Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Snyder's Flats, Bloomingdale, On
30 April 2013

    The Caspian Tern is the largest tern in the world, and is commonly found in southern Ontario from spring through fall. This evening we were fortunate to see six of them, four loafing on a rock together. The other two were at some distance standing in shallow water. Before we left all but two took to the air and we were treated to a display of aerial elegance and perfection. The powerful neck and head, as well as the huge red bill, are clearly evident in the pictures below.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Three Bridges Road, St. Jacobs, ON
29 April 2013

    This male Hairy Woodpecker was observed along Three Bridges Road, one of our regular birding locations, at around 18:30. In this same location we have previously seen both Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flicker. We hope in the future to spot Pileated Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to round out the full range of possibilities (other than vagrant rarities) in the area.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
29 April 2013

    We were very happy indeed to have this adult White-throated Sparrow, clad in all its nuptial finery, visit our back yard yesterday. It seems fitting that it first revealed its presence with its Sweet Canada Canada song. 

    Later in the day an immature bird arrived also and joined the adult feeding on the ground.

Who knows what may show up today?

Monday, 29 April 2013


Dodo Ruphus cucullatus

    David Quammen is my hands down favourite science and natural history writer and I have read his marvellous work The Song of the Dodo at least four times and I have no doubt that I will read it again.
    I am always struck by the poignancy he imparts to this imaginary scene of the demise of the final Dodo, the last representative of its kind that would ever grace the earth.

    Ruphus cucullatus had become rare unto death. But this one flesh-and-blood individual still lived. Imagine that she was thirty years old, or thirty five, an ancient age for most sorts of bird but not impossible for a member of such a large-bodied species. She no longer ran, she waddled. Lately she was going blind. Her digestive system was balky. In the dark of an early morning in 1667, say, during a rainstorm, she took cover beneath a cold stone ledge at the base of one of the Black River cliffs. She drew her head down against her body, fluffed her feathers for warmth, squinted in patient misery. She waited. She didn't know it, nor did anyone else, but she was the only Dodo on earth. When the storm passed she never opened her eyes. This is extinction.

     As we continue to procreate beyond the capacity of the earth to sustain us, to occupy, modify, pollute, and pave over every square centimetre of the planet how many times will this scene repeat  itself during our lifetime? It is a sobering prospect to contemplate.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus 
27 April 2013

    The marshes and wetlands of Waterloo County are filled with the sight and sound of Red-winged Blackbirds, surely one of the most wonderful aspects of spring in Ontario. This handsome male was displaying and posturing in an attempt to secure as many mates as possible. Up until the time we left no female had shown the slightest interest!

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
27 April 2013

    In recent years Sandhill Cranes have nested and reared young in the Grass Lake area, Waterloo County, Ontario. This adult was observed in the vicinity of a known nest site, but the nest itself was not located.

Western Osprey

Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus
27 April 2013

    The nest of this bird is located in a very low position on top of a utility pole at the junction of Shouldice Side Road and the Brant-Waterloo Road, at the intersection of Brant and Waterloo counties. Due to its very accessibility it was surrounded by many observers and a whole array of natural history paparazzi with a huge arsenal of photographic equipment. At times the bird seemed to be distressed and it is to be hoped that people will take their photographs from a little farther away and allow the ospreys a zone of tranquility. If the behaviour we witnessed today continues I fear the birds may abandon their nest.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

An Owl at Night

    How many among us have remained unmoved upon hearing an owl at night? A disembodied hoot or screech emanating from the darkness, a hint of things unsaid and unseen. 
    I suspect that few people truly manage indifference when confronted with this mystery of the time when the sun goes down, piercing our psyche, individually and collectively. Doubtless these vocalizations contributed greatly to either the reverence or revilement accorded to owls throughout history.
   The following poem offers an interesting insight, I believe. I hope you will enjoy it.

An Owl at Night
From time to time an owl hoots in the distance.
He hoots not for me, I know;
Yet he seems to be uttering some deep meaning, some passionate wisdom.
Was it by such-like solemn shuddering cries
That our own remote forefathers before the birth of language
Communed with one another speechlessly,
Uttering their solitary moods of grief and joy and exaltation?


Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Conosteogo River
21 April 2013

    While birding along Three Bridges Road this afternoon we spotted a male Belted Kingfisher high atop a snag overlooking the Conestogo River. As we watched the bird, it suddenly plunged into the water and when it returned to perch it selected a lower branch, where for the first time, we noticed a female also in the snag. We assume that given the close proximity of the two birds a pair bond has been struck, although they ultimately left the snag separately. We will be keeping our eyes open for renewed sightings of this pair of Belted Kingfishers and perhaps a family later in the year.



