooded Mergansers Preening

Male Long-tailed Duck

Male Long-tailed Duck

Male Long-tailed Duck

Female Long-tailed Duck

Group of Long-tailed Ducks

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.