Sunday, 31 August 2014

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher (Martin-pêcheur d'Amérique) Megaceryle alcyon
Waterloo, ON
30 August 2014

     There have been many recent posts of Common Kingfisher (certainly it merits a new name!) and the only kingfisher we have over most of North America is the Belted Kingfisher. How dull it is by comparison.

     While this species is not exceptionally shy, it is nevertheless difficult to photograph, for it moves at the slightest provocation, and tends not to sit on the same perch for extended periods. It is also quite difficult to approach closely without the benefit of a hide.
     This bird was constantly on the move yesterday, and appeared to be having great success capturing small amphibians as opposed to fish which comprise the bulk of its diet.
     I believe that this individual is a juvenile female.

Literature consulted:
Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers, Fry, C. Hilary, Fry K., Harris A; 1999, Christopher Helm (Publishers) Ltd.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Painted Turtle and Leopard Frog

Midland Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta bellii and 
Northern Leopard Frog Rana pipiens
Waterloo, ON
30 August 2014

     In shallow ponds and marshes at this time of the year it is common to see brightly coloured painted turtles basking in the sun. As the following picture attests, this is a species that is aptly named.

     This turtle requires water courses with a muddy bottom and profuse growths of aquatic vegetation, which comprises a large part of its diet. It also feeds on crayfish, small frogs, earthworms, insects and small mollusks.
     Due to the musculature of its tongue it can only consume food underwater.
     Several individuals were present and all were jostling for the most favourable position to enjoy the warmth of an August day.

     I was also able to spot several Northern Leopard Frogs, one of our most attractive species in my opinion. In recent years this frog has not fared well and its numbers declined substantially. It seems to me that 2014 is a bit of a rebound year, just based on my own observations.

     Northern Leopard Frogs spend the winter at the bottom of a stream or river more or less dormant. There are always individuals who do not choose their winter habitat well and attempt to survive the cold months in water that is too shallow, and they either freeze to death or succumb due to the depleted oxygen levels as the ice gets thicker.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Fossils and Gulls at Craigleith

Craigleith, ON
18 August 2014

     The stretch of shoreline of Lake Huron around Craigleith is well known for the trove of fossils to be found there, and since the two youngest grandchildren were staying with us for a couple of days we decided to make a day trip there. Both Will and Eddie love the outdoors and Will especially is very much into anything ancient and a fossil hunt had great appeal.
     We were fortunate to meet a very engaging fellow there who clearly had great expertise with fossils and he was happy to answer all of the kids' questions about what they were finding. In the picture below his back is facing the camera and Miriam is off to the right.

     It didn't take long for Will and Eddie to change into their bathing suits and get into the water.

Will at left, Eddie at right

     And here are just a few of the fossils they found.

     In terms of bird life there was little other than Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis who were well attuned to the rich food supply to be gleaned from the throng of beach goers. And on this warm sunny day, already getting towards the fading days of summer, there was no shortage of them. 
     These pictures remind us what a truly handsome species it is. I am sure that, like most larids around the world, it is seriously under-appreciated.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Green Heron

Green Heron (Héron vert) Butorides virescens
Waterloo, ON
17 August 2014

     The favoured habitat of Green Heron is a small wetland or swamp and the miniscule wetland on Beaver Creek Road in Waterloo seems to fit the bill perfectly. I see this species at this location more frequently than at any other suitable area that I check. This is not to say that the bird is easy to detect, especially at this time of the year, when the vegetation is dense and an individual can blend into its surroundings very easily.

     Throughout its North American range the species is widespread, but it is relatively uncommon in this, the northern part of its range.
      I was fortunate to see at least two individuals and I suspect that three were present although I cannot be sure. To add to my good fortune one of these birds, and possibly a second one, since they were quarrelsome and chasing each other, perched in the open giving me a clear line of sight through the vegetation. I would have liked to have had the bird a little closer, but you have to take what you can get, and these pictures are quite reasonable, I believe.

     Last year I saw juveniles at this location but so far this year all the birds have been adults. I'll continue to check!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
Grass Lake, Cambridge, ON
4 August 2014

     It seems to be an immutable law when attempting to photograph Sandwich Sparrows that the moment you lift the camera the bird flies off! So, this individual was the exception to the rule and posed for a brief time, but enough to get a couple of shots.

     Savannah Sparrow is a common grassland species and is easy to find from spring through fall. Its nest is constructed in a hollow scraped into the ground, with the rim at ground level, often concealed by a dome. I have never succeeded in locating a nest and I suspect that in recent years many fail due the early cuts of hay now practiced by most farmers.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Black Redstart

Black Redstart (Rougequeue) Phoenicurus ochruros
Bagà, Catalonia, Spain

      One of the species we could count on seeing every day during our week in Bagà was Black Redstart. Each morning, when I went down to the stream which flows through the village, one would be perched on the wall.
     This bird appears to be either a female or a juvenile.

