Wednesday, 30 October 2013


William Foster Woods
Kleinburg, ON
30 October 2013

    Tamaracks Larax laricina are coniferous trees which lose their foliage in the autumn, as do deciduous trees. The cones are greatly prized by various winter finches as a source of high energy food. Also known as Eastern Larch, these pictures show the rich gold of these trees at this time of year.
    Who knows, perhaps in a few months time they will be bedecked with crossbills and Pine Siskins.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Vaughan, ON
30 October 2013

    Cheerful, noisy, friendly......House Sparrows can brighten up even the most mundane visit to a shopping plaza.

Langstaff Park

Langstaff Park
Vaughan, ON
30 October 2013

    I was a little early for an appointment close to Langstaff Park today and took the opportunity to do a little birding. 
    The prize bird of the visit was this Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos.
Although not as rare in this area as it was twenty years ago, it is still not common and each sighting is special. I actually had neglected to take the camera with me when I first set out on my walk and the bird was perched for several minutes in a small tree. I would have had a great photographic opportunity had I taken my equipment. I returned to the car to get the camera and waited for a while in the hope that the bird would return to the same tree. It did, but only for a few seconds before moving on. The result is one less than satisfactory picture.

    A little better is a stunning male American kestrel Falco sparverius; this bird was a little more co-operative.

    And how could I resist one more shot of a magnificent maple tree clad in splendid fall regalia?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Further Evidence of Beavers

Beavers Getting Ready for Winter
28 October 2013

    The following pictures show the top of the beavers' cache of vegetation which provides them with food throughout the winter when most of the lakes and streams they inhabit are frozen. Their lodge, with its cozy chamber above water level, is tight into the bank, but is not easy to see on these photographs.
    One can see the polished mud where the beavers exit from the water and return dragging branches from trees they have felled. As can be noted, their path goes right through a farmer's field of corn.
    Based on the activity we have seen this family will be well provisioned for the cold months ahead. 

Hamilton Area Birding

Hamilton Area Birding
27 October 2013

     Yesterday Miriam had to put in a stint at the Artists' Co-operative in Carlisle, so having dropped her off I took advantage of the four hours she would be there to do a little birding in the Hamilton area.
    As expected, there were many Double-crested Cormorants Phalcrocorax auritus and the following pictures show juvenile birds who will be leaving the area soon to move to ice-free water farther south. People who raise catfish in the lower reaches of the Mississippi River will not be entirely happy to see them!

    The numbers of Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus have been steadily increasing over the past few weeks as birds move in from the north, and this very handsome duck was not hard to find.

    The venerable willows at Princess Point still retain their green foliage and are magnificent specimens of old trees.

    I have seen more American Beavers Castor canadensis this fall than I have seen for quite some time. This is a difficult species to photograph given their nocturnal habits, but the following picture indicates their activity. Part of the lower bark has been stripped away and the beavers have commenced gnawing at the trunk. The wood chips are fresh and I suspect that overnight this tree was felled and the branches dragged away to a winter storage cache.

    The two species of kinglet were quite numerous, especially Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa, and they were in constant motion as they fed voraciously. It is amazing that small numbers of a bird so tiny as Golden-crowned Kinglet regularly spend the winter at these latitudes.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Survivor

A Survivor
One-legged Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis

    Gulls in general are survivors and have adapted to anthropogenic incursion into their world. It seems that parking lots have become one of their favourite habitats.
    Today, amid the normal throng of Ring-billed Gulls, I saw this one legged individual. Other than missing a leg, it seemed healthy and combative and held its own in the struggle to snatch bits of bread dispensed by humans.
    Unlike us, injured birds have no option but to survive as best they can, in a world which confers no favours, and I confess to a surge of admiration for this disadvantaged gull. I hope it will secure a mate and breed next spring.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Quintessential Wetland Scene

Quintissential Wetland Scene
Mallards Anas platyrynchos
22 October 2013

    It seems to me that nothing is quite so perfect about a wetland as a group of Mallards poking about in the water. It is as though the drowned area, with its cohort of snags and submerged logs forms a perfect refuge. The sight of Mallards dropping into a marsh at dusk is the very essence of nature, a primeval scene of unchanging character, a vista into the absolute, essential spirit of wilderness.
    It never ceases to stir my soul.

Mill Race Birding

Mill Race 
St. Jacobs, ON
22 October 2013

    On a cool morning (5°C with a wind chill) the Mill Race yielded its last vestiges of autumn colour and a variety of birds, most of them busily feeding
on the bumper crop of berries that was in evidence.