Male top left, female bottom right

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Common Grackle

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
17 April 2013

    Often maligned, the Common Grackle is in fact a stunningly beautiful species. It is without doubt a tad aggressive and sometimes a little domineering at a bird feeder as it seeks to secure its share of the food, but in reality it is simply assuring its own survival. Perhaps it reminds us a little too much of our own attitudes and that is why some people dislike it so much. Personally, I have never understood this division of birds into good and bad species. We should all accept nature for what it is - wonderful in all its myriad forms.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

American Kestrel

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius 
Waterloo County
16 April 2013

    Today we saw no less than three male American Kestrels perched on wires. Two of the birds were spaced not too far apart, but no doubt within delineated territories, the boundaries of which are well known to each of them. One of them went to ground a couple of times and seemed to be catching something, possibly a large beetle or other similar morsel, for it returned to its perch without any visible prey. It is always a huge treat to see this colourful little falcon.

Ground Hog

Ground Hog Marmota monax
16 April 2013

    While out birding today we saw a couple of Ground Hogs (or Woodchucks if you prefer) and it was great to see yet one more sign that spring is finally establishing itself.

Ironically a Barn Swallow Hirundico rustica was winging over one of the Ground Hogs, my first of the year and another sure portent of spring.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis

    Some of you may have read Alvan Buckley's recent musings about the different subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco, (see his blog, www.alvanbuckley.blogspot.com). This unusual individual was present in our yard today and was quite pale by comparison with the "normal"
hyemalis types we commonly see, and it was feeding in close proximity to both male and female/juveniles, so the contrast was easy to observe. I am not sure which race this bird represents. If anyone would like to hazard a guess feel free to do so.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Red-crowned Barbet

Red-crowned Barbet  Megalaima raffflesii
Panti Forest, Malaysia
27 February 2013

    This Red-crowned Barbet played hide-and-seek with us for several minutes and we were never able to get a really good picture. However, these two images enable you to see what a dazzling bird this is. The tree in which the barbet was perched was host to many other species also and we spent the best part of an hour enjoying a great variety of stunning Asian birds.

Identification Help Wanted

Help Wanted!

    While we were away on our recent odyssey to Southeast Asia we saw various winged creatures which we were unable to identify, not having field guides for them, and almost no expertise in the region. If anyone can identify any of the species below we'd be grateful. Please post your information by clicking on the comments section below.

Ta Nung Valley, Da Lat, Vietnam

Near Di Linh, Vietnam

Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam



Panti Forest, Malaysia

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Leucistic American Robin

Leucistic American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Waterloo, ON
7 April 2013

    Very near to our home my wife and I discovered this leucistic American Robin this afternoon. This is the third year in a row when we have found such an individual in the Lakeshore Village area where we live. Whether it is the same bird is open to debate. One would surmise that an oddly patterned bird such as this would be more vulnerable to predation and would not attain longevity. Whether it has bred and has produced normal, fertile offspring is open to question also. In any event, it's a very interesting bird to see.

Oriental White-eye

Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus
for sale as caged bird in Da Lat, Vietnam

    Unfortunately many song birds (and other species for that matter) are routinely captured throughout Southeast Asia, and sold as caged birds. This Oriental White-eye was photographed on the sidewalk in Da Lat; it was the species we saw most frequently for sale, with White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus being popular also.

Unidentified Snake

Unidentified Snake
Mount Lang Bian, Da Lat, Vietnam

    This snake was encountered on Mount Lang Bian and appeared significantly unwary. Our guide was unable to identify it and we had no knowledge at all of herpetology in the region. If anyone can help with i.d. please leave a comment below.



    We have no field guide for the Odenata of the region so we were unable to identify this dragonfly photographed in the Panti Forest of Peninsular Malaysia on 27 February 2013. If anyone can help, please leave a comment below.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Pigeon and Wren

Pigeon and Wren

Coo-oo, coo-oo,
It's as much as a pigeon can do
To maintain two;
But the little wren can maintain ten
And bring them all up like gentlemen.

    I came across this little piece of doggerel tonight. It's a traditional verse and was commonly recited when I was a young boy growing up in England. I had long since forgotten it, but it was delightful to see it in print and be reminded of those simpler times. 


Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

    Whimbrel was the most common shorebird we saw during our visit to Singapore last month. The most frequent winter visitor there is the nominate subspecies phaeopus which has white on the back and rump as shown in these pictures, as compared with the subspecies hudsonicus, the bird we usually see in Ontario, which is all dark.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Room Mates at Tmatboey

Our Room Mates at Tmatboey, Cambodia

    These are pictures of a couple of the lizards and the frog who were our room mates at Tmatboey. If anyone is able to identify them as to species we'd be happy to know their names!

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.