     No doubt the surrounding Pyrenees provide the natural habitat it favours, with lots of rocky areas for it to nest, but this species has adapted well to human settlement, especially towns and cities with old buildings, ruins, church towers, abandoned industrial areas and so on. Bagà provides a good deal of suitable habitat, much to the bird's liking I am sure.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Réserve Ornithologique du Teich, Arcachon, France

Réserve Ornithologique du Teich, Arcachon, France
18 July 2014

     As mentioned in my trip report we spend a very fine day at Le Teich and enjoyed some great birding. I could very easily spend three or four days there if ever the opportunity presented itself.
     White Stork Ciconia ciconia, the bird that delivers babies in folkloric myth, was quite common, with many nests. It is stately and grand to say the least.

     The introduced Mute Swan Cygnus olor seems to have established a presence there, and there were several families with healthy youngsters. With such large parents, fearless in defence of their young, it is easy to see why they do well.

     The following picture is not very good, and was taken at some distance from the bird, but it does show a Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus still in breeding plumage.

     Little Egret Egretta garzetta seems to be spreading all over Europe, but I suspect that this species was a fixture at Le Teich long before its recent expansion. By any standards, it is a handsome bird.

     It seems that Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ribundus could easily lay claim to the name Brown-Headed Gull!

     The design of Le Teich has been very well done and includes many loafing areas for gulls, terns and cormorants.

     This Grey Heron Ardea cinerea looks a little windswept.

     As far as I can remember this Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa was the first I had ever seen in breeding plumage and while the photograph is not of sterling quality, we are happy to have it.

     The identification of the following shorebird eludes me. I have searched all of my reference books but cannot pin a name on it. I probably have missed something obvious, but if anyone more familiar than me with European shorebirds  can help, it would be much appreciated. (14 August - see comments from Richard Pegler and Phil Slade. The bird is a Ruff Philomachus pugnax).

     This Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos is much easier!

     Black Kite Milvus migrans was very common throughout the region, but it was pleasing to see this juvenile bird nevertheless.

     Based on advance reading about the species that might be present in the reserve we were not surprised to locate Common Shelduck Tadornis tadorna, but the Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea alongside it was unexpected.

     I certainly spent a wonderful day birding at Le Teich and I would love to return there one day.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Dragons and others of Bassa d'Oles

Discoveries at Bassa d'Oles, Spain
16 July 2014

     When visiting Bassa d'Oles with our dear friends Noushka and Patrick we were in the company of two dragonfly experts and realized how woefully inadequate is our knowledge of these fascinating creatures. They are enchanting and we always pay attention to them, and even though our knowledge is not great, we at least have a little greater knowledge of the species we find locally.
     I do not have a guide for the dragonflies of Europe so all but one of the pictures below will go unidentified. Please help with identification and I will add the title to each picture.
     The credit for these pictures by the way should go to my wife, Miriam. It was her patience that garnered these results.

Yellow-winged Darter Sympetrum flaveolum

Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

Common Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus

Saturday, 9 August 2014

White-throated Dipper

White-throated Dipper (Cincle plongeur) Cinclus cinclus
Crampagna, Ariège Midi-Pyrénées, France
14 July 2014

     During our stay in the area, not far from Crampagna, we started to bird along the river and adjacent areas on a daily basis. I have no doubt that, given more time and the opportunity to explore other possibilities, there is a wealth of bird life to be discovered. Having searched the internet I can find no record of anyone else having birded in this location, and I suspect that we may well have been the first to do so.
     What first attracted us to the river was a glimpse of the rapids as we drove over the bridge for the first time. I commented to Miriam that it looked like fine dipper habitat, with fast-flowing, highly oxygenated water, likely to support the caddis flies and other larvae so essential to a dipper's survival.
     As noted in my trip report we failed to locate a dipper on our first excursion there, but on the second day we found one in short order. We assume that this is a juvenile bird given its colouration. There are references in the literature to sooty or greyish coloured birds in certain parts of its range, but nothing so uniformly grey and light as this bird.

     As can be noted on the picture above, it also has the wavy bars on the belly and upper breast so characteristic of a juvenile bird.
     Once we located the bird it was not difficult to keep it in view for most of the time and it provided us with a good deal of pleasure.

     There were always fisherman standing thigh to waist deep in the rapids, patiently casting and recasting their lines, and a few general passers by. I doubt that any of them were even aware of the dipper and I suspect that some of them directed a few sidelong glances at us with our binoculars and scope, wondering exactly what we were looking at.

Literature referred to:

Svensson L., Grant P.J., Mullarney K. & Zetterstrom D., 1999, Collins Bird Guide, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Tyler S & Ormerod S., 1994, The Dippers, T. & A.D. Poyser Ltd.
Brewer D. & Mackay B. K., 2001, Wrens, Dippers and Thrashers, Yale University Press.

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.