   Both adult and juvenile Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum were swallowing berries in a rapid and rapacious fashion. 

    At one point along the path there seemed to be Downy Woodpeckers Picoides pubescens at every turn. I saw three on one tree and my final tally was seven, although I suspect that this is a little conservative.

The head is blurry due to the rapid action of this female hammering away at a branch.

    As one might expect, Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus were my constant companions, all the while chattering, and scolding me frequently for interrupting their routine. One actually landed on my camera, perhaps to scold me right to my face! They looked especially beautiful when seen among the stunning colours of this young maple tree.

    Large numbers of American Robins Turdus migratorius were gorging on berries, perhaps to fatten up for their impending migration, although I suspect that a few of them at least will spend the winter here.

    A complete list of the species seen follows below. It was a very enjoyable way to spend 45 minutes on a blustery morning.

Canada Goose, Mallard, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Common Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Getting Ready to Leave?

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Laurel Creek C.A.
Waterloo, ON
19 October 2013

    This year has been a very successful one for breeding Pied-billed Grebes at Laurel Creek. I think that the young birds are now about to leave on their first migration and are getting ready for the long and hazardous flight ahead of them. As you can see from the pictures (taken from a distance) they still have vestiges of their juvenile plumage but are fully as big as their parents and appear to be well-fed and in good condition to make the journey. They were feeding voraciously and seemed to have a fish in their bill every time they popped up from beneath the water. They were also taking short flights, very much as though practicing for the serious business about to confront them. Pied-billed Grebes are seldom seen to fly after they arrive on the water in the spring, so the first airborne adventure for these hatch-year birds will doubtless be the long journey south. Bon voyage mes amis! Au plaisir de vous revoir le printemps prochain!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Variability in Columba livia

Variability in Rock Dove Columba livia

    The Rock Dove (aka Rock Pigeon, Common Pigeon, Feral Pigeon) shows an incredible amount of variability, following centuries of selective breeding by humans. Some of the plumages are nothing short of stunning.

    When my brother and I were young we would purchase Fantail or Pouter eggs from pigeon fanciers and raise them under "regular" pigeons, often realizing quite substantial financial gain when we sold the progeny.

    At Hillcrest Mall in Richmond Hill, ON there is always a flock of Rock Doves, frequently augmented by pigeons that have escaped from captivity and have joined their wild congeners. 

    We seem to have a transient and mercurial relationship with this species. Certainly we have used it to advantage in times of war, benefiting from its homing ability to deliver strategic messages.  Though despised by some, it has captured a place in our hearts and is ubiquitous in major cities throughout the world. Everyone is familiar with scenes from iconic locations such as Trafalgar Square in London, where visitors pose for photographs, bedecked with pigeons.
    Columba livia is a survivor and will remain a feature in our urban landscape for all time. At least I fervently hope so.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Melville Pond Gulls and Geese

Melville Pond
Vaughan, ON
17 October 2013

    Melville Pond is the rather grand name given to a storm water management pond in a shopping plaza at the intersection of Jane Street and Major Mackenzie Drive in Vaughan, ON. There is often a good variety of birds there, with Canada Geese Branta canadensis and Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis generally being the most common and the most numerous. Today was no exception.

A parade of geese
    Even though there are signs entreating people not to feed the birds, it is widely done. I think there is some inner primal need for people to connect with wild creatures and for most urbanites this is the only way they will ever do it. People show up with bags of grain and I have even seen people go to the bakery in the plaza and purchase day-old bread for the specific purpose of feeding the birds.

1st Cycle Ring-billed Gull
1st and 2nd Cycle Ring-billed Gulls

Killdeer Aplenty

Killdeer Aplenty
Edgeley Boulevard
Vaughan, ON
17 October 2013

    There is a small (certainly less than half a hectare) site which has remained undeveloped for several years, surrounded by a sea of developed land, with both retail plazas, and office and commercial units. Perhaps there were problems with financing, or obtaining permits, but whatever the reason the site remained untouched.

    I have monitored this location at least three days per week for about three years and it has become a bit of a magnet for birds. It is quite remarkable the range of species that have put in an appearance, including such diverse species as Merlin Falco columbarius, Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris and a whole suite of shorebirds. Killdeer Charadrius vociferus have bred there every year.

    Sadly, it is all coming to an end. recently a perimeter fence has been erected around part of the site, and heavy equipment has been brought in to start work on construction.

    Yesterday, by actual count there were fifteen Killdeer present and today there were twelve. Soon they will be migrating south and by the time they return next spring nothing will remain of their former habitat. I will miss them!

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.